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New Scandal, Same Story


The UK has been consumed by a scandal involving the use of faulty accounting software, Horizon from Fujitsu, used by the Post Office to accuse postmasters and postmistresses of stealing funds. Under UK law, the Post Office is empowered to prosecute alleged offenders directly. Between 1999 and 2015, an astonishing 700-750 hardworking and conscientious managers of local community post offices, often the pillars of society and the very backbone of small businesses in the country, were convicted.

Their protestations of innocence and suggestions of glitches in the software were dismissed: the computer does not lie, the courts were told, and they accepted the infallibility of technology. Many were coerced into pleading guilty because they could not afford to fight a state behemoth. They lost the respect of their peers, many were ruined financially, several went to jail, and some committed or tried to commit suicide.

It was only in 2019 that High Court Judge Peter Fraser cleared the postmasters and pinned responsibility for the financial discrepancies on the software. The Criminal Cases Review Commission has described the scandal as the ‘biggest single series of wrongful convictions in British legal history.’ But the scandal wasn’t over yet. Their efforts to overturn the wrongful convictions and receive reparations have been painfully slow and around 70 claimants died in the interim with their names still not cleared. As of January 2024, just 93 convictions have been reversed and only 30 people have received any compensation.

Although the scandal has been bubbling away under the radar for more than 20 years, a four-part ITV dramatisation that screened recently finally caught the public’s attention, and then some. Mr. Bates vs the Post Office tells the sorry tale through the eyes of one brave man, Alan Bates, unflinchingly supported by his wife Suzanne Sercombe, who kept fighting the entire system and establishment to clear his name, exonerate their colleagues, and indict the senior executives. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to introduce a Bill this year to exonerate all the postmasters convicted through the dodgy Horizon-based evidence.

The Metropolitan Police have launched an investigation into potential fraud, perjury, and perverting the course of justice.

There are many parallels of this scandal with the Covid saga over the last four years. In what follows, I draw in particular on comments on the Horizon scandal in two recent articles in the UK Telegraph by columnists Allison Pearson (which attracted nearly 5,000 online comments) and Allister Heath (2,600 comments), and a third article in the Conservative Woman by Professor Angus Dalgleish.

The first obvious parallel is the blind faith in computers and technology that was untested in the real world. The two equivalents in the case of Covid are the elevation of mathematical models to science and the use of unreliable PCR tests, especially with elevated cycle threshold counts. The PCR machine can be made to run multiple ‘cycles’ (like a washing machine) to keep amplifying the target viral material in the sample to make it detectable. The CT value, the number of cycles it takes to detect the virus, becomes increasingly less accurate beyond 25-28 CT yet in some cases it was raised up to 40 and those who tested positive were treated as Covid cases.

Another parallel is in the awarding of state honors and medals to the perpetrators of mass cruelty. The then-CEO of the Post Office Paula Vennells got a CBE for her services to the PO, (she has since bowed to public pressure to hand back the honour) while the number of health officials and scientists receiving honours have been sickeningly high.

A third is in the refusal of ministers and parliamentarians to listen to the ordinary people desperate to get their honour and lives back.

The Post Office minister at the time, Sir (another one) Ed Davy, refuses to accept responsibility and instead blames it all on civil servants: they lied to him on an industrial scale! In fact it is the complicity of all the top institutions and their smug and self-righteous senior personnel – from cabinet ministers to judges, lawyers, executives, investigators, the Post Office board and the Fujitsu board, the engineers, and technicians – that has been so sickeningly repeated in the Covid years.

It seemingly did not occur to anyone to ask why over 750 managers with hitherto unblemished records were suddenly all committing financial fraud at the same time, which coincided with the mass rollout of a new accounting software to post office branches across the country. No one seems prepared to stand up for the victims of the wrongs and the harms.

And no one still today is prepared to inquire into the dramatic explosion of reported adverse events and excess deaths that coincide with lockdowns and mass vaccinations. They too have encountered unconscionable delays in having their cases investigated and compensation awarded. In a related vein, very few countries seem prepared to take back healthcare workers and civil servants dismissed for refusing to comply with vaccine mandates.

A fourth commonality is the role of Andrew Bridgen MP crying in the wilderness in both tragedies that something wrong was happening to the Horizon- and vaccine-injured that needed to be looked at. While his name has become familiar in the time of Covid, he had the conviction and the courage to act on it in trying, in vain, to highlight the plight of the postmasters for many years.

A fifth common theme is the class divide, where the rapacious political, bureaucratic, and business elites got the financial and social rewards but the harms, pain, and suffering were borne by the workers. The rewards – promotions, bonuses, honours – for ruining so many innocent, decent, honourable lives really stick in the craw.

A final common theme is that justice will not be seen to be done and the sense of justice will not be appeased unless many of the top people responsible are put behind bars. There will be no emotional closure for the victims and their families and no effective deterrent to future wrongdoing by jumped-up and condescending members of the ruling class without full and transparent criminal justice accountability. As Heath writes, the postmasters, ‘the best of Britain, were persecuted by the worst of Britain: the overpromoted corporate-bureaucratic class, the useless apparatchiks of Britain’s Kafkaesque bureaucracies, the unaccountable arms-length bodies, the out of control lawyers, the civil servants and the subsidy-hungry corporations.’

What we need to close this particular circle is both a proper inquiry and a human-interest personalised TV dramatisation of the Covid-related injustices inflicted by the unholy collusion between the different components of Big State, Big Pharma, Big Tech, and the mainstream media.

Republished from The Spectator Australia

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Ramesh Thakur

    Ramesh Thakur, a Brownstone Institute Senior Scholar, is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

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