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A Pertinent Piece I Penned on the Post Office Scandal Back in 2021 in The Scotsman



'Boris Johnson's Downing Street wallpaper a cruel distraction from plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and persecuted postmasters'


To follow, is the article, I wrote in for my Scotsman column, published on 10 May 2021. Just as relevant today as it was two and a half years down the line....




Perhaps I was alone in thinking the Downing Street wallpaper question was a bit overdone.


Were the soft furnishings of the PM’s tied flat really worth weeks of wall-to-wall media attention, when there were other matters more worthy of our outrage?


Take the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the young British/Iranian mother being subjected to the vindictive machinations of Iran’s so-called justice system. Our attitude has been apathetic at best.


Where were the demonstrations in support of this victim of gross injustice?


Then there’s the disgrace of the persecuted postmasters and mistresses, described as the greatest miscarriage of justice ever and with justification.


The briefest chronology tells a baleful story.


In the late 90s, accounting software program Horizon was adopted by the Post Office and soon the computer identified fraud by 750 sub postmasters and mistresses, some of whom had been employed for years. And they were only the ones who were prosecuted, many more were forced to resign.


You would have thought that adding together one and one – a new computer system plus unprecedented reports of dishonesty – just might have rung alarm bells.


But no, the computer was deemed infallible, so an untold number of honest, long-serving Post Office workers were prosecuted or hounded from their jobs. Nor were there any of the usual checks and balances. The Post Office mounts its own prosecutions under its own legislation, so no independent prosecutors were involved.


The awful consequences of this disgrace will perhaps never be calculated.


Now – surprise, surprise – the program has been found to be faulty and the mob are looking for blood. The hapless former head of the Post Office looks set to be stripped of her CBE.


But rather than ask who is responsible perhaps we should ask how it was possible. Was there really no one in Post Office who smelled a rat or had the nous to question the computer? Apparently not and I think I know a reason why.


In the 80s, I worked closely with the Post Office’s Investigation Branch, a small group of investigators whose knowledge of the Post Office was encyclopaedic. Those I knew had a vast knowledge of the business and the people who worked in it.


I firmly believe they would spotted this injustice and raised the alarm right from the start. But they were not there.


In the mid-90s, one of the interminable new brooms swept through the Post Office. A cost/benefit analysis concluded that better value could be achieved by disbanding the Investigation Branch and replacing it with a cheaper structure.


It was a classic case of confusing quantity with quality and at the time many of us thought there would be a price to pay for the loss of such experience.


And here we are, 20 years later, hundreds if not thousands of Post Office employees have been subjected to cruel injustice and the chickens have come home to roost. The legal and compensation bills are expected to be so large that the taxpayer will be on the hook for untold millions.


So if ‘the powers that be’ really want to find out where it all went wrong, I suggest they track back to the mid-90s and the short-sighted decision that swept away so much experience with the old Post Office Investigation Branch. I wonder how that cost/benefit analysis looks now?



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