OPINION: Post Office should be held accountable for missing cash fiasco

Protesters outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London

A protester outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of last week's verdict - Credit: PA/Yui Mok

It’s been labelled one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history, but that’s cold comfort for the 39 people labelled as thieves because the Post Office didn’t want to admit its fancy new IT system didn’t work properly.

Each one of these people has had their lives wrecked immeasurably in so many ways by a British institution.

But, for such a landmark case, it’s taken up surprisingly little time and space in the media so obsessed with the shenanigans at Westminster.

But these 39 subpostmasters cleared on Friday of stealing are real people caught up in a nightmare and hung out to dry by their employer.

People who ended up losing everything they had worked for, some their liberty, because the Post Office wanted to save face about the functionality of a computer system.

Real people doing jobs at the heart of communities, trusted by their customers and neighbours. Fraud and false accounting are big crimes. To be accused of them and swindling cash from a service at the heart of a community is one of the worst offences to be involved in.

They knew they had not taken money but, time and time again, data from the computer system was believed over their word.

Most Read

Computer says cash was missing so it must have been stolen.

Lives were “irreparably ruined” as they lost their income, homes, marriages, reputation, and health after they were prosecuted by the Post Office, which knew the Fujitsu-developed IT system had faults and bugs from its earliest days use.

They lost their integrity and their standing and place within communities were shredded. The sheer weight and understandable obsession that they were being wrongly accused of a crime made them ill,

Some suffered the unimaginable horror of being sent to prison when they knew they had done nothing. A. miscarriage of justice is such an easy phrase to, but imagine the horror of being locked in a cell because your work computer system was dodgy?

It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Their criminal records meant finding new jobs was nigh on impossible.

Some even died before they could clear their name.

Real lives ruined by one of the county’s largest brands, with the ripples affecting even more than the numbers on the charge sheet.

Lawyers for the former subpostmasters said evidence of serious defects in the Horizon system was “concealed from the courts, prosecutors and defence”, in order to protect the Post Office “at all costs”.

Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the system’s defects.

But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable” and “effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, he added.

How can anyone not feel sickened to the pit of their stomach that these people, working for a living were hung out to dry and ruined for a company to save face over a computer system?

Yet no one has been held accountable. How can that be?

The media should should be campaigning for an inquiry and criminal investigations into senior Post Office figures who “oversaw the criminalisation of hundreds of postmasters”.

Some encouraged to plead guilty by a legal system set up – and what we believe in to deliver justice.

Vijay Parek, now 62, went to prison for six months for stealing £78,000 after pleading guilty advised by his barrister

As one said: “It was intended to be the business that we would work through towards a comfortable retirement. The whole family suffered.”

And the paltry compensations are just £22,000 each after legal fees.

An inquiry must be independent. It would be a farce for the government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was in charge because it owns the Post Office, so a clear financial conflict of interest and wholly inappropriate.

Also, it’s non-statutory so can’t hear evidence under oath, so it can’t compel witnesses or evidence, so has very little clout or potential for an effective outcome.

If this terrible process can happen to these people, it can happen so easily to anyone else, and we should all be fighting their corners to get to the truth and who was behind it and bring transparency and accountability.

Changing rooms: A national sharp intake of breath and chorus of “what on earth?’ ricocheted when the photos of the prime minister’s flat were revealed.

The sitting room looks like one of the 1990s Changing Rooms reveals, when Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen opens the door and the homeowner bursts into horrified sobs.

Surely a case of the Emperor's new clothes? Some Chelsea interior designer having a laugh at a huge expense.

Gaudy gold wallpaper at £840 a roll, a £10,000 sofa for baby Wilfred and demon dog Dilyn, renowned for his misbehaviour, to romp on and £6,000 for an armchair.

Costs aside, the judgement needs to be seriously questioned for a temporary makeover. It’s their temporary home – where they stay for his job.

Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds insisted they couldn’t live in the John Lewis blandness left by Theresa May and a few personal nick nacks wouldn’t cut it.

Whoever steps in there next will be ripping it out the rouge boudoir as quick as they can say red box so a total waste, whoever paid for it.