Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Ask Not for Whom the Post Office Alarm Sounds…

Published on: 13 Jan, 2024
Updated on: 14 Jan, 2024

The Post Office scandal is a shameful example of the abuse of power and it has had local ramifications.

Only three miles south of Guildford, on October 10, 2017, after four years of successful trading and serving his community, the sub-postmaster at Farncombe Post Office, Chirag Sidhpura, had an unannounced visit from a Post Office auditor. He welcomed it because he felt everything was in order but by the end of the audit he was hit with a shocking alleged loss of over £57,000. Chirag’s world was turned upside down.

Farncombe Post Office

By 2017 there existed many doubts about the Post Office’s accounting system, Horizon, but naively, perhaps, Chirag handed over £57,000 in the hope he would be allowed to continue trading whilst the Post Office investigated the source of the discrepancy.

His trust was misplaced. Having pocketed Chirag’s cash, the Post Office was not obliged to seek the source of Chirag’s discrepancy. They decided not to pursue him through the criminal courts and instead, sacked him over an alleged breach of contract.

Chirag was aghast. He lost his money and his job and was told there was no review or appeal.

South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt said of the case: “It appears to me to be grossly unfair and unjust.” Ain’t that the truth, as everyone now knows, following the ITV dramatisation, Mr Bates versus the Post Office.

On Wednesday night “Sid”, as many people call Chirag, appeared on BBC’s Newsnight. A fuller version of his story by Nick Wallis, a journalist who played a major part in breaking the story, can be seen here.

Hundreds of postmasters across the country had similar experiences. Another close to Guildford was in West Byfleet. In this case, Seema Misra was imprisoned despite being eight weeks pregnant.

As is now well known some of those accused, under pressure, pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit, some went to prison, four committed suicide and many died before seeing justice.

The whole episode is scandalous. Not just because of the injustice but because of the length of time it has taken for the wrong to have been admitted.

Back in the 13th century the Barons that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta knew that “justice delayed was justice denied”. It said: “No free man shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or ruined in any way, nor in any way proceeded against, except by the lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land” and “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.”

…it sounds for thee

But there is a current case in Guildford where the wheels of justice seem to be grinding far too slowly and where natural justice seems to be absent…

In September Guildford Borough Council suspended two permanent council officers and effectively sacked five interim officers by terminating their contracts with immediate effect.

Although GBC wished to keep it hushed up The Dragon was informed that there was a £16 million overspend against a ring-fenced fund, a fund for the maintenance of the 5,000 council houses in the borough. But it was also said that they were investigating the possibility of fraud.

The council has an important duty to protect public funds, our money, against misuse and theft and the natural assumption was that there must have been a good prima facie case, ie clear evidence of wrongdoing.

One councillor told The Dragon, off the record, that the council officers were famously risk-averse and would not have taken the action they did without good reason.

Around the same time, The Dragon was contacted by two of those who had been sacked. They were clearly angry with the way they had been treated and vehemently protested their innocence.

In a letter, the chief lawyer at GBC gave no clue about any evidence it had. She had already warned that they should not speak to any councillors about the case. Furthermore, she wrote, repeated correspondence and calls from those who felt they had been mistreated amounted to “harassment”.

Those the council suspected told The Dragon that they were consulting lawyers as the council’s action had defamed their reputations. Who would employ them with an allegation of “possible fraud” hanging over their heads?

One would imagine that the council would want to get to the bottom of things quickly. Rightly or wrongly people’s reputations and livelihoods were at stake as well as GBC’s funds, our money, if the defamation case was successful.

But weeks went by. There appeared to be little progress. It was announced that independent investigators from another council had been appointed and the police brought in.

Direct communication between those sacked and the investigator at Reigate Council showed there had been very little progress and apparent confusion over the division of responsibilities. Only after our repeated questions did Surrey Police say they were in the lead but this was only days after a detective sergeant had said Surrey Police were not “actively investigating”.

The most worrying aspect of the case is that despite repeated offers, one could say demands, to be questioned, still, four months later, none of those suspended or sacked has, we understand, been interviewed.

Council leader Julia McShane told the council in December that it needed to be patient, it was a complicated case. No doubt it is but surely natural justice dictates that those suspended or sacked, so keen to speak up, should at least be able to give their side of the story. Even those poor mistreated postmasters were given that opportunity.

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Responses to The Dragon Says: Ask Not for Whom the Post Office Alarm Sounds…

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    January 13, 2024 at 2:06 pm

    The justice system is not fit for purpose. The examples are legion: the post masters, the Windrush victims, Mr Malkinson.
    What’s wrong?

    The system has no concept of either truth or justice – literally. It is driven by “codes” – specifically the Criminal Procedure Rules and the Civil Procedure Rules. Word search these documents for the words truth or justice and you will find they are not used anywhere!

    Judges behave like automatons and fail to exercise their discretion to do justice. Research shows that artificial intelligence engines produce more coherent judgements on the given evidence than many judges.

    Disclosure is for all practical purposes voluntary. Judges are more concerned with keeping secrets than in open justice.
    Does the Public know that the Court of Protection and the Family Courts operate in secret with no press reporting? That is only now beginning to be relaxed. Over 100,000 children are wards of the State. But the Press does not report their cases.

    Solicitors lie with complete impunity. They just say that a document does not exist and so cannot be disclosed and the judges accept this nonsense. The Post Office lawyers concealed the “Known Error Log” of its Horizon IT system for twenty years.

    When Mr Marshall discovered (indirectly) that the Post Office had received counsel’s opinion that it had kept a secret – the “Clarke Advice” – which would have acquitted his Post Master clients (who included Mrs Seema Misra in West Byfleet) he sent a copy to the Metropolitan Police. What did the court do? It threatened him with contempt of court and the Post Office has never been sanctioned for lying about this document. See Nick Wallis’ report here:

    The Clarke Advice exposed what the Post Office knew about its Horizon IT system. So the Post Office concealed it. The contents of the advice are described here.

    Mrs Misra’s husband was interviewed on BBC Radio 4. What he and his family have suffered is astonishing and disgraceful. And it is the direct result of the failings of the so-called “justice system”.

    Judges are unregulated. In the words of Mr Bates the system is “ignorant and arrogant”. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is a dead letter – just like OfWat and the other regulators.

    In the case of the post masters the justice system allowed itself to be manipulated by the Post Office’s lawyers – not once or twice but hundreds and hundreds of times, in hundreds of different places before hundreds of different judges.

    Those judges preferred “legal reality”, in other words the legal contract between Post Office Ltd and the Post Masters (that made them liable for shortfalls) over objective verifiable reality.

    The Post Office gamed “the system”. But the real culprits are the lawyers and judges that helped it by ignoring reality, not asking questions, and not seeking truth or justice. They were complacent, conceited and complicit.

    The Justice system manifestly does not do justice.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    January 14, 2024 at 4:20 pm

    Mr paton is so wrong and needs to get with the program!

    No official will ever lie! While every private individual lies through there back teeth!

    Just wait for the court cases now the department of work and pensions can search any bank account which receives legally paid like disability allowance state pensions coming in in 2025. If they don’t think you have the money legally!

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