Helpline employees from Fujitsu, the IT company running the faulty Horizon software used by UK post offices, have been accused of mistrusting and mocking Asian Postmasters.
The defective Horizon accounting system contained glitches that caused shortfall discrepancies in accounts, and led to the prosecution of over 700 Postmasters between 2000 and 2014.
At the current public inquiry into the scandal, Amandeep Singh, who worked at the helpline between October 2000 and September 2001, gave whistleblower testimony revealing the ‘toxic’ culture in the call centre.
He described how Postmasters, often audibly distressed, made calls asking for help with sudden financial discrepancies of sums up to £50,000. Despite the ‘relentless’ number of similar calls, helpline staff routinely told Postmasters that they were ‘the only one’ experiencing such shortfalls.
Singh further described how employees were ‘mocking and insulting about the role and the Postmasters’, and how they ‘created a picture of Postmasters that suggested they were incompetent or fraudsters’.
When on mute on calls with Asian Postmasters, shouts of ‘I have another Patel scamming again’ could be heard across the floor. He stated that ‘[t]hey mistrusted every Asian Postmaster’.
Singh states that managers ‘looked away’ from such behaviour, as ‘all Asians were called Patels, regardless of surname’.
Similarly, Scottish and Welsh Postmasters were regularly mocked by employees, who would pretend they could not understand them.
He describes the prejudice as a clear obstacle to the acceptance of Horizon’s widespread failures, and as a factor in the scapegoating of Postmasters.
In reaction, Ball Singh Gill, whose mother had faced charges of false accounting, said that ‘there’s a lot of truth in [the testimony]’. Postmaster Vipinchandra Patel described how the staff were ‘arrogant’, and ‘always assumed I was hiding something’.
Fujitsu has said that it ‘does not tolerate racism in any form’.