New information has come to light about a cover-up by the Post Office which contributed to the wrongful convictions of hundreds of employees. In April 2014, the Post Offices bosses chose to sack forensic accountants who had identified bugs in the Post Office’s computer software, Horizon.
‘Project Sparrow’ was the codename attributed to the Post Office board sub-committee, which included senior Post Office executives and government officials, who made the decision to ignore the bugs and cover up the fact that they had been identified.
In 2013, the Post Office stated that there were no ‘systemic’ flaws in Horizon but did not mention that the bugs in the computer system had led to 76 branches of the Post Office having incorrect balances or transactions which were not all corrected.
This followed a report by the independent forensic accounts Second Sight, who informed the Post Office of the bugs, which put into question the reliability of the evidence being used to prosecute employees.
However, Second Sight were soon removed from their role as investigators for the Post Office. In July of the same year, the Post Office’s own lawyer, Simon Clarke, issued formal legal advice warning the Post Office that it had breached its legal duties to the sub-postmasters and postmistresses who were being prosecuted by not informing them of the bugs in Horizon.
Project Sparrow intended to belittle Second Sight’s findings and pay only minimal compensation to employees affected. Minutes from a Project Sparrow reveal that ‘The cost of all cases in the scheme going to mediation would be in the region of £1m’. Currently, more than 4,000 people have been informed that they are eligible for Horizon victim compensation, and the government has set aside £1bn for compensation.
Alan Bates, a former post office operator, told the BBC: ‘It’s been a cover-up from start to finish. That’s coming out now. It’s undeniable. And this is what we’ve been up against all the way. We’ve always known they were covering up – it’s just been very difficult to find proof.’