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Hundreds more sub-postmasters apply to join group action against Post Office

Initial hearing regarding sub-postmasters who say they were wrongly punished for false accounting reveals admission by Post Office legal team

Several hundred more sub-postmasters who claim to have been wrongly punished for accounting errors have applied to join the group action since it was announced.

A group litigation order (GLO) was applied for by the legal team representing an initial 198 sub-postmasters who believe they were wrongly punished, but hundreds more have applied to join the action.

In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon system and supporting processes. The Post Office has vehemently denied this claim.

The group action was approved in principle at a recent hearing, which featured a significant admission by the Post Office’s legal representatives. At the hearing, it was revealed that a previous statement made by the Post Office in relation to remote access to the computer system was incorrect.

At the GLO hearing on 26 January 2017, the legal team representing the Post Office admitted that a previous statement denying allegations that transactions on the Horizon system can be changed remotely was wrong.

According to a transcription of the hearing, Patrick Green, Queen’s Counsel (QC), who is representing the subpostmasters, highlighted the Post Office statement regarding an allegation that remote access to transactions was possible, which was made in an episode of BBC’s Panorama programme.

“Transactions, as they are recorded by branches, cannot be edited and the Panorama programme did not show anything that contradicts this,” said the highlighted Post Office statement.

Green then pointed the High Court judge to another Post Office statement made more recently. It reveals that changes can in fact be made remotely.

“Balancing Transactions: Fujitsu, not Post Office, has the capability to inject a new transaction into our branches accounts. This is called a balancing transaction. The balancing transaction was principally designed to allow errors caused by technical issue in Horizon to be corrected. An accounting or operational error would typically be corrected by way of a transaction correction.”

“A balancing transaction can add a transaction to the branches accounts but it cannot edit or delete other data in those accounts. Balancing transactions only exist within Horizon online, not the old version of Horizon, and have only been in use since around 2010.

“Their uses logged within the system is extremely rare. As far as Post Office is currently aware, balancing transaction has only been used once to correct a single branch’s accounts.”

The QC representing the Post Office said the statement wrongly denying remote access was “written by people who thought it was correct”.

“[It is] a matter of enormous regret that the people who wrote that correspondence and made those submissions weren’t aware of that,” he said.

He added that after this error was discovered, the Post Office wasted no time in bringing the truth and accurate facts to the knowledge of the claimants.

Separately, there is a review underway of cases where sub-postmasters were prosecuted in court, which is being carried out by the Criminal Courts Review Commission to decide whether criminal trials of sub-postmasters accused of wrongdoing were fair.

Post Office Horizon: Timeline of events

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