The scandal of British postal workers unfairly accused of theft

Former UK post office managers celebrate London Court of Justice ruling clearing them on April 23.

LONDON LETTER

It is the story of a legal scandal, the largest in recent UK history. The reputations of hundreds of post office managers have been sullied, many lives have been shattered amid the indifference of much of the media and especially the leaders of the Post Office, the state-owned company running the country’s post offices. . In all, 39 victims have just been cleared by the Court of Appeal for England and Wales on April 23, after a very long fight. Hundreds more (up to 900, some complainants believe) are also waiting for justice to be finally done. Faced with an unprecedented number of lawsuits, the Post Office could have to shell out hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation.

A 32,000 pound slate

It all started with the installation, from 1999, of a new accounting software in post offices in the United Kingdom: Horizon, developed by the Japanese firm Fujitsu. This tool is supposed to record everything from the sale of stamps to car stickers. He quickly brings up aberrations: differences in the accounts of certain offices between what actually entered the cash register and the turnover recorded by the software – sometimes reaching several thousand pounds sterling. Between 2000 and 2014, refusing to hear that the problem was most likely with the software, the British Post sued no less than 736 post office managers – on average one per week! Some postal workers are accused of theft and even imprisoned, others try to cover the deficits themselves, going so far as to mortgage their houses.

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Last February, the Sunday Times recounted some of those lives sacked by Horizon and the denial the Post Office has shown for so long. In 2000, Gary and Maureen Brown enthusiastically took over the post office in a Yorkshire village, investing all their savings in it. The couple started using Horizon, with no previous computer experience. Very quickly, the difference – a few pounds at the beginning – appears between what they collect and what the software saves. Gary and Maureen have to compensate out of pocket: first a few pounds, then tens, hundreds and thousands of pounds. They borrow from friends, family, call the Post Office to the rescue. The latter tells them that the problem is with them, not Horizon. The couple are left with a slate of 32,000 pounds (about 37,000 euros), can no longer cope, sells everything to pay off this debt. Gary falls into depression.

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