The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has received 20 applications from subpostmasters related to prosecutions for account shortfalls, which they blame on the Post Office's Horizon computer system.
The applicants were convicted for offences such as fraud, false accounting and theft when shortfalls in their accounts were found. But they claim this was the result of problems with the Horizon accounting system used by subpostmasters. The Post Office denies this.
Most of the 20 applicants received suspended or non-custodial sentences, including community service, but six received custodial sentences for between six and 18 months.
The CCRC has set up a team to focus on the cases.
“The commission is considering these cases together as a special category and we have established a small team to look specifically at all applications concerning Horizon-related convictions,” said the CCRC.
Our ongoing investigations are focused on identifying any new evidence that might be capable of undermining the safety of any or all of these convictions
Criminal Cases Review Commission
“Our ongoing investigations are focused on identifying any new evidence that might be capable of undermining the safety of any or all of these convictions.”
The CCRC can request any information to support its inquiries.
“We have used our powers – under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 – to preserve and obtain material we believe may be relevant to our inquiries,” said the commission.
The CCRC said it is having “ongoing dialogue with the Post Office about these cases”.
Each case will be assessed and applicants could have their claims investigated in greater depth if the CCRC decides there are grounds to do so.
If cases are investigated further, they can be sent to the Court of Appeal, which is obliged to hear them.
Doubts expressed over evidence used to prosecute
Computer Weekly first revealed the stories of subpostmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon accounting system, in 2009. Thousands of Post Offices use the IT system, developed by ICL/Fujitsu Services, for their accounts.
Some 150 subpostmasters had their cases independently reviewed by Second Sight. The company, which was hired by the Post Office, produced a report that criticised the organisation for not fully investigating subpostmaster claims of problems before instigating legal action. The Post Office has since refuted claims made in the independent report through a report of its own.
In none of our own investigations, nor through Second Sight’s work, has any evidence emerged to suggest that a conviction is unsafe
Experts have contacted Computer Weekly with doubts over the evidence used to prosecute.
Andy Clark, visiting professor in information security at Royal Holloway University of London and director at information security and expert witness company Primary Key Associates, was called as a witness for the defence in a case brought by the Post Office against a subpostmaster accused of false accounting.
The digital forensics expert, who was hired by solicitors 10 years ago in relation to the case, told Computer Weekly that after he raised questions about the integrity of the Horizon system the case was dropped.
“The Post Office takes any allegation of miscarriage of justice extremely seriously. In none of our own investigations, nor through Second Sight’s work, has any evidence emerged to suggest that a conviction is unsafe," said the Post Office.
"We have been contacted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and are co-operating with them as they review the cases they have received,” it added.
Speaking seperately at a recent event, Post Office CEO Paula Vennells spoke about the importance of IT to the Post Office going forward and said there will be a major IT transformation over the next two years.
“Horizon is part of the Post Office front office and it will change over time as we invest in it,” she said.
Computer Weekly asked her questions directly on the subject of the Horizon investigation but she declined to comment.
Computer Weekly timeline of events
- May 2009: Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods – postmasters tell their story
- September 2009: Postmasters form action group after accounts shortfall
- November 2009: Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions
- February 2011: Post Office faces legal action over alleged accounting system failures
- October 2011: 85 subpostmasters seek legal support in claims against Post Office computer system
- June 2012: Post Office launches external review of system at centre of legal disputes
- January 2013: Post Office admits that Horizon system needs more investigation
- January 2013: Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence
- January 2013: Post Office wants to get to bottom of IT system allegations
- June 2013: Investigation into Post Office accounting system to drill down on strongest cases
- July 2013: Post Office Horizon system investigation reveals concerns
- October 2013: End in sight for subpostmaster claims against Post Office's Horizon accounting system
- October 2013: Former Lord Justice of Appeal Hooper joins Post Office Horizon investigation
- November 2013: 150 subpostmasters file claims over 'faulty' Horizon accounting system
- September 2014: Fresh questions raised over Post Office IT system's role in fraud cases
- December 2014: MPs blast Post Office over IT system investigation and remove backing
- December 2014: Why MPs lost faith in the Post Office's IT investigation, but vowed to fight on
- December 2014: MPs to debate subpostmaster IT injustice claims
- December 2014: MP accuses Post Office of acting "duplicitously" in IT investigation
- December 2014: MPs force inquiry into Post Office subpostmaster mediation scheme
- January 2015: Post Office faces grilling by MPs over Horizon accounting system
- February 2015: Post Office CIO would talk to any subpostmaster about IT problems, promises CEO
- March 2015: Post Office ends working group for IT system investigation day before potentially damaging report
- March 2015: MPs seek reassurance over Post Office mediation scheme
- March 2015: Retiring MP aims to uncover truth of alleged Post Office computer system problems
- April 2015: Post Office failed to investigate account shortfalls before legal action, report claims
- April 2015: Criminal Courts Review Commission set to review subpostmasters' claims of wrongful prosecution