Investigation into Post Office accounting system to drill down on strongest cases

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Investigation into Post Office accounting system to drill down on strongest cases

Karl Flinders

The independent investigation into the Post Office’s allegedly faulty accounting system used by subpostmasters, will focus its efforts on a select few of the 47 claims it is working on because the complexity of the work is slowing down progress.

The Horizon accounting system is being investigated after subpostmasters have claimed they have been wrongly accused of false accounting. The initial findings of the investigation will be reported by the company that is carrying out the investigation to the Post Office and MPs on 8 July.

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The investigation is taking longer than expected due to the complexities of the computer programme and some of the processing around its use, said James Arbuthnot, the Conservative MP for North East Hampshire is the chair of a group of MPs pushing for the truth to come out.

“To speed things up we have agreed that the investigation should concentrate on the two or three strongest cases,” Arbuthnot told Computer Weekly.

In January 2013, the Post Office called for evidence from people who have worked with the Horizon accounting system to help it take a closer look at claims that agents have been wrongly accused of false accounting. 

Thousands of Post Offices use the Horizon IT system for their accounts. This came after years of the Post Office denying there were any problems with the system – which was developed by ICL/Fujitsu Services.

Dozens of postmasters have been charged, and even jailed, for accounting shortfalls. Others have had to make up cash discrepancies following prosecutions. Some Post Offices have been forced to close. 

But many claim problems with the technology could be generating unexplained losses. In 2009, Computer Weekly interviewed some of those affected - the subpostmasters related stories of bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods.

Arbuthnot said he first became involved when a member of his constituency, Jo Hamilton who ran a post office in South Warnborough in Hampshire, came to him for help in 2010. She had previously been interviewed by Computer Weekly as part of its investigation into claims that the Horizon system was faulty.

He called on all MPs that have had similar cases in their constituencies to contact him and a group was later formed. 

“The Post Office had repeatedly said the system is robust and this is an issue of dishonesty," said Arbuthnot. "I find this increasingly difficult to believe.”

Arbuthnot then had a meeting with the chairman of the Post Office, Alice Perkins. 

“She was extremely positive and helpful because she felt it as important for the Post Office to get to the bottom of this as it was for us to protect its reputation,” he said. 

Perkins agreed to set up and fund an independent inquiry to be carried out by independent forensic exerts, Second Sight. 

In January, the Post Office called for people to come forward if they had experienced problems and announced an amnesty. 

Campaign group Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) has been at the centre of the push for an investigation of the Horizon system.

 

 


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