'We're not ordinary people, we're actually extraordinary' Three women on their fight for justice

Jackie Britton, Jo Hamilton and Shelagh Simmons speaking to ITV Meridian's Christine Alsford. Credit: ITV Meridian
  • ITV Meridian's Social Affairs Correspondent Christine Alsford has been speaking to three women affected by three separate scandals.

Three women who between them have been fighting for justice for a total of more than 35 years have been brought together by ITV Meridian to share their experiences.

Jackie Britton, Jo Hamilton and Shelagh Simmons have all been involved in long running campaigns to try and "right the wrongs of the past."

Meeting for the first time at the ITV Meridian studios, they all agreed that their long battles had many common themes including the huge toll it had taken on them all.

And they say they've felt dismissed and ignored by those in power.

"We're always told lessons will be learned, but they never are," said Shelagh.

"The fact that we're here today talking about this means that lessons haven't been learned."

Jo Hamilton, Jackie Britton and Shelagh Simmons have met each other for the first time at ITV Meridian. Credit: ITV Meridian

Jackie, from Portsmouth, contracted Hepatitis C when she was given a blood transfusion after childbirth by the NHS. She's been a key witness in the Infected Blood Inquiry which is about to release its final report after five years.

Jo, from South Warnborough in Hampshire, was wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office in the Horizon IT scandal when computing errors made it look like postmasters and postmistresses had been stealing funds.

And Shelagh has campaigned with the Solent branch of what's called the WASPI women. The group is fighting for justice for women born in the 1950s who were affected by changes to the State Pension Age.

"People talk about ordinary people taking on the might of the state," said Shelagh, "But my view is that we're not ordinary people. We're actually extraordinary people because we're doing this.

"Our situations are very different, and I wouldn't compare compare our situation with people who've been through criminal prosecutions or people who've had contaminated blood.

"But there is a common theme isn't there - and that's the lack of empathy. That's that's what I find it quite distressing."

Speaking about the impact of the length of those fights Jackie Britton said: "For the infected blood, there's been over 3000 deaths since the 70s.

"It's mentally, physically devastating for all involved families and infected alike."

"The deaths aren't on the scale of the infected blood scandal, but we've had hundreds of postmasters die, waiting for justice," Jo added.

"It's the people that are so fragile, that haven't got voices that we have to stand up and fight for."

Shelagh said 3.8 million women were affected initially by increases to the state pension age firstly to 65 and then 66.

"Since we started in 2015, over 270,000 women have died without seeing justice," she said.

"And women have had to sell their homes.They've had to use food banks. Some have had divorce settlements based on a state pension age of 60.

"You know, there are various and many impacts, and it's all been huge and devastating."

Jackie was a key witness at the Infected Blood Inquiry, which has taken five years to complete.

"It was very traumatic having to write my witness statement mentally," she said.

"I was pleased to attend because I had the opportunity to speak out. I felt listened to and valued.

"It's probably the first time since being infected that that's happened to me, that I've just not been dismissed.

"I'm sure with the amount of evidence that's been put out there, that the truth will come out."

Jo Hamilton thinks that the Post Office Inquiry will result in people being held to account.

She said: "In our case, people have actually perverted the course of justice, they've committed perjury, so I do believe there will be people that will be held to account.

"The drama, (Mr Bates versus the Post Office, ITV) made it look like it could happen to anybody.

"We were regular people, you know, not aiming to set the world on fire, but we were just shafted, and I think that resonated with the public and the fact that we've been shouting for so long."

Shelagh believes that the Government thought that they would 'roll over'.

"I think they thought that we were a group of older women who would take it and we're not," she added.

"One of our slogans is not going away and we're not going away.

"We might be older women, but we're strong older women, we're feisty older women and we're going to see this through to the end. We knew it wouldn't be quick, we knew it wouldn't be easy, but we're prepared for that, and we're in it for the long haul."

Former sub-postmasters celebrate after their convictions were overturned. Credit: PA

In response, a Post Office spokesperson said: “Post Office is deeply sorry for the hurt and suffering that has been caused to victims and their loved ones, and we are committed to ensuring that they receive the justice and redress that they so deserve, with offers of more than £179 million made to around 2,800 Postmasters to date.

"We are dedicated to ensuring the wrongs of the past cannot be repeated, and we are working to enable the Inquiry to get to the truth of what happened and establish accountability for that."

On restorative justice a spokesperson said: “Our Chief Executive and other members of the senior leadership continue to meet with people affected across the country to apologise directly and to hear, first hand, their personal experiences.

"It is important for Nick Read that these meetings take place so that Post Office colleagues can understand the trauma people have experienced throughout the Horizon IT Scandal to prevent anything like this happening again.

"As of February, around 80 of these meetings have taken place and the offer remains open to any victim that wishes to take part.”

Regarding costs, A Post Office spokesperson added: “Costs reflect the huge scale of the scandal as we continue to ensure fair redress for all victims, and to provide full support for the Public Inquiry’s vital work.”

The group of women born in the 1950s are known as "Waspi women" (Women Against State Pension Inequality) Credit: ITV Meridian

On the WASPI women, a spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions told ITV Meridian that in 2020 both the High Court and Court of Appeal found no fault in the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions.

They added that Post Office and infected blood scandals are not comparable to the WASPI complaints.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman recently published a report having investigated claims that the Department for Work and Pensions failed to provide accurate, adequate and timely information about areas of State Pension reform. It found maladministration.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We will consider the Ombudsman’s report and respond in due course, having cooperated fully throughout this investigation.

“The government has always been committed to supporting all pensioners in a sustainable way that gives them a dignified retirement whilst also being fair to them and taxpayers.

“The State Pension is the foundation of income in retirement and will remain so as we deliver a further 8.5% rise in April, increasing the state pension for 12 million pensioners. This sees the full rate of the new State Pension rise by £900."

Victims impacted by the use of infected blood products lobby the government. Credit: ITV News

Responding on the Infected Blood Inquiry, a Government spokesperson said: “This was an appalling tragedy, and our thoughts remain with all those impacted.

“We are clear that justice needs to be delivered for the victims and have already accepted the moral case for compensation.

“This covers a set of extremely complex issues, and it is right we fully consider the needs of the community and the far-reaching impact that this scandal has had on their lives.

"The Government will provide an update to Parliament on next steps through an oral statement within 25 sitting days of the Inquiry’s final report being published."

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…