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Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions

A sub-postmistress accused of theft from the Post Office has had her case postponed until next year to allow experts time to investigate the accounting IT system at her branch.

Seema Misra, postmistress at the West Byfleet Post Office in Surrey, is accused of one count of theft of £74,000. She claims the IT system may have caused the account deficit, which she then attempted to cover up. She has admitted four counts of false accounting.

Her barrister, Keith Hadrill, raised concerns in Guildford Crown Court on Friday about the Horizon system.

Misra first appeared in Guildford Crown Court earlier this year, when the case was deferred for the first time after she raised her concerns by showing the judge a copy of Computer Weekly's article on sub-postmasters and the problems they had encountered.

In that time an IT expert has inspected her system and produced a report alleging defects. The Post Office has dismissed the report as "hearsay" and called it a "hypothetical theory". The defence says it requires more information from the company so it can investigate further.

Hadrill said he asked for access to a failing Post Office branch, but said the Post Office has not responded to the request so far. He said the defence has identified certain failing branches, but said the sub-postmasters and postmistresses were reluctant to allow them access because they would be breaching their contracts.

"We have also asked for a history of complaints to show it is not an individual problem," he said. "The Post Office says the report is hearsay - it may not be once they have reviewed their files."

Hadrill said the records on what went on with the computer system in West Byfleet have not been disclosed, but Warwick Tatford, prosecuting, said the volume of raw data was "enormous".

Judge Christopher Critchlow allowed extra time for the final expert report to be produced, moving the case date to March next year. He asked, "This Horizon system is one which has caused enormous problems for the Post Office - technical problems?"

Tatford replied, "We don't agree with that at all. I have looked through two cases which are the subject of two of the complaints in that [Computer Weekly] article. There were no problems identified in those cases. Both defendants pleaded guilty."

Critchlow said the Post Office must respond to requests for information within 14 days.

Tatford said the Post Office does not anticipate employing an IT expert, but that witnesses from IT company Fujitsu and "Post Office investigators who can deal with these matters" would be speaking in court.


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