Fixing the Problem

As is often quoted, the first step in finding a solution to a problem is acknowledging the problem exists in the first place.

This manifests itself as Post Office Ltd management continue down what is now a weary path, of expressing faith in the robustness of their Horizon computer system and all the internal systems and procedures that go along with it.   Lack of acknowledgement of the problem that only POL management it seems, dispute it exists, means that they (POL) have no reason to put in place the most reliable remedy to this interminable saga.

In another excellent article, ( Tony Collins highlights yet again a subpostmaster at odds with POL over disputed missing value[1].

The JFSA team will highlight all of the shortcomings of POL and the impact their failure to accept that there are intermittent and recurring errors in the Horizon system that lead to unexplained shortages at branches have had on innocent victims.  However one thing they could do would be to show the Judge what POL could have done to prevent this from ever becoming a problem in the first place.

In its simplest form the solution would be to ensure that POL, before a court of law, could prove what caused the discrepancy beyond ALL doubt – not reasonable doubt or balance of probabilities.   To do that they would have to be able to produce evidence of what caused the error or to be fair, the theft, to occur.

Look around you and in every place of business where high volumes of cash and/or value are transacted you will see (in all but Post Offices) visible signs of security in place.  A cashier in Tesco is monitored by CCTV which records not only the images but the transactions that are being entered on the screen at the same time.  Casinos have huge CCTV monitoring operations and even POL use them in their cash centres that distribute cash to the branches.   Although not a high cash business, London Transport has, I believe, over 100,000 CCTV cameras operating on its bus network.   CCTV imagery linked to the Horizon screens and safes would be a good place to start when thinking of a solution.

Secondly POL should and could employ forensic analysts that will investigate discrepancies thoroughly to the point where they discover what happened.

With these two items in place, consider what happens when a SPMR reports a discrepancy or a discrepancy is found after an audit of the branch.   Knowing full well that POL can prove without a doubt what has caused the discrepancy, including computer and/or internal procedural error it would be most unlikely that the guilty would continue to deny that they were responsible.   A further benefit to the SPMR would be that POL could actually help them to identify a culprit among their staff if that had caused the error – something that POL leave entirely to the SPMR at the moment.  The benefit to POL would be early identification of errors and therefore the ability to rectify leading to a more robust system for all of its users.

Finally though there is a particular underlying problem that has allowed this mess to occur and it is one that POL cannot address themselves.  The situation they find themselves in is of their own making.  It is an incredibly stupid one and senior POL management continue to believe that they are right and the overwhelming evidence against them is wrong.  The conclusion is obvious – the people in charge of POL are of fairly low intelligence and should not be in charge of such an organisation.  These people need to be replaced and until such time as they are then talk of a solution that will ensure this never happens again is a waste of time.


[1] Value – newspaper articles such as quoted in Tony’s piece never explain properly what it is that is missing.   It is NOT necessarily physical cash.   If the cause of the discrepancy is shown to be a computer error or even miskeying a transaction say taking a deposit as a withdrawal then the physical cash stock in the branch would not change but the subpostmaster would be in debt to POL for the missing value of the transaction.  That value could for instance be held in one of POL’s mysterious suspense accounts that allegedly hold millions of pounds worth of unreconciled transactions.  Note that these suspense accounts are not the sole domain of POL – many, if not all, County Councils have similar suspense accounts that also run into millions of pounds.  Difference is that county councils are auditable by the National Audit Office – not so POL who are unaccountable to anyone.