- The Post Office failed to properly investigate why money went missing
- Many subpostmasters were sacked, stripped of savings and even jailed
- Leaked Report says discrepancies could have been caused by IT systems
- Former Tory MP says Post Office workers were 'dragged through the mud'
The Post Office failed to properly investigate why money had gone missing from branches before launching court proceedings against subpostmasters, a report revealed yesterday.
Many were sacked, stripped of their savings and even jailed after cash shortfalls were recorded at some branches – despite claims that a faulty IT system was to blame.
The Post Office asked forensic accountants Second Sight to investigate the Horizon IT system in 2012, following complaints from dozens of subpostmasters who said they had been wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting when cash shortfalls were discovered.
The Post Office failed to properly investigate why money had gone missing from branches before launching court proceedings against subpostmasters, a report has revealed (file picture)
Now a leaked copy of the accountants’ independent report has suggested that the discrepancies could have been caused by computer failures, cyber criminals or human error.
It also accused the Post Office of failing ‘in many cases’ to identify ‘the root cause of shortfalls’ before starting civil or criminal proceedings.
The review said some criminal cases brought by the Post Office were ‘motivated primarily’ by a desire to recover the money and did not appear to be supported by sufficient evidence.
It went on to claim that the Post Office had failed to provide the accountancy firm with the documentation they required, and had ‘terminated’ their contract before they finished their research.
The report has sparked fresh calls for a full independent inquiry into the computer system used by postmasters after the report reported concerns that ‘in some circumstances Horizon can be systemically flawed’.
Former Conservative MP James Arbuthnot said some subpostmasters had been 'dragged through the mud'
Former Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, who led an MPs’ campaign to support the subpostmasters, said: ‘These people have been pillars of the community who had their reputations dragged through the mud – some have been sent to prison, they’ve been made bankrupt, they’ve had contracts terminated, I understand at least one has committed suicide. And the way they have been treated is an utter disgrace. I think there needs to be an independent inquiry.’
Responding to the report, the Post Office said the review had repeated ‘complaints made by a very small number of former postmasters, as well as a number of assertions and opinions’ – but had not offered any new evidence to support the claims.
They pointed out that they have received 150 complaints about the IT system since it opened a complaints system two years ago, a number they said represents a ‘tiny fraction’ of the 500,000 people who had used the system ‘effectively’.
A spokesman said: ‘In none of Post Office’s own work, nor through any of Second Sight’s work, has any information emerged to suggest that a conviction is unsafe.’
But Andy Furey, of the Communication Workers Union, said: ‘This is another damning report which reiterates the serious concerns of many postmasters. Part of the problem throughout has been the bullish behaviour of the Post Office towards postmasters who feel that they are helpless victims of a computer system gone wrong.’
SUBPOSTMASTER: POST OFFICE MADE ME FEEL LIKE A DROWNING MAN
Sacked: Subpostmaster Michael Rudkin, 57
A subpostmaster was pursued to the brink of ruin and his wife left contemplating suicide after being prosecuted by the Post Office.
Michael Rudkin, 57, believes action was taken against him after he allegedly discovered that data in branches could be altered remotely – potentially explaining mystery cash shortfalls.
The day after Mr Rudkin expressed concern at the revelation, a Post Office auditor turned up at his shop in Ibstock, Leicestershire, to tell him £44,000 was unaccounted for. ‘My world was turned upside down,’ he said, adding: ‘I became like a drowning man with no life raft.’
Despite insisting he never saw a penny of the ‘missing’ funds, Mr Rudkin was forced to repay the money and his wife Susan, 60, who did most of the day-to-day running of the branch, was prosecuted and given a suspended prison sentence.
Mr Rudkin had his contract terminated while his wife was left ‘contemplating suicide’ after her conviction.