The UK police have launched an investigation into potential fraud offenses by the Post Office related to the Horizon IT scandal that wrongly convicted hundreds of postmasters of false accounting and theft. This comes after years of public pressure and revelations that senior Post Office management were alerted to problems with the Horizon system on “countless occasions” but continued prosecutions.
Postmasters’ Lives “Ruined” Over Faulty IT System
For over a decade, subpostmasters were falsely accused and prosecuted for financial crimes after unexplained shortfalls appeared on the Post Office’s Horizon computer system. In December 2022, after a series of private prosecutions, the Court of Appeal finally cleared the names of all convicted postmasters.
However, many had already lost their jobs, homes, life savings and reputations:
“My husband went to prison over the Post Office scandal. We lost everything,” said one wife whose husband was jailed for 9 months.
Another victim who denied false accusations of stealing £60,000 said:
“I considered taking my own life. My family and I have gone through hell.”
In total, over 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted between 2000 and 2014 based on deficient Horizon data. The human cost of the scandal has been enormous. Calls are mounting for all victims to receive compensation for gross miscarriages of justice.
Police Examine “Fraudulent Behavior” of Senior Management
After facing criticism for delays, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the government is “moving ahead” to clear victims’ names more quickly. The police are now investigating “fraudulent behavior” surrounding the Horizon prosecutions.
Detectives from the City of London Police Economic Crime Victims Team are leading the criminal investigation into potential:
- Conspiring to pervert the course of justice
- Misconduct in public office
A spokesperson said they will examine “any evidence of criminal offences” by Post Office directors, employees and others involved. Evidence shows senior management were repeatedly warned about Horizon flaws before 2014, including by:
- IT experts
- Even their own internal audits
But the Post Office continued aggressively pursuing dubious prosecutions against branch managers.
“Institutional Blindness” – Ignoring Expert Warnings
In 2009, computer forensics specialist Jason Coyne warned the Post Office about risks the Horizon system could cause substantial financial discrepancies at branches. He said it was vulnerable to data corruption and needed tighter controls – his warnings were dismissed.
“There was institutional blindness to Horizon’s problems. It was easier to blame subpostmasters than question the system,” said Coyne.
That same year, 2nd Sight, an independent investigation into Horizon ordered by the Post Office itself, raised further concerns in an interim report. But the Post Office allegedly tried to “control and interfere” in 2nd Sight’s final findings in 2013, which highlighted significant bugs and errors.
Even an internal Ernst and Young audit in 2013 flagged Horizon processes had “insufficient control”. Still, the Post Office pressed on with prosecutions citing Horizon data as reliable evidence.
Public Outrage After Denials of Responsibility
There is growing public outrage over the scandal. Central figures involved have shown little remorse or accountability:
|Post Office CEO (2012-2019)
|Denied responsibility. Awarded a CBE in 2019 and appointed a government advisor until 2022.
|Operated Horizon IT system
|Admitted to Horizon “bugs, errors and defects” but denied liability for injury or losses. Paid £58m to settle civil claims.
Vennells said she “regretted” the suffering but added: “I have also lived every day since with the conviction that I acted with integrity.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer also faces scrutiny over why the state prosecution service CPS, under his watch as DPP from 2008-2013, failed to further examine overwhelming evidence undermining prosecution cases before trial. So far, he has declined to explain or apologize.
What Next For Victims?
The government says it wants to “learn lessons” and seems poised to act after the new police probe cranks up pressure.
Campaigners are urging ministers to:
- Set up an independent review
- Bring a judge-led public inquiry
- Compensate all victims
- Introduce legal changes to prevent similar injustices
While the investigation now offers hope of accountability, for tarnished subpostmasters it feels too little, too late. The Horizon scandal has been called the largest British miscarriage of justice in history. For those who lost livelihoods, reputations, family lives and mental health over a computer error, no apology or payouts can make up for the chaos wrought on victims like former postmaster Noel Thomas:
“They came into my post office, cleared out my till, and told me I was under investigation for false accounting,” he recalled. “My life was never the same again.”
The police probe has opened old wounds. While the truth may finally emerge about who in power knew what and when, it may bring too late justice for hundreds caught in the Kafkaesque nightmare of the great Post Office IT scandal cover-up.
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