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Mr Bates vs The Post Office: Scandal the 'biggest miscarriage of justice of our time'

By Rachel Smart

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The Post Office prosecutions scandal has provoked fresh outrage over the festive period.
The Post Office prosecutions scandal has provoked fresh outrage over the festive period.

Strathspey MSP Fergis Ewing has described the Post Office scandal as the ‘biggest miscarriage of justice of our time’ and has made a bid for a topical question on the issue to be discussed at the Scottish Parliament today.

Mr Ewing is hoping to bring the issue to light in Scotland after the recent ITV series Mr Bates vs The Post Office depicted how people running post offices were accused of crimes including theft, false accounting and embezzlement based on a faulty IT system called Horizon.

Some were convicted and sent to prison, others lost their livelihoods and reputations.

Mr Ewing said: “It is clear that the Post Office not only wrongly prosecuted around 700 sub postmasters and mistresses in the UK but they also knew that they were wrong as they withheld evidence that clearly showed it was their own Horizon computer system that led to the mistakes.

“That this scandal has not been corrected is in itself a disgrace. I am hoping to urge the Scottish Government and First Minister to call on the UK Government to take steps to redress this injustice without any further delay.”

In his bid for the topic to be discussed at parliament, Mr Ewing said he was 'particularly surprised and disappointed' that the Scottish Government had made no statement on the matter.

Commenting further, Mr Ewing said: “Paula Vennells, the former boss at the helm of the Post Office should be stripped of her CBE; all victims must be compensated in full with no more delay; an apology should be issued to all by the Prime Minister; the Post Office should no longer be in charge of these matters; and the compensation payments should be handled by an independent party.”

MSP Fergus Ewing.
MSP Fergus Ewing.

Mr Ewing believes that there are more victims within Scotland who have not come forward on the issue, which is supported by evidence from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC).

A spokesperson from SCCRC said: “We continue to advise and encourage anyone who believes that they (or a family member) has been affected by this issued in Scotland to contact the SCCRC.

“We can provide information and advice on the application process which is free, relatively straight forward and does not require legal representation.”

A former Inverness postmaster told a public inquiry he was visited at home by two security guards who encouraged him to admit to false accounting.

Peter Worsfold (77) gave evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry in 2022.

Mr Worsfold, who ran a post office in Inverness from 1997 to 2002, said he was notified of a £20,000 discrepancy in 2001.

He said it took three months before the Post Office flagged up the issue, and he was then suspended after he was unable to locate where the funds had gone.

He was then visited at his home by two security guards who claimed to have the same "jurisdiction" as police officers and cautioned him.

They gave him a few hours to pay the outstanding balance or face charges of false accounting, theft, and fraud.

"I was very worried and devastated," he said. "They told me that If I signed a statement admitting to false accounting and if I paid the shortfalls then the other charges would be dropped.

"They wouldn’t allow me to have a lawyer, they said I could have a friend, but they couldn’t speak.

Mr Worsfold said he was told the other charges would probably carry a sentence of imprisonment.

"I agreed to their terms," he said. "I was very worried because of my children. There would be nobody to look after them.

"They gave me a couple of hours to raise the money and then they returned, and I paid them over the money and signed the statement."

Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry (SNP) said: "The impact of this scandal on affected sub-postmasters is absolutely devastating – it has ruined countless lives, torn apart families, and left some to die without their names cleared.

"I will never forget when it was first brought to my attention by affected constituents years ago – I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Since then, my colleagues and I have been urging successive UK Governments to act and address one of the most devastating miscarriages of justice in UK history.

"It's unfathomable, given the overwhelming evidence from the inquiry and the testimonies of sub-postmasters, that successive UK Governments, from the Tory Lib Dem coalition to the current one, still haven't taken control of this issue or held Post Office Ltd accountable for this utterly devastating mess.

"People need action, not more warm words."

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