Two treasured memories from my childhood.
Where I lived when I was a kid, the sweet shop on the corner was also a Post Office. When I moved to Hastings, I used to use the Post Office counter in the bookshop on the seafront — and I still prefer the one in that little supermarket in George Street to the fake Post Office they set up in Smiths. I’m sure, if you’re much over 20 years old, you’ll have similar memories, and maybe similar allegiances to those memories. Do you remember when those innocent memories were blown out of the water by the Great British Post Office Scandal?
When did you first hear about it? When did I? Looking back now, it feels like a lifetime ago. It also feels like a major benchmark in a series of betrayals that led us to where we are now, when we almost expect to find the judicial system, the government, and big business causing pain and disruption wherever they touch people’s lives.
Do you remember Labour’s “People’s Post Office” campaign during the Jeremy Corbyn years? How popular that idea was, everywhere we went, how badly people wanted to restore the memories of the local Post Office as something innocent, useful, a part of the community?
Do you remember when the people of St Leonards worked so hard to try to save their Post Office?
People loved their Post Offices. Where they’re lucky enough to still have them, they still do — the local Post Master or Mistress was an important member of the community — but there’s a monster amongst the memories now. Here’s Paul Marshall talking about when he discovered the dreadful unfolding of the Great Post Office Scandal, and what he did about it…
Click here to hear Paul’s story on You Tube.
Here’s a quick summary, in case you don’t like watching videos:
Marshall heard about Bridlington Postmaster Lee Castleton in 2006. He went and read more, and discovered that Castleton has been sued by the Post Office for £26k. He read about Castleton ringing the Post Office helpline when he realized he was in trouble, and getting no assistance or support. He read about the ensuing court case, about how the trial judge put the onus on Castleton to prove he did not owe the Post Office that money. Castleton though, had already spent £60k in legal fees and, when the court found against him, was asked for a further 320k in costs.
Why, thought Marshall, did the Post Office spend so much pursuing Castleton? He concluded that it was because this case would lead to a precedent. Because the judge had concluded the Post Office’s systems were working perfectly, it would be easy to blame other Post Masters for other situations where the Post Office seemed to have lost track of money.
Marshall thought about the role of the government, about the overwhelming, coercive power of the state the situation showed up. He wondered why the courts failed to recognize that the evidence against Castleton, and other victims of the scandal, was incomplete and unreliable. Where, he wondered, was the drive to find out why it happened, and ensure it never happened again?
Marshall had given up most of his own legal practice because of a cancer diagnosis and in due course, had time on his hands. He thought about all the pain and the expense those Post Office cases had caused, and he wanted to find out how large institutions so often manage to stonewall courts and avoid liability.
The pain goes on
This and other legal miscarriages are still on -going out there, causing pain and expense. This is not a story that should be forgotten. That’s why I’m really glad that Nick Wallis, who wrote about the uncovering of the Great Post Office Scandal is coming to Hastings in the spring to talk about it. Do get yourself a ticket and go along.
Click here for a link to the event page and tickets.
Thanks to Rosie Brocklehurst for organizing the event.
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