Police have opened an investigation into the UK Post Office, as the state-owned business faces further probes into its role in the Horizon IT scandal.
London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed on Friday that officers were exploring “potential fraud offences” arising from cases in which the Post Office recovered funds from sub-postmasters based on flawed evidence in one of the widest miscarriages of justice in modern British legal history.
More than 700 postmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office between 2000 and 2014 based on information from its Horizon computer system. To date, 93 convictions have been overturned.
Hundreds more were doggedly pursued by the Post Office in civil litigation after it was alleged that shortfalls in their accounts had been the result of fraudulent activity rather than system errors. This included sub-postmasters being forced to repay purportedly missing funds.
The investigation will apply further pressure on the state-owned business and add to a string of investigations under way into a range of alleged offences.
The Metropolitan Police said that a fraud inquiry would build on investigations into perjury and instances where Post Office officials may have perverted the course of justice. Investigations were launched in January 2020 following a referral by the director of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Two Fujitsu employees have been interviewed under caution following allegations of perjury after they acted as expert witnesses in Post Office prosecutions. Fujitsu was responsible for developing the Horizon software. The Met said no individual had been arrested.
The investigation into potential fraud, first reported in The Times on Friday, comes as the Post Office is brought into the spotlight following an ITV drama on the affair — Mr Bates vs The Post Office.
Hundreds are still awaiting compensation following their wrongful prosecutions, while others have been subject to a protracted appeals process. Many have not come forward having been traumatised in the past.
Multiple suicides have been linked to the scandal, while a public inquiry into the matter has revealed concerns around the tactics used by lawyers and investigators acting for the Post Office.
Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham and a member of the government’s independent advisory board on sub-postmaster compensation, said it was time people were held responsible.
“Campaigners have quite rightly argued for compensation and the truth . . . This is one of the biggest miscarriages of justices we have seen in this country and people have got to be held to account,” Jones said.
The Post Office said: “We share fully the aims of the public inquiry to get to the truth of what went wrong in the past and establish accountability . . . It would be inappropriate for the Post Office to comment on any police investigation.”