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Mail workers ‘wrongly accused of stealing due to computer glitch’ take major step forward

Village postmasters who say they were wrongly accused of stealing due to Post Office computer glitches hailed an ’emphatic win’ in their long-running legal battle yesterday.

More than 550 postal workers are involved in a group legal action against the Post Office over the Horizon IT system introduced between 1999 and 2000.

Represented by six lead claimants, they say the system had software defects that caused shortfalls in their accounts, leading to them being wrongly accused of theft and dishonesty.

Alan Bates, above, one of the lead claimants in the case and a representative of the group Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, said it was 'a major step forward to achieving justice'. The Post Office is rigorously defending the case

Alan Bates, above, one of the lead claimants in the case and a representative of the group Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, said it was ‘a major step forward to achieving justice’. The Post Office is rigorously defending the case

The case has been entangled in complex arguments about the legal relationship between the subpostmasters and the Post Office, but yesterday the High Court made a series of findings in the first of at least three trials in the case.

Mr Justice Fraser, who had been asked to look at the contractual relationship between the claimants and the Post Office, ruled that the contract was ‘relational’.

He said this meant the Post Office could not act in a way ‘considered commercially unacceptable by reasonable and honest people’, adding this implied duty of ‘good faith’ also applied to the subpostmasters.

Alan Bates, one of the lead claimants in the case and a representative of the group Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, said: ‘This is a major step forward to achieving justice and getting to the truth of the matter.’

In one passage from yesterday’s judgment, Mr Justice Fraser noted: ‘The Post Office describes itself on its own website as ‘the nation’s most trusted brand’.

‘So far as these claimants, and the subject matter of this group litigation, are concerned, this might be thought to be wholly wishful thinking.’

The case has been entangled in complex arguments about the legal relationship between the subpostmasters and the Post Office, but yesterday the High Court made a series of findings in the first of at least three trials in the case [File photo]

The case has been entangled in complex arguments about the legal relationship between the subpostmasters and the Post Office, but yesterday the High Court made a series of findings in the first of at least three trials in the case [File photo]

The six lead claimants, who all ran branches of the Post Office, allege the Horizon system caused shortfalls in their accounts, which led to some being made bankrupt, while others were prosecuted and jailed for dishonesty.

They accuse the Post Office of failing to provide adequate training in the use of Horizon, of failing to investigate the cause of alleged shortfalls, and of misleading them about its reliability.

The Post Office is rigorously defending the case and argues that the computer system worked adequately. 

Chairman Tim Parker said: ‘We take this judgment and its criticisms of the Post Office very seriously.’ He added that the company is considering an appeal against aspects of the judgment. The case continues.

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