Post Office campaigner breaks down over startling new evidence in Horizon scandal

This is the moment a campaigner who has sought justice for victims of the Post Office scandal was stunned into silence by shocking new evidence.

Lord Arbuthnot is a member of the Horizon compensation advisory board and long-time campaigner on the issue. He has met with victims and spearheaded their fight for justice in parliament.

In recordings obtained by Channel 4 and broadcast on Wednesday night, Arbuthnot was shown evidence that apparently showed that some members of Post Office management knew the Horizon IT system might be faulty.

Channel 4 say the recordings date back to May 2013 – when forensic accountants from Second Sight were hired by the Post Office to conduct their own independent shows into the claims about Fujitsu’s Horizon system. They claim that the tape reveals how both the Post Office and Fujitsu knew the Horizon system could potentially make errors on the subpostmasters’ accounts remotely.

Post Office CEO Paula Vennells told MPs in 2015 it was not possible for Horizon to remotely access payments. It was only in the High Court in 2019 that the Post Office admitted it might be a possibility.

Lord Arbuthnot broke down as he listened to Post Office officials discuss the faulty Horizon IT system.
Lord Arbuthnot broke down as he listened to Post Office officials discuss the faulty Horizon IT system.

Upon hearing the tapes, Arbuthnot is visibly angry and upset. Appearing to compose himself, he says: “They allowed that lie to continue. They allowed subpostmasters to languish in prison. They permitted further subpostmasters to go to the wall.”

Arbuthnot then paused as he appeared to break down in tears. His voice shaking with emotion, he added: “I’ve been doing this for 14, 15 years now and to think that a British institution could behave like this, owned by us, is just terrible.”

Arbuthnot became involved with the scandal after his constituent, Jo Hamilton, was wrongly charged. He went on to lead the cross-party parliamentary group of MPs who came together to lead the charge for their constituents.

What are the new claims?

The conversations unearthed by Channel 4 – which included a Post Office company secretary and senior Post Office lawyer – suggest Post Office officials knew there was an issue with the company’s Fujitsu IT system two years before the last subpostmasters were jailed, in 2015.

Lord Arbuthnot speaks to the media outside the Department for Business and Trade, Old Admiralty Building, central London, ahead of a meeting of the independent Horizon Compensation Advisory Board. Picture date: Wednesday January 10, 2024.
Lord Arbuthnot was visibly upset after hearing the secret recordings obtained by Channel 4. (PA)

The recordings, which were taken covertly, appear to show that the Post Office knew some of their subpostmasters might not be to blame for discrepancies in their accounts - sometimes detailing tens of thousands of pounds.

One of the recordings apparently documents a call between a Post Office IT specialist and Second Sight’s Ian Henderson. Channel 4 says it is the moment the accountants discovered the Horizon issues.

The Post Office IT specialist appears to say that he “did ask Fujitsu to actually come clean” about a “technical avenue where you can technically do some form of adjustment”. Channel 4 claims in the recording that he goes on to say that he told senior Post Office executives that Fujitsu themselves admitted to being able to access subpostmasters’ accounts.

Elsewhere in the recordings, there are discussions about whether to present evidence to Vennells before a planned meeting with Arbuthnot.

Fujitsu UK head office in Bracknell. Fujitsu has apologised to postmasters wrongfully convicted due to flaws in its Horizon IT software and admitted it has a
Channel 4 say the recordings show that Fujitsu and the Post Office knew of the faults in the Horizon IT system. (Getty)

More than 900 subpostmasters were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting based on Horizon data that was proved to be faulty. It has been described as one of the largest miscarriages of justice in British history.

A Fujitsu spokesman declined to comment to Yahoo News UK on the claims made by Channel 4 News, pointing to the ongoing public inquiry. He said the company “offers its deepest apologies to the subpostmasters and their families” and “hopes for a swift resolution that ensures a just outcome for the victims”.

Yahoo News UK has contacted the Post Office for comment.

After the Channel 4 News report was aired, Liam Byrne, chairman of the Commons business and trade committee, said the recordings were “the first evidence that people knew there was a problem”.

Giving his reaction to Channel 4 News, Byrne said: “Pure rage, pure rage. Here you’ve got people in the Post Office – you’ve got the first evidence here from 2013 that people knew there was a problem. They were sending people to prison as late as 2015, two years after these recordings are being made.”

Byrne also posted on X: “We must now ask whether police have enough evidence to bring those who jailed the innocent to justice."

Former post office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal. Thirty-nine former subpostmasters who were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office's defective Horizon accounting system have had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal. Issue date: Friday April 23, 2021. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Victims of the Post Officer scandal are awaiting exonerations and compensation. (Getty)

Are Post Office victims getting what they're owed?

Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced this year that the government would pass a law exonerating wronged subpostmasters, as well as compensating them. Those whose convictions are quashed are eligible for a £600,000 compensation payment, or potentially more, if they go through a process of having their claim individually assessed.

Sunak also announced a £75,000 offer for subpostmasters involved in a group legal action against the Post Office – with ministers setting aside up to £1bn for compensation. Convictions will be automatically quashed if they meet the necessary conditions, which include if they were for certain offences between 1996 and 2018 connected to Post Office business and the Horizon system was being used at the time.

Last week, the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill received an unopposed second reading, putting subpostmasters one step closer to justice. However, only 102 of 983 convictions have so far been overturned. Out of those, just 35 have received full and final settlements.

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