Written by Ben White (Founder & CEO, Crafty Counsel)
The below is a version of a LinkedIn post I wrote on 26 May, following my meeting with Wendy Buffrey, a former subpostmaster who was wrongfully convicted of fraud by false accounting. This was at a Cotswolds book festival where Wendy was a guest speaker alongside Nick Wallis (author of the Post Office Scandal) and Ron Warmington (chair of Second Sight, a investigative firm that played an important role in the scandal – first hired by the Post Office to conduct an independent investigation, then sacked for being a little too, well, independent).
Over our lunch after the event, Wendy and Nick had a lot to say about lawyers. “Law and justice – different things, right?”
I’d love to know your views.
“I want justice – how can it be that hundreds of us were convicted for something we never did. While, nobody has been prosecuted for the crimes they actually did commit?”
Post Office Scandal – on Wednesday, I heard Nick Wallis speak at the Chipping Campden Literary Festival. Nick is the author of The Post Office Scandal and reported on the developing disaster over many years for the BBC and other media.
Nick brought as guests Wendy Buffrey and Ron Warmington.
So let me tell you about Wendy. I’ve followed the Post Office scandal closely but until this week had never met one of those impacted directly.
Wendy ran a Post Office in Cheltenham for many years until one day, on cashing up, her computer said she had £9,000 of stamps in stock. Of stamps.
She tried to “reverse the balance” in the system. Instead of going to zero, the figure jumped to £18,000.
She tried again. It jumped to £36,000.
Needless to say, Wendy did not have £9,000, £18,000, or £36,000 of stamps in stock.
Over the subsequent months, she went over and over again her figures and the system to find out what happened. Couldn’t fix it. She knew that, any day, the Post Office could send auditors expecting to find £36,000 of stamps on site.
She ended up putting £10,000 of her own money into the system to clear the balance down to £26,000.
Until the fateful day when, indeed, the Post Office sent auditors who expected to find £26,000 of stamps on site. (Actually, on first count they thought it was £36k – whoops, added it up wrong! What larks for them)
Wendy was fired in 2008. She took up a job in the ambulance service.
In 2010, she was convicted of fraud by false accounting, following a private prosecution brought by the Post Office. With a criminal conviction, she lost the ambulance job too.
She was one at least 736 such prosecutions between 2000 and 2010 – hard to say because the Post Office didn’t keep count. We know that they were going at a run rate of about a conviction a week, with their own in-house team of criminal lawyers.
Wendy’s conviction was finally quashed in 2021. We now know that the IT system, with its phantom stamps, didn’t work. We also know the Post Office and its supplier Fujitsu had known that for many years.
On Wednesday, 100 of us in a Cotswolds town heard Wendy describe how she tried to commit suicide – remonstrating with her GP that “anyone who doesn’t think of killing themselves at least ten times a day is lying, right?”
Today, the Post Office Inquiry is ongoing. Many law firms, in-house counsel, and barristers are involved.
This miscarriage of justice remains an open sore. The subpostmasters await their final compensation, over 20 years after the first wrongful prosecutions.
Away from the stage, I asked Wendy what she thought of her chances of seeing the justice she asked for. “Out of ten? Zero”
Lawyers – can we do better?