By Jacob Delos Santos, MA Global Media and Digital Communications
In January, victims of what has been described as the “biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history” reemerged in the British media, once more demanding legal reparations in response to the Post Office Horizon scandal.
Since 2000, the UK’s Post Office has been bringing convictions against workers with counts of fraud, theft, and false accounting. More than 900 subpostmasters across the country have been wrongly prosecuted after the Post Office’s ‘Horizon’ software, developed by the Japanese technology service Fujitsu, incorrectly claimed that money was missing during financial branch reports.
Over the course of 15 years, the Post Office scandal has left a wake of devastation, with hundreds of victims subjected to criminal records, community service, and, in certain cases, jail time.
The scandal has once again hit national headlines following the new year’s airing of ITV’s ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’, a four-episode series highlighting personal stories suffered at the hands of Fujitsu’s faulty software. Former subpostmaster Alan Bates, the titular actor of the viral ITV drama, appeared before the Commons’ Business and Trade Committee on January 16th.
The 69-year-old had criticised the government for delays in financial compensation for those wrongly convicted. “There is no reason at all why full financial redress shouldn’t have been delivered by now,” he states. “It just seems to be tied up in bureaucracy. And that seems to be the big problem.”
Solicitor Neil Hudgell has warned the Business and Trade Committee that overturning convictions is taking “three to four months,” and that “within the convicted cohort of clients that we have, of the 73, three have been fully paid out.” Additionally, more than 100 new potential victims of the scandal have come forward, prompted by the media coverage of Mr Bates’ litigation.
Since the contemporary fallout of the ITV programme, MPs have faced growing public pressures to expedite such appeals. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has thus announced plans early in January to pass a new law which would exonerate and financially compensate wrongly convicted postmasters. In a BBC interview with Laura Kuenssberg, Sunak called the scandal an “appalling miscarriage of justice.”
As of January 17th, Fujitsu’s European chief Paul Patterson, had testified before the business select committee that the company was aware of Horizon bugs as early as the 1990’s. According to The Guardian, the company had continued in the prosecutions of 900 innocent post office operators, despite the acknowledgement of faulty data.
Patterson apologised before MPs, stating that Fujitsu is “truly sorry,” admitting that “there is a moral obligation for the company to contribute” to the redress of all scandal victims. However, Patterson concludes that the exact sum of compensation will only be determined after a holistic investigation can be completed by a judge-led inquiry, with pundits predicting such reports to finalise as late as 2026.
Just hours after Patterson’s formal apology, the company’s shares had crashed by 4%, with Fujitsu’s stock market value plummeting by $1 billion. Additionally, the company is also currently suffering an internal workers strike of up to 300 staff. Paula Vennells, the previous CEO of the UK’s Post Office, has also since agreed to renounce her CBE, in response to nationwide petitions calling for her accountability.