UK postal workers win reversal years after wrongful convictions
Between 2000 and 2014, the UK Post Office prosecuted 736 of its employees for shortfalls in earnings which were actually misreported due to bugs in the Post Office's software called Horizon. Disturbingly, wrongful convictions saw several employees serve jail time and lose families, all while the system knew of the underlying reality. These events have come to be known as the Post Office Trial.
Horizon was software created by Japanese company Fujitsu. Since 1999, it has been used by the Post Office network for tasks such as transactions, accounting, and stocktaking. Sub-postmasters complained of bugs in the system that reported shortfalls amounting to thousands of pounds. Despite this, Horizon's data was treated as indisputable evidence in trials that penalized several Post Office employees, around one employee per week.
In 2019, the Post Office agreed to pay £58 million in damages to 555 claimants. BBC reported that over 2,400 claims have been made. Six people were absolved of wrongdoing in December 2020 and 39 convictions were recently overturned. A new campaign calling for a public inquiry has been gathering steam. Some people recently absolved of crimes have supported the campaign.
I welcome the Court of Appeal's decision to overturn the convictions of 39 former sub-postmasters in the Horizon dispute, an appalling injustice which has had a devastating impact on these families for years.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 23, 2021
Lessons should and will be learnt to ensure this never happens again.
Although the Post Office agreed to settle for £58 million, a major chunk was swallowed up in legal fees. A paltry £12 million was shared among the 555 claimants, an average of approximately £20,000 each. Many of these employees had lost six-figure amounts.
However, an obvious question remains yet unanswered. Why did the UK government throw postmasters under the bus despite being made fully aware of Horizon's inadequacies even before it sued the employees? A representative for the Post Office workers said the organization "readily accepted the loss of life, liberty, and sanity of many ordinary people" in the "pursuit of reputation and profit," BBC reported.
Earlier in April, the chief executive of the Post Office Nick Read said that Horizon would be replaced with a cloud-based solution. Read added that the organization would coordinate with the UK government to compensate claimants suitably. The Communication Workers Union even said that Post Office CEO until 2019, Paula Vennells should be stripped of her CBE for "her part in the scandal".
Imagine yourselves in the victims' shoes. Janet Skinner was imprisoned for nine months, away from her two kids after Horizon showed a £59,000 shortfall. Many victims sold or re-mortgaged personal assets to cover up for the losses. One victim was pregnant when she was convicted of theft and imprisoned in 2010. Another reportedly committed suicide when Horizon pegged his losses at £100,000.
Although the Post Office scandal is reportedly the UK's largest-ever miscarriage of justice, the country's administration has knowingly turned a blind eye to far more heinous systemic horrors. In 2014, a Forbes report elaborated how gangs of Pakistani men raped 1,400 children from state-run homes in Rotherham over the course of 15 years, all while the police and other authorities protected the criminals.
No government officials went to prison for this, even as police arrested parents reporting the rapes while actively protecting the perpetrators. These crimes continued unabated because, just like the Horizon scandal, authorities were unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes. Meanwhile, similar instances of child abuse continue to be unearthed to this day in Rochdale, Telford, Oxford, Burnley, Leicester, Newcastle, Peterborough, Dewsbury, and Halifax.