Stormont leaders ‘hopeful’ that subpostmaster exoneration law will be extended to Northern Ireland

​Stormont's leaders have expressed hope that Northern Ireland will be belatedly added to a Westminster law aimed at quashing the wrongful convictions of subpostmasters caught up in the Horizon IT scandal.
NI Post Office staff Fiona Elliott, Heather Earley and Deirdre Connolly gave evidence to the Horizon EnquiryNI Post Office staff Fiona Elliott, Heather Earley and Deirdre Connolly gave evidence to the Horizon Enquiry
NI Post Office staff Fiona Elliott, Heather Earley and Deirdre Connolly gave evidence to the Horizon Enquiry

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly were commenting after meeting with Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake in London on Tuesday.

Executive ministers had previously expressed disappointment that the government had not widened its draft Bill to include Northern Ireland.

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As it stands, the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill will exonerate those convicted in England and Wales on the basis of the faulty Horizon accounting software.

Northern Ireland and Scotland were excluded from the initial bill, with the government having pledged to work with those devolved administrations to find ways for them to expunge wrongful convictions.

More than 700 sub-postmasters in the UK were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu's faulty Horizon IT system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

There are 26 affected sub-postmasters in Northern Ireland.

Ms O'Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly struck a positive note following the meeting with Mr Hollinrake. They met the minister after attending the East-West Council in London on Tuesday.

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“We have 26 sub-postmasters who are caught up in this situation who have waited far too long for justice, who have waited far too long for compensation, and we have been consistently making the case that they need to be included in the legislation,” said Ms O'Neill.

“I think we came away with a very positive feeling in terms of what can be done here, but there's a bit more to do. We're going to follow up on the meeting yesterday and we're hopeful, although not to give false hope, we're hopeful that perhaps this is something that we can actually find a solution to.”

On the prospect of the bill being amended to include Northern Ireland, Ms O'Neill added: “We hope that that's going to happen. I think we're quite positive by the conversation that we had yesterday ... we feel that with a continued little more bit of pushing that perhaps we can get to the right space in this.”

Ms Little-Pengelly raised the prospect of a positive development within days.

“This is an issue that we have prioritised,” she said.

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“I know that our members of our Parliament as well over in London have been meeting and have been lobbying very hard on this issue and I think that's been really helpful.

“We've had a number of engagements now, with the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton Harris) and with the relevant minister. That's why we did prioritise meeting minister Hollinrake yesterday after the East-West Council meeting, because we wanted to emphasise in person how important this is to us, but particularly to those 26 people that are caught up in this.

“We want those people to get justice as quickly as others across the United Kingdom.”

The ministers were speaking to the media on the issue during a visit to Lough Neagh on Wednesday.