British Sikh Says Was Urged To Confess Post Office Theft Due To Her Asian Descent


(MENAFN- IANS) London, Jan 26 (IANS) An elderly British Sikh former post office operator has claimed that she faced discrimination due to her Asian heritage and was urged by the auditors to confess to stealing 30,000 pounds.

Kuldeep Kaur Atwal, 73, 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 Coventry branch in 1997.

Before her trial at Coventry Crown Court in 1997, Atwal, then 46, was told by the auditors that her cultural background may have played a role in her criminality, The Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday.

While she was cleared of all charges later, Atwal claims it was suggested by the auditors that if she admitted to being at fault, she may be able to avoid the harshest sanctions.

A mother of three, Atwal said the auditor's alleged comment had made her angry at the time but she had felt powerless to respond.

"One of the auditors commented to me... that '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?" Atwal recounted.

"He meant being an Asian woman, the culture is such that the rest of the family puts pressure on the woman (leading to theft). I said, 'Don't be silly'."

While Atwal was declared not guilty due to lack of evidence, the Post Office went on to demand that Atwal pay the money she had been falsely accused of stealing, following which she had to sell off her branch for a fraction of its market value.

Last year, the Post Office apologised after a document was discovered in which operators like Atwal were categorised as“negroid types”,“Chinese/Japanese types” and“dark-skinned European types”.

After this, many individuals came forward, alleging that racial biases influenced their prosecutions with one claiming that he was told by a Post Office staff member that "all Indians are doing it".

“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," Atwal told The Guardian.

"I felt for my husband more than anything with all the staff, all the students, looking down on him,” she said.

The accounting system that Atwal used in her branch in Coventry was 'Capture' -- a predecessor to the infamous Horizon IT software, whose malfunctioning led to the wrongful conviction of more than 900 people.

Internal documents seen by the Guardian suggested the Post Office had also been aware of "serious problems" with Capture, prompting a series of software upgrades.

"What makes me angry is that the Post Office knew all along about the problems with Horizon, and now they are not coming clean about the pre-Horizon system. The Capture system was full of bugs and errors," Labour MP Kevan Jones, who has been prominent in the campaign for the post office operators, told The Guardian.

Meanwhile, London's Metropolitan Police has opened a new investigation into the Post Office over potential fraud offences. The UK government said earlier this month that it will introduce new legislation to overturn the convictions of hundreds of post office managers who were wrongly convicted of theft and fraud.

--IANS

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