Andy Dean - Fotolia

Group litigation against Post Office being prepared in Horizon dispute

Subpostmasters who believe they have been wrongly punished for misaccounting or theft due to flawed computer system prepare group legal action against Post Office

The campaign group created to fight for subpostmasters who believe they have been wrongly punished because of flaws in the Post Office computer system are preparing a group legal action.

The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JSFA) has been working with Freeths Solicitors and Henderson Barristers Chambers to prepare civil action through the High Court. It wants justice and compensation for subpostmasters it believes have been wrongly prosecuted, fined and have had to repay losses that were unexplained.

A group action is a case where a number of claimants with similar claims get together to initiate an action against a single party. It is similar to a US class action. The JFSA said it already has a significant number of people signed up for the action and is calling for more.

In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of subpostmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting – which they blamed on the Horizon system and supporting processes. The Post Office has vehemently denied this claim.

In response to previous Computer Weekly articles, the Post Office recently said: “It remains the case that more than three years of investigations have not identified any transaction caused by a technical fault in Horizon which resulted in a postmaster wrongly being held responsible for a loss.” (See timeline below for more about the dispute).

After years of campaigning, the JFSA said it and its membership are left with “no other option but to seek redress though the courts”.

“A significant number of people have now signed up with the legal team, who have already undertaken considerable work on our case and have a very positive view on the prospects of success,” said the JFSA.

The JFSA is asking any subpostmasters from 2000, when the Post Office brought in Horizon, who have suffered inexplicable or mysterious losses to consider contacting Freeths.

“Even if you have previously made an agreement with the Post Office about your case, we are led to believe it may well be worthwhile discussing your position with Freeths,” said the JFSA.

The Post Office said in a statement: As the Post Office has not been formally made aware of this, we have no comment to make, other than to restate our confidence in the Horizon system, which deals effectively and robustly with six million customer transactions a day.

A review of cases in which subpostmasters were prosecuted in court is being carried out by the Criminal Courts Review Commission to decide whether criminal trials of subpostmasters accused of wrongdoing were fair.

“Recently, we have become aware of more cases that are to be sent to the CCRC, and if you were ever prosecuted by Post Office, with relation to inexplicable or mysterious losses associated with Horizon, we would suggest you submit an application to the CCRC to have your case reviewed,” said the JFSA.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made in 2011 by the JFSA campaign group, the Post Office explained the scope of the term Horizon: “This encompasses the software, both bespoke and software packages, the computer hardware and communications equipment installed in branch and the central datacentres. It includes the software used to control and monitor the systems. In addition, I can advise you that testing and training systems are also referred to as Horizon.”

Post Office Horizon: Timeline of events                    

Read more on Financial applications

Data Center
Data Management