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Hope for compensation and justice

Hundreds of British post office operators were wrongly convicted of fraud between 1999 and 2015. Now those affected have finally received national attention – through a TV documentary.

Gabi Biesinger

In 1999, around 700 senior employees at British post offices discovered that their newly introduced Horizon computer system from the Japanese IT company Fujitsu was producing billing errors.

But the post office spoke of individual cases and blamed the individual branch managers. They had to replace missing money. Hundreds were sued, had to pay huge sums of money, went bankrupt, lost their good reputation, their savings, their family, and went to prison. Some took their own lives. It was a battle of David against Goliath, say those affected. The post office with the state behind it against “burnt-out little people”.

Late victory of justice

This drama has been playing out in Britain for the past 25 years. In 2019, 555 branch managers won a victory over the post office in court. The computer software caused the shortfalls. Nevertheless, only fewer than 100 of the court rulings at that time were overturned. An investigative committee has been running since 2022. But there seemed to be no rush – until last week when the television channel ITV broadcast a four-part series about the judicial scandal.

The Post Office drama has been front-page news ever since, and director James Strong is touched: “We were hoping for attention to the victims and their story, but the fact that the government has now announced an amnesty law within a few days is overwhelming.”

Sunak reacts to Wave of solidarity

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said a new law should give victims justice and compensation by the end of the year in one of the biggest justice scandals in British history. The convictions should be overturned collectively and compensation should be paid in advance.

Despite all the sympathy for those affected, it is not undisputed that the government wants to wipe away the court rulings with the stroke of a pen. The fact that Sunak is reacting so quickly to the wave of solidarity sweeping through the country may also be due to the fact that there are elections in Great Britain this year. Those affected should now initially be paid a sum of 75,000 pounds.

Those affected will now be compensated

Sally Stringer fights back tears. She had to use her pension to pay off the post office. Now, old and frail, she finally has some kind of security again. Like many of those affected, Tim Brentnall no longer has much trust in state institutions. He hopes that the resulting public pressure will actually force the government to take action. So far there have been no consequences at either the responsible IT company Fujitsu or the post office.

Paula Vennells, postal chief from 2012 to 2019, this week gave up her Royal Order, an award given for her services to the postal service, due to public pressure. Some believe that she should, above all, return her millions of dollars in bonus payments.

Former post office manager Harjinder Butoy, who was imprisoned for 18 months, told the BBC that what was most important to him was that those responsible were finally brought to justice.

Gabi Biesinger, ARD London, tagesschau, January 13, 2024 10:57 a.m

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