A new law to exonerate hundreds of Post Office branch managers caught up in the Horizon IT scandal has been welcomed by campaigners – but a North East MP has warned the Prime Minister’s announcement does not go far enough.

Rishi Sunak said hundreds of sub-postmasters convicted of swindling money due to a flawed IT system were victims of “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”.

He told MPs new primary legislation will ensure that those convicted as part of the Horizon scandal are swiftly ‘exonerated and compensated’.

Mr Sunak also announced a new upfront payment of £75,000 for the ‘vital’ group of postmasters who took action against the Post Office.The Northern Echo: Christopher Head Christopher Head (Image: Contributor)Christopher Head, who became the youngster subpostmaster in the country when he took over the branch in West Boldon in 2006, was hounded for £88,000 for almost five years and faced the threat of prison.

He said: “It is wonderful news for those who have conviction as the current process is simply not working so there was no alternative.

“Individual cases going through the court system would never have resolved this in a reasonable amount of time.

“We would have seen more people die before their convictions were overturned.”

“It means that the convictions will be overturned and then people have their names cleared and it means that they can access the compensation that they deserve.”

Mr Head has been supported by Jarrow MP Kate Osborne who accused ministers and the Government of doing ‘little-to-nothing’ and blocking justice with ‘ever more hoops to jump through’. 

She said: “Today’s announcement by the Prime Minister does not go far enough and does not address if the Prime Minister himself blocked compensation when he was Chancellor.

 “The Post Office and this Government are still paying lawyers to defend the indefensible and deny justice.

“As well as the victims being exonerated and the unjust unfair convictions overturned, the Government must ensure that the 555 do not face financial penalties for fighting for justice and that those responsible for this gross miscarriage of justice are held to account.”

Ms Osborne called on the Government to ensure that the Post Office is removed from all roles about compensation decisions and appoints an Independent Arms length body chaired by a judge to deliver full and fair compensation.

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells, who was awarded the CBE in 2019, is to hand back the honour as the scale of the scandal continues to grow.

The new legislation will apply to convictions in England and Wales and Downing Street hopes they will be quashed by the end of the year.

The Northern Echo: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Image: Parliament TV)At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said: “This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history.

“People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and their reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. The victims must get justice and compensation.”

Mr Sunak said “we will make sure the truth comes to light” and “right the wrongs of the past”.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told MPs that 95 out of more than 900 convictions have been overturned.

The usual method for overturning a conviction would see the Criminal Cases Review Commission sending it to the Court of Appeal for a hearing.

But the unprecedented scale of the Horizon scandal means the Government is taking a legislative route rather than a lengthy court process.

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The Northern Echo: Kevan Jones MP Kevan Jones MP (Image: Contributor)North Durham MP Kevan Jones, who has been campaigning for justice for 13 years, said: “This is long overdue and the right thing to do.

“I was pleased to hear that the families of those who have died, whose convictions are overturned, will also be able to access compensation.”

The issue has captured the public attention after ITV broadcast a new drama – Mr Bates vs the Post Office – about the scandal.

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The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald said: “It says a lot that it takes an ITV drama to give this issue the push across the line.

"I have argued consistently that every victim should be compensated in full for all their losses up to date and in the future and in the majority of cases, I suspect that the £600k previously under discussion will be totally insufficient.

"Those bearing the shame of false convictions need them quashing immediately.

"It shames our nation that firstly that this ever happened, secondly that it has taken all these years for the victims to be properly recognised with the prospects of justice at long last but thirdly that justice is so hard to come by in our democracy."