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

A leaked report has revealed more details about the role of the Horizon accounting system in sub-postmaster fraud cases

A leaked investigation report has revealed more details about the role of a computer system in fraud claims against sub-postmasters.

Sub-postmasters have suffered heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, but many have continually blamed the Horizon accounting system they use. Computer Weekly first revealed the claims of sub-postmasters regarding Horizon in 2009.

Last year, after campaigning by the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) and MPs, the Post Office agreed to look again at the computer system, after previously refusing to accept there were problems.

An independent investigation, funded by the Post Office and conducted by forensic experts, called Second Sight was set up.

Around 150 sub-postmaster have filed claims to the investigation into the allegedly faulty Post Office accounting system used by thousands of sub-postmasters.

Horizon accounting system reliability still in question

An investigation report was leaked to the BBC this week. Like the interim report in July last year, it raises concerns about the Horizon accounting system used by sub-postmasters, which was originally developed by ICL/Fujitsu Services. The investigation report said the technology was not fit for purpose in some branches.

The interim report had already highlighted unreliable hardware, exceptionally complex systems and a lack of proper training as factors contributing to problems experienced by sub-postmasters.

It also criticised the way the Post Office had previously investigated concerns about transactions.

One sub-postmaster told Computer Weekly she has been fined over £50,000 for alleged false accounting, but said this was just part of it. “It is all the other things around it as well – we nearly lost our house, and stress damages your health,” the sub-postmaster said.

Her claim is currently going through the process in the investigation, but because there are 150 or so it is taking time. 

She said a few cases have been completed after going through mediation, which involves a face-to-face discussion between two parties, chaired by a neutral and independent mediator: “We are waiting to hear the outcome of the first cases to see if they got the compensation they wanted.”

According to the JFSA campaign group. the purpose of mediation is to give each side the opportunity to explain their position: "The mediator will then discuss matters with both parties – sometimes together in the same room, sometimes privately with each party.”

In a statement, the Post Office said: "Although we will not comment on the contents of any confidential documents, after two years of investigation it remains the case that there is absolutely no evidence of any systemic issues with the computer system which is used by over 78,000 people across our 11,500 branches and which successfully processes over six million transactions every day."

Computer Weekly timeline of events:

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

September 2009: Post-masters 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 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

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