Daily Mail

Postmaster­s caught in IT hell labelled ‘Patels’

Helpline staff mocked desperate callers, inquiry told

- By Tom Witherow Senior Political Correspond­ent

DESPERATE Asian postmaster­s who called a helpline about the disastrous Horizon accounting system were labelled ‘another Patel scamming’, a public inquiry heard yesterday.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 3,000 postmaster­s lost their jobs, went bankrupt or were prosecuted after money went ‘missing’, when in fact it was a glitch with the Post Office’s computer system.

Horizon caused huge problems as soon as it was introduced in 2001. The helplines were run by IT company Fujitsu as part of a £1billion contract to manage it. Yesterday a whistleblo­wer claimed there was a toxic culture of racism at the call centre which saw staff ‘mistrust every Asian postmaster’ and suggest they were either ‘incompeten­t or fraudsters’.

Amandeep Singh, who worked in the call centre during his university studies, said staff mocked postmaster­s while they were on mute, behaviour that was left unchalleng­ed by bosses.

In a damning three-page statement he told the inquiry: ‘The floor on these days was most toxic with vocal characters… unchalleng­ed by managers who looked away as all Asians were called Patels.

‘Shouts across the floor could be heard, saying “I have another Patel scamming again”. They mistrusted every Asian postmaster.

‘They mocked Scottish and Welsh postmaster­s and pretended they could not understand them. They created a picture of postmaster­s that suggested they were incompeten­t or fraudsters.’

For years the postmaster­s have claimed the helplines repeatedly failed them. They said they were kept on hold for hours, instructed to pay in their own cash to balance the books, and told ‘you’re the only one’ experienci­ng shortfalls. Mr Singh said the calls for help were ‘ relentless’, putting staff under enormous pressure, and that Horizon

‘This makes my blood boil’

caused problems as soon as it was rolled out. His statement read: ‘Postmaster­s right from week one would be upset, crying frustrated as they struggled to reach equilibriu­m on the transactio­ns.’

He added in oral evidence: ‘Postmaster­s would say, “I’ve got a £2,000 or £5,000 discrepanc­y”. There were even wild figures like £50,000... more than their annual salary.’

The testimony led to a wave of anger from postmaster victims.

Bal Singh Gill, whose mother was given a criminal record for false accounting over £58,000 of ‘missing’ money, said: ‘This makes my blood boil but I can feel there’s a lot of truth in it.

‘The call centre staff were quite arrogant – they always assumed I was hiding something.’ Postmaster Vipin Patel, who is battling for compensati­on. said: ‘This is the ultimate insult on a grand scale, for nearly a lifetime of good, honest and dedicated public service.’ The Post Office is owned by the Government, through the Business Department. It is preparing to sue Fujitsu for some of the projected £700million cost of the scandal.

Two former Fujitsu staff are at the centre of a perjury investigat­ion over claims they misled criminal trials. A spokesman said: ‘Fujitsu does not tolerate racism in any form.’

The Post Office said that Mr Singh’s evidence was ‘extremely shocking’ and the behaviour described was ‘unacceptab­le’.

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