Tuesday, 26 April 2022

The Sub-Postmaster Scandal

 Those who boast that British justice is "the best in the world " and " the envy of the world" and that British enterprise still believes in "fair play" should watch last night's Panorama programme on the sub-postmaster scandal.  I'm told that  present-day Panorama investigative journalism and reporting is but a shadow of its former self, but I found this programme both horrifying and convincing.

Briefly, in the period 2000 to 2014 (that's fourteen years - FOURTEEN YEARS)  a total of 736 sub- postmasters and mistresses were prosecuted for theft, embezzlement or fraud.  Some went to prison (though they were told by the Post Office that they could avoid prison if they admitted to "false accounting,")  Others were fined. 

All were disgraced.  Lots put their own money into the "system"  to avoid prosecution, some selling their houses , even going bankrupt, to finance this. Family lives were disrupted, marriages broken. At least one committed suicide.

The fault, it turns out, was not fraudulent behaviour by the sub-postmasters, but a glitch in the computer system "Horizon," which the Post Office forced them to use.

Two things from the programme stand out to me.

First, when sub-postmasters protested their innocence and said there must be a fault in the system, they were often told by Post Office  officials that they were "the only ones."  Given that there were over 700 prosecutions,  why the the sub-postmasters' union, or similar, did not spot how widespread the accusations were I don't know.  

 What, however, is obvious is that the Post Office officials who  passed on this false information must have known they were lying. Are  they paying the price, with tags round their ankles and spending their days clearing graffiti off the walls, or maybe clearing rubbish from our beaches?  Or are they still in comfortable well-paid jobs?

If the analogy that "fish rot from the head" is valid, them much of the responsibility must lie with the CEO of the Post Office, M/s Paula Vennells, who persisted in pursuing the prosecutions long after it was obvious that the fault lay  "somewhere in the system,"  probably the "Horizon" IT system.  Yet rather than being prosecuted herself, or voluntarily retiring to a nunnery,  she accepted  a CBE and moved into another plum job as Chair of an NHS trust.

We like to tell ourselves that in England  (this precedes the formation of the UK) the "little man" has been protected against the powers of the mighty ever since  Magna Carta was sealed  in 1215.  

We clearly need to take  a long hard look at the might of corporate power in our country, which appears to be as indifferent to justice and fair play as the the mighty in Downing Street.


  1. Yet rather than being prosecuted herself, or voluntarily retiring to a nunnery, she accepted a CBE and moved into another plum job as Chair of an NHS trust.

    That’s the public sector for you.

    1. I'm a bit unclear as to whether the Post Office is still public sector or now privatised. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

    2. I'm a bit unclear as to whether the Post Office is still public sector or now privatised. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

      It is very unclear. It's traded on the stock exchange but it acts like a public sector company. Best way to describe it is probably part of the blob, like charities and ostensibly private-sector companies that exclusively bid for government contracts do are de facto part of the public sector. There's a revolving door between this quasi-public-sector and the actual public sector, of course, hence how if you fail in one you go to be Chair of an NHS Trust just like an incompetent civil servant would.

    3. This is a response by Peter Wrigley. "Blogspot " seems to have a glitch and won't allow me to respond in the normal way.

      I take it that you are using the term "blob" contemptuously, as Michael Gove did. I can't agree. I support many charities, from Oxfam et al serving poverty-stricken people in far-away countries , to Big Issue in the North caring for the homeless in Leeds. I regard their efforts as efficient and their aims noble. I can't say the same for some private sector organisations. Thanks for clarifying the position of the Post Office


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