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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 April 2024

Spotlight on the ‘the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history’

In all, 3,500 sub-postmasters were prosecuted, with 983 wrongful convictions of stealing money. The Post Office made a special point of securing the heaviest sentences for innocent Indians

Amit Roy Published 20.01.24, 06:50 AM
Hasmukh Shingadia: Greatly misjudged

Hasmukh Shingadia: Greatly misjudged Sourced by the Telegraph

Great mistake

Hasmukh Shingadia is one of the many Indian victims of ‘the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history’. As a sub-postmaster, he was accused in 2011 of stealing £16,180.60 and sentenced to eight months imprisonment and suspended for 12 months. Another sub-postmaster, Seema Misra, was convicted of stealing £74,000 and sent to prison for 15 months while she was pregnant. She contemplated suicide, she says, adding that her Hindu faith kept her going. Both convictions were overturned after it was revealed that the Post Office’s new Horizon system, made by Fujitsu in Japan, was at fault.

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In all, 3,500 sub-postmasters were prosecuted, with 983 wrongful convictions of stealing money. The Post Office made a special point of securing the heaviest sentences for innocent Indians. Now Rishi Sunak’s government is set to introduce legislation overturning the convictions en masse following a hard-hitting ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

Just before Prince William and Kate Middleton got married on April 29, 2011, I went to see Hasmukh and Chandrika Shingadia in the leafy Berkshire village where they ran a grocery store cum sub-post office. They had been invited to the royal wedding and proudly showed me their card. They had known “Catherine” since she was a little girl and she and her parents often dropped into the store. They were an ordinary Gujarati family who lived above the shop, with a corner set aside for puja. They were reluctant to go to the wedding without gifts, so I arranged (with the help of t2) for two Indian fashion designers to make special outfits for Kate, which her father picked up. The entire village rejoiced when his conviction was quashed in 2021. But the experience (and cancer) has left Shingadia a broken man.

Enigmatic persona

The life of Alan Turing, one of Britain’s greatest mathematicians, has been turned into Alan Turing: A Musical Biography, which I went to see last week at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London. He was a genius who worked at Bletchley Park, the British government’s code-breaking centre, during the Second World War. Turing (convincingly played by Joe Bishop in the musical) deciphered Germany’s Enigma code, shortening the war and saving 14 million lives. In 1952, he was prosecuted for homosexuality, choosing to be chemically castrated rather than spending two years in prison. Turing took his own life by ingesting potassium cyanide in 1954. He was only 41.

The musical’s lyricist and producer, Joel Goodman, told me that many of Turing’s words are taken from his actual letters and papers, including notably his seminal “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. Turing had predicted the arrival of Artificial Intelligence. In 2009, the prime minister, Gordon Brown, made an official public apology for “the appalling way he was treated”. Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon in 2013. And the current £50 note bears Turing’s image.

Legacy of a lifetime

Sir Venkatraman ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan’s first book was Gene Machine , a memoir about his research into the ribosome which earned him the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2009. Venki, who lives and works in Cambridge, stepped down in 2020 after five years as president of the Royal Society.

In March, Hodder is publishing Venki’s new book, Why We Die: The New Science of Aging and the Quest for Immortality. According to Hodder, “Giant strides are being made in our understanding of why we age and die, and why some species live longer than others. Immortality, once a faint hope, has never been more within our grasp... Ramakrishnan shows how cutting-edge efforts to extend lifespan by altering our natural biology raise profound questions.” The former science editor at The Daily Telegraph, Roger Highfield, who used to sit opposite me when we were colleagues, says: “I believe Why We Die will be his enduring legacy.” Venki has told me: “The real question is, can we live beyond 120? I came to the book thinking nothing could be done about it. Now, I’m not so sure. I think it’s highly implausible, but not impossible.”

Identity politics

When is a Pakistani not a Pakistani? Great Manchester Police and the local authority apparently ignored the plight of teenage white girls being targeted by Pakistani grooming gangs for fear of being labelled ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’. An angry caller berated the LBC radio presenter: “Why are you calling them Pakistani?” “The report says they are men of Pakistani origin?” the presenter pointed out. “They are British,” insisted the caller who was clearly from the Pakistani community. Years ago, the former Labour home secretary, Jack Straw, controversially accused Pakistani men in parts of northern England of treating white girls as “easy meat” for sexual abuse.

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