back to article Former Post Office boss returns CBE to sender over computer system scandal

Former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells, at the center of a media storm in recent days, is returning her CBE* following multiple calls for her to be stripped of the title. Ministers, politicians, and media pundits were quick to jump on the Post Office Horizon scandal – one of the UK's most significant miscarriages of justice – …

  1. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    Devil

    Epic fail on the part of those "honours committees".

    1. ChoHag Silver badge

      They should have known not to honour somebody who was going to get caught.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "They should have known not to honour somebody who was going to get caught."

        The Tories thought they, Vennells and Fujitsu had indeed got away with it. Vennells was awarded the CBE in 2019, a decade after Computer Weekly broke the story of the failings of Horizon. The Tories banked all the donations from Fujitsu (or supposedly from their employees personal pockets), and they were all very pleased with themselves.

        I hope Vennells life today is a living hell, like her organisation made the lives of people falsely blamed by her organisation. So hopefully she's stressed, anxious, in fear of personal prosecution, vilified by the people she encounters. I also hope that the many other people who are accountable are under similar pressure. And I hope that Fujitsu's UK business is shut down, but fat chance of that - keep donating to the Tories and the contracts keep rolling in - 150 new contracts since the PO stopped its Horizon prosecutions, and over £100m a year from the public purse.

        I would consider myself a natural Conservative voter, but haven't voted for them for two decades now - a hollow, unstable party without vision or intelligence, that considers government it's right, and considers the purpose of government to be one of perpetuation and self enrichment. The sooner this shower of shit are out of office the better.

        1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

          Can we not turn this into a party political argument, please? It's not 'the Tories', it's 'the establishment'.

          Lib Dem leader Ed Davies, sorry, SIR Ed Davies, was post office minister for part of the period that this happened, but apparently he was misled by his civil servants, so he can't be held accountable, even though, as minister, he was paid to be accountable. I don't see him offering to hand back his knighthood or ministerial salary.

          Much has been made of how it was the Post Office that carried out these prosecutions, but not entirely - some were carried out by the CPS, under the direction of man-of-the-people Kier Starmer, sorry, SIR Keir Starmer (with his very only piece of statue legislation named after him [https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/2588/contents/made]) - I've not seen Sir Kier offering to hand back his K. or his Director of CPS salary.

          With the publicity from the TV show, and the petition to revoke the CBE hitting 1.2 million, it was clear to the powers-that-be that the little people (that's us, in case you had any doubts) were angry, and a scapegoat was needed.

          So Vennells 'voluntarily' returned her CBE.

          The guilty people here are spread throughout government, with no regard for party politics.

          1. Andy 73 Silver badge

            True, that

            Agreed.

            It is worth castigating the Tories for the delays in resolving the case and supporting the victims - however, it does appear that one of the reasons this disaster has taken so long to be fully exposed is that so much of the establishment have been involved. The Chairman, Alice Perkins is married to Jack Straw. Three Lib Dem leaders have acted as ministers responsible for the Post Office. ICL.. sorry Fujitsu acts as a supplier for a range of government projects. There's a long list.

            Not only does this threaten a wide range of lucrative careers, it also looks to change how people are held responsible for failed public projects.

            Note also, that though Vennells returned her CBE, she is still a CBE - the trinket itself is not the award, which can only actually be 'removed' by the King - which has only ever happened in a handful of cases.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: True, that

              And, of course, a director of Fujitsu from 2010 to 2018 was Michael Keegan - husband of current Minister for Education, Gillian Keegan.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Can we not turn this into a party political argument, please? It's not 'the Tories', it's 'the establishment'."

            The Horizon system was initiated by the Conservative government of John Major, and funded by their pet PFI arrangements, and since the scandal first broke in 2009 we've had one year of a useless dying Labour government, and fourteen years of Conservative led government. I'm not persuaded that this is "the Establishment" simply because some Liberal Democrat bell-end was briefly a minister for two and a half of those fourteen years.

            1. Andy 73 Silver badge

              This is deeply disingenuous - Horizon struggled from day one, but the government of the time negotiated that it would still be delivered (in a broken form) to "save face" - that government being Labour. The majority of the claims of fraud, and the reports of errors from users occurred immediately after the roll out and during the eleven years of Labour government. To be clear, the subsequent investigations have lain at the feet of the Con/Lib coalition and subsequent Conservative governments, but Horizon failed on Labour's watch.

              Suggesting all of those problems were the fault of the person who committed to modernising the system in the first place is.. clearly political.

          3. Roj Blake Silver badge

            If you're going to have a go at Sir Ed Davey, please take the effort to at least get his name right.

            And I'm pretty certain that Starmer didn't personally authorise every prosecution carried out by the CPS when he was in charge.

            1. jollyboyspecial

              "And I'm pretty certain that Starmer didn't personally authorise every prosecution carried out by the CPS when he was in charge."

              Well since the vast majority of prosecutions were brought by the post office and not by the CPS it's pretty obvious that Starmer would not have known about them, let alone have authorised them. The CPS isn't the only prosecuting authority in the country and yes it is a ridiculous situation where an employer can prosecute it's own employees without involvement of any other authority. Hopefully this case will bring an end to that.

              Available figures show that ten prosecutions of sub-postmasters were handled by the CPS during Starmer's tenure. Three of those resulted in convictions. It is unlikely that Starmer would have been informed of these cases let alone have been involved. One thing that isn't public knowledge at this time is whether any of these ten prosecutions were in any way related to the Horizon scandal. My immediate thought is that they probably were not. We know that the PO were trying to keep the whole thing under wraps, as such it seems very unlikely that they would pass any such prosecutions to the CPS and this allow external scrutiny.

              I'm still hoping for some prosecutions for perverting the course of justice or something similar for some senior staff at both the Post Office and Fujitsu. Both bodies continued with prosecutions long after it must have been clear to them that the software was likely at fault.

          4. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

            The CPS itself is a pretty dysfunctional organisation (mostly due to funding starvation), but even if it were functioning well, the DPP is not, and never has been, the one that makes charging decisions. In any organisation, those at the top do not hold responsibility for criminal wrongdoing for those further down. If one of an organisation's cleaners nicks a laptop, the CEO isn't responsible. Unless, of course, they were aware of it, and condoned it.

            With the Post Office, it's a historical glitch that they can even bring prosecutions on behalf of the Crown. Unlike the CPS, whose sole function is to bring prosecutions for the Crown, this function would (or should) have been an exception for them, and there should therefore be a higher level of culpability for those in charge.

            Having said that, I'm not sure Paula Venables is necessarily the one to blame, beyond what appears to be a level of incompetence. There were those below here who were conducting "investigations" and bringing these prosecutions based on scant evidence (and arguably much less than the charging thresholds the CPS applies). Somebody somewhere had made the decision that the computer system was infallible and therefore drawn the conclusion that these sub-postmasters musty all be embezzling cash, despite the lack of any direct evidence of this. An accountant somewhere must have known that those sums of money were appearing out of thin air, as there would have been no balancing ledger entries to account for them, and the investigators must have known that they were seeing a lot of similar cases where there was no evidence of any wrongdoing except a discrepancy in the computer system. There must have been a culture of "looking the other way" whenever anyone questioned any of this, and that almost certainly meant that there were people higher up who knew they were covering up wrongdoing. Hopefully the enquiry will uncover some facts here, and we will know who was genuinely responsible - and we might find it was Paula Venables herself. My money is on it being whoever was responsible for overseeing the prosecutions, in combination of whoever was responsible for overseeing Horizon from an IT perspective, possibly with some political involvement in the form of donations, and probably a cover-up extending to the IT operations of Fujitsu as well.

            Of course, until (and unless) we do actually see evidence of what went on, this is speculation. What we can be almost certainly assured of is that a lot of that evidence was destroyed as soon as those responsible got a whiff that anyone knew of their wrongdoing.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Paula Vennells

              (Not Venables)

              1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

                My bad. El Reg's peculiar 10-minute window for editing posts prevents me from correcting it, but s/Venables/Vennals/g.

                This just goes to show two things: genuine mistakes do happen, and you should correct them when you find them.

                1. adam 40 Silver badge

                  That was a bit of an own goal.

                  1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

                    Only if I insist that her name actually is Venables, and that the poster who corrected me definitely wrong, and their error means they owe me £20k.

                    Instead of, you know, 'fessing up and correcting the record.

                    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                      "Only if I insist that her name actually is Venables, and that the poster who corrected me definitely wrong, and their error means they owe me £20k."

                      Even I, a devout NOT follower of football, saw the footie reference to "own goal" and "Terry Venables" :-)

              2. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

                No not yet, ' Venal(s)'

            2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

              An accountant somewhere must have known that those sums of money were appearing out of thin air, as there would have been no balancing ledger entries to account for them

              Well, that's the big question now, isn't? Was the disappearing money a fantasy or is it now sitting in the offshore bank account of someone with "Fujitsu" or "Post Office" in their LinkedIn profile? It seems at least worth investigating whether the assiduity with which the PO pursued their innocent victims was driven in part by personal gain.

              1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

                there wasnt any money!

                if you sell two things for £5 and the computer adds that up and says you have to bank £15 . It doesent means an extra five pounds had been created

                1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

                  But if you then say "you've stolen £5," demand that £5 back, and pay it into your bank account, you do have £5 more. This was exactly the result of the Post Office prosecutions - the victims had to "pay back" the money they had supposedly stolen, which means a ledger somewhere must have shown it was missing, which in turn means a balancing entry somewhere must show where it supposedly came from. If this was not the case, then the Post Office ledgers would not have balanced, which I am assuming was not the case, unless they are not held to the same accounting principles that every other organisation is, in which case, why not?

                  1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

                    Or if you sell things for £5 and the system says "We only received £5" because the other five quid has been credited somewhere other than your branch ...

                    1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

                      But in that case, how would you balance the £5 in that other ledger, without the balancing entry for the goods those £5 were for. Did it get put against some sort of "service provision"? It sounds an awful lot like false accounting to me.

                      Of course, IANAL, and I am not an accountant either, thank $deity.

                  2. Diogenes8080

                    I don't know if there were also many smaller debts that were paid, but in the headline cases many of the victims were unable to pay and were bankrupted by the accusations. The PO would have still claimed those imaginary losses in their accounts, so the HMRC has been defrauded too.

                2. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                follow the money

                Re: It seems at least worth investigating whether the assiduity with which the PO pursued their innocent victims was driven in part by personal gain

                See e.g.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Post_Office_scandal and its cited sources - well worth a read.

                "In 2012, as a result of pressure from campaigners and Members of Parliament, the Post Office appointed forensic accountants Second Sight to conduct an investigation into Horizon. The investigators concluded that Horizon contained faults that could result in accounting discrepancies, but the Post Office insisted that there were no system-wide problems with the software."

                and similar references in the same article.

                See also e.g.Nick Wallis's website

                https://www.postofficescandal.uk/about/

                "Hello, my name is Nick Wallis. I am a freelance journalist. This website is designed to be a hub for my activity reporting the Post Office Horizon Scandal. Most of the work I have done on this story is crowdfunded. The crowdfunding pays for the journalism on this website. Occasionally I get lucky and someone pays me to do a bit of broadcast or newspaper journalism, which I am always grateful for.

                I have presented, produced and consulted on three BBC Panoramas about the Post Office scandal. I have written about it for Private Eye (with the genius that is Richard Brooks) and presented a BBC Radio 4 series on the subject called The Great Post Office Trial (produced by the genius that is Bob Nicholson). I have also written a book called The Great Post Office Scandal, which you can buy here or from Amazon, here. Most recently, I was series consultant on the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

                ====

                there's plenty more out there along similar lines.

            3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              The most shocking part of this is Fujitsu knowing from day one these errors were happening and trying to correct them manually in the middle of the night.

              .... unless that part was made up for the TV show as some kind of metaphor for "coding bug" for the masses

              I was screaming at the tv for all 4 episodes - why does nobody want to replicate the fault?

              and then maybe fix it ?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Nope - Private Eye have reported over the years that Fujitsu were manipulating "errors" in the system remotely.

            4. Dan 55 Silver badge
              Flame

              An accountant somewhere must have known that those sums of money were appearing out of thin air, as there would have been no balancing ledger entries to account for them

              As far back as 2013 it was publicly known that their own accounts were also a mess so they could not compare entries in their own accounts with entries created by the software on Horizon PCs installed in post offices. They maintained whatever shortfall the Horizon PC software made up was the amount which had to be paid, put the money in a general account, congratulated themselves, and went on to bully the next subpostmaster.

              Podcast: Where Did All The Money Go?

              It is important to remember the Post Office had no real control over its internal accounting systems for the duration of its Horizon-related prosecution spree (cf the 2013 Detica report) and so it didn’t know where money was going, nor could it properly account for where it came from. Suggesting that double-entry accounting would have revealed an obvious positive entry corresponding to an obvious negative entry assumes the Post Office systems worked and the people operating them knew what they were doing. They didn’t, and even if they did, they were not going to give any visibility of them to Subpostmasters or their legal representatives.

            5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

              Quite So, EM .... The Justice System's Presumption of Innocence is a Myth/Just Another Racket

              And the venal rot goes right to the very core of an ambulance-chasing jurisprudence collective/club ...... prone to billing all manner of clients a fortune for their grasping services ‽ .

              Justice delayed and avoided is justice denied and subverted, and stinks to high heaven like a dead skunk in the middle of the road.

              amanfromMars 1 Wed 10 Jan 19:41 [2401101941] ....... asks on https://forums.theregister.com/forum/4/2024/01/08/sunak_promises_faster_justice_for/

              No Place to Run, No Place to Hide .... All Know What You Done and Didn’t Do Too

              There has been very little said and asked of the UK Justice System [judges, barristers, solicitors etc etc] regarding their disgraceful false criminal sentencing and admittedly egregious malicious prosecution on the one side and the totally inept legal defence on the other side of totally innocent and serially wronged parties .

              Are they blameless and expecting to bear no responsibility for one the greatest miscarriages of justice ever, anywhere?

            6. 0laf Silver badge
              Flame

              Paula Vennells may not have been directly running investigations and personally pushing the button on ruining sub-postmasters but she was the CEO and is ultimately responsible for the running of her organisations. Executives are supposed to be legally responsible, maybe if we started holding them to that responsiblity we'd have fewer scandals. Also ending the eternal failing up of those in power would be a good thing too. We have former CEOs coming off disasterous tenures often moving straight into prime jobs often in the public sector only to fail repeatedly then move on again to yet another gold plated post (cough Dido Harding cough).

          5. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Would that be Sir Ed Davey?

            (Not Davies)

          6. CorwinX Bronze badge

            Ed Davey wasn't misled by his civil servants, he was *lied to* by the Post Office. Just like every other government minister who got near this.

            This isn't a party-political issue. It wouldn't have mattered what party was in gov, or who was the Minister.

            They'd have been fed the same lies.

            1. Cruachan

              I make that same point on these pages every time IR35 comes up and someone starts on about it being a "Tory policy" or whatever. These policies are usually the brain child of civil servants and that's how they carry through multiple administrations, regardless of who is in Government at the time.

              Paula Vennells has become the public face of this, probably in no small part because of her honour, but Horizon was in place and fucking up for 10 years before she was in charge.

            2. Flywheel
              Facepalm

              Sir Ed is so dense that I'm sure if Fujitsu told him the earth was flat he'd have believed them.

            3. JT_3K

              Yes, to a point. There's a cracking testimony from someone on the project team linked on El Reg comments yesterday in which someone citing a need for urgent rewriting of the cash accounting module (?) in Horizon because it was fundamentally broken recalls his bosses outright refusing to entertain the idea because of the delay to the critical path. Similarly, within it he recalls Peter Mandelson marching through the ICL offices at volume pushing that Tony Blair wouldn't accept a delay and the system would be made live no matter what, leading that it was pushed through from the top. I concur that the Post Office lied to Ed Davey, but stating that "they were fed lies" as a conclusion makes it a very passive piece in which politicians played no part in the cascading failure.

              I dislike the Conservative party and their inability to get hold on this (amongst their idiotic conduct and the endless slew of unacceptable rubbish we've had during their tenure). I dislike the Lib Dem leadership for failing to provide a coherent 3rd choice to hold the other two accountable, with no cohesive ideas of their own and an inability to stick to their guns at any cost at the one moment they could have. I dislike Labour for many reasons, such as the tremendous amount of waste and cascading damage caused by the payday loan manner in which the economy was run (I had to endure PFI BSF on the front line so don't try to tell me otherwise) and the war-criminal actions of Blair.

              In this instance I'm sick to the back teeth of watching the Conservatives being blamed when every party had a hand in this, and it's usually by a comment that seems to think it'd never have happened under their choice of party: usually Labour. Blair pushed this to be ready by virtue of Mandelson hammering the team to get it out and nobody in ICL had the backbone to refuse, ultimately a culture of oppressing anything other than yes-men. Labour had plenty of time to clock something was wrong and did nothing, most unacceptably despite accounts in 2009 it was wrong and mutterings long, long before. Davey was on watch when someone (admittedly not in CPS control) could and should have noted that something was wrong and taken action, but did nothing. Conservatives were on watch when it was evidently wrong and did nothing until a tele-drama made it notable.

              I spent some time trying to think back through various administrations that didn't do something that tremendously harmed the country long-term and frankly couldn't, making it back to around WW1. I forget what I unearthed to ~1961 but vaguely recall some of the losses immediately post-war in terms of idiotic decisions around defunding research and overspend around some programs. After that, I noted the overblown and short sighted Beeching Report responses, cancellation of TSR2 and Black Arrow and long term impact on the UK as an aviation lead, inability to merge the British Motor industry effectively by making the required unpopular decisions, unwillingness to address the Coal Industry's ongoing decline whilst in-play, the manner in which the Coal Industry was ultimately dealt with and the selling off of Council House Stock, the intro of PFI1 and selling off of national assets such as the trains, etc.

              None of the political options are a viable choice.

          7. adam 40 Silver badge

            And I bet there are quite a few Civil (!) Servants with gongs who advised on this matter, who will not be handing them back.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              And that is actually the biggest problem with the Honours system (senior) civil servants in particular get them as part of their retirement bonus just for being there and, possibly, doing their job for some number of years. In many cases, the big crowning achievement is simply surviving in the role, something many of us do in our lifetimes and get SFA for in comparison.

          8. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Not just Ed.

            Margaret Beckett 1997 to 1998

            Peter Mandelson 1998 to 1998

            Stephen Byers 1998 to 2001

            Patricia Hewitt 2001 to 2005

            Alan Johnson 2005 to 2006

            Alistair Darling 2006 to 2007

            Pat McFadden 2007 to 2009

            John Hutton 2007 to 2008

            Peter Mandelson 2008 to 2009

            Edward Davey 2010 to 2012

            Norman Lamb 2012 to 2012

            Jo Swinson 2012 to 2013

            Jenny Willott 2013 to 2014

            Jo Swinson 2014 to 2015

            Anna Soubry 2015 to 2016

            Margot James 2016 to 2018

            Andrew Griffiths 2018 to 2018

            Kelly Tolhurst 2018 to 2020

            Paul Scully 2020 to 2022

            Jane Hunt 2022 to 2022

            Dean Russell 2022 to 2022

            Kevin Hollinrake 2022

            All have questions to answer.

            1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              Its amazing the upper echelons the level the average job tenure seems to be a year or two.

              Presumably this is to prevent anyone getting good at their job , or being able to implement positive change , and also to limit blame for anything.

          9. howieb2001

            "no regard for party politics" but it's all Keir Starmer's fault lol.

          10. Patrician

            What party has been in government since this story broke?

            1. JT_3K

              That would have been May 2009, so Labour.

          11. t245t Silver badge

            Only some prosecutions were carried out by the CPS ?

            @EvilDrSmith: "Much has been made of how it was the Post Office that carried out these prosecutions, but not entirely - some were carried out by the CPS"

            CPS involved in up to 99 Post Office convictions, leaked letter shows

        2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

          a natural Cconservative voter

          Fixed that for you. Con-servative party is as conservative as Democratic People's Republic of Korea is democratic.

        3. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          Much as I dislike the Tories (for want of using a stronger word than "dislike"), they were not the party in power in 1999, when this whole sorry story began.

          I think maybe one of the outcomes of this affair should be an overhaul of how political donations are made (to any party, not just the one in power), and how contracts are awarded. Now, it has to be said that under the Tories, there have been some particularly egregious examples of badly awarded contracts (*cough* PPE MedPro *cough*), so the system is clearly still not working (at least not working in the public's interest, it clearly is working for some people). This particular scandal is, I think, probably symptomatic of a wider culture of political corruption and back-handers, and one that is systemic, not confined to one political party.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            The procurement process for Horizon began in August 1994 (Wikipedia). The Tories started it, Labour ran with it, the Tories picked up the ball again. The only reason why this has blown up now is ITV were looking for dramas to make and the Tory party needs several lifebelts of which this is one. If ITV hadn't made this drama then I have no doubt that nothing would have happened politically either now or after the next election and it would have remained a series of court cases until the very end where the PM would said it's a terrible thing and have commissioned a parliamentary inquiry about it so it could fizzle out and die a natural death like Grenfell, Windrush, etc...

            And now seems there's going to be a law passed which allows the executive to interfere in the judicial process, so the UK's downfall continues apace.

          2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
            Flame

            overhaul of how political donations are made

            political donations should be outright banned .

            It beggars belief that this sanctioned bribery is allowed to occur.

            1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

              I'm all for political parties being only allowed campaigning grants, and not being organisations that are otherwise allowed to hold assets.

              The problem then, of course, is how do you determine which is a genuine political party, worthy of £10M* for general election campaigning, and which is Fred Bloggs starting the Fred Bloggs Party to pay himself £10M to stand on a soap box and shout?

              One solution might be to ban political campaigning altogether, and to only allow the publication of a manifesto at election time, to be printed and distributed equally for all parties, by a state functionary independent of government. Ideally, that would be a single document with the manifestos of all parties in it, with each individual one printed in a random order, so as not to favour one party over the others. That might be technically a bit difficult to do cheaply, though.

              *Or other agreed amount. Obviously, this should be the same for all parties, to allow equal access to democracy.

              1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

                publication of a manifesto at election time, to be printed and distributed equally for all parties

                Thats exactly what ive always thought

                You could even make it a standard layout with polices on a,b & c all at the same place in the running order .

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  "a standard layout with polices on a,b & c all at the same place in the running order ."

                  Have a look at voteforpolicies.org.uk

                  In particular, at https://voteforpolicies.org.uk/survey/

                  "Vote for policies, not personalities

                  Compare what each party is promising, for the issues that matter to you

                  (Based on 2019 election manifestos)

                  Start by choosing what's important to you..." (continues)

                  Other similar ones doubtless exist(ed).

          3. Patrician

            The donations issue is an easy “fix”; disallow direct donations to political parties and have them “held” by a central body (politically independent) that apportions them out to the political parties at GE time depending on the size of the party.

        4. JimboSmith Silver badge

          To use a word invented by Charlie Brooker on Have I Got News For You,

          She sounds like a total Funt.

          He rather generously described the word as a combination of two words frightful and count.

    2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      The Tories are like a sect, where you are on track for honours and lifelong payouts as long as you don't betray any of the other chancers.

      See Liz Truss, for example.

      Doesn't matter how useless you are for the nation. They are mirroring the old monarchical system.

      This works fine with the serf-like mindset of a majority of the population, learned from generations of cap doffing.

      1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

        For Tories, the biggest moral wrong is not getting *their* share of the spoils

        > The Tories are like a sect, where you are on track for honours and lifelong payouts as long as you don't betray any of the other chancers.

        The epitome of this is Nadine Dorries' fury at being denied a gong in Boris Johnson's resignation honours.

        I'd call her outrage quasi-moral, but I've no doubt that- in her mind- it was genuine. She'd played the you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours game of chumocracy, and quite clearly took it for granted that she was legitimately entitled to expect that bauble.

        That sums up the Tories and people like her- the sense of cronyist entitlement is so normalised and ingrained in them that they feel a genuine injustice has been done when they don't get theirs too.

    3. Just Enough

      a further slap in the face

      The entire honours system has zero credibility, so it really doesn't matter who gets given what. After yet another round of failed PMs handing out top awards to their pals, no-one cares who has what shiny medal or irrelevant letters before or after their name. The fact that some of these people get jobs for life in the Lords is just a further slap in the face to the public.

      The whole setup needs binned and a better way of recognising people who actually deserve recognition replacing it.

  2. may_i

    A scandal of epic proportions

    This was a scandal from the start and the fact that we are only now seeing robust action from politicians after the whole sad affair was dramatised on TV says a lot about their lack of interest in the hundreds of lives ruined by Fujitsu and Royal Mail's incompetence, arrogance and lies.

    Words fail me to express my disgust at how this has been handled.

    1. malfeasance

      Re: A scandal of epic proportions

      What's galling is that Computer Weekly (? I forget the name of the trade paper) & Private Eye both shone a light on the scandal repeatedly and it was brushed under the rug. Also, didn't Panorama also have an investigative show on it.

      This is a punching problem; where the families of all those affected get to punch fujitsu & vennells repeatedly until we have a different type of problem. (Violence is not the answer of course, but money and exoneration isn't going to give any _real closure_ to some of those affected).

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: A scandal of epic proportions

        Many people consider Private Eye as Fortean Times of politics and easily dismiss anything written there as a conspiracy theory.

        Computer Weekly could also be mistaken for some tinfoil blog by majority of people.

        Even if it was reported by mainstream media, most people would have dismissed this as a curiosity, something improbable.

        Especially when no action taken place against the Post Office.

        If it was serious, surely police would have investigated it?

        It really shows how corrupt to the core the country is.

        1. wolfetone Silver badge

          Re: A scandal of epic proportions

          @malfeasance is right. Private Eye has been on about it for years. Computer Weekly too. And I think it was last year Panorama did an hour long documentary on it.

          The significance of the TV drama has nothing to do with it reaching a wider audience. The significance here is that this is an election year. The current party have been battered with bad press and are double digits behind Labour in terms of popularity. What better way to address that by being seen to do something to help poor affected folk like this? If this drama had come out 12 months ago I doubt we'd have had this reaction we've seen.

          But you are also right, it's just yet another demonstration of how corrupt the UK is. Politicians here are using the pain and suffering that they (directly/indirectly) caused for their own benefit.

          1. wayneinuk

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            Absolutely bang on, all about the up & coming election, also a distraction from something else we don't yet know about?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: A scandal of epic proportions

              "a distraction from something else we don't yet know about?"

              Plenty of possibilities, many of which have been covered in Private Eye (by coincidence?).

              Rapid unscheduled disassembly of the Royal Family?

              Collapse of UK energy supply industry, leading to near-total collapse of UK?

              Tinfoil hatters might even point to "the great reset".

              Take your pick.

              There are things to be positive about, but there are also things that need to be sorted out.

              1. Martin Gregorie

                Re: A scandal of epic proportions

                Add one more, equally large scandal: shit in our rivers.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: A scandal of epic proportions

                  See also:

                  Grenfell

                  Infected Blood

                  PPE VIP Lane

                  And at least a dozen other scandals.

          2. jfollows

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            Radio 4 has also had extensive coverage, part of which was repeated last night. For those of us who think TV news is just ‘entertainment’ dressed up with a few facts.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: A scandal of epic proportions

              "BBC Radio 4 has also had extensive coverage"

              It certainly has. I listened to lots of it back in the day.

              See e.g. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/m000jf7j

              The Great Post Office Trial: Radio 4 : The extraordinary story of a decade-long battle with the Post Office, fought by their own sub-postmasters. Some call it the widest miscarriage of justice in UK legal history.

          3. adam 40 Silver badge

            Labour will take the fall

            I predicted this, as Horizon was rolled out mostly under Labour, they will take the flack.

            In an election year, no less.

          4. Michael Strorm Silver badge

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            > The significance here is that this is an election year.

            You've got to love (*) how- in the wake of the TV drama- Sunak at his most oleaginous was filled with a sudden sense of urgency to Do The Right Thing and get those wrongful convictions overturned as quickly as possible.

            Because, you know, two decades after the issues first started coming to light, fifteen years after the first widespread campaigns for those wrongly convicted, almost a decade after Panorama had already made clear to anyone who cared that there were numerous obvious miscarriages of justice and ruined lives that no-one was in a rush to do anything about...

            Well, suddenly it's important that we don't drag out the suffering of those poor people, isn't it?

            (*) No, you don't.

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: A scandal of epic proportions

              Well, suddenly it's important that we don't drag out the suffering of those poor people, isn't it?

              And gives them a perfect opportunity to promulgate a law establishing the precedent of Parliament overturning the independance of the judicary..

              Scum - the lot of them.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A scandal of epic proportions

          "Even if it was reported by mainstream media, most people would have dismissed this as a curiosity, something improbable."

          Probably true, but more people need to open their eyes and wake up. It doesn't even need to cost much, but it may help change the future.

          Hillsborough? Grenfell Tower? Far too many more on that list, which when looked at together should give people an idea of how (in)effective the police have been at investigating these things. Back to Horizon...

          https://www.private-eye.co.uk/special-reports/justice-lost-in-the-post has tthese words as a lead-in:

          "CONCEIVED in 1996 as one of the first private finance initiative (PFI) contracts, between the Post Office and the Benefits Agency on the one hand and computer company ICL on the other, the Horizon IT system had an unpromising start. It had been set up to create a swipe card system for payment of pensions and benefits from Post Office branch counters. But, as with most mega-IT projects of the time, it soon fell victim to over-ambition, management consultancy snake oil and the inability of a PFI contract to deliver a complex public service."

          The full 7 page report is freely downloadable and has been for ages.

          I used to pay for Private Eye but stopped a while back after reading it got too depressing, and its alleged "humour" wasn't anything like funny (I still like watching Hislop occasionally).

          I used to pay for The Guardian for years, when they were still comfortable with Steve Bell's cartoons and before it turned into a ridiculous imitation of its former self.

          I used to read Computer Weekly too, right back to their Chinook FADEC helicopter crash investigation(s).

          Oh well. Keir Starmer and his Specially Selected remains of the Labour Party will fix it all for us soon (now that is what I would call "something improbable" - if Keir Starrner looked likely to change anything significant he'd already have been taken out, in the style of the anti-democratic AnyoneButCorbyn media campaign not too long ago.. That hasn't happened to Starmer (yet).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            >Oh well. Keir Starmer and his Specially Selected remains of the Labour Party will fix it all for us soon (now that is what I would call "something improbable" - if Keir Starrner looked likely to change anything significant he'd already have been taken out, in the style of the anti-democratic AnyoneButCorbyn media campaign not too long ago.. That hasn't happened to Starmer (yet).

            That appeared to have started with the suggestion that defending people accused of crimes facing the death penalty in other countries shouldn't face the death penalty is somehow bad. This is, of course, brought to us by The Sun (who don't support the death penalty) and the Tory party (whose official foreign policy is to oppose the death penalty).

          2. Mike 125

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            >I used to pay for Private Eye but stopped a while back after reading it got too depressing, and its alleged "humour" wasn't anything like funny (I still like watching Hislop occasionally).

            I've just signed up. £24 for a year. Doesn't mean I'll read it- just showing support. It matters.

            Humour- with some things, it's blood from stones- ya just can't squeeze hard enough. But people need to know *somebody* was on the case.

            1. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

              Re: A scandal of epic proportions

              Used to get mine free from a contact who visited Pressdram daily, Oh look its for me in the DX ;-)

              Contact changed employer so the free Eye was no longer.

              Been paying the yearly sub for ooh 15 years now.

              They do need the support people....

        3. Andy 73 Silver badge

          Re: A scandal of epic proportions

          Not sure about the diagnosis of corruption - whilst it's a compelling narrative that everyone involved was corrupt and lining their pockets, the reality is that much of the damage was done by people who were "just doing their jobs", who were either unaware of the injustice being done, unwilling to rock the boat or fearful of the consequences. Those people manning the support lines telling Postmasters "No-one else is experiencing this problem" weren't corrupt, but in a position where one simple phrase destroyed people's lives.

          Don't underestimate how much inertia and incompetence accrues around organisations that work at this scale. Certainly there is a (fairly long) list of people who should be held directly responsible, but we know from so many failed public projects that this sort of structure and scale is inherently prone to failure. In this case it directly impacted people's lives, but more often we watch and tut as hundreds of billions of pounds are wasted on projects for the exact same reason - that we keep on piling in vast numbers of people with poor organisation, lax oversight and little discipline into projects that we treat like sacred cows. Horizon "had to be delivered", just like various NHS, Police, Customs, and HMRC projects "have to be delivered" - and we don't have the mechanisms to seriously question the massive infrastructure that has grown up to service these projects.

          1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            Those people manning the support lines telling Postmasters "No-one else is experiencing this problem" weren't corrupt

            They did not have to utter those lies.

            1. Lurko

              Re: A scandal of epic proportions

              "They did not have to utter those lies."

              If they're on a support line to an outsourcer or vendor, the employee will be working in a call centre to a script. Deviate from the script and they get fired. Now, as the call centre type doesn't know the cause, the backstory, or likely consequences for the sub-postmaster, why would they deviate from a script and lose their job?

              1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

                Re: A scandal of epic proportions

                How many times would you expect an honourable person to say "You are the only person having this problem?"

            2. Patrician

              Re: A scandal of epic proportions

              How would somebody on 1st line phone support know that by saying those lines they're aiding and abetting a coverup?

          2. Justthefacts Silver badge

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            The people inside the PO investigating each case, insisting the money be “paid back”, knew that it was widespread, and a pattern. They knew that the number of cases was out of all realistic proportion to an expected rate of fraud. They knew that there was no evidence for their claims. They knew there was no audit log (on an accounting system!), and that the normal process “I will go through the logs and see what went on here” was totally absent. They went on to racially profile, and accuse people of “sending money back to their village in India”.

            Difficult to see how those PO individuals arent culpable for fraud.

          3. Big Softie

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            Spot on.

            The consequences of people doing a job for which they lack the requisite levels of skills, ability, knowledge, training and experience to do competently.

            Once you add arrogance, greed and the primal instinct to deny wrongdoing and cover one's own backside at all costs to the mix you end up with a horribly tragic disaster like this one.

            I'm sure a lot of the early erroneous decisions that were made which resulted in Horizon being deployed were the result of a widespread level of ignorance. Ignorance of software technology, how a software product is specified, developed, deployed and maintained. That is understandable and forgivable to an extent. What cannot be forgiven is the fact that once it became clear that Horizon was unfit for purpose, resulting in accounting errors and people being falsely charged and convicted, a whole group of people conspired to cover it up and misappropriated huge sums of public money to do so. Which continues to this day.

        4. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          Re: A scandal of epic proportions

          Ironic really, since Private Eye generally reports on what is actually observable (they tend to get sued if they don't), and Fortean Times, whilst its subject matter is generally considered to be "out there", typically presents it in a neutral fashion, without drawing conclusions. It's actually a pretty good read, and, having just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary at the end of last year, must be doing something right, at a time when many print publications are dying out.

          Incidentally, I gave up on my subscription to the New Scientist magazine some years ago, when I found the same subject matter was often being reported in the Fortean Times, at around the same time, if not earlier, and in a more neutral manner. These days, I wouldn't touch NS with a bargepole, since it is owned by the DMG, and I choose not to fund hate speech.

        5. sabroni Silver badge

          Re: Many people consider Private Eye as Fortean Times of politics

          Many people? Where did you pluck that nugget of information from? Did you need to stand up to get at it?

        6. WanderingHaggis

          Re: A scandal of epic proportions

          I fear it relates how people get and process information. The drama appeals because you don't have to think just react emotionally. Panorama is work you need to think and be analytical (as with Private eye and computer weekly)-- the dispassionate "I say old bean isn't there something wrong" never quite has the same effect of "You what, mate" outrage.

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: A scandal of epic proportions

        el Reg have been following the story for over a decade now, which is how I first heard about it.

        1. Cruachan

          Re: A scandal of epic proportions

          Was going to say the same thing. Various friends and family have been asking me about this since the TV program was on and were shocked when I told them it was well known about in IT circles for years. Ian Hislop has tried to mention it on HIGNFY a couple of times as well IIRC, but as it wasn't in the "news" at the time it was largely brushed over.

      3. CorwinX Bronze badge

        Re: A scandal of epic proportions

        "Violence is not the answer of course"...

        But it's bloody tempting sometimes!

        Pilloried at the stocks is out of course (Health & Safety).

        Made to walk through the streets naked (see Game of Thrones)... "public decency" gets in the way.

        It's a conundrum.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A scandal of epic proportions

      Well said.

    3. gdeek

      Re: A scandal of epic proportions

      Erm, just a slight correction here. This is nothing to do with Royal Mail, the Post Office is an entirely different organisation and has been for a long time

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: A scandal of epic proportions

        The Post Office was part of the Royal Mail Group until it became independent on 1st April 2012 as a result of the Postal Services Act 2011. In this context, I don't think that counts as "a long time": Horizon was commissioned and many (most?) of the prosecutions carried out under RMG ownership.

      2. may_i

        Re: A scandal of epic proportions

        Mea culpa. I left the UK a long time ago and was not aware that RM and the PO had been split into separate companies.

        1. Lurko

          Re: A scandal of epic proportions

          "I left the UK a long time ago and was not aware that RM and the PO had been split into separate companies."

          I'll wager 95% of the resident population don't know either, some ten years after it happened.

          1. DoctorPaul

            Re: A scandal of epic proportions

            Went online to send a parcel via Royal Mail recently but went to postoffice.co.uk due to a bit of brain fade.

            They no longer offer Royal Mail delivery, just crap like Evri. Sad really.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's only taken her 20 years to make an empty, token gesture. I bet she's still handing on to her pension and golden handshake money. I still can't fathom why she hasn't already been tried and several years into a very long prison sentence.

    1. ScottishYorkshireMan

      The way to deal with rich people....

      is to turn them into poor people. - Billy Ray Valentine.

      You know what they say. A billionaires biggest fear...becoming a millionaire.

      1. alain williams Silver badge

        Re: The way to deal with rich people....

        As W S Gilbert wrote in the Mikado Let the punishment fit the crime.

      2. munnoch Bronze badge

        Re: The way to deal with rich people....

        "Tres commas"

        1. munnoch Bronze badge

          Re: The way to deal with rich people....

          Maybe the downvoter didn't get the reference to Russ Hanneman in Silicon Valley...

          The character is obsessed with his membership of the three commas club.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Lurko

      "It's only taken her 20 years to make an empty, token gesture."

      Yes, but she's only had the CBE since 2019. Bigger questions need to be asked about why she was awarded it when the Horizon scandal was already known.

  4. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Conspiracy theory

    "It's not possible so many people were in on it"

    "Haha yeah gremlins were making a loss. Fix your tinfoil hat"

    "Surely courts wouldn't get it wrong so many times? What are you smoking?"

    and so on and so on...

    So many people are now silent.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Conspiracy theory

      The courts didn't get it wrong, they were told the same lies repeatedly by the Post Orifice.

      That's called 'Perverting the Course of Justice' - and I think the full seven years jail time is easily warranted in this case.

      Add in Conspiracy, Theft & Slander for the each of the several hundred cases - sometimes it's a pity we don't have the US habit of consecutive sentences.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Conspiracy theory

        The courts didn't get it wrong, they were told the same lies repeatedly by the Post Orifice.

        Which they chose to believe, just as they regularly choose to believe police officers. Hence the Guildford Four, the Birmngham Six, Stefan Kiszko, (insert depressingly long list here).

        1. Mike 125

          Re: Conspiracy theory

          It's often your word against theirs with police officers.

          But the Post Office lie *could have been demonstrated* to be exactly that.

          There's a difference.

  5. ScottishYorkshireMan

    So, thats the CBE returned...

    How about Sunak and Starmer returning the 'bungs' that Fujitsu paid them along with the bungs from Pietas a consultancy company run by a Simon Blagden mentioned here https://www.vice.com/en/article/59x7wz/fujitsu-uk-sues-department-health-simon-blagden-tory-donor.It seems also that Fujitsu like to sue when their contracts don't get renewed.

    Of course, those who approve of Blue Corruption will mark me down. You lot need to have a word with yourselves.

  6. Tubz Silver badge

    Fujitsu "shouldn't" be on the hook for compensation, Post Office signed off on the software as being acceptable for service, the execs on the other hand, should be as no doubt the reliability was brought up in meetings and for P.O to stand up and say nothing wrong with the software, would have required Fujitsu complicity.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      I can't see why not?

      It's like someone hiring a cowboy builder, who does something that looks great for someone who didn't study as a surveyor, but really should have never been accepted.

      I'd say that all contracts won by cowboys should now be independently reviewed.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's not even as simple as that - if you read the Private Eye articles on it, supposedly they had people in the background manipulating data remotely to help hide the issues with the system. (iirc)

      1. wayneinuk

        Clearly fraud!

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          This can easily be argued as a case of organised crime - We need those techies to turn Kings Evidence.

    3. Martin Gregorie

      "Post Office signed off on the software as being acceptable for service" NO THEY DID NOT

      There was never a Requirement Specification for the Royal Mail to sign off as being what wanted the system to do and so nothing to use as the basis for an Acceptance Test suite.

      Read David_McDonnell_Witness_Statement, full titlle "HORIZON: WITN00620100 David McDonnell - Witness Statement_0.pdf" if you want to know what went on inside Fujitsu's HORIZON project. Its not pretty but it is very unprofessional.

      1. omz13

        To say not pretty is understatement.

      2. Justthefacts Silver badge

        Fraud?

        Perhaps this itself rises to the level of fraud. Normally in company contracts “buyer beware”. But in this case, a technically illiterate nationalised company contracts what was effectively the British Leyland of software to “make it work”. ICL (I refuse to call them Fujitsu) had an implicit contractual requirement not to ship something “not fit for purpose”.

        If that were all, mmm debatable. But then to have a secret room with munchkins cooking up bogus transactions in the Post Office favour to make the books balance? And pretending that records couldn’t be changed remotely? In writing, to the court? That’s ICL defrauding the taxpayer, and perverting the course of justice.

      3. t245t Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Read David McDonnell - Witness Statement

        @Martin Gregorie: ‘Read David_McDonnell_Witness_Statement, full titlle "HORIZON: WITN00620100 David McDonnell - Witness Statement_0.pdf" if you want to know what went on inside Fujitsu's HORIZON project. Its not pretty but it is very unprofessional.’

        Good Grief Charlie Brown!

        --

        Post Office Horizon IT inquiry first witness statement of David McDonnell

        a. Steve Warwick had immense knowledge of how the post office worked but was not technical and had no formal qualifications in software development.

        b. There were no development standards or methodology, coding practices, peer reviews, unit testing standards, design specifications in place. In fact this team was like the wild west.

        c. Several of the development team were not capable of producing professional code.

    4. Stu J

      I've been saying for years that there needs to be proper personal accountability at an individual and board level for systems implementation and integration.

      You wouldn't let someone that had watched a few YouTube videos and previously built a garden shed, design and build a skyscraper. There are Chartered Architects and Chartered Engineers that have to sign off on things, have to be properly qualified and experienced to do so, and suffer personally if they are negligent, especially if they knew about problems and didn't whistleblow.

      So why do we deem it acceptable that literally any bunch of muppets can be trusted to implement and run secure and fit-for-purpose software-heavy systems, without any kind of formal oversight? When these badly-designed systems have real consequences on people's finances, personal data, and their lives? Why shouldn't there be the same sort of oversight required for all major IT projects, public and private sector, with suitably qualified people empowered to say "no" to non-technical stakeholders wanting to cut corners, or to consultancies wanting to do a shit job while maximising profit?

      You can become a Chartered Engineer within the IT Industry - but there's no real point people attaining that status at the minute, because it's not required by anyone, even though it probably should be.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Post Office signed off on the software as being acceptable for service

      In my experience, business acceptance of new software usually amounts to 'Does it look pretty enough?'

      I've seen some absolute shockers accepted by customers because they looked superficially flashy.

  7. gnasher729 Silver badge

    How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

    I seriously wonder how many convictions of postmasters for theft or fraud there have been from 1980 to 1989 (pre Horizon) and from 2010 until now (post Horizon). Seven hundred supposedly dishonest postmasters, shouldn’t that have been a suspiciously high number?

    1. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

      Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

      >>shouldn’t that have been a suspiciously high number?

      It was, and recognised as such which is why the PO and Fujitsu services (aka ICL) worked so hard to rush prosecutions through the PO courts (not the normal court system) and had teams working to cover up remote tampering with figures and audit logs (allegedly).

      My ex was probably a victim of Horizon issues, but, luckilly, they had noticed that people outside the PO were noticing problems with Horizon related prosecutions so they just fabricated "evidence" from "witnesses" who allegedly saw her giving money to "familly members over the counter" (none of her family were anywhere near the PO in which she worked - as in >100 of miles away for the nearest) and allowed to her to leave without further action...

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        What Post Office courts are these?

        Citations please, because there is no such thing as a post office court, and never has been. These offences would have been before a Magistrates court like most court cases in the UK.

        Crown court jury trials are reserved for serious offences.

        1. lybad

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          Magistrates and crown courts don't apply across the whole UK - different system in Scotland.

        2. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          Post Office *prosecutors* are a thing though. And that is a rare privilege. There’s a short list of organisations that can do it, the Post Office is one, and eg the RSPCA is another. Prosecutors have direct powers to procure evidence, and interrogate people under caution.

          What makes the Post Office powers unique, as opposed to just rare, is that they were acting as both prosecutor and plaintiff. And that they were bringing 20x more prosecutions *more than the other hundred organisations on the list combined*. That should have been a clue.

          In 2019, the CPS had a total of 49 private prosecution referrals *total*. From all sources, and for all crimes. Total. And by the way, they took over 32 of these (as is their legal right) and discontinued 29, since part of their role is preventing vexatious and ill-informed cases wasting court time (“my spouse is dead, surely somebody must be held responsible”). Meanwhile, the Post Office was running up to 80 private prosecutions per year, on their own, just for fraud alone. This must have stood out like a bloody klaxon.

          https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/cps-drops-more-than-half-of-its-private-prosecutions/5107989.article#:~:text=A%20freedom%20of%20information%20request,over%2032%20and%20discontinued%2029.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        The Post Office FAQ page is working overtime.

        The PO can bring private prosecutions but so can anyone or any company in England and Wales. The problem it appears was there was no oversight or alarm which went off when the PO was bringing so many private prosecutions against their own employees (effectively). Scotland's justice system makes private prosecutions more difficult.

    2. cyberdemon Silver badge

      Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

      It's just as unlikely that all 700 were dishonest as it is that none of them were.

      That's why we have a court and er, independent judicial system.

      The fact that the Post Office could run its own prosecutions and hold kangaroo courts where the judge is in their pocket, the only evidence submitted is their own and they never ever lose, is something that very few knew about until now.

      They have probably been abusing this power for centuries. But the real scandal here is that privatisation somehow allowed them to keep that power, and continue to abuse it on an industrial scale for profit!

      1. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        "But the real scandal here is that privatisation somehow allowed them to keep that power, and continue to abuse it on an industrial scale for profit!"

        The Post Office has not been privatised. It is wholly owned by the UK Government.

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          My mistake. But then why does it behave as if it were a private company, with a CEO and a corporate structure driven towards profit? That's not the case for other government departments, is it?

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

            It's called "arm's length".

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

              "It's called "arm's length"."

              A status that includes such well know examples of effectiveness as HMRC, the regulator of water companies, the regulator of energy companies, Oftsed, the telecoms regulator, DVLA, etc etc.

              There's a whole mish-mash of different arms length bodies under the main headings of "executive agencies", "non-ministerial department", and "non-departmental public bodies". The main purpose of being at arms length is quite simple - so that politicians can deny accountability.

              Some ALBs do a great job - RAIB, AAIB for example, but most ALBs have been a disaster for the public, creating poorly performing bodies with zero accountability or unclear need. Take the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors, for example. Or the Convent Garden Market Authority. In fact, if you've got a few minutes, scroll down this page, see what you can find. The top 24 government departments are what you'd expect, but lower down this page you'll find over 500 different public sector bodies that you've probably never heard of half.

              If Labour weren't so clueless, they'd commit to bringing almost all ALBs back into government departments or shut them down.

          2. Spazturtle Silver badge

            Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

            It is how certain government departments that are semi-autonomous run. NHS trusts are also run as for profit companies with complicated internal billing and billing of the referrer (for example the GP, who in turn bills the insurance provider which is usually NI) or the insurance provider (usually NI) if the patient was admitted directly.

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

              The NHS is (and always has been) just a billing structure which will pay an approved amount for particular treatments billed to it by providers.

              Your GP for instance is an independent for profit private business who bills the NHS every time you see them. The general ignorance about this makes it quite difficult to actually manage the NHS, since people will scream "save our NHS1!111" and claim that they have thus prevented bits of the NHS from being privatised... which have in fact never been owned by UK PLC and have always been private businesses.

              In many cases it's not worth even trying to have sensible discussions about issues.

              1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

                Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

                I'm pretty sure that GPs (and dentists) are special cases though. Hospitals are, as far as I am aware, owned by the NHS*, and the staff they employ are NHS staff.

                *PPP contracts so beloved of the Blair government aside, whereby NHS trusts still have to pay private investors huge sums for the buildings.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        Privatisation had nothing to do with this almighty clusterfuck. Though it's had a leading role in other clusterfucks - train and water companies for instance. The Post Office is in the public sector. Unlike Royal (ha!) Mail.

      3. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        The fact that the Post Office could run its own prosecutions and hold kangaroo courts where the judge is in their pocket

        That's important, but if Post Office didn't have this people you can't say it would be any different. Just take a look at HMRC and IR35 cases. It's very similar. They have infinitely deep pockets vs common people who can barely scrap two pennies together.

        Probably HMRC and Treasury should be looked at next for their abuse of justice system, lies and things like Loan Charge and related suicides.

        1. Recluse

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          Whilst I share the outrage of the many, I think the ultimate unaccountable public body is HMRC.

          They don’t answer the phone efficiently (if at all) they have no local offices and take months (in my experience) to answer correspondence and then frequently ineptly. They have inherited (via Customs/Excise) forcible powers of entry - they effectively write their own search warrants.

          They are judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one, with draconian levels of powers able to impose “assessments” the ultimate steamroller … Essentially you are guilty until proven innocent.

          Don’t think it will ever happen to you?

          Read this woeful tale of a business destroyed by HMRC and the tortuous route the victims had to follow in order to try and obtain some form of redress. Its positively “Orwellian” To the very end HMRC were attempting to avoid any financial liability for their outrageous conduct.

          https://www.rpc.co.uk/perspectives/tax-take/high-court-criticises-hmrcs-conduct-and-compels-it-to-honour-its-undertakings/

          Short cut to full (2015) judgement on Bailii.org (for those with time on their hands to digest )

          https://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/format.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2015/225.html&query=(Abbey)+AND+(Forwarding)+AND+(Ltd)+AND+((in)+AND+(liquidation))+AND+(v)+AND+(HMRC)+AND+(.2015.)+AND+(EWHC)+AND+(225)+AND+((Ch))

          1. Cruachan

            Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

            Indeed, their utter refusal to accept the judgement of the courts in the case of Kaye Adams in particular is disgraceful, and only recently has the double-taxation loophole (where if you were found guilty of an IR35 breach you had to pay the full sum owed, the tax you had already paid was not offset against the amount owed and you had to try and reclaim it) been closed.

      4. NXM Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        "It's just as unlikely that all 700 were dishonest as it is that none of them were."

        True. There's been a lot of talk this morning about the possibility that real fraudsters will get away with it.

        But a successful prosecution would probably depend on Horizon evidence, which we know can't be trusted. So the PO has denied itself the ability to uncover any real fraud unless there's independent evidence. Tough titty then.

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          > True. There's been a lot of talk this morning about the possibility that real fraudsters will get away with it.

          The watchword in British justice used to be, “better that ten guilty men go free, than one innocent man is hanged”.

          Apparently, like so many other things, that’s just a comforting lie we tell ourselves these days.

      5. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        "It's just as unlikely that all 700 were dishonest as it is that none of them were."

        What kind of logic are you applying here then?

        The system was proven to introduce these errors. This means it's much more likely that discrepancies were caused by these errors, than by the users of the system.

        For example, if your calculator introduced random errors, would you blame yourself for probably making just as many errors when copying the results?

        1. KarMann Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          But with a sample size of 700, there's practically 0% chance that there was either not a single fraudster, or not a single honest person in there. Technically, there's some difference as long as you don't assume or measure a 50% honesty rate, but both are so close to 0 that it really doesn't matter, as far as the accuracy of that sentence is concerned.

          ETA: I see Elongated Muskrat has shown his working below. A better answer than mine, granted, if not as pithy.

      6. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        It's just as unlikely that all 700 were dishonest as it is that none of them were.

        This is not true.

        Using some best-estimate guesses for the incidence of this sort of crime:

        Say, for example's sake, that there is a small, but finite possibility that a sub-postmaster is corrupt. Let's put this at one in 10,000, which is probably an overestimate. From what I can tell from a quick search on a well-known web search engine, there are a little shy of 10,000 sub-postmasters in the UK, so statistically, we should expect one corrupt sub-postmaster, or possibly zero, or slightly less possibly two.

        The chances of there being one corrupt sub-postmaster in a random sample of 700 is going to be something like 7% (1 in 700 out of 10,000). The actual odds are higher, because you would expect the investigations team, who were going hell-for-leather trying to find all these guilty sub-postmasters would almost certainly have picked up the one we might expect to see. So the odds of them finding one genuinely guilty party are probably at around 60-80% (let's say a probability of 0.7). The probability of finding 700 dishonest sub-postmasters are that figure raised to the power of 700, which is 0.7 ^700, which my calculator tells me is about 3.7 x 10-109, or as close to zero as makes no difference. For reference, the number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 1080, so statistically, 700 sub-postmasters are 30 orders of magnitude less likely to be all guilty than the odds of picking the right random atom in the National Atom Lottery.

        So, in summary, the odds of one of them being dishonest are pretty much infinitely higher than the odds of all of them being guilty, but it's still unlikely, because the figure of 1 in 10,000 is probably a massive overestimate of the incidence of that sort of combined greed and idiocy.

        It does raise the question, though: prior to Horizon, had any sub-postmaster ever been caught with their hands in the till embezzling tens of thousands of pounds?

        1. Lurko

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          "It does raise the question, though: prior to Horizon, had any sub-postmaster ever been caught with their hands in the till embezzling tens of thousands of pounds?"

          The internet seems to be no help, but I'm pretty sure I recall one or two instances I noticed during my younger years prior to Horizon being a thing. I'd think the job of postmaster is like any job handling money - the employers seek to recruit the trustworthy, although the perceived opportunity might attract a few of the wrong sort, and for another few who started out honest it'll become an irresistible temptation.

          So I'm pretty sure the answer is "yes", but the actual number I've no clue on, nor can I evidence my own recollections.

          1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

            Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

            Quite. I reckon the actual number here is "one or two" over many decades, and at a time when their accounts were scrutinised much less, and it would be easier to "cook the books".

            Sub-postmasters, under Horizon will have known that their accounts were audited, they had to submit them every month. They would have known that there was a very good chance of getting caught if they doctored them. Crooks (with the exception of very dumb ones) would have looked for an easier fiddle without the obvious prospects of getting caught.

            The sheer number of prosecutions this threw up should have set alarm bells ringing that could be heard in France, and if there had been just one, there should have been an expectation that it would be investigated properly, including looking for evidence that the supposedly "missing" money had been spent, or sequestered somewhere. It's not as if people who embezzle money don't typically suddenly turn up with expensive new cars and designer clothes. The sort of person who does this is usually also the sort of person who likes to flaunt wealth.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

              "The sort of person who does this is usually also the sort of person who likes to flaunt wealth."

              While I agree wholeheartedly with all you say, I should just point out that there are other reasons that apparently honest people start embezzling. Usually debt related, at least one in the news recently of someone stealing £1,3m for a gambling habit. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-67503468. In these sorts of cases, there's usually no "flaunting", and often it starts of small, then grows.

            2. Justthefacts Silver badge

              Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

              The most extraordinary thing is the numbers and size of this. Out of 11000 subpostmasters, they took over 700 to disbarment. That’s 7%. Their claim was that 7% of all subpostmasters was dishonest.

              But that’s not the half of it. That’s just the number of people they claimed back such large quantities of money, repeatedly, that they went all the way through the process. The vast majority of cases, quite probably the PO “found” the subpostmaster several hundred quid light; demanded money; and the subpostmaster just caved instantly assuming it was their own error.

              The PO must have been at least insinuating fraud on multiple times 7% of their employees. We will never know how many, because they didn’t keep an audit trail. People who have received a threatening letter alleging potential Fraud of a few hundred quid, who have paid up, are very unlikely to have told friends or family ever, because they wouldn’t have been believed. The people disbarred are an iceberg. It’s unreasonable to assume a ratio less than 5x. So….. maybe a third of its entire subpostmasters might have been accused?!

              This couldn’t have been a rational expectation of the PO. And they couldn’t have not noticed the ridiculous percentages. And they couldn’t have not noticed the really quite large amounts of money that were resulting from the endless river of accusing letters.

              This wasn’t error, it was a shakedown. An organised operation, from the highest levels.

    3. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

      Horizon was installed in 11,500 sub-post offices, 3,500 sub-postmasters were accused of theft by the post office and made to repay money, 700 of which were criminally prosecuted.

      How did anyone at the post office believe that there was theft going on at 30% of their sub-post offices?

      1. Roger Greenwood

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        "How did anyone at the post office believe that there was theft going on at 30% of their sub-post offices?"

        Because Horizon said it was less than 1%

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

          So, basically, the management was unable to do simple maths?

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: How many fraud and theft cases in the 80s?

        How did anyone at the post office believe that there was theft going on at 30% of their sub-post offices?

        It's easy for a morally-corrupt person to convince themselves that black is white if their job/gong/bonus depends on it.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Lost in the post?

    > returning her CBE

    Let's hope it arrives back safely

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lost in the post?

      Why? Traditionally physical awards have the recipients name engraved on the edge, so it's not like they can dip it in bleach and dole it out to somebody else.

      On the subject of awards for failure, I see Tristia Harrison, CEO of not-so-successful skinflint ISP Talktalk was made a dame in the New Year Honours.

      1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

        Re: Lost in the post?

        Remind us who the previous totally-not-crooked CEO of that company was? Oh yes, (now Baroness) Dido Harding. Why was she in the news, again?

        One could be forgiven for making the, no doubt false, observation, that it's almost like there's some sort of revolving door between crooked business and crooked government...

        There, I think I phrased that so that I don't get sued.

  9. Dr Paul Taylor

    So what was actually wrong?

    I come to El Reg and its often very well informed comments to get an understanding of things without the usual "filtering out" of technical detail that is done by mainstream journalists. But all I have seen here is the (fully justified) outrage that I can read elsewhere.

    Does anyone with experience of how distributed accounting systems actually work have any plausible theory about what went wrong?

    At first the Post Office made repeated denials that remote access to local terminals was possible. As people have said here, "of course" central PO and Fujitsu sysadmins had remote access.

    But would El Reg Commentards really accuse their co-professionals of this degree of fraud? Surely the PO would have spotted that?

    Then it was suggested that data synchronisation was the problem. Maybe there were "race conditions", either on individual transactions or the daily reporting. I still find it difficult to believe that these would account for the magnitude of the discrepancy.

    But Alex Hern on the Guardian has written a more technically plausible story:

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2024/jan/09/how-the-post-offices-horizon-system-failed-a-technical-breakdown

    Does anyone here have anything to add to that?

    1. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: So what was actually wrong?

      So as I understand it, the system was so badly designed abd implemented that records would overwrite eachother e.g. multiple terminals in the same branch writing to the same field without any locking, or updates from the central computer being delayed, and then overwriting local transactions that had been made in the meantime, etc.. And the only way that Fujitsu could cover it up was by employing an ops team to manually update the records using remote access, and to deliberately hide this activity from SPMs.

      Why these errors always resulted in a shortfall for SPMs and a profit for the PO is a mystery. It could be because SPMs did not report it when they were in surplus (very unlikely, but probably the explanation the psychopathic PO would go with), it could be because post offices generally handed out more cash through pension collections etc than they brought in by selling stamps, or it could be that someone at the post office management was criminally malevolent, and made a policy of always making adjustments in the PO's favour. Would explain how they were able to bring such a dinosaur of an institution into profit.

      1. myhandler

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        There were some cases where it showed a gain. One PO submaster was able to demonstrate this to the visiting Horizon people.

        Lots more here: https://www.postofficescandal.uk/

      2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        Why these errors always resulted in a shortfall for SPMs and a profit for the PO is a mystery. It could be because ...

        Someone at the Post Office or Fujitsu realised that they could spirit that money away for themselves leaving the sub postmasters on the hook for it.

    2. Seajay

      Re: So what was actually wrong?

      There were lots of bugs, and people accessing systems and making mistakes (according to previous judgments).

      Some interesting stuff here: https://www.benthamsgaze.org/2021/07/15/what-went-wrong-with-horizon-learning-from-the-post-office-trial/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        "We asked a youtuber"

        I stopped reading after that.

      2. t245t Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        ‘an example of where Horizon duplicated part of a transaction following a system crash .. when the SPM did the cash declaration, although the main stock unit (into which the £4,000 was being transferred) “was fine”, the unit from which the cash was taken “was out by 4000 pounds (a loss of 4000 pds)”.’

        Shouldn't all such transactions be atomic. As in when the system reboots, it rolls back to the last valid transaction, using a transaction roll-back log.

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: So what was actually wrong?

          You're thinking of transactions in the context of well-designed database management systems.

          This is talking about "transactions" in the context of cash, in a naiively thrown-together pile of shite which cost squillions to deliver and operate.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: So what was actually wrong?

            More than that, you're thinking of transactions in a universe that functions differently to the one we live in. This is a well-known long-know problem, there is no way to know a message has not arrved at its destination. It's variously called The Two Generals Problem, or Caesar's Generals Problem. yes, understanding it is that old.

            I wrote up this almost four years ago. While it is likely to not be the exact problem with Horizon, it is a near enough description to explain the problems:

            In my understanding, what it was was:

            Correct functioning:

            PO sends ‘credit £x’

            HQ receives ‘credit £x’

            HQ credits account

            HQ sends ‘acknowledge credit £x’

            PO receives ‘acknowledge credit £x’

            PO removes item from queue

            Failed functioning:

            PO sends ‘credit £x’

            HQ receives ‘credit £x’

            HQ credits account

            HQ sends ‘acknowledge credit £x’

            PO /doesn’t/ receive acknowledge

            PO retries

            PO sends ‘credit £x’

            HQ receives ‘credit £x’

            HQ credits account

            HQ sends ‘acknowledge credit £x’

            PO receives ‘acknowledge credit £x’

            PO removes item from queue

            PO now has one ‘credit £x’ recorded, but HQ has two ‘credit £x’ recorded.

            It’s a classic network transaction confirmation problem. In fact, a Networking 001 problem. It’s not even undergraduate level concepts. How do you know where a failed message has failed? Has the message to HQ failed, or has the acknowledge failed? The solution is to either use a sequence chain, or *not* transfer ‘change’ messages, but transfer ‘updated balance’ messages:

            PO sends ‘account balance is £x’

            HQ receives ‘account balance is £x’

            HQ updates account

            HQ sends ‘acknowledge account balance is £x’

            PO /doesn’t/ receive acknowledge

            PO retries

            PO sends ‘account balance is £x’

            HQ receives ‘account balance is £x’

            HQ updates account

            HQ sends ‘acknowledge account balance is £x’

            PO receives ‘acknowledge balance is £x’

            PO removes item from queue

            This results in the PO recording a balance update to £x and HQ recording a balance update to £x.

            Of course, this has it’s own problems of multiple access/single resource (what happens if somebody else does a ‘balance is X’ between your retries) but is solid if you have exclusive access during the whole transaction. To do that you’d wrap it in ‘open for exclusive access’/’close for exclusive access’.

            Tom Scott described it quite well here where it happened with ordering pizzas.

            1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

              Re: So what was actually wrong?

              So, how about:

              PO Sends transaction including unique Id

              HQ receives transaction

              HQ updates account

              HQ sends acknowledgement to PO

              if PO doesn't receive acknowledgement, PO resends transaction

              if HQ receives transaction with an ID it has already seen, it resends the acknowledgement to PO

              Rinse and repeat until both the PO and HQ know they have synched the transaction.

              It's not an insoluble problem, and it's not even one for which trivial solutions don't exist.

              It's literally a dumbed-down version of how key exchange for every secure connection on the internet works.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So what was actually wrong?

      "Does anyone with experience of how distributed accounting systems actually work have any plausible theory about what went wrong?"

      As others have noted, getting here has taken *many* different things to go wrong, ALL of which are ultimately the responsibility of top level manglement. That's what they're paid so much for, right?

      In the case of Horizon, there was eveything from carelessness, incompetence, deliberate ignorance, negligence, deception, etc.

      Reasonably detailed technical write-ups have been published back in the day. I read them at the time (as an outsider). The distributed-system issues didn't seem particularly complicated or novel, nor did the concept that financial transactions ultimately have to balance (or be corrected in a traceable AUDITABLE way).

      There seemed to be major issues regarding poor development process (design review, real-world review in service, etc). And it went downhill from there.

      I no longer have the actual details but they're probably available out there somewhere. Start with Computer Weekly, maybe? Or the Private Eye 7page report?

      Or this BBC News article from 9 Jan 2024 (yesterday!) may help follow up (the article itself has no technical content):

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-67921974

      "I told Post Office the truth about Horizon in 2003, IT expert says"

      An IT expert has criticised the Post Office for ignoring his report which found "concerning discrepancies" in its software more than 20 years ago.

      Jason Coyne, who worked for Preston-based Best Practice Plc at the time, was instructed to examine the computer system called Horizon in 2003.

      He said he notified the Post Office the data was "unreliable" but he was ignored, sacked, and then discredited.

      The Post Office said it was doing all it could to put right the wrongs.

      Between 1999 and 2015, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses based on information from Horizon.

      It has since come to light the faulty software made it look like money was missing.

      Many maintained their innocence and said they had repeatedly raised issues with Horizon, but some went to prison for false accounting and theft while others were financially ruined.

      ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        "Start with Computer Weekly, maybe?"

        They've kindly linked what I presume is all of their Horizon coverage at the bottom of this article. Could take you a while to read, and I think you'll need to register for back articles.

        https://www.computerweekly.com/news/366563400/Government-advised-to-overturn-all-Post-Office-scandal-convictions

    4. CorwinX Bronze badge

      Re: So what was actually wrong?

      Simple answer is incompetence.

      I've read the Second Sight reports and their analysis of the developer's competence...

      The one that always gets me is evidence that a coder didn't know how to change a positive variable into a negative (multiply by -1). So instead wrote half a dozen lines of spaghetti code.

      A team of squirrels could have coded the travesty that was/is Horizon better.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        "evidence that a coder didn't know how to change a positive variable into a negative (multiply by -1). So instead wrote half a dozen lines of spaghetti code."

        Wtf? This just goes from bad to worse.

        More information would be very welcome, e.g. code fragment, etc.

        1. CorwinX Bronze badge

          Re: So what was actually wrong?

          Sorry, can't give you a reference. This came from following the Inquiry transcripts and then digging a bit deeper. It was over a year ago now I came across that one.

          But if you watched the drama on TV, it's the bug that made transactions double instead if cancelling them.

          If you look at the transcripts on the Inquiry website...

          https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/hearings/listing?hearing_type=419&witness=All&witness_2=All

          ... from ICL Fugitsu witnesses testifying, some of it is mind-boggling.

          Note the drop-down for the different phases - the link above only displays the latest.

        2. dinsdale54

          Re: So what was actually wrong?

          Here's the code and the explanation of why it's moronically stupid.

          This extract from EPOSSCore.dll has been written to reverse the sign of a

          number and is equivalent to the command :-

          d=-d

          Public Function ReverseSign(d)

          Ifd<o Then

          d= Abs(d)

          Else

          d=d-(d*2)

          End If

          ReverseSign = d

          End Function

          Whoever wrote this code clearly has no understanding of elementary

          mathematics or the most basic rules of programming.

          1. CorwinX Bronze badge

            Re: So what was actually wrong?

            Yeah, that's exactly what I was referring to above - many thanks for finding the actual code!

            This whole thing goes beyond satire sometimes - if you showed that code to, say, a university computing class they'd think you were doing it for a laugh.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Report on the EPOSS PinICL Task Force - sad, not satire :(

              Thanks (?) for that, guys.

              I mean, WTF were any of these people thinking about?

              A quick search found what looks like a real document online which contains that code fragment as part of a larger analysis of the state of some of the project. It dates back to 2001 and is a 20 page PDF. I'm not going to repost or even discuss the code fragment; the rest of the document ("Report on the EPOSS PinICL Task Force ") is just as, maybe more, enlightening.

              "This document reports on the activities of the EPOSS PinICL Task Force which was in place between 19th August and 18th September 1998 to reduce to manageable levels the EPOSS PinICLs outstanding at that time"

              You can find the PDF at

              https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-11/FUJ00080690%20Report%20on%20the%20EPOSS%20PinICL%20Task%20Force%2014052001.pdf

              Read it and weep.

              1. t245t Silver badge

                Re: Report on the EPOSS PinICL Task Force - sad, not satire :(

                > Read it and weep.

                Good Grief!

                -- quoting --

                This extract from EPOSSCore.d11 has been written to reverse the sign of a number and is equivalent to the command : d = - d

                -------

                Public Function ReverseSign(d)

                If d < o Then d = Abs(d)

                Else d = d - (d * 2)

                End

                If ReverseSign = d

                End Function

                -------

                Whoever wrote this code clearly has no understanding of elementary mathematics or the most basic rules of programming.

          2. cyberdemon Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: So what was actually wrong?

            And let me guess, the argument d was passed in by reference and could change in the background?

            1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

              Re: So what was actually wrong?

              I seriously doubt any of this code was written to be multi-threaded. The concept barely existed in most programming languages in the late '90s.

              1. cyberdemon Silver badge

                Re: So what was actually wrong?

                Well. Doesn't necessarily have to be multithreaded for a variable to change outside the context of a non-atomic operation..

                Dual-port RAM used to be popular e.g. in VME-bus systems from the 90's. Satan only knows what's inside a 90's Fujitsu Mainframe

                But other than being thoroughly obtuse (could have simply returned -1*d or could have not existed at all), having an unnecessary branch, being non-atomic, and not coping with values with magnitude greater than INTMAX/2, is there anything logically flawed with that function?

                Hmm. Well if it IS passed by reference, then it overwrites its input. That would be more of a problem.

                1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

                  Re: So what was actually wrong?

                  No, it could have returned -d. The negation operator (the overloaded subtraction operator, equivalent to "subtract from zero") is unary, and I don't know of any programming language that does not have it.

                  There may be an argument, in modern languages, for writing -1*d for clarity, knowing that the compiler will optimise it to 0-d, but I'd say that any programmer who reads and does not understand what "-d" does should hand in their keyboard.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        Simple answer is incompetence.

        Followed by by rabid attempts to cover up the incompetence in order to "preserve to brand image".

        How's that working out then?

    5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: So what was actually wrong?

      Quote

      "Does anyone with experience of how distributed accounting systems actually work have any plausible theory about what went wrong?"

      Not quite distributed accounting systems , but distributed and concurrent systems anyway .

      As other commentards have note, it seems to be in the how the transactions were not 'atomic', more over, the fault could be in the way the system handled communication errors(seeing as many POs are way out in the boondocks),

      eg the server signals the PO in question to send over today's list of transactions, one of which is Mrs Miggings paying in 100 pounds to her account.

      Just after her transaction is transmitted, the phone line burps and communication is lost. the system can cope with this and signals the PO to resend the transaction log. the server then starts appending the transaction log to the one already transmittted while the PO system sends the entire transaction log again..... with Mrs Miggins paying in her 100 pounds again.

      The system then asks the PO "How much cash do you have?" "100 pounds" says the PO , but according to the server transaction list Mrs Miggins paid in 200 quid... therefore the postmaster stole the other 100.

      As a seasoned professional with qualifications in distributed systems I'd go wtf and want to punch the idiot that programmed the server.(sadly you can get fired for that)

      You need the transaction log communication to be atomic in fashion... it either works or it fails, no 1/2 arsed measures

      Or it could be something as stupid as not reading the database correctly in an atomic fashion where only 1 process can access a piece of data locking out everyone else, think about 2 people editing one document if you need an example and what happens if they both try editing page 5. there are proven ways around this, using a transaction log (locking is bad because what happens if the process locking the file crashes and leaves the file locked?)

      But then what would a robot programmer know about this? because my job is all about synchronising various bits of computer controlled machinery together, in this game theres no sys admin to go in and fix failures.... theres a loud bang and people can get hurt.

      Boris the cockroach Dip.comp(open) and its not often I put the last bit

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        Prompted by Boris "You need the transaction log communication to be atomic in fashion... it either works or it fails, no 1/2 arsed measures"

        Makes sense to me, and probably many others. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

        It sounds rather like an instance of the "distributed database" "two phase commit" etc problem. Or maybe it's a bit like distributed version control (Git etc). Either way, you need to keep multiple items in sync in a real world environment where stuff isn't necessarily reliable.

        It's not been rocket science for a while, but back then it seems the designers/coders/reviewers didn't spot it till it was too late. Designing and testing failure recovery in systems where there may be *hours* of comms latency is a bit of a specialised skill, black art, etc. Can be done but requires careful thought both in terms of what the users see and what goes on under the hood (Hours => broken comms?).

        Further thoughts welcome. I've seen enough for now.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So what was actually wrong?

          OK, an extra consideration is the "suspense account". Im unable to describe it in the time I have available but have a look at https://www.benthamsgaze.org/2021/07/15/what-went-wrong-with-horizon-learning-from-the-post-office-trial/

        2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: So what was actually wrong?

          Well if you need further thoughts, you cant go wrong with this

          https://www.amazon.co.uk/Concurrent-Systems-Distributed-Integrated-International/dp/0201177676

          ignore the 1 star reviews, although the one comparing it to the necronomicon in that reading more than 2 chapters turns the mind of man to cheese and touching the pages causes your flesh to crawl back up your arm in horror oh and make sure you get the 2nd edition, not the wimpy 3rd edition she wrote for the open university M301 curse... course... <twitch>

          Seriously.... its the best primer in distributed systems you could have , but its honours level stuff

          1. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

            Re: So what was actually wrong?

            >>wimpy 3rd edition she wrote for the open university M301 curse... course...

            I have that edition of the text book... and survived M301.... now I read the Necronomicon to banish the nightmares.

      2. CorwinX Bronze badge

        Re: So what was actually wrong?

        "As a seasoned professional with qualifications in distributed systems I'd go wtf and want to punch the idiot that programmed the server.(sadly you can get fired for that)"

        With the current mood you might get a civic award. ;-)

        1. KarMann Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: So what was actually wrong?

          One CBE, slightly used?

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: So what was actually wrong?

            One CBE, slightly used?

            Just needs a bit of attention with a file and an engraving tool.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get paid the big bucks

    Get to wear the fallout.

    I wish.

  11. gnasher729 Silver badge

    So she got three million pound as a “performance related bonus”. Of their profits, about 20-30 million were stolen from postmasters. Now I’d expect a few 100 million in compensation payments, plus a few 100 million for the loss of reputation. So whoever is CEO now should reduce these losses a bit by forcing her to pay back the bonus.

    1. cyberdemon Silver badge

      > about 20-30 million were stolen from postmasters

      Is that a realistic estimate of the total amount stolen from postmasters, or just the total from the few cases that have been proven?

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        20-30 million is just a guess based on 40,000 lost per postmaster and over 700 cases.

        1. adam 40 Silver badge

          There were 3500 cases, though, probably with lesser amounts.

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Now I’d expect a few 100 million in compensation payments ...

      The current offer is £600,000 each. For ~700 people that's £420m. I expect it will end up a LOT more than that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >The current offer is £600,000 each. For ~700 people that's £420m. I expect it will end up a LOT more than that.

        The maximum compensation available to *other* victims of miscarriage of justice is £1m - if they spend more than 10 years in prison. Its £500,000 below that - and the government have been known to subtract "board and lodgings" from the compensation awarded. So someone who spent years in prison wrongly has to pay the prison service for the honour of housing them...

        1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          I thought that particular injustice had recently been appealed to the supreme court (which we now have because it's important to be more like the US where their way of doing justice definitely isn't broken), and struck down, so that the government can't try to do this any more. I can't remember the actual case details, but I'm pretty sure it was some time in the last few months.

          1. Spazturtle Silver badge

            No the Supreme Court in the UK doesn't have the power to strike down laws. Parliament changed the law to stop people being charged board and lodging.

  12. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Just when you think it can't get any worse...

    'nuff said?

  13. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Postage?

    Sorry for this, but I cannot help imagining the scene when Paula goes into her local Post Office with a small package to send. She gets it weighed, and is asked if it is of any value, and if so, how much it should be insured for.

    1. teebie

      Re: Postage?

      ...she pays for the postage.

      The post office clerk says she hasn't paid.

      She pays for the postage again.

      The post office clerk says she hasn't paid.

      She pays for the postage again.

      The post office clerk says she hasn't paid.

      She is jailed.

  14. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Gareth Jenkins and immunity

    Telegraph article here https://uk.yahoo.com/news/horizon-tech-expert-helped-convict-215934637.html about his attempts to obtain immunity from prosecution for anything he says to the Horizon inquiry:

    "The architect of the faulty Horizon IT system, who gave evidence used to convict sub-postmasters, has demanded immunity before agreeing to appear at the public inquiry.

    Gareth Jenkins, who is understood to have been instrumental in developing the software as a senior computer engineer at Fujitsu, is under police investigation over his role in the Post Office scandal.

    His testimony given in court cases that the Fujitsu IT system was working correctly was central to convictions and repeatedly used by Post Office lawyers.

    Tracked down by The Telegraph to his home in Berkshire, Mr Jenkins, 69, said, when asked if he was sorry for what had happened: “I don’t want to talk. I don’t have anything to say to you.” "

    and

    "Prosecutions brought by the CPS

    The Telegraph can also disclose that at least 27 prosecutions were brought by the Crown Prosecution service – as opposed to the Post Office – raising serious questions about whether Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, oversaw a number of wrongful convictions during his five-year tenure as director of public prosecutions between 2008 and 2013.

    Mr Jenkins had been due to give evidence to the public inquiry twice. But in each occasion it was postponed including as recently as November 2023, when the Post Office disclosed 3,045 documents on the evening before he was due to give evidence. Sources have speculated that the release of the documents was timed to prevent Mr Jenkins giving evidence."

    The phrase 'I smell a rat' springs to mind.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Gareth Jenkins and immunity

      “I smell a rat” - did you mean that literally?

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Gareth Jenkins and immunity

      Sources have speculated that the release of the documents was timed to prevent Mr Jenkins giving evidence."

      I would be wholly unsurprised to learn that the Post Office is still trying to cover things up. Remember that during the supposedly open investigation into deaths as a result of failing midwifes services (I can't remember which one - there have been so many) the NHS chiefs had openly warned midwives against co-operating. Different business, same rotten stink.

  15. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    You can blame Fujitsu, and perhaps you should, but lacking common sense and compassion, and an enquiring mind, are pretty darn serious shortcomings for someone put in charge of the whole friggin post office system. Nasty person.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't blame Vennells alone. The system was built and initially run under predecessors Adam Crozier* and Moya Greene. Vennells main crime (and a serious one) is trying to deny the problem and not halting prosecutions early enough, but she's being thrown under the bus as a single scalp.

      *Crozier ought to get the boot from his well paid job as chairman of BT, another of those well paid jobs he's drifted into despite knowing nothing about the organisation.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
        WTF?

        Doubling down

        I don't understand this, Vennells could have thrown Crozier and Greene under a bus, come clean and been not only in the clear herself but lauded and praised by the very sub postmasters and sub postmistresses who have been so seriously abused and actually deserved her CBE or even a damehood. Instead she chose to 'double down' on the whole awful mess and be a villain. Now I know that honesty and integrity particularly at a senior levels in a major organisation can be severely career-limiting or ending, but did she not know right from wrong?

        The mind boggles.

  16. ChrisElvidge Bronze badge

    Paula Vennells: Ex-Post Office boss was shortlisted to be Bishop of London

    This reported yesterday by the BBC.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-67923190

    Christianity slipping too?

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Paula Vennells: Ex-Post Office boss was shortlisted to be Bishop of London

      Christianity slipping too?

      it's amusing that you think that the Anglican church has much to do with Christianity. It's more of a social club these days..

  17. CorwinX Bronze badge

    The scary thing about this...

    ... Is that it wasn't some individual(s) who conspired to defraud and prosecute PMs.

    If you read the original court case and the ongoing Inquiry it's like a group self-perpetuating delusion.

    We're the Post Office, we can't be wrong. It's a computer system, whatever it says must be right.

    The investigators really did believe that the PMs had stolen money - because they believed the crap that Horizon was spewing out.

    The higher-ups shut their ears to it because it was too politically and financially sensitive. And the "reputation" of the Post Office was on the line.

    Apparently, many of them looked at Horizon as "solving the problem", as they saw it, of PMs dipping their hands in the till. So they were predisposed to think they'd finally "caught them at it".

    The really sad thing is that this wasn't really malice, it was just mind-bogglingly, hog-whimpering, stupidity and arrogance. Which, regrettably, tend to go together.

    The very least that should happen is that no-one involved should ever have a role in a company above shelf-stacker.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: The scary thing about this...

      We're the Post Office, we can't be wrong. It's a computer system, whatever it says must be right.

      And that view is legally written into UK law. The presumption is that the computer is always right unless the defence can prove otherwise.

      The legal rule that computers are presumed to be operating correctly – unforeseen and unjust consequences

      Posted this yesterday too, a bit spammy, but I'm posting it again as not even IT people know this and as we're writing the damn software we should.

      1. CorwinX Bronze badge

        Re: The scary thing about this...

        Quoting...

        "In 2000 section 69 of the Police and Criminal Act 1984 was repealed. The result was that a common law presumption came into effect that computer evidence was considered reliable unless there was evidence to the contrary. The Law Commission had recommended repeal of section 69 without any replacement."

        Before that the balance of proof was to show that the system *was* working correctly.

        1. CorwinX Bronze badge

          Re: The scary thing about this...

          And, of course, everyone here knows that assuming anything above a pocket calculator is always right is away with the fairies.

          1. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge

            Re: The scary thing about this...

            So yes, we could write some software that made 2+2=5, and legally it would’ve taken to be correct.

            1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

              Re: The scary thing about this...

              I have a vague memory of some old TV drama where this was exactly the denument. I'm sure it was black&white, and it involved bank staff and mechanical adding machines. Everybody was kept behind to find who had been diddling the accounts. At the last point, one character frustratedly said "It's a simple as two" punches in 2 on the calculator "plus two" punches in plus 2 and cranks the handle - which displays 5.

          2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: The scary thing about this...

            Early pocket calculators were a bit iffy sometimes too. An early Sinclair one calculated the square root of 36 as 5.999999999. And more recently there was the Pentium processor arithmetical error in floating point silicon. it is important to remember that computer will always get something wrong because they are designed, implemented, managed and used by fallible human beings. You can get errors from an abacus if you try hard enough.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The scary thing about this...

        What does this all mean in the brave new world of AI?

        1. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge

          Re: The scary thing about this...

          You won’t have to type numbers in, only talk to it, but the results will be the same.

          Anyone remember the scene in Hidden Figures where big fancy computers get the wrong answer, and astronaut refuses to launch unless lady did sums by hand and slide rule and said he was good to go?

  18. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
    Unhappy

    This means nothing

    If you return an honour, they just keep it on the grounds that you might change your mind later, you don't lose the honour or the right to use it.

    It's only the forfeiture committee that can take it away.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: This means nothing

      You mean they don't give it a polish (Jay Blades* would love a go at a serious 'gong') and give it to someone who actually deserves it?**

      *'The Repair Shop' BBC 1 TV programme.

      **My dad's friend, Caroline Series, has been awarded a CBE for services to mathematics (non-Euclidean geometry, don't ask, I've not got a clue). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Series . Though I doubt she'd want a 'second hand' gong, now I come to think of it.

      1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

        Re: This means nothing

        Not as far as I know, they don't. There's a journalist returned theirs and detailed the process and what I said is what my poor old brain remembers of that article.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bet they had ISO 9001

    Her complete faith in the software probably stemmed from Horizon having all the right QA ticks. No need to check it ourselves if the smart people at ISO have already done so!

    Except... as everyone in software knows, the auditors never actually read any code. You're lucky if they even know what your product is for.

    1. Patrician

      Re: I bet they had ISO 9001

      ISO Auditors are only interested in if your company adheres to ISO they don't care if you software has more bugs than a hotel bed.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: I bet they had ISO 9001

        ISO Auditors are only interested in if your company adheres to ISO they don't care if you software has more bugs than a hotel bed.

        And will even sign off a policy that says "we have no policy for this".

        Some (ISO27001 for example) do have actualy concrete stuff that you have to do and is audited but most of it is "do you have a policy and do you have documentation to prove that you adhere to it?" To which the answer is sometimes "yes - and I was up all last night making sure we did.."

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fujshitsu need to be punished as well

    Clearly they are incapable of running any government IT projects or services and need to be banned from bidding on them for the next 10years minimum

    1. Ze

      Re: Fujshitsu need to be punished as well

      The cynic in me says that the outcome of this wil be either Fujitsu sells off this part of the business and the same people go on as normal or they move to a different company that does govt work and continue on as before.

      Either way the cultural rot continues.

  21. TheMeerkat

    Everyone seems to forget about Gareth Jenkins, a Fujitsu “Lead Deal Architrct” and other employees of Fujitsu who were used as an expert witnesses in the trials.

    Politicians would not know much about computer systems, but they should have known the reliability of the system they have created themselve.

  22. Vader

    Nothing will happen

    This inquiry like many others before it will achieve sweet FA. Even if Fujitsu payout £1 billion pounds in compensation. They will get contracts worth £15 billion. People always say they far east and Asia is corrupt, however this corruption is at it's finest.

    1. CorwinX Bronze badge

      Re: Nothing will happen

      As I've mentioned before - no-one from Asia was involved. Horizon was created by a British company - ICL - which was later bought and re-badged as Fujitsu Services. It still operated as mostly a standalone entity with the same people.

      This was British people shafting their fellow Britons. No corruption from the Far East involved. I imagine Fujitsu Japan are regretting ever going near it.

      Which should make it a lot easier to bring those responsible to account.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Nothing will happen

        I imagine Fujitsu Japan are regretting ever going near it

        If it was a Japanese company the CEo would have been on TV by now, profusely apologising and then resigning.

    2. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Nothing will happen

      What are the bookies' odds on who says "lessons will be learnt"' first?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A word for the legal eagles bemoaning the lawmakers who are driving a coach and horses through the constitution: there is no constitution. There is only a government with unlimited and unchecked powers, set up by rich landowners to look after rich landowners, making things up as they go along. That's what parliamentary sovereignty means.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Indeed. What HMG should be doing is creating a law that allows the Criminal Cases Review Commission to accept a class action where many people have been prosecuted and convicted (or agreed to plead guilty) based on the same flawed testimony or 'evidence' and quash all convictions. But, as usual, 'Operation IRMA'* will prevail and we'll get some bad cases and bad law.

      *'Operation IRMA' was named after a wounded child from a war zone called Irma who was rushed to a western hospital to receive life-saving treatment, where the 'hard bitten war correspondents' called Immediate Response to Media Attention.

  24. TimMaher Silver badge
    Coat

    Crapita

    Crackingly funny.

    Crapita have just sent out a leaflet to tell pensioners that the scheme has been renamed.

    It is now called “The Horizon Pension Scheme”.

    Couldn’t make it up.

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