Post Office to pay out £58m over IT glitch

Thursday 26th December 2019 9:22 am
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South Warnborough Post Office, which Jo Hamilton operated between 2003 and 2005 ()

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THE Post Office will pay £57.8million to hundreds of former sub-postmasters after it wrongly accused them of fraud.

Jo Hamilton was the sub-postmaster in South Warnborough between 2003 and 2005 and was accused of taking more than £36,000.

But following the latest in a series of High Court rulings, she celebrated a “massive victory”.

“We won,” she told the Herald. “Morally, it’s huge.”

But the fight is not over as Mrs Hamilton has now begun proceedings to have her criminal conviction overturned and reclaim lost funds.

“It’s not going to stop here,” she added.

The trouble started more than a decade ago when millions disappeared from post office accounts, with blame falling on sub-postmasters.

Some faced bankruptcy and even jail as a result.

However, protesting their innocence, 556 took legal action and accused the Post Office’s glitchy IT system, Horizon, of causing the discrepancies.

In the sixth judgment on the group litigation, Mr Justice Peter Fraser ruled in favour of sub-postmasters and said the Post Office’s denial around their computer system, which was not “remotely robust”, amounted “to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat”.

Mrs Hamilton first noticed the issues in 2003 when the computer said she was £2,000 down. When she tried to fix the problem, the deficit doubled before her eyes.

Being liable for any shortfall, the funds were docked from her wages. The problems persisted but she decided – as she was unable to pay back the “missing” funds – to document what “should” have been in the till.

During a period of over a year, the figure the computer said she owed became more than £36,000.

In 2008 around 70 villagers came to Winchester Crown Court where Mrs Hamilton agreed to plead guilty to false accounting and was ordered to pay back the money.

She remortgaged her house to make up £30,000 and villagers raised the remaining £6,000.

Odiham’s sub-postmaster, David Bristow, was suspended after the system said he was £42,000 down.

However, he refused to sign the weekly accounting form agreeing to the figure.

Seema Misra was pregnant when she was jailed in 2010 after being found guilty of stealing £75,000 from the post office she ran in West Byfleet, Surrey.

The Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance campaign group said: “What hundreds of sub-postmasters have been saying, since Post Office installed its Horizon system circa 2000, has been upheld in the court findings handed down at the High Court.”

Post Office chairman Tim Parker highlighted that the current system used is said to be robust.

“In reaching last week’s settlement with the claimants, we accepted our past shortcomings and I, both personally and on behalf of the Post Office, sincerely apologised to those affected when we got things wrong,” he added.

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