Police investigation to decide on Post Office scandal charges to take at least two years

Business

It will be at least two years until any criminal charges are brought over the Post Office scandal, Britain’s most senior police officer has said.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has warned detectives will have to read “tens of millions of documents” to decide whether laws have been broken, and that will probably take at least until 2026.

A national investigation will only start once the public inquiry into the scandal has presented its findings, expected to be late next year.

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1:37

The real Mr Bates speaks to MPs

Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly convicted of stealing after the defective Horizon accounting system, developed by Fujitsu’s ICL business, made it look like money was missing at their branches.

The Post Office also forced at least 4,000 branch managers to pay back cash based on the flawed data.

One of those employees, former sub-postmaster Alan Bates, inspired the hit ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which brought the scandal to a wider public.

Sir Mark told LBC: “We’re now working with police forces across the country to pull together what will have to be a national investigation, which we’ll pull together because there’s hundreds of postmasters and mistresses from across the country.

More on Metropolitan Police

“Fujitsu are based in one part of the country and the Post Office is another part of the country, (it’s a) massive piece of work to do.

“There are tens of millions of documents to be worked through in a criminal investigation,” he said, meaning they won’t finish before 2026.

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11:32

Compensation fight ‘like a trial’

A thorough investigation will be needed to see if any there was any criminal intent, and that “won’t be quick”, he said.

“At the core of the issue you’ve potentially got fraud in terms of false documents if it’s for financial purposes, and you’ve potentially got perverting the course of justice if people have deliberately set in train evidence into a legal process, which they know is false. That would be perverting the course of justice,” he added.

“To prove this to a criminal standard is different to what’s in a documentary.

Read more on the Post Office scandal:
Business Sec seeks urgent Fujitsu talks
MPs quiz Fujitsu – after admission of ‘bugs and errors’

Investigators ‘offered bonuses’ to prosecute
Who are the key figures in the scandal?

“Clearly, we have to prove beyond all reasonable doubt, really 99.99%, that individuals knowingly corrupted something, so that’s going way beyond incompetence, you have to prove deliberate malice, and that has to be done very thoroughly with an exhaustive investigation. So it won’t be quick.”

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4:38

Fujitsu boss apologises to victims

He said police services across the country understand the demands and “will do everything we can to bring people to justice if criminal offences can be proven”.

On Tuesday, Fujitsu apologised for its part “in this appalling miscarriage of justice”. The public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal continues today.

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