One of the main reasons that I got into politics – firstly as a councillor in Denton and now as MP for Denton and Reddish – was to fight against injustice wherever it might be found. There are, unfortunately many injustices that need to be fought – the situation facing the WASPI women, people living in unsafe housing and the scourge of homelessness to name but a few.
One great injustice that I feel has received far too little attention is the scandal facing hundreds of subpostmasters – including one of my constituents – who found themselves criminalised and thousands of pounds out of pocket as a result of a flawed computer system.
This system, called Horizon, was initially introduced in the 1990s and it wasn’t long before issues were reported. For example, one subpostmaster found that the system generated a £9,000 shortfall over the Christmas period of 2009 when her branch wasn’t even open.
However, the Post Office continued to use the system and began accusing thousands of subpostmasters of dipping into the tills. They were threatened with prosecution unless they paid back the supposedly missing money and some were indeed imprisoned or pleaded guilty to avoid this outcome, whilst others paid back thousands that they did not actually owe.
It’s easy to see how this scandal ruined the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people. In addition to those who ended up in prison or lost their life savings, others ended up homeless and there was tragically one reported suicide related to this issue. For those who ended up falsely convicted of crimes like theft or false accounting, getting a new job was made far more difficult and they lost out in thousands in earnings as a result. Some people are working well into what should be their retirement because of the financial hardship that the Horizon system has caused.
The Post Office finally accepted that software defects had occurred in July 2013, but it wasn’t until last year that 550 of the subpostmasters affected settled a legal case with the Post Office. However, the amount that these individuals got in this case goes nowhere near compensating for their losses.
I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that this is absolutely not a satisfactory resolution to this scandal. Many hundreds of people have been living a nightmare for the past decade or so and the Government needs to do far more to support them to get justice.