Prison. Bankruptcy. Suicide. How a software glitch and a centuries-old British company ruined lives

London CNN — After a piece of software incorrectly showed that money had gone missing, a trusted, centuries-old British government corporation used its financial and legal might to convict and bankrupt hundreds of people who ran its branches. Some family members say their loved-ones were left so distressed they took their own lives. This could be the plot of a dystopian novel, but it describes the real-life ordeal that scores of the so-called sub-postmasters of the UK Post Office went through between 1999 and 2015. The government — which owns the Post Office — has described the scandal as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history. Over two decades, livelihoods and reputations were destroyed, families shattered, and savings lost. Out of thousands of affected sub-postmasters who ran small businesses in communities across Britain, 700 were convicted of criminal offences. Some spent time in prison. It began with errors in an IT system called Horizon, built by Japan’s Fujitsu and introduced in 1999 to replace paper-based accounting. Soon after its installation, branch managers realized the system was faulty. The software regularly showed that money — often many thousands of pounds — had gone missing from Post Office accounts. In many cases, it was simply wrong. Jo Hamilton was running a post office in a small village in southern England in 2003 when her Horizon computer started to show a shortfall of £2,000 ($2,500). When she ran the numbers again, she told CNN, that amount “doubled in front of (her) eyes.” In the end, Hamilton re-financed her home to pay the non-existent shortfall that — by the time the Post Office had taken her to court in 2007, charging her with theft and false accounting — had ballooned to £36,000 ($45,800). Shamed and exhausted, Hamilton pled guilty to […]

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