The Post Office Scandal has shocked and outraged so many of us and with good reason.
As an SNP MP, I have been working for more than five years, alongside others, with the sub-postmasters who run local post offices, seeking justice from the post office itself.
Post offices fulfil a vital role in local communities. A report last year found they add £3.8bn of social value to the UK. Right through the pandemic, the sub-postmasters running them were key workers —that is the kind of people they are.
As much as moved online, Post Offices have dealt with more and more things needing to be sent for delivery. As bank branches have closed, banks have pointed to post offices as potential ways for the public to gain access to cash
This is why it is so disheartening that those on the frontlines have been so failed by those who run the Post Office.
Although local post offices are run as their own businesses, since the 90s, they have been compelled to use Post Office Ltd’s Horizon accounting program. This system has for a long time made up amounts of lost money and Post Office Ltd demanded that the sub-postmasters pay these imaginary shortfalls, many were forced to.
This is bad enough – a public body arguably defrauding community workers, but it gets worse.
Post Office Limited was able to prosecute these individuals. And due to this catastrophic failure of justice, many innocent people have immensely suffered.
These cases, prosecuting people for thefts of thousands of imaginary pounds that were never missing, based only an erroneous computer program, succeeded for over a decade. Post Office Ltd – and the UK Government which owns it – claimed over and over again that there could not be an error, well past the point when they knew this was not true. Expert witnesses were brought in to back up the infallibility of their systems.
Successive Labour, Lib Dem and Tory ministers kept insisting that there could not be an issue. Even years into a case where over 500 postmasters who had been imprisoned, lost their livelihoods or forced to close their doors – this case has been dramatized by ITV as “Mr Bates vs the Post Office”.
Under the unionist parties, this dragged on. Ministers were distracted by a privatisation which pushed Post Office to go harder on sub-postmasters, and to many in the press an accounting scandal didn’t seem interesting. But this was so many real people’s lives. Many postmasters died without seeing justice. (We know of at least four suicides in Horizon cases.)
SNP Members of Parliament have continually raised this in parliament. Mike Weir raised it when it first became known in 2011, and onwards. I have led the Postal Affairs cross party group in Westminster and have worked closely with so many whose lives have been changed for the worse by the arrogant behaviour of Post Office Limited.
Following SNP calls, the UK Government have set up an inquiry. Following our calls, they made it a statutory inquiry.
This has been known about for years. There has been a book and a podcast series outlining the issues. Despite this going on for so long, there have been many postmasters coming forward as a result of the recent ITV show.
In December 2019, on the day of the general election, Post Office Ltd conceded the brought by 555 postmasters in court.
Despite all this, no-one has been held accountable. The Ministers who covered for Post Office now claim they were lied to. And no-one has been held to account.
I am going to keep working with others across the political spectrum to ensure justice can finally be done.