UK mail software robs postal workers

May 16, 2024

It has been called “the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.” In 1999, new Horizon software was installed in post office branches across the UK. Immediately, sub-postmasters and postmistresses experienced inexplicable shortfalls—missing money—from their branches. By law, they were required to make up the difference.


UK postal workers. Photo: Jim Osley, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

As they tried, repeatedly, to balance their books, thousands of pounds in many branches continued to show up as missing. Numerous postmasters and postmistresses, unable to stop the flow, lost their life savings, their homes, their marriages and their reputations. Up to 983 were prosecuted; many served jail time.

Seven Post Office workers of South Asian heritage told the BBC they believe racism affected the way people were treated in the Horizon scandal. One man of Indian background said he was told: “All the Indians are doing it. They have relatives so they take the money and send it to them abroad.” A person of South Asian descent said: “It was like we were dumb because English wasn’t our first language, that we struggled to make sense of basic accounting.”

Balvinder Gill told Newsnight his life was destroyed after he was wrongly accused of stealing £108,000 from the Post Office in 2004. He had a mental breakdown afterwards.

In 2019, a group of 555 sub-postmasters won 58 million pounds, and the right for their cases to be re-opened, against the Post Office; however, their legal fees left them with little compensation for their own losses. The BBC revealed that the Post Office has spent 100 million pounds to fight this case. Furthermore, as of March 2024, only 102 convictions had been overturned.

A BBC TV series, “Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office,” was broadcast in January. It is credited with sparking the promise of new legislation to clear and compensate all who were wrongly prosecuted, and prompted a long-overdue public apology by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The drama showed the pain and mental and physical damage to those who were victimized by the government and its faulty software.

P.S.: Horizon software is still installed on post office computers. It is now claimed to be “robust.”

–Susan Van Gelder

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