Post Office Horizon scandal explained: Every little thing you need to know

After better than two decades, what is now referred to as the Post Office Horizon scandal has turn into headline news. Computer Weekly has played a a need to-safe half in exposing what has been described as the widest miscarriage of justice in UK history.

In 1999, the Post Office’s single shareholder, the UK authorities, started automating accounting processes at about 14,000 Post Office branches. This saw the introduction of a centralised computer machine from seller Fujitsu, which all branches safe been linked to. This formulation replaced gentle paper-basically based accounting practices.

But considerations ensued, and there modified into a surprising broaden within the decision of subpostmasters suffering unexplained accounting shortfalls. As a substitute of investigate the considerations and repair them, the Post Office blamed the branch operators, different whom it prosecuted for financial crimes, with many more made bankrupt and sacked.

What’s the Horizon machine?

Horizon is gadget that modified into originally developed by UK gadget company ICL, which modified into obtained by Eastern IT extensive Fujitsu in 1998. The machine has an electronic level of sale carrier (EPOSS) that permits subpostmasters and branch workers to key in gross sales on a touchscreen, with the accounts being automated within the background. On the time of its roll-out in 1999/2000, it modified into the ideal non-protection power IT project in Europe.

What considerations safe been precipitated by the machine?

Almost all of a sudden after the installation of Horizon at Post Office branches, there modified into an broaden within the decision of subpostmasters experiencing accounting shortfalls that they’d well now not level to. Many had never previously experienced such shortfalls. Below the paper-basically based machine, they’d well monitor again and gain the motive. But now not anymore.

Computer Weekly duvet from Would perhaps well 2009 when it first reported on the considerations subpostmasters safe been having with the Horizon IT machine

And whereas the technology had modified, the contract between the Post Office and subpostmasters, who owned their safe agencies but safe been brokers for the Post Office, remained the identical. It acknowledged that any accounting shortfalls safe been the accountability of the subpostmasters unless they’d well issue in every other case. But with out the chain of proof created by paper-basically based accounting solutions, proving the losses weren’t their fault modified into stop to impossible for tons of.

Who modified into affected?

Subpostmasters safe a contract with the Post Office to speed branches, but they’re now not workers of the Post Office. They now and again safe a retail industry linked to the Post Office, the muse being that the retail operation will abolish more customers through the Post Office drawing other folks in. There are additionally Crown branches, that are owned by the Post Office. These elevated operations safe branch managers in space.

How safe been subpostmasters affected?

For 15 years after the roll-out of Horizon, the Post Office – which has non-public investigation and prosecution powers with out a need for police involvement – prosecuted  better than 700 subpostmasters for crimes equivalent to theft and deceptive accounting. Tons of of subpostmasters safe been sent to reformatory and many more obtained punishments equivalent to being forced to attain community carrier and having to wear electronic tags. They lived their lives with prison records.

Tons of safe been made bankrupt, losing their livelihood, and many struggled after being forced to pay the Post Office to duvet shortfalls that didn’t exist out of doors the Horizon machine. The lives of the victims and their families safe been severely impacted, with several suicides linked to the scandal and many situations of sickness precipitated by stress.

How did the Post Office preserve a lid on this for so long?

The Post Office modified into agency to preserve a lid on the Horizon considerations. To attain this, it instructed workers in its call centre, which modified into the first contact level for subpostmasters having considerations, to issue callers they safe been the ideal ones experiencing considerations.

It went additional than this by the say of its ethical groups and deep pockets to defend itself towards accusations, in court docket if obligatory. It bragged about stopping subpostmasters from “jumping on the Horizon bashing bandwagon” when it silenced them. It additionally lied to journalists, politicians and someone else who puzzled the robustness of the Horizon machine.

How the Post Office damaged-down terror to deter subpostmasters from tough Horizon

The Post Office damaged-down prison and civil ethical movement to shut subpostmasters up. If subpostmasters persevered to whinge and invent noise about the machine, it could well well gain solutions to stop them because it didn’t determine on the broader community of branch operators to discover.

As an instance, if a subpostmaster being blamed for an unexplained shortfall sought skilled IT recommendation, the Post Office would regularly again down. In 2003, when the Post Office modified into suing a subpostmaster who modified into blaming Horizon for shortfalls at her branch in Lancashire, a concentrate on ordered it to appoint an skilled IT inquire of. When the skilled revealed considerations with Horizon, the Post Office paid off the subpostmaster and forced her to signal a non-disclosure agreement.

At around the identical time, the Post Office took Lee Castleton, a subpostmaster in Bridlington, to court docket over an unexplained shortfall of £35,000. Castleton, who modified into seemingly the most first seven victims interviewed by Computer Weekly, refused to pay the money, citing computer considerations as the clarification for the shortfall. The Post Office spent over £300,000 crushing Castleton in court docket. It bankrupted him and devastated his and his family’s lifestyles.

The Post Office additionally sent other folks to reformatory to invent an instance of them. Extinct subpostmaster Seema Misra modified into prosecuted and sent to reformatory basically based on proof from the Horizon machine. After she modified into convicted, aged Post Office head of prison law Jarnail Singh wrote a celebratory e-mail to colleagues, claiming this consequence would stop others from “jumping on the Horizon bashing bandwagon”.

What modified into Computer Weekly’s feature in exposing the scandal?

Computer Weekly broke the first story that exposed the considerations being experienced by subpostmasters.

The letter Alan Bates wrote to Computer Weekly in 2004

In 2004, Alan Bates, a subpostmaster in north Wales, contacted Computer Weekly about the indisputable truth that he modified into getting unexplained shortfalls, which he modified into convinced safe been precipitated by Horizon errors.

Nothing modified into written, but in 2008, Lee Castleton additionally contacted Computer Weekly telling a identical story. This modified into ample to spark a wider investigation.

A yr later, Computer Weekly told the story of seven subpostmasters who safe been experiencing unexplained losses. This stimulated Bates’ fight towards the Post Office, which had already been occurring for nearly 10 years. The article revealed to subpostmasters who safe been having Horizon considerations that they weren’t alone and that the Post Office modified into lying to them.

Computer Weekly continues to investigate and chronicle on the story to at the demonstrate time.

In Would perhaps well 2009, Computer Weekly revealed a story about seven subpostmasters who safe been experiencing unexplained losses, revealing to others that they weren’t alone and that the Post Office modified into lying to them

Who’s Alan Bates?

In 1998, Alan Bates and his companion Suzanne Sercombe bought a Post Office in Craig-y-Don, north Wales. It modified into a opinion to give them both time to say on issues out of doors work – in Bates’ case, this modified into strolling within the hills; for Sercombe, arts and crafts – whereas gathered working.

Serve then, the Post Office modified into speed the say of e book programs, but by the finish of 2000, these safe been replaced by the Post Office’s Horizon retail and accounting machine, from Fujitsu – and issues like a flash went unsuitable.

Bates modified into seemingly the most seven subpostmasters interviewed as half of Computer Weekly’s first investigation. He experienced unexplained losses and refused to signal off accounts, because he modified into particular the losses safe been precipitated by computer errors. The Post Office tried to power him to signal off the accounts, but he persevered to refuse. The Post Office terminated his contract, taking his job, lifestyles savings and retirement opinion with it.

But Bates modified into now not finished with the Post Office. He space up a arena to are trying to gain other subpostmasters having considerations and campaigned at events equivalent to the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) annual convention.

The Post Office branch owned by Alan Bates and Suzanne Sercombe in Craig-y-Don, Llandudno, Wales, with a banner promoting the online articulate material he space up to are trying to gain other subpostmasters having considerations with Horizon

What’s the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance?

Correct about a months after Computer Weekly publicised the teach of subpostmasters, Bates had been approached by more subpostmasters who safe been experiencing identical considerations and had came all through others. Together, they fashioned the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) they and deliberate a gathering in Fenny Compton, a village in Warwickshire, due to its central space. Subpostmasters and aged subpostmasters from all through the nation turned up and a advertising campaign modified into born.

Why did MPs ranking alive to?

One JFSA member – and one other of the first seven interviewed by Computer Weekly – is Jo Hamilton. The aged subpostmaster in Hampshire started experiencing considerations in October 2003. Post Office auditors visited the branch in March 2005 and told Hamilton she owed £36,000. They prosecuted her for theft and 14 counts of deceptive accounting.

The Post Office told her it could well well topple the theft cost if she pleaded responsible to deceptive accounting. Fearing reformatory, she agreed, but proof has since proved the Post Office had no proof of theft. Hamilton says the case did now not take care of the teach of IT.

She modified into given a yr’s probation. Her condominium modified into remortgaged to pay the money, and the villagers in South Warnborough aloof £9,000 between them to assist. Her local MP, James Arbuthnot, obtained alive to with Hamilton’s case after Computer Weekly revealed her story. The Conservative MP, now within the Dwelling of Lords, turned into a necessary campaigner in Parliament for the subpostmasters, alongside Labour MP Kevan Jones, whose constituent Tom Brown, a aged subpostmaster in Newcastle, additionally suffered considerations with Horizon.

What modified into the mediation intention and Second Look investigation?

With MPs starting to broaden points, the authorities-owned Post Office modified into forced to rob considerations significantly. In 2012, to fulfill demands from politicians, it launched an external overview and mediation intention to stumble on at situations where subpostmasters safe been alleging considerations.

As half of this, the Post Office appointed and paid forensic accountancy company Second Look to investigate situations. There safe been fears this might perchance well well be damaged-down to sweep the teach below the carpet. But if this modified into the Post Office’s opinion, as many suspected, it backfired. It rapidly turned into obvious to Second Look that the subpostmasters weren’t thieves and fraudsters, but laborious-working other folks combating a computer machine and an organisation that cared for the reputation of that computer machine over the very welfare of its subpostmaster community.

In 2013, Second Look produced an length in-between chronicle that revealed extreme considerations about the machine.

Why did the Post Office finish the mediation intention and stop Second Look’s investigation?

In March 2015, on the eve of the e-newsletter of its chunky investigation chronicle, Second Look’s work modified into stopped and the mediation intention modified into closed. It had turn into toddle Second Look modified into getting stop to the truth. The closing chronicle came all through there modified into an staunch risk that there had been miscarriages of justice within the Post Office prosecutions. It acknowledged the organisation had been too rapidly to prosecute earlier than investigating proof.

With the Post Office obstructing growth, it modified into time for a obvious formulation. Right here is when the JFSA started its work towards a neighborhood litigation teach (GLO).

What modified into the Bates and others versus Post Office Excessive Court neighborhood litigation teach?

In 2015, after the collapse of the mediation intention, the JFSA announced that it modified into making ready a neighborhood litigation, all through which tons of of victims would sue the Post Office for the hurt inflicted on them by the error-susceptible Horizon machine, which the organisation gathered acknowledged modified into sturdy and did now not safe errors that might perchance well well motive chronicle shortfalls.

A neighborhood movement is a case where a call of claimants with identical claims ranking together to provoke an movement towards a single ranking together. It’s comparable to a US class movement. Freeths Solicitors and Henderson Barristers Chambers ready the civil movement through the Excessive Court. Funding for the neighborhood movement modified into equipped by litigation funders, who lend money to duvet ethical costs, which is paid again with ardour when a case is received. About 1,000 aged subpostmasters utilized to be half of the movement and it went forward with 555.

The court docket case proved subpostmasters safe been ethical about the Horizon machine – it contained bugs, errors and defects that might perchance well well motive accounting shortfalls. It revealed the truth and gave convicted subpostmasters the proof they needed to attraction their convictions

In January 2017, the GLO modified into given the inexperienced gentle when the Excessive Court of Justice agreed to organize the case.

In November 2018, the first of 4 deliberate trials started, with proof from Alan Bates himself.

In December 2019, after two trials – the first inspecting the contract between the Post Office and subpostmasters, and the second enthusiastic about the Horizon machine – the Post Office conceded and settled with the subpostmasters. But this took place after the Post Office tried to ranking the managing concentrate on, Peter Fraser, to recuse himself, accusing him of bias.

The 555 claimants safe been awarded £58m in compensation, but after costs handiest £11m modified into left to fragment between them. However the case had proved they safe been ethical about the Horizon machine – it contained bugs, errors and defects that might perchance well well motive accounting shortfalls.

It revealed the truth and gave tons of of convicted subpostmasters the proof they needed to attraction their convictions. The Prison Cases Evaluation Commission (CCRC) took on situations and the fight to quash convictions started

Why is the Post Office scandal viewed as the widest miscarriage of justice in UK history?

In December 2020, the first six subpostmasters had their convictions basically based on Horizon proof quashed in Southwark Crown Court. In April the following yr, a additional 39 wrongful subpostmaster convictions safe been overturned within the landmark case bearing the title of Jo Hamilton, Hamilton and others versus Post Office, within the Court of Allure.

The concentrate on now not handiest dominated that the prosecutions safe been wrongful, but that they safe been an affront to justice. Some 93 of over 736 convictions linked to Horizon safe now been overturned, and the governement has announced unparalleled plans for emergence regulations to overturn the the leisure in one neighborhood.

Extinct subpostmaster Hughie “Noel” Thomas is congratulated out of doors court docket after having his conviction quashed in April 2021

Why is compensation for subpostmasters gathered an ongoing injustice?

No matter better than two decades of suffering for tons of subpostmasters and 4 years having handed since the Excessive Court judgment, most subpostmasters are but to accumulate the compensation they’re due. The Post Office has a call of utterly different compensation schemes but growth to pay subpostmasters, different whom are in financial teach, is too unhurried. Many safe died earlier than receiving the money they’re owed.

What’s the statutory public inquiry?

After the Excessive Court victory in 2019, the first factor Alan Bates acknowledged to Computer Weekly modified into that he wanted a statutory public inquiry into the scandal. He obtained it in Would perhaps well 2021, when a authorities inquiry into the scandal modified into made statutory.

The inquiry, chaired by aged concentrate on Wyn Williams, is shatter up into seven phases. It has to date heard statements from victims within the human affect section, investigated the Horizon IT machine, checked out its operation and knowledge of errors, in addition to ethical movement towards subpostmasters.

After the Excessive Court victory in 2019, Alan Bates (pictured left) referred to as for a statutory public inquiry into the scandal – he obtained it in Would perhaps well 2021

What has the public inquiry exposed?

The human affect hearings safe been gorgeous, revealing the intense suffering of oldsters by the hands of the Post Office. Utterly different phases safe revealed that the Post Office had knowledge that the Horizon gadget had bugs when rolled out, prosecution witnesses modified their statements when attributable to the Post Office, and lawyers hid proof all through trials of subpostmasters because it could well well safe made their prosecutions unsafe.

  • Read more about section seemingly the most public inquiry: The British other folks are waking up to the scandal that took space below their noses
  • Read a round-up of section two: Post Office scandal – ‘cock-up or cook-up’?
  • Read a round-up of section three: Post Office scandal – duvet-up a ‘sad chapter’ in authorities, company and ethical history

Who has been held to chronicle?

Up to now, no Post Office or Fujitsu executives safe been held responsible or punished for what took space. Indubitably, Fujitsu continues to profit on authorities IT contracts and aged Post Office CEO Paula Vennells walked far flung from the organisation in shame with an limitless payout. Presumably the most handy other folks that safe been punished are the victims of the scandal.

Who’s Paula Vennells?

Paula Vennells, a aged Anglican priest, modified into CEO of the Post Office from 2012 to 2019 after serving in other senior roles at the organisation. She modified into awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office in 2019.

She jumped ship ethical prior to the unfavourable Excessive Court judgment, which slammed the administration of the company that punished subpostmasters for errors made by its safe computer machine. She took better than £400,000 in pay and bonuses with her.

There are requires her to be stripped of her CBE on chronicle of her feature within the Post Office scandal. Closing yr, Alan Bates turned down an OBE because he believed it could well well be “sinful” whereas victims gathered endure and seemingly the most scandal’s architects retains her honour.

What’s Mr Bates vs the Post Office about?

An ITV drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, modified into broadcast in January 2024, bringing the fine extent of the Post Office scandal to a wider public. In the video below, seemingly the most actors who played the actual-lifestyles victims of the Post Office focus on about the appalling manner all through which these harmless other folks safe been treated.

Post-drama, drama

Following the airing of Mr Bates vs The Post Office on ITV within the first week of 2024, a 24-yr-gentle scandal that has been reported by varied media retail outlets since Computer Weekly broke the story in 2009, turned into headline news. Newspapers, TV and radio jumped on the story.

News, reported years ago by Computer Weekly and one other decide few, turned into news again. The general public nettle spurred the authorities into movement after years of lethargy. The authorities announced unparalleled emergency regulations to exonerate tons of of wrongly convicted subpostmasters and MPs demanded an viewers with Fujitsu and the Post Offices bosses. Fujitsu apologised, admitted to its feature in causing the scandal and acknowledged it had a ethical responsibility to make contributions to the costs, together with financial redress for victims, linked to the scandal.

Post Office prison investigators might perchance well well turn into criminally investigated

Section four of the statutory public inquiry ran for six months, punctuated by delays on chronicle of the Post Office’s failure to describe recordsdata in a effectively timed manner. Ironic, as the section modified into investigating the Post Office’s ethical practices when prosecuting subpostmasters, which included failure to describe recordsdata to subpostmaster defence groups.

The section need to be viewed within the context that over 100 subpostmasters safe had wrongful prison convictions overturned, with about 800 more space to be quashed en masse when authorities regulations completes its scamper through Parliament. The inquiry section additionally raised the likelihood of Post Office lawyers and investigators themselves being criminally investigated.

Pre-Horizon gadget considerations

Since ITV’s drama went out within the first week of 2024, aged subpostmasters who safe now not but told their stories safe come forward. Right here is now not gorgeous, but what has been a shock is the volume coming forward complaining of unexplained losses when the say of a pre-Horizon machine known as Capture.

A screenshot from interior the Capture gadget reveals the Post Office copyright sight

Of us safe been forced to repay shortfalls on this machine and a few safe been prosecuted. MP Kevan Jones modified into contacted by a constituent who had considerations with Capture, and a growing quantity are searching for ethical recommendation. The Post Office acknowledged it is taking this significantly and acknowledged other folks can come forward with claims.

Capture modified into now not comparable with Horizon, but modified into a fragment of gadget that a subpostmaster would add onto a non-public computer to attain their accounts – it modified into a “glorified spreadsheet” according to one subpostmaster. But there isn’t any reason to deem the Post Office treated unexplained losses on this machine any otherwise to the model it treated them on Horizon.

The Post Office has many occasions claimed to Computer Weekly that it does now not know which seller the gadget belongs to. It acknowledged the identical when asked in a freedom of knowledge seek recordsdata from. On the other hand, Computer Weekly obtained preserve of a copy and can verify the Post Office has the copyright.

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