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The legal team behind the group action brought against the Post Office by sub-postmasters in relation to alleged faults in the organisation’s computer system will this week receive a document outlining the Post Office’s defence against the allegations.
Since the group action was announced in March, several hundred sub-postmasters have been added to the 198 who were originally involved. More than 1,300 applied to join the action, but not all claims were added to the case, which is now closed to new applicants.
In March, the High Court approved the group litigation order brought against the Post Office by sub-postmasters who claim to have suffered as a result of a faulty Post Office IT system. In 2009, Computer Weekly revealed the plight of some sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines and even jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they blamed on the Horizon operating system and supporting processes. The Post Office has vehemently denied this claim (see timeline below).
“The cut-off date for joining the action had been 26 July, but we gave people a slightly earlier date, now passed, because it takes a few days to process claims,” said James Hartley, partner at Freeths Solicitors.
Although it is now too late to join the action, the legal team will keep a reserve list of sub-postmasters with grievances in case more are permitted at a later stage, so Freeths Solicitors is still inviting sub-posmasters who feel they have been affected by the alleged problems to get in touch.
After years of campaigning by sub-postmasters the legal case started in November 2015, when the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), which supports affected sub-postmasters, announced a group action against the Post Office.
The group, which is seeking justice and compensation for sub-postmasters, received the financial backing required for the case in February 2016. The JFSA was set up by Alan Bates, a sub-postmaster in Llandudno, north Wales, from 1998 to 2003, after he was affected by the alleged problems with Horizon. He said that after years of campaigning, there was “no other option but to seek redress though the courts”.
The next landmark will be a major procedural hearing in October, when the managing judge will set out a timetable for the case.
Separately, the Criminal Courts Review Commission (CCRC) is reviewing 27 cases put forward by sub-postmasters who claim they did not get a fair trial. Two years on from the CCRC’s decision to look into the cases, the appointment of forensic accountants in April was an important milestone.
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.
- April 2017: Investigation into claims of miscarriages of justice in relation to a Post Office accounting system has appointed a forensic accountant firm.
- May 2017: Hundreds of sub-postmasters have applied to join IT-related legal action since March.
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