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Post Office used racist term for Black people, documents show

Lawyers investigating post office operators in the Horizon computer scandal used a racist term to categorise Black workers, according to documents released to campaigners.

Investigators were asked to group suspects based on racial features, the results of a freedom of information request found.

The document, which was published between 2008 and 2011, included the term “negroid types”, along with “Chinese/Japanese types” and “dark skinned European types”.

The Horizon scandal, described as “the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history”, resulted in more than 700 post office operators being prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 for theft, fraud and false accounting because of faulty accounting software installed in the late 1990s.

The operators were filing shortfalls in their returns, which led to the Post Office suing them for the difference. Some spent time in prison, and it has been linked to four suicides, the Daily Mail reported.

Of the language used on the document, one former operator, Teju Adedayo, who was given a one-year suspended sentence for false accounting in 2006, told the Times: “It’s absolutely disgusting. I cried when I saw this document, they were collecting this data to obviously distinguish how they were going to treat people. It’s unbelievable.”

Responding to the freedom of information request by Eleanor Shaikh, a campaigner on the issue, the Post Office said it was a “historic document” but that it did not tolerate racism. “The racist language used in this document was unacceptable,” it added.

A spokesperson said: “We fully support investigations into Post Office’s past wrongdoings and believe the Horizon IT inquiry will help ensure today’s Post Office has the confidence of its postmasters and the communities it supports.”

Shaikh said: “I don’t know where they got the term negroid from, or even then, how they felt that was appropriate. Why were those classifications needed? They even put a number on the racial descriptions, they wouldn’t put the label itself in the documents, and that tells you something.”

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The prosecutions of the operators was based on information produced by Fujitsu’s Horizon software between 2000 and 2014.

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 these caused the shortfalls in the accounts.

Since then, many have had their convictions overturned. However, despite the problems with Horizon, in April the Post Office extended its contract with Fujitsu in a £16.5m deal after delays migrating its IT systems to the cloud.

After the high court ruling, Paula Vennells, who was the chief executive of the Post Office at the time of the scandal, resigned from a non-executive position at the Cabinet Office. A year later she stepped down as chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust in London, and there have been calls for her to return a CBE she was awarded in 2019 for “services to the Post Offices and to charity”.

A compensation fund of about £30m has been made available to those affected by the scandal.

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