There are many defining statements that describe the current state of affairs with the Post Office. They are currently under siege at what is fast becoming the trial of the century where hundreds of current and former subpostmasters are engaged in a civil trial, claiming many millions of pounds in damages for the treatment they received at the hands of Post Office Ltd.
Many of these victims of the unscrupulous behaviour of Post Office Ltd (POL) found massive losses at their branch which they could not explain and were faced with the Hobson’s Choice of either declaring the losses to Post Office Ltd and be forced to repay them immediately (which in many cases would have been impossible as they did not have that amount of money) or not declaring them and be guilty of the offence of False Accounting.
Losses at a Post Office branch can occur in many different ways. Mistakes in processing hundreds of different types of transactions are the most common but it is not unknown for the computer system to generate errors that cause losses to the postmaster (it should be pointed out that the computer system also generates gains by mistake as well but that is another story) and of course the back office systems of the Post Office are frequently the cause of errors. There is of course the possibility of fraud and theft. This has happened, does happen and will happen again but this is an infrequent occurrence. Far less possibility that theft could be the cause of the losses than mistakes or computer errors.
An important fact to point out as well is that ‘losses’ are not necessarily physical cash as many pundits seem to assume. If you mistakenly enter a cash deposit by a customer of £100 as £1000 then the customer has given you £100 and been credited by his bank with £1,000 while the Post Office requires you to pay them the £900 that never existed in the first place. The risk of losing £900 for a paltry 20p payment just sums up the idiocy of the current system in place.
When mistakes like that add up to many thousands of pounds and you haven’t gained financially from them how on earth can you repay Post Office Ltd from the paltry income subpostmasters receive? When faced with having to sell your business and losing not only your investment in it but your only source of income as well what pressure must you be under to not declare the losses? How can any sane and reasonable person not understand that subpostmasters faced with that decision decide to hide the fact from POL and declare false accounts. Yes it is a crime but it is a crime committed for no personal gain whatsoever and that must be taken into account as extenuating circumstances by the courts.
Which brings me back to the current trial and the ultimate defining statement by POL’s legal team as to the culpability of subpostmasters with huge losses discovered at their branches.
They state in their opening defence:
“It is a sound and logical inference that one would only submit false accounts to cover up their own theft”
That is such a ludicrous statement. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation faced by subpostmasters and because it is stated by highly respected barristers one really has to question how they have come to this conclusion after being presented with all the facts? There was no theft. Surely they would only present that statement to the court if they, as legal professionals, had been led to believe it was true. The inference then is that senior management of POL have provided them with that ‘knowledge’ and therefore one has to question either the intelligence of these people or their culpability in failing, completely, to understand how losses can occur in a branch. We simply cannot keep on saying ‘it is beyond belief’ – there has to be an explanation. Conspiracy theory does not work here with far too many people involved to hide what the conspiracy theorists would describe as blatant criminal activity on the part of POL. The only reasonable explanation is complete and utter stupidity and with so many examples to back that theory up I put it to you that that is the answer. Stupidity and ignorance are no excuses though and if it is found that what has transpired is criminal then the top management of Post Office Ltd should prepare for the consequences.