We are reaching the conclusion of the Horizon trial and recently I have found it interesting to review the opening statements of both the Claimants (Cs) and the Defendants (POL)
The next trial will be looking at Breaches of Contract and Causation (whether or not Horizon or other areas could have caused the losses the Cs are looking to recover).
An interesting extract then from POL’s opening statement in the Horizon trial:
4.The robustness issues are so important because of their impact on the “breach” trials that will be held in this Group Litigation. When the Court comes to decide the claims made by individual Cs, it will do so with the benefit of the generic judgments it will have given in the Common Issues and the Horizon Issues trials:
24.1The Common Issues judgment will have determined the contractual rights and obligations between Post Office and the relevant Cs and certain other incidents of their legal relationships.
24.2The Horizon Issues judgment will have determined, in effect, the extent to which Post Office can generally rely on the contents of the relevant Cs’ Horizon-generated branch accounts as evidence of the true accounting position. In each case, Post Office will rely on the relevant branch accounts as evidence of a deficiency (or shortfall) for which the relevant C is liable. For that purpose, PostOffice will wish to say that Horizon is generally reliable to a high degree and so, absent special circumstances, the accounts generated from Horizon can be taken as accurate. Against that, the relevant C will wish to say that Horizon is not anything like so reliable and that, accordingly, the branch accounts generated by Horizon cannot be given anything like as much weight as Post Office contends.
So far so good then for the Claimants particularly those who claimed for losses under the old SPMR contract (pre Network Transformation) as practically all of the issues under this contract were settled in the claimants favour.
Any decisions in favour of the claimant’s issues in the Horizon trial will therefore put them in a strong position for the third trial.
Without commenting on the current trial or the next one, other than to note there are errors in Horizon from time to time which has been admitted by POL, I would take issue with the above statement from POL with regard to the present day activities of subpostmasters.
A subpostmaster who today discovers a shortfall in his accounts of say £1,000 has the following options:
- They can look at the transaction logs for common user errors. The transaction log being a print out on 4” wide receipt paper roll that may be several metres long and contain unknown acronyms and product codes. This data is available to the post office however in electronic form and can be rapidly searched and sorted. It is way beyond my comprehension why subpostmasters are not provided with that facility.
- They can look at their CCTV footage to see if anything unusual has happened. CCTV though is not a pre-requisite and a lot of offices don’t have any let alone cameras that cover every counter from both sides. A very important point is that POL have NO access to this information even if cameras are present (excluding some branches that have recently been installed with anti-crime surveillance equipment)
- They can call the Hell Line for assistance and/or advice. Good luck with that one.
A subpostmaster faced with a unexplainable discrepancy DOES NOT have the option to query whether or not a problem with Horizon was to blame, but it is and always has been a possibility. The oxymoron of course is that POL/Fujitsu only find out and investigate these errors in Horizon when a subpostmaster informs them of something strange happening that causes a discrepancy that he cannot explain. Even worse, POL for whatever inexplicable reason, decide not to inform their subpostmasters when an error does exist in their system that can cause these losses. They rely it seems totally on back office procedures to pick up and automatically correct shortages caused by known errors which does not help the poor subpostmaster locate his problem.
As an aside, not only does that way of dealing with errors cause the subpostmaster lots of wasted time and effort in trying to locate the source of the error plus sleepless nights, in most cases it will result in the subpostmaster having to put his own money into the safe to balance the books until such time as this confidential error have been rectified. It truly is an absurd way of doing things.
Of course there are several other ways a discrepancy can occur in a subpostmasters account that would be inexplicable such as theft or counter fraud. There is however a reason for EVERY discrepancy and to find that reason it may be down to excluding all other logical possibilities. In Seema Misra’s case POL decided that theft by her could be the only explanation and the attempted in court to prove that was the case by EXCLUDING all other possibilities.
How could they do that with no CCTV recordings as evidence? How could they do that without revealing to the court all known Horizon errors and specifically excluding ALL of them as the possible source of the discrepancies? How could they do that without investigating whether or not there was an unknown, yet to be discovered error in Horizon, that could have caused the shortages?
The last sentence is intriguing. Errors in computer systems exist until they are found. It has been suggested and agreed by both experts in the current trial that some of the errors that have so far been found existed in the system for years before they were located and fixed. So how can you possibly bring a prosecution against a subpostmaster until you are sure you have excluded ALL the possibilities? How long do you have to wait before the possibility of an UNKNOWN Horizon error can be discounted?
So POL have the almighty problem of justifying their actions or lack of them in this regard. For me the overwhelming evidence that cannot be counted on in court is the fact that so many claimants are vociferous and persistent in their belief – no their knowledge – that they stole not one penny. Where the losses went is not for the claimants to find out because they do not have and never had the tools and wherewithal to do that, it is for POL to do that and in the absence of CCTV footage and no knowledge of what errors currently exist in the system and for how long they have existed then they have no chance.
Remember we need continued coverage of the trial from Nick Wallis and that has to be paid for so drop a tip or two in his tip jar at http://www.postofficetrial.com
Thanks too to Tony Collins http://www.ukcampaign4change.com for his excellent articles on the background to this trial.