Britain’s Post Office is facing a civil action at the High Court this week, over an alleged fault with its accountancy software.
The action has been brought by six lead claimants as part of a wider group of 550 former and current sub-postmasters, who hold their rights to run smaller Post Office branches.
The claimants say that the Post Office’s Horizon accounting system is responsible for financial discrepancies, which led to imprisonment and accusations of false accounting and theft.
They say that the discrepancies arose due to a fault in the Horizon system, which was introduced in 1999 and used for recording day-to-day financial transactions. According to campaigners, as a direct result of this error some sub-postmasters lost their homes, suffered ill health or had to declare bankruptcy after being told to repay vast sums of money.
Others were prosecuted and some even received custodial sentences. If they obtain a favourable judgement they will seek compensation for damages, including financial loss, deceit and unjust enrichment. The claimants say that the Horizon system, supplied by IT company Fujitsu, contained a large number of coding errors, bugs and defects. They further accuse the Post Office of covering up the system’s short-comings and unfairly prosecuting the sub-postmasters.
Post Office Vehemently Denies Accusations
The Post Office rigorously denies any fault on its part. Instead, it counter-accuses the sub-postmasters of knowingly submitting false accounts under the previous system. It goes further and argues that the matter can no longer be pursued due to the passage of time.
Furthermore, the Post Office has mounted a range of contractual defences, including settlements it reached with some claimants over branch closures. Neither side is willing to back down, which has resulted in a long-running dispute that has already cost more than £10 million in legal fees.
As part of the trial the court will examine the contractual terms the parties signed up to, including clauses governing liability for losses by sub-postmasters. According to the sub-postmaster’s legal council, they were not aware of potential contractual obligation to make good any shortfalls or losses int heir branches shown by the Horizon system.