back to article Post Office coughs £57.75m to settle wonky Horizon IT system case

The UK's Post Office has finally agreed to settle a long-running case brought by postmasters the company accused of theft based on evidence from the Horizon IT system. Claimants (and their lawyers, of course) will split £57.75m in order to settle Bates and others v the Post Office. The biz said in a statement: "The Post …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another criminal fail for people who have to work for a living

    One would almost think that justice in the UK was weighed by bank balance, and only by being affluent would the legal system listen to your side

    On the IT issue, if a system is written so as to cause the prosecution and defaming of the innocent where even after a sufficent number raise reasonable doubts to the systems validity no investigation occurs until after a private case is brought and then only enough for the lawyers to get their cut.

    One might think that it would be time for an investigation into the competence of all those who failed to listen to the facts and insisted upon continuing to blindly accept a system that had already been questioned.

    Computers may not lie but they only do what they are told, someone told this system to prosecute the innocent.

    1. TopCat72

      Re: Another criminal fail for people who have to work for a living

      Not sure it was the computer system who made the decision to prosecute.

      That would have been the CPS based on information provided by the Post Office and the police. It was humans who made the decision to prosecute not the IT system.

      1. Aitor 1

        Re: Another criminal fail for people who have to work for a living

        Prosecute all those that send false statements to the courts, lock them up and throw away the key.,

        Plus 57 million is peanuts for the damages caused.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Another criminal fail for people who have to work for a living

          False statements? You'll probably find that it was settled without any admission of wrong doing and there were no false statements. No, we wouldn't do anything like that.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Another criminal fail for people who have to work for a living

        @TopCat72 “That would have been the CPS based on information provided by the Post Office and the police”

        That would be false information provided by the Post Office, who swore blind for ages that the branch records in the sub-post-offices could not be remotely altered.

        “Second Sight had found what appeared to them to be a Minute of a joint Post Office/Fujitsu meeting probably held in August 2010 entitled ‘Receipts/Payments Mismatch issue notes’, regarding a known error in Horizon that had affected the accounts of several branches, and how they would ‘fix’ these accounts”

        https://journals.sas.ac.uk/index.php/deeslr/article/view/2303/2256

      3. JohnG Silver badge

        Re: Another criminal fail for people who have to work for a living

        "Not sure it was the computer system who made the decision to prosecute.

        That would have been the CPS based on information provided by the Post Office and the police."

        The Post Office have brought all these prosecutions themselves, without involving the CPS at any point. They inform the police that fraud has been committed and seize the post office concerned. They hold all the evidence, as their terms dictate that sub postmasters may not not secondary accounting systems. When they commissioned independent auditors to assess Horizon, they then tried to quash the report when they found out that it listed numerous failings. The whole thing is a complete travesty. The settlement is not nearly enough. At least one sub-postmaster committed suicide over the false accusations and seizure of his business.

  2. goodjudge

    And the former Chief Exec, Paula Vennells, who was named and shamed during the first trial, gets away with it - and has long-since moved onto another well-renumerated position. One rule for them etc.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Pray tell us what position she now has so I can avoid it like the plague.

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        She took over chair of Imperial College Healthcare Trust, apparently.

        1. Tessier-Ashpool

          Part time salary of £60K pa. Nice work if you can get it,

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Nice work if you can actually do it.

  3. John Mangan

    I want to know . .

    why no-one is going to prison for this.

    They've ruined people's lives and reputations and now they're barely compensating them for that if the article is to be believed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I want to know . .

      @John Mangan “why no-one is going to prison for this. They've ruined people's lives and reputations and now they're barely compensating them for that if the article is to be believed.”

      My thoughts precisely, I guess only the little people go to jail.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I want to know . .

      Why? Because sod off, peon, that's why.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I want to know . .

        5 more years of "sod off peon" to look forward to now :) Not that Labour did anything about horizon when they were in.

        1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

          Re: I want to know . .

          Better than five years of antisemitism.

          1. sabroni Silver badge

            Re: Better than five years of antisemitism.

            In what way is five years of a blatant islamaphobe better than five years of someone who leads a party which has a problem with antisemitism? JC hasn't actually been accused of Antisemitism. Bojo wears his islamaphobia as a badge of honour.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I want to know . .

            Using a very special meaning of antisemitism: "The belief that Palestinians are fully human".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I want to know . .

      People did go to prison for this....the post masters wrongly convicted of fraud. (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/12/11/post-office-ordered-pay-subpostmasters-58m-compensation-false/)

      Ohhhh...you mean the actual guilty parties? Everything's ok, the Post Office paid millions, nothing to see here, look an election, please move on....

  4. adam payne Silver badge

    "The Post Office would like to express its gratitude to claimants, and particularly those who attended the mediation in person to share their experiences with us, for holding us to account in circumstances where, in the past, we have fallen short and we apologise to those affected."

    You accused innocent people of theft, threatened these people with prosecution and in same cases had people prosecuted and all because your IT system didn't work correctly. Fallen short is an understatement and down right disgusting. I mean seriously you destroyed people lives over this.

    It said the new chief executive was committed to learning lessons and that the company would be "undertaking an ambitious and sustained programme of changes to the Post Office's relationship with postmasters".

    You've burnt those bridges and I don't think you are going to be able to repair quite a lot of them.

    Every prosecution in regards to this complete fiasco needs to be reviewed immediately.

    All the money they wrongly took from people with the threat of prosecution etc should been given back with interest.

    If at all possible criminal charges brought against the ex CEO and his management team.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Shouldn't we also ask questions about a criminal justice system which accepted this evidence? Doesn't this case show that this type of evidence should now always be considered questionable in future trials?

      In other words any evidence from computer systems should always be considered suspect unless it can be proven to be correct.

  5. dave 81

    Not good enough.

    All affected need full compensation for all losses as a result plus interest.

    1. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

      Re: Not good enough.

      Too right. Also, the people right at the top need to be standing in the dock facing criminal action.

      1. Dave Pickles

        Re: Not good enough.

        Those PO staff and others who testified in Court that money was missing have presumably committed perjury.

      2. Mike Shepherd
        Meh

        Re: Not good enough.

        In its considered judgment, the court made it clear that Angela van den Bogerd did not give me frank evidence, and sought to obfuscate matters, and mislead me. This is a hair away from saying that Bogerd (a senior member of the Post Office board) committed perjury (for which Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, in separate cases, received significant prision sentences).

        Expect that the government (the Post Office's sole shareholder) will do nothing to eject this or any other disgraced member of the Post Office board, showing that this is exactly the type they want in charge.

        Vennels (a priest of the Church of England) moved on to be chair of an NHS trust but was in control at the Post Office when this was brewing and she tried to keep the lid on it.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Not good enough.

          It would be very unwise of a judge in one case to make a straight accusation of what could be another case. It would be up to the CPS to make such a decision. The question is will they decide to try and keep a lid on it and hope it all goes away or will they prosecute some of their witnesses to show their own hands were clean?

  6. adrianww
    Mushroom

    Rude words go here.

    When I first heard that the PO was finally having to fess up to this ludicrous shambles and make some kind of recompense, I was rather pleased.

    Now that I know more details, I think the whole thing is a travesty and the management and other people behind this shameful episode should be strung up and quartered.

    Disgraceful from start to finish.

  7. The Dogs Meevonks

    This is 'only' compensation for the fiasco, it is NOT and SHOULD not be allowed to cover the money that was ILLEGALLY stolen from these people, and it MUST not be allowed as an excuse to stop those people WRONGFULLY prosecuted from taking further action to recover the STOLEN money and ALL of their expenses in righting this egregious abuse of power.

    1. gnarlymarley

      it is NOT and SHOULD not be allowed to cover the money that was ILLEGALLY stolen from these people

      Correct. There should be an automatic reimbursement of the actual dollars stolen from them which should be a completely separate amount from this settlement.

  8. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    Plea bargaining

    The BBC story includes a woman who pled guilty to false accounting to avoid a charge of theft.

    Plea bargaining is dangerous for exactly this reason. I thought it was am American thing we didn’t do here?

    1. JohnG Silver badge

      Re: Plea bargaining

      This happened in a few cases, because those sub-postmasters who maintained that they were innocent were sentenced to longer terms in prison and lost their businesses, savings and homes.

    2. Armus Squelprom

      Re: Plea bargaining

      It isn't explicitly called "plea bargaining", but this sort of thing happens often in UK and not necessarily wrongly. If the defendant knows that the evidence will convict them*, they may negotiate a lesser charge in return for guilty plea, or offer a lesser plea in the court proceedings. Eg Smith denied murder but offered a guilty plea to manslaughter or Jones denied causing death by dangerous driving but offered a guilty plea to driving without due care and attention.

      (* what distinguishes the Horizon cases is that the defendants and courts were not aware of how unreliable and weak the evidence was. This recent judgement suggests that the Post Office were also substantially unaware, and were blindly relying on Fujitsu's assurances that the computerised records were "robust".)

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Strongly reminds me of Aberfan and the Coal Board

    Same mindset.

    Same 'entitled ones' getting away with not even a slap on the wrist.

    Same devastating outcome for the innocent victims.

    ... and it continues.

  10. Ted Glenn

    The supplier..

    Be interesting to see if there is any flow down to Fujitsu who wrote the code in the first place. They used to use Horizon as a singular cred ( they only had one..) in the application development space so I guess that goes out the window now..

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: The supplier..

      Be interesting to see if there is any flow down to Fujitsu who wrote the code in the first place.

      Unfortunately if that were to happen successfully, it would be the Post Office that would "benefit" rather than those who really suffered. However, I strongly expect that someone in Fujitsu has a piece of paper signed by someone at the Post Office saying that the PO accepted the system and that it was performing to specification.

      This debacle seems to be based on the assumption that the computer system just couldn't be faulty. How the hell could anyone accused mount a proper defence when Advance Disclosure probably included the statement that the computer couldn't lie; I very much doubt if any defence legal team had access to enough detail about the IT system to be able to analyse it in detail, even assuming that they had the means to do so.

      We just have to hope that in the fullness of time justice is not only done but is seen to be done, but it might be a long wait.

    2. gnarlymarley

      Re: The supplier..

      Be interesting to see if there is any flow down to Fujitsu who wrote the code in the first place.

      If there is any flow down it should not be more than a third of the total settlement. If I were involved in this case I would lean on the blame being three groups: The post office people that had verified the wrong and filed the legal paperwork (this could actually split into two groups), the post office people that accepted the "broken" system, and then finally Fujitsu.

      If the people at the Post Office who checked the "fraud" and passed the "fraud" to the police for prosecution were different groups, then Fujitsu blame should go based on the number of groups involved.

      In my careers, we always due our due diligence to make sure that we do not cause any further legal ramifications.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. mj.jam

    What was the ping fix?

    Seems to be the smoking gun in this case, but does anybody know what it was?

    1. TJ1
      WTF?

      Re: What was the ping fix?

      This transcript of the trial [0] seems to show the Ping Fix was a correction to the Horizon system involving reconciling of Camelot/Lottery transactions which originally were not handled by Horizon - the Ping Fix is apparently the addition of functionality to Horizon that relies on data provided by Camelot but still didn't get it right:

      "PG so lottery and paystation weren’t part of the original Horizon design and that introduced the pre-PING issue of mistakes between terminals and post-PING it introduced the issue of dodgy TAs and integrity of the datastream?

      AB yes"

      From that transcript it seems like originally the Camelot/Lottery transactions were reconciled almost manually at PO HQ and in doing so introduced lots of errors, and after the Ping Fix were/should have had Transaction Corrections (TCs) but those often did not receive Transaction Acknowledgements (TAs) or TCs and TAs were applied in error - the meaning of the acronyms is not spelt out there so I may have those wrong..

      Sounds to me like the whole mess was due to transactions from branch A being mixed up with some other branch due to the poor system integration and reconciliation of transactions.

      "AB confirms the situation of really important transaction data (as wrt to this last example) not appearing on Credence and ARQ logs (relied on in court by the Post Office to prosecute Subpostmasters) has not yet been corrected"

      Overflow or signed integer ID field error anyone?

      [0] https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1107591068974047235.html

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better buy some stamps quick.

    Because you KNOW that the Post Office won't actually pay the fine...they'll recoup the money from their customers.

  13. Rhuadh

    I've been talking to an ex-postmaster about this for sometime (I also read Private Eye who have also been following the case, he doesn't) and over the period, some things occurred to me which have been confirmed in reports on the BBC news pages.

    That the daily audit figures were altered at night or when the post office was closed for weekends or bank holidays, normally to the negative, means to me that someone had found a flaw in the computer program and was stealing the money. The number of 550 post-masters who are involved in this case, the total sums of money claimed by the PO as missing leading to criminal court action and for too many, prison, is just the tip of the ice berg. Many other Post Masters will have paid in money to cover their losses and avoid a criminal record, while quite a few will have died since this has gone on so long. The person/s involved must have been overjoyed that the clot at the top was so insistent on computers not being able to lie enabling them to keep on stealing.

  14. Citizen99

    The fact that there were so many cases of the discrepancy should have made it obvious to anyone with half a brain that it was a system failure in the common factor, namely the software. But then we are talking about the sort of 'public services' drones who move from one well-remunerated catastrophe to another,

    1. Laura Kerr

      Obvious to anyone with half a brain

      There's the flaw in your argument right there.

  15. j.bourne
    WTF?

    Forgive my naievity - But how can an accounting system not be fully auditable in the case of a dispute over the outputs? I find myself incredulous that the accounting trail couldn't be (or at least wasn't) fully documented and audited manually by independant auditors.

    1. Armus Squelprom

      It *was* fully auditable, right down to keystroke logging. But Fujitsu's contract allowed them to charge Post Office a steep rate for access, so the PO relied upon the less detailed management reporting system which they had routine access to. See part K of judgement, where this is is strongly addressed.

      Having followed this story for several years and read all the judgements, what's really clear at this point is that Post Office's behaviour towards subs was based upon false confidence in Fujitsu's competence. PO were certainly complacent and naive in this, and arrogant in their assertions that "the computer cannot lie", but Fujitsu now emerging as equally guilty in giving false assurances to PO.

  16. LakV

    PO

    So my dad was declared bankrupt and my uncle was sent to prison because of the Horizon It system which has made their lives a living hell. Does anyone know who i can contact to pursue this further? Thanks

    1. Armus Squelprom

      Re: PO

      Nick Wallis at https://www.postofficetrial.com/ would be a good place to start

  17. VicMortimer

    Wow. As badly as the USPS treats employees these days, you guys in the UK took it to some next level sh*t here.

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