Corporate Cover-Up – 18 January 2024


Rishi Sunak described the Horizon scandal as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in UK history. But it’s much more and much worse than that. It’s a corporate cover-up with major businesses culpable of seeking to bury the little guy, doubtless to protect professional reputations and commercial profits.

I had listened to exchanges in the Commons, yet the TV drama was still shocking in showing the extent of the cruelty perpetrated. This was a conspiracy to silence and to keep the issues with the IT system hidden.

The Lord Advocate’s statement on Tuesday was welcome and it does appear that the Crown Office too were either lied to or at best not told the full story. With the Post Office, as with other external statutory agencies, Scottish prosecutors and their counterparts in England and Wales are usually simply acting on their behalf in court, with most of the shots called by the instructing organisation. Where I take issue with the Lord Advocate is that a blanket overturn of convictions is required. The pain and difficulty are too great and even if a few guilty go free, that’s the price we pay.

Horizon isn’t the first injustice where software or IT issues were involved. In Scotland, the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash saw the pilots initially shamefully blamed. Yet there’s good reason to believe the real cause was related to software issues. Thankfully they’ve since been vindicated but it took many years and much heartache for the families. Computer Weekly was to the fore in showing how important campaigning journalism and stalwart activists are.

That should have perhaps put many on notice. But culpability still rests with those who proceeded with a system even when they knew it was flawed. The Post Office’s extensive lobbying of New Labour at the outset shows how important they viewed its launch.

It’s bad enough to press start for a scheme you know to be faulty. But to persist with it and, worse, deny its errors, all at a cost in lives and misery for those working with it is truly scandalous, let alone deceiving ministers and prosecution authorities.

As both a defence agent and Justice Secretary, I knew a postie failing to deliver the mail faced a potential prison sentence and almost certainly custody if there was theft. For a postmaster, it was a certainty, the rationale being that the integrity of the service required it. I agreed with that and accept that there are jobs where exemplary sentences are necessary.

But what’s been done here goes beyond the service and affects the integrity of our society and its justice system. It seems lies were told and truth buried to protect corporate reputations and profits. Hundreds were thrown to the wolves and a fiction was created by those at the top.

It’s not just the senior executives who have some culpability. Boards hosted the captains of industry, but none appeared to demur let alone speak out. That’s an argument for workers’ representatives and others on boards, not just corporate elites.

Victims need exonerated and properly compensated. But additionally, it’s not medals being returned but severe sentences being imposed on individuals and swingeing financial penalties on corporations that’s needed. Our society and justice system require that.