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Unisys reveals no link to development of controversial Post Office software

IT supplier finds no evidence that it was involved in the development of controversial Post Office software

Unisys said it has completed an internal review of its involvement in the creation and distribution of the Post Office Capture system and has found no evidence that it developed the software.

So far, the Post Office and Unisys have revealed little about the software, but the government is to appoint an IT expert to shed light on the controversial Post Office software, which is being blamed for accounting shortfalls that could have led to wrongful convictions..

Since the Post Office Horizon scandal hit the headlines in January, following ITV’s dramatization of it, former users of the pre-Horizon system, who blame it for accounting shortfalls and even prosecutions in the 1990s, have come forward.

The Post Office have claimed the passage of time and changes to data storage systems since the Post Office separated from Royal Mail Group mean it does not have a complete picture of the Capture system.

But it emerged that IT supplier Unisys was involved in the software’s distribution. When pressed by Computer Weekly, Unisys agreed to investigate its own role.

Now complete, Unisys told Computer Weekly its review has revealed no evidence that is developed the software. A company spokesperson said: “Our review, which has now concluded, has not uncovered any evidence that Unisys was involved in the development of the Capture software at issue.”

In February, Unisys said: “We know the Post Office Horizon issue has drawn significant public attention in the UK, and we empathise with the subpostmasters and their families who have been impacted.

“Given the lengthy time that has passed and difficulty locating documentation from that far back, we are currently unaware of Unisys developing the software at issue. Given the importance of the matter, however, we have launched an investigation.

More details are likely following the government’s plan to announce an IT expert to investigate the software, which was used by former subpostmasters in the 1990s, before the introduction of the controversial Horizon system.

Described by users as a “glorified spreadsheet”, Capture was a standalone software used to computerise accounting in branches. Computer Weekly has copies of the software, which contains Unisys and Post Office logos throughout. Unisys was involved in the distribution of the software to subpostmasters through installing it on PCs, but beyond that its role has been unclear.

The government commitment to appoint an expert to investigate Capture, should shed light on the life of the software and its errors.

Jason Coyne, the forensic IT expert who proved the Post Office’s Horizon software was error- and bug-ridden, said he will carry out a similar examination of the organisation’s controversial Capture system if the government requests it.

In January, MP Kevan Jones, who has campaigned for many years for justice for subpostmasters affected by Horizon errors, began looking for answers to why subpostmasters were blamed for unexplained shortfalls that occurred when using Capture. He highlighted evidence that the Post Office knew the system was flawed, but still blamed and even prosecuted subpostmasters when auditors found unexplained accounting shortfalls.

He was contacted by former subpostmasters and revealed their stories. These included former subpoistmasters Steve Marston and Steve Lewis.

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

Lewis, a former subpostmaster in South Wales, had worked for the Post Office since 1983, originally as a counter clerk, and was a Post Office auditor for a number of years.

When Capture was replaced by Horizon, a courtesy balance was completed that showed a loss and Lewis was suspended. He lost his business, had to sell his home and suffered mental health issues with related relationship troubles.

The Post Office scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to accounting software (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal below).

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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