Jerry Sliwowski - Fotolia
The legal team representing the Post Office in a High Court group litigation order has been ordered to explain why it has been unable to open an encrypted recording of an interview which forms part of its evidence.
After missing a deadline to provide access to the recording, the Post Office has been ordered to provide a witness statement explaining what steps it has taken to access the encrypted file. This must be provided by noon on Monday 10 December.
The recording is an important court disclosure as part of a High Court litigation in which more than 550 subpostmasters are suing the Post Office for the suffering they experienced after unexplained discrepancies were revealed in accounts.
It is an audio recording of a Post Office manager’s interview with Liz Stockdale, who ran a branch in Bridlington and is one of the lead claimants.
The Post Office was told to instruct an IT company to provide a transcript of the recording of the interview, which took place on 5 February 2014, but it has so far been unable to open the file, which is encrypted. It missed a deadline to provide a transcript on 6 December and must now explain, in a witness statement, what efforts it has made to comply.
The court order had stated: “Insofar as the file containing the recording is encrypted or otherwise password protected, that IT consultancy shall take all reasonable and sufficient steps to access that recording so that a transcript is made available to the court by 5pm on Thursday 6 December 2018.”
This was not complied with.
The order added: “If, despite all reasonable and sufficient steps, the IT consultancy is unable to access the recording, then a witness statement to be provided from the relevant professional at that IT consultancy explaining in detail the steps that have been taken, and why no transcription is possible.”
The trial, which is the first of four scheduled concerning the case, focused on the contractual relationship between subpostmasters and the Post Office. This includes how the Post Office deals with unexplained accounting errors.
The case follows a long campaign by subpostmasters. In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of some subpostmasters, who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon computer system (see timeline below for all Computer Weekly coverage).
The group litigation order, which is seeking compensation for the subpostmasters, is being funded by Therium through third-party litigation funding. This involves a number of funders investing in the litigation, paying fees and other costs. If the case succeeds, they make a profit, but their investment is at risk if the case is lost.
Further trials are planned for March and October next year and the case will continue into 2020, with a fourth trial planned early that year.
Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009
September 2009: Postmasters form action group after accounts shortfall
November 2009: Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions
January 2013: Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence
December 2014: MPs to debate subpostmaster IT injustice claims
December 2018: Complex Post Office Horizon case set to continue into 2020