• What were they thinking?

    Whilst the Post Office was prosecuting Subpostmasters for crimes they didn’t commit, it was also asking its investigators if their suspects were “Negroid Types”. This was as recently as 2008. The document (which you can read here) has come to light as a result of diligent and tenacious FOI work by Eleanor Shaikh.

    In its response to Eleanor (which you can read here) the Post Office called the document “obsolete” and apologised for the “unacceptable” language. In a social media post earlier today the Post Office went further, saying: “The racist language used in this document was unacceptable. We don’t tolerate racism in any form and we’re clear that it is no excuse that the document is 15 years old. We’re incredibly proud of the diverse backgrounds of our Postmasters that make-up our branch network.”

    Quite how obsolete the document might be is currently a matter of conjecture. The Post Office has acknowledged it was in use in 2008. In an email to staff yesterday, Nick Read, the Post Office Chief Executive said:

    “As some of you may have seen in the media or on social media, an historical Post Office document requested under Freedom of Information contained offensive and racist language. It is both shocking and upsetting that such language was used and that it was used within Post Office, and I want to reiterate and reassure you that we do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind. Whilst the document is historical and no longer in circulation, I want to be clear that the language was and remains completely unacceptable. We fully support and are proud of the diversity within Post Office, our postmasters and colleagues, and we are committed to embracing diversity and creating an inclusive environment where everyone can perform at their best.”

    Yesterday, as part of its evolving position, the Post Office told me:

    “We have begun an investigation into how codes, previously used by the police and others to record a person’s background, came to be included in our guidance for a department of the Post Office that has been abolished for several years. Our CEO has been clear since joining in 2019 that Post Office itself will never carry out prosecutions.”

    I’ve written a piece for the Sunday Times about this here.

    What’s wrong with “Black”?

    Several people pointed out that the Police continue to use racial identification codes, known as 6+1 and 16+1 codes (the plus one represents “Not Known”). The 16+1 system is a self-identification code, and is always preferred where appropriate. If self-identification is not possible in any investigation (for instance due to a suspect is running away from the opportunity to be interviewed), then the 6+1 system is used.

    In 2007, the police published this briefing paper on the use of Identification codes. The category IC3, which the Post Office was still calling “Negroid Types” had already been changed by the police to “Black”. The 2008 Post Office compliance document had nothing about allowing interviewees to identify themselves, and the outdated, offensive language was still very much in use.

    Eleanor is building up a superb body of work on the FOI site What Do They Know? I would recommend following her there and on twitter.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

  • Sam Harrison, former Nawton Subpostmaster

    Sam Harrison was was one of the 555 claimants in Bates v Post Office. Sadly, she passed away earlier this month. She was 54. Sam is, by my reckoning, the 61st known compensation claimant to have died before receiving proper redress for the losses inflicted on her by the Post Office.

    I was contacted by one of Sam’s three sons, Will, who wrote the following the following notice:

    “It is with great sadness that myself, Edward and Charlie are announcing the passing of our mum Sam Harrison on the 11th May 2023 at the age of 54 following a three year battle with cancer. Sam, passed away peacefully at St Catherines Hospice in Scarborough and will be lovingly remembered by her sons Will, Edward, Charlie and Duggie the Dachshund.

    “Sam loved spending time with family and friends, walking Duggie and making craft gifts. The funeral service will be held at Maple Park Crematorium, Thirsk on Thursday 1st June. All are welcome and it is requested that everyone attending wears a sash of colour. Donations to St Catherines Hospice.”

    Nawton Post Office

    Sam ran a tiny one-counter Post Office branch in Nawton, part of Ryedale in North Yorkshire in the early-2000s. When I spoke to Will about Sam’s decision to take on the Post Office, he told me it was because the local branch had been closed down and Sam, being a community-minded sort, volunteered to take it on. “She always looked out for everyone” said Will. “She was a caring person.”

    Unfortunately, Sam could not get her Horizon terminal to balance correctly, and was forever putting the retail takings from her small shop into the Post Office till to make the negative discrepancies good. “She rang that helpline every week,” said Will. “At least two or three times a week. They never helped. There was no help, no support whatsoever from the Post Office.”

    On one occasion, Sam went to visit another Subpostmaster in nearby Helmsley to see if he could point out where she might be going wrong. He suggested one of her boys might be nicking the money. Ideas like this were rife at the time, often coming from Post Office contract managers or NFSP reps. Whilst they may have been well-meaning, they were also pernicious. It’s the sort of suggestion that can split families apart, irreparably.

    One day Sam was audited – triggered, Will thinks, by Sam’s repeated calls to the helpline. The auditors found a £3000 discrepancy. Sam was suspended on the spot and sacked. She avoided prosecution by handing the Post Office £3000 from her own savings.

    Will has taken on his mother’s compensation claim, and is working with Freeths to ensure Sam’s name is completely cleared of any wrongdoing.

    Tribute to Sam

    Will’s younger brother Charlie is giving the eulogy at Sam’s funeral. He has written this tribute:

    “It would be easy to spend all day listing words that describe our mum, but that would not sum her up as a person well. At her core, she was a proud, glamorous, stylish and caring person. She had a fabulous fashion sense and would frequently be immaculately dressed; she would often claim sod’s law that the day you go out not looking your best is the day you see everyone you wouldn’t want to come across. Mum ensured the family pet also shared this fashion sense, having both a ‘for best’ and ‘for walks’ custom-made fleece coats. Duggie the dachshund was her much loved fourth son, and would accompany her everywhere, and was that friendly face and wagging tail at the end of tough and difficult days. As a fiercely independent woman, she did not entertain people for the sake of entertainment or bother with fake people, more interested in nit-picking at others than living their own lives. Mum lived her own life. She was extremely loyal to those loyal to her, and would make time for anyone willing to do the same. She had a unique ability to see through people allowing her to relate and connect with anybody, making lifelong friends easily, and effortlessly. This helped throughout her multiple hobbies, interests and careers that she held. 

    “Mum could turn her hand to anything craft related, with multiple knitting projects on the go at once, with each of us being employed as chief wool unravellers at a time, until we each got fired for getting distracted and letting the wool go taunt. She was a member of knit and natter groups and made lifelong friends there. She was healthy. Doing yoga and consuming only natural and unprocessed foods. She’d like to visit restaurants and cafes that aligned with these requirements and would often recreate different meals she’d eaten or seen online – a great cook and it came naturally. Additionally, mum was an avid baker, and luckily had three food disposal units in the form of her sons. Similarly, mum was passionate about books, joining multiple clubs, and forever providing recommendations. Driving Over Lemons by Chris Steward was a favourite, with multiple copies bought and given as gifts. Mum had a great eye for style and current interior design trends. She liked upcycling furniture to create a lovely stylish house and did it in a natural cohesive manner. She was thrifty and did things on a budget, but everything looked high quality. She couldn’t stand shoddy craftsmanship and would prefer to often do things herself to “ensure it was done right”. Furthermore, mum indulged her guilty pleasure of car boots, and would return with some bargain or other, ready to be upcycled and added to the family home. 

    “Mum would struggle to open-up to people and disclose her illness and her worries. She’d make out all was fine and would be more interested in other people’s problems than her own. She was a compass when it came to advice, even if she did not always fully understand the topic, she’d still manage to give the best advice and we’d usually unwillingly follow what she’d suggested as she’d know best. It was also best to avoid the “I told you so” comment. We went to her for guidance on everything, from issues at work, to relationships, or simple things like wallpaper and paint choices. When we were informed that she was moving to St Catherine’s, we had the sudden realisation that we may lose the grounding constant that we have always known. There were thoughts that had not occurred before, wanting advice for things yet to come, to know what her advice would be on large aspects ranging from children, marriages, job changes, and houses, as well as sadness that she would miss out on these events. When broached with this topic, she laughed, and said we never listen anyway so there was no point. And she was right of course, but it made us realise that although we wanted this advice, we did not need it as she was the one who raised us to be the people we are and guided us throughout this life. Mum was always there for us, her sons, and made every choice with us in mind, showing a true display of a mother’s unconditional love.”

    I am sure Will, Edward and Charlie would welcome any contributions to St Catherines Hospice on Sam’s donation page.

    Please note all photographs are copyright the Harrison family. No reproduction without express permission.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

  • Current Post Office Horizon IT issues

    The Post Office’s Horizon IT system was described as in a 2019 High Court judgment as being “not remotely robust” between 2000 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2017 it was described as “slightly more robust… but still had a significant number of bugs, errors and defects”. The same judgment also said that after 2017 Horizon was “far more robust than either of the previous two iterations of the system.”

    What follows is a current list of (known and published) problems with the Horizon system in May 2023. Pre-2020, this sort of information was not shared with Subpostmasters, nor their criminal defence teams.

    Improving Horizon – current issues under review (May 2023)

    (last updated 3 May 2023)  

    Post Office continuously reviews and develops improvements to the Horizon system and the branch and customer experience, and this includes new features, simplifying existing functionality and resolving any issues identified.

    The information below gives details of the open issues where we are actively investigating options and workable solutions to improve the branch and/or customer experience and we will provide an update once they are resolved.

    (PRB: Problem Reference Number, POL: Post Office Ltd)

    Western Union Error Msg90025 – PRB0041518

    When processing a Western Union transaction and the Horizon counter goes into recovery. The error message 0058 will be displayed and the branch is unable to recover the transaction. Please report the issue to your Digital IT Service Desk or call 0330 123 0778.

    Branch Unable to Roll Over – PRB0041552

    Post Office branches are unable to rollover into the next Balance Period (BP) as the maximum Balance Period have been reached. The below message MSG40086 is displayed until all of the branch has rolled over into TP.

    Please ensure all stock units have been rolled over into the same balance period. Then proceed with the balancing process.

    Drop & Go – PRB0041550

    The msg10828 is displayed on Horizon as a reminder to enter the Drop & Go 8 digit numeric card number. If the Drop & Go numeric card number is incorrectly entered the below message MSG90025 is displayed.

    When entering the 8 digit numeric card number, please ensure numeric characters are used and not alphabetic, for example use 0 (zero) and not the letter O.

    Western Union – PRB0041553

    Whilst processing a Western Union transaction, if the transaction needs to be cancelled please follow the one screen messages and prompts. Please do not hand money to the customer, or begin an alternative transaction, until Western Union confirms that the refund has been accepted.

    If the transaction has been paid by cash, please follow the on screen messages and prompts to refund the amount to the customer.

    If the transaction has been paid by card, please call your Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567.

    PinPad Inspection Statement MSG90025_PRB0041331

    Whilst trying to print the PinPad Inspection Statement Horizon may produce a system error MSG90025.  Please report the issue to your Digital IT Service Desk or call 0330 123 0778.

    Western Union Error Code 0058 showing when signing onto the counter_PRB0041512

    When processing a Western Union transaction and the Horizon counter goes into recovery. The error message 0058 will be displayed and the branch is unable to recover the transaction. Please report the issue to your Digital IT Service Desk or call 0330 123 0778.

    In unusual circumstances recovery may fail requiring manual reconciliation for debit cards _PRB0041480

    If a customer has paid for a transaction by debit card and Horizon is unable to complete the settlement process, you may be forced to log off. The following message MSG100010 will be displayed – if so then please press ‘Cancel’.

    Please follow the onscreen prompts, press ‘Continue’ and allow the recovery process to complete, then press ‘Continue’.

    The receipt is produced for the customer – please check it to confirm it’s correct. If they are due a refund, it will be reimbursed to the customer directly through the usual Post Office central process.

    MoneyGram Transaction is Settled to Debit Card_ PRB0041303

    If a customer has paid for a MoneyGram transaction by debit card and the branch is required to recover the transaction, this is automatically reversed to cash. The customer’s payment card will be debited but the funds will not be added to MoneyGram transaction.

    If the customer has paid by Debit Card, and the transaction is revered to cash, please do not give the customer the cash. Please raise a refund request via the Branch Support Centre so the customer’s debit card can be refunded.  The Branch Support Centre is on 0333 345 5567.

    PIN Pad, (PCI Device) Inspection Report_PRB0041241

    The automated monthly PIN Pad (or PCI Device) inspection report (released in 72.20) checks the PIN Pad on each counter replacing the previous manual report.  This may show an incorrect PIN pad state on the PCI Device Inspection report, (Responsive/non-responsive) if the PIN pad is connected/disconnected during the day. This does not impact the PIN Pad, and the state of the PIN pad will be updated correctly the next day on the report, so you don’t need to take any action about this.

    Please continue with the automated process covered in the Branch Focus article week 32.

    Incorrect Trading Period number for MSG01052 and MSG40086_PRB0041275

    If a branch wishes to roll over into the next Balance Period (BP), in a Trading Period (TP), the message MSG1052 will be shown.

    While investigating, it was identified that the incorrect Trading Period number was included in the message. Whilst we work to resolve this issue, this has no impact on the balancing process, please follow the on-screen prompts to continue with the balancing process.

    If you require any support, please refer to Horizon Help, and if you have any further questions please contact your Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567.

    Bureau pouches unable to be Scanned into Horizon_PRB0041268

    When a Bureau cash pouch was scanned into Horizon the contents of the pouch were not automatically remitted into the system and therefore not recorded. MSG00926 was shown.

    Please rescan the pouch into Horizon:

    • On Horizon Online go to ‘Back Office’, ‘Rems and Transfers’ and ‘Pouches – Delivery’

    • Scan the barcode on each pouch or coin advice, then select ‘Enter’ and ‘Print’

    • Sign and date stamp the Cash Auto Settlement receipts, then give one copy to the delivery officer. Retain the other receipt with your weekly accounting records

    If you are unable to rescan, please re-enter the pouch ID manually. If you are unable to rescan or enter the pouch ID manually, please contact your Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567.

    Over 50’s Life Cover Quotes For the Over 80’s_PRB0041250

    We have identified an issue if a customer obtains a quote/applies for Over 50s Life Cover on their 81st birthday, as the Horizon system calculates their age incorrectly as 80 so would return a quote.  This also applies when a customer specifically applies/obtains a quote on their 50th birthday, as Horizon will not return a quote as it miscalculates their age as 49. Over 50s Life Cover is available to individuals between 50 and 80 years old and calculates the customer’s current age as at the quote date from their date of birth. In very rare occasions (if the customer is applying on their birthday – and only one of 14 specific birthdays), Horizon calculates their age incorrectly as being a year younger than true age. This means the quote can’t continue.

    To be eligible for Post Office Over 50s Life Cover, a customer must be aged between 50 and 80 at the time of application. Please do not proceed with a quote for a customer who is wishing to apply on or after their 81st birthday.

    If a customer is in the branch on their birthday and wishes to apply for Over 50s Life Cover, and you enter the customer’s date of birth but the customer age then displayed is incorrect (the customer is asked to confirm their age so this should be apparent straight away), the quote cannot continue.

    The customer can return to apply on another day (i.e. not on their birthday, so the age should calculate correctly), or alternatively they can be referred to apply by phone or online.

    Invalid session receipts printed before session settled_ PRB0041242

    When transferring cash and or stock between stock units, a transfer slip can be printed during the process with the same session ID before the session is completed.

    When you want to transfer cash and/or stock, please follow the Horizon on screen process and produce a Transfer Out Slip.

    Check the Transfer Out slip against the stock or cash which is being transferred

    Hand the item(s) to the receiving stock unit for checking against the Transfer Out slip.

    The receiving stock unit must check the stock and/or cash, then sign and return the Transfer Out slip.

    Keep the signed Transfer slip until the end of the Branch Trading Period.

    After the end of the Branch Trading Period the slip must be kept in your branch for two years.

    Credit Card Payment is available for MoneyGram transactions, but should not be_ PRB0041212

    Payment by credit card is currently allowed when processing MoneyGram Transactions.

    Acceptable methods of payment for MoneyGram transactions are cash or debit card. Please ensure customers use only cash or debit card, while we make a change so that credit card payment is not allowed.

    Travel Money Card_ PRB0041211

    Travel Money Card transaction may sometimes be declined, during the chip and pin banking process. A decline receipt will be printed for the customer, advising that the transaction has not been processed.

    Please process the transaction again.  If you receive any further queries, please contact your Branch Support Centre 0333 345 5567 to raise a query for the customer.

    Banking Transactions_PRB0041211

    Banking transactions may sometimes be declined, and the decline receipt will be printed for the customer, advising that the transaction has not been processed.

    Please process the transaction again.  If you receive any queries from customers regarding their bank account, which has been incorrectly debited or credited.  Please ask the customer to contact their bank. If you receive any further queries, please contact your Branch Support Centre 0333 345 5567 to raise a query for the customer.

    Back Office Printing is not Cancelled_PRB0041159

    When the user cancels a print job the cancellation may fail, resulting in the print job remaining in the queue and stopping other print jobs being printed.

    Please switch the printer off then back on. If that does not work, please report the issue to your Digital IT Service Desk or call 0330 123 0778.

    Customer not refunded for card transaction_PRB0041109

    When a customer’s contactless payment is declined by their bank, and the customer is asked to insert their card into the PIN pad and provide their PIN number, please do not move on to another Horizon terminal to complete the transaction. This may result in the first transaction being declined and the basket failing. Please remain on the first Horizon terminal and follow the on-screen prompts and complete the transaction.

    Existing Reversals_ PRB0041160

    When completing an existing reversal, Horizon will display a list of all the items associated with a session number.  If the user only wants to reverse out one item but selects the wrong one in error. At the confirmation screen, if you cancel, and go back to the section list, the item remains selected in the background but is not shown as selected on Horizon. Users would not be aware until the item enters the basket.

    If a user has selected the wrong item, during an existing reversal please press continue on MSG00147 and proceed to the basket and then cancel the reversals out of the basket. You will need to start the existing reversal process again.

    Basket Failed to Settle Causing Forced Log Off_PRB0041096

    A basket may fail to settle, if the same transaction has been processed on another Horizon terminal. The on-screen message MSG00968, will appear:

    Failed to settle the basket which has recoverable transactions.


    You will now be forced to logout.

    Please press continue and follow the on-screen prompts.

    Please do not move to another Horizon terminal to complete the same transaction. Please follow the on-screen prompts.

    Branch Trading Statement Reports_PRB0041099

    If a branch rolls over too many Balance Periods (BP) in a short period of time, it can reach the point where they cannot complete any further BP rollovers. The message MSG31314 will be shown.

    MSG31314 please press continue.  On the ‘balancing stock unit report’ screen press cancel. Follow the screen prompts and select Yes to exit to the Back Office Weekly Accounting menu, and then press the “Balance Report” button to commence the rollover again and rollover to the next TP.          

    If you require any support please refer to Horizon Help, and if you have any further questions please contact your Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567.

    Travel Insurance Discounted Receipts_PRB0041069

    When processing a reversal for Travel Insurance where the transaction includes a discount code. The customer receipt is correct, showing the discounted rate, but the branch version of the receipt shows the full value of the transaction.

    Please follow the reversal process. The actual amount reversed to the customer is the discounted rate which appears on the customers receipt and Horizon screen.

    Transaction Existing Reversal_PRB0041104

    When there is a communication failure during a transaction, the Horizon terminal may appear offline.

    Please do not be tempted to move to another Horizon terminal to complete a reversal for the transaction. Please reboot the initial Horizon terminal used and follow the on screen prompts and complete the recovery process for the transaction.

    Banking Transactions_PRB0041095

    Banking transactions may sometimes be declined, and the decline receipt will be printed for the customer, advising that the transaction has not been processed.

    Please process the transaction again.  If you receive any queries from customers regarding their bank account, which has been incorrectly debited or credited.  Please ask the customer to contact their bank. If you receive any further queries, please contact your Branch Support Centre 0333 345 5567 to raise a query for the customer.

    Method of Payment_PRB0041042

    While performing a transaction for a customer whose method of payment may include part payment of voucher, cheque and/or cash, please ensure only the balance remaining figure is used for the card payment. Please be careful not to use the value of the voucher or cheque part payment, to be returned as cash to the customer.

    Existing Reversal_PRB0041003

    When completing an existing reversal, a prompt, may appear advising that a different card is being used.

    If a customer is unable to present the original card used for payment, they can use a different card to process the refund. Please follow the on-screen prompts and process the transaction.

    Transaction Log_ PRB0041100

    When using the transaction log search criteria “Date From” together with ‘Time from’ and/or ‘Time to’, if the range includes the period before the clocks changed (GMT->BST or BST->GMT), the wrong hour may inserted in the data fields, and therefore you may not find the historical transactions you are searching for.

    If the dates you are searching between includes a clock change, then please enter a wider time frame to allow for the 1 hour time difference when the clocks changed.

    This does not impact the functionality of the transaction log and entering the “Time from” or “Time to” information. The Transaction log can still be printed or viewed on screen.

    Transaction log Criteria Blank on History Tabs_ PRB0041049

    Whilst using the transaction log search criteria ‘Time from’ or ‘Time to’ the values in those cells will show as blank after another criteria is added, and the values entered. This does not impact the functionality of the transaction log and entering the “Time from” or “Time to” information. The Transaction log can still be printed or viewed on screen.

    Apple and Android Payment non-Credit Card Acceptable Transaction_ POL100058

    A possible issue has been identified if a customer is wanting to pay for a product or service using Apple or Android Pay this method of payment is not compatible if a transaction is unable to accept credit cards.  We are investigating this and will provide more information as soon as possible.

    Banking Transaction Balance Enquiry_PRB0040994

    If a customer requests a change of PIN number for a POca or Post Office savings account, and further transactions are added to the basket, the Complex Basket message MSG92001 may appear. 

    Please press Continue to proceed with this transaction. Otherwise, press Cancel to abandon this transaction, settle the basket and then start another session for this transaction.

    Horizon Logging On_PRB0040997

    When logging on to Horizon, please follow the on screen prompts before making your selection.

    Please avoid continually pressing the screen as this can delay Horizon becoming available or cause Horizon to freeze.

    Banking Pin Pad Card Acceptance_PRB0041001& PRB0040993

    A message box will appear if the customer uses a different debit card during a transaction reversal.

    Please follow the on-screen prompts.

    Banking Bank and Credit Card Refund_PRB0041002

    When completing a transaction refund and the customer presents their card, the following message MSG40081 appears: “The card is different from the one used in the original transaction. The original card used was (card number xxx…xxxxx).” This message may appear even if the card presented is the original card used for payment.

    If you experience this:

    Select Cancel to end this transaction, and then process the transaction using the original card.

    Please check the receipt to confirm the correct card details. If the original card has expired, please contact your Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567.

    Banking Transactions Withdrawals and Deposits_PRB0040948

    Where there has been a loss of communications between the bank and the branch during a banking transaction, recovery may fail. The customer transaction may not have been completed in branch. If the following message MSG99622 appears: “The transaction has been cancelled” then the customer’s bank

    account will not be impacted. However, if you proceed and complete another PIN pad transaction, in the same basket, the PIN pad may not respond and the message ‘insert card’ may appear.

    If you experience this:

    Please reboot Horizon following on-screen prompts. Then process the customer’s transaction.

    Printing Help Pages_PRB0040954

    When pressing print on the help page, if the print menu is closed too quickly it can unexpectedly print a screenshot of the Horizon counter screen, instead of printing the help page.

    When printing Horizon Help pages please wait a few minutes for the Help pages to load fully before attempting access.

    Banking Transaction Text_PRB0040956

    Branches wishing to review banking transactions may be unable to view the full text history on screen as the text is shortened.

    Pin Pad Communication_PRB0040959

    When the counter communicates with the PIN Pad, it is possible to not gain a response, which may result in the counter becoming unusable and require the branch to restart the counter.

    If you experience this:

    Please restart the Horizon terminal and follow all on screen prompts.

    Corporate Credit and Debit Cards_PRB0040894

    If a corporate credit/debit card has been used during a transaction and there is a comms failure resulting in recovery actions being completed or if a transaction is cancelled/reversed where a corporate credit/debit card has been used please make sure you check receipts as it may state the refund has been settled to cash.  If you identify this scenario, please contact your Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567.

    Travel Insurance Discount Code_PRB0040839

    A possible issue has been identified whilst processing a Travel Insurance discount code, the correct discounted premium appears on the customer receipt, but the non-discounted premium appears on the branch receipt. We are investigating the issue and a fix will be released shortly and will provide more information as soon as possible.

    Unable to Login Updates To Horizon_PRB0040829

    On 5 January 2022 a small number of counters, (approximately 85) were unable to process transactions with the following message being displayed on Horizon screens (MSG10101) “Unable to login – Reference data is being updated”. Please note, if a counter has been switched off for more than 3 days, Horizon will attempt to download all updates.

    Updates are sent to counters most nights. Counters that are left switched on will receive and download the changes that have been made to the reference data. For example, if there was a price increase for a product. If a counter misses more than 2 updates (because it is switched off overnight), then Horizon will download the full set of updates when you next log on.

    If you experience this:

    Counters should remain switched on overnight, even when the branch may be closed, such as over a Bank Holiday weekend. If a counter is left switched on every night, there will be no issue, even if there are no updates. We are working to fix the issue so if this set of circumstances happens again, the updates will download successfully. If you experience this issue, please contact the IT Service Desk on 0330 123 0778.

    Foreign Currency Rem In_PRB0040811

    If a value is entered into the relevant “Foreign Currency Amount” using the Horizon touch screen, and a different line/column for the “Sterling Amount” or “Confirm Sterling Amount” is selected, the message MSG00927 appears. You are unable to cancel the transaction or press the PREV button to escape and the system remains locked into the incorrect row.

    If you experience this:

    Press Enter on the message MSG00927. You will be prompted to input the details manually, as follows:

    Obtain the Advice Note from inside the pouch

    Instructions for manual entry can be found on Horizon help.

    Back Office

    Rems and Transfers (F5)

    Pouch Delivery (21)

    Once completed the three receipts will be printed, the third of which will show the increased amount of the currency holdings.

    Please note: If you follow the manual process and you realise that the currency was actually remmed in correctly earlier, please contact the Bureau de Change Service Centre on 0333 665 4946. 

    MoneyGram Timeout_PRB0040712

    If a MoneyGram transaction is not completed, and the counter is left unattended for an extended time, the transaction will automatically settle to cash and the counter will log out.  When the counter is logged back in, the recovery process will start so please follow the on-screen prompts.  

    If you experience this:

    A MoneyGram transaction should always be finalised before leaving the counter.

    Log into Horizon.

    Print a transaction log to confirm if the transaction has been settled.

    If the transaction has been settled, follow the reversal process to cancel the transaction. Details for this can be found on Horizon Help.  In the case where a MoneyGram transaction cannot be reversed, please contact your Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567 with the details of the transaction.

    Back Office Printer Printout Delay_PRB0040743

    The back office printer can get stuck in a queue and may appear frozen. The printout may be delayed or appear after the user has been informed that the print job is complete. 

    If you experience this:

    Please switch the printer off then back on. If that does not work, please report this issue via the “IT issues” button on Branch Hub or call our IT Service Desk or call 0330 123 0778.

    Horizon Help Screen Freezes_PRB0040520

    When pressing the HELP button, the system may freeze, and you may not be able to go back to the home screen. One cause of this can be the Help button being pressed twice in quick succession.

    This typically happens when the user opens Help for the first time each day. We are working on a fix to download Help pages at logon to help improve help performance.

    If you experience this:

    The following messages may be displayed:

    MSG90025: System Error – Error Code: 0998 has occurred Reason: System error. Please Retry once. If the problem persists, contact the Horizon System Desk.

    MSG90032: System Error – System Error: failed to display exception, see log.

    If the issue continues please contact the IT Service Desk on 0330 123 0778.

    British Gas_PRB0040498

    Where a customer has changed their mind and the transaction has been reversed or cancelled, or where there may have been a communication issue, we are aware this has resulted in a few transactions being incorrectly processed by Horizon.

    There has been no impact to customer accounts, or any branch impact. However, we have identified a few instances where Postmasters have received increased remuneration. In those instances, we can confirm Post Office Ltd will not be seeking reimbursement.

    Bureau Pre Order issues Communication failure_PRB0040527

    Where the short term power loss is experienced during the confirmation of the Pre Order, but after the settlement of the basket, a customer receipt is not printed, and the transaction is not recorded with First Rate Exchange Services (FRES).

    Where a longer term loss of connectivity is experienced at the same point of transaction and Horizon logs the user out, recovery is not allowing the confirmation message to be sent to FRES and displays an error leaving the branch no option but to cancel the transaction. Therefore, the transaction is cancelled.

    If you experience this:

    Please print a transaction log to confirm if the transaction has been cancelled. If the transaction was unsuccessful, please process the customer’s transaction again. 

    If the transaction fails and the customer was paying by debit card, the customer’s account may have been debited and a refund is required. Check the transaction log to see if the transaction had gone through successfully. If not, please contact our Branch Support Centre on 0333 345 5567 or if you have any queries.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

  • Rod Ismay: the useful idiot

    I was expecting more from Rod Ismay. He was, after all, an Ernst and Young auditor – one of the finest bean counters money can buy. Ismay joined the Post Office in 2003 after spending 11 years at the accounting giant, where, amongst other things, he was one of the Post Office’s auditors.

    Rod Ismay will go down in history as the author of the August 2010 Ismay Report into the Horizon IT system, a document which Sir Wyn Williams, chair of the Post Office Horizon Inquiry on Thursday suggested might be “a whitewash”.

    Ismay disagreed that his report was a whitewash. Instead, he told the Inquiry, he was commissioned by Dave Smith, the Post Office’s then Managing Director, to write a report “to understand the reasons why Post Office should be able to take assurance about the Horizon System, what are all those reasons of positives. [sic]”

    One side of the coin

    To clarify, Jason Beer KC, counsel to the Inquiry, asked: “So you weren’t given free rein to write what you wished, you were directed only to include reasons that gave reassurance?”

    To which Ismay responded: “Yes. Yes… The task I was given was: ‘what are the reasons for assurance?’ I wasn’t given the task of: ‘what are the allegations and can you investigate them?’ That was not the remit of this.”

    Beer just wanted to make absolutely clear: “You were only asked to present one side of the coin?”

    To which Ismay replied: “Yes.”

    You can begin to see now, perhaps, why Mr Ismay was selected for this task. He was was being told to write a whitewash without being intelligent enough to realise that was what it was.

    No written terms of reference

    Ismay volunteered that his report was a “hugely important piece of work”, but seemed content to conduct this hugely important piece of work without any written terms of reference. He figured that his verbal instruction, restated once more, in his own words as “Please can you list out the reasons for assurance?” did not need written terms of reference – “the question was quite clear”, he told Beer.

    Beer wondered then, having been told to produce a one-sided report in favour of Horizon’s integrity, why Ismay wrote in his report: “This paper has been compiled as an objective, internal review of POL’s processes around branch accounting.”

    Ismay replied: “It was an objective assessment of the areas where there were positives.”

    Oh dear. It would all be very funny were this report not used as an internal justification for continuing to criminally prosecute and ruin Subpostmasters for another three years.

    No investigation

    On Thursday at the Inquiry, Rod Ismay admitted that when compiling his report (over two weeks) he did no investigation whatsoever. He essentially spoke to a number of departments, received assertions from them which he didn’t test, collated them and “typed” them up. It was, he agreed a “paper exercise”, albeit a paper exercise which allowed him to conclude in his executive summary:

    “We remain satisfied that this money was due to theft in the branch – we do not believe that the account balances against which the audits were conducted were corrupt.”

    The most sinister and chilling sentence in the report is when Ismay tells Smith:

    “It is also important to be crystal clear about any review [of the Horizon system] if one were commissioned – any investigation would need to be disclosed in court. Although we would be doing the review to comfort others, any perception that POL [the Post Office] doubts its own systems would mean that all criminal prosecutions would have to be stayed. It would also beg a question for the Court of Appeal over past prosecutions and imprisonments.”

    Ismay told the Inquiry that he didn’t really understand why criminal prosecutions would have to be stayed, and said it was information he got from Rob Wilson, Head of Criminal Law at the Post Office, who was cc’d in the report.

    Look the other way

    David Smith, former Post Office Managing Director

    Beer asked the obvious:

    “Do you agree that this paragraph is a warning to the Post Office that if it was to take certain action, ie to commission a review, then the Post Office may be heading in a direction which may lead to the discovery that innocent people may have been wrongly convicted?”

    Ismay replied: “Well, yes, this statement clearly is a warning.”

    Wouldn’t you want to know if your organisation had been responsible for sending innocent people to prison? Not in Post Office land, it seems.

    I thought Ismay was the mastermind behind the Ismay report, but it seems he was, by his own admission, a typist, engaged in a paper exercise of drawing up a list of reasons why Horizon was great. He was told to do this, and he did so, populating his list with other peoples’ opinions and claiming the words as his own. This was not, as he said in the report, “an objective, internal review” written by a senior former Ernst and Young auditor who headed up the Post Office’s Product and Branch Accounting department, but something which pretended to be as much, over which he had very little ownership or understanding. Poor old Rod, bashing away at words he didn’t understand in a report bearing his name.

    What if?

    When I first had sight of the Ismay report, some time ago, I wrote to Dave Smith asking what he did when he received it. Smith replied to say:

    “I have no access to any records relating to my time as CEO but do recall that the [Horizon] system had been in place for many years before my arrival and that the organisation had both internal IT, Finance, Security teams and legal counsel to manage day to day matters around possible false accounting and theft.
    I do not remember the email [containing Ismay’s report] nor do i have access to my response to it or more widely relevant material such as the Main Board papers and minutes from that time.
    As such i am unable to comment directly on what actually happened but do note from the extract sent by you that the conclusion at the time was that the system was robust.”

    If Ismay is to be believed, Dave Smith commissioned an internal report about the Horizon system with a specific remit to reassure him that it was robust. When Ismay complied, sending his boss a typed-up collated list of untested assertions, Dave Smith was able to use it as an excuse for inaction.

    Unforgivably, from the evidence we have heard so far, it seems that even by 2010, not one single person in the Post Office asked themselves the “what if?” question, specifically:

    What if there is a danger we have been responsible for a single innocent person, amongst the hundreds we have prosecuted, being given a criminal conviction?

    Ismay’s evidence continues today.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

  • Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious 2: What We Know Now

    Nick Read, Post Office Chief Executive

    This post should be read in conjunction with its predecessor (helpfully entitled Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious.) or it won’t make any sense:

    Misleading parliament

    I have been reminded that the Post Office annual report is laid before parliament because the Post Office is a government-owned company. The falsehood in its annual report therefore means the Post Office has misled parliament. The latest the Post Office was aware of this was 6 April. Yet it chose not to inform Post Office minister, Kevin Hollinrake, or the business department that it had misled parliament. The Business Department and the Minister have confirmed to me this weekend that the first they learned of the falsehood was when their attention was drawn to the apology and correction quietly published on the Post Office corporate website on Friday.

    The Director General of the Business Department, David Bickerton, has written to the Post Office CEO, Nick Read, demanding a) an apology for not informing the Minister of the error and b) an explanation as to how the falsehood came to be published in the annual report. A review of the Post Office’s corporate governance is now underway.

    I believe the review needs to investigate not just the falsehood, but how a bonus target related to the Inquiry was considered appropriate, and then approved by the remuneration committee, chairman and CEO.

    Third phase of the scandal

    We are now in the third phase of this scandal. The first was the wrongful prosecutions of hundreds of people over the years 2000 to 2013. Then we had the cover-up: 2013 to 2019. Now were are in the Post Office’s third phase: screw the victims a second time whilst rewarding ourselves bonuses for tolerating something we don’t particularly care for but are forced to participate in.

    Let’s spell this out. Post Office executives are showering themselves with cash for co-operating with the Post Office Horizon Stautory Inquiry whilst actively engaged in trying to give people whose lives it has ruined as little compensation as possible.

    Parmod Kalia on the day his conviction was quashed

    Parmod Kalia is one of the most gentle and kind people I’ve ever met. The shame he has felt since being convicted more than twenty years ago has broken him mentally and physically and destroyed his family. I told Parmod’s story for the first time back in 2018, when I met him on the first day of the first Bates v Post Office trial. At that stage he didn’t want his photo taken, nor did he want me to use his real name, so we agreed I could call him Parvinder.

    Parmod’s conviction was quashed in 2021. The Post Office at first refused to compensate him and then offered him a desultory amount and letting him know that if he thought that wasn’t enough, he could take them to court. Parmod was quoted in the Times on 27 April saying he felt “bullied” into accepting the offer, telling Tom Witherow “I just didn’t have the energy to fight them”.

    Post Office execs are re-destroying people whilst awarding themselves bonuses, putting falsehoods in their annual report and misleading parliament. And this is the organisation which has supposedly seen the error of its ways since being dragged kicking and screaming to a miserly settlement ending a litigation during which they enlisted the former President of the Supreme Court in an attempt to recuse the presiding judge.

    Reputation, reputation, reputation

    I somehow managed to stumble across an article published yesterday by an Aussie journalist about an Aussie scandal involving the giant accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. It is sharp, witheringly funny and entirely relatable to the Post Office scandal or indeed any other major state/corporate cover-up in recent decades. Do read it if you can. The main takeaway point is that time and again, the actions of those directly, tangentially or potentially responsible for any major scandal (be it Grenfell, Hillsborough, Infected Blood, Windrush or the Post Office) DO NOT CARE A SINGLE THING about victims or accountability. Not a thing. It is all about reputation preservation. That’s it. That’s why we’re still mired in the brown stuff.

    But even by generic standards of appalling corporate governance what has come to light about the Post Office this weekend is extraordinary. This is not normal. This is very, very serious. I hope the people involved recognise that, and for once, do the right thing.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

  • Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious.

    The above box appeared in the Post Office’s 2021/2022 Annual Report, which was not filed at Companies House until 24 February this year (and published a week later on the Post Office website). The box was part of a section of the annual report entitled “Remuneration Outcomes”. In this section, we were told the Post Office has scrapped its LTIP (Long Term Incentive Plan) and STIP (Short Term Incentive Plan) bonus schemes, (which saw former CEO Paula Vennells suffer a net salary reduction of a whopping £800 (to a measly £643,800) for her role in the scandal. More on this here).

    The Post Office’s new executive bonus plan is called the Transformation Incentive Scheme. This pot of bonus money, generously provided by the taxpayer, would be awarded to the board and senior execs at the Post Office in return for meeting targets in four equally weighted areas.

    One of those areas was headed “Inquiry”.

    That’s right, Post Office executives were in line for bonuses based on how brilliant the Post Office had been at the Public Inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. Or in corporate speak:

    “Delivery of all the required information and support for the Horizon Inquiry satisfying the requirements of Sir Wyn Williams [the retired judge who chairs the Inquiry]… and to ensure processes for Postmasters are addressed in line with recommendations from the inquiry. Any actions or plans must have been endorsed by the Inquiry and the Board.”


    Did no one at the Post Office think it might be a bit crass to award themselves bonuses for belatedly coming clean about its role in literally taking money with menaces from innocent people? Especially as, behind closed doors, it has apparently been trying to argue those innocent Subpostmasters should walk away with as little compensation as possible, and taken so long making those arguments, 59 people have died waiting.

    Not only did the Post Office set up this metric, it did so without informing the Inquiry.

    And then, as you can see above, the Post Office declared it had achieved its target with the words: “All required evidence and information supplied on time, with confirmation from Sir Wyn Williams and team that Post Office’s performance supported and enabled the Inquiry to finish in line with expectations.”

    False accounts

    Unfortunately not a single word in the above statement is true.

    Subpostmasters’ representatives at the Inquiry have already made comments about the Post Office’s late disclosure of documents. The Inquiry, last time I looked, had not finished (it’s now expected to go on into next year). Worst of all, the idea that Sir Wyn Williams and his team had confirmed anything was a straight-up fabrication.

    A company’s Annual Report is a very important document. It is signed off by the Chairman and Chief Executive and filed at Companies House. It takes months to prepare, and requires considerable input from both the financial and legal side of the business. I don’t know if all board members have to read an annual report before it is published, but they should.

    Did no one who wrote or went over a draft of the report spot the very, very basic error about the Inquiry being finished? Are any members of the board, senior leaders or lawyers watching the Inquiry, or reading media reports about it?

    And what about the idea that “Sir Wyn Williams and team” have confirmed the Post Office have done a bang tidy job with regard to the Inquiry and should therefore fill their boots with public money? How did someone come to… just make that up?

    Meaningless screed

    Sir Wyn Williams, Chair of the inquiry

    The line was spotted by, or brought to the attention of, a diligent lawyer working for the Inquiry, Segun Jide. On 31 March, a month after the annual report was published, Mr Jide wrote, on Sir Wyn’s behalf, to the Post Office.

    Mr Jide asked the Post Office lawyers, Herbert Smith Freehills, to: “explain the basis upon which the assertions were made that Sir Wyn Williams (“and team”) has confirmed that (a) the Post Office has supplied all required evidence and information to the Inquiry on time; and / or (b) that the Post Office’s performance supported and enabled the Inquiry to finish in line with expectations”

    A week later, Herbert Smith Freehills responded that the Post Office (or POL, as it likes to call itself): “wishes to apologise to the Inquiry for setting a target that appeared to require the Chair’s participation without asking Sir Wyn for his agreement to that, and for reporting against that target by suggesting the Chair and his team had given input into a particular outcome when they had not.”

    The report’s assertion that the Inquiry had finished was apparently some kind of drafting error, with the excuse that: “At the time the target was set (in December 2020), it was anticipated that the Inquiry may have substantially completed its work during the period covered by the Transformation Incentive Scheme, which is why the target as drafted anticipated the Inquiry having “finished in line with expectations” although POL accepts that this was not reviewed when it became apparent that the duration of the Inquiry would be longer.”

    I’ve read this paragraph several times now and I still can’t understand it, nor how “finished in line with expectations” can be a target. Whose expectations? Why expectations? It’s just meaningless screed.

    Media management

    Lisa Cherry, Post Office Group Chief People Officer 2020 – 2022

    Herbert Smith Freehills went on to say: “POL understands that certain materials were reviewed by the then Group Chief People Officer, who relied on them in reporting to the Remuneration Committee that the target had been achieved… POL is trying to identify the documents she relied on. In the time available before writing, POL has not been able to locate this material.”

    Maybe they’re in the shredder.

    Yesterday, a full month after the Herbert Smith Freehills letter, the Post Office quietly appended a statement to its corporate web page hosting the 2021 – 2022 annual report. There was no press release, no fanfare, no ministerial statement, just a note recognising the falsehood, including the paragraph:

    “We implied that Sir Wyn and his team had agreed to this sub-metric [what they’re now calling the bonus target] and had commented on the outcome. We wish to clarify that we did not ask for Sir Wyn’s agreement to the wording of this sub-metric and Sir Wyn and his team did not give any input into assessing whether it had been met. Post Office apologises unreservedly to Sir Wyn and the Inquiry team for this mistake and the way it was stated in the Annual Report for 2021-22. Chief Executive, Nick Read, has chosen to return the remuneration associated with this sub-metric. The Board of the Post Office is considering the position in respect of other senior leadership beneficiaries of this remuneration sub-metric.”

    Burying bad news

    As per the Herbert Smith Freehills letter dated 6 April, the Post Office knew it had made a serious mistake in its annual report. I asked a Post Office press officer why it took so long for the Post Office to publicly issue its correction, and why it chose to issue its correction on a Friday afternoon – not just any old Friday afternoon – but one in which the news agenda would be dominated by the local election results and then steamrollered by the Coronation.

    NIck Read, Post Office CEO

    The press officer told me that it was because the Post Office had spent some time trying to get to the bottom of how the falsehood came about and then it took some time to sort out the relevant wording of the apology and correction.

    When I asked for the outcome of their investigation, the press officer told me that the Post Office still hadn’t got to the bottom of it, but I was assured the timing of the quiet correction, on the Friday afternoon before the Coronation, had nothing to do with trying to bury bad news. I politely told them I did not believe what they were saying.

    When I asked if the Postal Affairs minister, Kevin Hollinrake, had been informed about the error, the Post Office press officer said: “I don’t know… I should imagine he is now!”

    It is entirely possible that this correction would have passed the world by, had it not been for the Post Office Inquiry’s decision to publish the letter the Post Office CEO Nick Read wrote to Sir Wyn yesterday afternoon alongside a note from the Chair which sets out the story. In his letter of apology, Read says:

    “I would like to personally apologise to you on behalf of Post Office for the incorrect statement in the company’s Annual Report and Accounts 2021-22, which implies that you and your team commented on the outcome of a remuneration metric targeted at senior leaders involved in the vital task of transformation within the Post Office. Despite the metric making express reference to the role of you and your team in assessing whether the metric was met, Post Office did not seek your or your team’s view on the proposed metric, far less your agreement to it. Moreover, at the point of assessing whether it had been met, despite the unambiguous wording of the metric, Post Office did not seek your or your team’s view. These were both unacceptable errors on our part. As a result I have chosen to return the money paid to me associated with this remuneration metric, and the Post Office Board is considering the position in respect of other senior leadership beneficiaries of this remuneration metric.”

    Rotten to the core

    I received the email from the Inquiry press team, which pointed journalists to Sir Wyn’s statement, yesterday at 5.41pm. I had to read the relevant documents twice, because first time I could not quite believe what I was seeing. Skimming through the twitter responses, it seems quite a few other people were astounded, too.

    Ed Henry KC, at the Inquiry

    Ed Henry KC, who represents several Subpostmasters at the Inquiry, said:

    “Rotten to the core. Profiteering from the Inquiry into the Consortium’s misfeasance, misgovernance & devastation of loyal workers. This must be raised in Parliament. How can senior management & board remain in place after this?”

    Paul Gilbert, a legal expert who advises in-house lawyers on ethics said:

    “What an utterly bankrupt culture. Irredeemably rotten. For someone to even have the idea of monetising the Inquiry is shocking, for everyone else to go along with it shows a vacuum of dignity and decency, and then to lie about it… My goodness me, what a contemptible way to be.”

    I’ve asked the Post Office how much Read has given back, what time exactly his letter was sent to Sir Wyn and when, if at all, the Business Department was informed of the false statement in the Post Office’s accounts.

    I’ve just been in contact with the Post Office minister, Kevin Hollinrake, who told me “I was made aware of this earlier today [my italics] and immediately asked for a full account of the circumstances, which will inform our approach.”

    I’ve also asked the Business Department if they okayed the nature of the Post Office’s apology and correction and why, if they knew about the falsehood, they didn’t tell the minister. I am frankly very surprised something this serious was not announced in parliament, instead of being slipped out on a corporate web-page on a Friday afternoon before a Coronation.

    There’s more. Please see Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious 2: What We Know Now, posted up on 8 May 2023.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

  • Ecce Chambers

    I attended the morning session of Anne Chambers’ evidence at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry yesterday. Chambers is a former senior Fujitsu engineer, currently under police investigation. She is of signal importance to this scandal on the basis that she gave evidence in the Post Office’s High Court civil prosecution of Lee Castleton, the former East Bridlington Subpostmaster whose name consists the first two words of Computer Weekly’s seminal first investigation into this scandal in 2009.

    Chambers has never spoken in public about her role before. At the inquiry she seemed the very picture of a chatty, bright and helpful woman. She has a degree in statistics and pure maths and learned everything she knows about computers on the job at Fujitsu.

    Whilst the Post Office was prosecuting people over a 15 year period for discrepancies in their Horizon accounts, Chambers was on the other side of the fence, working for Fujitsu’s SSC. Most people at this inquiry seem to think SSC stood for System Support Centre or Service Support Centre. Either way, it was Fujitsu’s top (fourth) line Horizon support function for Subpostmasters, Fujitsu colleagues and Post Office staff who had encountered problems with the Horizon system and needed them properly identified, categorised and fixed.

    The Last Word

    Before getting fourth line support involved, Subpostmasters with Horizon problems were required to convince first, second and third line Horizon support (and sometimes the Post Office’s National Business Support Centre (NBSC) helpline operators) that their Horizon error was a real IT error and not a mistake (or nefarious activity) by them, their customers or their colleagues. Or a business operation error by the Post Office, someone at the Post Office of one of its business partners.

    During the inquiry yesterday afternoon (which I watched on YouTube this morning) we were taken to a document, authored by Anne Chambers, which made it clear that only genuine software bugs should be referred to fourth line support. Pressed on how Subpostmasters, Post Office staff and colleagues were supposed to know an inexplicable error was a software problem, Chambers argued that they should “believe” it to be a software error, having made sure it wasn’t anything else.

    Chambers (and her fourth line colleagues) were therefore the last word on whether or not there was a bug or problem with the Horizon system.

    A knowledgeable and reliable witness

    In her evidence to the High Court during the Post Office’s claim against Lee Castleton for the sum of £22,963.34 (a sum they were spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal fees to recover, despite knowing they had no hope of getting the money, as Lee had no assets), Chambers was an expert witness.

    Her testimony was summarised by the judge:

    “Mrs Chambers examined the questions raised and concluded that there was no evidence whatsoever of any problem with the system. She was unable to identify any basis upon which the Horizon system could have caused the losses. Mr Castleton cross-examined her about complaints from another branch, which he did not identify. She immediately recognized the branch with confidence as being a branch at Callender Square in Falkirk. The problem at Callender Square had, she said, arisen from an error in the Horizon system, but there was no evidence of such a thing at Mr Castleton’s branch. I found Mrs Chambers to be a clear, knowledgeable and reliable witness, and I accept her evidence.”

    par 23, Post Office Ltd v Castleton [2007] EWHC 5 (QB) (22 January 2007)

    On the basis of Chambers’ evidence, the judge ruled:

    the logic of the system is correct, the conclusion is inescapable that the Horizon system was working properly in all material respects, and that the shortfall of £22,963.34 is real, not illusory.

    par 11, Post Office Ltd v Castleton [2007] EWHC 5 (QB) (22 January 2007)

    Lee lost the case was bankrupted. He and his family have lived in penury for most of the last two decades, whilst Chambers continued working at Fujitsu and is now enjoying a comfortable retirement.

    Ms Chambers will not be required to give evidence about Lee’s case this week, but on 2 May we got an insight into how she went about investigating serious errors.


    Chambers was taken to an Horizon error log (known as a PEAK) recording some extraordinarily wayward balances at a Subpostmaster’s branch in 2013. By this stage Chambers had already seen Castleton taken apart at the High Court and was aware that Horizon evidence was being used in what she told the inquiry she understood to be a “small number” of criminal prosecutions of Subpostmasters.

    By this stage of her testimony Jason Beer KC (counsel to the Inquiry) had established that Chambers understood discrepancies could arise through incorrect declarations, recorded transactions not matching what happened at a branch, withdrawn products, known system problems and unknown system problems.

    The PEAK was dated 12 November 2013. It recorded a Subpostmaster calling up to report “doing cash declarations every now and again” which occasionally lead to a “major loss… He states that he loses £2,000 then jumps suddenly to £4,000, one point they lost £8,000 and is always losing money. [Postmaster] stated he has 3 post offices, only happens at this site.”

    The Postmaster reported that the problem at his one specific site had been been happening intermittently all year. He told NBSC who sent experienced trainers out to ensure the Subpostmaster wasn’t doing something wrong. The trainers concluded the Subpostmaster was doing nothing wrong and witnessed the error happening. The auditors, who were incentivised by the Post Office to suspend Subpostmasters with discrepancies (another story), came out. They concluded the Subpostmaster was doing nothing wrong and they witnessed the error happening.

    Chambers went to work. She delved into the system and reported: “have checked the system figures… and can confirm that all the variants reported since then have been calculated correctly. There are no known issues that would result in the variance being incorrect.”

    Chambers closed the ticket with a definitive: “No fault in product”.

    The cause of the defect was assigned to “User” – that is, the Subpostmaster.

    When Beer asked why, Chambers replied: “Because I was rather frustrated by not – by feeling that I couldn’t fully get to the bottom of it. But there was no evidence for it being a system error.”

    Lee Castleton in 2021

    Absence of evidence…

    The Inquiry chair and retired judge Sir Wyn Williams wondered if it might have something to do with the class of error Chambers had already acknowledged could be designated – unknown system problems.

    Chambers conceded: “something was obviously wrong, in that the branch obviously were getting these discrepancies that they weren’t expecting, but all I could see on my side was that they were apparently declaring these differing amounts, and I certainly didn’t know of any system errors that would cause that to happen, or that would take what they were declaring and not record it correctly…. so I felt, on balance, there was just no evidence of a system error.”

    No evidence. Williams pointed out that it surely was unlikely to be a user error if both trainers and auditors had recorded the Subpostmaster as inputting information correctly. Chambers replied:

    “Well, yeah, I… yes, I don’t know why… I’m not happy with this one. But I still stand by there being no indication of a system error and the numbers that they were recording just didn’t make a lot of sense.”

    Chambers admitted to the Inquiry that despite being told the discrepancies had occurred on various occasions at the branch throughout the year, she only looked at the system information behind the most recent discrepancy. She also didn’t check to see if something similar had been reported by any other branch. Her “investigation”, from assignation to conclusion, took one hour sixteen minutes.

    Chambers conceded that she didn’t know if it was an unknown system error was affecting the branch, and seemed to accept that her stark conclusion in 2013: “No fault in product” and “user” error, was misleading. She added:

    “I don’t think I handled it terribly well. I was frustrated by it and I think that shows… because, you know, it really looked like there was a genuine problem… [but]… There was no sign of it.”

    In summary, ten years ago, Anne Chambers appears not to have considered the possibility of unknown system problems, or prompted an investigation more advanced than what she could achieve within the limits of her knowledge and ability. Instead, after a quick squizz at a limited dataset she concluded there was no obvious problem, which meant there was no problem and the cause of the discrepancy was the Subpostmaster.

    When criminal and civil prosecutions hang on this sort of evidence, there should be red flags and alarm bells going off in all directions.

    It’s not known what happened to the Subpostmaster Chambers reviewed in November2013. Due to the two teams of Post Office staff affirming the Subpostmaster was acting correctly s/he is unlikely to have been held liable for the random discrepancies.

    Lee Castleton had no such luck. In 2004, he begged the Post Office to send someone out to have a look at what was going wrong with his machine at Marine Drive in East Bridlington. The Post Office did not bother. They told him there was nothing wrong with the system and he was liable. When the auditors came, Lee thought they would help him get to the bottom of his IT problems. All they did was calculate his discrepancy, confirm he was liable and suspend him without pay. There was no investigation into the problems at the Marine Drive branch in East Bridlington. Instead, when it came to court, Anne Chambers ran the numbers back at SSC and told the High Court that the Horizon system was working properly in all material respects. His Honour Judge Richard Havery QC seems to have had no reason to disbelieve her.


    The police investigation into Anne Chambers (and other potential criminal activity at Fujitsu and the Post Office) is called Operation Olympos. It has been running since January 2020 and has so far seen no arrests. When I asked, under the Freedom of Information Act, how much Operation Olympos had cost, the police refused to tell me, citing the difficulties of adding up lots of numbers. Operation Olympos only got a cost code to itself in March 2023.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

  • Fujitsu to host techUK reception on Justice

    I was contacted yesterday by a lawyer who thinks Fujitsu has got off very lightly in the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, partly by doing as little as possible to acknowledge any culpability.

    Of course you can only get away with something if people let you, and my correspondent was particularly exercised by the actions of techUK in allowing Fujitsu to sponsor its “Justice and Emergency Services Reception 2023”.

    techUK is a trade organisation which “brings together people, companies and organisations to realise the positive outcomes that digital technology can achieve”.

    It says it collaborates “across business, government and stakeholders to fulfil the potential of technology to deliver a stronger society and more sustainable future.”

    My correspondent believes allowing Fujitsu to be associated with the word Justice, particularly when its role in the Post Office Horizon IT scandal is under scrutiny by the Metropolitan Police and a statutory inquiry, is tone deaf. Her thinking is that “this says a lot about people in charge not having the foggiest or simply not giving a sh*t – either way its not a good look for anyone in the room”.

    I’ve asked techUK to let me know if they have any qualms about taking Fujitsu’s money and whether Fujitsu’s role in the Horizon IT scandal will be discussed or addressed at the reception.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal.

  • Why hasn’t Fujitsu sacked Andy Dunks?

    The man in the photograph, Andy Dunks, gave evidence at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry this week. He works for Fujitsu. In the days when the Post Office wanted to prosecute Horizon users for crimes of dishonesty, it would go to Andy at Fujitsu for ARQ (Horizon’s audit record query) data or a log of helpdesk calls.

    Andy was the cryptographic key manager for the Horizon system, working in Fujitsu’s Customer Service Post Office Account Security Team. Starting in 2002, Andy would extract data for Postmaster prosecutions, “analyse” or “summarise” it and attach it to a signed witness statement saying there were no problems with Horizon.

    His statement (and this is taken from a standard Fujitsu witness statement) would say something like:

    There is no reason to believe that the information in this statement is inaccurate because of the improper use of the computer. To the best of my knowledge and belief at all material times the computer was operating properly, or if not, any respect in which it was not operating properly, or was out of operation was not such as to effect the information held on it. I hold a responsible position in relation to the working of the computer.

    This was usually enough to satisfy both the Post Office’s criminal prosecutors and the individual Subpostmasters’ defence teams, none of whom, you can bet, had the training or knowledge to challenge it.

    Liar, Liar

    When Andy Dunks gave evidence on behalf of the Post Office during the Bates v Post Office High Court litigation in 2019, he told the court Fujitsu had no “party line” when giving evidence on behalf of the Post Office. This was not true. In his judgment to the Horizon Issues trial, Mr Justice Fraser wrote:

    There plainly is [a party line] it was used in the Fujitsu statements in 2010 and it was used by [Andy Dunks] in his statement for the Horizon Issues trial.

    par 294, Judgment (No.6) “Horizon Issues”, Bates and others v Post Office

    Mr Justice Fraser ruled that Fujitsu Andy had “expressly sought to mislead” him. Naughty Andy.

    Six months later, in a letter to the BEIS [Business Department] Select Committee, Rob Putland, Fujitsu UK’s Senior Vice President told the chair of the committee, Darren Jones MP:

    If it emerges that any current employee intentionally misled the court or otherwise failed to meet the standards expected from Fujitsu, then they will be dismissed.

    In doing so, Rob Putland misled Parliament, because three years later, look who trotted along to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on Wednesday: Andy Dunks – still very much employed by Fujitsu.

    This time Andy was very keen to tell the Inquiry (read the full transcript here) there was a standard template when it came to providing witness statements to the Post Office about the integrity of Horizon data.

    This caused a potential problem, spotted by Jason Beer KC, lead counsel to the Inquiry. If the standard template dealing with calls to the helpdesk said:

    None of these calls to the helpdesk relate to faults that would have had an effect on the integrity of the information held on the system…

    – which it did – how did Andy know what the standard template said was true?

    The answer turned on Andy’s concept of the words “analyse” and “summarise”. In his witness statement, Andy said he summarised the call logs. In his oral evidence, he said he would analyse them. When Jason Beer asked which it was, Dunks said:

    Well, that — to summarise — my understanding is to summarise the calls and — but part of the witness statement is the wording of the witness statement. The summarisation is of the calls, not the wording of the witness statement.

    Which is just word soup. Over a torturous half hour of cross-examination, Beer tried to drill down into what it was which qualified Dunks to give witness statements. It turns out Dunks didn’t know the difference between Horizon’s ARQ data, Credence data, raw data and enhanced ARQ data. He also (despite turning up to court to give evidence in the prosecutions of Subpostmasters) didn’t know the difference between civil and criminal courts. It also transpired that even though he had been cc’d in documents detailing accounting errors in Horizon caused by software bugs, Dunks believed that this could not happen, explaining the apparent contradiction by telling the Inquiry he didn’t read every document he was sent.

    You know this is serious, right?

    Dunks’ lack of curiosity and knowledge about potential and real errors with the Horizon system is, and I say this with perhaps some understatement, troubling. Dunks became aware of the campaign by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance whilst Postmasters were being prosecuted, but told Jason Beer he did not seek any internal clarification about it. It led to the following exchange:

    JB: You just carried on providing the witness statements?

    AD: In my – our area of the team, no, I don’t think we did discuss [the Postmasters’ campaign] at all.
    JB: Looking back, do you think it ought to have been the topic of some discussion?

    AD: At a higher level, possibly. Whether that went on, I don’t know. It wasn’t for us to discuss or make judgement.

    JB: You were the one that was going along to court or providing witness statements?

    AD: Yeah.

    JB: It was your name at the bottom of the piece of paper that was signed?

    AD: Mm-hm.

    JB: Saying, “This is true”?

    AD: Mm-hm.

    JB: “I know I can be prosecuted”, I think it would have said.

    AD: Mm-hm.

    JB: “… if I have stated in it anything which I know to be false.”

    AD: Yes.

    JB: Did you not think that was quite a serious undertaking you were engaged in?

    AD: Yes, I did.

    JB: You heard, through the media and the like, that the Subpostmasters were saying, “There were faults in the system, the Horizon System, that are causing discrepancies for which I am not responsible.” You were providing witness statements at the same time, saying, “There is nothing that I’ve seen in the documents I’ve examined that could explain
    a system-generated discrepancy”?

    AD: Well, as you just stated, I would have probably taken it as it’s their opinion that there’s something wrong. I’m not – wasn’t aware there was something wrong, so I still believed my statement, on the witness statements I gave, were true at the time.

    Rickrolling along

    Richard Roll

    Dunks’ lack of knowledge about the Horizon IT system and its propensity for causing errors was highlighted the day after he gave evidence to the Inquiry. Testimony on Thursday 9 March was provided by Richard Roll, a third line Service Support Centre (SSC) engineer at Fujitsu from 2001 to 2004. Richard has told Panorama (twice) and the High Court about the constant battles required to keep Horizon from falling over when he worked there.

    On Thursday Roll described the Horizon coding he inherited as a “mess” and detailed the ease with which he and his colleagues were able to go into Postmasters accounts and change the the software in them in order to fix bugs.

    Roll was asked by Jason Beer if he had heard of Andy Dunks, cryptographic key manager of the Horizon IT system within Fujitsu’s Customer Service Post Office Account Security Team.

    Roll said: “No.”

    Beer asked him if he knew what Dunks did:
    JB: Can you recall a job title or role being undertaken of the cryptographic key manager?
    RR: There was a key, which was a crypto key, if you like, which was generated by a secure PC in a locked room within the SSC, bearing in mind that the SSC itself was on the sixth floor of a very secure building behind double doors that were extremely secure. It was a very, very secure area. But that’s about all I can remember.
    JB: Mr Dunks was the manager of the cryptographic key. We’ve heard from him recently. I think it follows from what you’ve said that you didn’t have any or you don’t recall any liaison with him or the security team?
    RR: No.

    JB: We know that he, the cryptographic key manager, was selected to give evidence by provision of witness statements and giving oral evidence in court, about what you and your team in the SSC had done in response to calls to the SSC and the work that your team had undertaken as recorded on call logs. Do you understand?

    RR: Right.
    JB: Do you know why one of that team, the customer service team, and, in particular, the person that managed the cryptographic key, was selected to give evidence about what you and your team were doing in the SSC?
    RR: No.

    JB: Did you ever hear any discussion or were you ever party to any discussion about why Mr Dunks, the crypto
    key manager, was giving evidence about what was or wasn’t shown on helpdesk call logs that were completed
    by you and members of your team, rather than a member of you and your team giving evidence?
    RR: No.

    What conclusions can we draw from all this, then?

    Well – on the face of it, Fujitsu Andy appears to have been in the business of giving incorrect or misleading witness statements to the Post Office in order to better assist it in the false prosecution of innocent Subpostmasters.

    In each case Mr Dunks clearly believed he had done the minimum required to satisfy his limited worldview that what he was doing had validity, and what he was saying was true. Otherwise he was potentially committing a criminal offence.

    This raises questions as to Fujitsu’s organisational integrity.

    What did Fujitsu do to make Mr Dunks aware of the seriousness of his evidence and the need to ensure it was completed to exacting standards?

    Who at Fujitsu knew it was allowing Mr Dunks to feed witness statements about information he didn’t understand into a judicial process he had no real knowledge of, with catastrophic consequences for the individuals at the wrong end of it?

    What did Fujitsu say to Andy Dunks before he expressly attempted to mislead a High Court judge?

    Why is it that when Rob Putland told the BEIS Select Committee Fujitsu would dismiss anyone found to have knowingly misled a court, they didn’t sack Andy Dunks?

    Dunks has already been told he is likely to be recalled to the Inquiry. I also hope we hear from Mr Putland before the year is out, too.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal.

  • Trotter is back at the Post Office – why?

    Brian Trotter

    Brian Trotter is a Post Office lifer (1980 – 2020) and former contract manager who has been either directly or indirectly involved in the auditing, suspending and sacking of several Subpostmasters. He gave evidence in the first Bates v Post Office trial, where he was cross-examined on the case of former Subpostmaster Louise Dar.

    In his 2019 judgment, Mr Justice Fraser said Trotter’s written evidence to the trial was “inaccurate” and that he:

    “seemed extremely nervous about giving evidence before me that he thought might be unhelpful to the Post Office”.

    On Thursday last week, Mr Trotter gave evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. Trotter was asked if he ever thought there were bugs, errors or defects with the Horizon IT system, which threw up discrepancies in Subpostmaster accounts. He replied:

    “I’d always thought it was fit for purpose and operated as intended.”

    He was taken to a series of emails which had been sent, forwarded or cc’d to him whilst he was in post, describing a serious Horizon error, known as the Callendar Square bug. It affected a number of branches. In one email, Fujitsu engineer Anne Chambers wrote:

    “This problem has been around for years and affects a number of sites most weeks.”

    Trotter admitted that this should have caused him to be alarmed.

    Ruth Kennedy, a barrister to the inquiry pressed him on it, asking:

    “What would it have taken for you to go to your line manager and say ‘This is a real issue, I’m worried about the system’? Would it have been someone saying to you there’s a problem with the system we need to take action? What would it have taken?”

    Trotter said he would have left it to “somebody more qualified than me”.

    Bugs notwithstanding, Trotter was pretty sure he knew what was causing discrepancies in Postmaster branches. In his witness statement to the Inquiry, he wrote:

    In the cases we investigated, the issues were resolved by training, if there was a suspension by appointing
    a temporary/replacement postmasters or explained by admissions from postmasters. As a result, there was
    a context which pointed towards human error being the cause of issues and not system errors.

    Trotter was challenged on this by Kennedy. She asked him why the Callendar Square bug, which Anne Chambers said had been around for “years” was not a “huge wake up call”. Trotter replied that he was:

    “trying to do the best that I could do with the information that I had in speaking to people within my sphere.”

    When Kennedy had finished, Chris Jacobs, a barrister representing Louise Dar, reminded Trotter of Dar’s witness statement to the Inquiry, in which she wrote:

    “I was treated like a criminal by the Post Office. The Post Office audit team were extremely callous and made no attempt to find the root cause of the alleged shortfalls. Specifically, Brian Trotter my contacts manager, was particularly keen to get me to admit to falsifying the books. He asked me to admit to this several times.”

    Trotter said he was “shocked” by this, adding:

    “I can’t prove this discussion didn’t take place but it’s not the sort of thing that I would have been saying to anybody.”

    To summarise, Mr Trotter made assumptions that all problems in the branches he looked after were down to poor training, incompetence or theft. He gave inaccurate evidence to the High Court, and was observed by the judge to be very reluctant to be unhelpful to his employer of (at that stage) 39 years. A Subpostmaster, in a sworn witness statement, gave evidence that Trotter tried to bully her into making a false confession of a criminal offence.

    Just the person to be re-hired by the Post Office to help them work in the historical matters unit dealing with Postmasters’ claims, specifically their Suspension Pay scheme – compensating Subpostmasters for being unfairly suspended without pay.

    Within hours of Trotter telling the Inquiry he was back at the Post Office, I received an email from the wife of a former Subpostmaster who was suspended without pay. She told me “This man [Trotter] suspended my husband, who ultimately had his employment withdrawn. How can we or others get a fair hearing under this scheme?”

    I asked if they had applied to the scheme. She told me:

    “We don’t know what to do yet… it’s like entering a nest of vipers.”

    I asked the Post Office if Mr Trotter’s ignorance of Horizon issues (and tech in general) and his apparent bias towards his employer made him suitable to help the Post Office make decisions about compensation. And I asked specifically about the obvious potential conflict of interest which could arise if he is adjudicating on cases he had an active role in.

    The Post Office said:

    It’s for the Inquiry to independently reach conclusions in due course on all the matters it is examining. We are participating fully in the Inquiry. It would not be fair or appropriate to comment about individual witnesses.

    As this didn’t make any sense, I had another go. The Post Office said:

    We are committed to fair compensation for Postmasters affected by the scandal. We are continuing to make offers and payments every week, whilst also providing independent ways in which Postmasters can raise disputes or concerns.

    Mark Baker, a former CWU Postmaster rep said on twitter:

    I only had dealings with [Trotter] once. I took an instant dislike to him. He treated Scotland like his personal mafia territory he didn’t like it when the CWU rocked up to defend a Postmaster. He is also a serial witness for the Post Office. He has produced witness statements in the Horizon litigation, the Group Employment Tribunal claim and now the Horizon Inquiry. Each time seeking to show his employer in the best possible light.

    My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal.