- The Guardian
- Issue #2084
Photo: J Thomas – Creative Commons (2.0 Generic)
Persecuted postmasters are dying while waiting for compensation, the leader of their fight for justice said.
Campaigning postmaster Alan Bates told a committee of MPs looking at the Post Office scandal that “it is frustrating – to put it mildly.
“There is no reason at all why full financial redress shouldn’t have been delivered by now. It’s gone on for far too long.
“People are suffering, they’re dying … And it just seems to be tied up in bureaucracy.”
He detailed his own struggle to get compensation and referenced a victimised 91-year-old still waiting.
Another wrongly convicted postmaster, Jo Hamilton, described the bleak process, “They want you to justify every item, then there are forensic account reports, then you have to put everything into the machine, then – months later – it comes back and it just goes on and on.
“It’s like being retried.”
Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told the committee, “These things take longer than we expect.
“It’s more complex than we probably initially anticipated but is there ambition to get that money out the door as quickly as possible? That’s our number one priority.”
Ministers are scrambling to rush emergency laws through Parliament to expedite exoneration and payments for the hundreds of wrongly convicted.
Paul Patterson, European boss of Fujitsu, purveyors of the dodgy Horizon system which led to so many false prosecutions, told MPs that the company was prepared to contribute to the compensation fund.
He told MPs that the company had a “moral obligation” to help out, an obligation big corporations usually discover only under commercial pressure.
Fujitsu has made more than [AU$4.6 billion] from the contract, which is scheduled to run until 2025.
The Post Office will then “get off Horizon,” according to its current boss Nick Read.
Patterson was less helpful on the subject of Fujitsu’s role in the whole scandal. While acknowledging that the company had identified problems with Horizon as long ago as 1999, he could not explain why it did not intervene to halt false prosecutions by its client, the Post Office.
“Who knew what, and when – I just don’t know,” Patterson lamented, adding that it was for the separate public inquiry to investigate.
Guardian View: The Fujitsu/Post Office scandal in the UK has not received much attention in Australia. It has lessons for us. Fujitsu makes just under AU$200 million from government work in the UK. Outsourcing and privatisation are supposed to bring about efficiency and accountability, but in the UK, as with the outsourcing that was uncovered in the PWC scandal here, it has lead to the opposite; inefficiency and coverups, aided by the mythical protection of ‘commercial-in-confidence’. Around 900 post office managers were charged with stealing funds, an overwhelming number incorrectly, due to faulty software. This led to suicides, poverty, and in many cases imprisonment. A Fujitsu software developer has said that it would be “too expensive” to fix it.
Public services should be in public hands.