Post Office 'like Victorian factory owner', says judge

By Mark Andrews | Shrewsbury | Crime | Published:

A judge likened the Post Office to ‘a Victorian factory-owner’ in its dealing with former workers who say they were wrongly blamed for financial discrepancies.

Tracy Felstead

More than 500 former post office workers, some who were sent to jail, are fighting to clear their names after being blamed for financial shortfalls they say were caused by a computer glitch. Among them are 37-year-old Tracy Felstead, from Telford, who has protested her innocence since being jailed for six months in 2001. Miss Felstead, from Brookside, was a 19-year-old counter clerk when she was accused of stealing £11,500.

The 500 workers, mainly former and present sub-postmasters, have mounted a group action against the Post Office in the High Court. They say the accounting shortfalls were caused by a glitch with the Post Office’s controversial Horizon computer system, which logs all transactions.

In the latest blow to the Post Office, Appeal Court judge Mr Justice Coulson dismissed its application to appeal the first of four judgments. In the original judge, Mr Justice Fraser had accused the Post Office of ‘oppresive behaviour’ in demanding sums of money that could not be accounted for by sub-postmasters.

In the latest judgment, Judge Coulson said the Post Office had acted in “capricious or arbitrary ways which would not be unfamiliar to a mid-Victorian factory-owner”. Also trying to get her conviction overturned is 54-year-old Rubbina Shaheen, from Worthen, Shrewsbury, who was jailed for 12 months in 2010 for false accounting, although she is not part of the group litigation. Mrs Shaheen was blamed for a £40,000 shortfall when she kept Greenfields Post Office in the town.

The original trial, which opened in November last year, found in favour of the post office workers. It looked at the contractual relationship between the Post Office and its sub-postmasters.

The Post Office unsuccessfully tried to have Judge Fraser removed from the proceedings following the judgment, accusing him of bias.

The Post Office denies there is a problem with the Horizon computer system.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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