Exploring the Depths of the Post Office’s Software Scandal: Beyond Horizon

In a developing story that continues to unravel layers of technical and corporate mishandling, more than 1,000 subpostmasters might have been ensnared by faulty software predating the infamous Post Office Horizon system. This revelation surfaces following increased public scrutiny after an ITV drama highlighted the prolonged suffering of countless subpostmasters due to the Horizon scandal.

The earlier software, named Capture, served as a preliminary computerized accounting system. Described by users as a “glorified spreadsheet,” it aimed to modernize the accounting processes within Post Office branches. According to reports, IT giant Unisys supplied the hardware for Capture, though it wasn’t directly involved in the software’s development.

Sources indicate that Unisys shipped “in the high hundreds, if not over 1,000” systems embedded with Capture software from 1994, suggesting a widespread usage that has gone largely unrecognized until now. It’s believed the software was crafted at the Post Office’s iTFarnborough center. However, details remain shrouded in mystery as Unisys has yet to comment on its role.

The controversy surrounding Capture echoes the later Horizon scandal. Subpostmasters operating the Capture system reported unexplained financial shortfalls, for which they were unfairly blamed—resulting in prosecutions and immense personal and financial distress. One notable case is that of Steve Marston, a former subpostmaster in Bury, Lancashire, who faced prosecution in 1996 due to a near £80,000 discrepancy after his branch transitioned to Capture.

Despite repeated inquiries, the Post Office has remained tight-lipped about specifics concerning the Capture system, including its origins, the extent of its deployment, and the number of affected subpostmasters. Nonetheless, a spokesperson stated, “We are investigating, including specific cases brought to our attention, and will transparently publish our findings.”

A 1995 issue of the Branch Focus newsletter indicates that the Post Office was aware of issues with the Capture software, acknowledging, “We were aware that, as new software, there would inevitably be faults in the programme.”

Rupert Lloyd Thomas, a veteran IT expert formerly with the Post Office, speculates that the actual number of subpostmasters using Capture likely exceeds 1,000. The quest for a copy of the elusive software continues, as it holds potential answers to many unresolved questions.

Kevan Jones MP echoed the sentiment for transparency, urging the Post Office and Unisys to disclose full details about the system and its implications. “The figures suggest that there could be at least 1,000 people who had losses related to Capture,” he remarked.

This unfolding development begs a deeper examination of the Post Office’s handling of technological implementations and its aftermath on the lives of subpostmasters. Neil Hudgell, a solicitor representing many affected by the Horizon scandal, highlighted that these revelations challenge the previously held belief that the issues were confined to the Horizon period.

As the saga unfolds, the plight of those affected by the Capture system gains recognition, augmenting the call for accountability and rectification. The Post Office’s software debacle, it seems, has roots extending deeper and further back than ever imagined, affecting even more lives in the process.

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