Post Office scandal: Details emerge of prosecutions from Horizon pilot scheme

The Post Office confirmed to Kevan Jones that the earlier system was trialled in 300 branches in the mid-1990s. Credit: PA

A politician is calling on the Post Office for transparency over a 'Horizon pilot scheme' which is believed could have led to at least two prosecutions.

North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones, who has long campaigned on the wider scandal, said the Post Office confirmed to him that the computer system was tested in around 300 North East branches in the mid-1990s, before the Horizon system was launched.

The revelation initially came to light after he was contacted by the son of a subpostmistress who was convicted of stealing money. He said he had been made aware of one other potential victim since then.

It comes amid a national outcry, in the wake of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, for compensation and justice for victims of the faulty Post Office's computer system Horizon which wrongly destroyed lives and livelihoods.

Mr Jones said: "What amazes me is that - all the years later, with all the publicity around Horizon, the Post Office haven't held their hands up and said that this pilot was being operated.

"Since then, I've known at least one other postmaster that also was prosecuted who used the system. And we need full transparency on how many people were prosecuted and what this system was."

Kevan Jones is calling for more details and 'transparency' about the Horizon precursor system. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

'I understand that was a pilot scheme for Horizon' - Kevin Hollinrake MP

Mr Jones first raised concerns about the earlier computer system during a second reading of the Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Bill in the Commons in December.

In response, Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake said: "The right honourable gentleman mentioned a predecessor to the Horizon scheme in the North East.

"If we are on the same page, I understand that was a pilot scheme for Horizon, so we are confident that our current compensation schemes can deliver outcomes and compensation for the individuals he refers to, but if he does not agree with that I am very happy to have a conversation with him."

The Post Office told ITV Tyne Tees on Monday 8 January that they regularly meet with an advisory group that Mr Jones is part of - and will answer his queries as best they can.

Meanwhile the government have said they are confident their current schemes can deliver compensation for the people affected by the pilot.

Ministers have come under pressure to act on the wider injustices - after the ITV drama aired last week - on how 3,500 subpostmasters were wrongly accused of taking money from their branches, due to the faulty Horizon computer system.

A national outcry has followed the airing of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Credit: ITV

Rishi Sunak insisted the government were on the case.

He said: "As Chancellor, I approved the compensation schemes for the first time, which are now in the process of being paid out.

"Almost £150m has been paid out to thousands of people. So people should know that we are on it and we want to make this right, the money's been set aside. What we are now looking at is how can we speed all of that up?"

As well as providing full compensation, there are also calls for a mass overturning of convictions - and for the Post Office's former boss Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE, which ministers met to discuss today.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told MPs on Monday that ways to overturn the convictions were being investigated, including possible legislation.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “Kevan Jones MP raised this matter on the floor of the House of Commons on 19 December and the current Postal Affairs Minister responded to his questions regarding Horizon installations in the North East of England.

"We regularly meet with the Horizon Advisory Board which Mr Jones sits on and is supported by the Department for Business and Industrial Trade and will answer any queries he has as best as we are able to.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...