The UK Post Office Scandal

I’m following intently the progress of the public inquiry of the UK post office scandal. The inquiry is scheduled to continue until at least September 2024. There are several decades of events of wrongdoing for the inquiry to consider, and tens of thousands of documents to consider. 4,000 sub-postmasters are affected.

Sir Wyn Williams, Chairman of the Inquiry
Sir Wyn Williams, Chairman of the Inquiry.

Although not in the terms of reference of the inquiry, I think Sir Wyn may seek an informal meeting with the Prime Minister to suggest that the Post Office, which is now technically bankrupt, be disbanded and a new organisation, to be better controlled by government, set up.

Witness Cooperation.
Not all witnesses appear to be cooperating with the inquiry, and the Post Office, which is 100% owned by the UK government, has not provided the disclosure of all documents required. The police now have enough evidence against Post Office employees for criminal activity and are pursuing their enquiries. Some of the witness statements, though signed by the witness, appeared to be written by others, including public relations personnel.

Fujitsu Involvement.
It has now been proved that Fujitsu, who provided the software for the accounting systems used by the Post Office, have bugs in their systems which they were aware of but did nothing to correct. The company has set aside £1billion in their accounts to cover possible claims. Fujitsu is currently still bidding for contracts in the UK, but it’s expected that a ban will probably be enforced later.

The result has been that many sub-postmasters were imprisoned because the Post Office wrongly accepted the infallibility of the reports provided by Fujitsu computer systems.

Fujitsu Headquarters, Japan
Fujitsu Headquarters, Japan

Both the Post Office and Fujitsu had originally said that there were no problems in the system and that the data in those systems was accurate. Over 2 decades, 900 sub-postmasters have been imprisoned. 100 have now had their convictions overturned. Many have gone bankrupt, lost their livelihoods, and have not received full compensation (estimated at over £16 billion and counting). Some post masters have now died.

Controls are needed.
All this points to very strict controls being needed on computer systems. And that control must be independent of the powerful computer companies and commercial organisations involved.

The implications for AI are clear. We must stop believing “computers” can do no wrong and train everyone in both the usefulness of computers and the dangers of using them as if the data they produce is unquestionable.

Jason Beer KC
Jason Beer KC. Watch his masterly technique during this inquiry.

How the Inquiry works.
The Inquiry meets every day, but the barristers approach their questioning of witnesses in a less formal and non-adversarial way than they would if they were in a court room, dressed in robes and wigs. This is the latest video of the proceedings. It lasts just under 3 hours, but I will give the main points below for those who do not view the whole video.

(13995) Oral Closing Statements — Day 116 AM (02 February 2024) — Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry — YouTube

The video opens with Mr Justin Beer KC. The lady behind him is Emma Price, a barrister with a reputation for tough cross-examining. If you ever find yourself in Court, you need counsel like these two on your side. If they were acting for the other side, you would need to be very worried.

In this video, the barristers are summarising the evidence so far. In the second link, given below, is an example of how the inquiry is normally conducted.

Chris Jackson of the Post Office being questioned by the inquiry.
Chris Jackson of the Post Office being questioned by the inquiry.

The main thing you will notice is that they question in a very polite way and try to put you at ease. They are extracting facts from you, but do not draw any conclusions from them. They let the evidence speak for itself and move on to the next topic. In a court room, they would be terrier-like until they have proved your guilt.

Graham Ward — Day 115 PM (01 February 2024) — Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry (

The key points that have emerged from the inquiry so far are:

Many of the Post Office witnesses are using the excuse that they can’t remember what happened two decades ago. Some barristers called this deliberate amnesia. Jason Beer KC frequently points out inconsistences in their replies but then, as I said above, moves on to his next question. He does not “go in for the kill”, as he would in the criminal court.

There is now evidence that both the Post Office and Fujitsu, who provided the computer software, were aware of bugs in the system which returned inaccurate data. Nevertheless, the Post Office prosecuted the sub-postmasters using that data.

Both the Post Office and Fujitsu have not disclosed all the data and information requested by the inquiry. Some data has been shredded.

Paula Vennells, former Post Office CEO.
Paula Vennells, former Post Office CEO.

In April 2024, Paula Vennells (Post Office Chief Executive Officer (2012–2019), and Sir Ed Davy (Postal Affairs Minister in the government (2010–2012), will be called to the inquiry. Vennells is returning her CBE and has resigned several directorships.

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