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Post Office scandal: Met Police investigation set to go national

The police investigation into Post Office and Fujitsu executives is about to gain the status of a major national investigation – but it could be years before any individuals are charged with crimes or face trial

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed it is setting up a national investigation into the Post Office scandal, although it could take at least two years before any individuals will be charged.

The force first started looking into the actions of Post Office and Fujitsu staff in January 2020, following the 2019 High Court case that proved accounting losses blamed on subpostmasters were caused by bugs in the Horizon system installed in Post Office branches.

Two Fujitsu employees were questioned under caution about possible perjury charges on the basis of evidence presented in the High Court, but despite facing further questions in 2022, no charges have yet been brought.

The Met is a core participant at the current public inquiry into the scandal, and is waiting for the inquiry to conclude before considering any further charges against individuals. It has been working alongside the Crown Prosecution Service – which will ultimately make the decision about taking people to court – since 2020.

The force has now concluded that the scale of the investigation is such that it needs to proceed on a nationwide basis, and is asking other police forces to take part.

“A team of detectives has been painstakingly working through millions of documents manually and with the help of specialist software, in parallel with the public inquiry. This is very time consuming and we cannot cut corners and risk missing evidence,” said Met Police commander Stephen Clayman, who is overseeing the investigation, in a statement to Computer Weekly.

“Given the significant scale of the investigation, it has been agreed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council that the next phase of the investigation will be a national policing effort, coordinated by the Met, with the pursuit of justice at its heart. We do not underestimate the seriousness of the task at hand and we are determined to carry out a full investigation with independence, precision and integrity.”

However, the final report from the inquiry is not expected until well into 2025, and Computer Weekly understand that charges are unlikely to be brought until 2026 at the earliest. Some of the subpostmaster victims of the scandal have been told it could be 2028 before individuals from the Post Office or Fujitsu would go on trial.

Campaigner Alan Bates told Computer Weekly last week that the Met had told him they were considering extending their investigation. Bates has said he would pursue private prosecutions if the police did not investigate,

Legal experts have suggested that executives from the Post Office and Horizon supplier Fujitsu could face charges such as perverting the course of justice, perjury and fraud, after the inquiry revealed people knew of bugs in Horizon that could have undermined prosecutions against accused subpostmasters.

The inquiry last week revealed that former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells had removed references to Horizon from the IT risk section of the prospectus for the Royal Mail as it was being floated on the stock market. The Post Office was part of the Royal Mail Group during the first decade of the 2000s when most of the hundreds of flawed prosecutions took place. Some experts have questioned whether doing so would breach financial services regulations.

The Guardian has reported that as many as 80 detectives will be involved in the investigation – resources similar to a major murder case.

Last week, the legislation required to quash the convictions of wrongly prosecuted subpostmasters was passed by Parliament as part of the “wash up” of pending laws following the announcement of the UK general election on 4 July.

The Post Office Horizon 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 below timeline of all Computer Weekly articles about the Horizon scandal, since 2009). 

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

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

Timeline: Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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