Friday, April 26, 2019

“I am ready to take any action against the Post Office,”

It's always good to get another perspective on things, and I wish I could persuade more people with inside and additional knowledge of this story to contribute, even anonymously (*raises eyebrows, stares hard at growing number of Post Office staff who read this blog*).

I am also very pleased to welcome guest bloggers to this parish and I am delighted fellow hack Jack Courtez has contributed a piece.
Jack Courtez

Jack has reported on technology and food retailing for five years and is now responsible for news and investigations at Retail Newsagent (RN) and Retail Express under the Better Retailing umbrella. Jack has a much clearer direct line to serving Subpostmasters than I do and the things that stood out for me in what he writes below is the cultural acceptance of Subpostmasters that they are going to lose money through Horizon without being able to effectively challenge or control it. He's clearly got his ear to the ground, and I am very grateful to him for this piece. In Jack's words - here is what he has to say:

"Like many outsiders, my first reaction to the Horizon claims was disbelief. How could an institution like the Post Office be responsible for so much damage to so many over nearly two decades?

In 2017 I visited former Subpostmaster and shop owner Tracey Merritt, who faced threats, imprisonment and bankruptcy over unexplained losses with her Horizon system. The interview lasted more than an hour. Her account was thorough, consistent and delivered with complete conviction. I left convinced that there had been a severe miscarriage of justice.

Learning the history of the Horizon case, I felt the ongoing trials would surely result in the vindication of so many current and former subpostmasters accused of misconduct.

I’d joined Newtrade – a publishing house dedicated to supporting independent retailers through print titles such as RN and Retail Express – only five months before my interview with Tracey. Our publications reach every single Post Office location with a newspaper delivery subscription, and we speak with subpostmasters on a daily basis.

When I mention the Horizon claims, there are some Subpostmasters who believe those involved either made accounting errors and failed to identify them, or intentionally sought to deceive the Post Office.

A more common response is that making good unexplained deficits from their own pockets is an unwelcome and unspoken cost of doing business as a Subpostmaster. Especially as challenging these discrepancies is viewed as an exhausting and often unproductive task. The arbitrary presentation of transaction corrections doesn’t help.

However, as we continued to cover the case, and even uncovered instances of attempted misuse of Government funding by the Post Office in relation to the trials, the number of letters, calls and emails I received from aggrieved subpostmasters I’d never previously heard from grew.

The publicity around the trial is a vital part of this, but so is the impact of the Post Office’s Network Transformation project.

Most of those who got in touch have lost less than £5,000, but some have lost tens of thousands of pounds. Many had previously viewed these smaller losses as a cost of doing business, but as Post Office margins have fallen, driven by Network Transformation, this cost, which was once merely unwelcome, became unacceptable.

Nearly all of those who got in touch have not applied to join the ongoing legal action, but many are now seeking to do so. “I am ready to take any action against the Post Office,” said one former Subpostmaster.

This influx of retailers with familiar accounts of Horizon issues suggests the thousand or so former and existing Subpostmasters who have registered an interest in joining the group litigation may be just the beginning.

It’s worth noting I’ve heard from many retailers who are completely satisfied with the Post Office. They say it drives footfall into their stores, provides a vital service to the community and an additional revenue stream. Many add that the new Network Transformation models such as Post Office services at the till rather than in a fortress has reduced their staffing costs.

I’ve also heard from sources within the Post Office that attitudes are changing. Whilst there is no admission they were liable for what the litigants claim, steps are being taken to address issues around the case, such as training, support and the Horizon system itself. The National Federation for SubPostmasters has said the Post Office is to invest £210m of its government subsidy in upgrading the Horizon computer system.

Any genuine steps by the Post Office to ensure no other subpostmaster has to go through what Tracey, and many others went through should be welcomed, even if it maintains publicly that it did nothing wrong. However, it will be too little too late for those who have lost businesses, their freedom or their loved ones. Considering the ‘existential’ threat the ongoing cases represent, these steps may also be too little, too late for the Post Office."

Thanks very much to Jack for his piece.

You can read more of Jack's work here:
The billion pound bill: Postmasters head to court
Post Office slams Horizon trial judge
Post Office tried to use government money to fund Horizon defence

If you want to contribute something about this story - please get in touch. You can be published under your name or anonymously. I will never betray a source. And I will not publish a word you send me without express permission. There are people at the Post Office (and the NFSP) who know what's been happening. Your testimony is important. Please get in touch. I am more than happy to publish every side of this story including anyone who wants to stand up for the Post Office. There must be someone. If you want to do it anonymously, no one will ever know who you are. You have my word.

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I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please forward the link to anyone you think might be interested. The more people who read it, the more people find out about what is the biggest litigation going through the UK courts right now.

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