By Tony Collins
The Post Office has prosecuted subpostmasters in the past because of false accounting or theft after the Post Office’s Horizon IT system showed discrepancies in the accounts.
The law allows the Post Office to act as investigating authority – and prosecuting authority – when it suspects losses shown on the Horizon system are due to dishonesty by subpostmasters who run local post offices.
Some sub-postmasters have been jailed and some have been made bankrupt or ruined financially after the Post Office required that they repay losses shown on Horizon.
More than 150 subpostmasters are in the midst of a collective legal action against the Post Office. The action is being coordinated by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. The Post Office is fighting it.
Subpostmasters say the losses were the result of faults in the Horizon or associated equipment and communications, which the Post Office denies. Subpostmasters say that evidence of discrepancies is not the same as evidence of theft.
These are the figures for Post Office prosecutions in the past six years:
The Post Office also gave figures for the number of postmasters suspended:
In its Freedom of Information response the Post Office gave no reason for the plummeting number of prosecutions.
One possible factor is that the Post Office might have re-examined its approach to prosecutions. In 2013 forensic accountants Second Sight began reporting on complaints by about 150 subpostmasters that they were being incorrectly prosecuted or asked to repay money they did not owe.
In 2014 the BBC reported on the contents on of a leaked Second Sight report that said Post Office investigators did not look for the root cause of the errors – and instead accused the sub-postmasters of theft or false accounting.
The Post Office has issued a point-by-point rebuttal of Second Sight’s reports.
In a separate blog post, I have suggested that the Post Office settle the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance’s legal action – which would mean compensating the individuals and families involved – to avoid protracted legal proceedings causing more suffering.