The “Horizon” scandal, in which the Post Office has been exposed as causing, and perpetuating, a widespread and long-standing miscarriage of justice, has hardly been out of the news in recent weeks. Fair enough. The public has, or ought to have, an interest in the subversion of justice on an industrial scale. Its victims are entitled to their exoneration, to meaningful compensation, and to the public clearing of their names and reputations after the harrowing ordeals they have endured over many years.
There is, however, a danger inherent in this for the victims of miscarriages of justice that, lacking a political angle, do not attract the attention of the media, the politicians or the guardians of the justice system. They have to fight in the shadows, and in silence, against similar injustice about which the outside world neither knows, nor cares.
The danger is that the public, in the face of this tsunami of reporting, and comment, on the Post Office cases, will soon suffer miscarriage of justice fatigue. When that happens, other deserving cases brought to their attention will fail to register.
The danger is that, having seen the remarkable speed with which two governments have moved to exonerate and compensate Post Office victims, the perception will prevail that this is the process adopted in all cases of miscarriage of justice.
The danger is that the plight of “ordinary” miscarriage of justice victims will remain in the shadows, unknown and unimagined.
The most recent issue of “Inside Time”, a newspaper for prisoners, carries a poignant letter by “Matthew M”, a prisoner at HMP Hollesley Bay. We publish it below:
I am having difficulty keeping the plight of the Post Office workers out of my thoughts. So many of them lost everything – their homes, their possessions, and most sadly, their loving relationships. The Post Office, in a cruel insult, even stole money it wasn’t owed from its victims, leaving many in financial ruin. Livelihoods and reputations were obliterated, and freedoms were lost. Innocent people have since died alone and in shame. Tragically, others, unable to suffer unbearable shame, felt they had no other option but to end their life.
A previously hostile and hysterical public, responsible for the abuse and ostracism of many of the victims in villages and towns across the UK, now offer unwavering support of the wrongfully convicted. Local news outlets, which undoubtedly contributed to the abject misery and ultimate suicide of some, are now falling over themselves to get even more headlines with compassion replacing earlier bile and vilification. Everyone is now asking how a miscarriage of justice of this magnitude could be allowed to happen in the UK, of all places.
It stretches credulity to even suggest that those at the top, who are now frantically trying to apportion blame in every other direction but their own, were not aware of the disgraceful injustices going on under their watch. The Post Office went on prosecuting year after year, in the full knowledge that there were fundamental issues with the integrity of its Horizon system. The wrecking ball of injustice kept swinging and smashing apart good people and their families. These poor souls stood no chance. They were intimidated, bullied, and belittled by the bigger player who held all the cards. Forget equality of arms.
Worryingly, none of us would have been any the wiser had it not been for hundreds of brave and tenacious individuals pulling together in a relentless, concerted effort to throw light upon the common problems of serious IT dysfunction, political movement and maneuvering, and systematic corporate abuse. Despite this momentum and overwhelming supportive evidence, it has taken decades, along with an emotive TV drama, to get any traction for galvanizing the public psyche. Now ask yourself, what chance does one person have against this same system?
Getting any conviction overturned in the UK is nigh on impossible. Unless you have first-hand experience of the criminal justice system, you will never truly understand how stacked the system is against you.
When I take the time to explain my own circumstances, most listeners respond with ‘How can that be allowed to happen?’ or ‘Why don’t you just ask for a retrial?’ As if you can simply pop a polite letter in the post to the judge and things magically happen. On top of the £30,000 for my initial trial, I have spent a further £100,000 on an appeal, only for my application to crawl lugubriously through the motions and ultimately be dismissed by three judges. They checked their mate’s homework, and all was apparently just fine. Let’s pretend, just for a second, that I’m actually not guilty. After all, we’ve seen just how easy it is for people to be considered guilty, disregarded, and damned despite their innocence. So, I am left wondering just how we can possibly call anything justice if, as one character in the ITV drama said, ‘Ordinary skint people have to combat an edifice and a set of traditions as old as the hills.’ I can no longer afford it, that’s for sure.
It is not difficult to see why some people lose their will to live, both metaphorically and literally. The number of Post Office workers that will likely and rightly get their convictions overturned is equivalent to about 1 per cent of the current prison population. There are undoubtedly many other entirely innocent people festering in our prisons today. So long as authorities conceal inconvenient, distort stories in their favour, and control the narrative spewed out to the public, wrongful convictions will continue with little chance of being exposed. Just remember. British justice is the fairest in the world because people with horsehair on their heads have told you so. And you are too busy watching I’m A Celebrity to give a hoot. Move along. Nothing to see here.
I feel profoundly for the Post Office workers. Anyone outside of the prison system reading this needs to understand that there is a material difference between justice and what the public perceive to be justice.
The original article can be found HERE.