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Postmistress says Horizon system still malfunctions every week – and Post Office are chasing payment

Marlene Wood, a subpostmistress in Perthshire, Scotland says her continued struggle with the Horizon IT software has ‘taken her to dark places’

Zoe Grunewald
Saturday 20 January 2024 19:33 GMT
A former subpostmaster has said colleagues are still experiencing problems with shortfalls

A Scottish subpostmistress who faces losing her home and business says the Post Office is still pursuing her for shortfall payments from the Horizon software system.

Marlene Wood, 53, said that discrepancies with the Horizon IT system have become “part of my working week”, and she estimates she has lost £2,000 over the last four-and-a-half years due to the malfunctioning system.

As recently as last month, Mrs Wood received a letter, seen by The Independent, which asks her to resolve the discrepancy of £440.43 at her Comrie Crieff branch in Perthshire, Scotland. The letter sets out the various payment methods she can use.

Mrs Wood said that she has paid discrepancies out of her own pocket in the past, because the dispute system is “a whole lot of hassle and for not much benefit”.

Alan Bates, leader of the justice campaign for subpostmasters, giving evidence by video link to the Business and Trade Committee (PA Wire)

“I think if you’re someone who is savvy and quite confident and doesn’t mind going through the whole process of doing that, then that’s great.

“But I am currently going through a separation due to the failing business that I’ve got. I’m in danger of losing it. Real danger, not just perceived,” she explained.

Over the past two decades, hundreds of subpostmasters and postmistresses were prosecuted for theft and false accounting after the faulty IT system, developed by Fujitsu, wrongly made it look like money was missing from their post office branches. Many lost their homes, reputations and marriages – and some took their own lives.

On Friday, the European director of Fujitsu, Paul Patterson, told the public inquiry into the scandal that bugs, errors and defects had existed in the Horizon IT system for nearly two decades and were known about “by all parties”.

Yet it was only in 2019 that some claimants received compensation when the UK high court ruled that there were defects in the Horizon system.

The Post Office continues to use the Horizon system despite continued reports of defects, having extended its contract twice – once in 2021 and again in 2023.

But now, Mrs Wood, who hasn’t faced prosecution for the discrepancies, claims that she is still experiencing regular malfunctions with the software, causing her intense financial and emotional strain.

Paul Patterson apologised on behalf of Fujtisu for their part in the ‘appalling miscarriage of justice’ (AFP via Getty Images)

“It has taken me to dark places. I have pressure from the bank, the pressure to keep going every day,” she said.

“I have seriously contemplated ending my life and that is not something that I have put out into the public domain lightly. If lose my business, I also lose my home. It’s that simple.”

On Tuesday Mr Patterson issued a public apology to the victims of the scandal, telling MPs that he is “truly sorry” and that the firm has a “moral obligation” to help compensate the victims.

Mr Patterson said the company had accepted its part in “this appalling miscarriage of justice” and acknowledged: “We were involved from the very start”.

Mrs Wood told The Independent she believed they were only saying sorry “because they got caught with their pants down. “It does smack of trying to shut the stable door after the horses go for it.”

The subpostmistress also expressed her anger that former chief executive of the Post Office, Paula Vennells, was offered a CBE, despite her role in the scandal.

Paula Vennells, former chief executive of the Post Office, has said she will return her CBE following public outcry over the Horizon IT scandal (PA Media)

“People like Paula Vennells are disgraced and then handed directorships or other things, with wages of hundreds of thousands.

“No one’s going to give me a directorship. I’m going to lose everything. I’m going to lose absolutely everything. I have worked hard and I have played by the rules. And it’s just an absolute slap in the face.”

A Post Office spokesperson apologised for Mrs Wood’s ongoing issues but insisted the latest Horizon system was now robust “relative to comparable systems”.

Adding: “But we are not at all complacent about that and we continue to work with our postmasters to identify and invest in improvements. Current postmasters who have concerns about today’s Horizon system are encouraged to raise these with us – including directly with their area manager – so that we can help.”

Fujitsu said it regards this matter “with the utmost seriousness” and “offers its deepest apologies to the subpostmasters and their families”.

“The UK statutory public inquiry, to which our UK subsidiary is providing full cooperation, is examining complex events that have unfolded over many years, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to this cooperation.

“Based on the findings of the inquiry, we will also be working with the UK government on the appropriate actions, including contribution to compensation. The Fujitsu Group hopes for a swift resolution that ensures a just outcome for the victims.”

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