UK Post Office scandal: 700 wrongly convicted

Channel 7 will screen UK ITV’s drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office over two evenings on 14 and 21 February, the dramatised true story that finally broke the UK’s shocking post office scandal into the public consciousness, and has rocked British politics. 

The cases constitute the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history, spanning a period of over 20 years.

Toby Jones in Mr Bates vs the Post Office

On 19 July 2023 Marina Hyde of The Guardian (UK) reported:

After 20 years, here’s why the Post Office scandal is special: the cover-up is happening in plain sight. People whose lives were destroyed deserve justice. And those responsible are contriving to make sure they don’t get it Pop your teeth-grinding guards in and gather round, because it’s time to talk about the Post Office scandal again.

It remains something of a downer that the most widespread injustice in British legal history doesn’t get the full-spectrum fever coverage that is lavished on more frivolous news – but then, the forces formerly known as The Man have always wanted this one covered up. Don’t worry if you’re only belatedly catching up.

The second-best time to start absolutely losing your mind that any of it was allowed to happen is right now, while the official inquiry is under way and precisely NO ONE has yet been held accountable for the ruin of hundreds of completely innocent lives, and the causing of deep suffering in thousands more. Box office-wise, despite its slow burn, the Post Office story has it all.

It’s a tale of total corporate psychopathy, a mad Kafka-esque nightmare in which totally innocent subpostmasters, the very backbone of villages and communities, were turned into criminals to cover up the fact that the Post Office’s Horizon computer system didn’t work properly.

Each was told by the Post Office that no one else had any problems with the system. Vast sums were effectively looted from them to make up accounting shortfalls, before they were prosecuted anyway. Distraught subpostmasters were imprisoned pregnant, or still in their teens, or on their young child’s birthday, or in their old age, or in high-security jails where they saw and suffered terrible things. At least 60 have died without seeing justice or compensation; at least four took their own lives.

Countless victims were driven into physical and mental problems from which they have never recovered. Post Office boss apologises for inquiry bonus payments Honestly, the full catalogue of stories would take more than a book to cover – I strongly recommend The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis – and every single individual case forces you to stop, catch your breath, and ask yourself: what the hell did I just read? And here’s the kicker: the scandal is still playing out right now. The cover-up is still under way right now. Right now, in London’s Aldwych House, Wyn Williams’s long-awaited and tirelessly fought-for inquiry is hearing evidence, except on the days it can’t, because the Post Office is continually failing to hand over evidence.

Right now, the weeks turn up completely eyepopping new revelations, like the discovery of a document proving that Post Office investigators were ordered to group suspected subpostmasters in racial categories such as “negroid types” and “dark-skinned European types”. This advice was still in use in 2011.

That document was also somehow not put before the inquiry, would you believe, along with tens of thousands of others the Post Office has been accused of serially withholding. Last week, on the very night before a crucial evidence session from an engineer for Fujitsu, the firm that designed and maintained the highly defective Horizon accounting software, the Post Office suddenly found a mere 4,767 relevant documents it had forgotten to mention. So, his evidence was not heard, and the inquiry again had to be halted.

Right now, even seasoned watchers of this epic saga are getting their heads round the recent revelation that today’s Post Office management actually ran a bonus scheme to reward executives for cooperating with the inquiry. To adapt that old Chris Rock routine about people who nobly take care of their own kids: you’re SUPPOSED to cooperate with the inquiry?! What do you want – a cookie?!

Right now, the inquiry is uncovering details like the fact the current Post Office chief executive Nick Read got a £455,000 bonus last year, a mere 3% of which he has now returned, judging that bit to be the part that related to giving a shit about his obligations to the inquiry (I paraphrase).

Fifty other senior Post Office executives also got inquiry-related bonuses. Bear in mind this is an organisation that said it needed up to £1bn from the taxpayer to fund the compensation and clean-up, otherwise it would be insolvent. (Oh, YOU’ll be insolvent now, is it?) And bear in mind this was at the same time as, say, the case of Francis Duff, an 81-year-old former subpostmaster who lost his house, business and marriage in the two-decade wait to be absolved and compensated.

He was finally awarded £340,000 last October – only for the Post Office to immediately swoop and tell him he would lose £332,000 of it to cover income tax and the bankruptcy their own erroneous actions had forced him into. He couldn’t afford to heat his home last winter.

Yesterday, the inquiry’s chair, Wyn Williams – who I’m developing a bit of a public servant crush on – appealed to the government to protect victims and expedite payments from the various compensation schemes. It’s kind of amazing that in addition to Sir Wyn’s mandated task of working out WTF happened, new events and revelations keep forcing him to work out WTF is still happening. Why is the Post Office continually failing to hand over documents to the inquiry? Why are the three patchwork compensation schemes such a mess, and taking so long? Why doesn’t the government minister responsible for the Post Office, Kevin Hollinrake, step in right now and grip this – unlike all his predecessors in the role who failed the subpostmasters so badly by simply accepting any old rubbish the Post Office told them? Post Office inquiry chair criticises Horizon compensation scheme.

Ultimately, of course, one of the biggest questions for many remains: where is Paula Vennells? Vennells was the chief executive for much of the period during which the postmasters were wrongly pursued (as well as an Anglican minister, in a somewhat eyebrowraising detail). Internal reports she commissioned repeatedly found the Post Office may have prosecuted completely innocent people and that the IT system was a mess.

Vennells saw to it that no one was told about these conclusions, from the subpostmasters to parliament. She eventually left the Post Office with a CBE and £5m richer, failing upwards into some Cabinet Office business role and chairmanship of an NHS trust.

Vennells has since gone to ground – but her giving evidence to the inquiry, when it finally comes, will be a momentous occasion. Whether it will lead to anything you’d call justice is another matter.

A chap I corresponded with not long ago thought the entire over-remunerated executive class covering the period in question should be chucked straight into prison and have to argue their way out; which is, in a way, what happened to so many of the poor people who were the lifeblood of their business.

But perhaps Post Office bosses past and present know that while such a nightmarish thing could happen to a subpostmaster – or on this evidence, perhaps even one day to you or me – it couldn’t really happen to them. Then again, the surest way to foster that kind of outcome is indifference – so let’s all resolve to stay very, very angry about this one.

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7 Responses to UK Post Office scandal: 700 wrongly convicted

  1. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich says:

    This is just one of the most corrupt decisions/injustices in the so-called “great history of British justice “—British INJUSTICE, just as corrupt as Russia or China or some African or Asian dictatorship . It reminds me of the persecution and bankruptcy of Count Nicholas Tolstoy by the British Establishment , the redacted evidence and removal from public view of evidence which had previously been released in the public domain. Then , of course, we have the sad case of Julian Assange, an Australian journalist who is facing life in a US prison while the American journalist who published the same evidence in an American paper has never been prosecuted !!! The ATO held a secret Report which damaged my career . I applied under FOI for access to the Report, so, the ATO placed the author of the Report (which “inter alia ” accused me of a criminal act , ie DEFAMATION ) in charge of FOI in the Adelaide ATO . Of course , he denied me access, so, I lodged the very first FOI Application in The Administrative Appeals Tribunal . He was promoted to Executive class . The Tribunal immediately , without considering any argument, placed a Supression Order “for all time ” on all the evidence to protect the career of the Executive who had written the Report on me. My so-called 1984 FOI “victory ” against the ATO and the Australian Public Service Board established an FOI precedent based on Conway v. Rimmer ( a decision of the House of Lords ) and on Whitlam v. Sankey ( High Court of Australia) . I was given access to all my Personnel File held by the ATO , but, what good was it to me, since, like the victims of the Post Office in the UK, there was nothing I could do with it to obtain justice ! The judge ordered that I be given ” one copy of the transcript “, and, if you lose it you will never get another and when this is over all the evidence pertaining to this case will be destroyed “. My Case is still misreported in the Australian Law Reports—it claims I was represented by a firm (Carabelas & co) I never hired and makes no mention of the Sexual Harassment by this senior ATO Executive ! Because no lawyer would take my case against the Government and the ATO , I had to represent myself in the Tibunal . When the PSB appealed to the Federal Court and hired a Sydney Silk I was out of my depth and hired for about an hour young Tony Besanko, recently the judge in the Defamation Case of Ben Roberts-Smith All the journalists who had been supporting me
    ( there was an article on me with my picture in “The News ” of Adelaide ) were evicted. I stood trembling alone in court . I had just buried 3 days before my young husband who had died suddenly of a heart attack while I was at work in the ATO . I think the stress of my court case killed him ! I heard the Director Management say :– “We will destroy the bitch !” However, senior , MALE staff VOLUNTEERED to testify for me :– (the head of ATO Investigations for SA + NT: the Manager of Computer area; my former boss in Recovery section who had known me for many years; my current Manager in Assessing– all testified I was a ” good worker ” and that Mr “X”as the Federal Court called him, had been contacting me at work for personal reasons unrelated to work . Finally, under my Cross-Examination, Mr “X”confessed the Sexual Harrassment which meant he was the laughing -stock of the Adelaide ATO .He was forced to resign. I discovered that someone had removed my university qualifications off my Personnel File so that I would never be promoted and that I had been under-paid for 16 years. When I could not obtain justice , I had a Mental Breakdown at work at my desk. I was in a catatonic state for months never washing myself , always in the same dirty dressing-gown, staring at the TV, unable to speak or to read or write. Somehow, in my Zombie state I managed to cook ,ALWAYS IN SILENCE for my young , now fatherless children. I never spoke to them. The court case destroyed PERMANENTLY my relationship with my children ! My adult children have abandoned me in my old age and denied me all contact with my grandchildren. They have not wanted to see me for over 23 years My career in the ATO was over . I never got justice.! Since 1975 the ATO had compiled a suitcase full of secret reports that I was “mentally ill “, but, I had NO history of mental illness and Canberra ordered in 1980 that all those many comments be expunged. In the end the ATO got their wish—they sent me insane with many years of harassment, eg making me an Income Tax Assessor without any training , without the customary 2 weeks being taught in Training Section , but, with the threat that if I did not pass 3 Tests, I would be demoted . Other harassment was to send me to work all over the building for jobs I was not trained to do for, eg half a day, or 15 minutes, etc. This back-fired on Management as I made many friends in this almost exclusively male world who later volunteered to testify in court for me !!! Federal Attorney -General , Gareth Evans , rang me at home to offer his condolences on the death of my young husband and to advise me he had amended the FOI Act which would make it easier for me to win the court case . I do not hate men. Some have been my best friends until they died, including Professor Cedric Pugh who contacted the new Head of the PSB, Peter Wilenski , to stop my case going to the High Court. Wilenski, immmediately he was made aware of the enormous legal costs the PSB had accumulated in the fight against me, ordered the Witch-hunt of me ( the prospective Appeals all the way to the High Court ) to cease immediately ! ABC Journalist Margo O’Neill had introduced me to a Canberra barrister who offered to do my case ” pro bono ” if it got to the High Court. “The Canberra Times”was following my case . Many years after the FOI court case, I met in romantic circumstances in The Great Victoria Desert and married a man who healed my heart and mind and gave me his undying love ! I wish someone would write the awful story of my epic battle for many years for justice, the first FOI “victory “in the Federal Court. I hope Bruce Lehrmann ,Linda Reynolds and Judge Sofronoff obtain justice.

  2. Rhett says:

    Bureaucratic admission of Systemic Guilt when challenged ‘Your the Only One’ So much value for systems advocacy globally in Mr Bates v ThePost Office.

  3. Peter Gill says:

    This sounds like unmissable TV, on Channel 7 in Sydney from 8:55pm to 11pm on the next two Wednesdays.

  4. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    While sadly no-one for years was taking heed of these men and women sadly affected by this “Robodebt” like tragedy we should keep in mind the background interviews carried out by Gwenyth Hughes, a journalist who exposed this scandal once and for all.
    Every legitimate source to seek justice appeared exhausted but the years of interviewing sub-postmasters and mistresses by Ms Hughes finally led to cracking this scandal.
    Legitimate justice, political, legal sources across Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland should be ashamed.
    Government contracts continued funding the knowingly faulty computer system, department heads were rewarded and honoured and we scratch our heads wondering why ‘trust’ in these people who govern our nations and our workplaces is diminishing!
    People like Gwenyth Hughes will no doubt feel they were simply doing their job so if anyone deserves every credit for achieving true justice then look no further.
    I say this because those who depended on the ‘legitimate’ sources were let down, some committing suicide, others demoralised. Decent hardworking people desperately let down.
    Thank god we have similar Gwenyth like people in Australia!

  5. Poppa says:

    The problem here as usual is the anathema that is the past its use by date, Corrupt & all too readily Corruptible, English Adversarial Justice System, which by virtue of its Govt. sanctioned “Separation Of Powers” gives carte blanche to corrupt Police , Judiciary to SCREW the LIVES of even those Falsely Accused.

  6. moni says:

    How on earth does Vennells etc sleep at night knowing innocent people were in prison, the pain and untold suffering inflicted on people, those who ended their life because of the burden of shame, personal costs and public humiliation, deliberate cover-up, ongoing obfuscation show their contempt for the truth and restitution for the victims.

    Richard Topcliffe (priest hunter and torturer 1500’s) would be proud of these evil people.

    The day they go to prison can’t come fast enough!!!

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