YESTERDAY, former Post Office sub-postmasters and mistresses began giving evidence to the public inquiry into the Post Office scandal which has been described as ‘the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.’
Over 700 branch managers were convicted of criminal offences due to a faulty accounting software system called Horizon which was installed in Post Offices from 1999.
Faults in the Horizon IT computing system, developed by the Fujitsu company, made it look as though money was missing from accounts, leading to the Post Office prosecuting branch managers for false accounting and theft.
Between 2000 and 2014 the Post Office prosecuted 736 managers – an average of one a week – on the basis of information from a computer system that was riddled with ‘bugs, errors and defects’ according to a High Court Judge.
Bugs, moreover, that both the Post office and Fujitsu had been warned about in the initial stages of Horizon’s introduction.
This didn’t prevent the Post Office from continually denying any problems with the software and carrying out criminal prosecutions on an industrial scale of entirely innocent men and women, hounding them through the courts.
From the start of the prosecutions, these PO managers were left in the dark about the massive scale of prosecutions taking place every week and thought themselves alone and isolated when facing highly paid legal teams assembled by the Post Office to secure convictions.
Some postmasters resorted to re-mortgaging their homes in a fruitless attempt to make up the thousands of pounds in shortfall that Horizon had inaccurately recorded.
Other were faced in court with either repaying the huge amounts or being sent to jail while some were actually sent down, in one case a prison sentence of over three years.
For twenty years these sub-postmasters and mistresses fought to clear their names through the courts once they realised that it was not a case of a handful of individuals but a nationwide scandal.
In April 2021, the Court of Appeal quashed 39 convictions in a single morning with the presiding judge, Lord Justice Holroyde, saying that the Post Office had, by representing Horizon as reliable, ‘effectively sought to reverse the burden of proof’ by forcing defendants to prove their innocence instead of the Post Office showing they were guilty.
He also found that evidence had been withheld from both the courts and defence lawyers, evidence which showed that both the Post Office and Fujitsu knew Horizon was producing inaccurate records of financial transactions.
While hundreds of workers’ lives have been shattered by bankruptcies, jail terms and, in at least one case, a suicide directly attributed to this hounding of innocent employees, those responsible have escaped so far not just without penalty but with sizeable amounts of taxpayers’ money.
In April last year, the Post Office announced it was awarding Fujitsu a £42.5 million contract extension to run the Horizon system – the very system responsible for the massive miscarriage of justice.
A massive reward for a company found by the courts to be complicit in covering up the software bugs.
While Fujitsu has emerged so far unscathed and even enriched from the Horizon scandal those wrongfully convicted are demanding a full accounting of the company and the Post Office.
Sub-postmaster Harjinder Butoy, who was jailed for three years and three months in 2008 accused of stealing £208,000, and whose conviction was only quashed in the High Court last year, spoke out as the inquiry convened saying that he doesn’t feel his ordeal is over. ‘People say you’ve had your name cleared you’re all right now. But it’s not, you want justice. I want someone else to be charged and jailed like I was.’
There will be no justice for the hundreds of postmasters and postmistresses under a capitalist system that is prepared to reward companies for criminally sacrificing workers in order to maintain their ‘reputation’ and profits as the Post Office and Fujitsu did.
These workers must be fully compensated but the real criminals, the PO chief executives who earned vast wages and the bosses of Fujitsu, will only be brought to justice when capitalism is abolished through socialist revolution.