The unanswered questions about second Post Office IT system linked to convictions

The Horizon IT scandal is frequently described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.

Between 1999 and 2015 the Post Office accused operators of sub-post offices across the UK of theft, false accounting, and fraud based on information from its Horizon IT system installed in the late 90s.

More than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were prosecuted, despite protesting their innocence and raising issues with the software.

Many were jailed, and four affected by to the scandal have taken their own lives.

Now an i investigation has revealed claims from other sub-postmasters across the country that another IT system, called Capture – an accounting system used by the Post Office before Horizon in the mid-90s – may also have been flawed.

They allege they were wrongfully convicted due to errors in the system before the Horizon scandal began.

What is Capture?

Capture is an accounting system software product that was installed by the Post Office at branches across the UK in the mid-90s, years before the Horizon scandal.

Sub-postmasters had previously balanced their accounts using paper ledgers, but claim they were encouraged by the Post Office to adopt the new computer system.

Three former Post Office operators have told i the system caused accounting shortfalls that left their balance books short of money at the end of the week.

In some cases, sub-postmasters using Capture were prosecuted after being accused of theft.

Labour MP Kevan Jones, who has campaigned for victims of the Post Office scandal and sits on the Horizon advisory panel, said he is now in contact with at least 10 potential victims whose cases pre-date the Horizon scandal.

Who are the alleged victims of the Capture system?

Steve Marston, a 67-year-old former sub-postmaster in Heap Bridge, Greater Manchester, claims Capture led to his conviction for theft and false accounting in 1998, before the Horizon scandal began.

He says losses of £79,000 were detected at his branch but he insists he did not steal “a penny” and that he ended up pleading guilty to five charges of theft, false accounting and concealing valuable securities “to avoid going to jail”.

Steve Marston, who was prosecuted after using Capture (Photo: Tom Pilston)

He was 42 at the time and lost his job, home and another property in Blackpool as a result of his conviction.

Two other former sub-postmasters have came forward and claimed to i that they also experienced problems with the software.

Victims of the Horizon scandal have reacted with anger over the new allegations. Seema Misra, who spent 15 months in prison in 2010 while pregnant after being wrongly accused of stealing £74,000 due to errors in Horizon, said: “It’s scandal after scandal, scandal within scandal.”

Ms Misra’s conviction was overturned in 2021. She is one of 93 sup-post office operators to have their Post Office convictions overturned so far.

What has the Government said and will it investigate Capture?

The Government has ordered the Post Office to investigate claims that the Capture system may have led to the wrongful conviction of sub-postmasters.

The Department for Business and Trade, which is the sole owner of Post Office Ltd, told i it had ordered the Post Office to look into Mr Marston’s case and establish “if there are issues with any other systems currently or previously used by Post Office”.

The department said it wanted to right the wrongs of the past and was currently working on legislation to quash erroneous Horizon convictions.

The scope of the Post Office inquiry could also be broadened to look at potential miscarriages of justice pre-dating the Horizon scandal.

Labour MP Kevan Jones told i he believes the inquiry’s terms of reference could be expanded to examine the new claims.

Kevan Jones Labour MP for North Durham, during a meeting of the independent Horizon Compensation Advisory Board at the Department for Business and Trade, Old Admiralty Building, central London. Picture date: Wednesday January 10, 2024. PA Photo. The Government is under pressure to quash the convictions and speed up the awarding of compensation to those affected by the Horizon IT scandal after an ITV drama brought the widespread miscarriage of justice back into the spotlight. See PA story POLITICS Horizon. Photo credit should read: James Manning/PA Wire
Kevan Jones MP has called on the Government to widen the scope of the public inquiry (Photo: James Manning/PA)

He said: “I contacted them earlier this week. They said send them [the cases] through, Sir Wyn Williams [inquiry chairman] is a good guy, he’s prepared to go a bit broader if there’s other miscarriages of justice.”

The Horizon inquiry has been contacted for comment.

Could sub-postmasters who used Capture get compensation?

The Government is currently working on new legislation to speed up the process by which Horizon victims can be compensated and exonerated, with Rishi Sunak promising they will have their names cleared by the end of the year.

Ministers have said the bill for compensating Post Office scandal victims could reach as much as £1bn.

It is not yet known whether those who claim they were wrongfully convicted due to faults in Capture will also have their names cleared or be compensated.

Conservative peer Lord Arbuthnot, who has campaigned on behalf of Horizon victims, told i he believes it is “unlikely” that Capture claimants will be dealt with under the Horizon scheme.

Instead, he thinks the appeals of sub-postmasters should be fast-tracked through the courts.

Dr Neil Hudgell, a solicitor who is representing former sub-postmasters, told i he had contacted the Government about whether they were extending compensation schemes to “pre-Horizon periods including Capture, and possibly beyond.”

If such alleged victims are not included in the new legislation for Horizon, claimants will be likely to have to take their case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – the independent body that can send cases to the Court of Appeal.

A spokesperson for the CCRC said: “If anyone feels they may have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice, we would urge them to come to us as soon as possible.”

It is understood the CCRC is currently examining around 40 Post Office Horizon cases for potential referral to the Court of Appeal, and the process is taking around 12 months.

Who is behind the Capture software?

It remains unclear who developed Capture, and the Post Office has declined to comment on questions about its implementation.

Japanese tech firm Fujitsu is the company behind Horizon. There is no evidence to suggest it was also behind Capture.

As a result of renewed interest in the Horizon IT scandal following ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, Fujitsu has suspended all bids for public contracts until the conclusion of the Post Office inquiry, and has also said it will compensate victims.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We take very seriously the concerns that are being raised about cases from before the Horizon system was first rolled out in 1999, and we will of course assist in looking into such cases brought to our attention.”

Do you believe you were wrongly convicted by the Post Office before the Horizon scandal? Contact [email protected]