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."

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