I recall the sense of shock when Rye Post Office closed without warning about 20 years ago. One day, it was a thriving PO counter and stationery shop and the next it was gone, the postmaster reportedly having ‘done a bunk’. Then it emerged that the Post office had discovered widespread fraud nationwide, resulting in 736 prosecutions and in some cases imprisonment.
It took 20 years for the Post Office to admit that computer systems error had occurred and that convictions had been wrongly secured, with irreversible damage to innocent victim’s lives and livelihoods. In 2019, the Post Office finally agreed to pay compensation amounting to £58 million, split between 550 sub-postmasters.
But their convictions and those of another 186 remained on the record until last Friday, April 23, when the Court of Appeal ruled in respect of 39 appellants that their convictions were unsafe because of the flawed computer accounting system installed in the post offices in 1999.
Now there are calls for a public inquiry into the scandal, which has been termed the largest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. According to some estimates, the scandal could result in the taxpayer footing a bill of up to £350 million.
The fate of the Rye postmaster is not known, but we were left without any postal counter facilities for some time until the small outlet opened next to, and later within, the Jempson’s superstore. The former post office is now closed and empty again, having been occupied as a betting shop by William Hill for a number of years.
Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .