Calls for the removal of Paula Vennells’ CBE, which was given to her for services to the Post Office, have reached new heights as a petition has been signed over a million times. An ITV documentary has brought to light the Post Office’s mass coverup that resulted in the “wrongful prosecution of 550 Post Office staff.” Some even tragically took their own lives.
Unraveling the Post Office Scandal
The shockwaves of the Post Office scandal have reverberated across the nation, prompting a fervent call for justice with over a million signatures demanding the forfeiture of Paula Vennells’ CBE. This movement gained significant momentum following the recent broadcast of the ITV drama Mr. Bates vs the Post Office, once again thrusting the scandal into the public eye and reigniting demands for accountability.
The petition reads, “Evidence has been produced that the Post Office engaged in a mass cover-up which led to the wrongful prosecution of 550 Post Office staff, many of whom were subsequently jailed, bankrupted, and in some cases, sadly took their own lives. Having been handed a CBE for services to the Post Office and moved out into other senior positions in government and healthcare, it is only right that this award is now withdrawn through the process of forfeiture.”
The aftermath of the scandal had severe repercussions on the lives of the wrongfully accused. The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance Group emerged in 2009, comprising aggrieved employees determined to fight for justice. The High Court ruling in 2019 overturned 93 convictions, acknowledging the monumental scale of miscarriage of justice. The toll on the victims included financial ruin, bankruptcy, and, tragically, instances of suicide. The revelation of issues with the Horizon software in 2009, coupled with the formation of the Alliance Group, marked a turning point in the fight for justice.
A Troubled History
At the heart of this scandal lies the Horizon IT system, a financial software developed by Fujitsu Services for the Post Office in 1999. Despite the diligent work of employees who consistently reported issues with the software from its inception, the Post Office downplayed their concerns, often attributing problems to individual branch managers. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) conducted a thorough review, revealing significant bugs in the Horizon system that could lead to misreporting of financial transactions, causing immense challenges for sub-postmasters in challenging these discrepancies. The flawed system triggered a series of wrongful accusations against more than 700 sub-postmasters over a 16-year period.
Compensating those wrongfully convicted became an integral component of addressing the scandal’s aftermath. As of December, the government disbursed £124.7 million in compensation to postmasters who suffered due to the miscarriage of justice. In a significant move in September, the compensation was increased to £600,000 for each victim under the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, with offers extended to all 2,417 current or former postmasters. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stressed the importance of rectifying the wrongs committed and ensuring just compensation for those who were unjustly treated.
A Catalyst for Change
The recent airing of the ITV drama ‘Mr. Bates vs the Post Office’ has emerged as a catalyst for change. The series depicted the struggles of former sub-postmaster Alan Bates, leading to the revelation of 50 new potential victims who came forward. Public sympathy for the victims surged, intensifying demands for accountability. The show not only shed light on the personal tragedies but also galvanized a renewed public outcry for justice and reform.
The Metropolitan Police have taken up the mantle of investigating potential fraud offenses related to the scandal, with interviews already conducted as part of this comprehensive inquiry. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in an interview, labeled the case an “appalling miscarriage of justice.”
The leader of the body that compensates subpostmasters is Prof Chris Hodges, who said, “The problem with both the [existing system for] overturning the convictions, and the compensation issue, is that individuals need to come forward.”
“It’s been very vividly illustrated last week, that quite a number of people don’t want to have anything to do with lawyers or the state. They’re still traumatised and that is entirely understandable. They shouldn’t need to come forward. A civilised state should overturn these convictions and deliver compensation with people having to do as little as possible.”
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / cktravels.com.