I didn’t know about Horizon prosecutions, says Keir Starmer

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By Chas Geiger
Political reporter

Sir Keir Starmer says he wasn’t aware of the three Horizon cases brought against sub-postmasters by the Crown Prosecution Service when he led it.

The Labour leader was director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013.

Asked by the BBC if he should have been more curious, he said the CPS handled four million cases in that period.

Politicians with responsibility for the Post Office over the past 20 years have been criticised amid the fallout surrounding the scandal.

One prosecution on the basis of information from the Post Office’s faulty Horizon IT system resulted in a conviction for theft and a 21-month sentence; another in convictions for theft and fraud.

In a BBC interview, Sir Keir said that, while he was head of the CPS, he had 7,000 staff.

He said the idea the head of the organisation would have been curious about all the prosecutions being handled was “unreal”.

“I didn’t see these particular cases. I don’t even know yet what they were about, whether they come within the cohort that is of concern,” he added.

Earlier, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “No case of a prosecution of a postmaster came across Keir Starmer’s desk as director of public prosecutions.”

He added: “Frankly, I think it’s appalling that the Conservatives have chosen to try and sling mud at their political opponents, whether that’s Keir Starmer in the Labour Party or Ed Davey in the Liberal Democrat Party, rather than say ‘hang on a minute, this is a grave injustice, let’s sort it out’.

“Instead of the mud-slinging, I’d urge the government to get on with the job… to get justice for these postmasters, fair compensation for these postmasters, as quickly as possible.”

Between 1999 and 2015, the vast majority of prosecutions of hundreds of sub-postmasters, when faults with the Horizon system wrongly made it appear that money had gone missing, were conducted by the Post Office itself, rather than the CPS.

‘Deep regret’

There were more than 900 convictions. Only 93 have been overturned so far.

Under plans set out by the government on Wednesday, legislation will be introduced to overturn these convictions, with affected sub-postmasters being asked to sign a declaration that they committed no offence, so they can then claim compensation.

In the past 10 days, Sir Ed Davey has come under repeated fire from a number of Tory MPs over his time as postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012, in the coalition government.

In May 2010, he refused to meet former sub-postmaster Alan Bates, who led the campaign to expose the Post Office scandal, saying he did not believe it “would serve any useful purpose”.

He did meet Mr Bates in October 2010 – and the Lib Dems say he was the first postal affairs minister to hold such a meeting since campaigners began pressing for talks in 2003.

However, the Lib Dem leader has said he “deeply regrets not realising that the Post Office was lying to him”, and not asking executives “tougher questions”.

The Lib Dems said: “The scandal took place over many years from 1999, during which time different governments and ministers from all parties were in post.”

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