Post Office scandal victims may wait until 2026 for CPS to bring charges

Ms Vennells arriving at the inquiry, flanked by police officers
Paula Vennells, the former Post Office chief executive, gave evidence to the inquiry - Carl Court/Getty

Post Office scandal victims may have to wait until 2026 before any criminal charges are brought against those who could be responsible, it has been reported.

Sources have told The Guardian that at least 20 potential suspects have been identified by a team of 80 detectives handling the criminal inquiry.

More than 900 sub-postmasters were wrongly prosecuted because faulty Fujitsu software incorrectly recorded shortfalls in their branch accounts.

A public inquiry into the scandal is set to finish hearing evidence by the end of September – with a report by Sir Wyn Williams, the chairman, expected to be published next year.

The Met Police first launched a criminal investigation in January 2020, focused on offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Since then it has been working through millions of documents in parallel with the inquiry – both manually and with the help of specialist software.

Two people have been interviewed under caution but nobody has yet been arrested.

Sources told The Guardian that police will not seek charging decisions from the Crown Prosecution Service until the inquiry concludes next year – and suspects may not be charged until 2026, with victims facing an even longer wait for any criminal trials.

Jo Hamilton, who was prosecuted over an alleged shortfall of £36,000 in 2006, said she was happy to wait, to ensure nobody would “slip through the net”.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mrs Hamilton said: “It [the investigation] must be thorough and no stone left unturned in order to cast the net as far as it can go. This will take time, so I have no problem with a 2026 date.”

She added: “We have waited this long for justice and we don’t want anybody that should be charged slipping through the net because the process is rushed.”

Police will examine whether any senior leaders at the Post Office or Fujitsu may have committed perjury or perverted the course of justice over the 16 years sub-postmasters were wrongfully prosecuted.

Among other questions, the inquiry and officers will be looking to find out to what extent the faults in the software were known at both organisations.

The criminal investigation will be split into four regional hubs, with staffing and resources similar to a major terror probe.

Police have asked the Government for a special grant of at least £6.75 million to fund the investigation, according to the newspaper.

Last week Paula Vennells, the Post Office’s former chief executive, gave evidence to the inquiry over a highly anticipated three days of hearings.

There is no suggestion Ms Vennells is a suspect in any criminal investigation.

‘They will certainly investigate’

Alan Bates, the sub-postmaster whose High Court victory against the Post Office inspired the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office attended the first day of Ms Vennells’ evidence

Speaking to journalists outside Aldwych House in central London, where the inquiry is taking place, he explained how he had met “senior” Met Police staff on Wednesday morning to discuss possible prosecutions.

He said: “They certainly are going to investigate, I’ve had that assurance and I think the group (of sub-postmasters) needs that as an assurance and it’s something that we’ve never been certain of until today.

Commander Stephen Clayman, who oversees the Met Police investigation, said it was “very time consuming” but the force could not cut corners or risk overlooking evidence.

‘Widespread and devastating’

He said: “We understand the widespread and devastating impact the Post Office IT Horizon scandal has had on hundreds of sub-postmasters across the country.”

Mr Clayman added: “Given the significant scale of the investigation, it has been agreed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council that the next phase of the investigation will be a national policing effort, coordinated by the Met, with the pursuit of justice at its heart.

“We do not underestimate the seriousness of the task at hand and we are determined to carry out a full investigation with independence, precision and integrity.”

The Telegraph approached the Post Office and Fujitsu.