Socialist Worker

Wronged post workers’ convictions overturned

by Sam Ord
Issue No. 2752

In total 736 Post Office workers were convicted of stealing money

In total 736 Post Office workers were convicted of stealing money (Pic: geograph.org.uk)


Post Office bosses should be prosecuted for overseeing an outrageous miscarriage of justice, its victims have said.

Judges last week quashed the convictions of 39 former postmistresses and postmasters for theft, fraud and false accounting between 2000 and 2014.

A further 22 cases are being reviewed.

In total 736 workers were convicted of stealing money, with some imprisoned, after the Post Office installed the Horizon computer system in branches.

The system developed by the multinational company Fujitsu was flawed and showed shortfalls in their accounts that did not exist.

Judges said the company had “steamrolled” sub-postmasters in its pursuit of prosecutions, despite knowing there were serious questions over the reliability of Horizon.

Failures

The judges said, “Post Office Limited’s failures of investigation and disclosure were so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the Horizon cases an affront to the conscience of the court.”

The clearing of the names of 39 people follows the overturning of six other convictions in December. But some have died before their names were cleared.

Speaking after his name was cleared, Harjinder Butoy, who was convicted of theft and jailed for three years and four months in 2008, said the experience “destroyed my life for 14 years”.

He said those responsible for the scandal “need to be punished, seriously punished”.

Butoy added, “They’re just bullies, that’s all they are. Somebody needs to really, really sort this out and charge them for this.”

And Janet Skinner, who ran a post office in Hull, was imprisoned in 2007 for nine months after an alleged shortfall of £59,000.

It was a case that she said “destroyed everything”.

She was taken away from her two children and sent to prison. After her release she lost a job offer owing to her conviction.

The CWU union said, “The lives of so many decent workers have been ruined through no faults of their own.

Criminal

That’s why we’re demanding a criminal investigation against Post Office bosses.”

There were calls for former Post Office boss Paula Vennells to repay bonuses of more than £2.2 million that she received as part of her £4.5 million earnings during her seven year tenure.

Under pressure, Vennells has resigned from her boardroom positions at retailers Dunelm and Morrisons.

She has also stepped down from her role as a Church of England minister.

Neil Hudgell, who represented 29 of the former sub-postmasters, said the Post Office “promoted a culture of cover-up and subterfuge in the pursuit of reputation and profit.”

“They readily accepted that loss of life and liberty for many ordinary people as a price worth paying in that pursuit”, he added.


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