Mr Bates vs The Post Office with Amit Shah, Krupa Pattani, Ifan Huw Dafydd, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Toby Jones, Monica Dolan, Will Mellor and Shaun Dooley

A scene from the drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office with Amit Shah as Jas, Krupa Pattani as Sam, Ifan Huw Dafydd as Noel, Julie Hesmondhalgh as Suzanne, Toby Jones as Alan Bates, Monica Dolan as Jo, Will Mellor as Lee and Shaun Dooley as Rudkin.

Close to two dozen Post Office employees were prosecuted in Northern Ireland over the two decades from when the Horizon computer system was first installed across the UK.

Nineteen people were convicted of offences following investigations by the PSNI and decisions by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). Two convictions are publicly known to have been overturned so far.

But there were concerns within the police over the investigations, according to the testimony of a woman questioned over the alleged loss of more than £60,000.

“(The police officer) asked me if I heard about the Post Office scandal in England and I needed to take it further,” Sinead Rainey was told after being cleared of any wrongdoing.

Hundreds of post office operators were charged and convicted in England and Wales, where the Post Office are both the investigators and prosecutors.

Labour leader Keir Starmer on Monday called for the company, wholly-owned by the government, to be stripped of those powers.

But the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service have those powers in the north and pursued 23 post office employees between 1999 and 2019.

It is not immediately known how many were sub postmasters and whether all related to false accounting or fraud.

Sources close to some of the cases suggest there was too much reliance on information gathered and passed on by Post Office investigators.

Further, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan, overturning a conviction, and said the fact that details about Horizon’s IT issues were not disclosed left the matter with a “sense of unease”.

She was ruling in the case of Belfast man Alan McLaughlin, cleared in 2022, 17 years after he was convicted of false accounting offences while in charge of the Brookfield Post Office branch in Tennent Street.

Mr McLaughlin, charged with 15 counts of fraud-related offences in 2005 with claimed losses of £10,000, knew from the start there was a problem with the Horizon system, his solicitor Michael Madden said.

He even commissioned a third party accountant’s report in support of his defence.

Patricia Fagan, now 77, from Forkhill, County Armagh, was handed a nine-month suspended sentence in 2017 after she was convicted over an alleged financial shortfall of more than £6,000.

She was cleared in February 2023 with prosecutors offering no opposition.

The Post Office continued to pursue people even after it was widely known there were serious issues over the Horizon system.

In 2019, the same year a group of 39 sub postmasters had their convictions overturned, Sinead Rainey, from Co Antrim, was questioned by the PSNI over fraud allegations linked to the supposed loss of more than £60,000.

She was not even a sub postmaster but ran the post office on behalf of another person. It was inside her shop.

Ms Rainey was questioned first by Post Office investigators and forced to scrape together more than £40,000, borrowed mostly from family.

She was later told there was no case to answer with the investigator adding: “She asked me if I heard about the Post Office scandal in England and I needed to take it further.”

Irish News