UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans this week to introduce a new law to exonerate all those wrongly accused of theft and fraud in a Post Office scandal involving a faulty accounting system, including many British Indians.
In a statement in the House of Commons, Sunak said new primary legislation will be published and those part of a Group Litigation Order (GLO) against the Post Office will be eligible for an upfront payment of £75,000. It comes after he pledged action following the issue dating back to the 1990s was brought back into the limelight following a television drama series aired recently.
UK Postal Minister Kevin Hollinrake also provided an update to the Commons following the announcement to say that all those claiming compensation will sign a statement of truth to say they did not commit the crimes of which they were accused.
It came as the BBC reported that some victims of Indian heritage felt that racism was also at play against them. Balvinder Gill told the ‘Newsnight’ programme that his life was destroyed after he was wrongly accused of stealing £108,000 from the Post Office in 2004. The 45-year-old said he even suffered a mental breakdown due to the ordeal.
"My parents were spoken to as if they were idiots because they're not white. They were made to feel like they didn't understand the system and that they were stupid," he said.
Many of the government-owned Post Office Ltd branch managers are of South Asian heritage, with official data from 2012 showing there were 1,547 sub-postmasters and agents of Indian heritage in England and Wales.
Harjinder Butoy (pictured above) is one such postmaster who co-ran a post office in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. He was given a three-year and three-month sentence after his conviction in 2007 and served 18 months in prison before he was released. In April 2021, he was among a group of 39 who won a Court of Appeal case back in April 2021 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
"It's destroyed everything. We lost everything the day I got sentenced. I keep thinking one day I'll forget about it and it'll be all over, but I can't get rid of it in my head," he said.
The ITV drama ‘Mr Bates Vs The Post Office’, which aired this month, has shone a sharp light on this historic scandal impacting over hundreds of sub-postmasters, with the Metropolitan Police also confirming that it is investigating the government-owned Post Office over potential fraud offences. Meanwhile, an independent public inquiry led by retired judge Sir Wyn Williams has been hearing evidence on the action taken against sub-postmasters over the faulty accounting system named Horizon.