Lords hit out at delay in Post Office inquiry promised by PM
Ministers have been warned in Parliament over the urgency of a review into a Post Office computer scandal, which saw two Midlands former post office staff sent to jail.
Rubbina Shaheen, of Worthen, near Shrewsbury, and Tracy Felstead, of Telford, are fighting to clear their names after being convicted on evidence from the Post Office’s controversial Horizon database, which a judge last year ruled was unreliable.
Neelam Hussain, a former sub-postmistress in West Bromwich, and Carl Page, who kept a branch in Rugeley, are also trying to get their convictions overturned.
In February Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to hold an inquiry into the matter, which has seen hundreds of post-office staff wrongly accused of theft and false accounting, but the review has yet to begin.
Tory peer Lord Arbuthnot and Labour’s Baroness Bakewell this week challenged business minister Lord Callanan over the delays in launching the inquiry.
Last year, the Post Office paid a £57.75 million settlement after 555 claimants, including Miss Felstead, brought group legal action over the Horizon system, which was found to contain software flaws that caused financial shortfalls.
An investigation has also revealed that Post Office managers knew IT problems could be to blame for missing money but still prosecuted staff.
Lord Callanan said the Government was keen to see the inquiry launched “as soon as possible”.
He told peers: “We are making progress with the appointment of a chair. Once this process is complete the review will then be formally launched.”
But Lord Arbuthnot,who has championed the case in Parliament, said: “The delay to this review suggests that the Government is having some difficulty in finding someone unwise enough to take on the chairmanship.”
Baroness Bakewell added that 17 claimants have now died, some without their convictions being quashed.
“There has also been a suicide. Will the Government acknowledge the urgency of this review to bring peace of mind to those who have suffered and indeed to hear their evidence before it is too late?”
Lord Callanan said the Government was under no illusion about the urgency of the case, and the need to get on with it as quickly as possible.
Miss Felstead and Mrs Shaheen were granted appeals in July following a review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, and are now waiting for their cases to be heard.
Miss Felstead, now 38, was jailed for six months in 2001 after being convicted of stealing £11,500 while working as an 18-year-old counter clerk.
Mrs Shaheen, 55, was jailed 12 months in 2010 for false accounting over a £40,000 shortfall in the accounts while she kept Greenfields Post Office in Shrewsbury. Her husband Mohamed said his wife had been told that it was unlikely there would be any progress on her appeal until November at the earliest.
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