The Great Post Office Scandal: The fight to expose a multimillion-pound IT disaster which put innocent people in jail by Nick Wallis, Bath Publishing, £25 544 pages

‘I WANT someone tried and jailed like I was, then I am settled,’

Harjinder Butoy,[1]

‘All who were convicted following a trial had grim punishments imposed upon them, including in some cases immediate sentences of imprisonment. Lives were ruined, families were torn apart, families were made homeless and destitute.’Reputations were destroyed, not least because the crimes of which the men and women were convicted – theft, fraud, and false accounting – all involved acting dishonestly. People who were an important, respected and integral part of the local community that they served were in some cases shunned.

Jason Beer QC

Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.

—Balzac

The Great Post Office Scandal, a door stopper of a book weighing in at 544 pages, catalogues at great length the numerous campaigns and legal cases that finally made the Post Office admit there was the elephant in the room. Post Office executives spared no cost in defending their position of prosecuting innocent people for crimes they did not commit.

Nick Wallis’s book highlights the shocking and criminal actions of the Post Office, who deliberately prosecuted Postmasters and Postmistresses despite knowing full well that their Horizon computer system was faulty. The Post Office bosses jailed, ruined the lives of and caused the suicides of many people in a manner that would not look out of place in a Nazi courtroom.

As Rory Cellan-Jones said in his review, “hundreds of sub-postmasters have had their reputations besmirched, their livelihood and liberty taken away and been sent into a spiral of depression that has in one instance ended in suicide, all because of a misplaced faith in the wisdom of computers”.[2]

In 1999 The Post Office introduced a computer system called Horizon designed by Japans Fujitsu. It sought to revolutionise how Post Offices worked, but in reality, it produced a nightmare that made Dante’s Inferno look like a tea party.

During the four years after its introduction, the system miraculously began to find incredible levels of fraud. Instead of investigating whether the system was malfunctioning, the Post Office went to extraordinary lengths not only to cover up the fault but by 2014 had 736 people prosecuted. Both the Post Office and Fujitsu lied through their teeth to protect a malfunctioning computer system, even denying that Fujitsu employees had any power to intervene with branch transactions. The Post Office deliberately withheld evidence that prevented workers from having a fair trial.

The book is meticulously researched and well written. Wallis’s tenacity in pursuing the Post Office is a sight to behold. The book is an engrossing account of how the Post Office was forced to admit that it deliberately ignored and covered up Horizon’s malfunction. The Post Office’s hands are dripping with the blood of many workers.

Wallis did not break the story, but he was one of the few brave souls to break the wall of silence surrounding the scandal. Initially contacted by Davinder Misra, the husband of Seema, who was pregnant and in prison. She was accused of a shortfall in her account of £74,000, and was jailed for 15 months for theft.

Trade Union and Labour Bureaucracy

The reason the Post Office could jail people like Seema and many more is down to the fact that the Labour and Trade union bureaucracy never lifted a finger to stop it. At no stage did the unions involved either the Subpostmasters trade union or the CWU(CommunicationWorkers Union) call for strike action to prevent people from being jailed for crimes they did not commit. At no stage did the CWU expose the rotten Labour governments that presided over this miscarriage of justice on a grand scale.

This crime against the working class began under the Blair-Brown Labour governments. Gordon Brown became PM of the Labour government on 27th June 2007.

The union bureaucrats of the CWU fully shared the essential thrust of Blair and Brown’s right-wing policies. They shared Labour’s pro-business agenda, which included allowing innocent workers to be jailed and ruined by a Government-owned company without lifting a finger to help.

Conclusion

The Great Post Office Scandal is not an easy read, not just because it is too heavy. I hope it gets a wide readership. Wallis will donate money from the sales to fund the court cases still to be undertaken. Aside from that, it is an important book. It is conversational and contains many interesting vignettes, sometimes making it read like a crime novel.

The book works on many levels. It is attractive for the general reader, and academics will find much that interests them. From a legal standpoint, many lawyers will find this a goldmine.

While this scandal could be compared with other crimes against the working class like Enron, Theranos, Wirecard that has devastated so many lives in the pursuit of profit, it would be a mistake to believe that the Post Office is just a bad apple in an otherwise healthy basket. The decisive question that is not raised in the book, let alone answered, is what driving forces within the capitalist economy could have led to the situation where The Post Office could pursue and jail innocent people and act with impunity.

What was the role of the Labour and Trade Union bureaucracy in allowing the Post Office to act with such impunity? The answer to these questions will not be found in the book or in the current enquiry, which will be another will be a whitewash.

Why has no Post Office executive has been held personally accountable, let alone jailed? The Post Office Chair and CEO are still in their jobs, and the previous CEO, Paula Vennells, was given a CBE and a cushy job as Chair of Imperial College NHS Trust. CEO Paula Vennells was given a £5 million golden handshake and a CBE for “services to the Post Office and charity”. Workers must reject this phoney enquiry and must demand a worker’s inquiry.


[1] Harjinder Butoy was given the longest prison sentence at three years and four months, was wrongly convicted and jailed for stealing £208,000.

[2] https://www.ft.com/content/77a3b8cd-26f1-4328-b226-84200fc14808

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