Another Post Office IT system with 'similar glitches' to Horizon faces independent review – amid fears of more victims

By John Mercury April 18, 2024

The government has agreed to have an independent IT expert review of a Post Office software system predating Horizon, amid claims dozens more sub-postmasters may have been wrongly convicted.

The Capture software was rolled out across branches in the 1990s, years before the notorious Horizon system was introduced.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake has met with a former sub-postmaster and a lawyer representing 35 people who believe they were wrongly accused of stealing.

It was agreed between MPs and the Post Office minister that an independent IT expert would assess evidence claiming to “prove” Capture software was prone to glitches.

Capture IT system
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The Capture IT system

Steve Marston, 68, believes he was wrongly convicted of theft and false accounting after errors caused by Capture accounting software.

Auditors found shortfalls of £79,000 at his branch in Greater Manchester in 1998. He subsequently pleaded guilty to theft and false accounting.

A predecessor to Horizon, the Capture software was developed by the Post Office and rolled out from 1992.

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‘Extremely happy’

Mr Marston, representing numerous others claiming to be victims, met with Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake in Central London.

Speaking to Sky News's Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge, postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake said the government did "not want to interfere with the court and the judicial process".
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Postal services minister Kevin Hollinrake

He tearfully told Sky News after the meeting that he was “overwhelmed” and “extremely happy” with the way the meeting went.

He presented a copy of the original Capture software, also shown to Sky News, which Mr Marston describes as “definitive proof” of wrongful convictions.

Campaigners discovered floppy disks with the software on them, dating back to the 90s.

Mr Marston says they show that errors in the system could generate false shortfalls in accounts, and believes Capture evidence was used in his prosecution.

Steve Marston
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Steve Marston

A ‘significant meeting’

Neil Hudgell, who is representing 35 former sub-postmasters who used Capture, said it was a “significant meeting” with the Post Office minister.

“What we are going to do now, with the consent of the government and agreement of the Department for Business and Trade,” he said, “is run that past an independent person to stand up what we say is the case.

“It is a very similar pattern of IT glitches that predate the Horizon system by a number of years.”

Former sub-postmasters say that it appears errors occurred when upgrades were made to the software in the 90s.

Other factors such as power cuts are also thought to be another possible reason for faults.

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‘I was forced to sell my family home’

Steve Lewis lost his job in 2000, after raising concerns about shortfalls and Capture software glitches.

“I’ve always been looked on as being the man who robbed the post office,” he said. “I lost my post office, the commercial buildings that I had moved my office to, and was forced to sell my family home.”

Mr Lewis claims he was warned “not to be a troublemaker” and told the issues were only happening to him.

It wasn’t until he watched the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office that he “realised” similarities between Horizon victims and himself such as “unexplained losses”.

Read more:
More than £1m claimed as ‘profit’ may have come from victims
Post Office hero Bates had seemingly been preparing for this day

Alan Bates (centre) speaking outside the High Court in 2019 and Toby Jones as Alan Bates in the ITV series Mr Bates
Image:
Alan Bates (centre) speaking outside the High Court in 2019 and Toby Jones as Alan Bates in the ITV series

‘Mirror image of what Post Office did with Horizon’

Documents seen by Sky News also show that the Post Office knew Capture was prone to glitches which could cause accounting issues.

In January the government ordered the Post Office to investigate the claims related to Capture.

Labour MP Kevan Jones has taken up the cause and describes one case as being “a mirror image” of what “the Post Office did with Horizon victims”.

He continued: “Added to that, we’ve now got the original computer floppy disks where I think it proves that it does throw up shortfalls.

“I think that’s quite a compelling case for these cases to be looked at again and compensation awarded.”

‘We continue to investigate’

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We are in contact with Steve Marston and other past users of Capture and are grateful to them for all the information they have so far shared with us.

“We continue to actively investigate a number of lines of inquiry relating to Capture and throughout this we have regularly kept the Department for Business and Trade and Kevan Jones MP up to date with our findings.

“We have now shared a recommendation with the Department about what should happen next and hope to provide further information with past users of Capture as soon as we’re able to.”

A Department for Business and Trade spokesperson said: “As soon as these accusations came to light, we asked the Post Office to investigate the Capture system.

“We are now reviewing all the materials provided to us, including those from postmasters and Post Office, and we will set out next steps shortly.”

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