It has been described as “one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in UK history” and now an independent inquiry is trying to understand how it happened, so why are the people affected still struggling to get justice?
Between 2000 and 2014, 736 people who ran local branches of the Post Office were wrongly convicted of false accounting, theft and fraud.
The scandal was caused by errors in an accounting system which the Post Office installed in its smaller branches. It was called Horizon and it wrongly claimed there were cash shortfalls of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of pounds.
Hundreds of subpostmasters – managers of the local branches – were accused of stealing and were hounded for the missing money. Some spent their life savings or re-mortgaged their homes in an attempt to plug the gap and many went bankrupt.
The Post Office knew there were problems with Horizon, but still decided to prosecute them. Many ended up in jail, most were shunned by their communities, and some even took their own lives.
Seema Misra was pregnant with her second child when she was jailed in 2010…
“I was so scared. I was so scared. For me, it’s just like Post Office authority is like a Mafia. I never thought I’m going to come out alive from there. I swear to God, if I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have killed myself, that’s for sure. Being in the prison for the crime I never committed.”
When a series of reports into the Horizon IT system revealed serious defects, people who had been prosecuted began fighting to clear their names.
In 2019, after various court cases were brought against the Post Office, it agreed to pay £58 million in compensation to the hundreds of sub-postmasters that were wrongly convicted.
There was widespread outrage and a public inquiry into the scandal began in 2020, but it has not been a straightforward process.
There has been a lack of cooperation from current Post Office management and a recent discovery that those working for the Post Office at the time of the convictions used racist language to categorise workers.
The Post Office says it has paid over £110 million in compensation to those it wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting.
But hundreds of victims have still not received a penny and hundreds more had to pay tax on the money they were awarded.
The Post Office is entirely owned by the UK government. It has admitted that the company doesn’t have the money to cover all the claims from sub-postmasters, which means taxpayers will have to cover the shortfall.
The Inquiry is set to go on until early 2024. Those affected may never fully recover from what happened to them, but one day they might get the compensation they deserve.
This episode was written and mixed by Rebecca Moore.