Post Office to pay nearly £58m after years of fraud disputes with sub postmasters over the Horizon accounting system
The Post Office has agreed to pay almost £58 million to settle a long-running dispute with postal staff over errors in Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system.
The case centres over the use of the Horizon accounting system, which has been in place since 1999 and records transactions across Post Office branches,
But alleged mistakes with Horizon caused sub-postmasters to be wrongly accused of fraud, and many were told to pay back supposedly missing funds or face prosecution.
The problem became a political issue in 2009, when reports surfaced of sub-postmasters who had received heavy fines or jail terms for alleged false accounting, which they said resulted from problems with Horizon.
Thousands of sub-postmasters independently operate smaller post offices, and are obliged to make up shortfalls out of their own pockets.
In 2011, 85 sub-postmasters sought legal support in claims against the Post Office after being wrongly accused of taking money.
In later years this figure rose to 550 sub-postmasters suing the Post Office.
The Post Office always argued that there is no evidence of systemic problems with Horizon, but set up the mediation scheme in 2013 after independent investigators found defects in the software.
In 2014 more than 140 MPs said they could no longer support the Post Office’s mediation scheme after numerous complaints about Horizon.
And now the Post Office has announced that it has reached a settlement.
“The Parties to the Group Litigation in Bates v Post Office are pleased to report that they have reached a comprehensive resolution to their long-running litigation in the High Court, following several days of respectful, challenging, and ultimately successful mediation during which the parties engaged with each other in good faith,” said the Post Office.
“The Post Office would like to express its gratitude to claimants, and particularly those who attended the mediation in person to share their experiences with us, for holding us to account in circumstances where, in the past, we have fallen short and we apologise to those affected,” it said.
“We are grateful to the claimants for taking part in this mediation and agreeing a settlement, bringing the Group Litigation to a close,” said Post Office Chairman, Tim Parker. “We accept that, in the past, we got things wrong in our dealings with a number of postmasters and we look forward to moving ahead now, with our new CEO currently leading a major overhaul of our engagement and relationship with postmasters.”
It is reported that numerous criminal convictions are now being reviewed as a result of the case.
It is not clear yet how much individual postmasters and mistresses will receive out of the settlement payment.