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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Investigation underway as UK Post Office wrongly accuses over 700 employees of theft due to IT error


LONDON — U.K. police have opened a fraud ‌investigation into⁢ Britain’s Post ⁢Office over a miscarriage of justice that saw hundreds of postmasters wrongfully⁤ accused of stealing ⁤money when a faulty ⁢computer system was to blame.

The ‌Metropolitan ⁣Police force said⁣ late Friday that it is investigating “potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions,” relating to money the ​Post Office received ‌”as a result ⁣of prosecutions or ⁣civil actions” against accused postal workers.

Police also ‌are investigating potential offenses of perjury and ‌perverting the course of justice over investigations and prosecutions carried⁤ out ​by the Post ​Office.

The Impact‌ of ‍the​ Scandal

Between 1999 and 2015, ​more⁢ than‌ 700 post office branch ⁤managers were accused of theft or fraud ⁤because computers‌ wrongly showed that money was⁢ missing. Many were financially ruined⁣ after being forced to ⁢pay large sums ⁣to the ⁤company, and some were convicted and ‍sent to prison.⁤ Several killed themselves.

The real culprit was a defective computer accounting system called ⁢Horizon, supplied by ‌the Japanese technology firm ⁣Fujitsu, that was installed in local Post Office branches in⁤ 1999.

The Post⁢ Office maintained for years ⁣that data ‍from Horizon was‌ reliable and accused‌ branch managers of dishonesty when the system showed money was missing.

Seeking Justice

After‍ years ‌of campaigning by ⁣victims ⁢and ⁣their lawyers, the Court of Appeal‌ quashed 39 of ⁤the convictions⁤ in ⁣2021. A judge said the Post Office “knew⁤ there were​ serious issues about the reliability” of Horizon and had committed ⁤”egregious” failures⁢ of investigation and disclosure.

A total of 93​ of the postal workers have now had their convictions overturned, according to the Post ⁣Office. But many others have yet⁣ to be exonerated, and only 30 have agreed to “full and⁣ final” compensation payments. A public inquiry into the scandal has been underway since 2022.

Accountability and Awareness

So far, no one⁣ from the⁤ publicly owned ⁣Post Office or other companies involved has been arrested or faced⁣ criminal charges.

Lee Castleton,⁤ a former branch manager who​ went⁤ bankrupt after being pursued by‌ the ⁣Post Office for missing funds, said his​ family⁢ was ostracized in their hometown of ​Bridlington ‍in ‍northern England. He said his daughter was bullied because people thought ‍”her father was a thief, and he’d take money from old people.”

He said ​victims wanted​ those responsible to be named.

“It’s ⁣about‌ accountability,” Castleton told Times Radio⁣ on Saturday. “Let’s see‌ who made those decisions and made this happen.”

Impact of ​Media

The long-simmering scandal stirred ⁤new‌ outrage with the broadcast⁣ this week of a TV ​docudrama,⁢ “Mr. Bates⁢ vs ​the Post Office.” It charted a‌ two-decade ⁤battle​ by branch manager Alan Bates,⁤ played by Toby Jones, to expose the truth and clear the ​wronged postal workers.

Post ​Office Chief Executive Nick Read, appointed⁤ after the‌ scandal, welcomed the TV series ‌and said he hoped it would “raise‌ further awareness and encourage⁤ anyone​ affected⁢ who has not⁣ yet come forward to seek the redress and compensation they deserve.”

A lawyer for‌ some of the postal workers said 50⁢ new potential victims ​had approached ‍lawyers since the show aired on the ITV network.

“The drama has elevated public awareness to a ⁤whole new level,”⁢ attorney Neil Hudgell said. “The British public ⁤and ‍their overwhelming sympathy for the plight ⁣of​ these poor people has given some the strength to finally come forward. ‍Those‌ numbers increase by the day, but there ​are so many more out ⁤there.”

Truth Media Network
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  1. Disagree. Unacceptable for the Post Office to wrongfully accuse innocent employees without thorough investigation. Responsibility for IT errors should be properly addressed.


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