An email has revealed that a senior Post Office lawyer bragged about how his team successfully prosecuted a subpostmaster for theft, sending her to prison while pregnant, despite knowledge of evidence that would have put her prosecution in question.
He described his team’s success as destroying the defence’s arguments against the Post Office Horizon accounting software. The former subpostmaster has since had her conviction overturned in the Court of Appeal, due to its reliance on evidence from the error-prone Horizon system.
During the questioning of former Post Office executive Rod Ismay, in the latest Post Office Horizon scandal public inquiry hearing, evidence emerged of the gleeful response of a Post Office lawyer after the organisation defeated subpostmaster Seema Misra in court over her challenges to the reliability of the Horizon accounting system.
In 2012, Misra was found guilty of theft after unexplained accounting shortfalls appeared in her branch. Misra, who was pregnant with her second child at the time she was sent to prison, had her wrongful conviction overturned in April 2021, after it was proved that the Post Office’s branch software contained errors that could cause phantom shortfalls.
Following Misra’s conviction, Ismay, who had been asked for help by the Post Office legal team in regard to the case, was copied into an email from the Post Office’s senior criminal lawyer, Jarnail Singh.
The email, which was copied to several executives, said: “After a length [sic] trial at Guildford Crown Court [Seema Misra] was found guilty of theft. This case turned from a relatively straightforward general deficiency case to an unprecedented attack on the Horizon system. We were beset with unparallel [sic] request for disclosure requests by the defence. Through the hard work of everyone, counsel Warwick Tatford, investigation officer Jon Longman and through the considerable expertise of Gareth Jenkins of Fujitsu, we were able to destroy to the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) every single suggestion made by the defence. …”
Gareth Jenkins, who was listed in the email, is currently under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for potential perjury in the trials of subpostmasters where he gave evidence.
Evidence from the Horizon system was used to prosecute subpostmasters, including Misra, who had unexplained losses. At the time, subpostmasters and Computer Weekly were raising concerns about the reliability of the Horizon system.
The Post Office was determined to protect the reputation of its Horizon software at the cost of destroying the lives of the people who ran Post Office branches. It threw everything at legal cases to deter subpostmasters from challenging the reliability of the IT system.
Horizon software was introduced in 1999 to replace mainly manual accounting practices. Originally from ICL, before its acquisition by Fujitsu, the IT system was rolled out to thousands of Post Office branches, but its introduction led to a sudden increase in subpostmasters reporting unexplained shortfalls in their accounts, for which they were blamed.
Hundreds were prosecuted, with some sent to prison, and thousands lost huge sums of money, with many going bankrupt. So far, 86 former subpostmasters have had wrongful convictions for fraud and theft overturned, with many more expected.
The current statutory public inquiry into the scandal began last year, and is in its third phase of seven examining the operation of Horizon, including training, assistance, resolution of disputes, and knowledge and rectification of errors in the system.
In 2009, Computer Weekly published an investigation into the problems experienced by seven subpostmasters who were using Horizon. The Post Office told each of them that nobody else was experiencing problems and covered up the computer errors. It’s a common complaint of subpostmasters that the helpdesk did not help them investigate unexplained accounting shortfalls.