The Post Office has finally admitted that there have been defects in its internal accounting software, after a long-running dispute with sub-postmasters which has led to some being jailed for false accounting.
The admission follows a probe launched earlier this year by independent investigators Second Sight.
Sub-postmasters who run the smaller post offices in the UK are not directly employed by the Post Office but are contracted to run their branches as businesses. They are responsible for balancing the books using the Post Office’s Horizon computer system – developed by Fujitsu – which processes all transactions.
But some have seen shortfalls of tens of thousands of pounds, which they have been forced to repay themselves. Second Sight has now said the Post Office’s initial investigation failed to identify the root cause of the problems.
The report says more help should have been given to sub-postmasters, who had no way of defending themselves, concluding that further investigation is required.
More than 100 sub-postmasters have registered an interest in suing the Post Office over the prosecutions.
One former sub-post master Jo Hamilton told BBC News: “I got to the end of one week and I was £2,000 short so I rang the helpdesk and they told me to do various things and then it said I was £4,000 short.
“They then said I had to pay them the £4,000 because that’s what my contract says – that I would make good any losses. Then while I was repaying that it jumped up to £9,000.”
Eventually the figure reached £36,000, which she has been repaying since 2005. Hamilton claimed one man who had worked for Royal Mail for 40 years, spent his 60th birthday in prison. “You don’t suddenly turn into a criminal at that age,” she said.
Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells admitted the review raised questions about the training and support offered to some sub-postmasters and the firm was determined to address these issues.
She pledged to make “further improvements in this area and take better account of individual requirements and circumstances going forward” as well as step up the inquiry.
PO agrees to software probe