Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Post Office 2nd Sight report into Horizon

This blog post has been prompted by the July release of an interim report by the forensic accountancy firm 2nd Sight into the Post Office's Horizon computer system. 


copyright www.nickwallis.com
A Post Office, earlier today
I have been working on this story for a long time, and I'm finally beginning to see what it is.

My involvement started back in November 2010 when I received a call from a man whose pregnant wife had been sent to prison on the basis of computer evidence generated by Horizon. It led to an investigation broadcast on 7 Feb 2011 on my BBC Surrey show and on BBC1 South's Inside Out programme.

Following the broadcast of the investigation and a subsequent article published in Private Eye magazine, the Post Office announced it would be appointing 2nd Sight, a forensic accountancy firm, to look at Horizon and how well it's working.

The MP for North East Hampshire, James Arbuthnot, who featured in our initial broadcast, was one of the prime movers in all this. He effectively leaned on the Post Office, possibly pointing out the increasing level of media interest in the story, until they agreed to do something.

2nd Sight's appointment was announced in June last year. Matt Prodger, the BBC's home affairs correspondent, had been gathering material on Horizon, and was able to react to this by broadcasting some of the interviews he had already recorded with Subpostmasters who had found their lives turned upside down by their experience.

In the meantime I stayed in touch with the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance, and continued to receive correspondence from Subpostmasters who stumbled across my initial blog post on the subject.


copyright www.nickwallis.com
Ha! Well! Ha! Yes! Ha!
The 2nd Sight interim report into the Horizon accounting system is a short and thankfully jargon-free document. And it is damning.

On the fundamental issue of whether software glitches have caused disruption within Horizon, the report is unequivocal.

"We are aware of 2 incidents where defects or 'bugs' in the Horizon software gave rise to 76 branches being affected by incorrect balances or transactions which took some time to identify and correct."
Paragraph 8.2.b, 2nd Sight interim report

So, in a relatively short investigation 2nd Sight has uncovered two instances of software glitches affecting computer systems in multiple Post Office branches.

This contradicts the statement the Post Office gave to Inside Out South two years ago, which claimed:

"The Horizon computer system is absolutely accurate and reliable"

When we first broadcast the complaints against the Post Office we were in a tricky place, legally. We had no proof there was anything wrong with Horizon, or that there ever had been. All we had was the word of a series of individuals, some of whom were now convicted criminals, none of whom were computer experts.

There was a public interest in broadcasting the information we had, but it had to be balanced against the fact that we didn't have a single shred of hard evidence - no whistleblower, no smoking gun, no paper trail, nothing. The Post Office, for its part, could point to a 100% success rate when it came to making prosecutions, noting that every time they took a case to court, the jury had concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the Subpostmasters in the dock were criminals. The Post Office refused all interview requests for our Inside Out programme.

Whilst trying to raise wider enthusiasm for this story in the months following its initial broadcast I had a chat with Stephen Mason, a barrister specialising in the presentation of electronic evidence in court. In fact, he wrote the book on it.

copyright www.stephenmason.eu
Stephen Mason
Mr Mason believes the legal system is failing when it comes to computer evidence.

Firstly because prosecution and defence lawyers don't understand what they're being presented with, and therefore don't know how to examine it properly, and are therefore unable to ask the right questions of the relevant experts in court.

Secondly, there is an underlying legal presumption that computer evidence is infallible, based on the assertion that "machines do not lie". The wording is odd, because it appears self-evident. Of course machines do not deliberately misrepresent, unless built to do so.

But legally this has come to mean that "machines do not make mistakes" ie if a mechanical device has done the same thing hundreds or thousands of times in exactly the same way, it is not a defence to say it must have started doing something differently. This idea was conceived well before anyone started programming computer software, and was meant to represent basic mechanical devices (say, a cash register), rather than the interlinked electronic eco-systems we depend on nowadays.

Thirdly, there is a widespread public perception that electronic evidence is infallible, hence the readiness of juries to convict on computer records alone.

I asked Mr Mason directly if it was conceivable that the Horizon system was throwing up random glitches, the central allegation of our Inside Out piece. "Yes of course." he replied.

Turns out, from chatting to people who work in IT, these sort of "legacy" (ie old) systems can be extremely problematic. Over a period of time, they degrade. The older they are the more problems can be expected, especially when you start bolting new features and interfaces onto it. But finding someone who works in this area (or more pertinently worked on Horizon itself) who would be prepared to break cover seemed impossible.

I asked the journalist I worked with at Private Eye about all the IT cock-up stories they'd run over the years - where did they get their whistleblowers from? He told me none of the information they received had ever come from anyone inside an IT company. It mainly leaked out through unions and politicians.

I suppose if you work in IT and you see a problem with a system you go to management or charge clients a fortune to fix it. It would be career suicide to go public.

Interestingly, 2nd Sight's report was picked up by the programmer forum slashdot. It's well worth reading the discussion there.

I also spotted this, from Angus Marshall, a "digital forensic examiner/expert witness" (who I have since contacted) on a motoring discussion forum:

"A few years back, I assisted with one case where a sub-postmaster was accused of defrauding the benefits systems by cashing vouchers and keeping the money for himself. The whole case revolved around a discrepancy between the Post Office system and the DWP system. Given that DWP's "error handling" consisted of throwing away any records that it didn't like the look of, without recording anything about them, we managed to get that "evidence" ruled unreliable and inadmissible pretty quickly.

It took about 4 hours of meetings with two of the system programmers - one DWP and one Post Office to discover that no-one had ever bothered to check that the data interchange specs. actually matched on both sides - and they'd never been told to consider the evidential requirements of their systems.

Both systems were (are) run by the same company, btw."

It has become apparent to me that the Horizon story is laying bare the logical inconsistency which governs the way non-IT people (including journalists, juries, lawyers, prosecutors and Post Office directors) think about technology.

We believe the commercial IT systems which affect our daily lives are durable to the point of being incapable of material error. We have to, or we'd never get in a car.

This belief is borne out by experience. Every time I go to the cashpoint, it works. Every time I buy something at the supermarket, it works. Every time I take a flight, it lands. What we're perhaps not aware of is the army of people making sure the software involved in these interactions is solid, by testing and re-testing, ironing out bugs and maintaining the systems at an optimum level.

So Horizon can go wrong or be misused. But so can any other computer system. With Horizon, are we looking at a computer system that is much worse (or more badly-maintained) than equivalent systems being used elsewhere, or are we focusing our attention on the wrong issue?

Let's assume that Horizon is no more unstable than any other bank's accounting system. Let's assume "random" software glitches occur once in every billion banking transactions (or whatever the industry-standard acceptable level of risk is) everywhere.

So what happens in every other banking system?

Nobody knows.

It all happens internally.

Losses are recorded, managers are alerted, customers are compensated (where appropriate) and codes are re-written/employees are re-trained to mitigate against future re-occurence.

Reports are produced, decisions about IT contracts and/or the investment in IT maintenance/support/training are made and the losses are written off. The risk of random IT glitches affecting the balance sheet is effectively spread amongst the bank's shareholders.

Indeed, we know Horizon "lost" more than two million quid in Crown Post Offices (the big city POs) in the 2007/8 financial year, and the figure was simply chalked against turnover.


copyright www.nickwallis.com
A non-Crown Post Office, today
With non-Crown Post Offices (ie all Sub Post Offices) it's different. Thanks to the extraordinary nature of the Subpostmaster contract, all the risk for any computer-generated accounting discrepancy falls on the individual Subpostmaster.

Culturally, the PO would far rather pursue individual postmasters for money its accounting system says it's owed than examine the possibility of errors within its own system. Whatever the personal cost to the individual postmaster concerned.

The 2nd Sight report picks up on the PO's culture of bureaucratic intransigence, and its effect on Subpostmasters who have had to try and deal with it:

eg: "2nd Sight has asked POL [Post Office Ltd] to deliver... responses that would prove as easy to understand [as our own case review reports] that addressed the spirit, as well as the letter, of the Subpostmasters' complaints; and that were backed by evidence. Whilst the responses received from POL can be seen to be thorough, they are long and highly technical documents. In some cases, they present counter-assertions, based on Standard Operating Procedures and Controls, rather than tangible evidence of what actually happened."
From paragraphs 5.2 and 5.3, 2nd Sight interim report

"Many of the Subpostmasters we have dealt with remain aggreived and dissatified with what they see as POL's defensive and unsympathetic response. Whereas we had expected that some form of closure would be reached between POL and the Subpostmasters [whose cases we are looking at], this has so far not been achieved."
Paragraph 5.7, 2nd Sight interim report

There is also some satisfaction at giving the Post Office a taste of its own medicine:

"It is of course hard for POL to prove the negative (i.e. that [Horizon's] controls have not been circumvented) but it is only fair to say that POL now finds itself in the same situation that has faced all of the Subpostmasters who have submitted cases. They too, were unable to prove that the shortages or transactions that they reported to POL... were not the result of their own (or their employees') errors or criminal activity."
Paragraph 5.5, 2nd Sight interim report

Translation: suck it up and give us the information we want.

There's more:

"We can't help concluding that had POL investigated more of the "mysterious shortages" and problems reported to it [by its own Subpostmasters] with the thoroughness that it has investigated those reported to it by 2nd Sight, POL would have been in a much better position to resolve the matters raised, and would also have benefited from process improvements."
Paragraph 7.3, 2nd Sight interim report

Translation: if you'd have given a **** when your Subpostmasters raised these issues rather than sent in the prosecutors, not only would we not be here, you'd have far more robust and efficient systems.

Explicitly:

"When POL does investigate cases, there is often a focus on 'asset recovery solutions' without first establishing the underlying root cause of the problem. This is also an example of a missed opportunity to be in a much better position to resolve problems and to benefit from process improvements."

From the overall tone of the report it's clear 2nd Sight have some sympathy with the Postmasters' plight.

Seema Misra

2nd Sight are being very thorough. On the day their report came out I received a call from the Today programme asking if I could recommend a Subpostmaster who would make a good guest. I gave them the name and mobile number of Seema Misra, the lady in West Byfleet who was sent to jail whilst pregnant because she refused to plead guilty to theft (I would love to see the stats for the severity of punishment handed out to asian Subpostmasters against their white counterparts, but I guess each case is different...).

Since being released from prison, Seema has moved the family out of Surrey and re-trained as a make-up artist.


copyright www.nickwallis.com
Seema (r) and Davinder Misra
The day Seema appeared on the Today programme she got a call from 2nd Sight. They'd heard her talking about her case and wanted to review it before their final report.

'Ivy'

Earlier today I spoke to another Subpostmaster (let's call her Ivy) who had problems with Horizon and avoided prison by the skin of her teeth. Ivy says since the 2nd Sight report came out it's been "exciting".

She pointed immediately to prosecutions against three Subpostmasters (Susan Knight, Tom Brown and Kym Wyllie) which have been dropped since the interim report came out "due to lack of evidence".

The Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance called this "the first demonstration that we have seen that POL are serious about resolving these issues", and seems to suggest a wind change in the PO's strategy.

Ivy says she's still disgusted by the way the PO treated her but thinks they now seem to be aware that "something has to happen, because we're not going to go away."

Ivy has also had regular conversations with a man from 2nd Sight. She says when 2nd Sight man first met her she was sure he thought she was a "bandit", but the more he heard about her story, the more he was shocked, and that this pattern is being repeated higher and higher up the food chain.

But it does seem to me at the moment that the focus of 2nd Sight, POL and the politicians is on the way Subpostmasters are treated by the PO and the terms of the Subpostmaster contract, rather than Horizon's ability to function properly.

I asked Ivy if 2nd Sight man thought there was something inherently unstable within Horizon's software. Ivy is sure he does, but thinks the final report won't say problems with Horizon are "what's the word.... systemic."

Finally I asked her if she thinks the worm has turned, and that she might one day get her conviction quashed. She told me she didn't know what to think right now, but it "would be nice, at least, to get back some of the money I lost."

Alan Bates

During our conversation Ivy could not speak highly enough of Alan Bates, who runs the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance, calling him "a hero". Alan is also roundly praised in the 2nd Sight report. He keeps a very low media profile, but he's always happy to natter on the phone. I asked him what's going on now 2nd Sight's report is in the public domain. He pointed me in a number of directions:

First of all he reiterated his unhappiness with 2nd Sight's investigation being commissioned and paid for by the Post Office. He thinks the PO's patronage was reflected in the interim report which went through more than 20 revisions before publication and was "reviewed and reviewed and reviewed by the Post Office until they had reviewed it flat."

Alan also told me that next week the Post Office is going to announce a case review process for Subpostmasters which has been developed with the JFSA and  2nd Sight. It will deal with existing and historic grievances, and could lead to independent mediation of individual cases.


BBC
Jo Swinson MP, 9 July 2013
Alan also recommended we keep an eye on the government in all this. The day after the 2nd Sight interim report was released the Minister for Postal Affairs, Jo Swinson, gave a statement to the Commons. "It's a very watchable 45 minutes" says Alan. I've just watched it. It is. It gets particularly good at 17m55s when MPs weigh in on behalf of their Subpostmaster constituents demanding better answers from the minister.

Alan is pretty sure the government is now a) aware of the scale of the problem (whatever 2nd Sight conclude that to be) and b) wants a swift resolution, because it is trying to sell bits of POL off and can't have this hanging over it. To that end, the government wants another interim update in October.

Finally, Alan mentioned that POL are advertising for a new computer system. "To replace Horizon?" I asked. "Well it doesn't specifically say that," he replied "but I'll send you the full advert and you can see for yourself. It's certainly a big contract."

Conclusion

To me, the 2nd Sight report represents one thing. Movement. There are an awful lot of people who have suffered, some considerably, as a result of being put in an impossible position. And it does seem as if the problems with Horizon, the Post Office's attitude and the risk-loading of the Subpostmaster contract is finally being taken seriously at the highest levels.

On a wider scale, this story has also reinforced to me the importance of journalism. The people who have been crushed in this case are worked hard, pay their taxes and before becoming Subpostmasters had no stains on their characters - the sort of people who naturally go to authority when things go wrong.

When they found themselves being prosecuted for "crimes" they often alerted the Post Office to in the first place, they believed they would be exonerated.

It is only with extreme reluctance, after they had lost their homes and jobs and been convicted as criminals, they contacted the media. These are not wily, media-savvy people we are talking about. They have no support networks or effective unions. They would naturally trust a police officer, a judge or a company director over a journalist every day of the week.

As a result their belief in society has been shattered. They see the justice system, company prosecutors and supposedly benign employers as heartless and wrong.

That's not to say this isn't all very curious. If the Horizon computer system is degrading into unreliability, it is doing so very slowly. As the 2nd Sight report states:

"The Horizon system involves approximately 68,000 users and processes over 6 million transactions every day. The entire population of over 11,800 branches was notified about the proposed investigation by 2nd Sight and this resulted in 14 additional cases being accepted for investigation. Whilst in no way minimizing [sic] the potential importance of the cases under review, this level of response suggests that the vast majority of Subpostmasters and branches are at least reasonably happy with the Horizon system."
Paragraph 1.11, 2nd Sight interim report

There is also, of course, the possibility that some of the people I have read about, spoken to and dealt with were knowingly defrauding the Post Office for personal gain. I haven't read the court documents or seen the evidence in every single case.

What I do know is that many hitherto blameless people have been suspended, sacked or convicted purely on computer evidence, by prosecutors working within a justice system inclined to believe in the infallibility of computers. Without doubt a large number of Subpostmasters are isolated, poorly-trained and tied into deeply unfair contracts by a company which seems to have a Dickensian "asset-recovery led" approach to industrial relations.

This story will go on for years. There are many who have lost everything through no fault of their own. The JFSA believe they deserve redress, which involves convictions being quashed, money returned and reputations restored. We are a long, long way from that, but perhaps the 2nd Sight investigation, the interim report and the way in which it has been received will offer the campaigning Supbpostmasters and their supporters a glimmer of hope.

.

88 comments:

  1. I'm one of the postmasters caught up in this and no-one can understand the feelings and stress you have to live with especially when members of the public say things like there's no smoke without fire. Also although I have found work it is low paid and I'm only on a temporary contract until I can clear my name, this was not what I saw for myself when I paid out every penny saved to buy a post office which was going to be my job until I retired.

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    Replies
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      Delete
  2. My partner has been a victim of POL.
    Difference is she stood up to them and they bottled it at the Crown court. Corporate bullying by unaccountable public servants using state funding.
    Mutualisation of Post Office; are you kidding? They'll be lucky if they can give it away.
    MESSAGE TO MS P VENNELLS:
    You can prevent your contaminated brand becoming toxic, but you'll have to earn your stratospheric salary and act quickly. The time to blag, I think you realise, has passed.

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  3. MY WIFE TRIED TO COMMIT SUICIDE SO SHE COULD END THE FALSE PROSECUTION AGAINST HER, OUR WHOLE FAMILY WERE AFFECTED BY THE FALSE PROSECUTION.

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  4. A fantastic summary of a truly tragic case.
    Have hundreds of upstanding people suddenly become thieves? I doubt it.
    Upstanding citizens who are often at the heart of their communities have been forced into accepting they are criminals.

    POL have so much to answer for - how many livers have been destroyed?

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  5. I have Bank of Ireland ATM generated print-outs indicating more cash holdings at the end of the day than at the start, without the machine being replenished.
    Rejected notes to the value of £85 billion.
    Individual cassettes having their totals cleared.
    All cassettes showing empty, but the note totals indicating cash in the machine.
    Cassette totals transposing and then swapping back.
    I also have an ATM engineers' witness statement explaining how these anomalies occur, but the best POL could do was attempt a prosecution for theft. Needless to say POL didn't want to put this in front of a jury.
    Proof writ large POL struggle to integrate other peoples' cost collection and accounting systems to Horizon.
    I can only describe POL's actions as dimwitted and unintelligent, their mismanagement bringing a once great institution into disrepute.

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  6. I banked a cheque at my local post office so it would go into my post office ISA. What a farce that was. They wrote to me soon after and said they had cancelled my monthly direct debit from my bank into my ISA as I had overpaid into my ISA, a significant overpayment ! I rang up post office and said that I hadn't they asked me if I was sure. I said yes I had only made a few monthly DD payments of £50 and one cheque that went in which was around £2,200. This one cheque payment had caused a much larger payment into my ISA taking me above what an ISA was allowed to hold - and they say their computer system is reliable !! I dont think so. The whole epiosode was a real farce which took me considerable time and effort to sort out. I moved my ISA to my bank in the end as I really had, had enough.

    They wrote and apologised in the end and paid me £50 for all the effort I had to make to get this sorted out! But to me as a customer this proves their system was making errors

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  7. Something must be wrong, I had phone call telling me I was using the computer's even after they had blocked them and again after they had been removed. Still they won't admit I couldn't have logged on.

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  8. Hi Nick
    I am also a victim of the horizon issues and in our case it was at the interface between horizon and the D.V.L.A. system last year.I paid back £1908 to rectify the difference with the assurance that the system would eventually recompense. That never happened.
    The warning last year caused me to be suspended this year when I had an issue over rates applied to my A.T.M.which was caused by 'missinformation' being given to the rates authority by the Post Office.I have been reinstated but have lost considerable revenue which I can ill afford.

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  9. Good stuff, and I know you will keep your eye on this extremely important issue. But one thing I would challenge you on, namely the payment by the Post Office for the investigation by Second Sight. The very fact that they were prepared to do that suggested to me that they did want, perhaps against their own apparent interest, to resolve the matter for the good of everyone, themselves included. I thought that was creditable.

    And someone had to pay for it. I wasn't going to, the Government wouldn't have forked out money from somewhere else to do so, and the Post Office offered to do so despite the risk involved to their reputation. That does contrast (well, IMHO) with the cover ups we've seen elsewhere in the public sector.

    James Arbuthnot

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    1. Perhaps the key question we would all like answered is:
      Has the systematic witch hunt targeting Subpostmasters been undertaken by "a few rogue individuals acting on their own volition" or is it a result of Post Office Ltd policy?
      If it is the former, how have these individuals been allowed to wreak such havoc?
      If the result of the latter, how has a public body been allowed commit such acts?
      Either way, the buck stops with POL. Time for them to dig deep and pay for their malfeasance.
      With respect to the payment of 2nd Sight by POL being creditable, I beg to differ. POL are on the cusp of a significant public relations disaster visiting a state owned institution. The current escalating crisis has the potential to wipe out POL as we know it.
      POL have consciously sown the wind and now they must reap the whirlwind.

      Delete
    2. Hi Mr James Arbuthnot, I think the operative word is the Post Office PAID for this report by 2nd Sight and why was it reviewed over 20 times by the Post Office before release and what exactly was changed in the report where is that information that is the question you should be asking the Post Office

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  10. I would like to respectfully swerve your challenge, Mr Arbuthnot, by pointing out that when it comes to the commissioning of the 2nd Sight investigation in the above post I was reporting Alan Bates' opinion, rather than my own.

    That said, I do believe that companies never consciously act against their self-interest.

    The Post Office must have taken a view that any short term monetary and reputational cost engendered by commissioning 2nd Sight is a better bind to be in than continuing their policy of denial.

    They could have continued to ignore the media interest, or the fact that you and your colleagues were asking awkward questions. But that surely would have the long-term effect of turning this into a far bigger scandal than it already is.

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  11. I to am caught up in all of this and have been since the beginning of the year having worked on horizon in several branches i could write a book on all its flaws and how it looses transactions when ever it wants to i worked for plo for over a decade but now await the possibility of prosecution i have never taken a penny from them but have had to put in many a penny over the last decade. If your horizon happens to freeze or you have a power surge or cut any transaction you have in the so called stake are gone you have no option but to reboot the system then when you run a transaction log there is nothing there it is as if that transaction did not exist and any monies are lost into the horizon void I had a transaction correction come through for lottery to the sum of just over £2000 these corrections just appear on your screen from the powers that be you have to choices settle which means you agree to cover the transaction or settle centrally which means you disagree and they are ment to send you more evidence of your suposed error i pulled all the paper work out for the lottery and settled centrally as i could not find what they were talking about they re sent it to me three times after numerous phone calls and me telling them there dates were incorrect for totals they had they realised that the error was infact for another office half way up the country had i not have had the years experience with this sort of thing i would have done what many do panic and except the lose this is just one example of many i could give at this time i have lost my job had an interview under caution lasting several hours and my bank account looked into i have rung on several occasions to find what is happening to be told they are continuing there investigations and i am one of over 60 now in review as to wethere to prosecute me or not my life is in limbo

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    1. Sounds about typical of the bullying tactics employed by POL. We identify the POL individuals responsible and they will be held accountable. In my own case, I do not expect the POL employees who have committed misdeeds to retain thier employment with POL.
      I can demonstrate fraud on the part of the contractacts manager and an intent to pervert the course of justice by the POL investigations department investigator.
      Be sure their sins will find them out.
      All depends if POL want to hold their hands up corporately or if they want to hang a few of their staff out to dry.
      Either way the individuals' involved must be starting the feel uncomfortable (and not before time).

      Delete
    2. Hi i am in the same situation re fraud and lies from pol and accusations without proof. Can you please help me? Thank you

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  12. The post office are simply not willing to accept any responsibility when dealing with these problems and often use bully boy tactics to get people to plead guilty of certain thingsto avoid being charged with worse offences.

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  13. I have been informed by my brother [who is one of the sub-postmasters affected by this ] that a man in the Wirrall ,obviously a sub postmaster affected by this situation walked in front of a car the other day and is seriously ill in hospital . When are the P.O. going to admit their errors etc. - it is interesting that they hope to make millions from the flotation of Royal Mail as they will shortly be paying out millions to the victims of these errors.

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    1. When are the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) going to do anything other than align themselves with Post Office Ltd (POL)? The NFSP is a cancer within the midst of Subpostmasters. George Thomson (General Secretary, NFSP) should choose between responsibility or resignation.

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  14. I find the whole situation appalling. no one seems to be questioning the POL! Does no one think this is rather suspicious that so many Sub Postmasters are being accused of theft/fraud. My sister is included in this and in the space of 3 months I know of 3 other people also accused. I have reports from POL that show transactions on days that no one has actually logged onto the system. This includes the day after the POL auditors shut down the post office and took away the keys. Can any one explain that!

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  15. Your sister would be well advised to contact JFSA, her MP and Shoosmiths solicitors as soon as possible. I'd be highly cautious about discussing the matter with the NFSP. Collect any documentary evidence, make notes and record telephone calls with POL if possible.

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    1. Hi i am going through this can you please help, thank you

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  16. As a software support engineer working on software errors for many years I can state that there is no such thing as a random software error or an intermittent software error. By definition if you recreate the circumstances of the event then software will recreate the failure. It is possible to have intermittent or random hardware errors but they can be identified by examination of the software output after failure

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    1. Dear Mr Software Support Engineer,

      In testimony at my partner's trial, Wincor Nixdorf - the ATM provider, when explaining how figures go awry, stated "this is a known problem that occurs sporadically". I don't doubt your extensive experience in your chosen field, but please do not attempt to transpose rational thought onto the circumstances surrounding POL's own brand of logic regarding these cases. We are dealing with full blown malfeasance on the part of POL.

      Delete
  17. i wrote a comment on here on the 30th of august as i am caught up in all this and have been since february this year i was interviiwed under caution at my home in april and was told i would be informed of the out come in about six weeks well i am still waiting have rang the security manager who condudted the interview to be told once that my case had been sent for review with po solicitors and to ring in another month rang again to be told still in review and i was probably at the back of the line as there were in excess of 60 cases in review so am still in limbo not knowing if they are going to try to prosecute me for something i have not done my life is still in limbo i am still unemployed not knowing what to say at job interviews as to why i left my last position my husband is now my ex husband as he divorced me due to not being able to take the presure of all this i just want all this over and done with

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  18. my brother is caught up in all this and I am still waiting for someone to put up their hand and say " sorry " we got it wrong -you are not a thief as we alleged . I understand that one sub-postmaster living the Wirral was so distraught that he walked out in front of a car and died as a result of his injuries !! Someone from P.O. said to my brother after he was suspended and lost his job -when he enquired what he was to do to look after his family -they said "you can live off the money you stole from us !"
    Needless to say I have it in for that person !

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    1. You'll be waiting a long time for someone from POL to put their hands up and admit a mistake. They have never ever made a mistake don't you know.
      Even when they're wrong, they're right.
      If the same standards were applied to POL staff as POL apply to Subpostmasters, there'd be a few hundred more people on the dole queue. My experience of them is they have a disproportionate number of deadbeats and no-hopers who couldn't fill-out a job application let alone organize themselves to turn up for an interview.
      Very sad that a once great institution has been managed into the ground by a bunch of reckless malevolent knackers.

      Delete
  19. Hi, I suffered a great deal from the hands of the post office and the errors on the horizen system. To the point where I was convicted of fraud, lost my business and almost lost my home. I have been battling depression that was onset by this saga. I have only just heard of the JFSA. It makes me feel a great deal better to know that I am not alone in this situation. However the horizon complaint review applications closed 18th November 2013 and I have missed this deadline.

    Can anyone please advise me on how I can get my complaint heard?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the first instance contact Alan Bates at JFSA.

      Delete
  20. Why is there a deadline for horizon complaint review applications as it is obvious as more publicity helps to inform Sub-postmasters that they have recourse against the Post Office that otherwise they would be silent and accept the bullying tactics of the Post office this Mediation complaint review should be ongoing until there is satisfaction that all Sub-postmasters past and present have been contacted and given the opportunity to put their case if they have a complaint

    ReplyDelete
  21. So the National Federation of Sub Postmasters has been removed from the list of Trade Unions and cannot be recognised by POL for collective bargaining purposes.

    What took so long for this statement of the bleeding obvious to arrive. I doubt there'll be many tears shed for the NFSP by the contributors to this blog.

    The disgraceful abandonment of their members over this sordid Horizon affair beggers belief.

    Talk about obtaining money (membership dues) under false pretences, not to mention the vulgar sums received from POL. Looks like it's no longer an open secret, the NFSP is a busted flush - OFFICIAL.

    ReplyDelete
  22. understand that the "wronged" might have a whistleblower - beware P.O. - with your ads. for mortgages & credit cards -you are soon going to have to find millions in compensation & legal fees -and you will soon have to start apologising !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. POL apologise? The only thing Ms Vennells et al understand is their own salaries. As soon as the fight affects their own positions they might be panicked into action. We are deluded if we think they will willingly do the right thing. They will do the least they can get away with to save their own skins.

      The slur and insinuation of wrongdoing remains on the hundreds, if not thousands, of honest, decent, hardworking postmasters victimised by the fecklessness of POL.

      POL management (including the board) should choose between responsibility or resignation.

      I'm given to understand POL are experiencing difficulties attracting candidates looking to invest time and money to become subpostmasters. People who can loose everything in an instant at the hands of an organisation that doesn't give a toss if the network is flushed away let alone your business.

      Q: Who do I need to get in touch with if I want to become a subpostmaster?
      A: a psychiatrist.

      Delete
    2. That is funny, sadly true but funny

      Delete
  23. i have written on this subject twice once in august last year and again in November as i had lost my job and was possibly going to be prosecuted by po for horizon shortages i have today received a letter over a year since this all started it states

    i write in respect of ongoing enquires into the audit shortage in the accounts discovered at the above post office in february 2013

    i am now able to advise that a decision has been made that post office ltd will undertake no further investigation in respect of these shortages and consequently i will be taking no further action

    this letter is to confirm that following your interview with post office security team in may 2013 it had been decided that there will be no criminal prosecution instituded against you by post office ltd with regards to the above case

    how ever if furthur evidence does come to light we would nee to re investigate this case

    if you have any questions please do get in touch at the above address

    well i will be contacting them in the morning to ask if this means i can have my job back as i have been unemployed for over a year and weather i will be compensated for the year of sheer hell i have suffered though i am sure we all know the answer to that one

    i wonder how many others have received a letter like me more than a few i am sure

    ReplyDelete
  24. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'm a sub office assistant and our postmaster deals with this issue by giving his staff their own tills and stock units to be responsible for. In the past year I myself have had discrepancies of over £700 that cannot be accounted for - and believe me I've been over the transaction logs myself. Fellow staff have similar discrepancies ranging from hundreds to thousands of pounds a year. They are sometimes followed by small recurring overs in the following months and years as if the system is suddenly finding money from no where.

    We can never find and reason for these discrepancies in logs or CCTV footage. Recently a member of staff with over 6 years experience 'lost' £1000 during a 4hr shift having processed no transactions over £400.

    We are always told that these errors are our fault, due to lack of concentration, incompetence or stress. And then we are forced to pay them back again, monthly through our wages at amounts far over what can legally be docked from our wages. This caused one member of staff to be earning less than national minimum wage for 9 months. All whilst being denied copies of our contracts or seeing a wage slip.

    We have had enough but have no idea where to turn. The support is out there for subpostmasters but not for the staff suffering at the whim of postmasters who hide their discrepancies by making staff accountable.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Michael Wilson18 June 2014 at 11:56

    I refer to my note of the 25th Nov 2013 -I understand that at the inquest of the Wirral sub-postmaster who committed suicide , it was alleged that his state of mind was brought about by the stress brought about by the P.O. claims against him -HOW LONG IS THIS GOING ON - POST OFFICE YOU HAVE A LOT TO ANSWER FOR -TIME IS RUNNING OUT !!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  27. The current unacceptable situation will continue for a long time. All (except POL) agree POL have much to answer for, but time is on the side of Post Office Ltd. Let's face it, they're not going to rush and settle matters any time soon. Ms Vennells et al have to balance the possibility of bad press, contamination and toxicity of their brand with payouts to their victims. Be in no doubt they will do the minimum required. This will only occur if (when) the POL brand comes under pressure due to negative press and they intervene to limit the damage to themselves. Please do not confuse the management of POL with the decent, honourable and principled subpostmasters they seek to victimise in order to mask their own shortcomings.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hi all,
    I thought I would keep you posted on my case. I missed the deadline to get my case reviewed in the medication scheme. I have been liaising with the post office to see if they would consider looking at my case through the scheme as a late applicant. I received a letter from them saying that they will not look at my case via the scheme; however, they are willing to do an internal investigation. I was appalled that this was even suggested! Any investigation into a case should be undertaken by an independent firm, after all POL have already investigated my case before they acted. So what would be the point of them carrying out a further investigation which would neither be open nor transparent?

    Has anyone that is involved in the scheme got an update? I am curious to know how the investigations are going.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I have just received a notice from my bank [Natwest] that with effect from the 31st October 2014 I will be able to pay any monies into my my bank a/c at any Post Office - do the directors of Natwest Bank NOT realize that the Post Office are involved in some pretty heavy problems with their computerized accounting system and have many hundreds of people [including my brother] a sub-postmaster -snapping at their heels -they are very shortly going to get severely bitten.


    anon.

    ReplyDelete
  30. did you catch R4 tonight Ms. Vennells -time is running out -why not hold your hands up !!

    645pm 9/09/14

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ms Vennells: Responsibilty or resignation? Your choice.

      Delete
  31. taxi for Ms.Vennells !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  32. could it be that Post Office [heaven forbid] leaked the document to the B.B.C.??? - that then gives them the opportunity to totally discount it`s findings !!

    Sneaky sneaky , Post Office !!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Currently going through this with the post office and trying to find any info that will help us. The leaked report? Is this the second sight report indicating shortfalls in looking for the root cause of problems

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes-read Nick Wallis`s up-date at the beginning of this article - get in touch with Justice for Sub-Postmasters A lliance

      Delete
  34. The Post office wrote to my MP on 10/09/14. They have said that as I missed the deadline for the scheme they are not willing to review my case under the scheme. Instead they have suggested that they themselves will review my case. How could this possibly be independent? The JFSA advised me to write back and ask them to reconsider. Can anyone advise me on what to do next?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Try contacting Shoosmiths solicitors. There is a strong possibility they will form part of the team that will be heading the inevitable class action against POL.

      Delete
    2. Nick Wallis is asking for victims affected by this scandal, but who are not part of the mediation scheme, to get in touch with him.

      Delete
  35. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Not only is Horizon failing but lack of training and support. I am under investigation, told I have to pay thousands back. All I know is that I haven't passed this dosh over the counter, nor is it stashed away in a Swiss bank account.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In our own case, it was the numpties at POL who were incapable of understanding their own cost collection and accounting system (Horizon). They have to contact Fujitsu for anything other than the most basic enquiries. Even when you point out the bleeding obvious to POL, they are unable to acknowledge what everyone else can see on the grounds they didn't think of it themselves first. They really are a cowardly bunch. Tackle them head-on. Whatever you do, DO NOT take the NFSP into your confidence. Write to your MP, notify JFSA and register with Shoosmiths in anticipation for the inevitable class action against POL.

      Delete
  37. 20th sept 2013 po accused me of taking £20000 as there was a shortfall in the branch audit compared to the horizon report. I have Horizon reports showing transactions when the branch was closed - even on Christmas Day etc. we can clearly show that that is how the shortfall occurred. WHY IS NOBODY INTERESTED IN THIS INFORMATION? There are loads of people affected by this, but no-one seems prepared to actually do something.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Penny.

      I'm very interested in this.

      Could you contact me either via my agent (details at the top of this blog) or twitter (@nickwallis) or facebook (facebook.com/nickjwallis)

      many thanks

      Nick

      Delete
  38. don`t forget your appt. on Monday 17th NOV . at the House - and don`t forget to go to church on Sunday -you need all the help you can get !!

    ReplyDelete
  39. tempus is really fugiting - roll on Monday

    ReplyDelete
  40. no make that Tues 9th

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hey, whats happening on the 9th?

    ReplyDelete
  42. have you not heard the TODAY prog . on radio this morning - watch the One Show tonight -see teletext -all M.P.`S have withdrawn their support for the Post Office in their attempts to rectify situation .

    As I said before -Taxi for M/S Vennells !!

    This time you can`t put it off !

    ReplyDelete
  43. You have just made my day! Thankyou! : )

    ReplyDelete
  44. What does this means for sub-postmasters now? We are still no closer to justice : (

    ReplyDelete
  45. When I was 8/9 my dad got sent to prison for 13 months because of this. It is disgusting how the posts office have dealt with this situation and made innocent people like my dad feel like they are shameful criminals. This has lead to ruin my whole family's life for 11 years from loosing my dad at 8 years old for 13 months knowing he was under the same roof as murderers to even nearly loosing our family home. The post office need to grab what small balls they have and admit they have made a mistake.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Hi, I am avidly reading this, my Dad too got sent to prison nearly 15 years ago as he refused to plead guilty to something he had not done. It shattered my parents lives, it was humiliating for them. Due to this, they are digging out old paperwork and I have given them the number for justice for postmasters. I think the key to this is why the post office would do this, my parents were locked out in 98, just before the computer systems came in, they have been closing down lots of post offices since around that time, seems to me an easy way to shut down offices without paying compensation to the postmasters. The post office have shattered many innocent lives and now need investigating themselves. Is there a report on the oneshow tonight?

    ReplyDelete
  47. I am one of the affected ex subpostmasters and for me the above comment sums up all that is wrong with the Post Office 's approach. They are faceless machines hiding behind lawyers and we are real people with families who have to deal with the consequences of their actions

    ReplyDelete
  48. WATCH THE NEWS TODAY -READ THE PAPERS -SEE YOUR M.P. -CONTACT J.F.S.A.- SEE A SOLICITOR !!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The significant elements of James Arbuthnot's comments on this evenings news, were that POL have attempted to mislead MPs over the mediation scheme and that they have used public funds in their attempts to do this.

      My own view is Ms Vennells no longer has the option between responsibility or resignation. Her behaviour is not befitting a public servant and, given the lack of confidence parliament is now voicing, she should be dismissed.

      Ms Swinson, in her capacity as Postal Affairs minister, may need to revise her previously held position. (Word to the wise: Jo - don't attempt to blag the House any further).

      Delete
  49. jfsa has been doing as much as is humanly possible. Thankyou Nick for bringing attention to our plight on recent radio and TV. I want to suggest that that POL's methods of financial entrapment and disposal of a subpostmaster is a complex trail that needs more clarification, step by devastating step for the viewer/listener to get a clearer picture.

    ReplyDelete
  50. I read your submissions with great delight. NICK WALLIS - GREAT WORK PLEASE KEEP ON HELPING US. As usual Royal Mail, Cadburys, Banks,Railway Network AND NOW THE POST OFFICE ,HAVE MISLED PARLIAMENT.
    PLEASE ALL PRESENT AND PAST POST MASTERS/MISTRESSES COME ALONG TO THE JSFA MEETING ON THE 18TH JANUARY 2015.
    WE NEED EVERYBODY'S SUPPORT TO FIGHT FOR JUSTICE- CREATE PEOPLE POWER

    ReplyDelete
  51. Visit today's Financial Times and an article giving radio 4 transcript plus on ukcampaign4change.com/category/fujitsu

    ReplyDelete
  52. So Post Office Ltd what more government services to be offered by Post Office?

    Alienating 144 MPs at a stroke is the way to go.

    Best of luck Paula but you've just put the business in a terminal tailspin. As CEO the buck stops with you.

    ReplyDelete
  53. I urge any subpostmaster past or present who has been mistreated by POL to contact their MP in writing. MPs are our representatives in parliament. Parliament conducts the affairs of state and POL is state owned. 144 MPs out of a total of 650 have no confidence in POL's handling of the scheme. The scheme only represents 150 subpostmasters, so come on, if you've ever been unfairly treated by POL, now's the time to come forward. Only by demonstrating the previous and current wrongdoings of POL will this cowardly, faceless bunch of dimwitted bullies be brought to book.

    PS. If any of you are in the NFSP, I wouldn't bother paying another penny in subs to them. You may as well give your hard earned wages straight to POL. Instead save your wasted cash for legal representation when the inevitable class action against POL takes place.

    ReplyDelete
  54. We all own pol and everyone should put pressure on pol through their mp. Everyone , family, friends just everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  55. I have it on good authority that Mark Baker will be present as viewer at MP debate this pm. If you catch this please protest to BBC to ensure that the only attention he gets is what he deserves i.e highly embarassing on the spot attacks re all he never did to help us as an NFSP exec.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure if the 'good authority' refers to Mark as an ex-NFSP exec or simply to his presence. If the former, I would suggest you research a little further as to the reason for him being an 'ex-NFSP exec' and the 'good authority'. Mark steadfastly refused to sell his constituents down the river when the NFSP bosses had sold out to POL and were trying to pass themselves off as a Trade Union. They have been deleted as a trade union owing to lack of independence from POL. Are they an organisation to which to entrust your livelihood? POL and NFSP together have done you enormous damage and IMHO are very far from 'good authority'

      Delete
    2. Tend to agree with your sentiment. For NFSP read POL. George Thomson, General Secretary NFSP, has plenty banal comments on Twitter, but regarding the most serious and far-reaching issue facing the business he is remarkably mute. George if you're reading this, I'd be grateful for your input.

      Delete
    3. My understanding of the reason NFSP were delisted as a trade union was that members of the NFSP could not be considered either 'workers' or 'employees' under the definitions set out by the Trade Unions and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. The delisting notice can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/332365/3fd16902-9418-4afa-a2a9-f0d1590eca3b.PDF

      Delete
  56. saw it on Parliament tv today -the m.p`s did a good job in painting the picture -but the minister Ms. Swinson seems totally ineffective -I have no confidence in her -watch One Show tonight .

    ReplyDelete
  57. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Nobody does more to assist SPMR's both individually and collectively than Mark Baker. He was sacked twice as an EO for refusing to sell members out and re-elected by his region on both occasions. He now represents SPMR's as Secretary of CWU Postmasters for no salary unlike others who ride a gravy train. There are many stalwarts who have moved this disgrace to where it is and Mark is one of them.

    ReplyDelete
  59. doesn`t seem to have done much for the SPMR`S involved in the Horizon scandal Mrs B

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If an all party group of MPs are struggling to get the Minister to own up to her responsibilities and bring POL to book, then what chance has one individual within the CWU got?

      Perhaps we need to get the current situation into perspective. POL currently lack transparency and accountability. NFSP excel in the role of sorcerer's apprentice - they've dabbled in their ignorant bliss now not knowing how to stop this thing and right matters.

      As per the original post above, I think you're missing a trick. We need to focus on what is happening now with the NFSP rather than dwell on the past. I too am keen to hear the hitherto mute Mr Thomson pronounce on the matter.

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete
  61. Hi All,
    When I watched the one show, Nick Walis indicated that the second sight repot due in April will "contain fireworks". I was wondering if anyone had any idea of what may potentially be revealed? I am really anxious! This has gone on long enough and we need justice. I am getting to the end of my tether... will the post office ever pay for what they have put us through!!!

    ReplyDelete
  62. Does anyone know the date of when the next second site report will be released?

    ReplyDelete
  63. have you seen the report released by the Post Office ?
    they don`t like the message they have received from Second Sight -so what have they done -they`ve shot the messenger -and these people are making decisions with regard to the running of a British National organization .!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haven't seen the report yet but let me guess - everybody is out of step except them?

      Did get a letter regarding the scheme this morning. I can only think POL are using hallucinogenic and mind altering drugs given their state of denial.

      Delete
  64. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete