Revue de presse web : What makes a very British miscarriage of justice? Contempt for the ‘little people’ | Kenan Malik

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La date de publication est 2024-01-14 01:29:00.

‘It was a scandal hiding in plain sight.” “The result of a series of choices, the sum of state neglect and corporate wrongdoing.” “Most assumed that they had been caught up in a bureaucratic tangle; few guessed that thousands of others were experiencing the same difficulties.” “It is a peculiar sensation, telling the truth repeatedly and being repeatedly told you are lying.” “Our representatives chose time and again not to act on mounting evidence.” “This is a story about who gets listened to in Britain and who gets ignored.”

These could be quotes from an article about the Post Office scandal. All are, in fact, taken from Show Me the Bodies, Peter Apps’s harrowing account of the Grenfell fire, and The Windrush Betrayal, Amelia Gentleman’s unsparing investigation into the human consequences of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policies.

The depth of public outrage elicited by the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office has forced the government to take extraordinary measures to exonerate hundreds of wrongly convicted subpostmasters and speed up compensation.

The Post Office scandal is, though, but one of a series – from the Hillsborough stadium disaster to Grenfell, from the NHS contaminated blood tragedy to child sexual abuse in Rotherham, from the English language testing fiasco to the Windrush horrors – each of which is different but all of which reveal certain underlying themes. Some are about corporate greed, others about official malfeasance or government neglect. And some about both. What all have in common is the lack of public accountability for the misdeeds that have devastated so many people’s lives.

In the case of the Post Office, there has been talk of compelling Fujitsu, the company responsible for the faulty Horizon accounting software, to contribute to the compensation scheme. Public anger has forced the Post Office’s former chief executive Paula Vennells to hand back her CBE.

Yet, despite many of the facts having been known for years, until last week little action had been taken to speed up the process of either exoneration or compensation. The facts were known when the government awarded Fujitsu new contracts, including one to extend the use of Horizon software and another to run the Police National Computer. They were known when, in 2019, Vennells received her CBE. Not until it felt the breath of public outrage in an election year did the government consider it necessary to act swiftly.

Greed and indifference, the refusal to listen to the “little” people, the despair of those ignored, the disregard, even contempt, for lives destroyed – all these themes form a pattern seen in virtually every previous scandal, including both Grenfell and Windrush. As Apps details in his book, experts had been warning of the dangers of inflammable cladding for at least 30 years before the Grenfell inferno. The warnings were brushed aside through official insouciance and the rush for profits. Companies rigged tests, concealed results and knowingly marketed potentially deadly products. Regulators snuggled up to the industry that they were supposed to regulate. Politicians became obsessed with a need to deregulate.

The Windrush scandal was driven by a take-no-hostages desire to look tough on immigration. In 2012, the home secretary, Theresa May, launched the “hostile environment” policy that turned doctors, teachers and landlords into unofficial immigration officers charged with making life intolerable for anyone who might be an “illegal immigrant”.

Ministers were warned that not just those deemed “illegal” but “anyone foreign-looking”, in the words of the communities minister, Eric Pickles, could be caught up in the frenzy. Again, the warnings were ignored, and, again, they were sadly prescient. Thousands were sacked, made homeless, denied NHS treatment and deprived of benefits because they did not have papers they were not required to have when they came from the Caribbean as British subjects in the postwar decades. Many were deported. Some died in exile.

As with other scandals, the authorities denied that there was an issue until compelled by the sheer weight of evidence, belatedly creating mechanisms for redress and compensation. But here, too, following the pattern, policy was almost designed to be slow and mean. Last June, four years after the compensation scheme was launched, just one in four of the 6,348 applications submitted had received payment.

The thread that runs through these scandals is also the lack of public accountability for misdeeds. Grenfell campaigners are frustrated not only that there has been no criminal prosecution, but also that companies whose products fed the inferno continue to make huge profits. The four former Tory ministers called to the Grenfell inquiry to justify their actions, or lack of it – Gavin Barwell, James Wharton, Eric Pickles and Brandon Lewis – have all been knighted or ennobled since the fire.

In the Windrush scandal, Amber Rudd resigned as home secretary, not for overseeing the abuse but for misleading parliament about targets to incentivise deportations. The architect of the policy, May, went on to become prime minister. In her memoir, unironically titled The Abuse of Power, she blames everyone else, from the 1945 Labour government to “overzealous” civil servants, for the problem she created.

Perhaps the most cynical development has been the creation of government obstacles to the gaining of redress for injustice. In 2014, the justice minister Chris Grayling rewrote the law so that those found by courts to have been victims of a miscarriage of justice would receive no compensation unless they could prove their innocence “beyond reasonable doubt” – effectively replacing the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt.

This was precisely the way the Post Office had operated in charging subpostmasters with fraud – they could not prove their innocence so they must be guilty. Together with austerity policies that have slashed legal aid, access to both justice and redress has been eviscerated over the past decade.

It is impossible to watch Mr Bates vs The Post Office without feeling a sense of rage at the injustice and the vicious mendacity of those with power over us. The subpostmasters have been courageous, tenacious and, though it certainly won’t feel like it to them, lucky. Without the TV drama, and the outrage it provoked, they might still be facing years of confronting official iniquity.

The heart of the matter remains the question of “who gets listened to and who gets ignored”. Kimia Zabihyan is an advocate for Grenfell Next of Kin, which brings together the immediate families of those who died in the fire. Nothing exasperates her more than the indifference of public bodies to the needs of ordinary people. “Our experience, since the fire,” she observes in despair, “has been that the lack of accountability is now so built into the system that it has corrupted every layer of our society.”

Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist

A lire:

Genre, patrimoine et droit civil : Les femmes mariées de la bourgeoisie québécoise en procès, 1900-1930,Ouvrage . A emprunter en bibliothèque.

Les Stoïciens : Épictète Le poignard à la main,(la couverture) .

Vocabulaire anglais-français à l’intention des apprenants avancés/J,Le livre .