UK courts falsely convicted hundreds of postal workers of crimes because of an accounting bug. Why are they not being exonerated?

Originally published at: UK courts falsely convicted hundreds of postal workers of crimes because of an accounting bug. Why are they not being exonerated? - Boing Boing


There are no “new revelations”. The appalling state of affairs has been known for years, but last week a TV docudrama “Mr Bates vs The Post Office” brought it back to the public’s attention and politicians made soothing noises to the effect that something will be done, just after the process is followed (the same due process that was denied to the victims of this travesty).

This is the usual MO the Establishment follows to prevaricate and shield its members of accountability for the most egregious failures, whether the Aberfan disaster, the Hillsborough disaster or the multiple scandals involving the armed forces in Northern Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan.


Oh, if only…

That did play its part but people (within the Post Office) did start questioning the computer system pretty swiftly and the Post Office decided that they would continue to insist the computer system was right even after they knew it wasn’t.

It really is hard to overstate the level of malevolence at play in this fiasco.


The UK papers seem to think there is. Specifically government ministers knowing about it in the 2000s. Sounds like the Lib Dems might want to think twice about that Ed Davey guy!


See, e.g.:

justice-lost-in-the-post.pdf (6.2 MB)

which is Private Eye’s report on the travesty.

The last two pages (ignoring the subscription ad page) have a handy little list.


I think UK media can only claim this is new if they were ignoring it or too cowed by defamation fears to look at it.


Also looks a bit like the right-wing press is trying to take control of the story and its energies.


It has been known for a long time that Davey refused to meet the sub-postmasters when he was the responsible minister. He believed the shit the PO told him at the time, but this is not new news.

Private Eye has been covering this in almost every edition for several years now and reported on Davey’s role (or lack of one) some time ago.

What is new news as of today is that there was a pre-1999 pilot and some postmasters were caught in that and have somehow not been examined or included in the investigations.

As to only 93 being exonerated (having their appeals against conviction upheld) the legitimate issue is that currently each case has to go to the court individually. There is simply no legal mechanism for a mass overturn of numerous individual guilty verdicts. It will probably require legislation and the govt should effing well get on and enact it. (And Royal pardons whilst possibly do-able, would not overturn guilty verdicts.)

Although there was a layer of PO mgt that were clearly aware of the issues and decided the good name of the PO and the millions spent on Horizon needed protecting more than their postmasters, so far very little has been examined re what Fujitsu was up to at this time, as its employees would have been the people responsible for the errors and for fucking up the attempts to fix or manage them. Fujitsu probably knew there were systemic issues but kept quiet so as to protect their contract and revenue all while knowing the prosecuted postmasters were probably not guilty


They ignored it for years.


More details here: Post Office scandal: What the Horizon saga is all about

Staggering levels of ignoring the problems while blaming the victims.

from linked BBC reporting:

"Sub-postmasters complained about bugs in the system after it reported shortfalls, some of which amounted to many thousands of pounds.

Some sub-postmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money due to their contracts stating they were responsible for any shortfalls, even remortgaging their homes, in an (often fruitless) attempt to correct an error.``

Some victims were imprisoned, some have died since the unfair claims against them were levied.

Then, to top it off…

It accepted it had previously “got things wrong in [its] dealings with a number of postmasters”, and agreed to pay £58m in damages. The claimants received a share of £12m, after legal fees were paid.

In a just society, heads would roll. Punish the people who refused to do due diligence, and instead let hundreds of people take the rap for years of allowing faulty IT accounting system run amok. Victims were deprived of justice for years and it cost them dearly.

Edited to fix formatting for clearity


Yeah, it’s definitely this. They want to be able to run headlines saying “The Sun gets justice for the postmasters” etc. (Or, better, “Disgraced head of Post Office is stripped of CBE”) And it doesn’t hurt that the docudrama adaptation doesn’t suck.

Whereas many more stories about vast sums of public money disappearing into completely unaccountable private companies through ‘commercially confidential’ contracts (see, for example, the Teeside Freeport nonsense) will just carry on being shouted into the void by the small media outlets, with the offchance that one or two of them might get some traction somewhere, because we can’t make a good tv show out of it.


To be fair this isn’t really about common or garden corruption of the government, which is any day ending in a y for the conservatives, this is about the mass convictions on the basis of falsehoods that they had enough reason to know were falsehoods. Money is part of it, but not even the most unjust and deplorable part.


That was from the court case - there is also a ‘proper’ compensation scheme, but that is proceeding too slowly and in any case a postmaster cannot apply to it while they still have a conviction (not sure why, TBH).

If BBers want to really get a feel for it all, read the Private Eye report @L0ki posted or use a VPN to get to ITVX and watch all four episodes of the dramatisation that was on TV last week,


One might conclude a REAL investigation would include complete audits of those who made decisions to use the system and those who protected the faulty system despite evidence that it was corrupted.


The Met Police are now (if reports are to be believed and parsed correctly) looking seriously not just at PO personnel but Fujitsu too. It will be a tragedy if only corporate charges ensue, as there are individuals who deserve jail time here.

Re the system, the PO was sold a pup - though there were only pups on offer, I suspect. It was a hard-coded system (i.e. not parameterised or configurable at implementation) designed for a different purpose (generic Point-of-Sale) which Fujitsu sold as being tailorable to PO’s much more specialist needs. Unfortunately that tailoring involved hugely expensive re-coding, work-arounds and all the usual shit that goes with trying to adapt a hugely complex hard-coded system to a different set of even more complex requirements. But it was probably sold (possibly truthfully) as cheaper and quicker than building a new bespoke system from scratch.

Computer Weekly was in fact the first publication to investigate and publish about this, in 2008. The mag is mostly behind a ‘give us your details’ paywall but I suspect that if you really want to get insight that might be a good place to start.

This is their explainer and is free to read.


Goddamned tories.


Another source for the details of the story


That sounds like HAL in 2001, where it couldn’t possibly have made a mistake…


well not truthfully, i think. considering the cost in lives and litigation …


Another source for details (about as much detail as anyone could possibly need):

For the contractual background:

For the technical details of the computer system:

These are the relevant court judgments. As one can tell from the numbering there were several more on various procedural issues, mostly attempts by the Post Office to get the case thrown out or the judge removed.


Wow - there’s some reading there! But even skimming and pausing at what seem like interesting places does reveal some real PO shenanigans (putting it politely).

ETA The Judge’s Technical Appendix is mind-bogglingly detailed and amazingly technical, but yet in lay language and I suspect many of the more technical Happy Mutants will find it fascinating in the way it describes - from first principles - the origin, design, architecture, development, evolution and deployment of a complex IT system. FETA if anyone does read this, as far as I can work out KELs are Known Error Logs (logs of known errors) and PEAKs refer to an incident reporting system, a PEAK being a recorded incident.