Post Office Horizon inquiry: Warning of potential criminality around Scottish Post Office convictions

Criminal offences may have been committed by Post Office staff in Scotland involved in potential miscarriages of justice connected to the Horizon IT system scandal, a legal expert has warned.

Just eight cases of potential miscarriages of justice connected to problems with the Post Office’s Horizon IT system are being investigated in Scotland.

The figure comes as the public inquiry into the scandal started this week, covering the widest miscarriage of justice in the history of the UK.

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A public inquiry has begun in England into the failings around the Post Office's Horizon IT system.A public inquiry has begun in England into the failings around the Post Office's Horizon IT system.
A public inquiry has begun in England into the failings around the Post Office's Horizon IT system.
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Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses were prosecuted based on information from the Horizon IT system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu.

The inquiry, which is expected to run for the rest of this year, will look into whether the Post Office knew about faults in the IT system and will also ask how staff were made to take the blame.

However, in December 2019 a High Court judge ruled Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

This led to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) writing to 73 individuals with criminal convictions in Scotland which could be linked to the issues with the Horizon software.

As of today, just eight convictions are under investigation by the SCCRC after the letters resulted in nine applications, with one of the nine not accepted for a full review.

Andrew Tickell, law lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, said the scandal could lead to criminal proceedings against Post Office staff who may have withheld knowledge of the failings of the Horizon system from Scottish prosecutors.

In England and Wales, the Post Office acted as a private prosecutor, but in Scotland reports were handed to procurator fiscals who would lead the prosecutions.

Mr Tickell said: “The evidence also raises questions about whether individuals in the Post Office knew they were handing over fundamentally flawed evidence to Scottish prosecutors, and allowed it to be presented in court without disclosing known flaws in the Horizon software.

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"If evidence was suppressed, it raises questions of potential criminality and could constitute attempting to pervert the course of justice.”

Police Scotland refused to answer whether it was investigating any Post Office staff while the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said it was reviewing a “number” of cases linked to the Horizon scandal.

“COPFS is committed to the fair and effective prosecution of crime,” a spokesperson said.

“We are carefully reviewing a number of cases involving the use of Horizon and if any issues are identified, appropriate action will be taken to address them.”

The SCCRC said it hoped to start concluding some of its investigations in the next few months and could not comment on specific investigations further.

Pauline McNeill, the Scottish Labour justice spokesperson, said there remained “huge questions” about the Scottish aspect of the scandal.

She said: “We need answers, so that any Scots who were wrongfully convicted can get the justice they deserve.

“This must be done with the urgency and the transparency needed to protect vital public trust in our justice system.”

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Home affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Alistair Carmichael, said he hoped the public inquiry would give victims solace and must “ensure injustices like this don’t happen ever again”.

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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