With a 20-year career as a deputy-postmistress in New Malden, Councillor Yvonne Tracey has decided to run against Sir Ed Davey with the Post Office scandal at the forefront of her campaign.
Like thousands of others across the country, Tracey saw the extent of the misery caused by the scandal in the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office.
Both the ITV drama and the inquiry have revealed that politicians and executives alike had received warning about problems in the Horizon accounting software and had not taken the concerns of employees seriously.
“I was flabbergasted by the sheer damage the scandal had caused for so many people in jobs like mine,” said Tracey.
Tracey is a councillor for the St James and Green Lane ward and now parliamentary candidate for the newly founded Kingston Independent Residents group.
Kingston MP and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has been criticised due to his refusal to meet campaigner Alan Bates during his time as postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012.
In the letter Sir Ed sent in 2010, declining to meet with Mr Bates, he said: “I do not believe a meeting would serve any useful purpose.”
This, and the insistence that “ministers from all political parties were misled” are the words that continue to pull down Sir Ed’s personal approval rating, while the Lib Dems continue to have 11% of the vote in the latest poll from Redfield and Wilton Strategies.
However, evasive apologies offer no solace to over 900 sub-postmasters across the UK who, over the course of sixteen years, were aggressively prosecuted for false accounting and theft, despite warning of glitches with the Horizon accounting software that was provided by Fujitsu.
Sathyan Shiju lost his Tolworth post office in 2006 software errors landed him with a £20,000 shortfall, forcing him to shut down his business.
Losing his credibility in the community, Shiju received hostile behaviour from his old neighbours and, in several instances, racist abuse.
“It’s for people like him that I’m running. The abuse reached a point that he went back to India as he was suicidal, which also forfeited his daughter’s education,” Tracey said.
For Tracey, her campaign for Sir Ed’s seat is “not about winning” but bringing attention to the scandal.
“Because of the show, everyone will be cross for two or three weeks but people also forget,” said Tracey.
“Even if nobody votes for me, I want to bring prolonged attention to the justice that still needs to be served to these victims.”
Christopher Head was the youngest sub-postmaster in British history. Having worked at his local post office since the age of 12, he took over his local post office in 2006 at just 18 years old.
“Every now and then I’d get a shortfall of £40 or £50. My biggest loss was £100. […] I started phoning up the helpdesk with Horizon. They explored every avenue except the software itself,” said Head.
As the glitches began to exacerbate the shortfalls, Head ended up with an £88,000 shortfall, for which the Post Office held him entirely responsible to pay back. Head ended up losing his livelihood in the small North-eastern town of West Boldon.
Head was unimpressed with Sir Ed’s non-apology and said that the role of the minister is not to “take everything at face value.”
With no university education or work experience in any other sector, Head was left without a job, without any money, and without the reputation he used to have at the heart of the local community.
“I was on about 40, 50k a year by 2015. Naturally, employers would ask me why I’m applying to a minimum wage job at a supermarket. At that point, I could tell the truth that I was accused of false accounting, or I could lie and have them find out later. Either way, I wasn’t getting any interviews,” Head said.
Much like Shiju, Head lost his credibility in his community to the point of leaving the country. In small towns like West Boldon, a tarnished reputation was enough to shut Head out of steady employment to this day.
After leaving the UK to work in Athens for two years, Head has returned to West Boldon only to find himself in precarious, low-paying temp jobs again.
Head started a petition in 2020 to pressure the government into providing accountability and adequate compensation to himself and other victims of the Post Office scandal.
Since the release of Mr Bates vs. The Post Office, the number of signatures shot up from 15,000 to 495,000. Head appreciated that the drama allowed the public to “understand just how deep the scandal goes in the misery it has caused.”
However, the machinations of local politics offer little comfort to Sathyan Shiju and Christopher Head, who continue to fight with the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance for financial redress.