Last week I took part in a debate organised by my colleague and parliamentary neighbour, Lucy Allan MP, on the Post Office Horizon IT system scandal.
The background to this appalling saga began over ten years ago under the previous Labour government, when some subpostmasters reported experiencing difficulties when ‘cashing up’ at the end of the day, relating to new computer system introduced by Fujitsu (“Horizon”), intended to modernise transactions between Post Office Limited and its branch network.
Due to discrepancies in the computer system which meant accounts were not adding up, the Post Office decided to bring prosecutions against many subpostmasters, alleging theft or accounting impropriety. This caused the financial ruin of those subpostmasters who were convicted, and in some cases, including one of my constituents who has spoken publicly, the loss of home, business and a prison sentence.
The Post Office have since admitted they “got things wrong in our dealings with a number of postmasters”, and has set aside almost £58m to settle the dispute. But this largely accounts for legal fees, not compensation for those affected, and has taken 10 years of legal wrangling to secure. I am utterly appalled at this situation, and spoke in the debate to make two key points.
The first is the clear need to ensure those responsible are held to account. It cannot be right that an error that has caused untold misery to innocent people is simply brushed under the carpet.
The second was to express my amazement that no one in management or corporate leadership of the Post Office appear to have questioned what was going on. Given the volume of similar allegations being made across the country, which were not isolated to a geographic area or particular type of subpostmaster, any corporate directorship or management team worth its salt would have identified there was a fundamental problem. These were people who ran successful businesses for years, and suddenly over 550 were being accused of theft or impropriety.
Those managing this issue for the Post Office ought to have identified the root cause of this, rather than reaching for their solicitors’ letters.
So I shall be supporting Lucy Allan MP in her efforts to hold those responsible to account, and to redress the wrongful convictions of so many subpostmasters who were victims of a flawed IT system.