MPs blast Post Office over IT system investigation and remove backing

Post Office scheme to redress sub-postmaster grievances over IT system is failing, say MP group supporting alleged victims

A Post Office scheme to redress sub-postmaster grievances with the company's IT system is failing, say MPs supporting alleged victims.

The 140 MPs campaigning on behalf of Post Office sub-postmasters who claim to have suffered at the hands of a faulty IT system have removed their support for the Post Office investigation and mediation process.

The campaigners intend to seek justice for sub-postmasters in other ways.

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 accounting system provided by the Post Office.

In October 2011, 85 sub-postmasters sought legal support in claims against the Post Office computer system. Despite years of allegations that the system was at fault for many accounting shortfalls, the Post Office unrelentingly defended it.

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Independent investigation company Second Sight is investigating cases and recommending which need further investigation.

Following a disagreement with the Post Office over which cases need to go to mediation, leader of the campaigning group MP James Arbuthnot said he can no longer give the scheme his support.

“The scheme was set up to help our constituents seek redress and to maintain the Post Office’s good reputation. It is doing neither," he said. 

"It has ended up mired in legal wrangling, with the Post Office objecting to most of the cases even going into the mediation that the scheme was designed to provide.”

This follows a letter sent to the MPs by Post Office CEO Paula Vennells setting out the organisation's position following a proposal by MPs over which cases should proceed to mediation.

MPs were scathing in response to the development:

Andrew Bridgen MP said: ”MPs have been working with the Post Office for two years now in the belief they would work towards a solution to this issue. It would appear this belief is increasingly looking misplaced.”

Mike Wood MP said: “Either the Post Office is awash with criminals who open sub post offices for personal gain or something has gone terribly wrong. MPs are inclined to believe the latter and we are all shocked the Post Office seems to not want to get to the bottom of all this.”

Huw Irranca-Davies MP said: "The mediation process has failed even those sub-postmasters who were originally included. But there are also many who fell outside the scheme and have had no chance to be heard. They all deserve fair play, they all deserve justice, so the fight goes on."

According to Kevan Jones MP, a constituent of his has lost everything, including his livelihood, his house and his good name, and he is not the only person who faces this fate.

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

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