Seema Misra was imprisoned while pregnant
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Panorama: The Post Office Scandal timeline – what happened, when and why?

It's a devastating miscarriage of justice...

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The Post Office Scandal remains one of the most jaw-dropping miscarriages of justice in British legal history – here’s a timeline of what happened and when.

BBC One’s Panorama investigates the story of the Post Office employees whose lives were utterly devastated by false accusations of losing or stealing money.

When, in reality, a new computer system was most likely to blame.

This documentary special reveals the huge cover-up that was kept from them.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Post Office scandal, and a comprehensive timeline of events.

Panorama logo
Panorama investigates the Post Office Scandal (Credit: BBC iPlayer)

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Post Office scandal timeline – Horizon was introduced in 1999

In 1999, the Post Office introduced a new computer accounting system called Horizon.

And that’s when the problems began.

Fujitsu designed the system for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking.

It wrongly detected the existence of financial shortfalls at dozens of post offices.

Within one year, the Post Office installed Horizon terminals in 18,000 branches.

Horizon installed in 18,000 Post Office branches during 2000

During 2000, the Post Office trained 63,000 employees to operate the new Horizon system.

But already, staff had reported problems with it.

Alan Bates, a sub-postmaster in North Wales, raised the first complaints.

The Post Office subsequently sacked him.

The former PO employee went on to become a central figure in the fight for justice.

Post Office scandal timeline: Noel Thomas reports a £6,000 deficit in 2003

In 2003, sub-postmaster Noel Thomas from Anglesey discovered a deficit of £6,000.

He reported the ‘missing funds’ to Post Office Ltd.

Noel had worked for the Post Office for 42 years.

The shortfall eventually led to his wrongful arrest and conviction.

2004: Alan Bates reports problems to magazine Computer Weekly

Alan Bates reported the problems with Horizon to magazine Computer Weekly in 2004.

The former sub-postmaster accused the Post Office of not taking his concerns seriously.

The magazine took five years to gather enough evidence to publish a story on the software in 2009.

Seema Misra
Seema Misra is able to speak freely now about her miscarriage of justice (Credit: BBC / YouTube)

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Post Office scandal timeline – Noel Thomas spends birthday in jail

In 2005, the Post Office told Noel Thomas he owed the company £50,000.

The police convicted him of false accounting.

Tragically, Noel spent his 60th birthday in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

The same year, Jo Hamilton, from Hampshire, pleaded guilty to false accounting to avoid prison.

In 2007, Janet Skinner accused of stealing

Janet Skinner ran a post office in Hull.

The Post Office accused the sub-postmaster of stealing.

In 2007, a judge imprisoned her for nine months over a shortfall of £59,000.

Janet has since said that the scandal “destroyed her life”.

Post Office scandal timeline – campaign group formed

In 2009, Alan Bates formed the campaign group Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance.

The JFSA aimed to expose the failures of Post Office, its Board, its management and its Horizon computer system.

Pregnant Seema Misra sent to jail in 2010

In 2010, Seema Misra was convicted of theft and sent to jail.

The post office operator in Surrey was pregnant with her second child at the time.

She was suspended because of a £74,000 shortfall.

Press reports described her as the “pregnant thief”.

Locals beat up her husband after her conviction.

Post Office scandal timeline – Vipinchandra Patel imprisoned in 2011

Vipinchandra Patel was accused of stealing £75,000 and pleaded guilty to fraud in 2011.

The judge handed him a 18-week prison sentence.

The former Oxfordshire sub-postmaster has since said: “It has impacted on every aspect of life.

“It caused the breakdown of relationships with some family members and friends.

“It impacted on the lives of my wife and children.”

He was unable to work due to having a criminal record and being left with health problems.

The same year, former Post Office manager William Graham from Sevenoaks was convicted of false accounting.

He was given a 32-week suspended prison sentence.

2012: An investigative firm conducts an independent inquiry

In 2012, Investigative firm Second Sight conducted an independent inquiry into Horizon.

The same year, Post Office Ltd created the Initial Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme.

One hundred and 50 former sub-postmasters signed up for the scheme.

Meanwhile, Second Sight used their testimonies to conduct another investigation.

Post Office scandal timeline – worker dies by suicide

In 2013, Post Office Ltd finally admitted that there were defects within the Horizon software.

However, they insisted the system had been fixed…

The same year, Second Sight issued their first report.

The report makes clear that there were serious problems at the Post Office.

Former post office worker Martin Griffith, 59, took his own life in 2013.

He was wrongly accused of stealing £60,000.

Horizon found “not fit for purpose” in 2014

In 2014, the Horizon technology was described as “not fit for purpose” in some branches.

However, the Post Office said: “There is absolutely no evidence of any systemic issues with the computer system.”

The same year, MP James Arbuthnot accused the Post Office of rejecting 90 per cent of applications for mediation.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses.

The convictions were based on information from Horizon.

Post Office scandal timeline – Post Office Ltd terminates scheme in 2015

In 2015, Post Office Ltd terminated the Initial Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme without notice.

It published a report clearing themselves of any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the Post Office Ltd ordered Second Sight to end their investigation just one day before the report was due to be published.

According to Private Eye, the Post Office Ltd asked Second Sight to destroy all the paperwork they had not handed over.

The same year, UK trade magazine ComputerWorld UK reported that Post Office Ltd obstructed the investigation.

The company allegedly refused to hand over key files to Second Sight.

The Post Office denied these claims.

2017: The JFSA takes the Post Office to court

In 2017, the JFSA took the Post Office to court through a group litigation action by 550 former employees.

The employees were mainly ex sub-postmasters.

Post Office scandal timeline – Horizon software found “defective”

In 2018, Second Sight’s second investigation found Post Office software defective.

They said that Horizon experienced 12,000 communication failures every year.

Second Sight also found software defects at 76 branches, as well as old and unreliable hardware.

2019: Post Office agreed to settle and pay damages

In December 2019, the Post Office agreed to settle with 555 claimants, paying £57.75m in damages.

This came at the end of a long-running series of civil cases.

The claimants received a share of £12m, after legal fees were paid.

Post Office scandal timeline – convictions quashed in 2020

In 2020, six former sub-postmasters had their convictions quashed in court.

These included long-suffering Alan Bates, who was the first to make a complaint about the system.

2021: A Government inquiry takes place

In January 2021, the first public hearing session for a Government inquiry into the scandal took place.

The Post Office confirmed it would retain its controversial Horizon contract with Fujitsu until 2024.

In April 2021, the High Court quashed the convictions of 39 sub-postmasters.

That month, the UK Post Office said it “sincerely apologised” for “historical failures”.

Thursday February 17, 2022 – public inquiry launched

A public inquiry began on Thursday February 17 2022.

During the inquiry, Seema Misra said the Post Office behaved like the mafia and “has blood on its hands”.

Nobody at the Post Office or Fujitsu has been held accountable so far.

Panorama: The Post Office Scandal airs on Monday April 25 2022 at 8pm on BBC One.

What do you think of the government cover-up? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix.