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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Abbi Garton-Crosbie

Humza Yousaf jibes 'UK-based parties' should reflect on Horizon scandal role

HUMZA Yousaf has urged “all UK-based parties” to reflect on their role in the Post Office scandal as opposition leaders rounded on Scotland's Crown Office over its role in prosecuting subpostmasters.

At the first First Minister's Questions (FMQs) of 2024, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross demanded that the Lord Advocate appear before MSPs to answer questions over the Horizon scandal.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused Post Office employees of “acting like the mob” in Scotland and called for their actions to be interrogated.

It emerged this week that up to 100 people were convicted in Scotland due to the faulty Horizon system, with prosecutions dealt with by the independent Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), as opposed to Post Office-led prosecutions elsewhere in the UK.

Both Ross and Sarwar tried to turn the scandal on the First Minister, but Yousaf hit back and pointed out that Labour had been in administration in Westminster, with ministers told about “inaccurate data” provided by the Post Office that led to the convictions.

He told MSPs COPFS issued guidance warning against reliance on Horizon for evidence in September 2013 and effectively stopped prosecutions in 2015.

Sarwar claimed that it “shouldn’t take victims disclosing the most harrowing moments of their lives to shame both of Scotland’s governments into action, but it happens too often”.

He asked if the First Minister agreed that the priority should be “truth and justice for victims” rather than protecting institutions or “individual reputations”.

Yousaf fired back: “I do agree that it is of paramount importance.

“I do remind Anas Sarwar of course the UK Labour Party were in the UK Government for a number of years while sub postmasters and sub postmistresses were telling UK Government postal ministers, Labour ministers, that the Post Office was presenting inaccurate data.

“So I think it is important for all UK-based parties to reflect on their relationship with the Post Office and whether they were listening or not.”

The First Minister insisted that the Scottish Government’s approach will be to “seek the truth” and “do right" by the people of Scotland.

“When it comes to this particular issue when it comes to sub-postmasters here in Scotland we will work with whoever we need to, including the UK Government, to ensure that those individuals not only get access to justice but compensation that has been denied to them for far too long,” he added.

Earlier, Ross (below) called on Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain to appear before MSPs to answer questions on COPFS role in the scandal.

“There was a sudden spike in cases involving people who were some of the most trusted in their communities, but the Crown Office proceeded anyway,” the Scottish Tory leader said.

“The Horizon Post Office scandal has devastated lives.

“It is the most appalling miscarriage of justice. Good people were criminalised because of an IT failure they had nothing to do with and a cover up that lasted for years – it’s right that no stone is left unturned in seeking answers.

“The Crown Office in Scotland must be transparent – prosecutors were aware of issues with the flawed Horizon system more than 10 years ago, so First Minister, we don’t need meetings or briefings from the Lord Advocate, we need her here in Parliament to answer questions about this scandal.”

Responding, the First Minister said he had a conversation with Bain on Thursday and feels she is “willing to consider” appearing before MSPs, but he added it is for her to decide as the independent head of prosecutions in Scotland.

“Scottish prosecutors were told in September 2013 to treat cases reported by the Post Office in regard to the facts and circumstances and evidence which did not rely upon Horizon,” he added.

“Then of course no cases were prosecuted from 2015 where the sufficiency of evidence was dependent on the evidence from the Horizon system.”

Yousaf (above) said the Crown Office, between 2013 and 2015, had been assured by the Post Office that Horizon had no bearing on live Scottish cases.

Earlier this week, the UK Government said it will look to pass legislation to exonerate all of those impacted by the scandal.

Yousaf told MSPs that the quickest way for the Scottish Parliament to replicate the move may be to extend the Westminster legislation to include Scotland using a legislative consent motion, but he added the Scottish Government will be exploring all options.

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