POST Office scandal victim Jo Hamilton told MPs it is “sickening” to think her money could have been paid out as bonuses to top executives.

Basingstoke Gazette: Former MP James Arbuthnot supported Jo HamiltonSpeaking at the Business and Trade Select Committee in Westminster on January 16, former South Warnborough sub-postmaster Jo answered questions from MPs about the personal impact of the Post Office Horizon scandal, alongside former North East Hampshire MP Lord James Arbuthnot.

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Also there to answer questions was Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson and Post Office CEO Nick Read, who were quizzed by MPs on the scandal which saw hundreds of sub-postmasters wrongly prosecuted because of faulty Fujitsu IT software. 

Mr Read was asked by MPs what had happened to money paid to the Post Office by victims, such as Ms Hamilton, who was falsely accused of stealing £36,000, and whether it could have been given to executives as part of “rumination packages”.

Mr Read initially tried to avoid answering the question, responding: “It’s difficult to say” adding: “I don’t have the context.”

But when pushed on whether it was “possible” the money had been paid to executives as bonuses, he replied: “It’s possible, of course it’s possible.”

Ms Hamilton, a 66-year-old mother-of-two, said it was “sickening” to think this is where her money might have gone.

She was wrongfully convicted in 2008 and said she believed her £36,000 was “hoovered into profit and loss” by the Post Office, and that “it’s gone”.

“The fact that we were shouting so loud at one point and everything was known, and yet our money was just being played with. You know, they look profitable at one point and it was our money,” she said.

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Mr Read described the way Ms Hamilton was treated as “appalling” after she told MPs she felt that a “financial gun” was being held to her head.

“I have enormous empathy for what Jo went through,” he said, adding: “I have to say we have all listened to what’s occurred in the inquiry and it’s appalling.”

Asked whether she believes justice will ever truly be achieved, Ms Hamilton told the committee: “It will never let my mum and dad see me have my conviction quashed.”

She also described the lengthy process of having her conviction quashed in 2021, and claiming compensation, telling the MPs: “It’s almost like you are a criminal all over again. You have to justify everything.”

She added: “It’s like you’re being re-tried because everything you say you would like they say ‘well justify that and justify that’ and it just goes on and on.

“Everything has to be backed up with paperwork.”

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Lord Arbuthnot, who has been instrumental in helping victims of the scandal seek justice and who is now part of the unpaid body Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, told the committee: “You have people who have been convicted or pleaded guilty of crime up against the most trusted brand in the country. I think that's at the heart of it.”

He added: “What the Post Office failed to realise was that the most trusted brand in the country was the most trusted because of the relationship the sub-postmasters had with the community. It wasn't the most trusted because of the brilliance of its management or the price of its stamps or the sparkling nature of its publicity machine; it was the relationship between the sub-postmasters and their communities. When they were vilified and humiliated the brand then rolled into overdrive.”

He called for Fujitsu to “accept that they have played a part in the devastation” adding: “And they might also like to accept that they should play a part in the redress that those sub-postmasters need now.”

Fujitsu boss Mr Patterson apologised to sub-postmasters, telling the committee: “To the sub-postmasters and their families, Fujitsu would like to apologise for our part in this appalling miscarriage of justice.

“We were involved from the very start. We did have bugs and errors in the system. And we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of sub-postmasters. For that we are truly sorry.”

Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake admitted the Government failed to grasp the scale of the Horizon scandal in the past.

He told the committee: “I don’t think we’ve been sufficiently challenging, no.

“I mean, I think this wouldn’t have happened or it would have been resolved earlier if we’d been more challenging earlier.”

He continued: “I’m not going to blame any one of my predecessors specifically, but clearly we could have done better.”

The committee’s chairman Liam Byrne concluded the sessions by telling Post Office boss Mr Read that his evidence has left members “fairly shocked”.

He added: “You’ve not been able to supply the committee with key events in the timeline, such as when the Post Office first knew that remote access was possible.

“You’ve told us that you haven’t kept evidence safe about what money was paid to you inappropriately and therefore is owed back.

“And you can’t estimate the scale of compensation.

“We are grateful for the moral commitment from Fujitsu that they will share in the compensation payment.

“But that leaves us many questions which we need to put to the minister, which is the subject of our next session.”