9 January 2024

The Post Office Scandal

The Post Office Scandal

By Ian Iliffe

The ITV drama has brought home to millions the scandal of the Post Office investigations of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, leading to their wrongful convictions. These were good people, you couldn’t hold these trusted positions unless you were honest and of good character, all they wanted to do was serve in our communities and at the same time make a living.


There are some of us who have followed this story with interest for some years and have analysed what went wrong. The Horizon system was bug ridden and problematic. But this wasn’t the problem.  It was the investigation. The Horizon system didn’t investigate, people investigated. The investigators didn’t join up the dots, it appears that they didn’t listen to what their suspects were telling them or worse still they chose to ignore them. Then of course there are the solicitors who managed the cases, they either ignored what they were told, were ignorant, or just completely blind to their responsibilities under Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act, in other words disclosure in criminal cases. For those who are not sighted, this has been in law since 1996, where reasonable lines of enquiry should be followed that point towards and most importantly away from a suspect. The material gathered during the investigation should be considered in the context of the disclosure test. Does the material or information that an investigator obtained or created undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence? If it does, the defence should be told about it. An investigator who is gathering evidence for a case that may be heard in a criminal court should follow all reasonable lines of inquiry. In this case when you have a number of people telling you that there is a problem with the Horizon system it should be shouting out at an investigator to conduct an inquiry. Even if you are being told that the system is working properly by its creator, the defence should have had an opportunity to challenge this. The investigator should have been alive to all the other people who were saying the same thing! This should have been brought to the attention of the prosecutor, they should have been identifying a reasonable line of enquiry and in turn they should have been bringing this to the attention of the defence. This is plain and simple. This is where it went wrong.


The investigators at the Post Office are employed by the Post Office, they pay their wages, the solicitors are employed by the Post office, again they pay their wages. Who has their loyalty? One thing is for sure, whether through ignorance, deceit or incompetence, it wasn’t the criminal justice system. The consequences are what the millions can now see today, but the few have known and painfully felt for over 20 years.


One last thing. There are investigators and solicitors up and down the land in local authorities, charities and government departments that investigate and prosecute independently from the Police and the CPS. If we take this away from the Post Office do we do the same for all these other organisations? Or should we make sure that investigators are properly trained, even qualified, know their responsibilities and make sure they know who they really work for when prosecuting – that is the criminal justice system and most importantly everyone of us who is fair minded who in turn want the guilty to be convicted and the innocent to be acquitted.

Equinox Training will very soon be delivering a Level 6 qualification in investigating serious and complex crime regulated by OFQUAL. They also deliver disclosure training up to an advanced level.

The author is a College of Policing PIP L3 Investigator and has investigated over 70 murders and other serious and complex crimes.