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Forensic investigators keep bosses posted

Member: Nifa

The Post Office has been criticised recently for its handling of computer problems that led to a number of sub-postmasters being accused of theft and, in some cases, losing their livelihood, homes and even their liberty.  Back in 2013, forensic investigators were appointed by the Post Office to explore accusations of serious flaws in the computer system used in its outlets and found two specific occasions, in 2011 and 2012, when the Post office identified defects itself, which resulted in a shortfall of up to £9,000 at 76 branches.  

This followed in the wake of several sub-postmasters claiming they had been wrongly accused of theft and fraud. Their campaign, which received the backing of MPs, forced the Post Office to conduct a review of their cases and the report has recently been published.  The postal service originally accused a number of sub-postmasters of false accounting after money went missing. Their contracts were terminated, many were forced to pay back money they swore they had not stolen and some even went to prison. 

However, the employees always stated that there were major flaws in the computer system used in Post Office branches and it was this that led to the money disappearing.  Indeed, when the forensic investigators went in, they found that the training on the system that appears to have caused all the problems was not good enough for those without IT skills and that power cuts and communication problems made things worse.

Following the publication of the investigative report, the Post Office is now in mediation with those who say they were treated unfairly, which goes to show that forensic investigation can prove innocence as much as guilt and is used extensively in defence as well as prosecution.  A number of NIFA members have acted for defendants in cases where Post Office staff have been accused of fraud but subsequently acquitted. 

Author: Roger Isaacs, 23 September 2014

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