UK Government Must Commit To Ensuring Justice
The Post Office Scandal has shocked and outraged so many of us and with good reason.
SNP MPs have been working for more than five years with sub-postmasters, who run local post offices, in seeking justice from the Post Office itself.
Post offices fulfil a vital role in local communities. A report last year found they add £3.8bn of social value to the UK. Right through the pandemic, sub-postmasters were key workers.
As much has moved online, post offices have dealt with more and more things needing to be sent for delivery. As bank branches have closed, banks have pointed to post offices as potential ways for the public to gain access to cash.
This is why it is so disheartening that those on the frontlines have been so failed by those who run The Post Office.
Although local post offices are run as their own businesses, since the 90s they have been compelled to use Post Office Ltd’s Horizon accounting program. This system has for a long time invented amounts of lost money, and Post Office Ltd demanded that the sub-postmasters pay these imaginary shortfalls. Many were forced to.
This is bad enough – a public body arguably defrauding community workers. But it gets worse.
Post Office Ltd was actually able to prosecute these individuals. And due to this catastrophic failure of justice, many innocent people have suffered immensely.
These cases – prosecuting people for thefts of thousands of imaginary pounds that were never missing, based purely an erroneous computer program – succeeded for over a decade. Post Office Ltd – and the UK Government which owns it – claimed over and over again that there could not be an error, well after the point at which this was clearly false. Expert witnesses were brought in to back up the infallibility of their systems.
Successive Labour, Lib Dem and Tory ministers kept on insisting that there could not be an issue. Even years into a case where over 500 postmasters have been imprisoned, lost their livelihoods or forced to close their doors, it has been dramatized by ITV as “Mr Bates vs the Post Office”.
Under the unionist parties, this dragged on. Ministers were distracted by a privatisation which pushed The Post Office to go harder on sub-postmasters. And to many in the press, an accounting scandal was not of sufficient interest.
But this was so many real people’s lives. Many postmasters died without seeing justice – we know of at least four suicides among the Horizon cases.
Yet SNP MPs have continually raised this in the UK Parliament. Angus’ Mike Weir first did so when it first became known back in 2011. Marion Fellows MP has led the Postal Affairs cross party group in Westminster, and worked closely with so many whose lives have been changed for the worse by the arrogant behaviour of Post Office Ltd.
Following SNP calls, the UK Government finally set up an inquiry. They have since made it a statutory inquiry, again following SNP calls.
This has been known about for years. There has been a book published and a podcast series released outlining the issues. Despite this having gone on for so long, many postmasters have also just recently come forward as a result of the ITV show.
In December 2019, on the day of the last general election, Post Office Ltd conceded the case brought by 555 postmasters in court.
Yet despite all of this, no-one has been held accountable. The Ministers who covered for The Post Office now claim they were lied to.
Those affected, and people in Scotland more generally, can be assured that SNP MPs at Westminster will continue working others across the political spectrum to ensure justice can finally be done.