MPs force inquiry into Post Office subpostmaster mediation scheme

MPs force inquiry into Post Office scheme to redress grievances of subpostmasters claiming to have been wrongly punished for false accounting

MPs have forced an inquiry into the scheme set up by the Post Office to redress grievances of subpostmasters who claim to have been wrongly punished for false accounting, due to a faulty accounting system.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee announced an inquiry into the Post Office mediation scheme that MPs have lost faith in. The inquiry will take place in February.

The decision follows a debate in December 2014, when MPs met in Westminster Hall to discuss the investigation into alleged faults in the Horizon accounting system, used by thousands of subpostmasters. 

Some subpostmasters have been fined and others jailed for false accounting and fraud, which they claim was the result of problems with Horizon.

During the debate in December, MP James Arbuthnot, who leads the group of MPs campaigning for aggrieved subpostmasters, described the Post Office’s behaviour over the investigation as “duplicitous”.

Following a disagreement with the Post Office over which cases need to go to mediation, Arbuthnot said he can no longer give the scheme his support. He said the scheme, which was set up to help subpostmasters seek redress and to maintain the Post Office’s good reputation, was doing neither. 

It is good news that this independent committee will look at the mediation scheme. Every opportunity to shed light on what is fast becoming a secretive and discredited process should be heartily welcomed

James Arbuthnot, MP

“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,” said Arbuthnot when he removed support for the mediation scheme in December.

Arbuthnot welcomed next month’s inquiry. “It is good news that this independent committee will look at the mediation scheme. Every opportunity to shed light on what is fast becoming a secretive and, to my mind, discredited process should be heartily welcomed. I look forward to hearing the evidence produced and submitting my own to this distinguished group of MPs,” he said.

MPs at the debate in December also accused the Post Office of being “high-handed” with MPs and running a “flawed, degraded and deteriorating accounting system”. 

In 2009, Computer Weekly 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 provided by the Post Office.

Mike Wood, member of parliament for Batley and Spen, summed up the feelings of many that there are too many cases in doubt for the Post Office to hold its stance that there are no problems with the Horizon system.

“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,” said Wood.

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

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