Thursday 1 April 2021

The Final Reckoning

We now finally know how many people the Post Office successfully prosecuted between 2000 and 2013 over Horizon-related discrepancies. It is 736. After some confusion as to what the settled numbers were at the Court of Appeal last week, the judges asked if the Post Office could provide the court with the correct figures. 

In the document submitted to court at the end of proceedings on 25 March, the Post Office explained why its numbers differed from those it gave in a press release last year. 

At the time the Post Office was engaged in a post-conviction disclosure exercise, prompted by the two High Court rulings against it in 2019. This "PCDE" was only completed in February this year. Between 3 and 4 million documents have been examined.

Last year the Post Office could not be certain which of its prosecutions definitely involved Horizon-related shortfalls. Now it knows, and here they are, year by year:

• In 2000, there were 6 shortfall convictions that relied on Horizon data.
• In 2001, there were 41,
• In 2002, there were 64.
• In 2003, there were 56.
• In 2004, there were 59.
• In 2005, there were 68.
• In 2006, there were 69.
• In 2007, there were 50.
• In 2008, there were 48.
• In 2009, there were 70.
• In 2010, there were 55.
• In 2011, there were 44.
• In 2012, there were 50.
• In 2013, there were 56.

Final total = 736. 

An average of just over one a week, for fourteen years. It almost makes you wonder if they had targets.

Interestingly, the note to the court also includes four years of figures leading up to 2000 - the year most of the Horizon system was rolled out to 19,000 Post Offices around the country. 

Excluding robberies and burglary convictions, the Post Office successfully prosecuted 11 people in 1996, 18 in 1997, 31 in 1998, 50 in 1999 and in 2000 it prosecuted 53 people for non-Horizon related possible shortfall offences (the six in the list of Horizon-related offences were convictions secured after Horizon had been installed in a branch at the date of the alleged offence, the 53 were where it hadn't).

The reason I put "possible" in the paragraph above is because the Post Office has added a rider to the non-Horizon figures, noting that although they removed the robbery and burglary prosecutions from the conviction totals, the numbers were taken from a spreadsheet which:
"included a category of offences described as ‘other’. It has not been possible to ascertain what offences this referred to and so they have been included as they may relate to shortfall cases." [my emphasis]
It would be useful to know exactly how many of these convictions were in the "other" category, so we can know how many were definitely shortfall-related. In the meantime, for the first time, you have the full scale of what the Post Office was up to in the first decade-and-a-bit of this century.

Obviously many of those prosecuted will be guilty, but many won't. We know at least 45 of the 736 prosecutions were unsafe - six convictions were overturned on 11 Dec last year, and at least a further 39 quashings are in prospect on 23 April.  If the Post Office has secured the conviction of one innocent person, that would be unforgivable. To know at least 1 in 16 prosecutions were unsafe is beyond comprehension. 

For the government to decide, as it has, that no one should be held accountable for this is deeply troubling. That's before we get into the 2013 cover-up. Last year, on the issue of accountability, the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministerial Correspondence Unit stated:
"the Government will not be taking further action at this time. The Horizon IT system was put in place in 1999, with the first issues being raised by postmasters in the early 2000s. Over an almost 20-year period decisions were made by many people, including in relation to the prosecution of postmasters. There is therefore no single person accountable for what has taken place."
BEIS has subsequently set up an inquiry which, true to the government's word, is specifically not allowed to make any findings as to who might be responsible. That is possibly because, as we seem to be discovering with every new unearthed document, the government, or rather the civil servants shuttling back and forth between the Post Office, BEIS, UKGI and the Cabinet Office throughout this scandal are complicit. 

Even if the hapless Paul Scully did want to do the right thing and hold a proper inquiry, the Sir Humphreys advising him could raise oh-so-compelling arguments as to why that was neither desirable or cost-effective, whilst keeping their own conflicts of interest squarely in the background.

Incidentally, this brings the total number of people who have had or who have reported material loss via the Horizon system to more than 3000:

2,400+ applicants to the Historical Shortfall Scheme, 
60+ applicants to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (45 of whose convictions, as noted above, have been or will be quashed soon).

Now we know the settled figure of how many people were prosecuted and convicted using evidence from a ropey computer system, I suspect a positive and conscious decision to stop anyone finding out who knew what when is unsustainable. This is too big a deal.


I am currently running a crowdfunding campaign to ensure I can attend all relevant appeal court, high court and government inquiry hearings related to the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. Reward levels include access to the secret email, and a forthcoming book. Please click here for more information, and if you would like to support my work.