A former Ferryhill postmaster is among hundreds set to receive an initial share of £19.5m compensation over the Horizon Post Office accounting scandal.

David Farry, who served as Mayor of Ferryhill until May this year, was part of a group of 555 postmasters who first took the Post Office to court after being wrongly accused of fiddling accounts.

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The accounting issues arose in the late 1990s when the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting software and faults in the programme led to shortfalls in branches’ accounts.

The Post Office demanded sub-postmasters cover the shortfalls, and in many cases wrongfully prosecuted them for false accounting or theft.

The Northern Echo: Former postmaster David Farry, who served a term as Mayor of Ferryhill from May 2021 to May 2022Former postmaster David Farry, who served a term as Mayor of Ferryhill from May 2021 to May 2022

David, who ran Post Offices in Ferryhill, Kirk Merrington and Middlestone Moor during that period, had his contracts terminated after discrepancies emerged in his accounts.

He said he always felt that he wasn’t to blame for the accounting issues and became one of the 555 postmasters who took the Post Office to court over Horizon in 2019.

The group won £43m plus legal costs in a settlement but much of it was swallowed up by the associated costs of funding their case, with David saying the amount they actually received was ‘derisory’.

They were also ineligible for the Historical Shortfall Scheme (HSS) that was subsequently set up to compensate other affected postmasters.

In March the Government confirmed it would create a new scheme to ensure the group does not lose out, and today’s £19.5m interim payment announcement will provide support while this scheme is finalised.

David said he was "over the moon" with the news, saying it has been a long journey for justice for all the wrongly accused postmasters.

He said: “Everyone has suffered.

“This should mean we get an interim payment straightaway and I am over the moon with it because I have been through some rum times.

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“This will give me the opportunity to get me back to somewhere like I should have been if this whole scandal had never happened.”

David said he felt particular sympathy for those who were wrongly jailed over the accounting shortfalls and those who tragically took their own lives due to the stress, believed to be around four UK postmasters.

He said: “It is getting near to the end of justice and things being done for some of those poor people who went to prison or took their own lives.

“And at the end of the day, I lost my business and my livelihood, it has had a massive impact on my life.”

The Northern Echo: Sedgefield constituency MP Paul HowellSedgefield constituency MP Paul Howell

David’s Sedgefield constituency MP Paul Howell sits on the government business select committee that pushed for the compensation package and worked on the case on David’s behalf.

He credited postal affairs Minister Paul Scully for the compensation announcement and said: “I have to commend Paul Scully for his efforts over this time, obviously the pandemic got in the way a bit, but it has been a focus of Paul’s and I am delighted that we have got an interim payment, which, if I understand correctly, will be paid very quickly."

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He added: “It has gone on for many years, before Paul’s time, but it is a delight that progress is being made.”

Minister Scully said: “These postmasters and their families have shown immense courage in the face of terrible circumstances.

“I hope this initial step provides some comfort to these pioneering postmasters while reaffirming our commitment to ensuring they receive their fair share in compensation.”

An ongoing independent inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal is being led by retired high court judge Sir Wyn William and is expected to continue into 2023.

It is scheduled to release findings about compensation schemes in early to mid-July this year.

The Northern Echo: Minister Paul Scully Picture: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)Minister Paul Scully Picture: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

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