Post Office prosecutors in Horizon scandal used racial slur

Post Office prosecutors investigating sub-postmasters in Horizon scandal used racial slur to classify black workers

  • Post Office Horizon scandal saw some 700 innocent postmasters prosecuted
  • Fraud investigators used a racist term to classify black Post Office workers

Post Office prosecutors tasked with investigating sub-postmasters in the notorious Horizon scandal used a racial slur to classify black workers, according to documents obtained by campaigners.

Fraud investigators were asked to group suspects based on racial features and used a racist term for staff from the colonial era of the 1800s which refers to people of African descent.

The Post Office Horizon scandal, which has been described as ‘the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history’, saw hundreds of innocent postmasters convicted.

Some 700 branch managers were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 on theft, fraud and false accounting charges. 

The information came to light through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request obtained by campaigner Eleanor Shaikh.

Some 700 Post Office branch managers were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 on theft, fraud and false accounting charges (file image)

Post Office prosecutors used a racial slur to classify black workers, according to documents obtained by campaigners

The document, thought to have been published in 2008, asked investigators if the suspects were ‘Negroid Types’.

READ MORE: Asian postmasters who rang helpline about Horizon system were labelled ‘another Patel scamming’, inquiry told

Other categories on the document include ‘Chinese/Japanese types’ and ‘Dark Skinned European Types’.

Responding to the FOI request, a Post Office spokesperson described it as a ‘historic document’ but said the organisation did not tolerate racism ‘in any shape or form’ and condemned the ‘abhorrent’ language.

They added: ‘We fully support investigations into Post Office’s past wrong doings and believe the Horizon IT Inquiry will help ensure today’s Post Office has the confidence of its Postmasters and the communities it supports.’

The Post Office began installing Horizon accounting software in the late 1990s, but faults in the software led to shortfalls in accounts, which sparked demands on sub-postmasters to cover the difference.

Many were wrongfully prosecuted for false accounting, theft and fraud.

Starting in 1999, the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting systems – but faults in the software led to thousands of users suffering unexplained losses in their branches’ accounts.

Former post office workers celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal, April 24, 2021

A supporter celebrates outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, April 23, 2021, following a court ruling clearing sub-postmasters of convictions for theft and false accounting

The Post Office subsequently demanded that the sub-postmasters cover the shortfalls, with more than 700 wrongfully prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting between 1999 and 2015.

But in December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that the system contained a number of ‘bugs, errors and defects’ and there was a ‘material risk’ that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were in fact caused by it.

Many sub-postmasters have had criminal convictions overturned.

What was the Horizon computer system and how did it go wrong? 

Horizon, an IT system developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was rolled out by the Post Office from 1999.

The system was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking. However, sub-postmasters complained about defects after it reported shortfalls – some of which amounted to thousands of pounds.  

Some sub-postmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money, even remortgaging their homes, in an attempt to correct an error.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters were sacked or prosecuted due to the glitches. The ex-workers blamed flaws in the IT system, Horizon, but the Post Office denied there was a problem.

In case after case the Post Office bullied postmasters into pleading guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed.

Many others who were not convicted were hounded out of their jobs or forced to pay back thousands of pounds of ‘missing’ money.

The Post Office spent £32million to deny any fault in their IT system, before capitulating. 

However, the postmasters and postmistresses said the scandal ruined their lives as they had to cope with the impact of a conviction and imprisonment, some while they had been pregnant or had young children.

Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.

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