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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.
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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
- 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 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.
- 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.
- October 2013: Former Lord Justice of Appeal Hooper joins Post Office Horizon investigation.
- November 2013: 150 sub-postmasters file claims over ‘faulty’ Horizon accounting system.
- September 2014: Fresh questions raised over Post Office IT system’s role in fraud cases.
- December 2014: Members of Parliament (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.
- January 2015: MPs force inquiry into Post Office sub-postmaster mediation scheme.
- January 2015: Post Office faces grilling by MPs over Horizon accounting system.
- February 2015: Post Office CIO would talk to any sub-postmaster 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 sub-postmasters’ claims of wrongful prosecution.
- May 2015: IT system related to sub-postmaster 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.
- October 2015: James Arbuthnot takes Post Office IT fight to House of Lords.
- November 2015: The union that represents Post Office subpostmasters has warned of a problem with the Horizon accounting system.
- November 2015: An email from Post Office IT support reveals a problem with the Horizon system and supporting processes that could lead to accounting errors.
- November 2015: Group litigation against Post Office being prepared in Horizon dispute.
- February 2016: Post Office faces group litigation over Horizon IT as sub-postmasters fund class action.
- June 2016: Post Office chairman Tim Parker says there would be “considerable risk” associated with changing its Horizon computer system.
- November 2016: The legal team hired by a group of sub-postmasters will take their case to the next stage.
- January 2017: Post Office facing group litigation over Horizon computer system after watershed decision.