The Chairman of the enquiry into the Post Office’s Horizon IT system has called for evidence relating to ‘events associated with its use’. In particular, the impact of the system’s failure and the subsequent actions of the Post Office against postmasters, employees and contractors.
The inquiry was set up following a scandal dating back to 1999 when hundreds of sub-postmasters were prosecuted for offences, such as fraud and theft, after the Horizon system showed cash shortfalls at their branches.
They were held responsible for missing money because they supposedly had sole control of their Horizon accounts. The charges led to many being sacked, going bankrupt or even sent to prison and some committed suicide.
However, after more than 900 prosecutions, in 2017, 550 sub-postmasters raised civil actions against the Post Office, which agreed to pay £58 million in damages.
An audit in 2011 had warned senior Post Office managers that there were “weaknesses” in the Horizon IT system and a Panorama report in 2015 revealed that postmasters’ accounts could be accessed without their knowledge.
Therefore, as part of the civil action, investigators trawled through thousands of pages of internal Post Office documents, including emails, to show that the glitches in the system meant that postmasters did not have sole control of their horizon accounts. This work, allied with further forensic investigation of the transactions and other evidence, provided proof of innocence, which led to the compensation payments being made.
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “Many expert accountancy witnesses have, like me, been instructed by defence teams in cases in which sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were being prosecuted.
My impression is that for many years there has been a commonly held view amongst those forensic accountants who have given evidence in these cases that there were serious flaws in the Horizon system.
It is to be welcomed that those who have suffered injustice, have been invited come forward to testify to the inquiry’s call for evidence.”