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UK Government Set to Overturn Hundreds of Theft Convictions Due to System Glitch

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UK Post Office
Source: AP News

For over 20 years, employees of the UK Post Office struggled with a software system called “Horizon.” Unknown to them, the software contained bugs that resulted in serious glitch errors. Unfortunately, this glitch implicated the employees in thefts totaling tens of thousands of British pounds. 

As a result, hundreds of postmasters were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for theft by the UK government. Now, the government is working to overturn the wrongful convictions. Here’s the story.

The Faulty Computer Software

The self-employed post office franchisees were called Post Masters. The faulty systems removed funds from their business accounts, making it seem like they stole it. A total of 983 convictions were made against Postmasters for over 16 years. 

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A Picture of an Office
Source: Pinterest

Despite evidence of software glitches and computer errors, the Post Office repeatedly defended the malfunctioning “Horizon.” Unfortunately, innocent workers suffered the consequences of its failings.

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Innocent Lives Were Affected

For those wrongly accused, the ordeal was traumatizing. Careers were shattered, reputations tarnished, and lives were ruined. Some postmasters, including Lee Castleton, went bankrupt after a civil case was filed against him in 2005.

A Picture of Postmaster Employees
Source: The Wall Street Journal

“The civil claim against me and my bankruptcy has destroyed my life and the lives of my family. At the time, I was treated like a thief in our community,” said Mr. Castleton.

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The Sorrowful Tales of Victims

One postmistress, Josephine Hamilton, was in severe financial trouble after being convicted of false accounting. She had to remortgage her home and seek her family’s support to repay the money they accused her of stealing.

One postmistress Josephine Hamilton
Source: Daily Mail

“Because of my criminal record, I’ve ended up cleaning,” she told a public inquiry in 2022. Another postmistress–Janet Skinner, told BBC that she was taken away from her two kids for nine months when she was imprisoned.

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The UK Government’s Intervention

After investigations, the government realized that the faulty glitch caused the convictions. They admitted and apologized for the wrongdoings and decided to fix the mistake in the justice system. 

UK Government
Source: ABC

A new law was proposed to overturn most of the 983 convictions, marking what is now considered Britain’s greatest-ever miscarriage of justice. Those affected by the injustice were compensated as well.

UK’s Prime Minister Spoke on the Issue

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Wednesday that legislation would be presented to Parliament. This legislation aimed to nullify the convictions and compensate and redress the affected victims.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Source: Pinterest

This move is notable because it involves Parliament overturning decisions made by the courts. “This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history,” he said.

The Faulty System Was Public Knowledge

The scandal with the Horizon software made people question if Britain’s legal system was fair and if politicians understood the plight of regular people. Even though everyone knew about the software glitch for years, most postmasters struggled to get justice. 

Post Office Drama
Source: YouTube

After a recent TV show aired the scandal, there was another public outcry from angry viewers. This caused the politicians to finally take action against the unjust situation and overturn the convictions.

The Post Office Denied Knowledge of the System’s Errors

For years, the state-owned Post Office refused to acknowledge any problems with the Horizon computer system. The system was managed by the Japanese software company Fujitsu. Instead, it continued prosecuting postmasters in court, sometimes using an internal judicial system that didn’t involve the police or local courts. 

Fujitsu
Source: Fujitsu Thailand/YouTube

Fujitsu has since apologized for its part in the suffering experienced by postmasters, according to a spokesperson for the company.

A Fight Against the Convictions

It took a long time, with many court battles, but finally, there was a big win for justice. In 2021, the UK Court of Appeal overturned 39 convictions following a case brought by Hamilton and others, calling it an “affront to the public conscience.”

Court of Appeal Quash 39 Convictions
Source: Post Office Trial

This week, the Metropolitan Police announced an investigation into the Post Office for possible fraud offenses. 

The Post Office Will Be Investigated

They will answer why they forced postmasters to cover the alleged shortfalls using their money. However, the Post Office stated that it is “making every effort to rectify past injustices” and has offered compensation to 2,700 postmasters.

Picture of a Post Office
Source: The Walls Street Journal

That’s not all. The politicians responsible for supervising the Post Office will also face scrutiny. Meanwhile, people have questioned why Fujitsu continues to receive contracts despite the scandal. 

Compensation for the Innocent Victims

The government has disbursed £148 million, approximately $188 million, in compensation to some of the 3,500 citizens affected by the Horizon scandal. Previously, the government announced that Post Office managers wrongfully convicted would receive £600,000 each in compensation. 

Stacks of Money
Source: Pinterest

However, out of the 93 overturned convictions, only 30 people have accepted “full and final settlements.” 

Petition Against Former Post Office Chief 

Paula Vennells, who led the organization from 2012 to 2019, withdrew her honorary title as Commander of the British Empire. 

Paula Vennells
Source: Sky News

This decision came after pressure from Chancellor Sunak and an online petition signed by over a million individuals. Additionally, the public is demanding to reclaim compensation from Fujitsu, the software company responsible for the flawed system.

Justice for the People

It seems the ordeal endured by the Post Office employees may finally be coming to an end. With convictions being overturned, compensation being distributed, and accountability being demanded from those responsible, there is hope for closure. 

Victims of Post Office Wrongful Conviction
Source: The Walls Street Journal

The victims of the Horizon scandal can finally get justice. 

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