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How Faulty IT System Changed Lives of Indian-origin Post Office Managers Hit by Stealing Scandal in UK

Representative image.

Representative image.

Many of the sub-postmasters, operating as semi-independent managers of the Post Office nearly 20 years ago, have spoken out about the toll the allegations of theft, fraud and false accounting took on their lives.

  • PTI
  • Last Updated: December 22, 2019, 6:47 PM IST
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London: Hundreds of sub-postmasters, many of them of Indian-origin, were hit by a faulty IT system that accused them of stealing funds from the UK's Post Office.

Earlier this week, Justice High Fraser at the UK High Court approved a 57.8-million pounds settlement between the Post Office Ltd and more than 550 such claimants at a hearing in London. These claimants can now walk with their heads held high after all these years. They can now start to move on with their lives, their lawyer said in a statement.

Many of the sub-postmasters, operating as semi-independent managers of the Post Office nearly 20 years ago, have spoken out about the toll the allegations of theft, fraud and false accounting took on their lives.

They blame the faults on accounting system Horizon, which led to shortfalls in branch accounts, leading to workers being convicted of theft and many even facing jail. The court concluded that a number of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system had caused discrepancies in sub-postmasters' branch accounts.

Vipinchandra Patel, who had worked for the Post Office since 1987 at the village of Horspath in Oxfordshire, is among the hundreds of sub-postmasters who says his life and career was wrecked as a result of the faulty system.

"One minute I was a pillar of the community and the next I was a pariah," he told The Sunday Times'.

"My health was deteriorating; my wife was running the shop and was facing insults from customers, and I got a criminal record, which meant I couldn't get a job. I couldn't eat or drink because of the stress and my body started to deteriorate. I lost the zest for life and became suicidal," he said.

He was handed an 18-week suspended sentence for alleged funding shortfalls and a two-month curfew. His conviction is now being reviewed by the UK's Criminal Cases Review Commission as a possible miscarriage of justice.

Balvinder Singh Gill, based in Oxford, says he and his family members was wrongly accused of stealing from the Post Office. "Financially it really wiped me away. I had to declare bankruptcy. They said if I didn't pay it back they'd take me to prison," he said.

The Post Office said it accepted it had got things wrong in its past dealings with a number of postmasters and looked forward to moving ahead. Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: We are now working to shape a modern and dynamic Post Office, with changes at every level of the organisation placing our postmasters and our customers at the centre of the business.

The task ahead is to improve, be clear about our direction and purpose, and to give all of those who work for and with us the guidance and support they need to help us build a Post Office fit for the future, serving in communities throughout the UK.

Lawyers for the claimants had told the High Court this week that the confidential terms of the settlement agreed with the Post Office will not prevent individual sub-postmasters from bringing separate legal action over allegations of malicious prosecution.
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