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The Word on the Week

A Real British Cock-up

A Real British Cock-up                 Word on the Week                       6th April 2024.

It came to be known as Mr Bates v The Post Office and involved over 900 sub-postmasters (operating as franchisees) who were accused of stealing. The shortages were revealed by the new computer system which was compulsorily introduced in the 90ies. 

The ‘Horizon’ computer was designed to provide a swipe card system for payment of pensions and other benefits.   It failed and in an effort to salvage something of the £700 million costs the post Office, against the better judgement of its IT specialists decided to move all its paper based functions onto Horizon!

These Postmasters were numerate people who occupied a vital place in their community.  They were valued by their customers who knew them as honest, upright members of their town.   It was out of character to find them accused of theft, fraud and false accounting.   The Post Office decreed if they wished to retain their employment they had to replace the losses out of their own pockets.  

From 1999 to 2015 over 900 sub-posters were accused of stealing.   During that period 700 were convicted, faced disgrace in their community and were dismissed from their work.    The court cases, criminal convictions, imprisonments, loss of livelihoods and homes, debts and bankruptcies, took a heavy toll on the victims and their families, leading to stress, illness, family breakdown, and at least four suicides.

During this period a number of reports were produced but none were acted upon.  Instead the Post Office hierarchy was led by the nose by its own middle management and in-house and external legal advisors.    If they had done their job huge amounts of money, and human suffering, would have been avoided.

Out of all this human suffering Alan Bates emerged.   He first reported computer problems in 2000, was fired in 2003 and went on to launch the Justice for Sub postmasters Alliance.    The Post Office took the line that each accusation was unique and it was Bates tenacity in investigating the extent of these cases that began to reveal the true extent of the problem and create remedial action.

With the aid of a whistleblower at Horizon, makers Fugitu admitted the system could be tampered with and that daily adjustments had been made without any record of them being retained.  This brought disgrace and shame to the Japanese company. They have volunteered to assist with the astronomical compensation costs!  

Will justice ever come to the Postmasters – the weakest people in the case?  Will money compensate?   Will the public apology restore the disgraced?   What of those who died with the stigma hanging over them?

What of the lies told implying that their case was the only one?   That ‘Horizon’ could not be tampered with!    That no changes to the figures could take place during the night!    The weak management.   The ignoring of expert advice.  The case rolls on. Will anyone be brought to account?   Could it happen here?  Could I be part of it?  

 ‘If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.’ (1 John 1 verses 6 and 7).