Between 2000 and 2014 736 sub-postmasters and postmistresses were prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting – including in Garston and Halewood – ruining lives, marriages and ending in prison sentences for some. 33 have since died. What is scandalous is they were all innocent, victims of a software glitch in Fujitsu’s Horizon accounting software. A glitch many of those blamed for mistakes had themselves been reporting from the outset.
This was a widespread miscarriage of justice for which no-one from the Post Office, Civil Service or Fujitsu has been held accountable. Post Office CEO at the time Paula Vennells was awarded a CBE in 2019 and was made a “non-executive board member of the Cabinet Office”, but 555 litigants who won civil proceedings against Post Office Ltd in 2018-19 have been excluded from the Post Office Horizon compensation scheme. In January I signed an Early Day Motion calling for this to be rectified because not only do they deserve compensation for the devastating impact this had had on their families but because they have been left with a legal bill for their fight.
Now a public inquiry has been launched into what happened and I will be keeping a close eye on its findings. That so many were punished for errors that were not their fault and not believed when they said so – despite there suddenly being an epidemic of apparent criminality amongst sub-postmasters – is horrendous. There needs to be real accountability amongst those who chose to punish entirely innocent people rather than adequately investigate what had gone wrong.
This cannot happen again and those who allowed it to happen must be found accountable. The inquiry will not change what happened but would help stop this happening to anyone again.