The Stamp of Shame

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After a huge public uproar, British police last week launched an investigation into the Post Office’s handling of an IT glitch that led to the prosecution of hundreds of employees for allegedly stealing money, some of whom later committed suicide, the Associated Press reported.

Between 1999 and 2015, over 700 branch managers were wrongly accused of theft or fraud. A computer accounting system called Horizon, developed by the Japanese company, Fujitsu, displayed faulty information that money was missing. The postal workers were sued by the Post Office and sentenced to reimburse large amounts of money.

Many of those accused ended up bankrupt and faced social ostracization, while others were imprisoned. Four committed suicide.

The Post Office long claimed the software was reliable. Nonetheless, since 2021, 93 convictions have been overturned, and a judge alleged the company was aware of Horizon’s faults.

The scandal has been the subject of a public inquiry ongoing since 2022, but widespread interest in the story was vigorously bolstered by a drama series based on the true story of postmaster and Horizon victim Alan Bates that aired on the commercial network ITV on New Year’s Day.

Amid the public outrage, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Parliament his government would quash all the victims’ rulings and provide compensation amounting to $1.27 billion, the BBC reported.

The move will be backed by an Act of Parliament, which Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake admitted would raise “important constitutional issues” since courts are usually the only entities empowered to take such measures.

Lawmakers have demanded that public contracts with Fujitsu, representing billions of dollars, be re-examined. They are scheduled to question the Japanese firm’s leaders in a committee hearing next week, the Japan Times reported.

Asked by the BBC if the burden of compensation would rest on Fujitsu or taxpayers, Hollinrake said he hoped for “a combination of both.”

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