Cleared Tyneside sub-postmaster urges Post Office to admit error

A sub-postmaster cleared of stealing £85,000 from his bosses last night urged Post Office chiefs to “hold their hands up” and admit a computer glitch has led to the wrongful prosecution of more than 100 people

Ex postmaster Tom Brown of South Stanley
Ex postmaster Tom Brown of South Stanley

A sub-postmaster cleared of stealing £85,000 from his bosses last night urged Post Office chiefs to “hold their hands up” and admit a computer glitch has led to the wrongful prosecution of more than 100 people.

A review is set to begin into the cases of workers who say they have been falsely accused of financial irregularities because of a fault in a computer system.

More than 100 people claim they have been wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting because of problems with the Horizon computer software leading to shortfalls being generated in their accounts.

Last night Tom Brown – who says he lost his home as he spent five years fighting two allegation of false accounting – called on the Post Office Ltd to recognise a computer error had caused errors.

Earlier this month the 67-year-old widow was told the company was dropping a civil case of false accounting more than five years since he was suspended from his North Kenton post office.

The grandfather-of-three, who now lives in South Stanley, County Durham, with his son Simon, 35, a door supervisor at nightclubs in Newcastle, said: “There are too many people who say they are innocent for it not to be right.

“The Post Office need to hold their hands up and say, ‘Yes, we’ve got a problem with the computer, let’s get it sorted’.

“How much will this review cost? They should get on with sorting compensation for people instead of carrying out a review.”

Mr Brown, who lost his wife, Carole, to breast cancer in 2003 at the age of 57, was suspended in 2008 after an internal audit showed a cash shortage of £85,000.

In 2010 police said they would not be prosecuting, but a legal team from the Post Office Ltd told Mr Brown they would be pursuing a civil case through the courts.

Now Alan Bates, chairman of Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA), said the group and the Post Office have now “agreed a way forward”, resulting in the launch next week of a review and mediation process.

Compensation could be paid out to those wrongly accused, but the Post Office said it could not comment on any such settlements.

Mr Bates said: “It gives people the opportunity to raise their concerns directly with the Post Office and have it investigated by external investigators.”

Problems have been reported with Horizon since it was introduced in 2000, he added.

“It has been a long, uphill battle. But the current management at the Post Office, over the past year or two, have started to show some willingness to look at it. It’s positive from that point of view.”

Post Office contractor Second Sight, a firm of forensic accountants, has been investigating a number of cases. Its interim report showed no system-wide problems but said that support and training for sub-postmasters needs to be investigated, although it has “confidence in the overall system”, the Post Office said.

“We have already taken steps towards the commitments made in response to the interim report.

“We have worked with the JFSA to establish a working group to conduct a review of outstanding cases and work is under way to develop a mediation process for any of the 47 cases which have been raised as part of the Second Sight review,” a Post Office spokeswoman said.

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