MPs to debate subpostmaster IT injustice claims

Debate about the Post Office scheme to redress grievances of subpostmasters will be held in Westminster Hall

A debate about the Post Office scheme to redress the grievances of subpostmasters, who have been fined and even imprisoned as a result of alleged problems with the accounting system they use, will be held on 17 December in Westminster Hall.

A 90-minute adjournment debate at 2.30pm will be held after James Arbuthnot, MP for Hampshire North East, applied successfully for a debate on the subject to be held in Parliament.

Last week, 140 MPs, led by Arbuthnot, removed their support for the Post Office investigation and mediation process for subpostmasters. This followed a loss of faith in the process.

In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of subpostmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon accounting system provided by the Post Office.

Arbuthnot told Computer Weekly he hopes the debate will give his campaign the opportunity to “stop the Post Office acting as its own prosecutor” by bringing the cases to the government’s attention.

He also hopes the debate will ensure he can prevent any evidence collected in the investigation from being destroyed in the future and try to prevent the Post Office using the time passed since claims were made as a reason for not hearing them under the statute of limitations.

He will also call for a government review. Arbuthnot said: “I have been leading a group of over 140 MPs all of whom have constituents who have been subpostmasters affected by shortfalls which have mysteriously appeared during the course of their business and for which they have been made liable by the Post Office. 

"This has led to enormous distress for the subpostmasters, who have lost their businesses and often their houses and had their reputations tarnished. I have been the coordinator of MPs who have for years been fighting for some form of redress to be available to those who have not committed any wrongdoing.”

“In recent months MPs have discovered that the Post Office was using the procedures of Mediation Scheme to argue that most of the cases giving rise to concern should not, despite what was agreed with MPs, be permitted to go through mediation.  This was done without the Post Office’s telling MPs they were doing it,” he added.

Last week Arbuthnot announced he no longer supported the Post Office investigation. 

“I will be continuing my campaign for justice in other ways.”

Although a fault has never been found with the Horizon software, there are questions over the processes that surround its use, including systems that interface with it and training.

Watch the debate live here at 2.30pm on Wednesday 17 December.

Computer Weekly timeline of events

May 2009: Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods – postmasters tell their story

September 2009: Postmasters 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 subpostmasters seek legal support in claims against Post Office computer system

June 2012: 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 subpostmaster claims against Post Office's Horizon accounting system

October 2013: Former Lord Justice of Appeal Hooper joins Post Office Horizon investigation

November 2013: 150 subpostmasters file claims over 'faulty' Horizon accounting system

September 2014: Fresh questions raised over Post Office IT system's role in fraud cases

December 2014: MPs blast Post Office over IT system investigation and remove backing

December 2014: Why MPs lost faith in the Post Office's IT investigation, but vowed to fight on

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