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Post Office Computer system errors

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uknick

Original Poster:

518 posts

103 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
Saw this on the news last night.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23235109

Having worked with a number of bespoke financial computer systems, it is only too common they do not work straight away.

So I am staggered that people have gone to prison because of a software error. Even more amazing if that some pleaded guilty.

Surely if you knew you were innocent you would plead so to the very end.

It'll be interesting to know how much compensation is paid out, and by whom? HMG, Post office or software company?


Eric Mc

94,644 posts

184 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
This was raised in a number of TV programmes (Watchdog, The One Show) and BBC radio programmes (You and Yours, Money Box) a couple of years ago.

It is an absolute disgrace and I really hope that these people receive some justice.

Derek Smith

28,212 posts

167 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
Eric Mc said:
This was raised in a number of TV programmes (Watchdog, The One Show) and BBC radio programmes (You and Yours, Money Box) a couple of years ago.

It is an absolute disgrace and I really hope that these people receive some justice.
And really pushed by Private Eye but, it would appear, no one really cared.

Art0ir

8,699 posts

89 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
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What the hell? That reads like a complete fantasy! How is there not a huge stink being kicked up?

Eric Mc

94,644 posts

184 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
There was - but the public and the politicians weren't interested.
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98elise

10,267 posts

80 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
uknick said:
Saw this on the news last night.


So I am staggered that people have gone to prison because of a software error. Even more amazing if that some pleaded guilty.
It doesn't actually say that though does it?

Almost every major piece of software will have bugs from the day its release to the day it gets replaced.

I have no other knowledge of the cases than the article so it might well be the case, but I would be surpised if it was the only evidence.

bigandclever

8,532 posts

157 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
Private Eye 1298 back in September 2011 said:
COMPUTER SAYS NO...

AS Britain’s multi-billion pound public IT programmes hit the next stage in the lifecycle of botched computer projects – malfunction – alarming repercussions are being felt in the nation’s post offices. In recent years the Horizon system that 11,500 sub-postmasters are forced to use has thrown up a rash of apparent financial “shortfalls”.

These have prompted dozens of prosecutions and financial ruin for businessmen and women with previously spotless records. Fifty-five of them last week launched a “class action” against the Post Office, arguing that their troubles owe more to computer error than dishonesty.In a standard week a sub-post office performs thousands of transactions – many such as pension payments and lottery and foreign currency purchases, in cash. When the computer says the till is short, the sub-postmaster (or mistress) has to cough up the difference; and the computer is always right apparently. If the sub-postmaster or mistress can’t pay up, the Post Office’s fraud investigators swiftly descend.

No sign of any missing cash

Typical is the case of Jo Hamilton from South Warnborough in Hampshire, who one week was £2,000 down. After the helpdesk told her to press a few buttons the total doubled, and the Post Office took £4,000 off her.

When the problem kept repeating, her mistake was to claim that everything was fine so she could at least keep trading in the hope that the errors would correct themselves and she’d get her £4,000 back. Then the total hit £36,000, the auditors swooped and she was convicted for false accounting (without ever being accused of taking any money) and forced to pay the £36,000 back with the help of supportive villagers.

Others have been jailed for theft simply on evidence from a computer system that seems to be misfiring, with no indication of what they are supposed to have done with the money. One, Seema Misra, was pregnant when she was found guilty of stealing £75,000 even though no trace of the cash could be found and the judge at Guildford crown court, according to supporters present, appeared to instruct the jury that the evidence was very limited. She was sentenced to 18 months.

Since her case, others have pleaded guilty simply for more lenient sentences. Many more have coughed up thousands of pounds from their own pockets in desperate attempts to retain their livelihoods. The Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance reckons the total affected could run into the thousands.

A law unto itself

The Post Office remains the only body in the UK to run its own prosecutions and campaigners think that if it had to use the Crown Prosecution Service, many cases would not have made it to court. The last organisation with such powers, Customs & Excise, was stripped of them almost a decade ago when it was found to have over-stepped the mark in several high-profile cases.

Mrs Hamilton’s MP, James Arbuthnot, expresses a widely-held view when he says: “I find it very difficult to believe that all these sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses are suddenly found to be dishonest, if the alternative is that it may be a public sector computer system which has gone wrong. We’ve heard of that before.” But postal services minister Ed Davey is washing his hands of the problem, simply re-directing MPs’ questions to the Post Office itself.

Lost Horizon

There is no shortage of visible problems with Horizon. One sub-postmaster explained to the Eye how when selling stamps, for example, his terminal often either registered no stamp sale or not the class of stamp keyed in. And in July the entire Post Office banking system was shut down by a “Horizon online issue”. Even the 370 large “Crown” post offices managed centrally are not immune from glitches. Latest known figures show shortfalls there of £2.2m in a year, although mysteriously these haven’t produced any criminal sanctions.

These are just the latest episode in Horizon’s inglorious history. It originated in 1996 in a joint Department of Social Security-Post Office PFI deal for an automated benefits payment system with Pathway, part of ICL (now Fujitsu) on the back of a cheap but technically flawed bid. Four years and £1bn later it was ditched by the government, with the Post Office left to convert it into the Horizon automation project. Fujitsu still runs the technical side of things.
The lengthening list of “shortfall” cases, many in odd geographical clusters, has received little attention beyond diligent investigation by BBC South TV hack Nick Wallis and Computer Weekly magazine. This could be about to change, though, as solicitors Shoosmith begin action on behalf of the 55, with another 150 cases pending.

The Post Office, fearing immense further cost if its computer system is found wanting, has its head firmly in the sand. There are, a spokeswoman told the Eye, “no issues” with Horizon (which is nonsense given the ones already admitted). To say anything else would be to admit that the computer on which it depends is a pig in a poke that has not only wasted billions but might now be dispensing miscarriages of justice as well.

Digga

21,518 posts

202 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
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You couldn't make it up.

Tuttle, Buttle...

2fast748

382 posts

114 months

marshalla

15,902 posts

120 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
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A few years back, I assisted with one case where a sub-postmaster was accused of defrauding the benefits systems by cashing vouchers and keeping the money for himself. The whole case revolved around a discrepancy between the Post Office system and the DWP system. Given that DWP's "error handling" consisted of throwing away any records that it didn't like the look of, without recording anything about them, we managed to get that "evidence" ruled unreliable and inadmissible pretty quickly.

It took about 4 hours of meetings with two of the system programmers - one DWP and one Post Office to discover that no-one had ever bothered to check that the data interchange specs. actually matched on both sides - and they'd never been told to consider the evidential requirements of their systems.

Both systems were (are) run by the same company, btw.

telecat

7,994 posts

160 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
Fujitsu involved Where's that facepalm smiley.....

rossmc88

431 posts

79 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
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I remember watching a series of videos on the The Register telling how great their migration to the cloud was and how it had saved millions

Kudos

2,581 posts

93 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
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telecat said:
Fujitsu involved Where's that facepalm smiley.....
Do they do the app development?

Wills2

13,265 posts

94 months

Tuesday 9th July 2013
quotequote all
Horizon is dreadful, I used to run the the post office contact we supplied them everything they sold in front of the counter they did the stamps we did the rest, the losses they racked up would make your toes curl.

Imagine a busy central PO in London hundreds of people walking in to weigh and post things, they would walk up to the Post Pak display chose the right box/envelope/jiffy bag and then pop the item in and only pay for the postage, times that by hundreds of thousands of people all over the country and the stock losses would make your eyes water.

It wasn't the publics fault half the time the damn things wern't even priced up.

The public sector at its finest they didn't have a clue.



Edited by Wills2 on Tuesday 9th July 23:26


Edited by Wills2 on Tuesday 9th July 23:28

NinjaPower

5,851 posts

99 months

Wednesday 10th July 2013
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Eric Mc said:
There was - but the public and the politicians weren't interested.
Yep.

As has been pointed out, The Eye and others have been pushing this hard for years.

But, despite all that, the man in the street found it impossible to get upset about an internal computer system used by the post office and that never caused them as a customer, any problems.

Any why should they?

Are any of you interested in how my stty internal business software 'Open Housing' by Crapita, sorry Capita affects me?

Nope? No one?

McWigglebum4th

32,414 posts

123 months

Wednesday 10th July 2013
quotequote all
uknick said:
Saw this on the news last night.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23235109

Having worked with a number of bespoke financial computer systems, it is only too common they do not work straight away.

So I am staggered that people have gone to prison because of a software error. Even more amazing if that some pleaded guilty.

Surely if you knew you were innocent you would plead so to the very end.
As they are offered a big sentence discount for pleading guilty


But it does raise the prospect of are they now liable for a prosecution for perverting the course of justice

supertouring

2,080 posts

152 months

Wednesday 10th July 2013
quotequote all
I worked on the old Horizon/Pathway project and that was in the news quite a lot too.


carinaman

12,304 posts

91 months

Wednesday 10th July 2013
quotequote all
redface I was unaware of this.

furious It's kind of predictable when people have an unfailing believe in technology and everything that appears on a screen being correct.

Perhaps if some level of programming even using something like BASIC had been taught in schools for years then people would have some grasp on how easy it is to get systems and software to give erroneous results.

Technology is making us dimmer.

It's the cult of the expert and the cult of the Management Consultant.

Edited by carinaman on Wednesday 10th July 10:28

BMWBen

4,106 posts

120 months

Wednesday 10th July 2013
quotequote all
I have a big problem with this story. If the system is routinely making errors like this it would be trivial to prove. Also, why are the errors only made in some branches, and not all? I can't believe that if this was a system issue that a half decent lawyer wouldn't have won in court.

It doesn't add up (no pun intended).

IroningMan

8,676 posts

165 months

Wednesday 10th July 2013
quotequote all
There is no provision for record-keeping outside the system, so errors are, to all intents and purposes, invisible.