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Post Office workers - the long road to justice
Kevin Pattison and Ros Campbell
Hundreds of former Post Office (PO) workers, whose lives were ruined after being falsely accused of committing fraud, finally had a modicum of justice after the High Court on 16 December again ruled in their favour.
Some of the victims had suffered bankruptcy, nervous breakdowns and been wrongly imprisoned after PO bosses accused them of fraud and theft, when in fact there was a faulty 'Horizon' IT accounting system, first introduced in 1999-2000.
Many sub-postmasters were found guilty and fined. Several went to jail. Moreover, these accountancy errors were known to the PO but were not revealed at the time.
In every case the PO told the sub-postmaster and the court that this was the only example of a discrepancy in the Horizon system, which was incapable of making mistakes. They were still accusing new sub-postmasters earlier this year that they were the only ones showing a discrepancy on the Horizon system.
Eventually, sub-postmasters got together, some of them through the Communication Workers Union (CWU), and realised that there were numerous discrepancies in the Horizon system.
They took the Post Office to court for compensation for the loss of their livelihood, and in some cases their liberty.
Sub-postmasters won their case last March but the PO then spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money using legal tricks to prevent or delay sub-postmasters getting the compensation due following the decision, including accusing the judge of being biased in favour of the sub-postmasters.
In his judgement on 16 December Justice Fraser said: "This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred... It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat."
As well as wasting £32 million of public money on legal fees the Post Office has been paying enormous bonuses to the senior managers who have been pursuing this case.
Just prior to the recent court judgement the Post Office agreed to pay £58 million, without admitting liability, to settle a class action lawsuit with these former sub-postmasters.
However, PO chief executive, Paula Vennells, who pursued the vendetta against the sub-postmasters during her 2012-2019 tenure, has yet to apologise. Vennells took home £3.7 million in salary, plus bonuses, during this time. In the 2019 New Year Honours she was awarded a CBE "for services to the Post Office and to charity"!
Under the 2011 Postal Services Act - promoted by the then Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable - Royal Mail was privatised (although the government kept responsibility for the pension fund which was in deficit).
The Post Office side was retained by the government which under a 'modernisation' programme provided a ten year 'transitional' subsidy which ends in 2021.
Some 2,500 out of 11,500 franchised Post Offices are threatened with closure over the next year. Meanwhile, many Crown Post Offices have been handed over to WH Smith under the government's modernisation scheme, which the CWU has termed "backdoor privatisation".
The CWU has in recent years conducted strikes against the closure of these Crown Post Offices.
Privatisation has been a disaster for the workers and public alike. Corbyn's manifesto promised to renationalise Royal Mail.
And although the Tory general election victory has knocked back this demand, possible renewed industrial action by the CWU in 2020 could bring this demand back into the political arena.