Post Office CEO’s claim to be ‘working hard’ on Capture investigation in doubt

Claims made by Post Office CEO Nick Read that the organisation has been “working hard for five weeks” investigating alleged problems with a pre-Horizon IT system are in doubt, as it has emerged that it has so far failed to contact at least two of the eight affected subpostmasters, brought to its attention, to discuss their Capture experiences.

Since the airing of ITV’s drama about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, former subpostmasters have come forward with stories of problems concerning an earlier Post Office system, known as Capture, which they believe caused losses they were blamed and punished for.

Eight cases were taken to the Post Office by MP Kevan Jones. 

During a Parliamentary select committee hearing about the Post Office scandal compensation schemes, Post Office CEO Nick Read was asked about the Capture issues. He told MPs: “We are very thankful for Kevan Jones coming forward with his eight particular victims of the Capture system. We have obviously spent the last five weeks working hard on it.”

However, according to two Capture users referred to the Post Office, the troubled organisation has not contacted them.

Steve Marston, former subpostmaster in Bury, Lancashire, was convicted in 1996 of theft and false accounting following an unexplained shortfall of nearly £80,000. He said he had never had any problems using the paper-based accounting system, only when his branch, which he ran from 1973, began using Capture.

He said: “I have not had any contact from the Post Office since Kevan Jones took my case to it. Not a dickie bird.”

Another of the cases, Steve Lewis, a former subpostmaster in South Wales, said he has not been contacted by the Post Office regarding Capture. He had worked for the Post Office since 1983, originally as a counter clerk, and was a Post Office auditor for a number of years. He lost his business, had to sell his home and suffered mental health issues with related relationship troubles, as a result of problems balancing his accounts using Capture.

But a Post Office spokesperson refuted this: “In every single case where an MP has referred to us a former subpostmaster that had Capture issues, we have been in contact with that former subpostmaster or their family/representatives.”

MP Jones said: “I would find it hugely disappointing that the Post Office has not contacted them. I have given them the evidence. If you are investigating ‘hard’, you should have contacted these people because they have in-depth knowledge of the system.”

He said it appears that Nick Read has mislead the committee.

During the committee hearing earlier this week, Simon Recaldin, remediation matters director at the Post Office, gave more details. He said four of the former subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office after experiencing shortfalls in the Capture system.

He added that the Post Office had mandated its criminal lawyers to find evidence and disclosure related to the cases where subpostmasters were prosecuted, saying: “We recognise there were issues with the Capture System and we are in the investigatory stage and it’s important we know the facts around this.”

He said the Post Office was “well into” its investigation, but has not yet concluded whether there had been any detriment to subpostmasters.

Post Office-branded Capture software launch button
Post Office-branded Capture software launch button

The Post Office was already under resource pressure due to the need to support the ongoing Horizon scandal public inquiry, but this increased hugely after the ITV drama stirred public interest. Since then, the government has injected urgency into overturning wrongful convictions of subpostmasters and paying them compensation.

The committee hearing heard evidence that the Post Office only has eight lawyers working on the processing of claims for financial redress from subpostmasters. This compares to about 50 at two of the legal firms processing putting claims together for scandal victims.

Capture was standalone software that subpostmasters would download to do their accounts, unlike the highly complex networked Horizon system which automated accounting across the entire branch network. Introduced in 1992, and described as a “glorified spreadsheet”, it was potentially used by thousands of subpostmasters.

Despite the Post Office claiming it does not know which supplier owns the software, even stating this in a recent freedom of information request, Computer Weekly has a copy of the software and has ascertained that the Post Office owns the copyright.

The government said this week that it does not yet have the ‘right body of evidence’ to include users of the Post Office’s Capture software in Horizon compensation schemes and legislation to overturn convictions. 

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal.

• Also watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below). 

By 111 Tech

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