Post Office Scandal: The Ordeal of British Asian Victims

The Post Office Horizon scandal has sparked renewed anger over the miscarriage of justice and the trauma still lingers for some Asian victims.

Ms Kaur was "relentlessly" pursued by the Post Office

The Post Office Horizon scandal has been brought back into the spotlight after an ITV drama about it was aired.

Reports suggest that since Mr Bates vs The Post Office was broadcast, 50 new potential victims have approached lawyers.

The show centres on sub-postmaster Alan Bates, played by Toby Jones, who led and won a legal battle, paving the way for dozens of convictions to be overturned.

Between 1999 and 2015, faults with the Horizon IT system saw sub-postmasters experiencing unexplained shortfalls in their accounts.

Under their contract with the Post Office, they were liable for losses.

The Post Office ordered sub-postmasters to pay back the money that was lost and were told they could face prosecution if they did not comply.

This saw more than 700 sub-postmasters wrongly receive criminal convictions, with some even being jailed.

In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained several “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

Fewer than 100 people have had their convictions overturned.

And following the airing of Mr Bates vs The Post Office, the scandal has returned to the forefront.

The government are now considering measures to clear the names of those convicted.

But for many, the traumatic ordeal still lingers.

One of those is Harjinder Butoy, who was wrongly jailed for three years and three months in 2008 after being accused of stealing over £200,000.

Asian Victims of the Post Office Scandal 3

During an inquiry into Horizon, Mr Butoy “fell apart” as he found it impossible to get a job after spending 18 months of his sentence behind bars and being declared bankrupt.

The former sub-postmaster said: “My life got torn apart.

“As soon as they said guilty to some of the charges, and I was handcuffed and taken down, I didn’t know what was happening, I didn’t know where I was, or where my mind was.

“It’s terrible especially when you hadn’t done anything, and I thought how have I got here, and I thought about my family.

“I lost over six stone in weight, I was stressed every day.

“The day I was sentenced, we shut the business down straight away, and my wife and three children moved in with my parents, because we had no business left, it was gone and she would not have been able to run it on her own.

“I’ve got no confidence in myself anymore, and it’s the same for me and them, we’ve all been destroyed.”

Describing the moment he was arrested, Mr Butoy said:

“Customers saw me being taken away, and I felt quite ashamed truthfully.

“They came in saying £208,000 was missing and I thought what was going on?

“I got arrested straight away, and it all happened so quick, I was so confused, and they said we don’t know what’s happening, we’ve just been told by the Post Office to arrest you, take you into custody and wait for them to come.”

Mr Butoy still awaits a full payout.

Another victim of the Post Office Horizon scandal was Seema Misra, who was pregnant with her second child when she was convicted of theft and jailed in 2010.

Asian Victims of the Post Office Scandal

She said: “The whole family suffered, not just me. You know I couldn’t work for the last 10 years.”

Ms Misra and many others battled to overturn their convictions.

After being told to repay a massive shortfall, Balvinder Gill claimed it led to depression and bankruptcy.

“Every single week I had the same problems of not being able to understand the errors that were occurring.”

“The figures on the system never matched the physical stock and cash. After six months, auditors arrived at my office and told me I couldn’t enter the counter.

“They said, by their calculations, I was approximately £60,000 down. I couldn’t stand up. I was devastated.”

Asian Victims of the Post Office Scandal 2

Amid the scandal, former sub-postmaster Jess Kaur shared her story on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Her story was depicted in Mr Bates vs The Post Office and while her case was eventually thrown out, the ordeal caused her to suffer a mental breakdown and carry out a suicide attempt.

On the impact, Ms Kaur said: “I’m glad it’s out there, it needs to be out there and that I’m not the only one suffering.”

Ms Kaur was “relentlessly” pursued by the Post Office for the incorrect shortfalls.

She also faced abuse from people believing what they read in the newspapers.

Ms Kaur explained: “They spat on the shop floor, threw newspapers, they smashed my car windows.”

The former sub-postmaster said she tried to take her own life and ended up in hospital receiving shock therapy.

On why Ms Kaur had not received any compensation or apology from the Post Office, Kevan Jones, of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, believed:

“Arrogance and I think bureaucracy. I think we need to press on people like Jess. Jess is one of many who have gone through mental torture.”

He went on to label the scandal a “deliberate cover-up”, adding:

“People like Jess went through torture and her family did for no good reason apart from the arrogance from the Post Office and those individuals who should have known better.”

Anjana and Baljit Sethi ran two Post Offices in east London.

Although they were never charged, they were forced into bankruptcy when they were asked to cover a £17,000 hole in their accounts.

Their son Adeep said: “They couldn’t get a credit card, they got the worst mortgage rate on the market, and then my father had to retrain as a security guard doing night shifts.

Another son, Amit, said:

“You can’t get back time, you can’t get back the stress, you can’t get back those sleepless nights that they’ve had, but the compensation will help them feel like we were right.

“You can’t get back time, you can’t get back the stress, you can’t get back those sleepless nights that they’ve had, but the compensation will help them feel like we were right.”

 The Sethi family say they’re still waiting for some kind of redress from the Post Office.

Of the overturned convictions, only 27 people have agreed “full and final settlements”.

Some 54 cases have resulted in convictions being upheld, people being refused permission to appeal, or people withdrawing from the process, according to the Post Office.

Labour has called for prosecution powers to be stripped from the Post Office while Rishi Sunak has said he would “strongly support” a probe into whether former Post Office boss Paula Vennells should be stripped of her CBE.

She will now hand back the honour with immediate effect and in a statement, she said:

“I continue to support and focus on cooperating with the inquiry and expect to be giving evidence in the coming months.”

“I have so far maintained my silence as I considered it inappropriate to comment publicly while the inquiry remains ongoing and before I have provided my oral evidence.

“I am, however, aware of the calls from sub-postmasters and others to return my CBE.

“I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect.

“I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system.

“I now intend to continue to focus on assisting the inquiry and will not make any further public comment until it has concluded.”

Many victims are still fighting to have their convictions overturned or to secure full compensation.

However, renewed anger at the miscarriage of justice could finally see them receive a settlement.

Dhiren is a journalism graduate with a passion for gaming, watching films and sports. He also enjoys cooking from time to time. His motto is to “Live life one day at a time.”

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