BBC’s Panorama into the Post Office Horizon scandal has done a great job of putting one of this country’s most serious miscarriages of justice ever into the public eye.
For those who do not know, the scandal relates to how hundreds of postmasters were sacked or prosecuted on the basis that “Horizon”, a computer accounting system, had internal problems. These problems created cash shortfalls that didn’t actually exist, but workers were blamed for the irregularities.
Panorama exposed the stories of people like Janet. Because of the glitches in Horizon, £59,000 apparently went missing on her watch. Through no fault of her own, she found herself in prison for nine months.
Janet was not the only one. Postmasters across the country were prosecuted because of a faulty system. As a result of this treatment, hundreds of people lost their reputations, their self-respect, and tragically, in some cases, their lives.
Panorama highlighted the dark culture of secrecy and the lack of real accountability at the highest level of the Post Office. It showed how managers were told back in 2011 that computer technicians at Fujitsu had access to Horizon and could change data.
This was always denied, but they were forced to admit it and this came out during a court hearing brought by over 550 postmasters in the Justice for Sub-Postmasters Alliance. That court ruling forced the Post Office to reach a £58 million settlement for compensation payments.
It was shocking to see Nick Wallis, the Panorama investigator uncover documents that showed how senior management were completely aware that a bug in Horizon made money “simply disappear at branch level”.
Had this document been made available to the defence team of Seema Misra, who was jailed for 15 months in 2010 for allegedly stealing £74,000, it would have helped to prove her to be innocent.
In many ways, the show asked more questions than answers. How many more people are sitting on the truth?
Postmasters deserve more than silence from Paula Vennells, the ex Post Office CEO who oversaw much of this but refused to speak to Panorama. They deserve proper compensation, and the people who ruined the lives of so many postmasters must be held properly accountable.
As soon as the coronavirus crisis is over, our union will be hoping for the rapid establishment of a full public inquiry, a call which has been supported by MPs from all parties including Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In the meantime, shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah will ask Johnson in Parliament what steps he will be taking to support wrongly convicted workers.
The CWU congratulates Nick Wallis and the Panorama team for this hard-hitting expose which will hopefully help to achieve justice for those who have suffered so much for so long.
I would strongly advise CWU members and the general public to follow its progress. As Janet Skinner said on the show, “you can’t create this injustice on people then walk away from it scot free”. Justice must be done, and this union will be doing everything possible to make sure of that.
CWU National Officer