back to article Blighty's most trusted brand? Yeah, you wish, judge tells Post Office in Horizon IT system ruling

A High Court judge has blasted the Post Office in a long-running case over whether its Horizon IT system was to blame for alleged fraud by subpostmasters. More than 500 subpostmasters are suing the Post Office after they were accused of stealing money from the state-owned postal network. In a blistering 1,000-paragraph …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps a more apt name for the system would be Event Horizon the way cash disappeared.

  2. djstardust Silver badge

    This is a disgrace

    No wonder there was a rush to sell the business off because this scandal was always going to come back and bite them in the arse at some point.

    Over 500 people who went trough stress, convictions, loss of business and in some cases homes because of this.

    I hope they sue for everything.

    Another classic case of business calls all the shorts and doesn't listen.

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Re: This is a disgrace

      According to Private Eye at least one person committed suicide over this.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: This is a disgrace

      Isn't criminal libel rather expensive for the perpetrator ?

      Or would it just be perjury ?

      I seem to remember that banks get very apologetic for wrongly bouncing a check - because falsely declaring to the world that the customer is financial untrustworthy is very expensive in libel court.

    3. HarryBl

      Re: This is a disgrace

      The Post Office is a government entity. It's not part of the Royal Mail which is a separate private company.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Pro tip: Don't get on the wrong side of the judge.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
      Joke

      Pro? You obviously have experience

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "You obviously have experience"

        Yes. On the whole I found them courteous, intelligent and thoroughly in control of their courts.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrongly convicted ? Fuck off.

    Bear in mind that it's accepted practice in the UK to deny compensation (while charging for board and lodging) to the wrongfully convicted. So even a case like this, and a review is unlikely to help anyone who got banged up as a result.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Wrongly convicted ? Fuck off.

      Here's just one example: The Birmingham Six. They got between £840,000 and £1.2 million each.

      1. goldcd

        Re: Wrongly convicted ? Fuck off.

        Yes - and the government really didn't like it.

        Few years old but first thing that came up on google - https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/23/britain-refusing-compensate-victims-miscarriage-justice

      2. JimmyPage Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: They got between £840,000 and £1.2 million each.

        From which was deducted the cost of keeping them in prison as board and lodging.

    2. Alan Johnson

      Re: Wrongly convicted ? Fuck off.

      "Bear in mind that it's accepted practice in the UK to deny compensation (while charging for board and lodging) to the wrongfully convicted. So even a case like this, and a review is unlikely to help anyone who got banged up as a result."

      The government changed the rules for compensation for wrongful conviction so that the victim had to prove beyong reasonable doubt that they were innocent to get compensation. In this they are suing the post office as being at the very least negligent and reckless in the way they prosecuted the post masters concerned. They should have no problem proving this and the post offices Tactiq's of delay suggest they know that.

  5. Detective Emil
    Thumb Up

    Credit where it's due

    Computer Weekly has been worrying away at this story for a decade.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Credit where it's due

      As has Private Eye, to be fair.

      They ran a story where a postmaster was demonstrating the system to someone, and the figures changed on screen without any input - showing the postmaster had made a transfer. It was "evidence" like this which was used in court.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Credit where it's due

        So where did the money transfer to? Being "cybercash" in the sense of there's no real money (bills or coins) did it just disappear or go to some foreign company? Has anyone looked into if the systems were hacked and taken over by outsiders? Too many questions but the judge sounds reasonable.

        1. The Nazz Silver badge

          Re: Credit where it's due

          A cynic may ask if the Horizon software was deliberately programmed to skim a miniscule percentage off, here and there.

          As the Judge states, the PO are hell bent on avoiding Horizon, and it's ways of working being looked at.

        2. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Credit where it's due

          "So where did the money transfer to?"

          It appears the system records non-existent transactions, so of course the till comes up short.

        3. Natalie Gritpants Jr

          Re: Credit where it's due

          The money in question does not exist. The post office believes they are owed it because their software says so. No other proof of the transactions exist beyond their faulty software. They accuse people of theft as there is no other place to look for the non-existent money. Unbelievable that they got convictions based solely on their accounting software, make you wonder how many people lied in court to convince a jury.

      2. matthewdjb

        Re: Credit where it's due

        Presumably "94" is a call-out to the Eye.

  6. jchevali

    Post Office services are truly awful.

    They don't even run their own financial services (the likes of Bank of Ireland UK do), and you can't even open or operate the said accounts at Post Offices.

    Their foreign currency exchange rates are truly awful. Stationery bought at Post Office shops is always expensive. The price of stamps has gone up much faster than inflation since the turn of the century. And I could go on.

    It's all about the brand apparently, but it's been so bad for so long that I can't understand how anyone can trust it. Meanwhile, smaller post offices keep on closing. Hopefully one day they'll be all gone.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      The price of stamps has gone up much faster than inflation

      But the price of stamps isn't set by the Post Office but by the Royal Mail*. Different business.

      * Yes - I realise that OFCOM has a hand in this too.

      1. paulf Silver badge
        Holmes

        It's also worth noting that many Crown Post Offices (the ones owned and operated by POL) have been moved into branches of WH Smith (i.e. been privatised). That likely explains your problem with expensive stationery.

        These shouldn't be confused with the smaller Post Offices (more like a corner shop with a PO counter in it) run by a Sub-Postmaster owning and operating his/her own store and providing Post Office services under contract to POL.

  7. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    'twas ever thus

    They've always been arrogant shits - even before the split up with BT. It's deeply encoded in their DNA and I don't expect significant changes for a very long time - if ever.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: 'twas ever thus

      They got that from BT.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The postmaster (or sub postmaster?) in my village was convicted and imprisoned a few years ago after being accused of theft from the post office. I had moved overseas by the time it all happened but could never have imagined her stealing anyTHING from anyONE. I presumed the law had got it right and I had misjudged her character. Now I don't know what to believe but hope that either she was genuinely guilty, or that she gets justice (and compensation and an apology) if she wasn't. If she was innocent then I feel I owe her an apology for presuming she could have done the things of which she was accused.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All our local post offices were closed and seemingly without any open tender process, transferred to various poorly sited corner shops under the banner of "enhanced opening hours" yet the one closest to me is open the same or often less hours than the post office it replaced and is on a blind bend with no parking (whereas the old post office (with its mail box still in use) was on a straight, with plenty of parking out the front and good visibility all round, it was shuttered after the very good postmistress was implicated in a theft due to "horizon related discrepancies" think she somehow avoided prosecution but lost everything, if I was her I'd be speaking to a receptive lawyer if Post office loses.

    Longer opening hours barely lasted a couple of years, biggest store has just had its post office opening hours slashed from 7pm to 5.30pm and was closed after a "fusebox problem", funny fusebox issues don't normally result in the power company disconnecting the entire power supply to the premises, they usually only do that when they find someone has bypassed the meter or tampered with the meter.....my suspicions were honed particularly when in the same report it was stated "supply will not be restored for at least 48 hours post repair" which is the standard minimum reconnection time after the bill has been paid and the tampering resolved.

    1. Shady

      My local postoffice closed and was re-situated in the convenience store a couple of hundred yards up the road.

      It's open, including the PO counter, from 7am to 9pm. I don't use it often but it's handy if I need to call in on the way to / from work, as the "old" postoffice was strictly a 9-5 affair.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can't blame them for trying...

    "A party (here the Post Office) threatening dire consequences to national business should their case not be preferred is not helpful, and this seemed to me to be an attempt to put the court in terrorem."

    That technique is higly effective in the US where bankers are found guilty of money laundering for drug cartels.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73a1ATWRV2s

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: You can't blame them for trying...

      >That technique is higly effective in the US where bankers are found guilty of money laundering for drug cartels.

      I laughed when the £1.92bn payment to the US authorities was referred to as a "parking ticket" ...

  11. J J Carter Silver badge
    Boffin

    Epic fail.

    Did the accounting discrepancies begin when Horizon support was offshored?

    1. Ted Glenn

      Re: Epic fail.

      Most of Dev owrk was still completed out of Bracknell along with fixes its was only 1st and second line that was off shored

  12. gnasher729 Silver badge

    For compensation, there might be a difference between a court doing its honest best and unfortunately getting it wrong, and a huge company swearing blind that it has 100% evidence of fraud which then turns out to be 100% made up.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "a huge company swearing blind that it has 100% evidence of fraud which then turns out to be 100% made up."

      Perjury, malicious prosecution, _personal_ liability of the various Post Office C-suite staff.

      And that's without the families of the people (multiples, not just one) who were harrassed into suicide taking action for corporate manslaughter.

      The primary reason that Post Office don't want Horizon exposed is that "certain individuals" face lengthy periods detained at her majesty's pleasure and/or being personally stripped of everything they own (or have fobbed off to the kids/wife/family trust to avoid it being nabbed), in addition to the corporate liabilities.

  13. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    WTF?

    But he also vowed to appeal against the judgment, alleging there were "areas around the interpretation of our contracts where the judge's conclusions differ from what we expected from a legal standpoint".

    Hey mate! You're a fucking CEO, The judge is, well, a judge. I know who's legal opinion carries more weight. Hint, it's not that of a CEO.

    1. JimC Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      Well, it depends whether your company employs the sort of lawyers who tell you what you want to hear, or the sort of lawyers who tell you what you need to hear.

      The latter variety are, of course, guilty of failing to have a can do attitude, so are a bit out of place in modern management practice.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back in the last century I used to have a coffee and chat with a DHSS fraud investigator while the kids were having a swimming lessons.

    According to him, whilst most frauds were committed by claimants or their relatives, most money was lost to dodgy subpostmasters, often via misappropriated order books. I would expect this to lead to the assumption that any other unaccounted for cash would be going the same way irrespective of the facts or evidence and the more convictions and confessions obtained would just reinforce this thinking.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "According to him, whilst most frauds were committed by claimants or their relatives, "

      The same attitude prevailed in New Zealand until they rolled out a (very expensive) system linking up welfare, tax and banking systems in the early 1990s.

      What immediately fell out was that almost _all_ fraud was prepetrated by WINZ(DHSS equivalent) _staff_ (usually involving ficticious claimants and/or diverting payments of deceased persons), with actual genuine welfare fraud by beneficiaries being vanishingly rare.

      This was later massaged to be "claimant fraud" in official histories - but it should have been detectable without spending $140million because in most cases all the payments for various claimants were going to the same bank account (NZ dropped cash payouts and went to bank transfers in the early 1980s).

      The attitude still prevails, despite regular busts of similar slightly more sophisticated WINZ staff scams (they've learned to use different bank accounts and generate multiple tax identities, but "living beyond your apparent income" is hard to hide in the long term)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ways not to win in court, no.94: 'threatening dire consequences to national business' if you lose

    As apt a description of May's Brexit stance as it is possible to make.

    But of course its all right when a remainer government does it..

    1. Wincerind

      Re: Ways not to win in court, no.94:'threatening dire consequences to national business' if you lose

      Aaaand you win tonight's star prize for wheedling a F*cking Brexit reference into a Post Office story. Dickhead.

      1. Loatesy

        Re: Ways not to win in court, no.94:'threatening dire consequences to national business' if you lose

        Well said.

  16. HarryBl

    They're trying to get the judge kicked off the case now...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019