Post Office scandal extends ‘greatly beyond Horizon’ – victims’ lawyer

Business

The post office scandal extends “greatly beyond” faulty Horizon software, according to a lawyer for victims.

Paul Marshall, representing former sub-postmasters, says problems with third party systems in branches, such as ATMs, have been “overlooked”.

A 2013 report commissioned by the Post Office, and not made public at the time, states: “Removing the ATM reduces the risk of (the sub-postmaster) being suspended… as does the presence of lottery tickets, (banking) services, and DVLA processing.”

It indicates there were issues known to the Post Office with third party systems within branches – separate to Horizon software.

Barrister Paul Marshall believes, as a result, there are “no convictions” secured by the Post Office against any sub-postmaster “that could or should properly be treated as safe”.

He says evidence of third party errors, such as ATMs, shows “the scandal extends considerably beyond, greatly beyond, it might be said, the limited focus of bugs in Horizon”.

Blanket exoneration legislation being introduced this summer will only quash convictions brought about “by erroneous Horizon evidence”.

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Mr Marshall asserts that postmasters who have had appeals against convictions rejected by the Court of Appeal may have lost because their offences didn’t fall within the “narrow scope” of Horizon issues.

“Horizon was the only accounting system,” says Mr Marshall, “so other systems like ATM machines, bank giro payments, pension payments, lottery tickets, they’re all processed by Horizon, but they weren’t Horizon.”

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Review into another Post Office system

“The position adopted by the Court of Appeal,” he states, “is if this is a Horizon shortfall case, that is the sole basis you can have your conviction overturned.

“But you could lose your business and have an accounting shortfall that has got absolutely nothing to do with Horizon.”

The report by Detica, a consulting division of BAE systems, concluded that “Post Office systems are not fit for purpose in a modern retail and financial environment”.

Chirag Siphura’s case – ATM shortfalls

Chirag Sidhpura
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Chirag Sidhpura received interim compensation last year

Chirag Siphura was threatened with prosecution for ATM shortfalls at his branch in Surrey in 2017, four years after the Post Office received the Detica report.

He was ordered to pay £57,000.

Last year he received interim compensation, with Post Office accepting it was a “Horizon related” issue.

He says that the banks “used to be able to access the ATM remotely”, and that they would carry out updates, “but where the updates happened remotely the figures were always thrown out”.

Mr Siphura describes how the Post Office “always believed the figures that the ATM was giving were 100% correct”.

“If the bank came back and said ‘no, this figure is not correct’,” he continues, “then the Post Office will always take their word over our word.

“And we would then have to come up with evidence to demonstrate their figures are wrong.”

With an IT background Chirag was able to eventually investigate.

IT expert Jason Coyne: Many more impacted.

Jason Coyne
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Jason Coyne believes believes many more people affected by third party systems may not have come forward

IT expert Jason Coyne, hired by Alan Bates and other sub-postmasters, submitted a report as part of their High Court case in 2016.

He describes asking the Post Office for information related to third party systems, such as ATMs.

“They would attempt to resist my request for information,” he says, “because what they would say is this isn’t Horizon information and therefore it’s outside of the Horizon trial.”

He says that the High Court judge at the time, Mr Justice Fraser, was “rightly trying to keep the Horizon trial just about the Horizon system”.

“But what he didn’t know at the time,” he continues, “…is that all of these third party systems were absolutely critical to Horizon’s operation” so it was “wrong of Post Office to prevent us access to those documents.”

Mr Coyne believes “many more people” affected by third party systems may not have come forward to date – separate to those already identified as having Horizon issues.

Wendy Cousins case: “My wife died totally innocent”.

Wendy Cousins is shown on her wedding day. Pic: Paul Cousins
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Wendy Cousins is shown on her wedding day. Pic: Paul Cousins

Wendy Cousins was convicted of stealing £13,000, relating to pension payments, from her branch in 2005.

Judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that the Horizon computer software had not been “essential” to her prosecution, and upheld her conviction.

She died in February 2022 – less than a year later.

Her husband Paul says he believes her conviction “was a factor in her premature death” from cancer.

“She was treated as a criminal right from the very start,” he says, “…they stuck a sign on the door saying ‘Closed’.”

Paul Cousins says Wendy was persuaded to plead guilty to escape jail.

He is convinced of her innocence and wants her case reviewed again.

“My hope would be that Wendy will be exonerated,” he says.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We are deeply sorry for the pain which has been suffered by so many people throughout the Horizon IT Scandal.”

They added: “We remain focused on supporting the inquiry.”

In a statement the Department for Business and Trade said it was “committed to righting the wrong of the past and have introduced urgent legislation to overturn the convictions of hundreds of postmasters before the summer.

“If any further injustices emerge, these can be considered by the Criminal Complaints Review Commission, which can ask the Court of Appeal to overturn convictions,” the statement added.

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