Andy Dean - Fotolia
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
- 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
- January 2015: 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
- May 2015: IT system related to subpostmaster prosecutions under review by CCRC
- June 2015: Post Office looking to replace controversial Horizon system with IBM, says MP
- July 2015: Campaigners call for independent inquiry into Post Office Horizon IT system dispute
- October 2015: James Arbuthnot takes Post Office IT fight to House of Lords
- November 2015: The union that represents Post Office subpostmasters has warned of a problem with the Horizon accounting system
- November 2015: An email from Post Office IT support reveals a problem with the Horizon system and supporting processes that could lead to accounting errors