After an uphill legal struggle, justice has been done for 39 innocent Post Office workers, who have had a variety of fraud-related charges overturned by the Court of Appeal. These Postmasters have been formally exonerated of wrongdoing and can hold their heads high once again.
This scandal goes back to 2000, when the Post Office installed Horizon, a data system developed in 1999 by Fujitsu, to run the network’s accountings and transactions. Across the country, Postmasters began complaining of problems with Horizon from the get-go, noticing that it was erroneously reporting shortfalls in their systems – shortfalls that were, in many cases, to the tune of thousands of pounds.
For many of these workers who took pride in being respected pillars of their community, the stress of this computer error was profound. The damage it wrought was real. To correct errors that weren’t of their making, many Postmasters threw their own money into the system in the hopeless attempt to solve the problem, with some even re-mortgaging their houses in the effort.
Even these sacrifices weren’t enough and some went to prison or served suspended sentences after the Post Office legally pursued them over the errors. Through no fault of their own, these loyal employees suddenly became legally tarnished as fraudsters and thieves.
Too many were simply not believed when they tried to tell the truth. Partners walked out on some, entire communities shunned others, and several even went to the grave carrying the unjustified weight of criminality on their shoulders. Between 2000 and 2014, an estimated 736 Postmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office over this.
But with the aid of the investigative journalist Nick Wallis – a true credit to his profession – Postmasters persevered through an incredible struggle to clear their names. Thousands were gripped by The Great Post Office Trial, which highlighted the plight of these workers.
In the Communication Workers Union (CWU), we are so glad that our Postmaster members have secured an important victory for justice. But this can’t be the end of it – much more is needed to right the wrongs committed against our people.
It should go without saying that lasting financial compensation for the victims of this grave injustice is right and proper. But there needs to be more than that. Acknowledgement must be made of the aggressive, brutal manner in which former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells allowed these loyal Postmasters to be pursued though the courts.
That is why we are demanding that she be stripped of her CBE, which was – laughably – awarded to her for services to the Post Office in 2019. She oversaw a culture of vilification and demonisation of her own key workers and contributed to people’s lives being ruined. Mealy-mouthed apologies from Post Office spin doctors simply won’t make that better.
We are also demanding a criminal investigation against those who put these loyal Postmasters in this situation. No doubt many senior figures wish to run from this situation, but to do such a thing is unacceptable. There must be full accountability and nothing less.
Today’s ruling is a great step forward, but nobody has yet been held accountable for this sorry saga. For our members, we in the CWU insist that heads must roll for the humiliation and misery inflicted on decent Postmasters. This shameful situation will only dissipate – and workers get closure – when real justice is done.
We must now prepare the fight to achieve that.