freshidea - Fotolia
A total of 1,300 sub-postmasters who allege they have been wrongly punished due to a faulty accounting system have applied to join a group legal action against the Post Office to seek redress of their grievances.
Not all of the 1,300 will join the action, but there will be an increase on the 198 sub-postmasters originally involved.
In March, the High Court approved the group litigation order (GLO) brought against the Post Office by sub-postmasters. At the time about 1,000 sub-postmasters had applied to join the action. A further 300 have applied to join since March.
Sub-postmasters have until 26 July 2017 to join the action before the cut-off that prevents new claimants from joining.
In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the stories of sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon operating system and its supporting processes.
IT problems not isolated
The GLO will focus on the Post Office’s treatment of sub-postmasters in relation to problems associated with the Horizon accounting system. Part of the case will focus on claims that the Post Office failed to properly investigate account shortfalls that were questioned by sub-postmasters and that it was to quick to seek legal action against sub-postmasters.
The group legal action was initiated by the Justice for Sub Postmasters Alliance (JFSA), set up by former sub-postmaster Alan Bates in 2009.
Bates said: “Our evidence will show how sub-postmasters were kept in the dark by Post Office about the scale and frequency of the problems and were made to feel like isolated cases. This misinformation deterred many from challenging Post Office. However, as a united group, we can see the patterns of behaviour. Acting together we have the chance to take on this injustice and hold Post Office to account for its actions.”
Alan Bates, JFSA
The Post Office denies the claims, and when the GLO was granted in January it said it “welcomed the progress made” but could not otherwise comment on live litigation.
The JFSA has analysed the people who have so far applied to join the action. It said most have been pursued for money by the Post Office in relation to alleged losses, with most also suffering ill health or reputational damage. Many said they felt pressure to resign.
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 sub-postmasters 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 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 sub-postmaster claims against Post Office’s Horizon accounting system.
- October 2013: Former Lord Justice of Appeal Hooper joins Post Office Horizon investigation.
- November 2013: 150 sub-postmasters 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 sub-postmaster IT injustice claims.
- December 2014: MP accuses Post Office of acting “duplicitously” in IT investigation.
- January 2015: MPs force inquiry into Post Office sub-postmaster mediation scheme.
- January 2015: Post Office faces grilling by MPs over Horizon accounting system.
- February 2015: Post Office CIO would talk to any sub-postmaster 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 sub-postmasters’ claims of wrongful prosecution.
- May 2015: IT system related to sub-postmaster 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 sub-postmasters 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.
- November 2015: Group litigation against Post Office being prepared in Horizon dispute.
- February 2016: Post Office faces group litigation over Horizon IT as sub-postmasters fund class action.
- June 2016: Post Office chairman Tim Parker says there would be “considerable risk” associated with changing its Horizon computer system.
- November 2016: The legal team hired by a group of sub-postmasters will take their case to the next stage.
- January 2017: The group action against the Post Office that alleges sub-postmasters have been wrongly punished for accounting errors gets a green light from the High Court of Justice.
- March 2017: 1,000 sub-postmasters apply to join IT-related group litigation against Post Office.
- May 2017: Investigation into claims of miscarriages of justice in relation to a Post Office accounting system has appointed a forensic accountant firm.