Post Office must pay £5.5 million over High Court battle
The Post Office has been ordered to pay nearly £5.5 million costs for the first stage of its High Court battle with 557 former workers, including a former clerk from Telford, after a judge refused it leave to appeal against an earlier ruling.
The former post office employees, including Tracy Felstead from Brookside, are fighting to clear their names, claiming they were wrongly blamed for financial discrepancies caused by a computer glitch.
Mr Justice Fraser ruled in favour of the Post Office workers in the first of four trials to examine claims financial shortfalls were caused by a fault with the controversial Horizon computer system.
The Post Office sought leave to appeal against the judgment, but Judge Fraser rejected the application and made the order for costs. The Post Office also agreed to pay £300,000 towards the claimants' costs over an unsuccessful attempt to have Judge Fraser removed from the case.
Miss Felstead, aged 37, was jailed for six months in 2001 after being convicted of stealing £11,500, and has always protested her innocence.
The first trial, which opened in November last year, looked at the contractual relationship between the Post Office and its sub-postmasters.
In his judgment, published in March, Judge Fraser accused the Post Office of 'oppressive behaviour' and said there was a culture of secrecy surrounding the Horizon System.
The Post Office applied for leave to appeal, but Judge Fraser this week rejected all of the 48 grounds for appeal it put forward. The Post Office still has the option to apply directly to the Court of Appeal.
In his judgment, made in March this year, Judge Fraser criticised the Post Office for sending out letters which said sub-postmasters were liable for shortfalls which appeared in their accounts.
“There can be no excuse, in my judgment, for an entity such as the Post Office to mis-state, in such clearly expressed terms, in letters that threaten legal action, the extent of the contractual obligation upon a sub-postmaster for losses," he said.
"The only reason for doing so, in my judgment, must have been to lead the recipients to believe that they had absolutely no option but to pay the sums demanded. It is oppressive behaviour.”
He also questioned the claim on the Post Office's website which described itself as 'the nation's most trusted brand'.
"So far as these claimants, and the subject matter of this group litigation, are concerned, this might be thought to be wholly wishful thinking,” he said.
The trial continues.