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The Great Post Office Trial

Discussion in 'Personal' started by modelmaker, May 30, 2020.

  1. modelmaker

    modelmaker Senior commenter

    Has anyone else been listening to this series on R4?

    "After the introduction of a new computer system in the early 2000s, the Post Office began using its data to accuse Sub Postmasters of falsifying accounts and stealing money. Many were fired and financially ruined; others were prosecuted and even put behind bars. In this ten-part series, journalist Nick Wallis, gets right to the heart of the story, as he talks to those whose lives were shattered and follows the twists and turns of a David and Goliath battle as the Sub Postmasters tried to fight back."

    It's a ten-part series of which the first five episodes were aired this week. An omnibus episode of the week's broadcasts is available here https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000jhpl and a further omnibus episode will be released next Saturday, following the broadcast of the final five episodes.

    "In 2019, class action civil litigation, Bates & Ors v Post Office Ltd, brought by 550 sub-postmasters was settled by the Post Office. Significant fees for counsel, repayment of legal financing, and payment of the legal financing "success fee" will be deducted from the £58 million settlement.

    Mr Justice Fraser, the judge overseeing the civil action noted that the approach of the Post Office to the case:

    amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred, at least so far as the witnesses called before me in the Horizon Issues trial are concerned. It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat."

    I found it absolutely fascinating that the Post Office took the attitude that so many sub-postmasters would be crooks, despite their being no cause for concern about their honesty until the Horizon computer system was introduced. It was fascinating to hear how, when each sub-postmaster was questioned about why their tallies of the money they'd taken didn't match the computer's account the Post Office claimed that each the individual sub-postmasters must be guilty, claiming it hadn't happened in any other post office.

    It's a tale of utter incompetence at senior management level, coupled with the in-house corporate power to investigate and prosecute, in a way that other corpororations would need to involve the police. It's also a tale of how each sub-postmaster who'd invested in a post office franchise was on their own against a massively powerful corporation, had no support from colleagues etc. at the time they were being investigated and prosecuted and but for the efforts of a few of the victims organising themselves into a campaign group, the matter may well have never come to light.

    More from Wikipedia.

    Initial Post Office Ltd investigation
    An initial investigation failed, at first, to find the cause of the problems. As a result, an independent investigative firm Second Sight were brought in to conduct a separate, independent inquiry, in 2012. At around this time, Paula Vennells became CEO of the Post Office.

    Second Sight report
    In July 2013, Post Office Ltd admitted (after an interim review by Second Sight), that software defects with Horizon had indeed occurred, but that the system was effective. The review discovered problems in 2011 and 2012, when Post Office Ltd discovered defects which had caused a shortfall of up to £9,000 at 76 Post Office branches. However, more than 150 sub-postmasters continued to raise issues with the system, which they claimed had, by error, put them in debt by tens of thousands of pounds, and that in some cases they lost their contracts or went to prison.

    I wonder if this sort of scandal happens elsewhere?
    Jamvic, nomad, bombaysapphire and 3 others like this.
  2. Morninglover

    Morninglover Star commenter

    It's chilling. Those journalists who have been investigating this scandal deserve great praise; those running the Post Office from c.2003-c.2015 should be prosecuted.
  3. magic surf bus

    magic surf bus Star commenter

    Private Eye were onto this case some time ago, and recently ran a lengthy special report on it after the court hearing. they've also done a podcast.

    A pupil in one of my tutor groups had a parent jailed for misappropriation of Post Office funds - I've wondered since if they were a victim of the Horizon fiasco.

    Needless to say, not a few of the incompetent conniving senior managers have since gone on to higher things.
  4. harsh-but-fair

    harsh-but-fair Star commenter

    That'll be Paula Anne Vennells, CBE, FRSA and Anglican priest!
    agathamorse and Morninglover like this.
  5. modelmaker

    modelmaker Senior commenter

    I suspect they might be.

    More from Wikipedia:

    In December 2019, The Register reported that Mr Justice Fraser would be passing a file on to the Director of Public Prosecutions. A number of cases are under review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission raising the possibility of actions for malicious prosecution.

    Arbuthnot, by now sitting in the House of Lords as Baron Arbuthnot of Edrom, said in November 2019:

    My own suggestion is that the government should clear out the entirety of the board and senior management of the Post Office and start again, perhaps with the assistance of consultancy services from Second Sight, who know where the bodies are buried.
    agathamorse and Morninglover like this.
  6. Morninglover

    Morninglover Star commenter

    The C of E does have some pretty dubious sorts in their ranks!
    harsh-but-fair likes this.
  7. harsh-but-fair

    harsh-but-fair Star commenter

    She's now using that spiritual and IT experience to run one the biggest NHS trusts.
    bombaysapphire likes this.
  8. colpee

    colpee Star commenter

    I think there was more than incompetence involved. The Post Office knew the facts when it prosecuted and persecuted innocent people. Those responsible should be jailed!

    P.s. Nice to hear from 'occasional commenter' again
  9. Grandsire

    Grandsire Star commenter

    I listened to something on Radio 4 a few months back, about postmasters and postmistresses who'd been accused. It was harrowing to hear their stories, and the grief it had caused them. Thanks for the link - I shall certainly listen to see what happens next.

    I was just posting on the TV Licensing thread that not many companies would automatically assume the general public are liars and criminals, but this is a strange case where a business assumed hundreds of its own staff were criminals... What sort of people in charge does it take to come up with that notion?
  10. lindenlea

    lindenlea Star commenter

    It is truly awful for those falsely accused. Lives ruined.
    Jamvic, agathamorse and nomad like this.
  11. modelmaker

    modelmaker Senior commenter

    I'm not sure the Post Office did initially know what the facts were when they started prosecuting people. They came to light after Second Sight carried out its investigation, which was summarily terminated when it produced an interim report identifying flaws in the computer system.

    The problem was the assumption that the computer was infallible and that if cash balances didn't tally with what the computer said, there was a clear case of fraud and prosecuted on that basis. Had it not been through the intervention of the campaign group and the MPs they managed to convince the matter should be investigated independently, the Post Office would still be continuing to prosecute innocent people.

    I suspect it's unlikely to turn out to be anything more than incompetent management and an overly-aggressive approach to dealing with those whose ballances couldn't be made to tally. That it should happen so frequently without anyone in senior management asking what the hell is happening, is scandalous, but isn't that the way that so many aspects of modern life are?

    The suspicion IDS had that anyone in receipt of disability benefits was almost certainly likely to be a scrounger, being an example, albeit the vast majority of appeals against the benefit cuts were won by the victims of IDS' abuse.
    Jamvic likes this.
  12. chelsea2

    chelsea2 Star commenter

    Who didn't join the PO until 2012, when this was already a mess, and was praised on the R4 programmes for what she was able to do.

    I've found it horrible listening - behind the sofa stuff.
    So many lives ruined.
    nomad likes this.
  13. harsh-but-fair

    harsh-but-fair Star commenter

  14. Burndenpark

    Burndenpark Star commenter

    Hmmm there was a lot of bad stuff after she took control

    Including them trying to hush up the review/ investigation by Second Sight

    Don't worry, she's got another job to keep her busy
    nomad likes this.
  15. chelsea2

    chelsea2 Star commenter

    Apologies - I meant as CEO.

    I can't remember exactly what was said about her in one of the R4 episodes, but it was something about when she took over as CEO it was positive for the victims, but there were too many forces arrayed against her. If I have time, I'll relisten to that episode.
  16. Ivartheboneless

    Ivartheboneless Star commenter

    Is this appropriate?
  17. Burndenpark

    Burndenpark Star commenter

    I've intentionally avoided them- I'd get too irate, as it was I was tempted to mail Imperial and ask if she's not bringing the organisation into disrepute.

    The sensible, and decent, thing for her to do, would be to come clean and hang out to dry who ever was responsible for this... assuming the buck doesn't stop with her.
    ajrowing likes this.
  18. modelmaker

    modelmaker Senior commenter

    She's had very little mention in the series so far. The problem had been going on long before she became CEO and it's interesting that we haven't been told yet, who she replaced. The mention made of her to date has only been that after becoming CEO, she appeared to be keen on getting to the bottom of the matter and welcomed Second Sight looking into what had been going on.

    What's perhaps interesting is that it was on her watch that the Second Sight investigation, which had initially been able to have access to any records they requested, began to get hampered as Second Sight got closer to finding out what had been going on and their investigation was suddenly stopped, after their interim report showed it more likely that the computer system that the Post Office was relying on for the evidence to justify prosecuting the sub-postmasters, appeared to be riddled with flaws.I suspect we'll hear more about her next week, as it would seem probable that the order to stop the investigation would have required approval from her.

    So far, the series has only given the names of some of the victims, and those who played a part in helping discover what had been going on. Paula Vennells name has only been mentioned so far in the series as someone who welcomed the investigation shortly after she became CEO. but as already noted, she didn't start the fire, which had been raging, long before she had grown into long knickers.

    At this stage in the R4 story, I'm less interested in the names of who was culpable and why than I am in how it was possible to happen, and why once it was realised that the Post Office had been persecuting and prosecuting innocent people, it chose not to do the decent thing by ensuring redress was made to the innocent.

    Whether or not we will learn next week that privatisation of the Post Office was ultimately at the bottom of this scandal can only be speculation, but it's worth noting that it all took place under Tory administration. The series began with clips from Post Office adverts about it being an institution that was loved and trusted and it was a common theme that the when the sub-postmasters were accused of theft, their local communities were incredulous they would ever be likely to be criminals.

    Pretty much the same thing was going on around the same period of time that the Post Office began persecuting its sub-postmasters, that experienced teachers were being pressurised out of teaching, but of course that's an entirely different story, isn't it?
    chelsea2 likes this.
  19. Jolly_Roger15

    Jolly_Roger15 Star commenter

    @modelmaker ; Listening to the programme, I found the PO's attempts to isolate anyone having difficulties with its computer system by claiming 'you are the only one having problems', sounded very similar to some Academy managers of my acquaintance.

    The solution to any problem was find someone to blame; problem sorted.

    @Morninglover: As I have said on another thread, one long-established teacher, after my last school became an academy might have gone to prison for having 'obscene material' on his laptop, had the police not discovered that it been in the school's possession when it was downloaded.
    Last edited: May 31, 2020
    Jamvic, agathamorse and Morninglover like this.
  20. Morninglover

    Morninglover Star commenter

    At least no teachers were sent to prison on fake accusations of theft. I can see what you mean, but what we went through isn't as bad as some post masters, is it?

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