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  • 18 Jun, 2024

The British Post Office scandal explained

How did British postal workers end up in jail for fraud?

Public anger over the scandal, which claimed the lives of hundreds of British postal workers, was reignited in Britain earlier this year after a TV series about the incident. A computer software glitch has led to about 230 postal workers being jailed on charges of theft and fraud. Thousands more have been charged with similar crimes. The Post Office v Mr Bates: The True Story follows the court battle in which Postmaster General Alan Bates falsely accused himself and around 3,500 others of defrauding the British Postal Service.

A long-running petition calling for former Postmaster General Paula Vennells to be stripped of her civil service honors has attracted more than a million signatures since the four-part miniseries aired. It had the desired effect. Vennells bowed to pressure on Tuesday and promised to "return the CBE as soon as possible". British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also promised that more than 700 postal workers accused of crimes they did not commit "will receive the compensation they deserve".

What happens? From 1999 to 2015, 736 Postal Service managers were charged and convicted of financial misconduct based on information generated by the organization's computer software. Horizon, a computer software still used by the Post Office today, falsely claimed that assistant postmen and clerks (official titles given to post office managers) were involved in theft and false accounting, bringing large numbers of people to the Post Office. office. Deprivation of liberty. The miscarriage of justice was revealed when the Supreme Court found Horizon Software guilty in 2019 and ordered the government to investigate the matter in 2020. But to date, only 93 people have been overturned since the book was published. Horizon was full of bugs. In 2021, the UK Court of Appeal overturned 39 of these convictions in a single judgment.

The remaining cases are still being evaluated, but a recent TV series called for a quick turnaround. What error occurred in your computer software?

In 1999, the Post Office began selling Horizon computer software in the UK, produced by the Japanese company Fujitsu. Introduced to manage financial transactions for the UK Post Office.

But soon after, employees complained that Horizon was reporting cash shortages incorrectly and that the system was not fit for purpose. Complaints to post office management about errors in the system did not go unnoticed, and these financial irregularities continued to appear in the accounts of branches across the country.

Faced with these inconsistencies and a lack of support from management, some postmasters and postal workers tried to fill the "financial hole" with their own money. But post office executives were convinced they had been duped, refused to acknowledge Horizon's shortcomings, and began bringing private prosecutions against employees in 2000.

Some workers were sentenced to prison for theft. Scores of people face financial ruin after being ordered to pay the money for alleged theft, broken relationships, and suicide, in what British lawyer Jason Beer described as "the biggest injustice in recent times". Remember. "History of English Law".
What effect did this have on the accused postal workers? "The men and women convicted of the crimes were discredited because of the dishonesty of their actions," said Syra, a consultant to the public inquiry into the scandal, whose hearings officially began in February 2022.

"In some cases, people who have been important, respected, and integral parts of the communities they serve have been marginalized," he said. "Many men and women sadly died before the nation could publicly acknowledge that they had been wrongfully convicted."

Parmod Kalia was among those illegally imprisoned. Kalia was sentenced to six months in prison in 2001 after being falsely accused of embezzling more than £20,000 ($25,500 in today's prices). A postmaster in south-east London was asked by his mother to borrow money to cover a cash shortage. However, the Post, confident in Horizon's data, continued to harass him. His conviction was revoked only in 2021. Seema Misra was different. A British postman was eight weeks pregnant in 2010 when she was sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraud after being accused of embezzling £74,000 ($94,000 in today's prices). He told a British newspaper about his ordeal: "I was warned there was a chance I would end up in prison." "But honestly, I could never have imagined for a moment that I would be punished to this degree for something I didn't do. At the time, I believed in the legal system. I was distraught when the judge told me he had sentenced me to 15 months in prison. If I hadn't gotten pregnant, I would have killed myself. I was on the floor."

Like Kalia's, his conviction was not expunged until 2021. What happens next?

Amid ongoing political criticism over the slow pace of compensation payments to postal workers, the televised coverage of the scandal sparked new public outrage that many of those falsely accused have yet to receive justice. The UK government is currently under enormous public pressure to speed up the legal process of reviewing convictions.

The government is considering several options, including introducing legislation to overturn all convictions of postal workers involved in the scandal. The next stage of the public inquiry will be public hearings next week in London, and the full inquiry will last until mid-year.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak called the incident "a terrible miscarriage of justice" on Sunday. Asked whether the UK government-owned post office should be excused from its role in the appeal process, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg added: "Obviously all these issues are legally complex, but [we] are looking at them.". Exactly the area you described. "It's good that we're doing everything we can to fix those who were hurt at that time," he said.