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IT expert ‘misled’ Post Office trials, court hears 

IT expert ‘misled’ Post Office trials aby withholding knowledge of bug that led to staff convictions, court hears

  • Computer expert allegedly misled trials, court papers revealed yesterday
  • Between 1999 and 2015 branch managers were sacked or prosecuted
  • It later emerged that technology bugs were to blame for the missing cash
  • Court statements by a barrister hired by the Post Office to review prosecutions claimed Gareth Jenkins failed to tell at least half a dozen trials about problems 

A computer expert allegedly misled trials at which postmasters were wrongfully convicted of theft, court papers revealed yesterday.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of branch managers were sacked or prosecuted after cash supposedly went missing. It later emerged that technology bugs were to blame.

Yesterday written court statements by Simon Clarke, a barrister hired by the Post Office to review the prosecutions, claimed IT expert Gareth Jenkins failed to tell at least half a dozen trials about the problems.

He said: ‘This failure is in plain breach of his duty as an expert witness… and has a profound effect upon the Post Office and its prosecutions.’

The document – dating back to 2013 – was filed with the Court of Appeal. It had forced the Post Office to go back and review more than 300 cases.

Witness: Gareth Jenkins. Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of branch managers were sacked or prosecuted after cash supposedly went missing. It later emerged that technology bugs were to blame

I was jailed at 19 on false charges 

Tracy Felstead, 38, has spent half her life fighting the Post Office after she was jailed for six months as a teenager

Tracy Felstead, 38, has spent half her life fighting the Post Office after she was jailed for six months as a teenager

Tracy Felstead, 38, has spent half her life fighting the Post Office after she was jailed for six months as a teenager

Aged 19 she found that £11,500 had ‘gone missing’ from her south London post office when she returned from holiday.

Auditors pressured her to sign off the loss, before using this as evidence against her in court on charges of false accounting. She tried to kill herself twice before she was jailed in 2002. She served three months in Holloway prison, where she saw another inmate hang herself.

The teenager was released on a tag, was unable to work and fell behind on her mortgage payments resulting in her losing her house.

Yesterday the mother of three, from Telford in Shropshire, said she hoped that ‘justice will finally come’ with her conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal.

She added: ‘To be accused of something you haven’t done isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy.

‘Some people in the Post Office hierarchy have got it coming now – they need to be held accountable. I felt extremely nervous and scared as I haven’t stepped into a courtroom since the day I went to prison.’

 

Revealing the information about the faulty technology could have led to postmasters being acquitted.

Forty-two are asking the Court of Appeal to overturn their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting.

Bosses shredded key documents that could have helped postmasters defend themselves against prosecutions, according to further papers filed with the court.

Lisa Busch, acting for three of the postmasters, said: ‘The Post Office had a duty to get to the bottom of what was plainly going wrong. Not only did they not carry out an investigation, they positively covered up the existence of such evidence as it was made available.’

All but four of the appeals are unopposed, meaning at least 38 postmasters will have their convictions overturned when judgment is handed down next month.

The court was told the aggressive persecution of staff resulted in family breakdown, bankruptcy and even suicide.

Dr Jenkins is one of two Fujitsu staff subject to a police investigation that could result in charges of perjury.

Fujitsu developed the Post Office’s faulty Horizon accounting system.

The Post Office acted on Mr Clarke’s advice by ordering a review of 308 prosecution dossiers, resulting in fresh evidence being found.

It has been criticised for failing to release Mr Clarke’s advice document until late last year. The Post Office said the dossier played a part in a separate report provided to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice. Brian Altman QC, for the Post Office, said it was ‘plainly reliant’ on its IT experts, contracted from Fujitsu, to tell it whether shortfalls were caused by computer bugs.

In 2019, more than 550 postmasters won a £58million settlement but, after legal fees, they received less than £20,000 each for their years of hurt.

A further 2,400 postmasters have lodged claims under a fresh scheme.

Last year six postmasters had their names cleared in court. A further 900 convictions are subject to an independent review, which is likely to result in more appeals.

The Post Office said: ‘We sincerely apologise for historical failings and have taken determined action to address the past.’

The hearing is expected to conclude tomorrow or Friday.

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