UK Court Overturns 39 Convictions Of Post Office Workers Caused By Buggy Software
from the shittiest-skynet-ever dept
Never underestimate the power of technology to destroy lives. Flawed software used for the last 20 years by the UK postal service resulted in dozens of wrongful criminal convictions which are only just now being overturned.
Judges have quashed the convictions of 39 former postmasters after the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.
They were convicted of stealing money, with some imprisoned, after the Post Office installed the Horizon computer system in branches.
The clearing of the names of 39 people follows the overturning of six other convictions in December, This means more people have been affected than in any other miscarriage of justice in the UK.
The notoriously buggy software debuted in 1999. Apparently it was unable to do math properly, resulting in reported cash shortages that actually weren’t happening. Some employees attempted to make up these faux shortfalls with their own money by digging into savings or remortgaging their homes. Rather than address the problematic software, the UK Post Office went into prosecutorial overdrive, bringing cases against employees at the rate of one per week… for fourteen years straight. A total of 736 employees were prosecuted by the Post Office from 2000 to 2014.
And yet, the UK Post Office continued to rely on software that was actively destroying lives.
Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.
“The past nine years have been hellish and a total nightmare. This conviction has been a cloud over my life,” said former Oxfordshire sub-postmaster Vipinchandra Patel, whose name was cleared late last year.
Seema Misra was pregnant with her second child when she was convicted of theft and sent to jail in 2010. She said that she had been “suffering” for 15 years as a result of the saga.
By the end of 2019, the Post Office had agreed to settle claims brought by 555 employees. And now the last of the wrongful convictions have been overturned. But, so far, no one at the Post Office or Fujitsu (the software developer) has been held accountable for the nearly 20-year run of destruction they oversaw.
That could change in the near future. The UK court seems completely unimpressed with the Post Office’s actions (or lack thereof).
At the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the system’s defects.
But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable” and “effectively steamrolled over any sub-postmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the judge added.
Sure, everyone at the Post Office seems pretty apologetic now. But that’s after 15 years of ignoring the problem and choosing to believe software rather than the people hired to do the job. Tech can make things better and increase productivity, but it’s rarely flawless and generally shouldn’t be considered more trustworthy than the people who have to interact with it on a daily basis.