By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 5 March 2020
This is a quick bulletin from the kitchen front. I am technically on a short break making marmalade, homemade aromatic bitters – mmm – and other matters domestic.
In a stable, liberal democracy, the State should not be able to rob innocents and throw them in jail. It should certainly not be able to do so with impunity.
Post Office Ltd unjustly extorted money from subpostmasters under threat of jail. It took precious capital that people had painstaking built up to buy their businesses, stole their nest eggs and long term security, and the product of their labour, sometimes from over many years.
One harmed subpostmaster has likened the relationship with Post Office Ltd to a form of “slave labour”.
Since 2015 the UK government has recognised modern slavery in law:
This is what the government has to say about modern slavery:
“The common factors are that a victim is, or is intended to be, used or exploited for someone else’s (usually financial) gain, without respect for their human rights. The perpetrators seeking to take advantage of them could be private individuals, running small businesses or part of a wider organised crime network.
“5. Types of modern slavery
Labour exploitation usually involves unacceptably low pay, poor working conditions or excessive wage deductions, but is not solely about this. In order to constitute modern slavery there will also be some form of coercion meaning that victims cannot freely leave for other employment or exercise choice over their own situation. Where the perpetrator is taking advantage of a child or vulnerable person, an offence can be committed without the element of coercion”
I see little difference in what the Post Office did compared to gangmasters. It held subpostmasters in the vice of a highly oppressive contract; they were forced to accept wholly unjustified deductions out of their own pockets for phantom shortfalls that never occurred. They lived with the terror of not knowing when another massive, ruinous financial shortfall might materialise or when Post Office Ltd might arbitrarily tax them again. They were roughed up with searches, interrogations, ready-made confessions to sign, and threatened with jail if they did not cooperate. Even when they paid, they were still prosecuted. Their human rights were abused.
There is an even more unsavoury suggestion in some of the subpostmasters’ accounts that some of the prosecutions and terminations of submostmasters just happened to be convenient to Post Office Ltd’s national closure, sorry, modernisation programme.=
“Throughout my case and indeed following its outcome, I received enormous support from friends, villagers and customers who refused to believe that I had made off with any money…in fact the consensus of opinion was that POL were deliberately fabricating a case for closing our branch without the cost of significant recompense to the Postmaster (this event had occurred in the middle of a national closure programme to find 2500 branches to close). Very soon after my sentencing, I was contacted by a fellow ex Postmaster who had experienced the same treatment and further enquiries uncovered a significant number of similar cases up and down the country”
The government’s conduct through its organ, Post Office Ltd, has been so scandalous that it has left subpostmaster claimants with almost nothing to show for the appalling trauma of being forced to litigate, because Post Office Ltd failed to engage fairly with a mediation.
Seema Misra, who trusted our justice system and pleaded not guilty but wassent to prison whilst pregnant and when her son was aged ten, does the maths:
The Crown Prosecution Service has revealed via FOIA that it holds no central data on private prosecutions such as those by Post Office Ltd, which raises questions of oversight by other branches of government besides BEIS, the government department which owns and is responsible for the Post Office. CPS has also revealed that despite the years long scandal over Post Office Ltd’s unsafe prosecutions, no government department has ever stepped in and asked CPS to scrutinise any of Post Office Ltd’s prosecutions.
Nevertheless, CPS does reveal that it received complaints about at least five of Post Office Ltd’s private prosecutions and that it exercised its prerogative to take over and put a halt to two of these prosecutions.
A public inquiry is so obviously required into this most grave matter, not least because Post Office Ltd was a wholly government owned company, and governments should not behave like hoodlums or robber barons. A detailed argument for public inquiry by Eleanor Shaikh who supports the subpostmasters can be found here:
The Johnson government gave an apparent, tentative agreement to an inquiry into Post Office Ltd but will not act without huge continuing pressure. The parliamentary select committee which overseas the government department responsible for Post Office Ltd has launched its own brief inquiry and is chasing Johnson about a public inquiry:
According to the BEIS select committee, Paula Vennells is due to give oral evidence as part of a second panel on 24th March 2020 (assuming parliament has not been shut down by the government as has been mooted, on grounds of coronavirus risk):
“On Tuesday 24th March (am), the Committee is expected to question the current PO Ltd CEO, Nick Read, the former CEO, Paula Vennells, Fujitsu, a BEIS Minister and a representative from UKGI (UK Government Investments).”
A Westminster Hall debate led by the MP of one of the victims, Tracy Felstead, who has jailed by Post Office Ltd at the age of nineteen, takes place today on how the unsafe convictions can be overturned:
The debate can be watched on Parliament TV iplayer:
NHS Improvement’s reticence
And what of NHS Improvement, the NHS regulator which helped Paula Vennells Post Office Ltd CEO 2012-2019 find a new billet as a Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust?
More illegality of course. NHSI has defaulted on an FOI about its actions in appointing Vennells as Chair of Imperial. It initially apologised for delay and promised a reply, then went silent. It maintained this silence after a personal reminder to its Chair Dido Harding, another former captain of the communications industry and collaborator with Vennells in the digital venture ‘Go On UK’.
An unanswered FOI reminder to Dido Harding:
Subject: FOI request Fit and Proper Person issues in the appointment of Paula Vennells as Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
Date: 27 February 2020 at 14:35:37 GMT
To: Dido Harding <REDACTED>
I am rather concerned by a delay in NHSI’s response to the FOI request below about NHSI’s handling of Fit and Proper Person issues and Paula Vennells’ appointment by NHSI to the Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
I first made my request on 16 January and was expecting a response by 13 February.
NHSI has apologised for going over this statutory deadline and last week indicated that I would be getting a reply this week. But I am concerned not to have heard anything now that we are nearing the end of the weekl.
As there is a massive weight of concern about Post Office Ltd’s actions, and as No 10 has apparently acquiesced to the growing calls for an inquiry, I would be grateful if NHSI would expedite its reply.
It does seem very important that patients are properly protected and that there is accountability for the Safeguarding process.
With best wishes,
A complaint has been filed with ICO to stop the delay from dragging on too long, but NHSI will doubtless do its best to resist transparency.
That is after all the divine right of Kings.
Case 16 Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance
“We attended this meeting leaving our home in the early hours of the morning, some of the stories I could not believe of the honest hard working individuals one postmistress had been in the job for fifty one years.”