By Tony Collins
This evening BBC1 is due to broadcast a Panorama [7.30pm] on the Post Office’s Horizon IT system and complaints by more than 100 subpostmasters.
“Dozens of sub-postmasters have been prosecuted after their computers showed that money had gone missing, but could there be other explanations for the cash shortfalls? John Sweeney meets a whistleblower who says there were problems with the IT system, and also investigates claims that the Post Office charged some with theft even when the evidence didn’t stack up.”
John Sweeney is one of the most dogged reporters in TV. Another journalist Nick Wallis helped in the making of the programme. He has already presented short documentaries on the Horizon system and the complaints of subpostmasters on BBC’s “One” programme.
The broadcast is likely to add weight to a Parliamentary campaign for justice for subpostmasters who have been made bankrupt, lost their homes and livelihoods, gone to jail or had to pay to the Post Office tens of thousands of pounds the Horizon system said they owed.
The Post Office says that exhaustive investigations have shown there is no systemic fault with Horizon.
Last month the PO urged aggrieved subpostmasters to “engage” with its mediation scheme. But the campaigning group the “Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance” says that it is “not aware of a single case that has been to a Mediation meeting where the applicant has been the slightest bit happy with the outcome, or that the meeting brought resolution between the two parties, which was the stated aim of the Scheme”.
It adds that the Alliance is “aware of a number of cases that have been to Mediation meetings where the applicants have been left distraught and angry at Post Office’s unwillingness to listen or even consider the issues that they have raised”.
The PO says it acknowledges that the mediation scheme has “taken longer than all those involved would have liked”. It adds in an email to subpostmasters: “However, we do now have the opportunity to sit down with you and your professional adviser if you have one, to discuss your complaint in detail and look forward to the opportunity to do so”.
BBC2 has been running a series on the Post Office, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered – inside the Post Office” which was filmed with the PO’s co-operation.
In part it shows the PO’s difficulties trying to recruit subpostmasters for local post offices that may otherwise face closure. The government has said the Post Office must keep all of its 11,500 branches open. Not allowing a single branch to close is a huge challenge for the Post Office.
Now another part of the BBC is due to broadcast a Panorama programme on how some subpostmasters have had their lives ruined when they have run into difficulties that involve the Horizon system.
Are those difficulties one reason the PO is struggling to recruit 600 subpostmasters to keep some local post offices alive?
The pressure on the PO to take unambiguous action to right the perception of a massive injustice is growing. Aside from the bad publicity, and the campaign for justice led by MPs, next month a tribunal is due to take place of Fozia Rashid who claims she was sacked from the Post Office’s Knaresborough High Street branch, in July 2013, after witnessing and attempting to report a series of criminal activities, including potential institutional fraud and errors in the Horizon software. Her hearing starts on 3 September 2015 in Leeds.
She says on Twitter that the Post Office has made her offers to settle. Any publicity of the case is unlikely to make it easier for the Post Office to recruit more subpostmasters.
When will the PO accept that more than 100 people, many of whom signed up in search of an idyllic village life running a local post office, cannot all have been dishonest and were likely victims of circumstances beyond their control?
Tonight’s Panorama is well worth watching.