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    Former British Asian sub-postmistress accuses Post Office auditors of racist remarks

    Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

    A former post office operator has claimed that she was told that British Asian women were often pushed into theft as auditors pressurised her to confess to stealing £30,000 – a charge of which she was later cleared.

    According to a recent report in The Guardian, Kuldeep Kaur Atwal was told that her cultural background may have played a role in her criminality and that she was likely to receive a custodial sentence unless she admitted to stealing from her branch.

    A jury at Coventry crown court was subsequently instructed by the judge, Richard Cole, to return a not guilty verdict due to lack of evidence but the Post Office went on to demand that Atwal pay the money she had been falsely accused of taking.

    Atwal was accused of stealing the money over a period from July 1995 until November 1996, when Post Office auditors made a morning visit to the branch and she was told that was in shortfall of £30,000. Atwal recalled one of the auditors’ comments at the time, “It is quite common in your society that women come under pressure to take money on the side, they don’t tell the family. Is someone putting pressure on you?”

    “He meant being an Asian woman that the culture is such that the rest of the family puts the pressure on the woman [leading to theft]. I said, ‘Don’t be silly’. I didn’t think much of the remark at the time but I was angry, to be honest.”

    Atwal said the auditor’s alleged comment had made her angry at the time but she had felt powerless to respond.

    Atwal said, “Looking back, I feel like saying they were bullies, to be honest. I lost my job and everybody judges you. The Post Office was so strong – everybody feared them. I felt for my husband more than anything with all the staff, all the students, looking down on him.”

    Atwal, who had run the post office branch since 1989 without incident, said she was asked repeatedly whether anyone else in the family was involved in the business and whether she trusted her part-time staff. It was allegedly suggested by the auditors that if she admitted to being at fault, she might be able to avoid the harshest sanctions.

    “They kept on telling me to plead guilty, saying I would be treated leniently if I did otherwise I definitely looking to a custodial sentence”, said Atwal.

    Atwal appeared at Coventry crown court in August 1997. After three days of evidence, the judge said the Post Office had failed to provide any evidence of any shortfall in the accounts of agencies and clients. However, the Post Office still wanted the money and she was left with no choice but to pay.

    The report comes amid similar accusations by other victims claiming that they felt their complaints about Horizon were not taken seriously and were racially profiled during the processes that followed.

    Former sub postmistress Shazia Saddiq strongly feels that it was because of her Asian background, that she was not taken seriously by helpline staff and was later harassed aggressively by Post Office investigator who allegedly saw her beneath himself.

    Similar feedback emerged in the inquiry that Horizon helpline call centre staff “mistrusted Asian postmaster” and made comments, such as “I have another Patel scamming again”. Other victims have claimed that racism fuelled the prosecutions, with one claiming that he was told by a staff member that “all Indians are doing it”.

    The Post Office has also been accused of categorising operators as “negroid types”, “Chinese/Japanese types” and “dark-skinned European types”.

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