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Recently retired Conservative MP James Arbuthnot will continue to fight for subpostmasters that allege injustice at the hands of a Post Office IT system, as he takes his seat in the House of Lords.
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Arbuthnot, who joined the house of Lords this week as Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, has been the voice of a group of 140 MPs campaigning for subpostmasters that have been fined – and even sent to prison – for offences they claim they have not committed.
Post Offices use an IT system developed by ICL/Fujitsu Services, called Horizon, for their accounts. Computer Weekly first 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 – in 2009.
The Post Office denies system-wide problems with Horizon.
Arbuthnot told Computer Weekly he will "most definitely" continue to seek justice for subpostmasters that believe they have suffered at the hands of a faulty Post Office IT system. “I've told the responsible minister, the chief whip and the leader of the house,” he said.
In March 2015, following news of his retirement as an MP after 28 years, he said he remained determined to get to the bottom of the problems associated with Horizon.
Arbuthnot said debate in the Lords has advantages. "...the minister with responsibility for the matter, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, is in the Lords, so that it is good for the discussion to be direct rather than at a somehow removed level."
"Second, it is good to be able to have the issue running in the two houses simultaneously. That broadens the number of people who learn about the matter and who might feel inclined to join in. It also expands the quality and quantity of the advice available - to me and others - as to how to resolve the issue to the benefit of the sub-postmasters, the Post Office and the country. We can't continue to leave its resolution so desperately unsatisfactory.
"I am beginning to discover that in the House of Lords you actually have to win the argument, and, more than in the House of Commons, that also goes for ministers. I'm looking forward to having a go at doing just that," added Arbithnot.
Alan Bates, a member of the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) pressure group, which was set up to campaign for the subpostmasters affected, said Arbuthnot had been a good supporter of the campaign.
“It is excellent news that he will continue to support the campaign,” said Bates.
The Criminal Courts Review Commission (CCRC) is reviewing subpostmasters' claims of wrongful prosecution.
Read 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
- December 2014: MPs to debate subpostmaster IT injustice claims
- December 2014: MP accuses Post Office of acting "duplicitously" in IT investigation
- December 2014: MPs force inquiry into Post Office subpostmaster mediation scheme
- January 2015: Post Office faces grilling by MPs over Horizon accounting system
- February 2015: Post Office CIO would talk to any subpostmaster about IT problems, promises CEO
- March 2015: Post Office ends working group for IT system investigation day before potentially damaging report
- March 2015: MPs seek reassurance over Post Office mediation scheme
- March 2015: Retiring MP aims to uncover truth of alleged Post Office computer system problems
- April 2015: Post Office failed to investigate account shortfalls before legal action, report claims
- April 2015: Criminal Courts Review Commission set to review subpostmasters' claims of wrongful prosecution
- May 2015: IT system related to subpostmaster prosecutions under review by CCRC
- June 2015: Post Office looking to replace controversial Horizon system with IBM, says MP
- July 2015 Campaigners call for independent inquiry into Post Office Horizon IT system dispute