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Forensic accountants’ report spurs Panorama investigation

Member: Nifa

In the latest twist in the Post Office versus former employees saga, a Panorama programme aired this month has found no evidence of theft by a sub-postmaster. This is a long-running story, which came to public attention in 2012 after a number of former sub-postmasters wrote to their MPs to say they had been unfairly sacked or even jailed as a result of flaws in the Post Office’s IT system, Horizon.

Panorama picked-up the investigation and its team found reports by the independent forensic accountants hired by the Post Office that state there was no evidence to substantiate claims of theft against Jo Hamilton, who was charged with theft of £36,000 and false accounting. She says she was scared of going to prison so agreed to pay the Post Office the missing money, pleaded guilty to false accounting, and also agreed not to blame Horizon for the losses. In return, the theft charge was dropped and she was given a 12-month community order.  

However, the programme’s team found a report written by one of the independent criminal investigation team that says: ‘Having analysed the Horizon printouts and accounting documentation, I was unable to find any evidence of theft or that the cash figures had been deliberately inflated.’

Bearing in mind that this is exactly the sort of work forensic accountants do, one might have thought that the Post Office, which had hired the team in the first place, would have accepted the findings. However, they persisted with their prosecutions and more than 100 sub-postmasters were sacked and six were jailed.

The original firm of accountants now wonder whether the Post Office may have used theft charges to put pressure on postmasters and a senior figure at the firm has been co-operating with the Panorama team. Meanwhile, the case will not go away and Mrs. Hamilton’s case is one of 20 that are now being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to see whether miscarriages of justice occurred.

We have acted for a number of Post Office employees accused of theft and have reported to the court on the deficiencies of the Horizon system, so we await the outcome of the current litigation with interest.

Author: Roger Isaacs, 8 September 2015

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