Technology

Did authorities allow Post Office to sack forensic accountants to disguise up Horizon scandal?

Whatever the Post Office told authorities about its resolution to sack investigators examining subpostmaster prosecutions for theft might well well name if the authorities modified into a part of a disguise-up

Karl Flinders

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Published: 08 Jun 2021 12: 11

A attorney has wondered the authorities’s role in attempts to disguise up the Post Office scandal, which noticed subpostmasters’ lives destroyed after they beget been wrongly blamed and punished for branch account shortfalls.

Barrister Paul Marshall of Cornerstone Barristers, who represented subpostmasters appealing wrongful felony convictions, said what the Post Office told the authorities about its resolution to sack investigators examining subpostmaster prosecutions will shed gentle on its role in delaying justice.

The Post Office scandal noticed a total bunch of subpostmasters prosecuted for financial crimes due to unexplained accounting shortfalls introduced about by errors in the Horizon retail and accounting computer system extinct in branches. A total of 736 subpostmasters beget been convicted of financial crimes comparable to theft over a 15-365 days interval following the introduction of the Horizon system in 2000. Some beget been despatched to penitentiary or served non-custodial sentences, whereas others that beget been no longer prosecuted had to produce up money shortfalls, main to financial extinguish for many. It’s described as the most spicy miscarriage of justice in UK as much as the moment historical previous and it ruined the lives of a total bunch of households.

A multimillion-pound Excessive Court Community litigation, introduced by 555 gentle subpostmasters against the Post Office, discovered in December 2019 that the subpostmasters beget been correct of their claims that the computer system contained errors that might well well motive the losses they beget been blamed for.

Since December 2020, 47 gentle subpostmasters beget had their felony prosecutions, that beget been in response to proof from the Horizon system, overturned and a total bunch extra are expected to appeal.

But the truth might well well beget been reached grand earlier. In 2012, as a part of an external evaluation introduced about by rigidity from MPs, forensic accountancy firm Second Look modified into employed by the Post Office to seek into allegations that errors in the Horizon system beget been inflicting unexplained shortfalls.

Fact might well well beget attain to gentle sooner

Over a three-365 days interval, Second Look investigated about 140 particular individual conditions of subpostmasters who had suffered unexplained losses. It examined hundreds of paperwork and created a structured, evidential database of larger than 34,000 particular individual paperwork. It identified 19 thematic disorders that beget been neatly-liked ingredients to many of the conditions and shocking-referenced each case to others with an analogous characteristics.

Second Look said the Post Office had no longer neatly investigated the causes of the shortfalls and had dominated out Horizon errors from the initiate. It also said there modified into insufficient proof to prosecute for theft. 

But in 2015, a month after it started elevating considerations and requesting salvage entry to to fleshy subpostmaster prosecution files, the Post Office terminated its contract.Second Look modified into requested to total final conditions for the length of its month prolonged gape interval and applied seperate work till July 2015.

In 2015, a month after Second Look started elevating considerations and requesting salvage entry to to fleshy subpostmaster prosecution files, the Post Office terminated its contract

Even if the Post Office had stopped prosecuting subpostmasters by 2015, had Second Look been given what it wanted, it can well beget got to the truth earlier.  This would beget saved hundreds and hundreds of pounds in authorized costs to taxpayers and gentle subpostmasters, who would beget been vindicated years earlier.

In a webinar discussing the authorized ramifications of the Horizon scandal, Cornerstone Barristers’ Marshall raised the anticipate of what the authorities knew of the Post Office’s resolution to sack Second Look.

The Post Office is wholly owned by the authorities. It falls for the length of the Department for Industry, Energy and Industrial Technique (BEIS) and a member of the authorities sits on the Post Office board.

Marshall, who alongside Vegetation Website, a barrister at 23 Essex Avenue, represented three subpostmasters in efficiently appealing felony convictions on the Court of appeal, said from the moment Second Look’s contract modified into terminated till the Excessive Court judgment in 2019, the Post Office “adopted a policy of denial, concealment and obfuscation”.

Evidence has since emerged that the Post Office knew of Horizon disorders all along but silent prosecuted subpostmasters for theft and false accounting, in response to Horizon proof. It claimed money from hundreds of subpostmasters who suffered shortfalls.

Within the webinar, Marshall said: “Is it plausible that the Post Office sacked Second Look in March 2015 with out briefing the authorities, which owns it and might well well pay its funds, on the clarification for doing so? I feel it is unconceivable that it did no longer comprise so.

“Assuming the Post Office did transient the authorities on its reasons for sacking Second Look, the Post Office either gave a honest account … or it gave an incomplete and deceptive clarification. If the Post Office gave a honest clarification, that might well well arguably produce the authorities complicit in the disguise-up of monumental, unheard of and neatly-liked injustice”
Paul Marshall, Cornerstone Barristers

“Assuming the Post Office did transient the authorities on its reasons, the Post Office either gave a honest account of the reasons for sacking Second Look and withdrawing from the mediation, or it gave an incomplete and deceptive clarification. If the Post Office gave a honest clarification, that might well well arguably produce the authorities complicit in the disguise-up of monumental, unheard of and neatly-liked injustice. On the replacement hand, if the Post Office gave a deceptive clarification to authorities why has there no longer been the slightest recommendation of this from the authorities.”

“I am of the behold there practically indubitably modified into a disguise-up. Who modified into concerned remains to be seen.”

Second Look modified into getting discontinuance to the truth in 2015 and had requested further proof, in conjunction with the total prosecution files for subpostmasters taken to court docket by the Post Office.

Ian Henderson, co-founder of Second Look, said: “At the anticipate of the Parliamentary Consume out Committee, I supplied further proof justifying our need for salvage entry to to the fleshy prosecution files.”

In February 2015, Henderson wrote to MPs along with his reasons for the anticipate. He outlined that the prosecution knew there modified into insufficient proof to toughen a impress of theft, but proceeded with it, nonetheless; the supply by the prosecution to take the associated rate of theft modified into extinct to position rigidity on the defendant to plead responsible to the false accounting charges and to produce authorized the alleged losses; the menace of proceeding with a impress of theft modified into essentially to help in the restoration of losses, and no longer in the interest of justice; and the prosecution insisted that, as a part of the agreement to descend the associated rate of theft, no mention of alleged considerations with the Horizon computer system would be made.

“The fresh facts that beget attain to gentle due to examining a single total authorized file beget identified a quantity of disorders that observe seemingly misconduct by a prosecutor on behalf of Post Office and a seemingly miscarriage of justice,” said Henderson.

Second Look modified into sacked a month later, with the Post Office citing that the mediation blueprint had bustle its route.

Conservative be aware, James Arbuthnot, said he is in diminutive doubt that Second Look beget been getting too discontinuance for consolation to the truth of what modified into going on in the Post Office.  “That – and the refusal to supply them salvage entry to to the paperwork and facts they wanted, in breach of the Post Office’s agreements with them and with MPs – beget been clearly all a part of the drag towards masking your entire scandal up and hoping the subpostmasters would leave.  It spectacularly failed, clearly, but at monumental human impress.”

A Post Office spokesperson said: “Post Office publicly announced in March 2015 that it modified into declaring all final [subpostmaster] conditions in the blueprint ahead for mediation, with the exception of these that beget been the sphere of outdated Court rulings.  The blueprint’s working community inform as much as assess whether or no longer conditions ought to silent switch ahead to mediation modified into therefore closed. Second Look’s engagement with Post Office persisted to permit them to finalise final case critiques that beget been ongoing at that stage.

“Concerns had been expressed by Post Office and by candidates that the Procedure modified into taking longer than these concerned would beget cherished. These delays beget been acknowledged by Sir Anthony Hooper in a letter to the then Minister for Employment, Particular person Affairs and Equalities, Jo Swinson MP, in December 2014.”

At the time when the Second Look contract modified into terminated, Angela van den Bogerd, Post Office head of partnerships, said: “This has been an exhaustive and informative route of which has confirmed that there are no longer any system-wide considerations with our computer system and connected processes. We are in a position to now seek to solve the closing excellent conditions as like a flash as seemingly.”

In 2009, a Computer Weekly investigation published the experiences of seven subpostmasters tormented by the losses which resulted in many extra who had suffered losses coming ahead (gape timeline beneath for Computer Weekly protection of the scandal).

BEIS, the authorities department accountable for the Post Office, had no longer supplied comment on the time of publishing.

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