Karl Flinders

Government won’t rush to include Post Office Capture convictions in overturning legislation

The government said it does not yet have the 'right body of evidence' to include users of the Post Office's Capture software in Horizon compensation schemes and legislation to overturn convictions

The government will not automatically include prosecutions of subpostmasters that used the Post Office's old Capture software within forthcoming legislation to overturn convictions that were based on the Horizon system.

Minister Kevin Hollinrake told MPs the government does not yet have the "body of evidence" required to include former Capture users within the “unprecedented legislation.”

Since the airing of ITV’s dramatisation of the Post Office Horizon scandal, former subpostmasters have come forward with stories of problems caused by a pre-Horizon computer system, known as Capture. As with victims of the Horizon scandal, some lost large amounts of money and others were convicted of financial crimes.

Users of Capture during the 1990s have approached MPs and lawyers in recent weeks, putting pressure on the Post Office and government to look closer at the system and its problems.

In January, the government said it is bringing forward legislation to overturn hundreds of subpostmansters convictions, which were based on evidence from the error-prone Horizon system

During a debate in the House of Commons today, Hollinrake, under-secretary of state at the Department for Business and Trade, was asked by long-term campaigner Kevan Jones, MP, whether former Capture users would be included in the Horizon compensation scheme and the planned legislation to overturn convictions.

Hollinrake said: “It is important we have the required body of evidence for this,” because of the unprecedented nature of the legislation to overturn convictions. “We do not yet have that body of evidence.”

Capture software was developed by the Post Office and uploaded onto a personal computer by subpostmasters to carry out their accounts. The software - referred to by some users as a “glorified spreadsheet” - was a standalone system, unlike Horizon which is a complex, networked system connected to centralised services.

Steve Marston, a former subpostmaster in Bury, Lancashire, was convicted in 1996 of theft and false accounting following an unexplained shortfall of nearly £80,000. He said he had never had any problems using the paper-based accounting system, only when his branch, which ran from 1973, began using Capture.

“We were pushed into using it by the Post Office in 1996,” he said. Marston added that he felt pressured into using the system at a time when many branches were being closed by the Post Office.

After an audit revealed a loss which he couldn’t fully cover out of his own pocket, he was advised to plead guilty of theft and fraud to avoid jail. The judge took into account two bravery awards Marston had previously received for standing up to armed robbers, saving him a jail sentence. He received a 12-month suspended sentence, lost his home and business, and went bankrupt.

During the Commons debate, Hollinrake also revealed changes to the compensation schemes in an effort to speed up financial redress. He said former subpostmasters who were wrongly convicted can, as previously announced, take a £600,000 settlement now, but can also opt for a £450,000 interim payment, if they wish to make a higher claim through a full assessment.

He also said that if members of the Group Litigation Order (GLO) compensation fund are claiming more than their initial offer, they will be awarded 80% of the offer while they go through the full assessment process. The GLO compensation scheme is made up of the 555 former subpostmasters who defeated the Post Office in the High Court, proving Horizon was faulty.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system (Read all Computer Weekly articles on the scandal below).

Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

Watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary, Mr Bates vs the Post Office: The real story

Here are all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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