The Post Office is a 'dead duck' that is adrift without a moral compass - David Behrens

It’s two months now since the country awoke to the injustice perpetrated by the Post Office in prosecuting hundreds of innocent people to conceal its own failings. Yet even after the outrage, it became obvious this week that its blinkered bosses have still not grasped the enormity of what they’ve done wrong.

For while the victims and their families wait to hear when or if they will be compensated for the ignominy forced upon them, the executives responsible for putting things right have been arguing among themselves like kids in a playground.

“It’s his fault not mine” was the gist of the discourse played out in front of MPs by the chief executive and recently-sacked chairman, Nick Read and Henry Staunton respectively. Run a big company? These two couldn’t run a whist drive.

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Read is a Robin Hood in reverse, concerned more with renegotiating his own pay than with compensating those robbed by his miserable organisation. According to Staunton, he almost resigned over money but was told by ministers not to “even think of coming for any salary increase”.

Alan Bates, former sub-postmaster and campaigner, after appearing before the Business and Trade Select Committee. PIC: Lucy North/PA WireAlan Bates, former sub-postmaster and campaigner, after appearing before the Business and Trade Select Committee. PIC: Lucy North/PA Wire
Alan Bates, former sub-postmaster and campaigner, after appearing before the Business and Trade Select Committee. PIC: Lucy North/PA Wire

Staunton, meanwhile, thinks he is the victim of a smear campaign by the Post Office and the government, in which case he should be in good company with all the wronged subpostmasters.

But more outrageous than any of this was Read’s assertion that the Post Office would have opposed more than half the appeals by convicted subpostmasters had the government not stepped in to exonerate them en masse.

The organisation had “a duty to ensure that any decisions which may be taken by the government are fully informed” was what Read said.

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But where was the duty all those years ago to see that the prosecutions were fully informed in the first place and not just fabricated by devious in-house investigators covering up the inadequacies of the Horizon IT system? Read did not go into that. He just said lamely that not all the prosecutions were conducted on Horizon evidence alone.

What he still doesn’t get is that it’s not just Horizon no-one trusts; it’s him and every one of his wretched colleagues on the executive floor. They’ve lied so often and so habitually that their word against any defendant is worthless. We can’t even begin to imagine what else they’ve covered up in their obsessive drive to secure prosecutions at any cost.

So it’s not subpostmasters who are in the dock now; it’s those who prosecuted them. They must themselves be prosecuted – and the more Read and Staunton stab each other in the back, the more obvious it becomes that this is an organisation hoist by its own petard, adrift without a moral compass.

What then is to become of it? It was the campaigning former subpostmaster Alan Bates – the real one, not the character portrayed by Toby Jones in ITV’s reconstruction – who had the best idea: sell it for £1 to a commercial concern brave or daft enough to take it on.

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“It’s a dead duck and it has been for years, and it’s going to be a money pit for the taxpayer in the years to come,” was what Mr Bates told MPs at this week’s hearing. “Sell it to someone like Amazon for £1... and within a few years you’ll have one of the best networks around Britain.”

This would value the entire organisation at less than the cost of one first class stamp but it would have the advantage of exorcising the toxic culture that has got the Post Office where it is today. On the other hand, it would place a physical Amazon shop on every high street in the country, so be careful what you wish for.

Meanwhile progress on restitution continues to be subverted by side issues – but Mr Bates had a solution to that, too: get all the wronged subpostmasters to stand as MPs at the next election. There are more of them than there are seats at Westminster and there’s more public support for them than for almost any of the incumbent politicians.

This is especially true in the London constituency that has been held on-and-off since 1997 by Ed Davey, currently leader of the Liberal Democrats but between 2010 and 2012 the postal minister in David Cameron’s coalition government.

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He admitted lamely on TV last weekend that he “probably should have said sorry earlier” for doing nothing to stop the stream of prosecutions when it was in full flow, despite being told what was going on. Instead he allowed himself to be lied to by Post Office bosses who trampled over him like a welcome mat.

This is not surprising: doing nothing is what the Lib Dems do best. It’s all they do. But for the rest of Westminster the fear of 900 vengeful subpostmasters coming over the hill and taking their jobs might be the one thing that makes them finally seize the initiative.

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