Saturday, 15 August 2015

Panorama tx card Mon 17 August

Here's the TX card for Monday's Panorama. If you can't read the writing, it says: "Has the Post Office been sending innocent postmasters to jail?"

It goes out at 7.30pm on BBC 1 (10.35pm in NI).

Joe Cooper is responsible for taking the shot you see above plus the whole of this and many other Panoramas. He is an immensely talented cameraman, who also shot a lot of the two One Show pieces we made on the subject of the Post Office before Christmas.

I'll be on the One Show sofa on Monday at 7pm discussing the Panorama piece with Matt and Alex. I do hope you can watch both programmes.


Thursday, 6 August 2015

Panorama - Trouble at the Post Office - 17 Aug 2015

Trouble at the Post Office, 7.30pm Mon 17 August, BBC1
Sorry this blog has been so quiet of late. I've spent a few weeks working on the above programme as well as putting together the third series of Caught on Camera for Channel 5. It's been a bit hectic, to say the least.

This is what the Radio Times listing says:

"Dozens of sub-postmasters have been prosecuted after their computers showed that money had gone missing, but could there be other explanations for the cash shortfalls? John Sweeney meets a whistleblower who says there were problems with the IT system, and also investigates claims that the Post Office charged some with theft even when the evidence didn't stack up."

As you can see, I am not presenting this Panorama, but the story could not be in better hands.

I will update you with more information as we get closer to the transmission date.

For more Post Office related information, please click around this blog. I'll put up some links below shortly.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Post Office response to final Second Sight report

The Post Office have sent me a press statement dated Sunday 19 April. It deals with the final Second Sight report, which I posted here earlier. They have also sent over some additional information, which will be of interest.

At the bottom of this statement is a link to a far longer document published by the Post Office in March 2015 which comprehensively sets out their position on their Horizon IT system. It contrasts, often starkly, with the opinion of their independent investigators. Again, that will be of interest.

"Post Office Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme
Investigations over the past three years have confirmed that the Post Office’s Horizon computer system is operating as it should. It is used successfully by 78,000 people to process six million transactions every working day in communities throughout the UK. 
Both the Post Office and independent forensic accountants Second Sight have found that the majority of the branch losses in complaints put forward to the mediation scheme were, in fact, caused by errors at the counter.  
The Post Office is concerned that the report by Second Sight, recently made available to scheme applicants for mediation purposes, repeats complaints made by a very small number of former postmasters, as well as a number of assertions and opinions. Second Sight has been unable to demonstrate any evidence to support these. 
To address this concern, the Post Office has produced a response to the Second Sight report which has also been provided to all the remaining applicants in the scheme.
A Post Office spokesman said: “Over the past three years there have been exhaustive investigations which have not found any evidence of systemic problems with the Horizon system. The mediation scheme was set up to address individual complaints and that is what we have gone to great lengths to do – a number are now resolved. The complaints are considered on their facts and substance.”
Following the completion of its investigations, the Post Office announced last month that it will put forward all remaining cases to mediation, with the exception of those which have been subject to a previous court ruling. Those cases will continue to be considered individually on a case-by-case basis.
Additional information:
Fit for purpose :  A tiny fraction of the overall 500,000 people who have used Horizon since it was introduced more than a decade ago have put forward complaints. That does not constitute evidence that the IT system is flawed or unfit for purpose; indeed, if anything, it demonstrates that the system is highly reliable.  During nearly three years of investigation and review there is no evidence of system wide flaws.  The investigations have found the majority of branch losses were caused by errors made at the counter. 
Investigations and prosecutions:  We naturally take any allegation of miscarriages of justice extremely seriously. In none of the Post Office’s own work, nor through any of Second Sight’s work, has any information emerged to suggest that a conviction is unsafe. 
If the Post Office decides to prosecute a case, its conduct of the prosecution is scrutinised by defence lawyers and ultimately by the Courts themselves.  The Post Office has to satisfy both stages of the Code for Crown Prosecutors to start a prosecution: the evidential stage requires us to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and the public interest stage which requires us to consider whether a prosecution is in the public interest. 
We are duty bound to communicate with a defendant’s lawyers, and any decision by a defendant regarding their plea is made after he or she has had the opportunity to take private and confidential legal advice and consider, with lawyers, all the available evidence. The evidential requirements for proving the offences of theft or false accounting are a matter of law. 
Post Office as a prosecutor has a continuing duty to disclose immediately any information that subsequently comes to light which might undermine its prosecution case or support the case of the defendant.  
It is the duty of the defence lawyers to identify to the Court where there is insufficient evidence to sustain a charge, or to seek further information from the Post Office which might assist the defendant’s case. If the Court agrees, then the Judge must dismiss that charge. Thus a charge upon which there is no evidence will inevitably fail. 
 ‘Remote access’ to Horizon:  As we have always made clear, neither the Post Office nor Fujitsu can edit or delete transactions as recorded by branches.

We’ve provided extensive information about security and data integrity and no evidence at all has been put forward that demonstrates transactions as recorded by a branch can be, or indeed have been, altered through remote means.  We have comprehensively addressed the allegation, made in one case, of Horizon being accessed remotely from a basement in Bracknell to alter branch accounts.  There was no connection to any live data from what was a separate and secure test environment.
The Post Office established a Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme in 2013 to provide an avenue for postmasters to raise their specific, individual concerns.  This followed an independent review of the Horizon computer system which found no evidence of systemic problems but did point to areas where the Post Office could have done more, in some cases, in areas such as training and support.
Of the nearly 500,000 users of the system since it was introduced in 2001, there were 150 applications to the mediation scheme, covering events spanning over a decade. A number were resolved at an early stage.  
The Post Office published a detailed report about the investigations and the scheme in March 2015. This is available on the Post Office website."

Exclusive: Second Sight final report in full

This is a confidential document. I am publishing it in my capacity as a freelance journalist and blogger because I believe it is in the overwhelming public interest to do so.

The link directly to it is here [scribd] and here [google drive]. If you are reading this on a mobile device I would recommend using the link which goes to the document on google drive, as scribd makes you download their free app before letting you read it all. If you are reading this on a desktop you will be fine with scribd which is also slightly easier to navigate. Both links let you download the document, which you may want to do, or you might be able to do it from the embedded version of the document below.

The Post Office have written their own 83 page rebuttal to Second Sight's final report, which I have read. It vigourously contests many of the conclusions reached by Second Sight. I have sought permission from the Post Office to publish this rebuttal on my blog.

The Post Office have sent me a press statement with additional information which I have posted here.

As I noted yesterday, the Post Office have already published their own report about the Mediation Scheme in March. This is publicly available.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Exclusive: Is Horizon Fit For Purpose?

I'm just reading through the latest Second Sight report into the Post Office's Horizon computer system. I think I was the first journalist in the country to see a copy. And now I'm sharing bits of it with you. How nice.

The report cost millions of pounds and was written by people who know exactly what they are talking about. And it is damning. It really is.

First off - does Horizon work properly?

Independent forensic accountants spent more than two and half years looking at Horizon. This is their conclusion:

p42 21.23 “For the Horizon System to be considered fully ‘fit for purpose’ for all users, it would, in our opinion, need to accurately record and process, with a high degere of error repellency, the full range of products and services offered by Post Office, whilst providing a clear transactional audit trail allowing easy investigation of any problems and errors that arise. The cases that we have reviewed demonstrate that this design objective has not always been achieved.” 

Hmm. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? Not really an endorsement at all. It is, in fact refusing to say that Horizon is fit for purpose. So after two and a half years of looking at it, independent forensic accountants refuse to say Horizon is fit for purpose.

Everything else is great, right?

p46 25.1 “As a result of our investigations we have established that Post Office’s investigators have, in many cases, failed to identify the underlying root causes of shortfalls prior to the initiation of civil recovery action or criminal proceedings.”

Woah... so they would accuse people of theft before doing proper investigations? Read it again. There's no equivocation there. Second Sight has concluded ("established") that the Post Office called in the prosecutors and accused people of criminal acts without properly investigating why money was going missing? That's big stuff.

What about the integrity of the system? The idea that the Subpostmaster has responsibility for her (or his) accounts because s/he and only s/he can alter them. The Post Office has always said that the people at Fujitsu who run Horizon and the Post Office who manage it cannot alter branch accounts in any way. Second Sight say:

p5 2.12 “Our current, evidence-based opinion is that Fujitsu/Post Office, did have and may well still have the ability to directly alter branch records without the knowledge of the Subpostmaster”

Oh. Someone's fibbing? Why would they do that?

What about the contract the Subpostmasters have to sign before they sink their savings into owning the business? Is that any help when things go wrong?

p7 3.7 “There is no automatic entitlement to investigative support when problems arise. There is no automatic entitlement to be provided with data held by Post Office with the exception of the data routinely made available to the branch by Horizon.”

p7 3.8 “The contract places Subpostmasters in a difficult position in these circumstances. Post Office generally insists on losses being made good, but the Subpostmaster is not necessarily entitled to receive all of the information and explanations necessary to establish the cause of the loss. We regard this as unfair.”

So it's a fundamentally unfair contract. Oh.

There's more on the Post Office's interesting approach to investigating problems later:

p36 19.6 "The failure to always investigate and correct material discrepancies is perhaps unique to the Post Office's Business Model. Unlike commercial entities that do not operate on an agency basis, Post Office has, in our opinion, little commercial incentive to establish the root causes of discrepancies because the burden of cost (and risk) is being carried in most instances either by its Subpostmasters, in the case of shortfalls, or by its customers or its clients, in the case of surpluses."

That's not worrying at all.

The Post Office have issued a response to the Second Sight report. After their own internal investigations they've actually concluded things are pretty much fine. Yes there were some training issues, and yes they probably could communicate a bit better with their Subpostmasters, but generally everything's fine. Nothing to see here.

With regards to the individual Subpostmasters who have lost their businesses and reputations, been landed with criminal records and suffered ill-health during the immense stress this has put them under, the Post Office is confident it hasn't done anything wrong. Second Sight can't call it conclusively because the Post Office won't hand over the documents they need to draw a firm conclusion.

So have there been miscarriages of justice?

Several million pounds and nearly three years into this investigation, no one knows, because the Post Office have controlled this process from start to finish. It is a slight conflict of interest, in my view.

The Post Office have kindly put their response to the Second Sight report online. But they have not yet made the Second Sight report it's responding to so widely available.

So you'll just have to take their word for it. Everything's fine. EVERYTHING'S FINE! STOP LOOKING!

Several Subpostmasters, in the light of the Post Office's recent behaviour, have given up the ghost on the mediation scheme and approached the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Watch this space.


CORRECTION 1.30pm Monday 20 April 2015: The Post Office have contacted me to point out that the link above takes you to the Post Office's own review into Horizon, published in March 2015. It was being pushed this morning by the Post Office's Director of Communications, among others, and I admit I got confused. The Post Office's point-by-point rebuttal of Second Sight's report (like the Second Sight report itself) has not yet been published. I am reading it now.