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The forensic accounting company hired by the Criminal Courts Review Commission (CCRC) to look more closely at the controversial IT system blamed by sub-postmasters for their wrongful prosecutions has completed its initial findings, and from this has decided to make further enquiries.
In April 2015, the CCRC began reviewing claims from sub-postmasters of wrongful prosecution for offences such as theft and false accounting, as a result of problems with the Post Office’s Horizon IT system through which they file accounts. It is reviewing 27 cases put forward by sub-postmasters who claim they did not get a fair trial.
The allegations date back a decade. In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of some of the sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon system and its supporting processes.
As part of the CCRC investigation, in April 2017 it appointed forensic accountants to take a closer look at the IT system.
The initial findings are complete and the forensic accounting firm is now investigating further. “We wrote to all [sub-postmasters involved] to tell them that we had received provisional findings for the forensic accountants and that these provisional results had given rise to some further enquiries by the CCRC,” said a CCRC spokesman. He said more information would be sent to the sub-postmasters involved by the end of May 2018.
This is not the first forensic investigation of Horizon and its supporting processes. The Post Office initially hired forensic investigation firm Second Sight to look into the alleged problems with Horizon raised by sub-postmasters. But after Second Sight’s 96-page report was published in April 2015, saying that the Post Office had been too quick to take legal action against sub-postmasters, the Post Office published an 83-page report of its own, claiming that Second Sight’s claims were wrong.
The Second Sight report said: “The Post Office’s investigators have, in many cases, failed to identify the underlying root cause of shortfalls prior to the initiation of civil recovery action or criminal proceedings.”
The Post Office said at the time: “In none of the Post Office’s own work, nor through any of Second Sight’s work, has any information emerged to suggest that a conviction is unsafe.
There is currently a separate group action in the High Court, which was brought by the Justice For Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) after around a decade of campaigning for sub-postmasters who claim wrongful fines for false accounting. The first month-long trial will take place in November 2018, followed by another in March 2019.
Post Office Horizon: Timeline of events
September 2009: Postmasters form action group after accounts shortfall.
November 2009: Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions.
January 2013: Post Office admits 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.
December 2014: MPs to debate sub-postmaster IT injustice claims.
May 2015: IT system related to sub-postmaster prosecutions under review by CCRC.
October 2015: James Arbuthnot takes Post Office IT fight to House of Lords.