The Post Office Scandal – The UK’s Biggest Legal Miscarriage of Justice

The British Post Office scandal involved 736 prosecutions of sub-postmasters for theft, false accounting and/or fraud. The prosecutions resulted in criminal convictions, false confessions, imprisonments, defamation, loss of livelihood, bankruptcy, divorce, and suicide.

In 1999, International Computers Limited (ICL) company ‘Fujistsu’ introduced the Horizon Computer System for the publicly-owned Post Office corporation. The system was criticized by forensic accountants, but the Post Office denied any wrongdoing. By 1999, ICL was part of Fujitsu. In 1999, the problems began with Horizon’s introduction, which wrongly detected the existence of financial discrepancies at multiple post office branches.] Second Sight’s (forensic accountants) report of 2014 described the Horizon Computer System as not fit for purpose, whilst the Post Office stated that “there is absolutely no evidence of any systemic issues with the computer system”. The Post Office terminated the Initial Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme in 2015 and published a report clearing themselves of any wrongdoing.

The Post Office has a single shareholder, the British Government; however the British Government initially refused to pay compensation to the 555 SPMs, but promised to do so after MPs made appeals. The Post Office set up a separate historic shortfall scheme that attracted more than 2,400 claims.

An independent inquiry led by retired judge Wyn Williams has begun investigating the Post Office and software supplier Fujitsu over the IT system faults that led to criminal convictions and civil proceedings against staff.

The Communication Workers’ Union called for Paula Vennells (the CEO of the Post Office at the time of the scandal) appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire to be rescinded.

On 26 February 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to hold an independent inquiry. Kevan Jones MP criticized Paula Vennells for her role in the scandal.

The minister for small business, consumers and labour markets announced the scope of the Independent Review into the Post Office Horizon IT System and Trials. The review will not look at the Post Office’s prosecution function, the Horizon group damages settlement or the conduct of current or future litigation.

The government launched a non-statutory inquiry into the Post Office IT system, led by Sir Wyn Williams. The Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance refused to take part.

Solicitors for SPMs asked the government to convene a judge-led inquiry into the Post Office’s prosecution of innocent people in pursuit of profits. They said the Post Office engaged in legal gymnastics to persuade the court away from finding a clear systematic abuse of process.

Below is the recent BBC Panorama investigation into the Post Office scandal, and many of the sub-postmasters are interviewed about their experience of the major cover-up by the Post office; and on their false convictions, and the failure of the Horizon computer system.

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