The independent investigation into claims by sub-postmasters that they were wrongly prosecuted for false accounting has appointed a former Lord Justice of Appeal to oversee close scrutiny of selected cases.
Anthony Hooper has been chosen to chair a working group overseeing the “mediation” stage of the investigation.
The Horizon accounting system – used by thousands of sub-postmasters – has been blamed by many for sub-postmasters being wrongly charged and even jailed for accounting shortfalls. Others have had to make up cash discrepancies following prosecutions. The Post Office defended the Horizon system unrelentingly until recently.
Since the Post Office announced an independent investigation in June 2012, sub-postmasters have come forward in their droves. The Post Office has since admitted there could have been a problem with the Horizon system.
In June 2013, the investigation – funded by the Post Office – was taken up by forensic experts, Second Sight. The forensic analyst firm began to drill down on the strongest cases. In July 2013 it revealed concerns in a report, although so far there has been no evidence of systemic problems with the Horizon software.
The total number of cases put forward by users to Second Sight as part for its external review was 47, which is less than 0.1% of around 68,000 users of the Horizon system.
In total the investigation has about 70 cases at different stages and more are still coming in. The closing date for claims to be lodged is 18 November 2013.
When cases reach the “mediation” stage, there is a “face-to-face discussion between two parties, chaired by a neutral and independent mediator”, according to the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) pressure group.
Alan Bates, from the JFSA, said the working group will need Hooper’s experience “of dealing with complex issues such as those the case reviews will be dealing with”.
Computer Weekly timeline of events:
- May 2009 - Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods - Postmasters tell their story
- September 2009 - Post-masters form action group after accounts shortfall
- November 2009 - Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions
- February 2011 - Post Office faces legal action over alleged accounting system failures
- October 2011 - 85 sub-postmasters seek legal support in claims against Post Office computer system
- June 2012 - Post Office launches external review of system at centre of legal disputes Post Office launches external review of system at centre of legal disputes
- January 2013 - Post Office admits that Horizon system needs more investigation
- January 2013 - Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence
- January 2013 - Post Office wants to get to bottom of IT system allegations
- June 2013 - Investigation into Post Office accounting system to drill down on strongest cases
- July 2013 - Post Office Horizon system investigation reveals concerns
- October 2013 - End in sight for sub-postmaster claims against Post Office's Horizon accounting system