Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Start here

I'm trying to make this website as accessible as possible. If you're new to this story's twenty year history it might seem tricky working out where to dive in. This page is here to help.

So... what's this Post Office Horizon IT scandal all about, then? 

Here is an attempt to answer that question in 400 words.

If you'd like to know more about who I am and the reason for this website's existence - do take a look at the About section. It was one of the first pages I put together. It tells you about my relationship to the story, as well as the crowdfunding campaign I launched to fund my reporting.

Subpostmasters

The human stories at the centre of this scandal should be keeping a lot of people awake at night. They are, on occasion, harrowing. Many more remain untold.

"I hate everything about it. I will not go into a Post Office" - Nicki, 32yo, is accused of theft by Post Office goons. She loses everything. The trial is a farce. The jury find her not guilty. She has been on Prozac on and off ever since.
"They didn't care that I was this scared girl" - Tracy, a 19yo, is accused of theft. She pleads innocent, tries to commit suicide and is jailed.
Wendy Buffrey's story - accused of theft and false accounting, Wendy suffers a complete mental breakdown.
"The horror of that whole Post Office fiasco was a major factor in her death" - Phil loses his wife after the Post Office accuse him of losing tens of thousands of pounds.
"I am broken" - Wendy Martin ploughs thousands into her Post Office, it is badly wired, her computer keeps cutting out, she is accused of losing £30,000. She is clinically depressed, on pills and has lost everything.
Seema and Jo's story - Seema was thrown in prison whilst pregnant, Jo narrowly avoided jail.
Sue Knight's story - part of two five minute, easy to watch BBC tv pieces. Accused of false accounting, Sue is advised to plead guilty. She refuses. The Post Office offers no evidence and the case collapses.
Julian Wilson RIP

For more, please see the Victim testimony page.

The litigation which gives this website its name:

Bates and others v Post Office class action (or Group Litigation Order) was filed in 2016.

The first (Common Issues) trial was held in Nov/Dec 2018.
First trial judgment was handed down 15 March 2019.
The second (Horizon) trial was held Mar/Jul 2019.
The Horizon trial judgment was handed down on 16 Dec 2019 - see "They did it".
Though, weirdly, the case was actually settled on 11 Dec 2019 - see "It's all over"
As a direct result of the litigation, 39 Subpostmaster cases which were being investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission have now been referred to the Court of Appeal.
The Prime Minister has indicated he would support a public inquiry into this scandal.

The shareholder - HMG:

Despite being the sole shareholder in Post Office Ltd, the government has essentially let it operate without proper scrutiny for the best part of 20 years. Successive Postal Services Ministers have refused to be interviewed. There has not been a single review of the Post Office's prosecution strategy.

"Trying to hold the government to account for its actions" - meeting the current minister for Postal Services and a senior civil servant who sits on the board of the Post Office.
BIS select committee inquiry into Horizon IT system - 3 Feb 2015
Transcript of the Westminster Hall debate on the Horizon IT system - 17 Dec 2014

Post Office senior management:

Since this story broke in 2009, the Post Office has refused to be interviewed about any aspect of it. Apart from once on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in 2014.

"Post Office: the ONLY interview" - transcript of the 2014 Post Office interview.
"The Ballad of Paula Vennells" - how the Post Office chief executive managed to wash her hands of what her own organisation was accused of doing.
"And with that... she was gone" - summary of the outgoing Post Office CEO's failures.

The unions:

Whilst the government has failed to properly scrutinize the Post Office from above, the failure of the National Federation of Subpostmasters to challenge from below is perhaps the biggest scandal of them all. The NFSP has repeatedly thrown members who were having problems with Horizon under a bus. It is only now the Communications Workers Union has gained a toe-hold amongst Subpostmasters that the Post Office is being properly challenged.

Common Issues trial judgment: the NFSP - a damning indictment of the NFSP's activities, colluding with the Post Office and acting against its members interests, written up in a High Court judgment.
The Post Office admits it can ignore the NFSP - the NFSP claims it negotiates with the Post Office. The Post Office says it only discusses things with the NFSP and can safely ignore it.
Bates v Post Office: The NFSP - my view on the NFSP, written well before the High Court judgment, but coming to more or less the same conclusion.
A union man writes - a former NFSP rep turned CWU organiser tells all.

Key moments in the litigation:

"He did it" - after sixteen years of campaigning, Alan Bates wins the first ever judgment against the Post Office over its treatment of Subpostmasters.
"Going Postal" - the Post Office submits its application to recuse the litigation's presiding judge. All hell breaks loose.
The recusal hearing - Lord Grabiner v Sir Peter Fraser.
Sir Peter Fraser declines to be recused. A damning judgment.
Fraser J is going nowhere - the Court of Appeal agrees the Post Office's recusal application is entirely without merit.
First trial judgment appeal application - the Post Office is applying to appeal the Common Issues trial judgment.
The long March to, er March - the third trial in this litigation will happen in March 2020. This piece sums up the current state of play.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission

Since 2015, the CCRC has been looking into 61 prosecutions of Subpostmasters or counter staff made by the Post Office over the last 20 years. The CCRC has the power to refer potential wrongful convictions or miscarriages of justice to the Court of Appeal. This is the biggest cohort of cases it is dealing with.

CCRC refers 39 cases to the Court of Appeal
CCRC blames Post Office for decision delay - why is it taking so long for the CCRC to make up its mind?
CCRC gets interested in the Bates and others v Post Office litigation - despite sitting on 32 cases since 2015 the CCRC had somehow concluded it should make a decision on whether to send some or all of them to appeal shortly before the first group litigation trial was due to get started. This potential act of madness was thankfully averted.

Crowdfunding

I am a freelance journalist and have been following this story since 2010. Between 2011 and 2020 I made several broadcast pieces for the BBC, including a Panorama, a File on 4 plus several investigations for Inside Out and the One Show. I also spent nine years contributing to Private Eye magazine on this story, culminating in a six page special report, which was published in March 2020.

When the trials approached in 2018 I figured my best chance of getting a front row seat in court was to try to crowdfund my journalism. Amazingly, and thanks to the extraordinary generosity of a whole range of people, I was given enough money to report the entire litigation.

I now crowdfund via the Paypal buttons which lurk at the bottom of every blog post and report new post-Post Office Trial developments. Of which there are many.


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If you can, please help keep this crowdfunded public-interest journalism project going by chucking a few quid in the tip jar below. Contributors who give £20 or more will start receiving regular "secret" emails which have all the info and gossip about this litigation as it makes its way through the courts. Click here to see how and where your money is being spent.

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Expert comment

I asked people to contact me with their own thoughts about the Post Office and Horizon, and the ongoing class action. If you have something to say about the various trials, you use Horizon regularly or you are a computer expert, politician, legal/accountancy/fraud/investigations specialist with a particular area of expertise or experience relevant to this website, or you work(ed) for the Post Office or Fujitsu, or the NFSP or you just have a relevant and useful anecdote, please get in touch via the contact form on this website and I'll post up your perspective too!

Here is what I've got so far, latest first. You can also find these pieces via the date they were posted by looking down the right hand nav bar of this blog web page.


Victim testimony

I have asked people to write about their own experiences with the Post Office and Horizon, in order to build up a series of case studies which hopefully give some insight into what some former Subpostmasters have been through. If you are a former Subpostmaster or Post Office worker with a story to tell, please get in touch via the contact form on this website.

You can also find these pieces via the date they were posted by looking down the right hand nav bar of this blog web page.

Chirag Sidhpura's story: "I felt as if a ton of bricks had fallen on my chest."
Farncombe Post Office Subpostmaster is accused of losing £57,000. Too late to join the group litigation, he is still fighting.

Nicki Arch's story: "I hate everything about it. I will not go into a post office."
An innocent post office manager is accused of fraud, theft and false accounting. She loses everything.

Deirdre Connolly's story: "It's been a living hell."
Deirdre is sacked for a £16,000 discrepancy which is never properly investigated. Her mental health disintegrates.

Tracy Felstead's story: "They didn't care that I was this scared girl" - Tracy, 19 years old, is accused of theft, prosecuted and tries to commit suicide.

Wendy Buffrey's story "I just sat and cried for hours."
Wendy was a Subpostmaster in Up Hatherley, Cheltenham. She was prosecuted for theft and false accounting by the Post Office, despite there being no evidence of theft. She pleaded guilty to false accounting. Her mental health completely collapsed.

Pete Murray is not told by the Post Office that the branch he is taking over at Hope Farm Road in Great Sutton used to be run by Martin Griffiths, a Subpostmaster who in 2013 took his own life after being hounded by the Post Office for inexplicable discrepancies. Pete soon starts to find the Horizon system is playing up:
1) "The Post Office claim I owe them £35,000, despite never showing or telling me what I have done wrong."
2) "What kind of games are you playing with human beings' lives?"
3) "Post Office Ltd see fit and well to treat me like this, pending an 'investigation' which appears not to be taking place."
4) "You'd better get a lawyer."

Gary Brown's story: "I balanced and it showed a loss of £32,000."
A Subpostmaster in Rawcliffe, East Yorkshire, loses his house, business, health, and reputation.

24 Jan 2019
"The horror of that whole Post Office fiasco was a major factor in her death."

16 Jan 2019
A former Subpostmaster writes: "She was simply regurgitating a lie."

6 Jan 2019
A former Subpostmaster writes: "I am broken."

30 Dec 2018
A claimant writes: "I felt a fool for trusting them."

12 Dec 2018
A former Subpostmaster writes: "This was systematic abuse... I lost my business and lost my family."

27 Nov 2018
A former Subpostmaster writes: "I hate them."