Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Is this man a criminal?

This is Scott Darlington. He is a former Subpostmaster.
Scott contacted me recently to express frustration at his situation and the situation of many subpostmasters who have been criminalised due to their involvement with the Post Office.

Most of the recent posts on this blog have been concerned with the process of the subpostmasters' campaign to persuade the powers-that-be that miscarriages of justice may have taken place. This post is one person's story, in his own words, edited and published with his agreement.

It's easy to forget, and the Post Office would very much like you to forget, there are people whose lives (and certainly careers) have been ruined by what happened to them. The Post Office would have that a good number of these people are culpable, and admitted as much in a court of law.

The Post Office is not interested in the idea that many of the subpostmasters who false accounted and pleaded guilty claim they did so because of the nightmarish environment they found themselves in. The Post Office has already exonerated itself of any blame, so we know it's done nothing wrong.

Here's Scott's story. Judge for yourself.


"Hi Nick

I messaged you on Facebook and you asked that I email you regarding my situation re Post Office mediation*.

I will try and keep it as short as I can.

My problems started in 2008-2009. After 4 years of no discrepancy problems at my branch, in Feb 2008 one appeared on the Horizon system for £1700 saying I had a shortage of stamps to that value.

When I reported it to the helpline, I was told unless I can prove it's not my fault I would have to pay. POL [Post Office Ltd] subsequently took 2 lots of £850 out of my remuneration.

Later in the same year, large discrepancies started to appear in my system, starting with approximately £9,000. 

I knew that POL would immediately want this 'missing' money back so I didn’t tell them about it, whilst myself and a colleague tried desperately to get to the bottom of it.

As you know, we have almost no access to the Horizon system. All we could do was scrutinise all the transactions we had records of to try and see if there was anything that could have caused it.

We couldn’t find anything. In the meantime over the next 3 months the discrepancy rocketed to £44,000!

An auditor arrived at my branch and I was suspended. Shortly afterwards my contract was terminated and I was prosecuted (without CPS involvement).

On the advice of my barrister I had to plead guilty to false accounting. I was given a 3 month suspended prison sentence suspended for 12 months, plus 110 hours community service.

Since then I struggled for 3 years to get any sort of employment due to this conviction.

Here is where I am now:

My case was looked at by 2nd Sight* and I was recommended for mediation. I have waited over a year for this outcome.  I now know that it was POL's default position not to mediate with cases that pleaded guilty to false accounting. I only found this out last week.

I have been offered a meeting with POL and my MP without seeing 2nd Sight's final report first.

Clearly this is not going to result in any kind of settlement.

I presume you have read the letter sent to Vince Cable today regarding the select committee meeting a few weeks ago. It is woeful. 

The recommendations are basically saying "carry on as you are, but try to be a bit better."

We had hoped and were led to believe that POL were going to be removed from controlling the mediation process.

Its difficult to see a way forward after this. After all, they were slated at the select committee* and they came across very badly i'm sure you agree.

Unless we can get insurance cover it is impossible to go down the route of litigation.

All in all a very depressing time.

Congrats on your job with the One Show.

cheers,

Scott"

According to the court report in the Manchester Evening News, the judge in Scott's case appeared to speculate there might have been something wrong with Horizon, the Post Office computer system, rather than any criminal intent on Scott's part.

The MEN write-up also added this:

"Mr Darlington’s solicitor, John Temperley of The Oakes Partnership, Macclesfield, said: "At no stage in the proceedings did Royal Mail" [sic] "provide any evidence to suggest that Scott had actually received any money to which he was not entitled. Scott was not charged with theft for that very reason. 

“No explanation was given as to why the POCA [Proceeds of Crime Act] application was withdrawn. However, the implication was that they had to accept the representations made by Scott's barrister, to the effect that in order to succeed in confiscation proceedings they would have to show that Scott had actually obtained the money that was the subject of the false accounting charges. Put bluntly they were totally unable to do so."


*For more details on the Post Office Horizon story, this link will point you in the right direction.

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