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Some At The Post Office Should Be Facing Significant Jail Time

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Whether it’s just a few or the many still remains to be worked out but there are definitely those at the Post Office who should be slung into jail:

The Post Office computer flaw that meant hundreds of postmasters were wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit could cost the taxpayer £233 million as the Government sets aside funds for payouts.

The Government has disclosed in its accounts that it is setting aside the money for compensation for those accused of theft and false accounting in 1999 and 2000.

The government is having to provide the money because the Post Office – no, no the mail – is a government owned firm.

As to what actually happened, in a nutshell:

Fujitsu shouldn’t be off the hook for the system either. From what I’ve read it seems the system didn’t implement one of the crucial features of a database – an update should happen in full or not at all – the ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation, durability) property. Transactions partially completed in communication failures leading to an inconsistency in accounting entries between the sub-postmaster syatem and the central Post Office system. That is an unforgivable design flaw.

I’ve not seen anyone who knows their stuff – The Register and so on – disagreeing with that basic thought.

To explain it to the non-tech – like me.

So, you’re a post office – of sub-post office. You do something with money. Pay out some benefits, cash a cheque, take in money from selling stamps. At some point your till and point of sale thingie is going to have to talk to the central computer. OK.

This was all done over dial up modems and stuff – we are talking 20 years ago on a system designed 5 and 10 years before that.

OK, so there are going to be times when the update doesn’t complete. Dropped phone lines, computer says no, electronic wilfullness and so on. So, what happens then?

Every other such system in the world – say, that of any retail chain at all – says “Ooops! non-complete. We’ll not count that. We’ll start again and only add it to the central numbers once we get the full file.”

The Post Office system would – sometimes at least – count as valid the half completed data transfer. And then count it again when it was resent. Which is what the problem was.

That in itself is bad enough. Just cheap, lousy, terrible, sodding awful government computer procurement. It’s what happened next:

Of course the Post Office people who continued with prosecutions knowing of the flaw should really be flung into the worst Category A prison & forgotten.

And yes, they did know:

It is unbelievable how obvious a mistake it was and how long they took to correct it.
There’s a lot of people who should be done for perjury as the testimony that the system couldn’t possibly make this type of mistake was instrumental in the convictions.

Really:

They operated in a parallel universe. Read the brief descriptions of the judgments here:

https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/08/judgments.html

Initially the PO wanted all the evidence dismissed because it didn’t help them (judgement 2)
Then they lost (judgment 3) and their witnesses were found to be unreliable.
Before J3 was even given the PO decided to ask the judge to recuse himself mainly because he did not agree with the PO. The judge told them they were morons. (Judgment 4).
The PO appeals. The CoA says the judge was right and the PO are morons. recusal appeal fails.
The PO wants leave to appeal the judgment for the same reasons as their desire to have the evidence dismissed (J2) and because they don’t like the judge (J4). Judge says no, you cannot appeal. The CoA agrees with the judge.

This is two years ago. And now the morons want the taxpayers to pay. The only way these idiots should get the money is after we prosecute their in house lawyers for malicious prosecution and after the idiots have purged their own ranks of the idiots involved and gone after them for civil damages. Gross negligence does not even begin to cover this.

Jail time. Lots of it. And yes, that includes CEO types.

If we don’t scrag those in government who fuck the people then those in government will continue to fuck the people, won’t they?

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Seems the least they could do is take the money set aside for the miscreants’ pensions and shovel it out to those falsely and negligently accused.

  2. I don’t get it. The PO chased the subpostmasters viciously – many of them sold their houses to refund the demands from the PO for the “missing” money. We now that that missing money was not missing – ergo, the PO is up by a few hundred postmasters’ houses’ worth. Where did this money go? There should be a stonking – positive – discrepancy on the main side too.

    Plus the various internal prosecutors should be jailed. And the people instructing the lawyers in the round described above.

  3. Plenty of the big banks have a culture in place that makes it impossible to officially report “problems” up to the high levels of the firm. As the message goes up the chain its’s strength gets diluted by each layer of management. This gives senior management the luxury of “plausible deniability”, and the smoking gun is found in the hands of someone fairly low down in the hierarchy.

  4. @The Pedant-General: As I understand the reports, the system reported the same transaction multiple times. A cross check can only show that there is an error – not what it was. So, for example, if the true transaction was selling a stamp for 50p, and that was reported twice, the till is short by 50p. That could either be because someone has stolen 50p or because the transaction log is wrong. Once you assume the system is infallible, you then believe that it’s the first possibility. What I’m not so clear about is how they didn’t notice that the stocks of products were too high – since they hadn’t actially been sold. But maybe they didn’t trust the reported stock levels on the grounds that the postmasters might have faked them too. You might think that an investigator would be sent to make a surprise visit and check stock levels, but if they were that competent the investigation would not have gone so badly wrong.

    From the article: Every other such system in the world – say, that of any retail chain at all – says “Ooops! non-complete. We’ll not count that. We’ll start again and only add it to the central numbers once we get the full file.”

    Nope! That’s how you get the problem that caused all this. There’s still scope for an error whereby the receiving end and the sending end disagree over whether the batch has been submitted. (You can make it fail either way – lose a batch or duplicate a batch – but you can’t guarantee it runs exactly once). The correct solution is for the sender to identify each batch (e.g. with a serial number, or with the cutoff time when the batch was closed) and for the receiver to notice that it has been sent the same thing twice and discard any subsequent copy of a batch.

  5. The basic explanation of the problem goes back centuries. You’re commanding an army. You want to send a message to a cohort and arrange to attack. “We will attack at noon, confirm you’re going to attack at noon and and I’ll attack at noon”. “Confirmed, I’ll attack at noon”. You can’t attack until you know he’s going to attack. He won’t attack until he knows you’ve got the reply and are going to attack. How does either party know their message has got through?

    In transactional systems the first step is to ensure all the communication is “set to state” not “change state by offset”, so sending too many “set to state” messages don’t have a multplied effect.

    This is such fundamental basic concepts it was something covered in pre-O-level maths 40-odd years ago before I encountered the concept in computer network transactions.

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expunct

in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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