Post Office used racist slur to describe suspects in notorious Horizon scandal

Post Office prosecutors tasked with investigating sub-postmasters in the notorious Horizon scandal used a racial slur to classify black workers, according to documents obtained by campaigners.

Fraud investigators were asked to group suspects based on racial features and used a racist term for staff from the colonial era of the 1800s which refers to people of African descent.

The Post Office Horizon scandal, which has been described as “the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history”, saw hundreds of innocent postmasters convicted.

The information came to light through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request obtained by Eleanor Shaikh, a supporter of the more than 700 branch managers who were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 on theft, fraud and false accounting charges.

Protestors outside the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at the International Dispute Resolution Centre, London
Protestors outside the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at the International Dispute Resolution Centre, London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The document, thought to have been published in 2008, asked investigators if the suspects were “Negroid Types”.

Other categories on the document include “Chinese/Japanese types” and “Dark Skinned European Types”.

Responding to the FOI, a Post Office spokesperson described it as a “historic document” but said the organisation did not tolerate racism “in any shape or form” and condemned the “abhorrent” language.

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

Post Office court case
Former post office worker Noel Thomas , who was convicted of false accounting in 2006, celebrates outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021 (Yui Mok/PA)

The Post Office began installing Horizon accounting software in the late 1990s, but faults in the software led to shortfalls in accounts, which sparked demands on sub-postmasters to cover the difference.

Many were wrongfully prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 for false accounting, theft and fraud.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 sub-postmasters were prosecuted based on information from the accounting system, which saw workers wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting.

However, in December 2019, a High Court judge ruled the system contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were in fact caused by it.

Many sub-postmasters have had criminal convictions overturned.