South Armagh Post Office worker’s ordeal shows the human impact of the Horizon IT scandal

The Irish News view: Patricia Fagan has been exonerated. We need to know how other innocent Post Office staff in Northern Ireland will have their names cleared and be compensated

Former post officer worker Patricia Fagan, from Forkhill, Co Armagh in her Solictor's office in Newry
Patricia Fagan, from Forkhill, Co Armagh, was a victim of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. After a nine-year ordeal, she had her conviction quashed last year (Mal McCann)

Although we are sadly familiar with miscarriages of justice, cover-ups and foot-dragging by the state in relation to the Troubles, the Post Office scandal is still profoundly shocking.

The British government-owned organisation mercilessly pursued subpostmasters, subpostmistresses and their staff through the courts between 1999 and 2015 for crimes including theft and fraud, even though it knew that a dodgy IT system was to blame for errors in branch accounts.

Around 700 Post Office workers received convictions on the basis of computer-based evidence which was zealously argued to be irrefutable. But that evidence was built on the lies generated by the Horizon network supplied by Fujitsu, a Japanese computer giant whose incompetence has not been a barrier to securing it public contracts worth billions.

Post Office management were aware that the Horizon software was riddled with bugs but nonetheless chose to believe it over the testimony of staff who were pillars of the communities they served, including 29 convicted in Northern Ireland.

Among them is Patricia Fagan from south Armagh, who has shared her experience with a courage and dignity entirely lacking from the Post Office’s arrogant and bullying behaviour.

She told this newspaper how her nine years of hell included losing her job, having her confidence shattered and seeing her husband Raymond - her staunchest supporter - die before she was officially exonerated last year.

Mrs Fagan was blamed for a £6,500 shortfall in Dromintee Post Office, and in 2017 pleaded guilty to two charges of false accounting, for which she received a suspended sentence. As with so many others in her position, she felt that admitting wrongdoing “was the best way out of it”: “It had to be me or the system and who was going to blame that system ­- nobody was going to say the system is wrong, but it was…”

It is clear that there is plenty of blame to go around: the justice system and the political establishment badly let down innocent people; Fujitsu - which, belatedly, says it has a moral duty to contribute to the compensation fund - and the Post Office management connived to cover up their own failings.

Secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris may be focused on the childishness of the DUP and Stormont’s collapse, but he must also urgently explain how the British government’s scheme to exonerate and compensate innocent people like Mrs Fagan will be extended to Northern Ireland.