By Tony Collins
The number of Post Office prosecutions of postmasters has fallen sharply in recent years, from dozens a year to single figures, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
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.
Post Office Horizon IT – for Julian Wilson time ran out on justice
Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance
I emailed you earlier about your excellent piece on Julian, thanking you on behalf of Karen and Emma for keeping this injustice in the public eye.
With regard to the drop in the number of convictions my guess would be that they have actually found, and fixed, one or more, bugs.
Having untaken a few of these forensic investigations myself in the past, there are bugs lurking in all large-scale software systems.
This episode has parallels with the streams under the spoil heeps at Aberfan, everybody knew the situation yet justice was dragged out and nobody held accountable.
It is incredible that lack of accountability of those employed by the State in the UK , on OUR behalf, can still act in this way.
So, let’s have justice for Julian, and all his colleagues, and more importantly an end to the way that people are rode roughshod over by faceless bureaucracy.
Thank you. A number of people are comparing the Post Office to the Coal Board’s attitude post-Aberfan.
Thank you, Tony, for this article.
I was so upset by the contents of yesterday’s article that I have been unable to respond. I do remember the original BBC programme which is how and why I am here.
Although not directly involved, I do detest cowardice, particularly corporate. As you will know, none of our institutions ever admit responsibility – aided and abetted by the advice of the scrapings of the legal profession. I imagine an added bonus is the harm and hurt, occasionally fatal, imposed upon the innocent.
I wish the Justice campaign well. Please tell its members to remain principled however much they are provoked.
Although the figures you have provided speak for themselves, it isn’t a wise tactic to be optimistic, particularly of the Law – often better to think of it as a campaign to shame and embarrass those who have worked hard in elevating themselves above mere mortals and who are not used to anyone questioning them.
As Sir Winston Churchill may have said – it isn’t getting knocked down that is shameful but in the not getting up.