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Post Office scandal: New concerns raised over second IT system used in branches | UK News

At least 18 people have now come forward raising concerns over a second IT system used by the Post Office, Sky News understands.

Accounting software, Capture, was installed by several post offices around the country in the mid to late 90s – before the notorious Horizon system was rolled out.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly convicted after errors in the Horizon software caused false accounting shortfalls.

Lawyers for the victims of the Post Office scandal have told Sky News more people who used the Capture system may now come forward.

Sources have also said there are growing concerns about a continued “culture of denial” at the Post Office, and a suspicion that record-keeping was “in a mess”.

Documents show that Capture was known by the Post Office to have issues early on.

A Post Office spokesperson said they take any concerns “very seriously”.

More on Post Office Scandal

They are also “particularly concerned about allegations of prosecutions”.

Their statement continues, saying that they are looking into “whether shortfalls could have been caused by faults in this software, and the potential impacts if so”.

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Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice

Given the passage of time, and changes to data storage they say they “do not yet have a complete picture”.

The Capture software system was not believed to have been “networked” to a larger, wider, system but was used by some postmasters across the country.

Former sub-postmasters have told Sky News they had to pay more than £1,000 for the software despite it being developed in-house by the Post Office.

Steve Marston, now 68-years-old, pleaded guilty to theft after shortfalls of over £79,000 showed up in the year between 1996 and 1997 when he started to use the Capture software.

Steve Marston
Image:
Steve Marston

For the twenty years previous, he said he had had “no issues” with accounting.

Mr Marston had received bravery awards from the Post Office in the past for confronting armed robbers on two occasions.

He describes feeling “betrayed” by the Post Office who, he says, missed an opportunity ahead of the Horizon scandal.

“I mistakenly thought Capture was a computerised system and computers don’t make mistakes.

“I didn’t know any better. I just automatically assumed it was something I was doing wrong.”

He was spared prison but spent 12 months on probation and still feels the “shame”, saying it has ruined his and his family’s life.

After his conviction, he sold his wedding rings and wife’s jewellery to “make ends meet”, and spent years living in a caravan because he lost his house.

“I just felt so guilty – I still feel shame and guilt about it.”

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Rupert Lloyd Thomas, a former IT specialist for the Post Office for 27 years, said he had repeatedly raised concerns about how the Post Office managed its software systems.

He was a local manager in Birmingham in the mid-80s, at one point, and says he often went into offices to see what was happening.

“I remember visiting an office in west London, in Hounslow,” he said, “and I opened a cupboard there and there were hundreds of floppy disks sitting in this cupboard sort of discarded and I said well, what’s all this?

“This was software crashing in the office, and yet I get back to headquarters in London. Nobody’s interested. You know, we’re getting a new system. So why would we worry about mending the old one.

“All of those things went on. I think a lot of these people that have appeared in front of the Post Office inquiry genuinely didn’t know what was happening because they didn’t bother to go find out.”

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Kevan Jones, MP, who has supported Horizon victims, says he is in touch with around ten possible victims of Capture.

“What makes me very angry,” he says, “is the fact that the Post Office, despite all the publicity around Horizon, didn’t feel necessary to come forward and admit that they had a system before Horizon where similar things occurred.

“They haven’t raised that at the public inquiry, they haven’t raised it with ministers.

“And I think certainly Nick Reed the chief executive needs to come clean now and ask why they’ve not done that.”

The Department for Business and Trade has said that it “is in active discussions with the Post Office about the Capture system issue and are taking it very seriously”.

“If there is evidence that this system led to improper accusations, the government will not hesitate in taking robust action.”

It is also understood that there is a possibility the public inquiry could be expanded to include the Capture system if more evidence emerges.

Post Office scandal: Former Fujitsu head admits ‘Fort Knox’ comment on Horizon system | UK News

The former head of the company at the heart of the Post Office scandal has admitted he described the Horizon IT system as “Fort Knox”.

Duncan Tait, who was Fujitsu’s chief executive between 2011 and 2014, made the comments to his Post Office counterpart Paula Vennells, who returned her CBE earlier this month.

Fort Knox is a highly secure US army building in the state of Kentucky. Its gold vault is surrounded by thick granite walls that are topped by a bombproof roof.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were prosecuted over claims they were stealing from the Post Office – but the missing money was actually due to Horizon software errors.

“As I have said before, I am appalled by the harsh treatment of the sub-postmasters and postmistresses,” Mr Tait said in a statement to Sky News, as a public inquiry remains ongoing.

“As the public inquiry is already aware, I did refer to Fort Knox in a conversation with Paula Vennells.”

Last Tuesday, the current chief executive of Europe for Fujitsu Services Paul Patterson admitted there was remote access to the Horizon system, despite repeated Post Office denials.

Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office since 2019, denied he was aware, adding: “I’ve only been in the organisation since 2019, so it’s difficult for me to comment.”

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Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice

Mr Tait said his comments were “in relation to the cyber and physical security of Horizon” and was “unrelated to the remote access issue”.

“I fully support the inquiry and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further, ahead of giving my evidence,” he said.

“This has been a terrible miscarriage of justice and like others at Fujitsu, I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the sub-postmasters and postmistresses’ lives and any role that Fujitsu played in that.”

The multinational is in the spotlight due to its role in miscarriages of justice – with recent ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office renewing public interest in the issue and sparking outrage.

Read more:
Horizon IT system had bugs since 1999
Horizon system ‘still causing mystery shortfalls’

Days after the show aired, Rishi Sunak announced those wrongly prosecuted in England and Wales could have their names cleared by the end of the year under fast-tracked legislation.

Those whose convictions are quashed are eligible for a £600,000 compensation payment, while Mr Sunak offered £75,000 to sub-postmasters involved in group legal action against the Post Office.

Lawyers have said that hundreds more victims could now come forward.

But campaigners, including former subpostmaster Alan Bates who was at the centre of the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, hit out at the “madness” of delays at processing compensation claims.

Post Office scandal: Distressed sub-postmasters say Horizon system ‘still causing mystery shortfalls’ | UK News

A group representing almost 1,000 sub-postmasters across the UK has told Sky News the Post Office Horizon system is still causing unexplained shortfalls, which are wrecking businesses.

Voice of the Postmaster (VotP), which was set up to campaign for current staff, alleges the discredited IT software is still generating mysterious missing money.

Marlene Wood, postmistress at Comrie Crieff Post Office in Perthshire, alleges the apparent shortfalls she has been facing are partly linked to Horizon and are eating into her profits.

The 53-year-old, who has been in charge of the branch for more than four years, told Sky News: “My business is failing. I will go under in part due to the discrepancies that I pay back.

“There is no computer system that is fail-safe. There continues to be bugs.”

Ms Wood claimed there was one discrepancy of a couple of hundred pounds.

She said: “I spent the night going through the safe, transactions, notes and couldn’t find anything.

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“I went to bed and woke up, redeclared my cash amount and there was no discrepancy. It had vanished.

“I am not saying Horizon is to blame for everything but not to the degree that you go to bed and it can magically disappear.”

Ms Wood, who said she is emotionally distressed, estimates she is around £2,000 in the red and is facing losing her livelihood.

She also said her “marriage is gone” and has had to borrow money from her mother.

Ms Wood added: “If it does go under, I am going to have nowhere to live as the house is above the Post Office.

“I will be sleeping on my mum’s couch at the age of 53 with no job, no credit rating and owing, potentially, thousands of pounds. That’s the reality of having a Post Office.”

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Ex-Post Office executive challenged over scandal

In response, Post Office chiefs told Sky News it was “very sorry” to learn of the concerns.

A spokesperson said: “We are very sorry to hear of the experience our postmistress for Comrie Crieff is having.

“Our area manager has visited her to understand the issues and talk through the support that is available which could make a difference to her situation, and we are following this up.”

Read more:
What is the Post Office scandal?
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It comes after Japanese technology firm Fujitsu said it plans to compensate sub-postmasters wronged in the original Horizon scandal dating back decades.

The multinational company – which developed the Horizon system – is in the spotlight after TV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office renewed public interest in the issue and sparked outrage.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were prosecuted over claims they were stealing from the Post Office – but the missing money was actually due to errors in the IT software.

A different version of the Horizon software is used today but Voice of the Postmaster claims problems persist with “not a postmaster in the country” unaffected.

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Peter Sewell remains silent over ‘nasty chap’ comment

Sara Barlow, secretary of VotP committee, told Sky News: “Horizon is not the robust system that we’d like to think in 2024.

“Obviously, there’s human error but we are all experienced enough to find where we’ve made an error and rectify it.

“There are plenty of times where things just don’t add up, things don’t make sense, and we don’t know where the shortfall has come from.”

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Ms Barlow, who runs a branch herself, alleges Horizon “absolutely” is to blame.

She said: “There are plenty of times where they can’t account for where the mistakes are coming from, they’ve checked CCTV, action logs.

“I’m sure the system has improved from 2015 but it is still happening. It is still having issues. There are still plenty of people who are having sleepless nights.”

Read more:
Post Office’s Horizon compensation chief to step down from board
Horizon IT system had bugs since 1999, says Fujitsu boss

The Post Office said there have been several versions of Horizon since its introduction in 1999.

A spokesperson added: “And the current version of the system, introduced from 2017, was found in the group litigation to be robust, relative to comparable systems.

“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.”

Long delays at Gatwick Airport after system outage grounds flights | UK News

Flights were grounded and passengers faced hours of delays at Gatwick Airport on Saturday following a system outage.

Travellers reported planes being stuck on the tarmac at the West Sussex airport after problems emerged around 8am this morning.

Dozens of departures and arrivals appeared to be affected, with football fans travelling to Premier League matches among those experiencing issues.

Gatwick Airport has apologised, saying the delays were the result of an “outage” to a National Air Traffic Services (NATS) system.

It comes just months after widespread disruption affected thousands of passengers at airports in August, with NATS chief executive then blaming a “one in 15 million” technical glitch.

Danny Bellringer, 45, was travelling from Dublin with fellow Brighton fans for the game against Burnley when the group was told their Aer Lingus flight would be delayed by at least two hours.

The oil rig worker said: “There’s not a huge amount we can do – we’re kind of used to it when travelling over from Ireland to the UK for games, (it) very rarely goes completely smoothly.”

Padraic Mac Aonghusa, 24, said fellow passengers on his Ryanair flight from Dublin were “angry” when the pilot announced there would be a delay due to the issues at Gatwick.

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A London Gatwick spokesperson said: “There was an outage to a local NATS system earlier this morning which has now been rectified.

“Some passengers may experience delays. We apologise for any inconvenience.”

The spokesperson added that one flight was cancelled and two were diverted from Gatwick.

Labour chancellor Rachel Reeves pledges overhaul of UK’s ‘antiquated’ planning system | Politics News

Rachel Reeves will promise to speed up planning processes to revive the economy as she branded the Tories the “single biggest obstacle” to the economy.

The shadow chancellor will pledge an overhaul of the UK’s “antiquated planning system” in order to “get Britain building again”.

Business and the economy is set to dominate the second day of Labour conference in Liverpool and as the party looks to capitalise on the Conservatives’ controversial decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 to Manchester.

Read more: Union boss criticises ‘bland’ offering from Sir Keir Starmer – Labour conference latest

Sir Keir Starmer will charm businesses by gathering hundreds of company bosses at the Labour conference in a meeting the party described as the biggest of his kind.

Microsoft, Ikea and Octopus are among the attendees at the business forum, which will be addressed by Ms Reeves and the shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds.

In her speech Ms Reeves is expected to highlight how decision times for major infrastructure projects have increased by 65% since 2012, now taking four years,.

The reforms she will propose include updating all national policy statements – some of which have not been revised for over a decade – within the first six months of Labour entering Number 10.

Planning applications would be fast-tracked for battery factories, laboratories and 5G infrastructure while the party would also set clearer national guidance for developers on consulting local communities to avoid the prospect of litigation.

Sweeteners and potential incentives such as cheaper energy bills will be provided to encourage local communities to back clean energy projects.

“If we want to spur investment, restore economic security and revive growth, then we must get Britain building again,” Ms Reeves is expected to say.

“The Tories would have you believe we can’t build anything any more. In fact, the single biggest obstacle to building infrastructure, to investment and to growth in this country is the Conservative Party itself.

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“If the Tories won’t build, if the Tories can’t build, then we will. Taking head-on the obstacles presented by our antiquated planning system.

In response, the Conservatives criticised Labour for its recent opposition to government plans to relax environmental rules in order to boost housebuilding.

Party chairman Greg Hands said: “If Labour had any intention of making long-term reform, they would support new building projects – instead, just weeks ago, they tried to block our plans to build 100,000 new homes.

“Labour’s only plan to grow the economy is to borrow an extra £28bn a year, increasing debt and inflation.”

UK emergency alert system launched to warn of life-threatening events – with test set for next month | UK News

A UK-wide emergency alert service is being launched today, ahead of a test on Sunday 23 April.

The alerts will be sent directly to mobile phones across the UK to warn people about life-threatening events such as wildfires and severe flooding, the government has said.

They will only come from the government or emergency services and will include details of the area impacted along with instructions about how to respond.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said: “We are strengthening our national resilience with a new emergency alerts system, to deal with a wide range of threats – from flooding to wildfires.

“It will revolutionise our ability to warn and inform people who are in immediate danger, and help us keep people safe.

“As we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save a life.”

Successfully tested in East Suffolk and Reading, the alerts will only be sent when there is an immediate risk to life, so it may be a period of weeks, months or even years between them.

The government said that the alerts will be secure, free to receive, and will not reveal anyone’s location or collect personal data.

It is already possible to sign up to have flood warnings sent directly to your mobile from the Environment Agency in England, and its equivalents in Scotland and Wales.

What will the alert look and sound like?

The alert will appear on your device and you will hear a loud siren-like sound and vibration for up to 10 seconds.

You will have to acknowledge the alert before you can use your phone’s other features.

The alert will appear as a notification and may include phone numbers or website links with further information.

You can see what they look and sound like at www.gov.uk/alerts

If you don’t want to receive the alerts you can opt out in your device settings.

Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, Mark Hardingham, said: “We’ve seen this type of system in action elsewhere across the world and we look forward to having the facility here in the UK.

“By working together with fire services and partners we want this system to help us to help you be as safe as you can if a crisis does hit.”

Executive director for flood and coastal erosion risk management at the Environment Agency, Caroline Douglass, said: “Being able to communicate warnings in a timely and accurate manner during incidents is really important to help people take action to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbours.”

Britons urged not to pour meat fats down sink to avoid blockages in water system | UK News

Britons are being urged not to pour their meat fats down the sink today, to avoid blockages in the water system.

South West Water is looking to avoid the build up of so-called fatbergs over the holiday season, which are often caused by people pouring their foul, fowl juices from their festive feasts down the sink while hot, which clogs up the pipes when they cool.

The firm says a medium-sized turkey, which many of us will be tucking into at some point today, can produce up to three quarters of a pint of fat, meaning if every house covered by South West Water poured their fats down the sink, it would be the equivalent of 2,800 full bath tubs entering the sewer system.

Undated handout photo issued by Thames Water of a fatberg, that had the weight of a small bungalow, under Yabsley Street, Canary Wharf, London, before its removal. Issue date: Friday February 19, 2021.
Image:
Water firms want to avoid scenes like this one – from underneath Canary Wharf last year

Guy Doble, the company’s director of wastewater recovery, treatment and networks, said: “Don’t let the fat from your festive feast ruin your Christmas by causing blockages and fatbergs.

“Tens of thousands of litres of waste fat, cooking oil and grease are poured down sinks in the South West each year, along with food waste, which can build up in pipes.

“These mix with wrongly flushed items such as wet wipes, hygiene wipes, cleaning wipes, cleansing pads and sanitary products, causing blocked sewers which can lead to flooding in your homes and in the environment.

“Every year we deal with around 8,500 blocked sewers across our region – around one every hour – and these can increase the risk of flooding and damage to customers’ homes and properties.

“So don’t let fat spoil the festivities this Christmas and play your part by only flushing the 3Ps – pee, paper and poo – down the loo, and avoid pouring fats, oils and greases down your sink.”

Last year, a fatberg the “weight of a bungalow” was removed from a London sewer underneath Canary Wharf, with the process taking more than two weeks.

A fatberg in Birmingham was also removed, which was said to more than a kilometre in length and 300 tonnes in weight – taking more than a month to clear.

South West Water covers more than two million people across Devon and Cornwall and some 450 tonnes of unflushable material is removed from its system every year – including wet wipes, sanitary products and cotton pads.

Workforce the size of Newcastle needed to ease ‘gridlocked’ health and care system | UK News

A workforce the size of the population of Newcastle needs to be recruited urgently to ease the “gridlocked” health and care system and to prevent serious harm to patients, the country’s care regulator has warned.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) says it is getting “tougher and tougher” to access care because of a massive shortage in the workforce.

There are around 132,000 vacancies in the NHS and 165,000 across social care, about the same size as the population of the north east city.

And this shortfall in the care sector is having a huge impact on NHS waiting lists, hospital bed availability and accident and emergency response times.

The CQC described the entire health and care system as “gridlocked” and “unable to operate effectively”.

The CQC echoes the warnings raised by health leaders about the need to address the crisis in social care to ease the pressure on the rest of the health system.

Chief Executive Ian Trenholm said the recruitment challenge faced by health and care leaders “is going to translate into real difficulty” this winter and in the years ahead.

Mr Trenholm said the impact of the gridlock is that people are struggling to see their GP or dentist, wait for longer to get to hospital, and once there can become stuck due to a lack of social care to help them once they are ready to leave.

He said: “And this is not just a care consequence. There’s an economic consequence to all of this as well.

“People who are ill can’t go back to work because they’re in a backlog, in some kind of queue waiting for care.”

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Amanda Pritchard, NHS England chief executive, said there are around 10,000 patients in hospitals who are medically fit to be discharged but must stay because there is no care provision for them in the community.

The CQC said only two in five people are able to leave hospital when they are ready, contributing to record-breaking waits in emergency departments following a decision to admit, and dangerous ambulance handover delays.

It found in some cases almost half a hospital is full of people who are medically fit to be discharged but are waiting for social care support, it said.

Beds are available but some care homes are closing their doors to new arrivals because they cannot provide safe staffing levels.

And some nursing homes are having to re-register as care homes because nursing staff are leaving and they are struggling to recruit replacements.

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Figures from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services show that more than half a million people (542,002) were estimated to be waiting for assessments, reviews or care to start as of 30 April this year.

Separate data from the workforce body Skills for Care show that the number of filled posts fell – by about 50,000 – between 2020-21 and 2021-22 for the first time on record.

The CQC’s annual report on the state of health and social care in England also warned that the rising cost of living could result in more care staff leaving for better-paid work.

The regulator also pointed to an unprecedented number of care workers in the South East resigning in May and June because of fuel costs.

The CQC said that, without action, more health and care staff will quit, services will be further stretched, and people will be at greater risk of harm.

This will be especially pronounced in more deprived areas, where access to care outside hospitals is under the most pressure.

Analysis: For too long the focus has been on acute care while the crisis in social care has been allowed to grow.

All health and care leaders are saying the same thing.

Health and social care must be seen as the same integrated system.

For too long the focus has been on acute care while the crisis in social care has been allowed to grow.

Years of chronic underfunding has left social care in the state it is now.

But the impact on hospitals and the rest of the health service is now being felt.

The pandemic has swelled the waiting lists and to make any headway on the numbers, patients need to go into hospital and get out as soon as it is safe for them to be discharged.

But patients are going into hospital and staying there because there is nobody left to care for them in the community.

The pandemic helped to change the way we look at social care.

We saw just how vulnerable many people were, and we saw just how undervalued and underpaid social care staff were feeling.

That is why so many have left the sector. Unless pay and rewards are addressed care staff will keep leaving and new recruits will not take their place.

The NHS recognises the importance of social care in preventing patients from coming to hospital in the first place.

Among other measures it is setting up rapid response units to attend to people who have suffered falls.

The vast majority of these patients will not need hospital admittance.

Every time an ambulance crew attends a fall it cannot attend to another emergency.

I spent a day with the London Ambulance Service last week.

Our third emergency that morning was to attend to a 78 year woman who had fallen from her bed.

Elizabeth was thoroughly examined and no serious injury was found.

Records showed that Elizabeth had more than 200 ambulance visits for falls the year before.

If she had a good care package in place then those ambulance visits would not all have been necessary and the paramedics could have been responding more quickly to another emergency.