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Mick Harper
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I'd like to set out some the lessons to be gleaned from the whole fiasco.

1. Nobody knows better than me that the Post Office is one of the most dysfunctional organisations it has been my (dis)pleasure to deal with. There are dozens of posts on the AEL testifying to their many crimes and misdemeanours.

2. Nobody knows better than me that sub-postmasters are a tiresomely punctilious lot who would rather have queues stretching out into Ladbroke Grove than not dot the last I and cross the last T.

I am not knowledgeable about the general relationship between (1) and (2) but we can be sure that in a hundred and fifty years they have managed to arrive at some sort of modus vivendi. But then along comes Horizon. It is a safe assumption that all sub-postmasters hated it. That's just human nature. It is another safe assumption that they all got used to it, they all became adept at using it, they may even have grown to like it. The Post Office certainly did...
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Mick Harper
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The money could have disappeared, according to the podcast Hatty sent in, by any (perhaps, all) the following ways:

Theft by the Subpostmaster
Theft by the Subpostmaster’s staff
Errors made at the counter by the Subpostmaster or one of their assistants
Errors made away from the counter but within the branch
Errors made at cash-handling centres
Theft by customers
Manual account adjustment errors made remotely to Subpostmasters branch accounts by Fujitsu engineers
Manual processing errors by the Post Office back end (eg at Chesterfield etc)
’One-sided’ transactions where a customer gets something for nothing
A communications interrupt, or a power or hardware failure
Other types of losses caused by power outages or telecommunications interrupts
Processing interrupts where a Post Office client has benefitted at the expense of the branch
The Post Office benefits from Horizon’s ‘doubling up’ of apparent shortfalls
Shortages created by other bugs in Horizon

Each one is explained, amplified and shown to be relevant to the Post Office scandal. (It is really quite impressive.) Hidden among them is this

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.

Is this our old friend 'the bogus list'? Well, sort of. It is a list of things that can (and do) go wrong in any business. It is a bit like saying

Colonel Mustard murdered Miss Scarlet in the Conservatory by means unknown. It could have been by any method. Actually it may not have been Colonel Mustard. Possibly not Miss Scarlett either.

The game's afoot!
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Mick Harper
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I posted this up today. Any germane comments will get incorporated
Post Office Compensation: How Much, Who To?
It is going to be the devil’s own job clearing up the mess.

Assuming the money going missing from the Post Office’s Horizon System is all down to hacking (see my there will have to be some radical rethinking about who is going to pay what and to whom. It is not an area of the law that the courts or compensation tribunals are particularly au fait with.

We had better acknowledge straight off that the people who actually made off with the loot are unlikely to be found. Even if they are, they won’t be in any position to pay much of it back. They are not professional cyberspace criminals, the sums of money involved each time (a few hundreds pounds) and the amount of effort required (daily monitoring) points rather to blaggers exchanging info on Dark Websites. Trying to round them up and handing out swingeing terms of community service hardly seems worth it.

Compensating nine hundred people unjustly convicted of various offences is worth it but before we come to that, what financial restitution is due the sub-postmasters? That is by no means clear cut.

If I send £100 to Amazon for the latest in exercise bike apparel but someone has hacked into my computer and has half-inched £50 of it, is Amazon liable? I’m fairly sure they will say not. I’m fairly sure the manufacturer of my computer will say not. I’m fairly sure Kaspersky who provide my cyber-security will say not. The only people I might have a case against is Zoot Money Transfers Inc whose good offices I used when sending the money to Amazon. Perhaps they will give me back my £50 on the grounds of their lax security.

However…if I explain to Zoot Money Transfers Inc that, after discussing the matter with Amazon, I sent the missing fifty pounds out of my own pocket, that furthermore I carried on sending Amazon money, that I kept on losing bits and bobs until I had paid £50,000 out of my own pocket, I’m pretty sure Zoot Money Transfers Inc will explain to me that I can get lost. But supposing Zoot is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon and Amazon demands I have to use Zoot if I want to buy anything? That’s the situation with Horizon and the Post Office. Mmm… that needs a bit of thinking about.

But, hey, the money lost is spare change. A couple of million spread over twenty years. The central question that needs addressing is the small matter of nine hundred people having their lives ruined through no fault of their own. If there is to be any justice, we’re looking at a coupla billion not a coupla million. Who is responsible for that? It is easy to say ‘the Post Office’ and it is true the Post Office is the most dysfunctional organisation this small businessman has had to deal with in a long and otherwise mainly fret-free life. But are they really in the frame for this one? Look at it from their point of view

* Sub-post offices are a tiny part of the Post Office’s empire
* A few hundred errant sub-postmasters are a tiny part of their sub-post offices portfolio
* A few million pounds is a tiny part of the total money those sub-postmasters sent in via Horizon

For the Post Office, the whole thing is a miniscule problem. It would hardly even reach board level were it not for a few MP’s making a fuss about bewildered sub-postmasters turning up at their constituency surgeries. Everyone is always banging on about everything to do with the post. It’s a national passion, like the weather but without God. The truth is that, as far as the Post Office is concerned, Horizon malfunctionings are on a par with blizzards holding up first class deliveries in the Yorkshire dales.

In fact this might be a good moment to scotch these incessant demands that the Post Office fat cats pay their share out of their engorged bonuses.
* Let’s say two million went missing in twenty years
* Let’s say it all went to the Post Office’s bottom line
* Let’s say there are twenty people in line for profit-related bonuses
* Let’s say the bonus pool is one per cent of profits
* That’s a fiver for each of them, year in and year out

But however you compute the Post Office’s part in the mess, it should never be lost sight of that it just happens to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the government. That’s you and me, squire. If a billion or two has to be found from somewhere that somewhere is going to be the taxpayer. There’s no getting away from that unless…

The big money pot, everyone agrees, is Fujitsu. They are a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fujitsu and they are already making pots of money out of us because they operate everything in Britain from the National Health Service’s records to the telemetry in Poseidon submarine warheads. (Not really the latter, though I wished they did, then we wouldn’t have to ask the Americans for permission to fire our independent nuclear deterrent at Moscow.) Anyway, the point is Fujitsu can pay and they can be made to pay. If they are guilty of anything. We’ve already had to pay them seven hundred million pounds when we accused them falsely of mucking up the NHS’s records so let’s not breeze straight in.

For sure they didn’t have clean hands when it came to prosecuting the sub-postmasters. But they didn’t have particularly dirty ones either
Dear Mr Fujitsu-san: A number of sub-postmasters have fallen short in monies owed to us. They are claiming it is the fault of your Horizon software. Is there anything wrong with the Horizon software?
Dear Post Office: There were the usual bugs to be expected in any software package of this scale. Since 99.99% of all transactions have gone through correctly, we can reasonably conclude they have been fixed. While it is possible an undiagnosed bug is somehow corrupting the process in these 0.01 cases, it is exceedingly unlikely. We shall go back and test everything again but meanwhile we recommend you look elsewhere for the explanation.
Dear Fuji: Are you prepared to testify to this effect in a British criminal court under oath.
Dear Postie: Yes.

There are a few solicitors, barristers and judges in the frame for a bob or two but there is not much to be gleaned from that source. So basically it’s time to ask the Minister of Posts (how one misses Tony Benn) to send out a round robin to the nation

Dear Mr & Mrs Briton
You’ll have heard of the Post Office brouhaha. Although nobody can be proud of what happened, we are satisfied there is nothing to be gained by further mudslinging. We intend to compensate the sub-postmasters both for their financial losses and for their attendant sufferings, generously but without going over the top. We anticipate the final payout will be in the low billions of pounds. Fujitsu have agreed to pay in the low hundreds of millions of pounds, but the remainder will have to come out of general taxation.
Yours sincerely
Minister of Posts
PS I know you’re also worrying about the blood transfusion victims but that’s not my department.
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Mick Harper
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In the interests of completeness -- and I am assuming this will be my last venture into Post Office Horizontal shenanigans -- this is a story I put up on Medium


Post Office Scandal: Wrong Again Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
So long as it isn’t in the hands of judges, journalists and the journeymen public.

The various enquiries into what went wrong with the Post Office and its infamous introduction of Horizon are getting it hopelessly wrong. They are all concentrating on the failings of Horizon, and they shouldn’t be. After years and years of computerising complex manual systems we know certain things with absolute certainty:

1. They are always wildly over-budget
2. They are always behind schedule
3. They are always introduced too soon
4. They are always full of bugs
5. They always produce mayhem for users
6. They always settle down
7. They are always found to be a great boon
8. They are always subject to later horror stories

How does Horizon measure up to this checklist? In every particular. So why is everybody and his dog conducting enquiries into Horizon? To answer this, let us imagine an imaginary (but competent) organisation introducing an imaginary (but excellent) software package to computerise its accurate (but time-consuming) manual procedures:

“Hello, is that the Paste Office helpline?”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’m the sub-pastemaster at Little-Doing-in-the Wolds.”
“Let me bring up your details. What seems to be the trouble?”
“I’ve got £700 pounds in the till, but my Horozon console says it should be £950.”
“Yes, other people have been having this problem. Just send in the £700 and I’ll make a note of your call.”
“Is that it?”
“Could you do us a favour and make a manual list of all financial transactions?”
“Well, it’ll be a bit of a pfaff, how long for?”
“We’ll monitor your Horozon at this end and we’ll talk again tomorrow, same time.”

Not, note, “Oh dear, you’re going to prison for a very long time, chummy.” That does need investigating, the more the merrier.

Not, note, “We are not going to do a blessed thing, you’re on your own with this one, because Horozon is the first software package in the entire history of the known universe that worked perfectly straight out of the box.” That does need investigating, the more the merrier.

Not note, “Look, Fijisu, we’ve both got a vested interest in the Horozon programme rolling out as quickly and as quietly as possible. Get your bods cracking on the bugs while we throw a few sub-pastemasters to the wolves. And for chrissake bury this message in your deepest, darkest archive in case someone thinks of serving a writ of discovery on either of us.” That does need investigating, the more the merrier.
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Mick Harper
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Something extraordinary has just happened on Medium. My stories normally get little and/or belated attention. The few people who do are normally the 'usual suspects'. I only get traction, and even then only slowly, for stories about Ukraine, Gaza, the Post Office and so forth. The one below got read by and applauded by a total stranger within minutes of me posting it up and it's on quite a recherché subject.


Are They Lying or Just Plain Dumb?
What do you do if someone says something you find impossible to believe?

The first thing to do is not to assume they are lying or just plain dumb. Although it a natural thing to do, neither is at all likely:

* When people lie their intention is to deceive so, if they have just said something which is patently unbelievable, they will presumably know this and presumably won’t use this particular lie.
* When people are dumb they say whatever is the usual explanation, if they express any opinion at all. You may not agree with it but you would not be able to diagnose they are dumb for saying it.

We encounter this general problem on a daily basis in politics. Somebody pops up on the box and says something which causes you to turn to your companion on the couch, “He can’t possibly believe that can he, darling?”
“I shouldn’t have thought so, darling, no.” Thus illustrating two salient points about the philosophy of the situation:

(1) Men are more likely to say ‘impossible’ things than women, though the gap is narrowing
(2) People socialise with people who agree with them.

But now comes the interesting part philosophically. How do the two of you account for the fact that someone has been invited to appear on the kind of TV programme you watch and yet is in possession of opinions that the makers of that programme must know are patently false? That is more difficult to explain than you might think. The obvious explanations soon fall by the wayside:

A. TV programme makers do not ordinarily invite dumb people onto their programmes. In fact this one appears to be more than ordinarily lucid.
B. It is unlikely the TV programme makers share this persons ‘impossible’ views, you watch their programmes all the time and have seen no evidence of this kind of general unsoundness.
C. It may be the person is lying in the narrow sense of being paid to say it or wishes to retain membership of a group that believes it, but that only increases the problem since now you have to explain why a whole bunch of people believe this impossible thing and appear to have the power and money to get people to say it on TV.
D. It may be the person is dumb in the narrow sense of repeating a rote formula but this makes the situation even worse since now you have an entire population believing impossible things.

But you have to do something.

You can’t say, “Darling, we’ll have to look at the situation philosophically. There appears to be people similar to ourselves that believe impossible things. They must have arrived at the position broadly from data they share with us. This would appear to mean philosophically it is more likely than not that we are in error.”
“How do you work that out, you silly thing?”
“There are only three possibilities: we are right and they are wrong, they are right and we are wrong, we are all wrong. On the face of it, there’s more than a fifty-fifty chance we are wrong.”
“I shouldn’t worry about it, dear. Work tomorrow, time for beddybies.”
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Mick Harper
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Somebody else. Within thirteen minutes.
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Mick Harper
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April fool! Nobody else except two usual suspects. Damn, and it's still only February. No, I mean 'but it's still only February'.
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