How a tech glitch ruined hundreds of lives … and what the Church of England is learning in the aftermath.
In recent weeks, Britain has seen an outpouring of anger at what has been described as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in its history: the Post Office scandal.
Over more than a decade, hundreds of local businesspeople were prosecuted on the basis of a faulty IT system, and the government has just recently begun to right its wrongs. A TV dramatization of the saga aired last month has generated further outrage and empathy for the innocent victims.
And because the Post Office’s former CEO happened to be a member of the clergy, the Church of England is also trying to learn lessons from the scandal.
What is the Post Office scandal?
Between 1999 and 2015, 736 people running local post offices (“sub-postmasters”) were prosecuted for false accounting, theft, and fraud, based on information from an online accounting system called Horizon. Hundreds went to prison. Families were left bankrupt, marriages collapsed, and lives were ruined.
Sub-postmasters had raised concerns about Horizon and the shortfalls it reported, and eventually 550 of them brought a group legal action. The Post Office agreed in 2019 to pay out £58 million ($73 million) but didn’t admit liability. In 2021, the Court of Appeal ruled that “the failures of investigation and disclosure were … so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court.”
A public inquiry is now underway to determine what went wrong. Although media first exposed the scandal, a recent TV miniseries, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, has sparked outrage among a much wider public.
What is the Post Office?
More than a mail service, the Post Office is an institution that is part …