Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of East Devon District Council writes for this title.

Five years ago this month, I was doing the final edits on a book called “Windrush: A Ship Through Time”.

It was about the vessel’s thirty-year history, little known except the famous 1948 trip from Jamaica to Tilbury which gave birth to the idea of the Windrush generation. For that part of the book, it was important to cover the shameful way a generation of black people had been treated by our government, many “sent back” to countries they’d left as little children, British to the core.

Belatedly the scale of the injustice was recognised, and a compensation scheme set up by Theresa May as Home Secretary, making amends for the “hostile environment” idea she had done so much to promote. By coincidence, an old friend of mine, Martin Forde KC, had been appointed to be the senior adviser to the programme. Soon afterwards we met for a drink, and I found myself warning this clever and committed black barrister to watch his back and not trust civil servants to deliver.

He and I are exactly the same age, and he has had a distinguished career in the law, so how did I have the cheek to think any advice from me was worth giving? The answer is that already by then I had a decade working close to local government and seen first-hand how good intentions so often ended in disastrous under-performance followed by an utter lack of frankness from the very civil servants who were meant to be the trusted professionals. The level of accountability was appalling.

Cut forward five years, and Martin is backing the Justice4Windrush campaign to ask political leaders to promise urgent action when only 14% of those owed compensation have received a penny. Ironically, the publicity for that campaign has been drowned out by the shocking Post Office scandal which has finally broken through in the last fortnight.

One of the ex-postmaster victims is a friend, one of thousands treated with callous indifference and driven to financial ruin. To hear him talk about his wait for compensation, years overdue, was a carbon copy of the Windrush victims. Both causes unquestionable, their suffering grave and long-lasting, exacerbated by political statements of good intentions simply not delivered.

What on earth is happening here? For once, the politicians are probably the least to blame. It makes no sense that any politician catching wind of either scandal would not ask penetrating questions. They clearly did. It is no coincidence than many politicians are ex-lawyers or ex-journalists, well-drilled in how to ask question and doubtless all of them from cross-party want to see justice done. Why then in the cases of the Windrush and the Post Office has government failed so badly?

In this we have a painful truth to confront. The problem is that government depends upon permanent civil servants being truthful, on them doing their job. In the Windrush case and the Post Office case, civil servants were appallingly aggressive in pursuing innocent people and ruining their lives. Politicians were not ordering this; it was the career civil servants, fat pensions awaiting, who if quizzed with any firmness as to their failings might go ill, take early retirement, or sue for constructive dismissal.

These people usually remain out of the public eye, while politicians find themselves answerable for failings beyond their control. Until we as a society grasp this nettle, these injustices will go on. The old Latin phrase applies, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches over the guardians themselves?