About 150 subpostmasters have filed claims to the investigation into the allegedly faulty Post Office accounting system used by thousands of subpostmaters.
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The Post Office-funded investigation into the Horizon accounting system, which is being conducted by forensic expert Second Sight, had an initial deadline for claims last week (18 November).
Subpostmasters have suffered heavy fines and even jail terms as a result of alleged false accounting, but many have continuously blamed the Horizon system. The Post Office could face significant compensation claims.
Alan Bates of the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) pressure group said there have been about 150 claims that they have been wrongly blamed for accounting shortfalls. “We cannot put a final figure on it because we are still tying up loose ends.”
In July 2013 the investigation reported concerns in relation to Horizon.
The concerns included:
- Unreliable hardware
- The absence of “proper” system training and support
- The complexity of linking with a large number of other systems
- A business model that puts responsibility for dealing with small system problems with sub-postmasters
- The way the Post Office has in the past investigated concerns about transactions
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, following pressure from the JFSA, MPs and Press.
The next phase will see some of these claims get professional support to put together detailed case reviews. Bates said it is believed that most of the claims put forward will move to this phase. Second Sight will look closer once the case reviews are put together.
Last month, former Lord Justice of Appeal, Anthony Hooper, was appointed to oversee close scrutiny of selected cases.
One claimant told Computer Weekly she has received good support from the JFSA and Second Sight.
A former subpostmaster told Computer Weekly that if the investigation proves there were faults with the Horizon system they will “shout it from the rooftops.”
Computer Weekly timeline of events:
September 2009 - Post-masters form action group after accounts shortfall
November 2009 - Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions
January 2013 - Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence
January 2013 - Post Office wants to get to bottom of IT system allegations