The minister hopped and jerked like a barefoot man on hot sand: HENRY DEEDES sees MPs vent their fury over the Post Office scandal
Bankruptcy. Imprisonment. And, in some cases, suicide. The Post Office IT scandal, in which postmasters were falsely accused of stealing due to a dicky computer system – many of their lives being ruined as they were subsequently dragged through the courts – is an issue of gut-wrenching, hair-tearing horror.
Emotive issues call for emotive politicians. Which makes the appearance of business minister Paul Scully yesterday rather unfortunate, as he issued a statement following last week’s Court of Appeal verdict that dramatically overturned 39 convictions.
Mr Scully exhibits flashes of competence but lacks, shall we say, a certain bedside manner. Those caught up in this cruel saga are the victims of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in modern times, yet there were moments when Scully spoke with the contrition of a waiter who’d just cocked up a drinks order.
It doesn’t help that he’s a nervy presence at the despatch box. He jerks and hops from side to side like a barefoot man on hot sand. Occasionally, there is a roll of the neck and twiddle of the Timmy Mallett specs. Anyway, the gist of his statement advised members to sit tight and wait for former High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams’ report into the scandal, which Scully expected to land on his own desk by the summer.
Emotive issues call for emotive politicians. Which makes the appearance of business minister Paul Scully yesterday in the House of Commons (pictured)
The thought of Sir Wyn’s impending report did not pour joy into members’ hearts. Henhouses may well have given warmer prospective welcomes to members of the local fox community.
It was too weak in its remit, the MPs cried. ‘Toothless!’ yelled Chi Onwurah (Lab, Newcastle C). The word ‘whitewash’ was bandied around. They wanted a proper gowns-and-wigs judicial inquiry.
Anger throbbed on both sides of the chamber. Andrew Bridgen (Con, NW Leicestershire) looked sullen and fed up. He’s been fighting for Post Office victims for years. He announced that only a full-scale inquiry could ‘lance the boil’.
Mr Scully exhibits flashes of competence but lacks, shall we say, a certain bedside manner
More from Henry Deedes for the Daily Mail…
Angriest of all was Kevan Jones (Lab, N Durham) who spent most of the session blurting inaudible insults through his facemask. Like Bridgen, he’s been pushing this campaign for yonks. Jones curtly informed Scully his name was in danger of being added to the list of ‘useless’ ministers who had dithered over this issue previously.
To whom was Mr Jones referring? Well, Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson – all Lib Dems – are thought to have dropped the ball on this while in government. Notably, there was no Lib Dem representation in the chamber yesterday.
Father of the House Peter Bottomley raised eyebrows in the Press gallery when he said people should pay attention to the journalists who’d been alerting their readers to the scandal right from the start. Believe me, this is not a view you often hear expressed in the Commons – and of course the Mail has doggedly fought the postmasters’ corner for years.
Meanwhile, there came further loud calls for disgraced former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells to hand back her CBE.
The Post Office IT scandal, in which postmasters were falsely accused of stealing due to a dicky computer system is an issue of gut-wrenching, hair-tearing horror. Stock image
Marion Fellows (SNP, Motherwell) seemed to suggest Vennells should also be made to hand back any bonuses she received. Even better.
Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab, S Shields) wanted executives prosecuted. Andrew Mitchell (Con, Sutton Coldfield) mused that this was the sort of human rights breach we complain about in other countries. Troublingly, Laura Farris (Con, Newbury) warned that with all the technology about these days – particularly artificial intelligence – a similar incident was all but inevitable. Lessons needed to be learned.
But the most poignant moment came from Kevin Hollinrake (Con, Thirsk & Malton), who didn’t sound hopeful. He quoted a nugget of wisdom from the billionaire American investment guru Warren Buffet: ‘What we learn from history is: people don’t learn from history.’ A bleak thought.