Are Post Office Ltd Guilty of Fraud by their own admission?

In a startling admission, Post Office Ltd yesterday revealed, in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request (https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/304062/response/757684/attach/html/4/Tony%20Williams%20FOIA%20Response%2021%2001%2016.pdf.html) that they were aware of bugs and errors in the Horizon system but declined the request to list these.

The FOI request was put like this:

Fujitsu have stated that they will be releasing a system upgrade to
the Horizon system, used in Post Offices, in March 2016 which will
include fixes to a list of known bugs in the system.

Could you please provide me with a list of the bugs/errors that
they are currently aware of and intend to fix as of 23/11/2015.

Post Office Ltd replied :

I confirm that Post Office does hold the information you have requested.

Let me be clear here – the question was about bugs and errors nothing at all to do with this explanation from POL:

…. updates for the Horizon system are released on a regular basis to ensure that
operational performance is maintained at optimal levels, as you would expect for any
large IT system. Such updates include, for example, security-related matters;
upgrades and improvements to functionality. Depending on the nature and extent of changes they are applied in carefully managed periodic releases, following thorough impact assessment and testing

No mention of Bugs and Errors then, even though they did acknowledge that they held the information.   Of course it is important to point out that presumably this FOI request was placed as a result of the investigation by the CWU and revelation by Computer Weekly (http://www.computerweekly.com/news/4500257572/Post-Office-IT-support-email-reveals-known-Horizon-flaw).   This revealed that there was not only a bug in the Horizon system but that Fujitsu had incorrectly identified the cause of it prior to declaring that it would be ‘fixed’ in a software release in March 2016.

It is quite unbelievable that Post Office Ltd has made no attempt to warn the subpostmaster network of this bug’s existence but the fact is that they never have revealed these bugs.

In reply to further questions from Computer Weekly POL stated:

The Post Office said: “We will not be commenting on this issue any further other than to say that the Post Office takes its responsibilities towards its postmasters extremely seriously and wholeheartedly rejects any suggestion to the contrary.”

The suggestion that they take their responsibilities towards their subpostmasters extremely seriously is extremely worrying.  How they can come to that conclusion while not informing their subpostmasters about serious errors in the Horizon system that could easily result in Subpostmaster Losses is beyond me but rather more significantly not beyond the law.

You see in the case of the error that Computer Weekly reported to Post Office Ltd, the loss incurred by the subpostmaster in question resulted in a gain to Post Office Ltd.   While thankfully it was noticed by the subpostmaster and eventually the loss was resolved, it could be that the error has occurred at another branch and not been noticed by the subpostmaster meaning that Post Office Ltd may have recovered monies from the subpostmaster that POL were not entitled to.   Such a situation is clearly covered by the Fraud Act 2006.

4 Fraud by abuse of position

(1)A person is in breach of this section if he—

(a)occupies a position in which he is expected to safeguard, or not to act against, the financial interests of another person,

(b)dishonestly abuses that position, and

(c)intends, by means of the abuse of that position—

(i)to make a gain for himself or another, or

(ii)to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2)A person may be regarded as having abused his position even though his conduct consisted of an omission rather than an act.

Of course this law is open to interpretation but I leave that to the courts and/or the Serious Fraud Office to decide.   The fact is though that once Post Office Ltd decided not to reveal the error to their network of subpostmasters they did so with intent (not to reveal) and in their response to the Freedom of Information request they cited their reasons for doing so.

They exposed their subpostmaster network to a risk of loss without question and they did so in the knowledge that in this particular instance that loss would result in a gain for Post Office Ltd.   I am sure POL would argue that they have systems in place to identify errors such as these and to repay any such sums to subpostmasters eventually but unfortunately that is not entirely correct and is another story for another day.

The Misra Trial

There is a strong connection between this turn of events and the recent publication of the Misra Trial Transcript http://journals.sas.ac.uk/deeslr/article/view/2217

In this trial the prosecution (remember the prosecution in this case is actually Post Office Ltd) say the following:

“because the defendant is saying there was a computer problem – easy to say it, but a computer problem should be visible, at least the symptoms of it to the user of the computer and this defendant was using the Horizon computer system”

What is interesting about this quotation (other than the fact it is wrong in its assumption that computer errors should be visible to users) is that it comes in the part of the trial where the prosecution is arguing not to disclose the Known Error Logs!   As we all know with POL you really cannot make it up at times.

If the losses a SPMR can incur due to a computer fault (and we now know that at least one is present in the system as I write this) give rise to a gain to POL then as far as I can interpret the Fraud Act they (POL) are legally bound to inform the network of the possibility of this error occurring.

So why wouldn’t they?  This question must be asked and answered at a very senior level.

The trouble is they have denied these errors exist for so long it seems they have to continue to do so – even in the face of clear and undeniable evidence to the contrary.

Back to the Misra Trial.  At the end of the trial the Judge summed up the evidence before the jury and I quote “Mr Jenkins told you “I cannot find anything that shows any significant fault in the system.”

Mr Jenkins was the Fujitsu “Expert” witness.  Yet even he didn’t know what was on the Known Error Log!

It is frankly appalling to think that Ms Misra, or indeed any other SPMR, who has and will question the reliability and robustness of the Horizon computer system, can end up in jail as a result.   This is not the end of the story/scandal and more people will eventually end up in prison as a result.  I don’t think they will be subpostmasters though.

 

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