How Faulty Software Resulted in Hundreds of Innocent Employees Ending Up in Jail
Faulty software led to innocent employees ending up in jail for 14 years? It may sound like a stretch, but that is exactly what happened in the UK: Because of a bug in the software Horizon, 736 employees at the British Post Office were taken to court for theft – even though none of them had actually stolen anything. We summed up the details of this incredible story for you here.
Thefts that Actually Never Happened
In 1999 the British Post installed Horizon for accounting, manufactured by the Japanese company Fujitsu. Shortly thereafter, the drama began: Accounts managed by employees unexpectedly showed a minus time and time again. From 2000 to 2014 this had legal consequences for 736 employees, some of whom even had to serve a prison sentence for theft. According to a report by the BBC, a man even took his own life because he was accused of stealing £ 100.000.
What makes this story even more bizarre is the behaviour of the British Post Office, which despite the sudden increase in “thefts” and staff pointing out their innocence, did not as little as checking the software. Instead, they insisted that Horizon worked reliably and took legal action against the employees. It wasn't until 2019 when the former employees achieved a partial victory. Then, the British Post reached a settlement with 555 applicants and, according to the BBC, for the first time admitted “mistakes in dealing with some postal employees”.
However, Despite these Initial Victories, the Story is Not Over Yet
Subsequently, the British Supreme Court ruled that Horizon did not even function “close to save” for the first ten years and continued to have problems afterwards. The judge referred to “bugs, errors and defects” in the software. Shortly thereafter, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), an independent commission dealing with miscarriages of justice, dealt with the case and launched an investigation. So far, this has resulted in 51 of the cases going back to court and six of the employees having their convictions reversed.
The story made such waves in Britain that even Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented on the case on Twitter, where he talked about the “lessons” that needed to be learned “to ensure that this never happens again”. According to the BBC, the lawyer Neil Hudgell, who represents 29 of the former postal workers in court, states that the blame for the fiasco clearly lies with the British Post. The latter “ignored errors in an expensive IT system and instead decided to cover up the problem”. At the expense of the employees.
Software bugs can not only end up putting innocent people in jail, but also keep them there longer than necessary. This is what happened in the US state of Arizona – We already reported on the story here: Software Error Causes Extended Sentences: IT Chaos in US Prison
Defective Software: What can Happen?
Software errors are not uncommon – only recently, several websites worldwide, including the home pages of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and the four largest US airlines were suddenly no longer accessible. The reason for this was a disruption in the service of the US service provider Akamai, which is actually supposed to protect websites from hack attacks. The error has been corrected, but in principle defective software or programming can also result in claims for damages or legal action. Especially if the mistake caused financial or even personal damage to the company.
In particular, because possible errors can never be completely ruled out with software development, it is important to protect yourself against these potentially very expensive claims. With Professional Indemnity for Digital Professions from exali.com, developers and programmers are comprehensively protected against third-party claims for compensation and any risks regarding their business. This includes financial losses, property damage and personal injury as well as consequential losses.