Podcast: Where Did All The Money Go?

It is the question I have probably been asked the most over the years. The long answer is in the podcast I have recorded with Mark Baker (left in the photo above), a long-serving Subpostmaster and union rep, and Ron Warmington (right in the photo above), now Chairman of Second Sight, the forensic accountancy firm that went into the Post Office in 2012 and uncovered the sort of disaster which could very well be (and was eventually proved as being) responsible for serious miscarriages of justice. Between us, we cobbled together a list of 14 different destinations, which I have listed below.

The short answer to Where Did All The Money Go is that it was either disappearing out of branches due to customer fraud or staff theft or repeated mistakes benefitting a customer OR it was disappearing out of ancillary (IT and non IT) Post Office (and non-Post Office) systems due to fraud, mistakes outside the branch and non-Horizon computer error OR it was disappearing out of Subpostmaster pockets and into the Post Office’s bottom line due to Horizon-generated discrepancies which showed up in Subpostmaster branch accounts.

It is important to remember the Post Office had no real control over its internal accounting systems for the duration of its Horizon-related prosecution spree (cf the 2013 Detica report) and so it didn’t know where money was going, nor could it properly account for where it came from. Suggesting that double-entry accounting would have revealed an obvious positive entry corresponding to an obvious negative entry assumes the Post Office systems worked and the people operating them knew what they were doing. They didn’t, and even if they did, they were not going to give any visibility of them to Subpostmasters or their legal representatives.

The really, really short answer is that any money the Post Office was credited which it couldn’t make sense of ended up one of many internal suspense accounts.

It is therefore perfectly likely that the Post Office took money which rightfully belonged to its Subpostmasters and used it to bolster its bottom line. This was part-admitted by Post Office CEO Nick Read in a parliamentary committee meeting in January 2021:

Chair: But you have to do a profit and loss account, do you not, Mr Read, with money coming in and money going out? If victims were putting money into the Post Office, surely you know that money came in from somewhere. Did it just go to your bottom line?
Nick Read: It went into a general suspense account.

What Mr Read didn’t tell the Committee was that after three years (according to one source I have spoken to), if entries in the suspense account were not identified and/or claimed, the cash was swept into the Post Office’s P&L account and counted as profit. Trebles on the back of Subpostmaster misery all round.

Have a listen to the podcast, and if it still doesn’t answer your questions, I would suggest approaching the Post Office with Freedom of Information requests. If you get a clearer answer, let me know.

Where did all the money go? The podcast list of 14 (non-exhaustive) possible destinations

  1. Theft by the Subpostmaster.

Seems pretty obvious right? But why would a Subpostmaster steal their own money? Is it their own money?

  1. Theft by the Subpostmaster’s staff

Same fingers-in-the-till as point 1, but important to note that the Subpostmaster would still, under the terms of their contract, be held liable for their assistants’ crimes.

  1. Errors made at the counter by the Subpostmaster or one of their assistants

A customer deposits £1000, but the assistant keys in £10,000 by mistake. How easy or common was it for Horizon users to make errors at the counter, how easy were they to find and how were they resolved?

Over time, the Post Office changed its branch and Head Office operational processes to speed things up, but often, in doing that, they INCREASED the likelihood of errors that would harm their Subpostmasters. An example of this was when the Post Office phased out paying-in slips. Placing screen icons next to each other such as a banking deposit icon next to the withdraw cash icon.

  1. Errors made away from the counter but within the branch

A Subpostmaster or member of staff could (for example) put the wrong amount of money in a pouch being sent back to a cash-handling centre. How was this resolved?

  1. Errors made at cash-handling centres

What happens if £25,000 is recorded as being sent out to a branch and only £24,000 arrives?

  1. Theft by customers

Sleight of hand, using dodgy cards or documents etc

  1. Theft by non-customers

Criminals getting access to and exploiting weaknesses or loopholes somewhere in the Post Office/Horizon network. This could be external criminal gangs, or those who had infiltrated either the Post Office, Fujitsu or one of the Post Office’s corporate clients.

Could this happen, not be discovered and blamed on the Subpostmaster?

Examples of this type of loss would include thefts from ATMs and thefts carried out by employees of POL’s CLIENTS – or even by employees of Fujitsu (who we now know were routinely meddling with branch accounts without being required to keep any records showing what they’d done)… or even thefts by the Post Office’s own employees.

  1. Manual account adjustment errors made remotely to Subpostmasters branch accounts by Fujitsu engineers.

An error by a Fujitsu engineer which caused a discrepancy in Subpostmaster’s branch account was documented during the civil litigation (see “The Smoking Gun“). The postmaster was then held liable for the discrepancy.

9 . Manual processing errors by the Post Office back end (eg at Chesterfield etc)

Where the Post Office or the wrong branch benefits at the expense of another branch due to errors made in manual document-handling processes.

Examples of this include credit entries – involving Post Office clients – that have found their way into Post Office Suspense Accounts and that should have, had they been properly investigated, been credited back to branches… but weren’t.

  1. ’One-sided’ transactions where a customer gets something for nothing…

A communications interrupt, or a power or hardware failure prevents a payment reaching a customer’s bank account through the LINK System, but the other side of the transaction, processed through Horizon, goes though properly. This error can also benefit the Postmaster.

  1. Other types of losses caused by power outages or telecommunications interrupts

These being more likely in small, remote branches… untransmitted transactions were assigned to the branch processor hard drive, to await recovery. Hard-drives were never maintained or de-fragged. Corrupt sectors on hard-drives were common. Result… transaction data would be destroyed and no trace left. Leaving the cash account either in deficit or surplus as the recovery system could find nothing to recover. Data loss can also occur at the Post Office’s data centres.

  1. Processing interrupts where a Post Office client has benefitted at the expense of the branch.

Transactions with corrupt data envelopes get diverted into a Post Office suspense account, but the Post Office’s processes were not robust enough to identify their origin and/or destination.

  1. The Post Office benefits from Horizon’s ‘doubling up’ of apparent shortfalls.

Doubling-up was a serious problem with Horizon and appears to be have been down to some very bad coding with extreme consequences. Horizon’s ability to create money out of thin air which then becomes a subpostmaster debt was a real problem. If it happened in reverse, it would likely be written off.

  1. Examples of shortages created by other bugs in Horizon.

Feel free to list any more possibilities in the comments below. And do listen to the podcast!

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95 responses to “Podcast: Where Did All The Money Go?”

  1. Towards the end of the podcast mark Baker says that they had even found examples where the amount of money supposedly missing (according to Horizon and the post office) exceeded the amount of money actually going through the post office concerned. I would have thought pointing that out alone would have been all the proof that anyone needed that something was clearly wrong without requiring a year long forensic investigation. The example used in the podcast is Jo Hamilton’s and her £38,000 shortfall. but I didn’t think that was a one of error but had accumulated over a number of weeks or even months and might well have been wihin the amount of cash passing through the branch over a period of time. I am confused….

  2. When the sub post people were fired for fraud and a new postal person took over their job .. did the same “fraud” appear with the new people ? That would be telling . Either the machine were indiscriminately screwing up numbers or someone was behind not letting this happen with the next person to make it look like fraud from the first postal person accused of fraud .

    1. Yes! I sold my post office and the man I sold it to went to jail. I never really considered the idea that the shortages were not somehow my fault. Otherwise I never would have sold it without warning the new postmaster. I moved to America immediately after the sale so was unaware he was in trouble or I would have spoken up.

  3. Why on earth is no one who covered things up held accountable for this. No one has been jailed from Fijitsu or the Post Office top brass who even misled or lied to the select committee.

    Furthermore after this it has been shown justice can be perverted when you allow businesses to investigate, charge and bring legal prosecutions with zero police involvement. That accident statue needs changing and all fraud and criminal prosecutions needs to go via the CPS only and be investigated by the SFO, police or such independent organisations but not by the same parties as involved.

    Lastly those who profited or covered up serious fault lying to the subpostmasters that they where the only ones etc., need to have there money and houses taken just as they inflicted such on the subpostmasters.

    How on earth can CEOs have two jobs, how could Paula Vennels be a practising Ordained Church Minister and the CEO of a massive public institution at the same time?

    Justice has already been delayed over 2 decades. If I was a SPM and had suffered these injustices where I lost everything and even my liberty I think I would not take my own life before I took one of theirs. I’d hunt the CEO or that legal person they had saying nothing was wrong and do for them!

    1. hi, has the possibility of Fujitsu employees manipulating the figures and then pocketing the cash themselves been looked into?

      1. This seems a very likely explanation but is not being openly considered

      2. They didn’t have access to the money, just the figures on the computer screen.

      3. I wonder if, in the separation of the Post Office from the Royal Mail, there might have been a ‘dormant’ account that could have been used to put the payments made by subpostmasters in and not visible in the main accounting system?

  4. Andrew Barnes avatar

    Can anyone shed light on two details that seem crucial to me?

    1. what is the Cash Account?
    Is it a piece of software that keeps a running total, and is then used as the source for the reports, balancing etc., or is it a calculation made for reports and balancing when called?

    2. Did / does the branch have any access to transaction lists, which is what I believe an audit trail must have?

    Of course what Post Office called audit was anything but. They seemed to rely on the message store, as recorded on their servers.

    I worked for EPOS suppliers to the forecourt industry, and have experience of several generations of software, database and record keeping. All seems to have been far in advance of what Fujitsu provided.

  5. I have read your blog its really informative

  6. Who in PO including related parties has had a business or ‘other’ relationship with FUJITSU PERSONNEL since TB days?
    Who in UK be it corporate or individual has received remuneration or incentives from FUJITSU?
    Has / is this being examined?

  7. Let’s reboot that debate on bring back the Death Penalty for PCOJ.

    1. Even if justice does eventually catch those responsible, how much will it cost taxpayer to have them languishing in jails.
      The crimes are in certain respects a form of treason – death penalty could be relevant in these unique circumstances.

      1. PCOJ Investigator avatar
        PCOJ Investigator

        Yes. I am generally opposed to the DP, but for crimes as heinous as these, committed over such an extended period, and compounded by recent perjurious conduct at the Inquiry, I see an argument for it.

        We can just ignore a few treaty obligations, but that’s nothing compared to what these filthy blackguards have done.

        According to the sentencing guidelines, the monetary motive they’ve had is a considerable exacerbating factor.

        Let’s take, for example, the case of the degenerate conveyancing clerk who has managed somehow to own, outright, a £3m house, largely funded, I assume, through the imprisonment and persecution (and deaths) of innocents SPMs. Confiscation is a must.

      2. Alastair McGowan avatar

        Confiscation plus an attachment of earnings order, since it seems the norm that they will (after a short radio silence) regain employment in a similar position.

    2. Awful as PCOJ is, especially when it has such serious repercussions, do you not think the DP seems a tad harsh ?

  8. Does all this mean that any records on a computer system that are used as incriminating evidence against one are unreliable and inadmissible as evidence?

  9. Just watched the 4 part thriller on TV here in Ontario, Canada…APPALLING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,mind you the same thing could easily happen here too ..

    1. I have a greater worry that everyone seems to have forgotten. What have Experian and Equifax been and are saying about these poor people?

      These 2 operators destroy financial reputations based on lies and falsehoods and you just know they have had their paws in the pot, so in my opinion should, be made to join in the compensation scheme!

      And don’t forget Experian and Equifax are multi-national so even if these people upped sticks to start a new life in a new country, this pair of bar steward’s would follow them around. Financially ruined until either Equifax or Experian deemed them risk worthy.

      This matter has touched these people in ways the average Joe cannot start to contemplate.

      Disgraceful doesn’t come close.

  10. I was wondering Why did the post office start asking/making post masters to make up any losses in the first place..

    1. Because that was the process and expectelations of the legal agreements that were in place.

    2. just an unbelievable case of mis justice . i can’t understant the compensation figuring . the families who lost life savings homes etc. weren’t properly given what was due with interest.
      To allow the crooks who did know there were problems not be investigated or made to pay from their own pockets, life savings and sale of their homes is completely wrong . they get off totally free …. grr
      messed up system for sure . i definately think the whole thing needs a proper investigation . bring in another investigatiin team not affiliated with anyone nor anything . relating to the case . even if you need to go to Scotland Yard ( this one may be under the same postal situation? ) or America to find them. it will be super tedious to get the answers …quite possibly cost way more than a giving them all a better compensation. one way or another . i really think you must get a proper investgation and facts straight puus a whole new system for the postal record keeping .
      maybe some reputable colleges can utilize this case as a corse and they can do the investigatuon .possibly interested investigators could assist . if the government doesnt want to fork out the money to pay for the investigations. i cant believe it ended with such a poor compensation for the people who were wrongfully charged and lives dismantled.

  11. “Follow the money”, as they say. Paula Vennells CBE was the one orchestrating this Mob style protection racket Thugs like Stephen Bradshaw earned bonuses for strong arming vulnerable staff but it was Vennells as CEO who turned a software shambles into a money making enterprise that generated big profits from the extortion scheme, and in criminal enterprises the big money always goes to the head the gang.

    1. PCOJ Investigator avatar
      PCOJ Investigator

      Ah, then, you can’t yet heard of Vennell’s predecessor (2003-2010, when most of the crimes occurred), former CEO of Royal Mail when the Post Office was part of it and ex-CEO of ITV plc (which could well be why no mention of him or hint of his existence occurs in the otherwise excellent ITV docudrama).

      Yes, meet ADAM CROZIER.

      Of course, he knew nothing of the mega-criminality happening under his nose. NOTHING!!

      This, because he tells us so.

      But he also tells us “I don’t like [a high public profile] at all. I will go to enormous lengths not to do public things – because it is just not me.” – The Guardian, 11 May 2007, ‘Sharp suit with an iron hand in a woolly glove’, by David Teather.

      And of course we believe every word from Tony’s crony, the former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi (need I say more? Probably the word “repugnant” is redundant in this context), and current CEO of BT. He’s also been on the boards of many other prominent public companies.

      The rot goes deep, doesn’t it?

  12. It’s strange-today the words-they used mafia like tactics was all over the papers.It seems that to my mind it was a massive extortion racket .They set the false figures up in the HQ building then sent the bully boys out to extort money with intimidation & threats of prison.They must have been really frightened considering they were some of the most honest people in the UK.Follow the money- who was behind it.

  13. Scotland Yard should certainly be looking into ways actual real money could have been criminally obtained using the Horizon system access from the Bracknell ‘boiler-house’ via PO controlled cash machines perhaps?….. even sicker,could it even have been bored computer workers deliberately creating errors just for fun

    1. I don’t think “ bored” computer engineers would create anything “ just for fun “ . Why ? What would be the ultimate gain for them all ?
      If you’re paid to do a job then most people try to do it to the best of their abilities . I think Fujitsu and the Post Office were stupid and criminally negligent especially as Fujitsu appeared to have “ super access “ to a live operating system but what was the Post Office’s internal audit team doing about actually auditing and monitoring the system of access and controls that Fujitsu had over a “ live” system ? Nothing it seems . IA don’t seem to have had anyone who knew how to interrogate the Fujitsu systems or have paid proper attention to the incredulous amount of “ unders” the Horizon system was recording . The path of least resistance was that the SPM’s had to pay back any shortfalls under the terms of their ( unfair) contracts so IA facilitated the prosecution of SPM’s rather than investigate the computer system ! As a retired Internal Auditor of big financial institutions , I’m absolutely disgusted with the level of internal controls and oversight of computer systems those internal auditors exercised . It beggars belief that we all took the same exam modules to qualify but the Post Office Internal Auditors seemed to have not bothered doing the computer modules . Were they even qualified ? ( Internal Auditors are supposed to be qualified under the Institute of Internal Auditors or the Institute of Chartered and Certified Accounts and usually and ideally both !) How incompetent those auditors were – they were taking their salaries under false pretentions in my very humble opinion . I’d feel shameful if I knew that had happened on my watch as an auditor . I hope they’re all struck off the registers permanently .

      1. Decent analysis of the situation. Sound as a pound, well done.

      2. Given the culture and practices in both organisations, it makes you wonder what else has been covered up.

        It doesn’t seem credible that Fujitsu operated different practices for different projects, or that there was proper governance of parts of the post office that don’t directly relate to SPMs.

        Given the pressure on the Post Office to make a profit, I would be wondering if there were other reasons to resist investigation by forensic accountants.

      3. Precisely! An uptick in huge shortages registering daily. SPMs who had been stellar for years if not decades are accused of theft. Ugly. So very ugly.
        And where were the Fujitsu whistle blowers? This really confounds me. A phone call to the right person to say that the Fujitsu system had problems. An anonynous letter to the press. Some small act of compassion.

      4. There are some very sick people out there so I wouldn’t rule out anything but fully agree the rest of your post

  14. How about the Royal Mail issuing a set of new stamps to commemorate those who have explosed the PO scandal for such a long time?

  15. Surely this had to be an organised criminal enterprise.People in the Fujitsu building choosing who to work over systematically far enough apart so they couldn’t connect the dots.Accessing their terminals remotely and altering the figures.Its like something the Mafia would come up with.

    1. No. This is buggy software coupled with gross incompetance (amongst a plethora of other things, but that’s it at its most basic).

  16. I worked for an insurance company that had a new computer system installed.

    If an error was discovered during the creation of the policy then you’d cancel the policy. If the client had paid £2400. When you cancel the plan technically in the cash pot it should have shown £2400. Sometimes it disappeared. We have to prove it to the software company that on some plans the money disappeared. The problem was they had set up a system that didn’t have an accounting side to it. Eventually the accounting software system was created and it was discovered that millions of pounds sat in a petty cash account. In the end it was the process to prove the money existed if you could then you made a cash payment from petty cash account. This would then be offset against the £2400 sitting in the other petty cash account. This to me smacks of the same problem. Sometimes it could be £30000 missing if the plan had run for 5-10 years. The computer system was never designed for what our company had done to it. If you took out a plan for £20 pm and the increased it to £30 it is normal process to issue another plan for £10.00 with the policy fee waived or adjusted to what the quote said.

    1. I think lots of people commenting on here ( and the Post Office employee who signed off on Horizon ) don’t appreciate that a financial system in a branch must also be backed up and connected to a proper accounting system with correct nominal codes . The adage “ garbage in, garbage out “ still stands .
      What I don’t understand ( as a retired auditor of both a building society and a large insurance company’s investment vehicles ) was if the “ shorts” were being debited to a suspense account dedicated to overs and unders , let’s call it 9999 on the nominal , if all the Horizon problems created “ shorts” , even when the post office employees were made to pay the money back , that account could be “ cleared out “ every three years and the contents added to “ profits” . This is because that 9999 suspense account balance should always have hovered around the ZERO mark ( or thereabouts ). If all the transactions that are disputed were “ unders” , that nominal should have more or less always been in deficit , shown as a – £sum , so there was nothing to clear out into profits after the three years .
      Did Fujitsu have access to the Post Office’s Nominal Ledger accounts and could they alter those too ? That’s never been made clear in anything I’ve read .

  17. So who has the money where did it all go ?

  18. Were any postmasters subject to errors in their favour? If not, has it been looked into that the errors were actually the result of hacking of the software to generate an income stream for criminals, underwritten by the subpostmasters?

    1. I wondered about that too. Well not that it may have been hacked but that since the Horizon system is faulty I imagine some accounts may have gained money, which must have caused account not to balance too. What did PO and Fujitsu do about that, how did they handle that excess credit?
      Have any subpostmasters reported what happened in those cases?

    2. RICHARD J BRAMALL avatar

      The same thought occurs to me. In my limited experience computer software bugs can be either positive or negative so there is a chance that some post offices would have generated an unexpected and possibility unjustified surplus. I guess it’s unlikely that the PO nor the post master or sub-postmaster would spend a lot of time worrying about having too much money from their daily activities. But reporting of such surpluses would have encouraged further investigation and reduced the timescale to resolve the issues that have led to the current scandal.

      1. I was a (very) lucky postmaster who never knowingly suffered this nightmare. I can see how communication drops would be more likely to creat shortfalls than surpluses.
        A customer cash deposit – which could be several ‘000s from pubs/garage/traders, etc – needed only a pretty short ‘online’ time at the back end of the transaction. ( Customer hands over cash and a/c card. Clerk counts cash first, then swipes card, keys in cash value, and keys’enter’ to end transaction. Probably only 3-5 seconds actually online.
        A customer cash withdrawal (pension, PO card account, bank debit card, etc) much longer online. ( Customer puts card in reader, line to central computer/Link opens immediately, clerk enters value requested, then waits for bank to validate and OK, clerk leaves line open and counts out cash from till, then re-counts cash to customer, clerk keys to complete transaction and print receipt. Line clears.) Much longer online, and a line drop out after the bank validation has been received could mean the cash gets physically paid out, but the cash stock reduction gets lost. This has been reported to the Inquiry as a know possible fault.
        Not the whole story, of course, but certainly something that could tend to shortages rather than surpluses.

      2. Watch Day 1 of the inquiry on YouTube for the answer to this. It’s heartbreaking.

  19. June Carol Reader avatar
    June Carol Reader

    Having watched the drama and since read everything I can get my hands on. It becomes more and more obvious this was a criminal cover up by those at the top of Fujitsu and the PO of a seriously flawed system. They must be held to account instead of wallowing in their payoffs while so many have and still are suffering!

    1. Watch the Business Innovation and Skills Select Committees on 15 Feb 2015 an extract of which was featured in the drama Also Business Trade and select committee July 23 Chaired by Darren Jones, where the current CEO of the PO Nick Small is trying to Defend his dodgy (albiet false)accounts submitted to their remuneration committee for their extortionate bonuses. – Both of which are on You Tube

  20. ….the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention to permanently deprive the other of it.
    That is the definition of theft.

    That is exactly what the Post Office has done to over 700 Sub Postmasters.
    As a result, surely everyone on the prosecution side; investigators, lawyers, witnesses, and executives of the Post Office and Fujitsu, should be prosecuted for conspiricy to theft.
    Effectively, this has been a scam, orchestrated through the UK criminal courts.
    Discraceful is insufficient to describe it.

    1. absolutely – im here wondering how we push for this? Its gonna get buried

    2. No excuse for what has happened, of course, but two motivations:
      1. Post Office believed that significant level of fraud/theft was going on under the old paper-based systems, more than auditors could physically check. 1997 there were 10 prosecutions, apparently, out of 16-18,000 offices. They did not trust their agents, and were super confident that computerising the network would flush out more ‘thieving’ postmasters. 2021 there were 90 prosecutions – just what the PO had thought would happen. QED. Unfortunately, it turns it was the computer wot did it!
      2. Back then in an era when it was generally accepted that computers were pretty much infallible, for anyone senior at the Post Office – essentially a huge financial network owned by the Government – to suggest that their accounting system was faulty was practically impossible – a ‘Ratner’ moment par excellance. Other Government departments – the DSS (Benefits Agency), DVLA, Home Office, National Savings, BT, British Gas, etc. would have pulled their business.
      So they took the easier ‘thieving’ option, and stuck it on the postmasters.

      1. I don’t agree with your comment. The Horizon computer system was brought in to stop customer fraud not Subpostmaster fraud. DWP needed instant and direct confirmation of payments of benefit. Girobank benefit payment cheques could be fraudulently laser printed to an high standard and caused massive overpayments. National Savings bank books were hand written and massive fraudulent withdrawals were made because technology could not confirm the books balances. I stopped a well dressed man from fraudulently withdrawing money from a Savings bank book which had been tampered with, also a customer from out of area attempting to obtain a FADCODE which was necessary for the fraudulent Girocheque. I pretended I didn’t have the change of address form requested, just felt suspicious. Sure enough the following week many local postoffices has fraudulently cashed giro cheques because they had managed to get the FAD code. Getting a bit sick of the suggestion that Subpostmasters were stealing, why would they steal when they had invested their own money into the PO premises and risk losing their substantial investment

    3. Martin Pittaway avatar

      Everyone commenting should read this. https://www.jfsa.org.uk/uploads/5/4/3/1/54312921/origins_of_a_disaster_-_summary_-_eleanor_shaikh.pdf

      My God what a shambles that was Horizon before it ever got as far as the Sub-Postmasters. I am not defending the Post Office executives but! Read how the Post Office board didn’t want the Horizon rubbish that was being forced on them!

      Read who is really to blame.

      And whilst you’re thinking about this, think about Microsoft’s part in providing a core Operating System that is so insecure that to this day, tax payers are paying out £millions in ransomware payments. Where is Microsoft? What are they doing to help prevent such attacks?

      Would someone, somewhere, please explain to me why the UK government continues to use and spend £millions of tax payers money on systems that are so flawed?

      Just a thought. Has anyone considered talking to Apple?

      1. Apple are no better, likely worse.

  21. Having just watched all four episodes I am appalled at what these innocent people have had to endure for 20 years.

    As someone else has pointed out none of the accused shown signs of coming into a lot of money. Surely the police would have looked into their bank accounts as they do on all good detective shows. This would have shown without a doubt that they were innocent.

    1. The whole process and investigation was carried out under the special measures that the RM & PO have to prosecute.

    2. Because the Post Office is a legal entity itself and could bring a criminal investigation without involving the police , the police were never asked or required to investigate anything . 🤷‍♀️

      1. Alastair Douglas avatar
        Alastair Douglas

        Although the police were involved in Scotland

  22. Nigel Wordingham avatar
    Nigel Wordingham

    As I understand it sub postmasters get a salary from the post office but are also self employed so presumably they had their own accountants to prepare their accounts and tax returns. As a retired accountant from a small firm I would have hoped that if I had any such clients I would have been able to help them, and at least throw doubt on the system by analysing where the money had come from and gone to on a particular day. Was the Horizon system such that this information was not available?

    For the future, I would suggest that damages should be independently assessed as they were after pension mis-selling.
    Any chance that any individuals who profited are liable to asset seizure under the proceeds of crime legislation?

    1. Unfortunately sub postmasters only received commission on the transactions performed and financial products sold. A third party accountant would not have access to the transactions and cash account in a post office. Even the sub postmaster didn’t have access. The Horizon system only reconciled the cash holding and value stock held in the office. If the system reconciled your cash account you may think you were lucky. The value stock reconciliation was just based upon the quantity held in stock. Think of it as a simple stock check system. That’s what the sub postmaster had to work with. The actual transactions performed during the working day were not available for the sub postmaster to verify or modify. It was more complicated then this but in a nut shell that was how you had to think of it.

  23. An interesting fact around time Horizon was launched 1999. The Government was changing from pension books to bank credits and Post Office Pension cards. The commission paid per transaction to Post Office Counters Ltd by the government was going to reduce considerably, can’t remember exactly but was something like 30p for pension books to 5p to 10p for card transactions. Multiply that by the millions of pension and benefit payments weekly (£billions over the year).1000s of post offices would have to close. To close them the Post Office would have to pay Sub-postmasters 3 times their annual commission as a redundancy package, to reimburse them for providing premises and staff for the Post Office Counters Ltd. How convenient to turn a blind eye and let 700 convicted sub-postmasters, 4 suicides and many more 100 sub- postmasters resign or be sacked without their redundancy entitlement.
    As regards Money Missing, was it money? More likely errors and duplications. A Sub-postmasters balance included many items, postal, cash received, cash returned, foreign currency, bank and utility receipts, TV stamps, Gas stamps( various denominations) etc. Any input / output / duplication could cause an imbalance and sub-postmasters could not check daily , as they used to with paper balances for decades.
    Those errors only turned to cash owed by sub-postmasters when the paid it into the Post Office Ltd suspense account, later inserted into Post Office Ltd profits. Paula Vennells was given her OBE because she turned loss into profit 100million plus.
    I don’t believe that it was actual cash in all those cases but it certainly benefited the Post Office Ltd in the profits.

    1. i totally agree. very convenient.

    2. I believe somewhere in the region of 12,000 branch post offices were shut in period 2000-2010. Looking at figures listed Accountancy Web it seems compulsory terminating each one of the SPM contracts could cost anything upto and in excess of £100,000. The Post Office Limited and the government therefore had a very real financial interest in forcing out without compensation by whatever means necessary be it either voluntarily or by prosecution. It would be interesting to know how many SPM in the relevant period actually received severance payments from the closure of their branches, how many quit “voluntarily” or due to court action and how many contracts simply expired. The financial harm incurred by SPM therefore included not only the money that was extracted from them unjustly by the Post Office for losses due to Horizon errors for which they were not responsible but also from the compensation they were denied from the compulsory closure of the branches. We know that PO investigators were being paid bonuses for every successful prosecution of an SPM. It needs also be established whether there were similar incentives for achieving branch closures at minimum cost.

    3. The post office have up till now refused to advise how much money was taken from sub masters -MPs were asking these questions this week. It’s a great pity these questions were not pursued earlier

  24. Watching the 2nd episode and seeing the Union Rep in the Fujitsu facility watching a demonstration of how easy it was to alter a supposedly secure account and steal £20,000 from a sub-Post Office in Wales, for instance, made me jump to the conclusion that all the money was stolen by those people in that office at Fujitsu. I bought a Fujitsu laptop years ago and it was crap. It lasted 18 months.

    1. Martin Pittaway avatar

      Every business owner knows and understands accountability.

      Whether a one man band or a multi-national corporation, without financial records anything could be going on.

      Accounting systems, in general, HAVE to be approved by the government VAT and Inland Revenue offices. So where is Horizons approval and who signed off on it?

      For that matter, a business the size of the Post Office surely employed an independent firm of accountants such as KPMG. The old sister business British Telecom do so who were / are the accountants?

      There are more questions than answers still not being addressed and in my opinion being overlooked because the public are caught up in the emotional aspects if this shambles.

      My heart and mind goes out to every victim and members of their families that stood by them.

      Looking at the salaries and bonuses paid to the senior executives, who then publicly claim they had no knowledge of the day to day running of the business they are responsible for, would someone explain how they get these positions and command such salaries?

      If I were Nick Read I would be hanging my head in shame. As for Paula Vennells, she should be stripped of her CBE and made to return ALL her salies for the period she was in control and that money given to the victims!

    2. Why would a Fugitsu operative demonstrate a system that way. Showing a outside Union rep manipulation on a live system that way. I would have thought the Horizon system would have had dummy branches set up for to constantly validate the system. He could then have demonstrated what he wanted on a none live branch. Incredulous.

      1. When the Horizon system was rolled out in 1999/2000 we were told – assured – that our I.D’s/Passwords were secure, and that nobody – NOBODY – could access our branch accounts without our express permission – in practice at the branch, being signed on by the postmaster, and in his presence. Yes, ICL/Fujitsu could download network-wide updates/patches overnight – just as internet providers do regularly these days for our smartphones and pc’s – but not to alter our database.
        Whether the portrayal of such activity in the TV dramatisation was totally accurate or not is by the way – I believe it was – the Statutory Inquiry has already been told it did (does?) happen.
        Question ! Would you or I happily put our personal bank accounts onto our smartphones/pc’s if we thought Apple or Microsoft could take a dip overnight without asking? I’ll take that as a NO!

  25. What comes out clearly from those brought before court is how public money was used against them by the post office. They had the full force of the law being used due to a contract drawn up to protect only Horizon and the Post Office. This one sidedness should have been picked up by any good Judge and given further investigation. This still happens today where ordinary people are looked upon as guilty before innocent.

  26. The ITV programme brought back many memories as a sub postmaster. Discrepancies, losses and gains, would occur regularly. Some resolved the following day, some the following week. Some were just manual errors in counting the money or stock. There were two we could never solve. There were more, but these two were the most memorable.
    The first one related to a short fall of £835. We recounted the money several times. We searched for transactions of that value or similar. We searched for combination of transactions which would sum up to that value. Nothing came close to it. We contacted the help desk, but were just told that we were responsible for any loss (I didn’t expect anything else after many other unhelpful encounters with the help desk). I tried to request a complete list of all the transactions from horizon for that day but was told that was not possible, and the discrepancy calculated by the branch horizon terminal was the only figure to use to confirm the branch/stock unit had balanced. We eventually than to put the money in from our own pockets.
    The second discrepancy related to a difference recorded for the ‘number’ of 1st class stamps and the ‘value’ held by horizon for the value of ‘other’ stamps. One week on a Wednesday (balance night) we counted the number of first class stamps. We were short by 63. A strange number we thought. We recounted. We searched for the missing stamps thinking we had misplaced them. Nothing could be identified were the missing stamped where. We hadn’t even sold a large number of individual 1st class stamps, suggesting we perhaps had given them to a customer by mistake. So with time pressing on we continued with the balance procedure. All seemed ok, the money held was correct, all other stock values were correct, except for the ‘other’ stamps. These stamps were up in value equivalent to the value of 63 1st class stamps.
    We called the help desk, and all that could be suggested was to reverse and sell the appropriate stamps to reconcile the actual number/value held in branch.
    I wasn’t happy with this method as the actual number of stamps should not differ without good reason. I took the investigation further with post office eventually assigned a person to look into the transactions for my branch. The conclusion reached was that the branch had balanced, so the 1st class stamps and ‘other’ stamps could be reversed and sold accordingly to reach the values actually held in branch. When asked directly how 1st class stamps differed from what was actually held, the investigative post office personnel couldn’t give a clear answer as to why this happened. I subsequently found out that this person was not an employee of post office but an independent contractor taken on to investigate these type of issues.
    So my only conclusion was the accounts for my office had been manually altered and by coincidence the overall stock value was correct. Individual stock values were adjusted to coincide with the overall stock value. Am I wrong with this assumption? This was not done my myself, so were my branch accounts altered without my authority? And why were they altered?

  27. There are clearly numerous occasions where the Horizon has identified a shortfall; if this was due to an issue with the system, how often were there surpluses? Also this seems to have happened to a small but still significant number of branches over a considerable period of time. Surely these issues would have happened to every branch.
    How many branches were closed from when Horizon was introduced and these issues started to become public knowledge (say around 2012)?

    1. This has to be the absolute bottom line to whole problem. I don’t know how post offices work but is it possible that people at the postmaster level could benefit from similar positive balances, without it getting escalated ? At the top line level the amount of money involved would largely insignificant but at the bottom line, people went to prison. Its so fking shocking its unbelievable!! What the programme has shown (although clearly dramatised to deliver a story) is that people dont ask questions when a positive mistake is highlighted, only when its negative and therefore painful. Is it feasible that the equal and offsetting amount of postmasters kept quiet about some good luck? Not likely. Did a bunch of executives move the chairs around on the titanic, in order to not see the absolutely glaringly obvious?? Much more likely.

      1. In my experience gains and losses were always happening, some explainable some not so. Where gains were found the surplus was always stored on the safe and used to offset any loss at a later stage. This I could never explain, not even Post Office could explain, except they use to say it was down to my incorrect counting of the money from day to day. Horizon was always defended as robust. The discrepancies found were never in the hundreds (except for one large loss which I had to fund from my own pocket) but mainly in the tens of pounds.
        I don’t think I was alone in this situation as fellow sub postmasters would talk of similar situations. It also became a natural event which we accepted as a natural event of Horizon. You couldn’t examine the accounts for your office, as horizon didn’t give you control and access to the accounts (as a ledger would). So, once you pressed the key to accept and submit the transaction then it disappeared into the depths of the Fujitsu computing facility.

        1. This is a system was fundamentally flawed from the outset-Post Office and Fujitsu with total control and Sub Postmaster being held totally responsible with no visibility of the transactions. Sub postmasters contracts that were proved to be not legally binding by Independent Second Sight. Post Office having their own internal systems which by passed the Police and CPS.

        2. My experience exactly. At the end of a busy week – probably after hours Wednesday evening – spending ages searching for a £10-£20 ‘shortage’ was not really a sensible option. Pay in the necessary from the shop till, and go home! A similar surplus I would take out, put in a coin bag and keep on one side until next week. Use it then to pay any shortage showing, otherwise take it out, accept that it was just possible I could make mistakes, and go home happy!
          It seems now I was a lucky fellow – far luckier than I ever knew. Quite what I would have done faced with an unexpected £25,000 ‘shortage’ I cannot imagine. Absolute nightmare!

    2. Robin, that it what I have been thinking ever since the radio 4 documentary – if the Horizon system was faulty wouldn’t it affect every Post Office? And why did it seem to cause losses and not excesses? This is why the possibility of intentional theft by Fujitsu or Post Office management has to be one consideration.

      1. shame on YOU

      2. There were various faults with Horizon over various periods. Some problems were branch specific e.g. poor / faulty comms connections causing transaction failures, hardware failures, (keypads, PCs etc), which the system was not robust enough to handle / recover from. Others due to specific configurations e.g. branches with multiple positions had faults which did not occur at branches with a single position. On top of this sometimes software faults happen because of a specific sequence of events, which may occur infrequently or even never at some branches due to the type of entries being made.

    3. If the system was simply faulty, by the law of averages I would suppose there to have been around 50% of both shortfalls and surpluses experienced (and perhaps even that things might generally balance out monetarily).
      The more the numbers diverge from a roughly 50-50 split, the more dubious it could start to look. If a sub-postmaster notified the Post Office of a surplus, how would the Post Office have treated that event?

      1. Well, yes. On the face of it , taking all the possibilities into account, you might reasonably expect there to be unexplained surpluses as well as shortages, and yes, a modest shortage does demand rather more immediate attention than a modest surplus. Human nature, and all that.
        However, the same rule applies to Post Office management. They would be very keen to deal with a branch significant cash shortage – must be Postmaster’s responsibility to make good, what? However, what if Horizon is showing a large unexplained surplus ? And yes, now you ask, I would have wanted to try and resolve it, not just pocket it, and I do believe fellow Postmasters would have reacted similarly. Surely the NFSP would have heard rumours at the very least if Horizon was handing out cash prizes?

  28. Michael Leander Grant avatar
    Michael Leander Grant

    I have watched the ITV television programme and cried every night.. I can’t believe that the post office were so arrogant. 4 people died through their neglect to tell the truth. On Thursday night we will here from the whistleblower Richard Rolls testimony as to what happened behind the scenes..
    555 sub-postmasters lost their homes jobs and were labelled criminals.
    I am dyslexic and still recovering from a stroke.
    I wish I was able to write a good complaint to the post office and the stupid people that won medals.

  29. Knowing where the money went is important obviously, but it should have never got to the point people lives were being ruined. People at the top were hiding behind a dodgy contract signed by the subpostmasters in good faith. It’s immoral what they did and one had the nerve to be ordained.

    For me it boils down to who knew what and when.

    There had to be a spike in PO internal investigations when Horizon was introduced. Someone must have noticed. What were they thinking? It needed looking in to, at depth. Whoever was CEO of The Post Office, from the time Horizon was introduced until the time this scandal was exposed, whoever those people were and their assistants, anyone who knew, who kept silent, they need to held to account.

    I by that, I mean go to prison and do 5 years. If that means getting 10 and out in 5 for good behaviour, so be it, but behind bars for 5 years. Seems fair to me seeing as how they have being ruining peoples lives for the last 20.

    I don’t care which university they went to or which upper echilons of bussiness they hung around in….They runined lives, in one case, just because they could, for decades and allowed it to continue. The cases highlighted in the series are heartbreaking and just the tip of the iceberg.The incompentance is staggering.

    At 1/2 way though episode 1 I started crying and didnt stop until the end of episode 4. Those poor people.

  30. No 13 a stage further – Deliberate Internal Corruption between Fujitzu and those at senior levels – monies are eventually diverted into holding/suspense accounts, then eventually taken into profit and loss accounts. The unfortunate post master is then made accountable for those losses. Why were Fujitzu were allowed to have remote access without the postmaster knowing? and how on earth did they have the postmaster login details? !!!!! It would also explain the resistance of those Seniors in the Postoffice to allow second sight access to records and their desire to bury this at all costs.

    1. … how on earth did they have the postmaster login details?

      Every financial/database computer system has what is known as ‘root’ access, which gives an operator complete access to the database, and hence the sub postmaster accounts. If there was no ‘root’ access then no new accounts could be created or modified if required. Sub postmasters login details give limited access to their accounts only, while ‘root’ access has overall control of all accounts. It maybe more complicated then this, but in a nutshell this is how a database application works.

    2. When you are at the top of the IT food chain you have master log in privileges. This is normal.

  31. One of the many curiosities in this scandal is that ,so far as I am aware, at no time were any of the supposedly dishonest postmasters ever discovered to have been in possession of ill gotten gains – flash new cars, exotic holidays, smart new house, mattress stuffed with fivers, huge gambling debts or whatever. I still cannot get my head round how the entirety of PO management did not think it odd ( to put it mildly) that they had so many crooked sub postmasters and that not one of them seemed to have anything to show for their “crimes”.

    1. That question is absolutely pivotal and it surprises that it has not been forensically pursued. If PO and Fujitsu involvement has been discounted – which it must have been, given the exclusive legal action against sub postmasters- then that leaves sub postmaster accounting error (which would ordinarily show in branch records) or theft. If theft, then why has no money ever been found and why ever has this whole lack of proof not been throughly investigated?

    2. One answer is that the PO may have been pre-disposed to think that most SPMs were crooks and Horizon merely confirmed their bias. Can anyone comment on the prior relationship between PO and SPMs ?

      1. I was in-office from 1989 – 2005 and yes, there was a received view that postmasters were not to be trusted. Hence the rigorous liability clauses in the contract, the random unexpected audit visits, the weekly ‘signed’ cash account, etc. Even the NFSP held the view that any ‘bad apples’ must be hunted down without mercy – ‘letting the side down etc’.
        In the paper-based era before 1999 the DSS (Benefits Agency) was well aware of substantial pension/benefit fraud – stolen and faked benefit books and Giros being cashed at out-of-area Post Offices with very limited ability to get on top of the problem. The Post Office believed they had a similar problem with false accounting. Together they hoped ICL Pathway as it was then called, would sort the problem with real-time seizure of benefit books for the DSS , and secure cash/stock accounting for the PO. When Horizon set off reporting cash shortages, they only saw what they had been expecting to see.

  32. I have just listened to the podcast “Where did all the money go?”. As an accountant I am used to the concept of a suspense account for transaction that do not have an obvious source and therefore can’t automatically be credited to a line on the Profit and Loss account.

    However, in all the organisations I have worked for these suspense accounts would be cleared every month. This would be checked and signed for by a finance manager every month and the fact this had happened would be reviewed by internal auditors at least once a year.

    My question is – why did the auditors of post office who are, at least in theory, independent of the management not notice these major internal control weaknesses e.g. not clearing out the suspense accounts regularly and alert the post office management. These auditors would then have been confirming that the Annual Post Office Financial Statements were correct, when we now know that this is not the case. Will the enquiry cover the role of the Post Office Finance Team in this scandal and the failure of its auditors to spot the financial control weakness?

    1. Well said! One would hope that this would be investigated at the inquiry. This most definitely needs to be included in the Terms of Reference.

    2. Simply put, controls at every level in POL were inadequate, and the risk assessment they should have done of likely harm from a malfunctioning subpostmaster system should have led to far more rigorous controls over internal processes, software testing and operational use of Horizon.
      Internal audit seems to have been totally in the pocket of executive management, with little oversight by the Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee which seems to have been totally ineffective.
      Allowing these clowns the right to prosecute is a bit like giving a bunch of children loaded weapons.

      1. excellent observation…thanks 👏👏

      2. Anthony Roger Baines, Qualified accountant retired avatar
        Anthony Roger Baines, Qualified accountant retired

        Well said!

  33. Hi Nick,
    As you have reminded us, POL had suspense accounts in which it parked bits of money when it didn’t know why it had them (or, obviously, whether it should have them), or whether they were the same bits of money they were accusing postmasters of having stolen.
    I’ve see this point mentioned in various places: a point I haven’t seen mentioned is this – shouldn’t this fact have been disclosed to the defence in EVERY criminal trial?

  34. Thank you again all three of you. Clearly illustrative and shocking all at the same time.

    It feels wrong to say that it was an enjoyable hour plus to share with the three of you, but in so far as it’s possible, it was. Looking forward to hearing more in due course.

    In other news, watching Mr Atkinson KC’s appearance yesterday and today, plus Andrew Bolc’s last week. It seems increasingly untenable that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (and Bar Standards Board) can continue to adopt the holding pattern of awaiting the conclusion of the Inquiry before taking *any* action against any regulated individuals or companies. The scale of bad practice we are witnessing – and also the fact that a significant number of those implicated continue to practise, seems to make some sort of affirmative action urgently needed – even if limited to precautionary suspensions/limited duties.

    I also recall the 2020 advice prepared for POL by an external legal firm that appeared to recommend the reporting of Rob Wilson, Jarnail Singh and Juliet McFarlane to the SRA for serious breach of regulatory arrangements.

    (Nick, or for anyone wondering: https://www.postofficehorizoninquiry.org.uk/evidence/pol00128970-report-sra-potential-misconduct-ex-polrmg-lawyers-overview)

    We now have disclosure that POL corporately were briefed over three years ago that there was evidence of serious misconduct within the former in-house legal team and that POL themselves or the external solicitors *could* and possibly should report the three. It would be interesting to know what the outcome of that brief to POL was. Was the advice acted on and were/have the Three Lawyers already been reported?

    This whole process also asks deeper questions of the likes of the SRA in terms of the integrity and rigour of their qualification processes. Jarnail Singh, for one. Even if we forget his awful appearance as a witness to the Inquiry – and allow him some credit that the passage of time may have reduced his cognitive faculties (Bolc’s testimony suggests he’s *always* been this bad), the odour is significant.

    On one hand, he claimed not to have authored the lion’s share of email sent out from his personal account, which, depending on whether you regard him as truthful or not, paints him as either dishonestly owning the work of others at the time, or giving dishonest testimony to the Inquiry. We have also seen copious evidence of his writing style – and it is highly distinctive, especially when compared with his secretary, or anyone he’s conversing with.

    A significant proportion of Singh’s emails are wracked with spelling and grammatical errors and (even allowing for first/second language issues) are often as cogent/coherent as his appearance at the hearing. When also considering the copious evidence of negligent practise, how did this clearly incompetent man qualify as a solicitor, even ‘just’ a conveyancer, in the first place? The matter of POL’s HR department is a totally separate issue.

    1. PCOJ Investigator avatar
      PCOJ Investigator

      Andrew aka Andrzej BOLC


      Since the SRA continues to earn its hateful reputation as being little more than a dilatory cover-up outfit and Trades Union, is it not time that we the people make the firms that employ such detritus pay a (tiny) price for the massive liabilities landed upon us hapless taxpayers?

      If needed, do draw upon the stories of those who felt there was no alternative but suicide for inspiration.

      All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do little.

  35. Such an important question to ask. I found the podcast illuminating- and jawdropping.

  36. You make reference to 14 ways money disappeared. I think it would be good to lave them listed in black and white on the website as I struggled to follow listening online. It would have helped having numbers 1-14 on screen where I could follow.


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