Post Office Horizon scandal back in the news

The decision to award a £5.7 million contract that will create a new emergency alert system for the Government to Fujitsu has been branded “immoral” by peers.

This is because of the scandal around Fujitsu’s Horizon system, which was used by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 for transactions, accounting and stocktaking.

However, it wrongly detected the existence of financial shortfalls at many post offices leading to prosecutions for theft, fraud and false accounting of 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses between 2000 and 2014.

In 2012, a firm of forensic accountants was appointed by the Post Office to conduct an independent enquiry into Horizon.

In their initial findings published in 2013, it was clear that there were serious problems with the system but a year later, the Post Office declared that “there is absolutely no evidence of any systemic issues with the computer system.”

However, in the second investigation undertaken by the forensic accountants, Horizon’s software was found to be defective, and the report said that, amongst other faults, the system experienced 12,000 communication failures every year, as well as software defects at 76 branches.

These failures tragically resulted in at least four suicides, dozens of cases of wrongful imprisonment and marital breakdowns.

In 2019 a group of 555 sub-postmasters successfully challenged the Post Office over the Horizon system in the High Court.

A public inquiry was established in September 2020 to examine the failings, which led to the scandal.

However, some of those who were caught up in the scandal died without being fully compensated.

Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon who has been instructed to work with dozens of individuals who are claiming compensation, explained: “Working out how much claimants need to be paid to put them back in the position in which they would have been had they not been wrongly convicted is sometimes a complex forensic accountancy exercise.

“The task is made more difficulty because most of the claims date back many years and documentation that would have existed at the time, such as accounts and bank statements, will typically have been destroyed with the passage of time.

“What is important is to ensure that compensation is as fair and consistent as possible, despite the fact that documentation may be incomplete.”

Sources: BBC News, Panorama

Posted in The Forensic Blog.