Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

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sTeamTraen
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Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by sTeamTraen » Sat Apr 24, 2021 8:59 pm

I've been following this story off and on in Private Eye [PDF] for getting on for 10 years. It's the most appalling account of what happens when people's dedication to an institution and/or their own monthly salary cheques can lead them to f.ck other people over in the most callous ways imaginable. I hope the people responsible get sued for every penny they have.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by bjn » Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:12 pm

Surely it should go beyond civil liability. Evidence was withheld in multiple criminal trials that would have shown that the defendants were innocent, isn't that perjury or perverting the course of justice?

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Lew Dolby » Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:23 pm

as a (long-time) ex IT worker, my question would be why didn't this level of theft incidents ring alarm bells.

And why weren't the computer accounts balanced against the actual "counter drawers" ? The stamps, postal orders, etc still in the sub-poat offices would have shown exactly how much cash there should have been.

The whole business was a fiasco.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Fishnut » Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:36 pm

There are so many questions that need to be answered about this travesty. I spent a couple of hours yesterday listening to the BBC podcast The Great Post Office Trial (available only on BBC Sounds from what I can see but they've combined the episodes into two parts and edited out the "this is episode n" stuff to make it easier to binge). One thing that struck me while listening was the way the subpostmasters were told to cover the shortfalls with their own money, some even remortgaging their homes to do so. The Post Office stole from its own staff and I've not seen anything that has discussed redressing that properly. I know they got compensation from one of the trials last year (though the podcast said it averaged at only ~£20k each after costs had been paid) but I've not seen any mention specifically about the Post Office being made to pay back its stolen earnings, or even how it was able to account for those earnings. Where's their auditors?!
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by sTeamTraen » Sat Apr 24, 2021 10:51 pm

Lew Dolby wrote:
Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:23 pm
as a (long-time) ex IT worker, my question would be why didn't this level of theft incidents ring alarm bells.
My bet is that we will find out, one day, that there was a culture of "The sub-postmasters are all thieving scum, I knew it all along, and this new system proves it".

I hope that Post Office CEO Paula Vennells loses her CBE and indeed her house over this. She didn't join the PO until 2007, by which time the problems with Horizon had already been going for many years; when she became CEO in 2012 she could have stopped it, but she was part of the problem by then, so she kept going. She's apparently also an Anglican priest; I'd love to know what her sermons are about.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by philbo » Sun Apr 25, 2021 9:11 pm

bjn wrote:
Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:12 pm
Surely it should go beyond civil liability. Evidence was withheld in multiple criminal trials that would have shown that the defendants were innocent, isn't that perjury or perverting the course of justice?
This.

I don't see how a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice could be defended, by the PO and Fujitsu.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Martin Y » Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:12 am

Looks like Paula Vennels has heard sTeamy's prayers as she's stepped back from her church duties and chucked a bunch of directorships. BBC has a nice quote from her boss the bishop of St Albans saying his parents had a sub post office and that he had expressed his dismay. That's bishop-speak for telling her to go f.ck herself I think.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Gfamily » Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:22 am

philbo wrote:
Sun Apr 25, 2021 9:11 pm
bjn wrote:
Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:12 pm
Surely it should go beyond civil liability. Evidence was withheld in multiple criminal trials that would have shown that the defendants were innocent, isn't that perjury or perverting the course of justice?
This.

I don't see how a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice could be defended, by the PO and Fujitsu.
The POL lawyers involved should be concerned as well...
https://lawyerwatch.wordpress.com/2021/ ... -post/amp/
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by bagpuss » Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:33 am

Lew Dolby wrote:
Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:23 pm
as a (long-time) ex IT worker, my question would be why didn't this level of theft incidents ring alarm bells.

And why weren't the computer accounts balanced against the actual "counter drawers" ? The stamps, postal orders, etc still in the sub-poat offices would have shown exactly how much cash there should have been.

The whole business was a fiasco.
There was something on Radio 4 about this a few days ago and apparently the level of theft incidents didn't ring alarm bells because they simply assumed that that level of theft had been going on anyway and the new computer system was just enabling them to be identified. Which kind of makes sense if taken in isolation but the fact that the very sub postmasters who were supposedly thieving were, at the same time, raising queries about the system and asking for help really should have made them think again. If someone is trying to get away with thieving, one tends to try to keep a low profile, not repeatedly ask for someone to help them figure out what is going wrong.

As for your second point, I think that was exactly what was being done. Computer accts were saying there should be x, drawers had y, therefore there was a discrepancy of x-y. It was the easy answer and apparently, despite mounting evidence that there was something distinctly wrong somewhere, the PO just persisted in the belief that the computer system could not be wrong, so therefore someone must be stealing the value of x-y. They just didn't allow for the possibility that y could be correct and the computer system wrong. A number of these sub postmasters were actually putting money in from their own pockets to ensure that the correct amount of cash was there at the end of the day but obviously they couldn't keep that up and the PO just shut down all of their requests for help and took them to court instead.

It's utterly bl..dy appalling and what's more, I cannot understand how it has taken this long for convictions to be overturned - as sTeamy said in the OP, this has been known about for years, it's not new news that the computer system was in error.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Fishnut » Mon Apr 26, 2021 9:37 am

bagpuss wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:33 am
A number of these sub postmasters were actually putting money in from their own pockets to ensure that the correct amount of cash was there at the end of the day but obviously they couldn't keep that up and the PO just shut down all of their requests for help and took them to court instead.
They didn't just do this off their own backs, they were told to do this by the 'help' team - it sounds like standard protocol is that shortfalls have to be made up out of the wages of the subpostmasters (and if the shortfall is greater than their wages then tough). Given that no money was actually missing this is the PO committing extortion, surely? Everything I've seen has focused on the fact the PO prosecuted people unlawfully. What I haven't seen (though this may well be my failure) is anything discussing the PO being prosecuted for extortion and theft, and for this money to be returned to the subpostmasters.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by sTeamTraen » Mon Apr 26, 2021 12:17 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:12 am
Looks like Paula Vennels has heard sTeamy's prayers as she's stepped back from her church duties and chucked a bunch of directorships.
Two such directorships gone.
Fishnut wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 9:37 am
bagpuss wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:33 am
A number of these sub postmasters were actually putting money in from their own pockets to ensure that the correct amount of cash was there at the end of the day but obviously they couldn't keep that up and the PO just shut down all of their requests for help and took them to court instead.
They didn't just do this off their own backs, they were told to do this by the 'help' team - it sounds like standard protocol is that shortfalls have to be made up out of the wages of the subpostmasters (and if the shortfall is greater than their wages then tough). Given that no money was actually missing this is the PO committing extortion, surely? Everything I've seen has focused on the fact the PO prosecuted people unlawfully. What I haven't seen (though this may well be my failure) is anything discussing the PO being prosecuted for extortion and theft, and for this money to be returned to the subpostmasters.
I guess this is normal, in that these things take time and there is an order in which they have to happen (after all, until last Thursday the SPMs were still, on paper, convicted thieves or fraudsters). So we will probably hear more about this in the coming weeks, once the SPMs and their lawyers have recovered from what I hope was a very good weekend of celebration, Covid permitting. They will also maybe want to let a few people sweat, and see who comes forward to spill some beans.

I have a very large bucket of popcorn ready.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by philbo » Mon Apr 26, 2021 12:41 pm

Gfamily wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:22 am
philbo wrote:
Sun Apr 25, 2021 9:11 pm
bjn wrote:
Sat Apr 24, 2021 9:12 pm
Surely it should go beyond civil liability. Evidence was withheld in multiple criminal trials that would have shown that the defendants were innocent, isn't that perjury or perverting the course of justice?
This.

I don't see how a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice could be defended, by the PO and Fujitsu.
The POL lawyers involved should be concerned as well...
https://lawyerwatch.wordpress.com/2021/ ... -post/amp/
Yes, it really doesn't look like *anyone* on the POL (tempting to call them POS instead) side had any concern at all other than maintaining the pretence that Horizon was perfect when they knew damn well it wasn't and that they'd inflicted hardship, jail, and all sorts of other bullying sh.t on their sub postmasters.

I really hope they don't accept grovelling apologies/damages and leave it there: the time for that was nearly a decade ago. These people need to be prosecuted.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by bagpuss » Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:07 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 9:37 am
bagpuss wrote:
Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:33 am
A number of these sub postmasters were actually putting money in from their own pockets to ensure that the correct amount of cash was there at the end of the day but obviously they couldn't keep that up and the PO just shut down all of their requests for help and took them to court instead.
They didn't just do this off their own backs, they were told to do this by the 'help' team - it sounds like standard protocol is that shortfalls have to be made up out of the wages of the subpostmasters (and if the shortfall is greater than their wages then tough). Given that no money was actually missing this is the PO committing extortion, surely? Everything I've seen has focused on the fact the PO prosecuted people unlawfully. What I haven't seen (though this may well be my failure) is anything discussing the PO being prosecuted for extortion and theft, and for this money to be returned to the subpostmasters.
Yes, I hadn't quite realised the full extent of what happened there when I posted but have now read more and realise that when the reporter was saying "so and so made up the money from their own pocket" that sentence was missing some rather important points. That the system was deliberately changed so that sub postmasters were given the stark choice between accepting what the software decreed at the end of a day and thus becoming liable for the "missing" cash or being simply unable to open for business the next day, is just one utterly appalling bit of this whole shocking mess.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by cvb » Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:40 am

sTeamTraen wrote:
Sat Apr 24, 2021 8:59 pm
I've been following this story off and on in Private Eye [PDF] for getting on for 10 years. It's the most appalling account of what happens when people's dedication to an institution and/or their own monthly salary cheques can lead them to f.ck other people over in the most callous ways imaginable. I hope the people responsible get sued for every penny they have.
I remember reading about this years and years ago, it might even have been in Computer Weekly, and thinking it was utterly bonkers. I hope somebody is held accountable/prosecuted form this, but I will not hold my breath.

edit for spulling

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Allo V Psycho » Fri Jun 04, 2021 12:15 pm

Via David Allen Green, this devastating account:

https://www.postofficetrial.com/2021/06 ... ch-to.html

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Nero » Fri Jun 04, 2021 12:49 pm

Allo V Psycho wrote:
Fri Jun 04, 2021 12:15 pm
Via David Allen Green, this devastating account:

https://www.postofficetrial.com/2021/06 ... ch-to.html
A really good read, thanks for posting that.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by FlammableFlower » Fri Jun 04, 2021 2:24 pm

Wow, that is horrifying.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Martin Y » Fri Jun 04, 2021 3:24 pm

Astonishing. The PO knew Horizon was unreliable and kept it quiet. The courts accepted Horizon evidence as reliable for no good reason I can see, and rejected defence's repeated calls for the PO to demonstrate its reliability. Absolutely staggering.

I think the remaining puzzle is who exactly belongs in prison for perverting the course of justice.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by nezumi » Fri Jun 04, 2021 4:08 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 04, 2021 3:24 pm
Astonishing. The PO knew Horizon was unreliable and kept it quiet. The courts accepted Horizon evidence as reliable for no good reason I can see, and rejected defence's repeated calls for the PO to demonstrate its reliability. Absolutely staggering.

I think the remaining puzzle is who exactly belongs in prison for perverting the course of justice.
We both know nobody's going to go to prison for this. The people involved didn't even get their money back after fees.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by basementer » Fri Jun 04, 2021 4:16 pm

Thanks AvP. That article is tough to read.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Martin Y » Fri Jun 04, 2021 4:17 pm

nezumi wrote:
Fri Jun 04, 2021 4:08 pm
We both know nobody's going to go to prison for this. The people involved didn't even get their money back after fees.
The cynic in me assumes "deputy heads will roll", but this time I'm not so sure. Unless they can come up with a highly elaborate blame-sharing scheme where everyone gets a stern look and a rap on the knuckles but no individual is quite naughty enough to get jail time, I think somebody's got to go under the bus eventually.

And yes, the payout which basically covered the legal fees is jaw-droppingly insulting.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by IvanV » Fri Jun 04, 2021 6:23 pm

Martin Y wrote:
Fri Jun 04, 2021 4:17 pm
And yes, the payout which basically covered the legal fees is jaw-droppingly insulting.
What we have seen so far is a civil claim, and only for a small sample of the cases. I expect a criminal case of malicious prosecution, at least, will follow.
Then there remains the potential for an award of further compensation following such a criminal case.

The loss of some - in this case nearly all because the PO fought it so hard - of the compensation is how civil cases on a no-win-no-fee basis work. The insurance company takes some of your winnings, to compensate it for swallowing the cost of it if the case was lost.

Only a small number of the civil claims have been judged. Hopefully the others will now mostly be acknowledged without the need for expensive trials. Maybe, in a perfect world, there can be a bit of sharing around for those who went first and had to swallow the large costs, if there is no other compensation coming for them.

Sadly it is perfectly normal, where large wrong-doings have been exposed, for the administration of compensation to be slow and subject to some nasty nit-picking by the people who have been employed to administer it.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by discovolante » Fri Jun 04, 2021 8:08 pm

The legal costs thing. I'm not totally sure what's happened. No win no fee (conditional fee agreements) are often self-insuring in that the premium won't be charged if the insured party recovers their legal costs I.e there is no need for their lawyers to make a claim on the policy because they got their costs back from the other side. I dont know how the insurance policies worked in this case though, it was probably a bespoke policy so perhaps the premium was charged regardless of the outcome. However the fee referred to is not the insurance premium, it is the 'success fee' that lawyers can charge due to the risk of not being paid if the case isn't successful (which is not the same as not recovering your costs). So if the party is successful and is awarded their costs, they get those plus the success fee (which may or may not be capped at a percentage of damages awarded). In reality it's rare to recover all of the legal expenses as there will be disputes over whether they are necessary, reasonable and proportionate. So the lawyer could require their client to cough up the difference on top of the success fee (in practice my firms pretty much never did).

I'm talking about solicitors here though, barristers instructed on the case may not do a CFA or may charge an additional success fee on top of the solicitor's.

So did the post office workers get their costs awarded to them and what happened that meant they lost so much of their compensation to legal expenses if so? I'm not aware of any allegations of impropriety or inflated legal costs on the part of their lawyers. I might actually look into this at some point, and I wasn't intending to wildly speculate without having done so but I felt the need to clarify IvanV's claim about insurance premiums.
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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by IvanV » Fri Jun 04, 2021 9:29 pm

I've had a further re-read of various articles and to see what I can clarify, and I realise there is a key point that I had not grasped, despite having read these things previously. The most useful, I think, is the comment of Nick Gardner at DAG here https://davidallengreen.com/2021/04/fur ... izon-case/

So it was a settlement, not a court order, the PO gave up and negotiated a deal. So there was no explicit court order of costs by the court. Nevertheless the settlement included an amount for costs, which was about 80% of the total settlement.

So what was left over was, on average, £20k per litigant, after costs were deducted. Was that a fair level of compensation for them? I don't know. The public noises seem to be about the lawyers taking 80% of the settlement money, without recognising that the settlement was explicitly so structured. The question of whether what was left for the litigants was reasonable or not does not seem to have been addressed, and I don't know if it was.

I read somewhere that one of the postmasters was charged over £300k in costs in their own Horizon trial, and so was made bankrupt. I don't know how much of it they paid, or if that was a rare case. £20k for that litigant would probably be a small fraction of what they lost. But I don't know if the £12m shared between 550 postmasters was an equal £20k each, or whether it varied according to their individual losses, and how much of their losses it covered.

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Re: Post Office Horizon system prosecutions

Post by Gfamily » Fri Jun 04, 2021 9:45 pm

IvanV wrote:
Fri Jun 04, 2021 9:29 pm
I read somewhere that one of the postmasters was charged over £300k in costs in their own Horizon trial, and so was made bankrupt. I don't know how much of it they paid, or if that was a rare case. £20k for that litigant would probably be a small fraction of what they lost. But I don't know if the £12m shared between 550 postmasters was an equal £20k each, or whether it varied according to their individual losses, and how much of their losses it covered.
Yes, this was in the Marshall lecture
Paul Marshall wrote:The Post Office obtained a costs order against Mr Castleton for £321,000.

The costs order made against him caused Lee Castleton to become bankrupt. For several years he and his family were rendered almost destitute. They lived in accommodation without a hot water boiler because he could not afford one. Ask yourself how many postmasters the Post Office’s solicitors will have shown that hopelessly flawed reported High Court judgment to, to make them think twice before taking on the Post Office.

It's just an absolute disgrace.
in the previous paragraph he wrote:The trial judge, without hearing any expert evidence, rejected Mr Castleton’s defence that the Horizon system might not have been working properly. The judge concluded that it was working properly. You may ask yourself how he arrived at that conclusion. You will remain mystified if you take the trouble to read the judge’s judgment: Post Office Ltd v Castleton [2007] EWHC 5 QB.

(https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2007/5.html.)
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