Published in News

UK Post Office scandal might have been a sequel

by on20 February 2024

Earlier software problems also jailed Post Masters

After the public outcry over the Post Office Horizon scandal, there are worries over an earlier system that came before the dodgy software popped up. Just like with Horizon, the Post Office nicked and punished sub-postmasters with mysterious gaps in its Capture system.

A source told Computer Weekly that the Capture software was probably cooked up at a Post Office centre known as iTFarnborough.

While the Post Office said it was clueless about who made the software, which had bugs that caused unexplained losses, a press release in 1992 shows it was the Post Office centre itself. Computer Weekly has also gotten a copy of the software, which has the Post Office logo on it.

A press release 1992 from PC maker Compaq said that the Post Office made the software. It stated that the new Capture system from Compaq “includes Windows-based software specially designed by iT (iTFarnborough), the Post Office’s information technology business”.

In the press release published over 30 years ago, the Post Office said: “It was important for us to choose a standard PC architecture, rather than an Electronic Point of Sale system, so that new software applications could be added to the systems in the future. And because most sub-postmasters run private businesses, we wanted a machine running standard business software.”

At the time, the Post Office said more than 1,000 subpostmasters had asked to be put on the priority list for the Capture system. Unisys later took over the job of sticking Capture onto computing hardware.

After the recent ITV drama about the Post Office Horizon scandal, many former subpostmasters and former Post Office workers have come forward with tales of trouble with the Capture software.

Called by users a “glorified spreadsheet”, Capture was a standalone software used to computerise accounting in branches.

Subpostmasters were blamed for unexplained gaps when using the Capture software, which the Post Office knew was wonky. It blamed and even nicked subpostmasters when auditors found unexplained accounting gaps.

Steve Marston, a former subpostmaster in Bury, Lancashire, was nicked in 1996 for theft and false accounting after an unexplained gap of nearly €93,000. He said he had never had problems using the paper-based accounting system, only when his branch, which had been running since 1973, started using the Capture system.

“We were pushed into using it by the Post Office in 1996,” he said, describing it as a standalone system that required subpostmasters to buy their own computers to run the software. Marston added that he felt pressured into using the system when the Post Office was shutting many branches.

“As the maker and seller of this wonky software, the Post Office must provide answers and must be held responsible for the awful impact it seemed to have on so many subpostmasters.”

Labour MP Kevan Jones, a campaigner for justice for wronged Horizon users, also backs former subpostmasters with unexplained gaps when using the Capture system.

“Finding out that the Post Office’s own IT team made the Capture software just raises even more questions than answers,” he said.

“Why can the Post Office not answer basic questions about how many people got and used this software? Why were known faults in the software not considered when sub-postmasters had gaps and unexplained glitches?”

He added: “As the maker and seller of this software, the Post Office must provide answers and must be held responsible for the awful impact it seemed to have on so many subpostmasters.”

Last modified on 20 February 2024
Rate this item
(1 Vote)