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Subpostmasters will not cooperate with government review into IT scandal

A group of subpostmasters who suffered at the hands of the Post Office’s error-prone IT system refuse to participate in a government review into the scandal, describing it as a sham

The government’s proposed review of the Horizon IT scandal has been described as a “sham” by a subpostmasters’ campaign group, which is refusing to cooperate with it.

It will take nothing short of a judge-led public inquiry to convince the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) to take part in an inquiry into a scandal that saw subpostmasters’ lives ruined after they were blamed for accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors.

The government announced its planned review of the scandal yesterday, but it was immediately criticised by MPs and subpostmasters, who described it as “pointless” and “pathetic.”

In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed that subpostmasters were being blamed for losses that they claimed were caused by errors in the Horizon computer system. The Post Office always denied this and prosecuted subpostmasters, with many forced to pay back the losses and some even going to prison (see timeline below).

A multimillion-pound High Court trial was concluded in December, with the subpostmasters being proved right in their claims that the Horizon IT system they used in branches caused shortfalls. The Post Office was castigated by the judge for its treatment of subpostmasters and its refusal to admit that the computer system could be at fault, although it knew it could.

Paul Scully, minister for small business, said the independent review would have similar investigative powers as a judge, but the terms of reference do not imply this.

In an email to its members, the JFSA said it would not engage with what it described as a “sham”.

The email said the government’s planned review falls well short of what is needed. “We need to know who in government took such disastrous decisions, and who failed to undertake their duties that led to us having to pursue the Post Office through the courts, costing each of us £86,000 (legal costs),” it said. “Who lied? Who knew what? That’s what we want to know, not what lessons have been learned to help Post Office and government going forward – that has no interest to us.”

The JFSA update added: “We will refuse any invitations to attend or submit documentation to this review, we will only assist a judge-led public inquiry, and would do so gladly.”

The email also said that Second Sight, the forensic investigation firm that investigated Horizon at the Post Office’s request and in doing so revealed its flaws, has also said it will not take part in the review.

The JFSA letter, which came from Alan Bates, the former subpostmaster and victim of Horizon’s flaws who set up the JFSA in 2009, advised its members not to support the review. “I can’t stop any of you giving evidence if invited, but if asked by you, should you attend, it would be an unequivocal NO,” it said. “This afternoon, Second Sight has confirmed that they would not take part unless it was judge-led. They know that the trials validated everything, and disproved nothing, and that Second Sight reported the real problems way back in April 2015, but Post Office, the civil service and BEIS [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] have never acknowledged that.”

The letter also said that if the JFSA will not allow the legal team in its High Court battle with the Post Office to take part, “I understand that they would have to ask permission from us, and it would be withheld until such time as a judge-led inquiry is convened”.

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

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