Cameron government knew Post Office dropped probe into Horizon IT flaws – report

Lord David Cameron’s government reportedly knew the Post Office dropped a probe that may have helped wrongly-accused subpostmasters prove there were flaws in the Horizon accounting software.

Ministers were aware that a secret investigation was being carried out in 2016 to look into why branch managers’ cash accounts had been accessed and changed remotely, according to the BBC.

The probe was suddenly ditched after subpostmasters launched legal action, the broadcaster reported.

Lord Cameron
Lord David Cameron, now Foreign Secretary, did not personally know the Post Office axed a probe into the Horizon IT system, the BBC suggested (Stoyan Nenov/PA)

The Foreign Secretary, who was in No 10 between 2010 and 2016 as hundreds of subpostmasters were being pursued, said in January: “I don’t recall in any detail being briefed or being aware of the scale of this issue.”

He added that anyone who was involved in government over the last two decades had to be “extremely sorry” for the miscarriage of justice.

The BBC reported there was no evidence that the former Tory leader was aware at the time of the investigation or that it had been scrapped.

The Horizon scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

The revelations suggest the Post Office knew that Fujitsu staff could remotely amend cash balances in branch accounts, even though it later repeatedly claimed this was impossible.

Post Office court case
Former post office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Yui Mok/PA)

The secret probe, detailed in official documents released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, followed a government-ordered review that said remote access should be examined further.

Ministers, including then-business secretary Sir Sajid Javid, were then told Deloitte auditors were investigating to “address suggestions that branch accounts might have been remotely altered without complainants’ knowledge” and review “security controls governing access to the digitally sealed electronic audit store of branch accounts”, the BBC reported.

They were then informed through Post Office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe that the probe had been abandoned in June 2016 on the advice of an unnamed senior barrister for the Post Office, when the subpostmasters had begun their legal action.

A spokesperson for Sir Sajid said: “Due to the ongoing Independent Inquiry, it would not be appropriate to comment.”

Downing Street also declined to comment due to the ongoing statutory inquiry chaired by retired judge Sir Wyn Williams.

Paul Marshall, a barrister who represented some subpostmasters, said the Post Office’s case before 2019 that remote access was impossible was not true.

He said: “It appears that the Post Office knew that it was untrue… years before the 2019 trial. The question is how the Post Office’s formal legal case in defence to the claims of more than 500 postmasters was put forward by the Post Office when it was both factually wrong, and, as the judge said, ‘untrue’.”

State Opening of Parliament
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton had spread ‘made-up anecdotes’ following his dismissal (Hannah McKay/PA)

Henry Staunton, who was sacked by Ms Badenoch last month, claimed over the weekend that he had been told to stall compensation payouts for postmasters affected by the Horizon scandal due to concerns about the cost heading into a general election.

Ms Badenoch hit back on Monday by telling MPs he had spread “made-up anecdotes” following his dismissal.

In a statement to the Commons, the Business Secretary said there was “no evidence whatsoever” of his account and branded it “a blatant attempt to seek revenge” for his sacking.

She also claimed he was being investigated over bullying allegations before he was fired as chairman, and that concerns were raised about his “willingness to co-operate” with the probe.

A spokesperson for Mr Staunton later said Ms Badenoch had made an “astonishing series of claims” about the saga.

Downing Street on Tuesday said “it was right” for Ms Badenoch to make a statement about the circumstances surrounding Mr Staunton’s departure from the Post Office but insisted it could not “get into more detail about HR matters” when asked whether the Government would provide evidence of bullying claims against him.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said it would encourage the Post Office to share a note Mr Staunton said he had made of a senior civil servant telling him to delay compensation spending, “if such a note exists”.

Hundreds of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

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