East Midlands Polygraph Examiner Reviews Horizon Computer Scandal

Lie detector tests could have avoided 39 postmasters being convicted of theft in the Horizon Computer system scandal. Our East Midlands Polygraph Examiner was appalled by the worst miscarriage of justice in recent times.

Judges at the Royal Courts of Justice in London quashed the convictions of the former postmasters last week. Some had been imprisoned, others not but all have had their lives destroyed.

Horizon Computer scandal

The Japanese Fujitsu Horizon Computer system has been used in many post offices since 1999. It is used for a range of tasks including stocktaking and accounting.  However, from the very beginning it was identified that the system was not reliable. Bugs in the system caused misreporting, often involving significant amounts of money.

The Post Office has successfully prosecuted over 700 people using evidence obtained from the Horizon system.

Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the defects in the system. However, the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was “robust and reliable” and “effectively steamrolled over any sub-postmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the judge stated.

On the basis that these prosecutions were an “affront to justice”, the Court of Appeal heard the appeal cases, paving the way for further potential compensation claims against the Post Office. The verdicts were met with elation by ex-postmasters outside the court and Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said that the initial convictions were an “appalling injustice”.

Seeking justice

Not surprisingly, the victims of the Horizon Computer scandal want punishment for those responsible.

Previously there had been 6 other convictions quashed last December and with these 39, one wonders how many more there will be.

A Hull sub-postmistress, Janet Skinner, received a 9-month custodial sentence in 2007 for a deficit of £59,000. At the time she was not aware of the hundreds of other prosecutions and convictions of people in her position throughout the UK.

She had to leave her 2 children when she was incarcerated and when she was released, a job offer was rescinded due to her criminal record.

Describing the Post Office as a “disgrace, Harjinder Butoy, was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months having been convicted of theft in 2008. He wants those responsible “seriously punished”, describing them as bullies.

Also cleared was Hughie “Noel” Thomas, who said the fight for justice had spanned 16 years. “All I want is my money back. People have walked away from this who were responsible. I’d like to sit down with them and ask them the question ‘why?’,” he said.

Post Office turned a blind eye to failings

Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors, Hull who represented 29 of the former sub-postmasters, understandably spoke in the most disparaging terms about the Post Office.  He said that it “has been found to have been an organisation that not only turned a blind eye to the failings in its hugely expensive IT system, but positively promoted a culture of cover-up and subterfuge in the pursuit of reputation and profit”.

“They readily accepted that loss of life, liberty and sanity for many ordinary people was a price worth paying in that pursuit,” he added.

Former CEO of the Post Office, Paula Vennells, said she fully supported a government inquiry and said “I was deeply saddened by the sub-postmasters’ accounts heard during the Court of Appeal proceedings. I am truly sorry for the suffering caused to them as a result of the convictions which the Court of Appeal has today overturned. I fully support and am committed to co-operating with the ongoing Government Inquiry, as I did with last year’s Select Committee Inquiry. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further while the Inquiry is ongoing.”

However, the victims of the Horizon Computer scandal would prefer a public, rather than government led inquiry.

Reviewing a further 22 cases, the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Post Office are encouraging others who believe their conviction were unsafe to make contact.

Aftermath of unsafe convictions

Many of those convicted of fraud, theft and false accounting among other charges, found themselves ostracised by their communities and have found it difficult to secure employment. Some lost their homes and others were refused insurance due to their convictions.  3 are now deceased.

So many lives were needlessly destroyed, and many will never recover from their experience.

Periodic lie detector tests

At Lie Detector Test UK we have a number of commercial clients who use the polygraph when matters of dishonesty arise. Periodic lie detector tests in the workplace maintain trust and loyalty.  Had the Post Office implemented a polygraph clause in their contracts the Horizon Computer scandal could have been avoided.

The expense is a mere fraction of what it will now cost in huge compensation claims. Our East Midlands polygraph examiner urges large organisations to take note!