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Post Office investigators used racist term when collecting data for wrongful fraud prosecutions

Post office UK - Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Post office UK - Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Post Office prosecutors were using a racial slur to classify black workers the state-owned company pursued in the courts with false allegations of fraud and theft, documents show.

The postal operator's security division included “negroid” in a list of racial groups which investigators used to classify suspects, a freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed.

The use of the racially offensive term was found in a document pack issued by Post Office Security to its private prosecutors, thought to have been written in 2009.

More than 700 sub-postmasters were wrongfully accused of stealing money from the Post Office branches they ran and were pursued through the criminal courts by the company until the mid-2010s.

former post office workers celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal - Yui Mok/PA Wire
former post office workers celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal - Yui Mok/PA Wire

In reality, a faulty computer accounting system called Horizon had generated false losses because of flaws in its programme.

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Post Office managers were found to have known about errors in the Fujitsu-made software but decided to cover them up.

People of “negroid types” were defined by Post Office Security in the document as those of West Indian, Nigerian, African, and Caribbean origin.

The report was obtained under FOI laws by campaigner Eleanor Shaikh, whose local sub-postmaster was caught up in the Post Office's years-long prosecution campaign.

A spokesman for the Post office said: “The Post Office does not tolerate racism in any shape or form. The language used in this historic document is completely abhorrent and condemned by today’s Post Office.

“We fully support investigations into Post Office’s past wrongdoings and believe the Horizon IT Inquiry will help ensure today’s Post Office has the confidence of its Postmasters and the communities it supports.”

The spokesman confirmed that the Post Office investigations department, which issued the document, no longer exists.

Sources suggested the racially offensive term may have been introduced by ex-police workers hired by Post Office Security.

A list of racial categories in the Post Office document strongly resembles the police Identity Code (IC) system used to classify criminal suspects by ethnicity.

The latest scandal threatens to engulf the postal operator as it struggles with soaring losses and faces accusations that top bosses paid themselves bonuses for supplying evidence to a public inquiry into the Horizon scandal.

Kevin Hollinrake, the business minister, has demanded an “immediate explanation” from the Post Office after parts of chief executive Nick Read’s £450,000 bonus were paid because he provided “all required evidence and information on time”.

Read has since apologised to the Department of Business and Trade and agreed to return an undisclosed amount of the bonus.

More than 700 subpostmasters were wrongly pursued through the criminal courts during the 2000s and early 2010s in what has been labelled the greatest miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

It drove several of the affected postmasters, who were forced to cover Horizon’s losses themselves, into bankruptcy. More than 30 people died before the saga was uncovered, while some were driven to suicide.

Survivors face an ongoing fight for compensation as both the Post Office and ministers drag their heels over payouts to those affected.