Recent scandals involving the Post Office have appeared in the news and even in an ITV drama about the prioritisation of reputation over ethics. The Post Office scandal in the UK showed a lack of investigation into computer errors, which led to false accusations and convictions of employees. Fictional cases like the forced disbanding of Jack Reacher’s successful 110th unit also showcase this theme. While these look wildly different at first glance, they do give a take on human nature that is chilling.
The Post Office Scandal: Ignoring System Flaws
The Post Office IT scandal saw employees wrongfully accused of theft, false accounting, and fraud because of flaws in the Post Office’s Horizon computer system. Despite employees raising concerns over unexplained shortfalls, the Post Office failed to investigate errors, instead prioritising its reputation over the truth. This led to a ridiculous amount of subpostmasters being targeted between 2000 and 2014. Many lost livelihoods, suffered financially, and faced irreparable damage from false convictions.
The actions of the Post Office relied on people toeing the party line and being afraid to question the status quo. The unconscionable contracts and threat of debt and imprisonment from an organisation that should never have had that power were enough to allow profound miscarriages of justice.
It would appear that the Post Office believed that the computer system was infallible while going into their ‘robust’ system without the subpostmasters knowledge and fixing errors that they said didn’t exist. That shows a serious amount of cognitive dissonance right there. The thought of the system having problems was worse for the Post Office than ruining lives. It just beggars belief. The sheer number of complaints should have galvanised the Post Office to investigate properly, drop the company that created the software or at least check manually and force the company to deal with the bugs in their software. The Post Office had all the power and they should have used it better.
Jack Reacher’s 110th Unit: Dismantled for Success
In Lee Child’s novels, Jack Reacher’s elite 110th Special Investigative Unit successfully busted a drug ring selling narcotics on military bases. However, instead of being commended, they faced retaliation from military leaders covering up the scandal. The unit was dishonourably transferred to mundane roles, far from family, as a punishment for revealing unpleasant truths. Like the Post Office, the fictional military brass prioritised their image over accountability, fairness, and success.
While I was watching Jack Reacher, I couldn’t believe that something like that could happen. For me, I thought it was a plot hole, but the Post Office scandal shows far worse can happen in the real world. Lee Child, I salute you for spotting human nature, where I never believed people would ever go that low. In this case, fact was worse than fiction.
In my novels, obviously, bad people do bad things, but my novels are set on other worlds, dimensions and the far past. They don’t have the developed institutions of the UK and the USA. The recent scandal shows there is no room for complacency!
The Cost of Reputation Over Integrity
These stories, although one is fictional and one reality, share alarming parallels in institutions hiding inconvenient facts to protect their brand. However, sweeping problems under the rug invariably backfires, causing far greater damage. Public trust and credibility depend on transparency and justness, not glossy image. And silencing critical voices instead of addressing issues ensures more ethical failures down the line. The lie is like a snowball rolling down a hill gathering more snow until it crushes everything in its path.
What is scary is that there may be another Post Office scandal over the horizon, (pun intended), for software called Capture. Is this an organisation that is irredeemable?
Going Forward: Justice Over Image
As these examples show, creating lasting, meaningful change requires facing the full facts courageously, no matter how difficult. The alternative – covering up issues to save face – only prolongs problems and hurts more people. By learning from these lessons and embracing honesty, accountability and justice over reputation, institutions can transform. Alternatively, the subpostmasters could do with a Jack Reacher themselves, or does anyone know the number of the A team?
*The author does not condone vigilantism.