Dozens of UK post office workers have been acquitted of theft and fraud in what has been described as the largest miscarriage of justice in British history. A number of them were imprisoned unjustly.
The Commission of Inquiry into Judicial Mistakes acquitted 39 previously convicted postal workers. No judgment has yet been issued in 22 other cases.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the judges’ ruling. He spoke of a terrible injustice that had a devastating effect on the victims.
Post office manager
In the United Kingdom many post offices are operated by a single office Post office manager, Mail Manager. The problems began in 1999, when the Postal Corporation’s Post Office introduced a new computer program called Horizon nationwide.
Since its introduction, there have been problems with this system, which was developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu. As a result, it sometimes seemed as if the money had vanished from the cashier at the post office. This involves large sums.
The post office blamed the post managers for this and they went to court. The employees were convicted in 736 cases, with evidence based on the controversial computer program.
Judge Holroyd, in an explanation of the ruling, said the Post Office knew there were serious doubts about Horizon’s reliability and that the company should have investigated the matter. Instead, the post office insisted that Horizon is stable and reliable. The company “succeeded in waltzing on any (assistant) postmaster who doubted its accuracy.”
Some employees were sentenced to prison terms, sometimes for years. Others, after being found guilty, were looking around, losing their jobs and often not getting a new opportunity due to their criminal record.
A number of the convicts did not surrender and tried to prove the post office’s error in civil cases. This led to legal battles that lasted for years and eventually succeeded.
The post office has wore burlap. Tubman Reid acknowledged that “mistakes from the past caused a lot of pain.” He said there should be compensation “consistent with what happened.”