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High Court trial over Horizon computer system completes witness cross-examinations

The High Court trial in which subpostmasters are suing the Post Office has reached an important stage

The first of three High Court trials in which subpostmasters are claiming damages for the suffering they experienced because of unexplained discrepancies in accounts, has completed the cross-examination of witnesses.

Six lead claimants were cross-examined, followed by 14 Post Office employees, including Post Office director Angela van den Bogerd.

The court will not sit again until Monday 3 December to allow the two sides to present their written arguments to the judge. The legal teams will then come back to put their arguments forward verbally, with two days allocated for each. A ruling in the first trial is expected in January.

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 computer system.

After years of campaigning, more than 500 subpostmasters led by Alan Bates, the lead claimant, forced the issue into court through a group litigation order, funded by Therium through third-party litigation funding.

The Post Office’s QC, David Cavender, described the case as an “existential threat” to the Post Offices business model, and according to The Lawyer, it is one of the top 20 cases to watch this year.

A total of six lead claimants, all former subpostmasters, and 14 Post Office staff were cross-examined by the QCs representing each side.

The first trial has focused on the contractual relationship between the Post Office and subpostmasters, which is agency-based. Next March, the second trial will look at the Horizon computer system and supporting technologies, and by a third trial later in the year, probably October, will focus on some individual subpostmasters’ cases.

The contract under the microscope in the first trial was once described by MPs as “Dickensian” and slanted in favour of the Post Office.

Court disclosures and witness statements have revealed that Horizon has had known errors that can cause unexplained losses, which the Post Office allegedly did not always tell subpostmasters about.

During cross-examination, Patrick Green, QC for the claimants, drew an example to the attention of Post Office director van den Bogerd, who admitted that Horizon is not error free. “Overall, [Horizon] is robust but it will make mistakes and we have to correct them,” she said in court.

In one example put to van den Bogerd in court, errors caused by Horizon had led to inaccurate accounts at some branches.

Van den Bogerd said the Post Office could have told subposmasters about errors, but did not.

For live tweeting from court, see the Twitter account of broadcast journalist Nick Wallis. Also read his Post Office trial blog.

The case continues.

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly published its first article in 2009

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 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

January 2015: MPs force inquiry into Post Office subpostmaster mediation scheme

January 2015: Post Office faces grilling by MPs over Horizon accounting system

February 2015: Post Office CIO would talk to any subpostmaster 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 subpostmasters’ claims of wrongful prosecution

May 2015: IT system related to subpostmaster 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 subpostmasters 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 subpostmasters will take their case to the next stage

January 2017: The group action against the Post Office that alleges subpostmasters have been wrongly punished for accounting errors gets a green light from the High Court of Justice

March 2017: 1,000 subpostmasters apply to join IT-related group litigation against Post Office

April 2017: Investigation into claims of miscarriages of justice in relation to a Post Office accounting system has appointed a forensic accountant firm

May 2017: Hundreds of subpostmasters have applied to join IT-related legal action since March

July 2017: Post Office defence in computer system legal case due this week

August 2017: Campaigners submit initial evidence in group litigation against Post Office over controversial Horizon IT system

October 2017: Subpostmasters’ group action against the Post Office reaches an important milestone

November 2017: An end is in sight for subpostmasters’ campaign against alleged wrongful prosecution, which they blame on a faulty computer system

November 2017: The high court judge managing the subpostmasters versus Post Office legal case over an allegedly faulty computer system tells legal teams to cooperate

January 2018: Forensic investigation into Post Office IT system at centre of legal case nears completion

April 2018: Criminal Cases Review Commission forensic examination of the IT system at the centre of a legal case against the Post Office has raised further questions

May 2018: Post Office branches unable to connect to Horizon computer system for several hours after morning opening time

October 2018: After over a decade of controversy, next week marks the beginning of a court battle between subpostmasters and the Post Office

November 2018Case against Post Office in relation to allegedly faulty computer system begins in High Court

November 2018: High Court case in which subpostmasters are suing the Post Office has revealed a known problem with a computer system at the core of the dispute

November 2018A High Court trial, where subpostmasters are suing the Post Office for damages caused by an allegedly faulty IT system, ended its second week.

November 2018: Post Office director admits to Horizon errors and not sharing details with subpostmaster network

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