• Podcast: Where Did All The Money Go?

    It is the question I have probably been asked the most over the years. The long answer is in the podcast I have recorded with Mark Baker (left in the photo above), a long-serving Subpostmaster and union rep, and Ron Warmington (right in the photo above), now Chairman of Second Sight, the forensic accountancy firm that went into the Post Office in 2012 and uncovered the sort of disaster which could very well be (and was eventually proved as being) responsible for serious miscarriages of justice. Between us, we cobbled together a list of 14 different destinations, which I have listed below.

    The short answer to Where Did All The Money Go is that it was either disappearing out of branches due to customer fraud or staff theft or repeated mistakes benefitting a customer OR it was disappearing out of ancillary (IT and non IT) Post Office (and non-Post Office) systems due to fraud, mistakes outside the branch and non-Horizon computer error OR it was disappearing out of Subpostmaster pockets and into the Post Office’s bottom line due to Horizon-generated discrepancies which showed up in Subpostmaster branch accounts.

    It is important to remember the Post Office had no real control over its internal accounting systems for the duration of its Horizon-related prosecution spree (cf the 2013 Detica report) and so it didn’t know where money was going, nor could it properly account for where it came from. Suggesting that double-entry accounting would have revealed an obvious positive entry corresponding to an obvious negative entry assumes the Post Office systems worked and the people operating them knew what they were doing. They didn’t, and even if they did, they were not going to give any visibility of them to Subpostmasters or their legal representatives.

    The really, really short answer is that any money the Post Office was credited which it couldn’t make sense of ended up one of many internal suspense accounts.

    It is therefore perfectly likely that the Post Office took money which rightfully belonged to its Subpostmasters and used it to bolster its bottom line. This was part-admitted by Post Office CEO Nick Read in a parliamentary committee meeting in January 2021:

    Chair: But you have to do a profit and loss account, do you not, Mr Read, with money coming in and money going out? If victims were putting money into the Post Office, surely you know that money came in from somewhere. Did it just go to your bottom line?
    Nick Read: It went into a general suspense account.

    What Mr Read didn’t tell the Committee was that after three years (according to one source I have spoken to), if entries in the suspense account were not identified and/or claimed, the cash was swept into the Post Office’s P&L account and counted as profit. Trebles on the back of Subpostmaster misery all round.

    Have a listen to the podcast, and if it still doesn’t answer your questions, I would suggest approaching the Post Office with Freedom of Information requests. If you get a clearer answer, let me know.

    Where did all the money go? The podcast list of 14 (non-exhaustive) possible destinations

    1. Theft by the Subpostmaster.

    Seems pretty obvious right? But why would a Subpostmaster steal their own money? Is it their own money?

    1. Theft by the Subpostmaster’s staff

    Same fingers-in-the-till as point 1, but important to note that the Subpostmaster would still, under the terms of their contract, be held liable for their assistants’ crimes.

    1. Errors made at the counter by the Subpostmaster or one of their assistants

    A customer deposits £1000, but the assistant keys in £10,000 by mistake. How easy or common was it for Horizon users to make errors at the counter, how easy were they to find and how were they resolved?

    Over time, the Post Office changed its branch and Head Office operational processes to speed things up, but often, in doing that, they INCREASED the likelihood of errors that would harm their Subpostmasters. An example of this was when the Post Office phased out paying-in slips. Placing screen icons next to each other such as a banking deposit icon next to the withdraw cash icon.

    1. Errors made away from the counter but within the branch

    A Subpostmaster or member of staff could (for example) put the wrong amount of money in a pouch being sent back to a cash-handling centre. How was this resolved?

    1. Errors made at cash-handling centres

    What happens if £25,000 is recorded as being sent out to a branch and only £24,000 arrives?

    1. Theft by customers

    Sleight of hand, using dodgy cards or documents etc

    1. Theft by non-customers

    Criminals getting access to and exploiting weaknesses or loopholes somewhere in the Post Office/Horizon network. This could be external criminal gangs, or those who had infiltrated either the Post Office, Fujitsu or one of the Post Office’s corporate clients.

    Could this happen, not be discovered and blamed on the Subpostmaster?

    Examples of this type of loss would include thefts from ATMs and thefts carried out by employees of POL’s CLIENTS – or even by employees of Fujitsu (who we now know were routinely meddling with branch accounts without being required to keep any records showing what they’d done)… or even thefts by the Post Office’s own employees.

    1. Manual account adjustment errors made remotely to Subpostmasters branch accounts by Fujitsu engineers.

    An error by a Fujitsu engineer which caused a discrepancy in Subpostmaster’s branch account was documented during the civil litigation (see “The Smoking Gun“). The postmaster was then held liable for the discrepancy.

    9 . Manual processing errors by the Post Office back end (eg at Chesterfield etc)

    Where the Post Office or the wrong branch benefits at the expense of another branch due to errors made in manual document-handling processes.

    Examples of this include credit entries – involving Post Office clients – that have found their way into Post Office Suspense Accounts and that should have, had they been properly investigated, been credited back to branches… but weren’t.

    1. ’One-sided’ transactions where a customer gets something for nothing…

    A communications interrupt, or a power or hardware failure prevents a payment reaching a customer’s bank account through the LINK System, but the other side of the transaction, processed through Horizon, goes though properly. This error can also benefit the Postmaster.

    1. Other types of losses caused by power outages or telecommunications interrupts

    These being more likely in small, remote branches… untransmitted transactions were assigned to the branch processor hard drive, to await recovery. Hard-drives were never maintained or de-fragged. Corrupt sectors on hard-drives were common. Result… transaction data would be destroyed and no trace left. Leaving the cash account either in deficit or surplus as the recovery system could find nothing to recover. Data loss can also occur at the Post Office’s data centres.

    1. Processing interrupts where a Post Office client has benefitted at the expense of the branch.

    Transactions with corrupt data envelopes get diverted into a Post Office suspense account, but the Post Office’s processes were not robust enough to identify their origin and/or destination.

    1. The Post Office benefits from Horizon’s ‘doubling up’ of apparent shortfalls.

    Doubling-up was a serious problem with Horizon and appears to be have been down to some very bad coding with extreme consequences. Horizon’s ability to create money out of thin air which then becomes a subpostmaster debt was a real problem. If it happened in reverse, it would likely be written off.

    1. Examples of shortages created by other bugs in Horizon.

    Feel free to list any more possibilities in the comments below. And do listen to the podcast!

    The journalism on this blog is crowdfunded. If you would like to join the “secret email” newsletter, please consider making a one-off donation. The money is used to keep the contents of this website free. You will receive irregular, but informative email updates about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

  • Gary’s years of hurt

    Gary Thomas

    Let’s have a look at another one of the frontline plods who made it their business to investigate Subpostmasters and recommend them (or not) for prosecution based on what, at times, seems to be imaginary evidence.

    Gary Thomas (and this will shock you) started his career in the Post Office as a counter clerk, rising to Crown Office branch manager, before joining the Security Team in 2000. He left in 2012. Thomas therefore worked at the heart of the Post Office’s investigation and prosecution complex for 12 of the 13 years it was prosecuting its Subpostmasters on the basis of Horizon evidence, without ever once bothering to find out for himself just how reliable this IT data was.

    Thomas had no previous experience of criminal investigations before joining the security team, but a three week residential course soon put that right. Before long he was carrying out investigations of Subpostmasters. Thomas describes the remaining training he got from the Post Office to be “minimal”, but he didn’t need to worry about the Horizon IT system, because, he told the Inquiry (in hopelessly garbled language):

    “everyone said the same, but line managers, colleagues, senior lead team manager, the business, was that we had somebody who would give a witness statement from Fujitsu that all the cases seemed to suggest that there was no product integrity [problem?] with Horizon.”

    Despite everyone saying the same, Thomas could not explain how this idea originated. It was must have been in the air they breathed.

    Millar time

    In his witness statement, Thomas wrote about conducting interviews at police stations because the Post Office investigators were “a well-known recognised interviewing authority with the police”.

    Megan Millar, the Inquiry barrister questioning Thomas, asked him in what way the Post Office Security unit was a “well-known recognised interviewing authority”. Thomas didn’t know. He’d just heard someone tell him they were.

    Thomas couldn’t remember personally recommending Subpostmasters should be charged with criminal offences. Then he was taken by Millar to his witness statement, in which he recollects disagreeing with the hapless Jarnail Singh in one instance over Singh’s gung-ho prosecuting decisions. Thomas wrote:

    “I challenged these charges as I had previously advised Mr Singh that there are no Branch Trading Statements available. Not only did I challenge the suggested charges but I also suggest that an appropriate charge under the Fraud Act 2006 should be considered.”

    Was this, wondered Millar, evidence Thomas did have input into prosecuting decisions?

    “Not that I recall, no,” he said, then appeared to reconsider. “Obviously I have written this… where I’ve managed to get the next bit from, of suggesting an appropriate charge, maybe I was digging from friends, colleagues, or management or something.”

    Dodgy data

    On the subject of making data requests of Fujitsu, Thomas admitted that even if a suspect Subpostmaster was blaming their discrepancies on dodgy figures from Horizon, it wasn’t a given that ARQ (audit) data would be requested from Fujitsu. Like all the investigators at the Post Office, Thomas held a “belief” that “shortfalls could not actually be attributed to Horizon”. Furthermore if he had requested ARQ data, Thomas was not qualified to understand it, telling Millar he was “self-taught”.

    Despite being a Disclosure Officer on many of his investigations, Thomas had no real idea of what this entailed other than writing things down and filing them, or as he had it: “I was told you had to… you know, everything had a place, if that makes sense.” Actual disclosure didn’t seem to come into it.

    Julian Wilson, who died in 2016

    Thomas was Lead Investigator in the case of Julian Wilson, who sadly died in 2016. Julian Wilson had his conviction for false accounting posthumously quashed in 2021. The Court of Appeal judges ruled:

    “Evidence from Horizon was essential to Mr Wilson’s case. Based on the papers available from the criminal proceedings, there is nothing to suggest any ARQ data was obtained, the Post Office did not investigate any of the criticisms of Horizon made by Mr Wilson historically and during his detailed interview. There is no evidence to corroborate the Horizon evidence, there is no proof of an actual loss as opposed to a Horizon-generated shortage.”

    What actual investigating was Thomas doing? Well, he searched Julian Wilson’s house (finding nothing), and did the “detailed interview”. The transcript of that has survived. During the interview Wilson started by raising the issue of problems with Horizon. He also told Thomas that he had reported them and said he had been told by his Federation rep of problems other Subpostmasters were having with Horizon.

    Thomas responded that “those questions from postmasters weren’t founded in the Horizon system in that they’d been up to no good.” The garbled syntax, at least, is familiar.

    Thomas admitted to Millar that making a comment like this during an interview with a Subpostmaster based on no evidence whatsoever was “completely wrong”. In fact, throughout his questioning at the Inquiry, Thomas readily accepted that he had been hopelessly misguided about a lot of his assumptions and appeared to come across as a humble, apologetic human being, “frustrated” that he did not have the tools in his locker to do a single proper investigation, trapped, as he was, in a web of somewhat moronic groupthink.

    As Millar took him through the procedural oversights in Julian Wilson’s case, most of which had nothing to do with Horizon and a lot to do with an assumption Wilson was guilty (which became, due to Wilson’s guilty plea, a self-fulfilling prophecy), Thomas readily, almost enthusiastically, accepted his failures.

    The best investigators they ever had

    But just as Jarnail Singh’s attempts to portray himself as a witless victim were harpooned by contemporaneous documents, towards the end of Thomas’s evidence he was shown an email he sent a colleague in 2015 – six years after the formation of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and two years after the Second Sight report which revealed flaws in the Horizon system. In the email (just published at my request by the Inquiry), Thomas tells his colleague he is “pleased” he has got his hands on electronic documents relating to Julian Wilson’s case. When his colleague asks why, Thomas replies:

    “Because I want to prove that there is FFFFiiinnn no ‘Case for the Justice of Thieving Subpostmasters’ and that we were the best Investigators they ever had and they were all crooks!!”

    At the Inquiry, Thomas accepted this was “disgraceful” and apologised to “absolutely everybody” because “I’ve labelled absolutely everybody, so I can’t defend it”.

    No, but you wrote it.

    The Wilson family, with Karen holding a photo of her beloved Julian on the day his conviction was finally quashed

    I asked Karen Wilson, Julian’s widow, what she thought of Thomas’s evidence. She told me it made a change to hear from someone at the Post Office who wasn’t suffering from memory loss. She also credited Thomas with “honesty” and showing “some regret” for his actions. Then, said Karen:

    “When the emails at the end of the evidence came up on the screen in respect of the “Case for the Justice of Thieving Subpostmasters” and that they were “all crooks” my doubts began to surface, as did my anger at what happened.”

    She remembered Julian telling her about the “cruel interrogation” Thomas put him through, adding:

    “I shall never ever forget the words said to Julian when the confiscation order was served upon us and we pleaded with the Post Office investigators as to how we would live and eat. We were told “live off the money you stole”. Sort of fits with the mindset that they appear to have had, doesn’t it?”

    The various Post Office people we have heard from in recent weeks have been at pains to point out that if only someone had told them there might be problems with Horizon then everything would have been different. The reality, as evidenced by the contemporaneous documents, was that they were both malicious and incompetent. It was far easier to assume guilt and use their legal firepower to abuse the criminal justice system by pushing innocent but desperate people into a place where pleading guilty plea seemed like the least worst option.

    Difficult and traumatic

    There is a coda to the Thomas story. In 2021, four years after he left the Post Office and a couple of weeks after 39 Subpostmasters had their convictions quashed at the Court of Appeal, Gary Thomas wrote a quite extraordinary email to the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Nick Read. In his email (also just published by the Inquiry), Thomas said:

    I was employed to carry out numerous roles over my 32 year career and a Post Office Security Manager was one of my roles I was employed in for around 10 years. During this time I carried out several criminal investigations interviewing suspected Criminal Offences by Postmasters along with my colleagues. This included PACE tape recorded interviews both voluntarily and following individuals being arrested and at Police Stations. The arrests were based on evidence both myself and colleagues would present to the Police stating the frauds were conducted through the Horizon Computer System. I now know that all this evidence was obviously flawed and without substance. The Post Office in my opinion therefore at the time blatantly lied and duped both me and colleagues into producing incorrect evidence to the Police, submitted committal papers to both the CPS and Post Office Law department that resulted in Criminal Trials and Prosecutions.

    The past few years since this scandal has been brought to light under the “Justice For Postmasters” have been to say the least difficult and traumatic. I have to live with the fact I gave evidence under oath in several Courts swearing on the bible each time and now knowing this was incorrect and lies. My family and myself have been subjected to abuse and comments that I had given false evidence that was now proven to have been known yet hidden by the Post Office board of that time.

    I took redundancy from Post Office Ltd in 2017 after 32 years loyal and committed service and now have to live with all this every day as do my other Security colleagues that I have recently spoken with. We even had a proceeds of crime unit within Post Office Ltd that ensured some of these individuals lost their homes and families. In fact my yearly objectives that were bonus worthy at the time were based on numbers of successful prosecutions and recovery amounts of money to the business. I had some instances of these Postmasters commmitting suicide, which now sits somewhat on my conscious because of my employer. How do you think I deal with this and now actually sleep at night now knowing my actions that were backed and supported by my employer has affected the said Postmasters but also the individuals you employed to conduct this role.

    I am writing to you so you also realise the effect this has had on not just the Postmasters affected but also on the employees directed and instructed by their employer Post Office Ltd to perform the Security / Investigation role at this time.

    Can I ask the question and enquire why we have all been completely cast aside and left with not so much as a letter of communication or an apology whatsoever ?

    Whilst compensation is being correctly awarded now to these Sub-Postmasters, I feel the employees instructed to conduct these prosecutions, arrests and searches have been completely overlooked.

    I will await your response before taking further advice from my Solicitor.

    As the tiniest violins play for the “cast aside” investigators, consider the moral bankruptcy in awarding staff bonuses based on the number of successful criminal prosecutions and cash recoveries they make (corroborated in fellow investigator Dave Posnett’s evidence). No wonder Gary and his mates were keen to bang up the likes of Julian Wilson and steal all their assets.

    Nothing has changed. This year the Post Office senior leadership team awarded themselves bonuses for the work they did assisting the public inquiry: cash in whilst you are creating a disaster, cash in as you watch it unravel.

    And note that Thomas’s mask of righteous anger slips towards the end of the email, as something else comes to the fore. His cri de coeur of abuse and trauma has suddenly seemed to become a none-too-subtle demand for compensation. Is he also looking to screw a few more quid out of the scandal, this time via his former employer rather than the vulnerable Subpostmasters he considered “crooks”?

    At the inquiry Thomas was keen to insist his letter had been misinterpreted by the Post Office (which internally called it “an attempt to negotiate a payment”), and that all he was after was an apology. Reading the contemporaneous document again… it doesn’t really look like it, mate.

    Maybe Thomas is genuinely contrite about his role in harming so many others. If so, I wonder, other than sending a few self-pitying emails, what he’s actually done about it?

    The journalism on this blog is crowdfunded. If you would like to join the “secret email” newsletter, please consider making a one-off donation. The money is used to keep the contents of this website free. You will receive irregular, but informative email updates about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

  • Exclusive: Post Office fails in compensation clawback attempt

    Publicly, the government has said it is determined to compensate Subpostmasters affected by the Post Office scandal “as soon as possible”. Behind the scenes it seems determined to drag things out to a ridiculous degree.

    Earlier this year both the Post Office and the government decided that money gifted to Subpostmasters with criminal convictions, by other Subpostmasters, should count against any compensation they receive from the government when/if those convictions are quashed.

    Four years ago today the Post Office settled with 555 Subpostmasters who had taken it to the High Court as part of the Bates v Post Office class action (known in this country as a Group Litigation Order – or GLO). Sixty-one of the claimants had criminal convictions. Under the terms of the settlement (which the claimants’ lawyers, Freeths, initially told its clients it couldn’t see on grounds of confidentiality) those 61 were expressly given nothing by the Post Office. Clause 7.1.3 of the settlement agreement states:

    “as part of the settlement set out in this Deed, the defendant has not made, or agreed to make, any payment to, or for the benefit of any Convicted Claimant.”

    In 2019, the GLO claimant steering committee, comprising former Subpostmaster Alan Bates and his advisor Kay Linnell, secretly decided to share out the circa £11.5m they ended up with (once funders’ and legal fees had been deducted from the £57.75m settlement) between the entire claimant group, rather than leave the convicted claimants with nothing.

    The cash that the 61 convicted Subpostmasters received was therefore effectively a gift from the non-convicted claimants. This was, according to Freeths (in a letter sent to convicted claimants in July 2020) in order to be “fair and consistent across the group”.

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of this (and I happen to think it was right), there was (or at least there should have been once the settlement agreement became public in 2020), no doubt as to the status of these payments.

    It’s yer money I’m after, baby

    Fast forward to 2023 and for some inexplicable reason, the Post Office and government decided that if applicants to the Overturned Conviction compensation scheme were members of the GLO claimant group, the payments they received from their fellow claimants should count as compensation made by the Post Office, and therefore be debited from their compensation pot.

    The government seemed to think this was the “fairest available” way of dealing with the issue. The fact it would end up saving them money was, of course, the furthest thing from their minds. In fact, argued the government (in one position paper I have seen), if they accepted the settlement cash was a gift, it:

    “would mean that each convicted claimant would receive the amount of their agreed losses plus a gift. However each not-convicted claimant would receive the amount of their agreed losses minus a settlement payment, which is not compensated.”

    The government felt this “would be wholly unfair to that group”.

    Lawyers for claimants on the Overturned Conviction scheme did not agree with the government’s view.

    Dyson’s decision

    Former judge Lord Dyson, who has already been working on various other compensation issues between the Post Office and some of the claimants, was asked to make a decision in what’s known as an Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE). This is usually non-binding, but parties can agree to be bound by any decision before starting the process. After receiving submissions, Dyson did his ENE and came down in favour of the convicted claimants, stating:

    “the assessment of the Convicted Claimants’ damages should be made on the basis of the facts as between the Convicted Claimants and POL [Post Office Ltd] and without regard to the position of any third parties, including the Not Convicted Claimants.”


    “I consider that the Convicted Claimants are not required to give credit for the sums they have received from the Not Convicted Claimants… payments that were made to Convicted Claimants out of the Cash Settlement Sum:
    are not to be taken into account in assessing damages payable”

    The barrister Paul Marshall made submissions to the ENE on behalf of claimant Subpostmasters. I asked him what he made of all this. He replied:

    “the Post Office’s position on what may be called “clawback” of sums received as compensation by those convicted on prosecution by the Post Office whose prosecutions were (subsequent to the Group Litigation) quashed on appeal, a position that to my surprise was shared by the government, was to my mind misconceived as a matter of legal principle from the outset – for reasons I explained in some detail to Minister Hollinrake in March 2023.

    “The Post Office’s willingness to incur substantial expense in contesting an issue on grounds that to my mind, as a matter of law, were plainly without merit, is disappointing. The Post Office’s approach is, however, entirely consistent with the Post Office’s approach to claims against it by its victims since the time at which Second Sight was instructed in 2012 – and with which many will be wearily familiar. It does not sit easily with the Post Office’s (or the government’s) publicly avowed intention to pay full and fair compensation to the Post Office’s victims. It also illustrates the substantial difficulty encountered by Post Office victims in securing proper compensation.”

    Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake this morning told me:

    “It’s really not about ‘reducing Subpostmaster compensation’ and I think it’s wrong to imply that it is. The total amount of compensation being paid has never been a consideration in any of the conversations I’ve had on this matter, the only factors have been parity, fairness and doing whatever we can to increase the pace of resolution.”

    I have asked the Post Office for comment.

    The journalism on this blog is crowdfunded. If you would like to join the “secret email” newsletter, please consider making a one-off donation. The money is used to keep the contents of this website free. You will receive irregular, but informative email updates about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

  • More Singh’d against than Singh-ing

    There has been some rank incompetence on display from various Post Office witnesses over the course of this inquiry, but I think we’ll have to go some way to find a worse performance than this.

    We know from the witnesses during Bates v Post Office and the Inquiry evidence we’ve heard over most of 2023 that the Post Office is stuffed to the gills with lifers, plodders and gormless apparatchiks inexplicably promoted into positions way beyond their ability. Unlike most of them, Jarnail Singh did not rise to middle-management after starting his career as a counter clerk or a postie. He is a lawyer, and was once the Post Office’s Head of Criminal Law, making life-changing decisions about Subpostmasters, based on his 16+ years of experience working in the Post Office’s prosecution department.

    Giving evidence over two full days, Singh revealed himself to be an exceptionally dangerous man, inhabiting a fantasy world manufactured by a priceless combination of the Peter Principle and the Dunning-Kruger effect. He was also self-defeatingly slippery to such a degree that when he was asked if he was the Head of Criminal Law at the Post Office, his answer was:

    “I wasn’t head of anything, to be honest with you. I just went in as a challenge, as an opportunity and I can reassure you I was not Head of Criminal Law. I think the outside world did, probably did [think I was], because I was the only criminal lawyer and I think originally they wanted Rob Wilson to go in, and at the last minute he dropped out, and I was put forward and I think in the last minute, in the last… I think this post was on 1 April 2012 and I think I was more or less told
    the end of March, probably the middle of March, “Do you want it?” And I considered it, went to see Cartwright King, I liked it and I knew it would be tough, so I took that opportunity as a challenge and that’s what I did.”

    In 2012, Mr Singh took over from Rob Wilson, the Post Office’s Head of Criminal Law when the Post Office split with Royal Mail in 2012. Wilson went to Royal Mail and Singh was left as the only senior lawyer in the department. He may not have had the title Head of Criminal Law, but he was, in all respects, its head of criminal law. Many of Singh’s answers were like this – forthright denial of something, followed by obfuscatory guff and then an oblique admission or, more usually, a change of subject.

    A glittering career

    Singh joined the Post Office as a legal executive in 1989 in the conveyancing department. He passed his Law Society finals whilst working at the Post Office and was admitted as a lawyer in December 1992. In September 1993 Singh transferred to the Post Office’s litigation department, working first on civil litigation. He became a Post Office senior criminal lawyer in 1995, when he transferred to the Prosecutions Department.

    At the time the Post Office prosecutions department had eight senior lawyers, and, according to Singh, “three or four legal executives, three or four admin staff, and four or five secretaries.” This was all overseen by a Head of Criminal Law.

    Jason Beer KC, the barrister asking questions on behalf of the Inquiry, took Singh to his witness statement. Singh had stated he was “the” senior lawyer on the criminal law team.

    “No, well, maybe “the” needs to come out”, replied Singh, simultaneously admitting the inaccuracy and suggesting a correction which didn’t make sense. It set a standard for coherency which Singh maintained for the rest of the day.

    Singh was intially line-managed by two Heads of Criminal Law. First was Mike Heath, then the hapless Rob Wilson until the Royal Mail split from the Post Office in 2012. Thereafter Singh somehow found himself head of an empty department, the only lawyer in the Post Office’s criminal law team, working with Hugh Flemington, the Head of Legal and Susan Crichton, the General Counsel. Singh called Crichton “a lovely lady, and Hugh, we got on really well. As and when we needed it, needed them to discuss matters, I did.”

    Singh says he complained to them about his workload, and this, he claims, is how most of the Post Office’s prosecution function came to be outsourced to a legal firm called Cartright King. But the Post Office still needed Singh to sign off on prosecutions at their end.

    Whilst at the Post Office, Jarnail Singh presided over the prosecution of a number of innocent Subpostmasters. When Jason Beer pointed out that his witness statement failed to “accept any personal responsibility for any mistakes made”, Singh replied with what I am sure will become an apology for the ages, and is worth repeating in full:

    Singh: Well, obviously, I… I’m very grieved…
    Beer: That’s a different issue.
    Singh: …and I’m embarrassed and sorry. I mean I think maybe we ought to start by me apologising directly to the Subpostmasters. Obviously, I do, you know, feel their pain and hurt and I can feel the same. And I don’t… I’ve never met any of them. My basically employment of job entailed, or my role entailed the paperwork I received, I assessed it in line with the law, the evidence, the public interest, and whether it was appropriate for charges to go before the courts. So, in that respect, you know… I didn’t [do] the complete job, I didn’t do the investigations, I didn’t know anything about Horizon in the sense about how it operated had a witness statement to actually explain and then we had the barristers in turn to approve it, and then it went before the judge to deal with the enforcement side of things, if it needed.
    So, in that respect, of course I feel very upset and aggrieved that it had gone so far, because the whole idea of becoming a lawyer wasn’t to do any wrong, and I certainly… the… I didn’t want to be here today. I wanted to enjoy a long legal career within the Post Office and whoever, and now to carry on doing the next stage of my life.

    The incoherence continued. Beer asked if Singh’s witness statement sought to create the impression of a diligent lawyer:

    “acting with the utmost professionalism at all times, but of sorrow and being hurt after the event because, if only you had known about Horizon, everything would have been very different?”

    Singh replied:

    “Absolutely not. I am not that sort of person. It’s not the way… you made me come across wrong. I take full responsibility for the… you know, the hurt and the sorrow people [unclear] and I think… I was actually going to actually apologise to Julian Wilson’s family, seeing that he’s not here to see that his good name has been put intact and things have been put right.”

    Julian Wilson

    Julian Wilson was prosecuted and convicted on Singh’s watch. He died in 2016. His conviction was quashed in 2021. I very much doubt that means “things have been put right”, but hey, Jarnail, you go ahead and nearly apologise to his family.

    During his evidence, Singh said it “hurt” to prosecute Subpostmasters because of the anguish he knew it caused them. Beer took him to an infamous email written by Singh on 21 October 2010, a day after the conviction of Seema Misra, whose husband first introduced me to this story. The email is called Attack on Horizon. In it, Singh writes:

    “We were beset with unparallel degree of disclosure requests by the Defence. Through the hard work of everyone, Counsel Warwick Tatford, Investigation Officer, Jon Longman and through the considerable expertise of Gareth Jenkins of Fujitsu we were able to destroy to the criminal standard of proof (beyond all reasonable doubt) every single suggestion made by the Defence. It is to be hoped the case will set a marker to dissuade other Defendants from jumping on the Horizon bashing bandwagon.”

    In his witness statement, Singh said he had input from a barrister on how to word the statement, and that he was instructed to write it. He couldn’t say how the barrister had helped him word the statement, and when asked who instructed him to write it, he named Phil Taylor, one of the legal execs in his department. The email is sent to senior lawyers and investigators within the Post Office, including General Counsel Susan Crichton. During his evidence, Singh claims he was given a distribution list, and didn’t choose the people it was sent to, suggesting “I don’t know any of them.” Beer seemed bemused by this, but let it pass. Then he asked:

    Beer: So… if you didn’t pick the distribution list, you picked the subject title of the email?
    Singh: I don’t know…
    Beer: You…?
    Singh: Well…
    Beer: Or was that dictated to you?
    Singh: If there is… it was dictated to me.

    Singh was unable to say who dictated it to him. Beer suggested he viewed the Misra case as an attack on Horizon, so giving the email such a title “would come naturally” to him.

    “Absolutely not,” replied Singh. Beer asked him if he didn’t who did view it as an attack on Horizon?

    Singh swore blind he did not know.
    “So you’re typing an email…”
    “I didn’t type it.” Singh countered.

    Beer took stock. Singh had been told to write an email, headed with a title he didn’t agree with dictated to him by someone he couldn’t remember, which he didn’t actually type and then sent to a distribution list of people he didn’t know.

    “Is that where we’ve got to?” asked Beer, a little incredulously.
    “I don’t know whether it’s an attack on Horizon. I’ve got no stake in Horizon, I don’t even know how it operated or anything of that nature.” replied Singh, before going off on a long ramble about the Misra case. Beer eventually interrupted him.
    “So the man that dictated the email that says Attack on Horizon is the wrong person to ask why the case was viewed as an attack on Horizon? Is that where we’ve got to, Mr Singh?”
    Singh replied “I think so”, before launching into another ramble.

    By this stage Beer was under no illusion he had an idiot on his hands, but one who had a natural ability deflect and obfuscate everything which came his way. Beer gave Singh a few more bites of the cherry before trying to nail him down:

    Beer: Did somebody else type an email which you cut and pasted into this one?
    Singh: No, no, no.
    Beer: No. Okay, hold on…
    Singh: They dictated it.
    Beer: Who dictated it?
    Singh: I don’t know. I mean I don’t know, there was probably various people over…
    Beer: So, a collection of people?
    Singh: Probably, yes, and I think it was approved by…
    Beer: Who are the possible candidates for dictating your email?
    Singh: It was… this wording was approved by Robert Wilson, Rob Wilson, Head of the Criminal Law Team. […]
    Beer: So you said it was approved by him?
    Singh: Yes.
    Beer: Was he one of the dictators?
    Singh: I don’t know whether he did or not. To be honest with you… to be honest, I… I’m not here to name names. I mean …
    Beer: I think you just did.
    Singh: I did, because…
    Beer: Because I asked you?
    Singh: Yes. You asked me and I am here to assist and help.

    Seema Misra

    Unfortunately Jarnail Singh could only provide help in the same way a cat can help you write an email. Shortly after sending his dictated message, Seema Misra was sentenced to nine months in custody. Of this, Singh says:

    “To hear that she was sentenced to prison sort of hurt me quite badly. I mean, for two or three days.”

    Poor bloke. Two or three whole days. Then what? Beer wondered if the language in Singh’s email was “indicative… of a degraded and debased prosecutorial culture within your office?”

    Singh replied: “No. No, I wouldn’t. Look, Mr Beer it’s your job to ask that but it’s not, no.”

    Beer tried again: “The last paragraph where you say: “It is to be hoped that the case will set a marker to dissuade from jumping on the Horizon bashing bandwagon”, who within the Post Office held that hope?”

    “Well, certainly not the Criminal Law Team. Certainly, I didn’t.” said Singh, looking at the words which had been dictated to him and which he had dictated and bore his name which he didn’t believe.

    Who did hold that hope, wondered Beer?

    “Well, whoever dealt with the case,” replied Singh, who dealt with the case.

    Singh continued to go off on long perorations about how upsetting prosecuting people was, claiming at one point that he couldn’t have done it if he’d “had to go to court and actually physically see these people, then I wouldn’t be able to do the job.”

    Luckily for him, the ruining of peoples’ lives “was a paper exercise” which made things much easier.

    Beer asked a final question on the topic, suggesting the attitude and the language of the Attack on Horizon email was entirely at odds with his professional duties.

    Singh: Well, I… well, look, in hindsight, you can say all sorts of things. The thing is…
    Beer: Well, I’m saying that and I’m asking you the question.
    Singh: Well, I don’t know what… are you asking me to… what are you asking me? Please ask me.

    Beer tried again, eventually getting the admission that “of course” Singh’s email was at odds with Singh’s professional duties. “Of course it is,” said Singh, who then began to complain about Beer’s line of questioning, stating:

    “I am just sort of feeling so aggrieved that you’re asking me this because that’s not the idea of… you know, it was a challenge to qualify as a lawyer and I don’t… the last thing I wanted to finish this off was something like that.”

    Singh was taken to a December 2013 email. This was five months after the Clarke Advice had been issued by Simon Clarke of Cartwright King, calling into question all Post Office prosecutions on the basis of Horizon evidence. All Post Office prosecutions had been stopped. Singh wrote:

    “Any case begun now will attract some type of Horizon issue because this is the passing bandwagon people are jumping on. When we have a few wins under our belt the Horizon challenges will melt away like midnight snow.”

    Beer asked Singh why he formed that view – that Horizon was a “passing bandwagon”. Singh replied:

    “I don’t know. I had… it’s a sort of… this isn’t just one person, this… we worked as a team, because there was so much going on, it was a team effort team view. It wasn’t a decision made by me. It was a decision by people working on it, and not only internally but externally. They were people with a lot of experience in this type of work. So this is not a personal view. It was the view, the general view, put in that… put in that answer.”

    Beer pointed out that it was Singh’s email. Singh agreed, but responded that “we worked as a team.”

    Beer wondered: “Did someone dictate this email to you?

    “Possibly.” Singh replied.

    It was what it was

    And so it went on. Singh couldn’t explain why he’d written what he’d written, but absolutely denied it was because it was he didn’t have a justification for the crassness of the email. It was not that. It was just that he was “struggling in the sense that I can’t explain to what happened in the year 2013, and we’re in the year 2023, on to ’24. At that time, you know, the situation was what it was.”

    Poor lad

    Singh then came up with the suggestion that he might actually have been more wronged than the Subpostmasters he prosecuted, saying: “I feel aggrieved about it as much as they do, probably… even more, because I was in a position to do something and I didn’t.”

    Which is, I think, a bold claim.

    I am looking forward to seeing what action the Solicitors Regulation Authority decides to take in the light of Singh’s evidence.

    One correspondent wrote:

    “Mr Singh is clearly as mad as a three-cornered bat. The fact that he has held a senior position at the Post Office for most of his working life tells us something. If we didn’t know it already.”

    Another said “Jaw dropping. Hard to tell where the stupidity ends and the malice begins.”

    If you have ten hours to waste, I do suggest watching the two days Singh spent on the stand. And please do leave a comment below. I’d be interested to know how you reacted.

    Thanks to secret emailer Nigel Derby for his help with this piece.

    The journalism on this blog is crowdfunded. If you would like to join the “secret email” newsletter, please consider making a one-off donation. The money is used to keep the contents of this website free. You will receive irregular, but informative email updates about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

  • Criminal conspiracy: slowly joining the dots

    A throwaway line in a piece of oral evidence at the Horizon IT inquiry yesterday may have revealed more about the cover-up which some are now openly calling a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice at the Post Office.

    The evidence came from Dave Pardoe, a former Senior Security Manager, invested with the power to sign off on Subpostmaster prosecutions.

    Pardoe’s evidence followed a familiar line – that Post Office investigators were told they shouldn’t consider Horizon as the source of a discrepancy at a branch. Then he said:

    “There was a persistent sentiment that the system was fit for purpose. I was never in a meeting when it was discussed with me the concept of putting the brakes on prosecution activity. 
It’s clear that there was a fear that, to do that, would immediately cast doubt on prosecutions that had been completed, that had gone before.

    Pardoe is the first Inquiry witness I can recall to suggest there was a “clear” awareness within the Post Office that looking too closely at the Horizon IT system might uncover miscarriages of justice.

    This goes to the heart of the Post Office scandal. In my view it should be both the main purpose of the Inquiry and the ongoing Metropolitan police investigation. It’s one thing to erroneously prosecute innocent people on the basis of false information. It’s another thing to keep on prosecuting more innocent people because the reputational cost of stopping has become too great.

    Spelling it out

    Flora Page and Ed Henry KC

    In their closing statement to phase three of the Inquiry, Ed Henry KC and Flora Page, instructed by Hodge, Jones and Allen, set out the threshold for a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, which, they say, is committed “when two or more people agree to embark on a course of conduct which has a tendency to, and is intended to, pervert the course of public justice.

    Henry et al note that “a person may be attributed with knowledge if the evidence suggests that they “deliberately shut their eyes to the obvious, or refrained from inquiry because they suspected the truth but did not wish to have their suspicion confirmed“.”

    It could be argued that Pardoe’s description of a corporate “fear” that “putting the brakes on prosecution activity” could “immediately cast doubt on prosecutions that had been completed”, falls squarely into the above definition.

    The Ismay-Wilson axis

    Pardoe’s recollection is backed up by internal Post Office documentation. On 3 March 2010, the Head of Criminal Law at the Post Office, Rob Wilson, issued an internal email complaining about not being invited onto a conference call about problems with Horizon. A memo of the meeting concluded a thorough investigation of the Horizon system should be commissioned. Wilson had a problem with this, though he starts well, stating:

    “If it is thought that there is a difficulty with Horizon then clearly the action set out in your memo [an independent investigation of Horizon] is not only needed but is imperative.”

    But then he goes on to write:

    “Such an investigation will be disclosable as undermining evidence on the defence in the cases proceeding through the criminal courts. Inevitably the defence will argue that if we are carrying out an investigation we clearly do not have confidence in Horizon and therefore to continue to prosecute will be an abuse of the criminal process. Alternatively we could be asked to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the investigation, if this were to be adopted the resultant adverse publicity could lead to massive difficulties for POL [Post Office Ltd] as it would be seen by the press and media to vindicate the current challenges. The potential impact however is much wider for POL in that every office in the country will be seen to be operating a compromised system with untold damage to the Business… To continue prosecuting alleged offenders knowing that there is an ongoing investigation to determine the veracity of Horizon could also be detrimental to the reputation of my team.”

    Note Wilson’s concern – “adverse publicity” and “reputation”. Not justice. After Wilson’s intervention, no independent investigation was carried out for another two years. Wilson’s sentiments were echoed on 2 August 2010 by the Post Office’s Head of Product and Branch Accounting, Rod Ismay, who was tasked by the incoming managing director David Smith to write a report rebutting the challenges to Horizon. Ismay falsely starts his report by claiming it is “objective” report. He concludes:

    “It is… important to be crystal clear about any [independent Horizon] review 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 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.”

    On giving evidence to the Inquiry, Rod Ismay tried to suggest that although his name was on the report, he was barely the author at all, more of a cipher for other peoples’ assertions. When asked where he got the above paragraph from, he replied:

    “That narrative would have come from speaking to somebody in the Criminal Law team… I imagine it probably came from a conversation with Rob [Wilson].”

    When Rob Wilson came to give evidence, he tried to suggest his 3 March 2010 email should essentially be disregarded as an “overstatement” of the situation, and that he had “overreacted to being excluded from what I saw as [a matter] being critical to me as the Head of the Criminal Law Team.”

    Yet two years later, on 28 March 2012, Wilson’s colleague in Post Office’s legal services, Chris Darvill, wrote to the Post Office General Counsel Susan Crichton, reporting that Wilson was still holding out against an investigation of the Horizon system. Darvill told Crichton her Head of Criminal Law:

    “has concerns regarding the PR implications over an audit being conducted… Rob also has concerns regarding the costs that would be incurred… Rob remains firmly of the view that an audit should not be carried out. In his words: “POL has to grit its teeth and get on with prosecuting and defending civil actions”.”

    When this extraordinary take on the situation was raised at the Inquiry by Jason Beer KC, it led to the following exchange:

    Jason Beer: Was it your view that POL should just grit its teeth and get on with prosecuting people?
    Rob Wilson: I think so, yes.
    Jason Beer: Just carry on regardless?
    Rob Wilson: Well…
    Jason Beer: More important than whether or not there was a problem with the system was public relations and cost?
    Rob Wilson: Well, I didn’t believe that we had a problem with the system because of the Rod Ismay report.

    In 2012, Wilson’s essentially mad position was overruled by Crichton, who brought in the independent investigators Second Sight who, under great pressure, eventually blew the whole scandal open.

    Yesterday, when Pardoe was asked whether the “persistent sentiment” he described came from his boss John Scott, (the former Post Office Head of Security), Wilson agreed it did, but then said:

    “The one I remember probably with greater clarity is the Paula Vennells communication… I’m sure that that preceded known media interest that was imminently about to go public, and I’m sure that there was some form of written communication to say, you know, “Look, folks, this is likely to be out within the public domain and the approach we’re taking is this, this, this and this”, to paraphrase.”

    Counsel to the Inquiry picked this up. “So the whole organisation was told “There’s going to be something in the media about Horizon and it is to be disregarded because everything is robust” and…”

    Pardoe replied: “I certainly recall a… reading a written rebuttal and position that the business were adopting, yes.

    Pardoe was asked if this communication from Vennells had come before Rebecca Thomson’s seminal Computer Weekly article in 2009, which put the Horizon scandal into the public domain. Pardoe agreed it might, but in 2009 Vennells was the Post Office’s Network Director. She didn’t become Managing Director until very late in 2010, so Pardoe’s memory might be faulty, or Vennells might have been the author of the communication, but I think his recollection of the fact of the company-wide communication from on high is significant, because it makes a connection between:

    a) the “clear… fear” within the Post Office that looking too closely at Horizon might reveal miscarriages of justice,
    b) the determination to defend Horizon at all costs,
    c) the fact it was coming from the very top.

    Paula Vennells has yet to give evidence to the Inquiry. Her last substantial public utterings on the matter can be read in her dismal submission to the Business Select Committee in 2020.

    Despair and deceit

    David Pardoe talking to Ed Henry

    In his witness statement to the Inquiry, David Pardoe states:

    “The more I see and hear from the Inquiry, then the further I despair. It strikes me that no one, at a suitable level of seniority, had the conviction and gumption to say enough is enough and to drive a timely, truly independent review whilst ceasing all prosecution activity and having the courage to be prepared to support the application and lessons of a truly independent Horizon review to both historic prosecutions and non-prosecuted repayment of accounting shortfalls. As someone that held several investigatory roles in the Post Office, I feel utterly deceived.”

    Pardoe was less keen to admit to much in the way of self-deception. During his evidence he was taken to several documents dated between 2010 and 2014 which made explicit some serious technical problems with Horizon. Pardoe accepted he would have seen these document and was undoubtedly senior enough to do something about them. Sadly he didn’t.

    Pardoe was also shown a 2013 report which, again, he would have seen at the time. It stated that a Procurator Fiscal in Scotland had declined to let the Post Office proceed with a prosecution of a Subpostmaster on the basis of “issues with Horizon”.

    Pardoe slipped into “don’t recall” mode.

    Janet Skinner

    Janet Skinner

    Finally, Ed Henry KC brought up Janet Skinner’s case. Janet had huge problems with the Horizon system at her North Bransholme branch in Hull. She had been reporting them to the Horizon helpline, making 116 calls in total, but was nevertheless suspended over an alleged £60,000 discrepancy and was prosecuted for theft.

    Mr Henry pointed out that Janet’s successor at the same branch, Wendy Lyell, survived a few weeks before she too was arrested on suspicion of theft when the same Horizon system generated more discrepancies.

    It transpires that one of Pardoe’s subordinates, Mick Matthews, was investigating Janet Skinner for the purposes of issuing a Proceeds of Crime Act Order against her when he clocked that Wendy Lyell had suffered discrepancies immediately after taking over from Janet. Matthews wrote in a financial investigation policy log that he sought to find out what had happened with regard to investigating Wendy Lyell’s case. He reported that on doing so he:

    “received an email from Dave Pardoe, my new line manager, to the effect that no further resources were to be expended on the case in respect of Wendy Lyell.”

    Matthews was concerned. “It occurred to me that in the interests of justice we could be rightly criticised for not carrying out a comprehensive investigation into Wendy Lyell. I spoke with and asked [Pardoe] to reconsider allocating resources in order for the matter to be further investigated.

    Pardoe reportedly replied that he would not reconsider, allegedly adding: “… if we are criticised, so be it.”

    No further investigation resource was allocated.

    Yesterday, Pardoe told Henry that he didn’t recall this episode, nor was it consistent “within my leadership style.”

    Janet Skinner was persuaded to plead guilty to theft to avoid a custodial sentence, but the judge sent her to prison for nine months anyway. Janet lost her house and moved into rented accommodation with her young children. The Post Office pursued her for the money she had allegedly stolen, and issued a warrant for her arrest when the Proceeds of Crime Act Order demands (presumably put together by Mick Matthews) went unanswered, having been sent to her repossessed home.

    Eighteen months after being sent to prison, and suffering the stress of nearly going back, Janet suffered a complete neurological collapse by transverse myelitis. She was temporarily paralysed and told she might never walk again. Thankfully Janet has partially overcome her illness and has lived to see her conviction quashed.

    During his evidence to the Inquiry, David Pardoe admitted he was part of a “groupthink“. He was asked: “Looking back, do you think you bore any responsibility for what happened to the individuals who were affected?”

    Pardoe replied “I think, in the absence of a more complete ability to conduct investigations into those conditions, then yes.

    The journalism on this blog is crowdfunded. If you would like to join the “secret email” newsletter, please consider making a one-off donation. The money is used to keep the contents of this website free. You will receive irregular, but informative email updates about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

  • The Post Office vs Teju Adedayo

    Teju Adedayo listening to Natasha Bernard’s evidence at the Inquiry

    On 14 May 2021 Teju Adedayo had her criminal conviction quashed at Southwark Crown Court. Parmod Kalia, who had been convicted of theft, had his conviction quashed alongside Teju.

    In 2005 Teju took responsibility for £52,864 going missing from her branch and provided the Post Office with a “confession”, explaining she took £50,000 out of her Post Office to pay back some people she’d borrowed money from. In 2006, she pleaded guilty to three counts of false accounting and was given a suspended sentence.

    In 2001, Parmod made a similar “confession”, telling Post Office investigators he took £22,000 from his branch to buy shares. He pleaded guilty to theft and in 2002 was given a six month custodial sentence.

    Both Teju and Parmod have subsequently stated the discrepancies at their branches were due to Horizon errors and their confessions were false, made in abject fear of going to prison and signed under duress.

    “Public interest” cases

    If you are convicted in a Crown Court, you go to the Court of Appeal. If you are convicted in a Magistrates’ Court, you take your appeal to a Crown Court.

    The system at Crown Court is different to the Court of Appeal. At a Crown Court, the case must be re-tried. If the respondent (in this case, the Post Office) does not volunteer to re-try the case, the conviction can be set aside (ie quashed) by the presiding judge.

    Because Teju and Parmod were convicted at Magistrates’ Courts, they attended Southwark Crown Court to appeal their convictions. During their hearing in 2021, the Post Office barrister stated:

    “Having considered those public interest factors in respect of the facts and circumstances of these cases and, in particular, whether a prosecution is a proportionate response bearing in mind the age of the case and the fact that both appellants have served the sentence imposed on them, Post Office has determined that a prosecution is not required in the public interest.”

    But, she added:

    “The Post Office does not accept that their confessions were made as a consequence of anything said or done that was likely, in the circumstances at the time, to render them unreliable.”

    Nonetheless, the judge decided to set aside Teju and Parmod’s convictions and they left as innocent people, with no stain on their characters.

    Parmod Kalia and Teju Adedayo outside court in May 2021

    Compensation was a different matter. Because the Post Office maintains there was enough non-Horizon evidence to indicate a crime had taken place (ie the guilty pleas and confessions), the Post Office and government are refusing to allow Teju or Parmod proper compensation. Teju and Parmod are not the only people affected by this stance. Elaine Hood and Amer Hussain whose convictions were set aside on 27 September 2023 and Vipin Patel, whose conviction was quashed on 11 December 2020 are also described by the Post Office as “public interest” cases. So – five in total.

    The Post Office says it is simply working within what the Criminal Cases Review Commission has called “a clear criterion” from the Court of Appeal about what makes a Horizon case and therefore a likely candidate for a successful appeal.

    There is some resistance to this “criterion”. Firstly, the government’s independent Horizon Compensation Advisory Board (HCAB) doubts any Post Office conviction is sound, based on what is coming out of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry regarding investigatory and prosecution failures. In the minutes to its seventh board meeting this September, the HCAB stated that the Post Office’s “rationales” for treating the Subpostmasters with designated “public interest” cases differently:

    “in effect re-victimised them; and it was also contrary to the stated intention, as indicated in the Post Office team’s presentation to the Board’s previous meeting, not to run schemes on too legalistic a basis. The Minister [Kevin Hollinrake] should be advised that the Board’s view was that the approach to this kind of case was in their view unfair and that they thought that all claimants in the Overturned Conviction scheme should be compensated on the same basis, not influenced by claimed differences around malicious prosecution.”

    Secondly, the courts have considered Teju, Parmod, Elaine, Amer and Vipin’s cases and declared they are innocent of any crime. Why should the (arguably discredited) opinion of the Post Office over the legal fact of Teju, Parmod, Elaine, Amer and Vipin’s innocence be the final word? And why, in particular, is the government apparently siding with the Post Office and not the courts?

    Now there’s a third thing

    On 10 November 2023, Natasha Bernard, the Post Office investigator who questioned Teju in 2005, gave evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. Flora Page, Teju’s barrister, read out some of the transcript of Bernard’s 2005 interview with Teju (which the inquiry has today published). In the interview, Teju seems almost incoherent, and her explanation as to how and why she had taken £50,000 doesn’t make much sense. Having read out some sections of dialogue to Natasha Bernard, Page started asking questions:

    Flora Page: “We’re getting a very, very scrambled account, aren’t we, of how much money was paid and when; would you accept that?”
    Natasha Bernard: “Absolutely.”
    Flora Page: “When you get that sort of question and answers in an interview, does it cause you any concern?”
    Natasha Bernard: “Looking back at this interview, reading this, I was very confused. So I can only imagine that I was probably confused during the interview.”

    Flora Page

    In 2005, after her interview with Teju, Natasha Bernard wrote a report to the Post Office legal team (also published today). On the formatted report, she dutifully notes Teju’s race with the ID code “3”, which meant, in the Post Office’s terminology, Teju fell into the “Negroid Types” category.

    Bernard told her legal colleagues that that given Teju’s “admissions“, there is “no reason why she should not be charged with false accounting” (!)

    At the inquiry, Flora Page asked Natasha Bernard: “Did it ever occur to you that the problems in her account and the contradictions in her account came from the fact that none of it was true?

    Natasha Bernard replied: “I think it’s quite clear in my report that I didn’t believe what she was telling me.”

    This directly contradicts the Post Office’s 2021 assertion that there was nothing in Teju’s confession to render it unreliable. The investigating officer, on whose sole recommendation Teju Adedayo was prosecuted, has stated in 2023 on oath she didn’t believe Teju’s “confession” was remotely reliable.

    When I asked Flora Page about this apparent contradiction for the purposes of writing this piece, she replied: “The Post Office maintained that there would be a reasonable prospect of conviction if there were a retrial of Mrs Adedayo’s case. They now know something of what Ms Bernard would say at a retrial. I wonder if they will re-think their position.” Teju simply said: “I am glad that the truth came out of Natasha Bernard’s mouth even if it was forced out of her.

    In summary, Teju Adedayo made a confession about stealing £50,000 from the Post Office which didn’t make sense at the time, was not believed by the Post Office, was never followed up to see if it was true and has since been disavowed. Yet Teju has been refused the compensation she would otherwise be entitled to, with the Post Office telling a court that there was nothing in her confession that rendered it unreliable.

    This is not a small point. Indeed, once all the barristers had finished questioning Natasha Bernard, at the end of the day, the chair of the Inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams, raised the matter again.

    Sir Wyn: “I think you said to Ms Page that you didn’t actually believe what Mrs Adedayo was telling you in interview, yes?”
    Natasha Bernard: “Yes, that’s true, sir.”
    Sir Wyn: “Right, okay. Did you make a witness statement for the criminal prosecution of Mrs Adedayo? […]”
    Natasha Bernard: “I don’t… I think… I don’t think so, because she pleaded guilty.”
    Sir Wyn: “So she pleaded guilty in the Magistrates Court, as I understand it, yeah?”
    Natasha Bernard: “Right, yeah.”
    Sir Wyn: “I appreciate this is a long time ago but I just want to get your best memory… your memory is that you didn’t actually get to the point of making a witness statement?”
    Natasha Bernard: “Honestly, I don’t remember. But it’s… I don’t think so.”

    A senior legal person not connected to the Inquiry spotted this exchange and told me Sir Wyn “knew exactly what he was doing” by raising the matter in this way. We might be able to infer someone thinks there could have been a potential criminal offence committed between Teju “confessing” in 2005 and the case coming to court in 2006, but it wasn’t by Mrs Adedayo.

    I asked the Post Office about this and they told me they don’t comment on individual cases. The Post Office investigating officers for the other “public interest” cases have yet to be called before the inquiry. I hope they are.

    The journalism on this blog is crowdfunded. If you would like to join the “secret email” newsletter, please consider making a one-off donation. The money is used to keep the contents of this website free. You will receive irregular, but informative email updates about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

  • The Magic Signature

    Cath Oglesby, the woman who sacked Lee Castleton

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
    ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
    ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

    Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

    There was some bewildering evidence at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on the afternoon of Thursday 16 November from Cath Oglesby, the Post Office area manager who sacked Lee Castleton.

    Lee first came to Oglesby’s attention in December 2003, when he had a £1,100 discrepancy at his Marine Drive branch in Bridlington, Yorkshire. At the time Oglesby advised trying various things to see if the source of the discrepancy could be uncovered. When it couldn’t, Oglesby told Lee to make good the loss out of his own money and sign off his accounts so he could roll over into the next trading period.

    As one of the Inquiry barristers had it: “You were, in effect, advising him to accept the loss, sign off the accounts, even though he did not think they were accurate?”

    Oglesby replied: “Well, he would have shown the £1,100 short in his account, so he would be signing to say he had
    a shortage in the account.”

    Would he? Really?

    The Inquiry barrister continued: “But you were encouraging him to make good on the basis that it would all come out in the wash with an error notice; is that right?

    “That’s what I was hoping, yes.” replied Oglesby.

    Lee paid the £1,100 into his Post Office branch account out of his own pocket. Three weeks later, Oglesby visited Lee’s branch again. The Inquiry barrister asked her if she bothered chasing up the hoped-for error notice.

    “I can’t remember doing so, no”, replied Oglesby, “but as it was only three weeks or so after the loss, the error notices could take a long time to come back, so I didn’t think anything untoward or anything at that point.”

    Imagine trying to account for what was happening in your branch on a (then) weekly basis with no idea when or why an error notice might appear to change your accounts – particularly if you didn’t know why you had a discrepancy in the first place.

    Nothing untoward

    Lee Castleton in Oct 2023 outside the branch he was sacked from in 2004

    From January 2004, Lee went on to suffer larger losses, eventually totalling more than £26,000. Neither Lee, Oglesby or anyone else at the Post Office knew where these losses had come from, so Oglesby sacked him.

    Then the Post Office took Lee to court for £26,000. As we have discovered during recent inquiry hearings, the Post Office took the view it was worth spending more than £300,000 of public money to take Lee to court for £26,000, because doing so would deter other Subpostmasters from potentially taking legal action over their Horizon discrepancies.

    The fact Lee was bankrupted when the Post Office won the case and were awarded costs was of no consequence to them. If you want to read the effect of the Post Office’s actions on Lee’s daughter, Millle, you can read this or listen to episode 15 of the BBC’s Great Post Office Trial.

    Although the Post Office wanted to win their court case against Lee pour discourager les autres, the legal argument which persuaded the judge to find in favour of the Post Office had nothing to do with Horizon, it was because Lee had taken legal responsibility for the discrepancy by signing off his accounts.

    On Thursday, the inquiry barrister picked this up with Cath Oglesby:

    “The case being run by the Post Office against Mr Castleton was that the act of doing that, of signing and rolling over, was an acceptance that the accounts were correct, and [in your witness statement to the High Court] you say here “The Subpostmaster had to sign the Cash Account and of course should not have done so unless it was accurate.” But because error notices took time to come through, there might well be occasions where cash accounts were confirmed and a Subpostmaster rolled over to allow them to continue trading, when they didn’t accept there was a discrepancy;
    do you see that?”

    Which of course, is totally mad, but Oglesby did see that, explaining:

    “They’d still be signing the account to say that that was accurate, the cash and stock was accurate and, at that point in time, there was also a discrepancy. So that would be a loss or a gain. So they’re signing the account, you know, to say that’s accurate at that point, with the loss or the gain in there.”

    This interpretation of what a signature may or may not mean is somewhat reminiscent of Rod Ismay’s attempt to justify calling his partial report “objective” when in fact it was completely one-sided, telling the Inquiry: “It was an objective assessment of the areas where there were positives.”

    What, the Inquiry barrister wondered to Oglesby, would happen if the Subpostmaster disputing a discrepancy refused to sign the accounts before rolling over?

    “Well, nothing would have happened that I could think of”, replied Oglesby, who agreed that the Subpostmaster could roll over their accounts and continue trading as normal. “It’s only a signature on a document.”

    Try telling that to a High Court judge.

    Lee’s balancing problems

    There is a huge bone of contention about what happened at Lee’s branch in 2004 after he was suspended. It was touched on on Thursday. Oglesby put two different temporary Subpostmasters into Marine Drive, and whilst both had minor balancing discrepancies, neither had anything more than £100. Oglesby says this was a big factor in her decision to sack Lee: “the decision to dismiss him… because I’d put people into the branch and there were no real… I know there were small losses and gains but that’s something you would expect in any branch, I based, you know, part of my decision on that the Horizon system was working and was robust. I had no reason to believe it wasn’t.”

    Lee is adamant the first temp had far more serious problems than that, to the extent that the Horizon system went down in Marine Drive for the best part of a morning, and the temporary Subpostmaster reverted to manual accounting. Lee suspects during this period of downtime his system was being fixed remotely. It was raised by his barrister, Ed Henry KC at the end of Oglesby’s evidence, who suggested the Marine Drive Horizon system: “crashed. Do you not recall [the temp] saying that it had to be rebooted, and then [in court] she offered a different explanation, so a mutually inconsistent explanation, that it hadn’t crashed but that she just decided to work manually.”

    Oglesby had no recollection of this. Henry tried again:

    “I suggest that there were evident problems with Horizon when Ruth Simpson took over and no one was being frank about it; isn’t that right?”

    Oglesby disagreed.

    If you would like to join the “secret email” newsletter, please consider making a one-off donation. The money is used to keep the contents of this website free. You will receive irregular, but informative email updates about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

  • Shameless Xmas book plug

    Would you trust this man?

    Please forgive this short commercial interlude. Christmas is approaching, which I am told is a good time to try to sell books. I have two which came out in the last twelve months and I was wondering if you – or someone else in your life – might be interested in them. Think of them as excellent stocking fillers.

    The Depp book was well-reviewed and was even The Week’s Book of the Week earlier this year. The Post Office book still has 5 stars (well, 4.8, but they round it up to five on the actual stars) on Amazon.

    Book of the week!

    The Great Post Office Scandal paperback retails at £13.99 and Depp v Heard: the unreal story will set you back £12.99

    If you buy both at the same time direct from Bath Publishing, they will take 20% off the total (which neatly covers the P&P).

    Amazon will put the books in your hands tomorrow and not charge you P&P if you are a Prime member. You may also want to support your local chain or independent bookshop by ordering it through them over the counter or via their website.

    Both titles are available as audiobooks (here and here on Audible, here on Spotify) and on kindle/e-reader – both books are currently for sale at £4.99 via Amazon on Kindle.

    I would be enormously grateful if you would consider buying one or multiple copies of either of these publications. Projects of this nature take a lot of time and money. Sadly, Bath Publishing are a tiny independent publisher and do not have the sort of mega-marketing budget you need to sell books in huge volumes.

    I promise you, though, both titles are rigourously-researched, hopefully well-written and very much worth your time.

    Thank you!

  • Institutional investigative ignorance

    Paul Whitaker giving evidence on 16 November 2023

    Paul Whitaker, as it says in the screengrab above, used to be a Post Office Investigator (and, almost inevitably, before that, a postman). In his evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on Thursday, Mr Whitaker was taken to a 2011 email chain regarding his investigation into a Post Office branch in St John Green in Rotherham.

    The branch had been “audited” by the Post Office, and there was an £11,000 discrepancy. A counter clerk was under suspicion. Unusually, possibly because the branch was run by a charity, the police were involved. In his email to a colleague, Jane Owen, Whitaker states: “The case has been reviewed and the police officer has asked me to get a statement demonstrating the robustness of the Horizon system at the branch.”

    Whitaker tells Owen that a charity is running the branch and notes: “we were asked to get involved at the outset in order to possibly mitigate the adverse publicity of us demanding our money back from them.”

    As ever, business priorities and PR appear to be part of the equation, even when it comes to criminal investigations and justice.

    The requested “statement demonstrating the robustness of the Horizon system” would have to come from Fujitsu. Before the request goes to Fujitsu, Owen passes Whitaker’s request up the chain to another colleague, Penny Thomas. Owen writes: “Just wanted to run this by you before I make any kind of formal request. I assume that we will just request a statement as normal but would need to put it around some dates?”

    Thomas replies that getting some dates might be a good idea, and this message is passed back down to Whitaker. Whitaker seems to think this is unnecessary, replying: “At present, the police haven’t asked for Horizon records although I am sure that if they know we can provide them they will ask for them (and then not use them). All the officer asked was if we could provide a statement saying that the Horizon system was operating correctly in the run up to the shortage being identified.”

    Getting Dunked

    The Thomas, Owen and Whitaker brains trust eventually agree to ask Fujitsu for a statement of Horizon’s reliability within a six month window. The message reaches Fujitsu’s Andy Dunks, a man who, in 2019, came in for serious criticism from a High Court judge.

    But even Andy Dunks has standards. Replying to Whitaker’s request, Dunks replies:

    “I am unable to say for definite that the Horizon system was working okay. What I can do is look at all calls logged by this PO during the date range and state that there were no faults reported by the PO to suggest any faults. If you want me to get the calls extracted to examine the calls we will need ARQ numbers to cover this request. Please let me know what you would like us to do.”

    The prospect of anyone at the Post Office or Fujitsu doing even the most cursory investigative work seems too much for Whitaker, who decides that Dunks’ response is enough for him. He replies:

    “No need for anything beyond this, Andy. I have explained to the police that all you can say is that no faults were logged and they are happy with that.”

    To his credit, Dunks puts Whitaker straight. “I think you may have misinterpreted my email”, he replies, “I have not said that no faults were logged. What I am saying is that if you want me to extract the calls logged so that I can examine them to see if there are any fault calls during these dates.”

    The rest of the email chain appears to be lost to history.

    Yesterday, the barrister questioning Whitaker suggested that the limit of his investigative ambition was “seeking a catch-all statement from Andy Dunks in relation to a case where the police had asked for assurances about the Horizon system.”

    Whitaker was not asked to comment on this. Instead, the barrister wondered if Dunks’ refusal to sign off on a blithe assurance about Horizon raised any alarm bells.

    “It’s difficult to say…” replied Whitaker, “my background was that it had always been sort of infallible and, certainly, I don’t think it had been tested in court yet and I think the sort of underlying message would be… until we get something coming back certain to say definitely, you know, Horizon’s at fault, to sort of carry on in the belief that it’s not.”

    Belief. They investigated and prosecuted, fuelled by belief. No wonder so many innocent people were given criminal convictions.

    My thanks to Nigel Derby who alerted me to this passage of evidence at the Inquiry.

  • What Was She Drinking? The Elaine Cottam Experience

    Elaine Cottam, taking a break from giving evidence

    It’s hard to know where to start with yesterday’s Inquiry hearing. Karl Flinders from Computer Weekly decided to cover yet another Post Office disclosure disaster. I am going to attempt to analyse the evidence which came courtesy of Elaine Cottam.

    Ms Cottam was a former Post Office Retail Line Manager. She was called to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry to help try to work out what had happened in the Cleveleys case. Cleveleys Post Office was run in 2000 by a woman called Julie Wolstenholme who suffered problems with the Post Office Horizon system from the moment it was installed.

    Instead of receiving help, she was sacked. By Elaine Cottam. Mrs Wolstenholme fought back. She kept possession of her Horizon terminal and suggested a proper examination of the hardware might reveal the source(s) of her problems. The Post Office had no interest in all that – but they did want their kit back, so in 2003 they took Mrs Wolstenholme to Blackpool County Court.

    The case was resolved when a court-appointed technical expert – Jason Coyne – took a look at the available evidence and decided there were red flags all over the Horizon system. Desperate to keep this information out of the public domain, the Post Office settled the case with Mrs Wolstenholme. The Inquiry spent some time looking into the Cleveleys case earlier this year. For more detail, you can read and watch the evidence from Jason Coyne, Fujitsu and a Post Office lawyer on the Inquiry website by looking for the transcripts on 26 – 28 July 2023. But let’s, for now, focus on…

    Elaine Cottam

    In 2000, as a Post Office Retail Line Manager, Elaine Cottam had a role of some significance. The power to suspend someone – ie remove their livelihood – without warning, or having to give a reason, carries responsibility. It’s the sort of power which should only be exercised with a great degree of caution, by someone who has been properly trained with the capacity to understand the repercussions of their decisions.

    Before a witness gives evidence to a public inquiry they are usually sent a bundle of relevant documents and asked a series of questions. The written answers to those questions form the basis of their witness statement, submitted to the inquiry before any oral evidence hearing.

    It is a reasonable expectation that anyone asked to give a witness statement to a public inquiry would take it seriously. If called to give oral evidence, they might ask questions of the secretariat about what to expect, perhaps do some research and turn up as prepared as possible. After all, giving evidence under oath is not something to be taken lightly. Given there were three days of hearings directly related to the case Ms Cottam was involved in, natural curiosity might have at least suggested she watch or read some of it.

    Elaine’s Evidence

    Jason Beer KC

    On Tuesday, after being sworn in, Elaine Cottam was asked questions by Jason Beer KC. Beer first of all wanted to know why, in response to the large number of documents and questions sent to her on 12 July this year, she had submitted a witness statement “two and a half pages long, which contains next to no information.”

    “I don’t know what sort of information you wanted me to put in it”, replied Cottam.

    Beer took her to the question which asked her to set out her professional background. In response to this, Cottam had written: “I was employed as a Retail Line Manager by Post Office Counters Limited – I do not remember the exact date I took up this post or the date that I left this post.”

    Beer pointed out this contained no information about Cottam’s professional background. Cottam replied that this was a “misunderstanding”. Beer asked “between whom?”

    Cottam replied: “Between myself and what I was asked for.”

    In answer to another question, Cottam had put in her witness statement to the Inquiry that when a Retail Line Manager, she was responsible for 27 Post Office branches. Yet in a 2003 witness statement for the Post Office, she told a court she was responsible for 112 Post Offices. Cottam wasn’t sure when the number had changed and she couldn’t remember if she was responsible for 112 offices at the time of her 2003 witness statement. Beer wondered if the figure had been put into her witness statement in 2003, it was fair enough to assume it was true. Cottam said she couldn’t remember. Beer tried again:

    “That’s not a question about memory; that’s asking if you made a sworn statement to the court, which said, “I am responsible for 112 post offices”, in 2003, that’s likely to be…”

    “And what date was that? What date was that?” Cottam interrupted.

    “16 October 2003, as I told you and as we looked”, replied Beer.

    “I can’t remember”, replied Cottam again, apparently misunderstanding the question a second time.

    Cottam did remember recruiting Julie Wolstenholme as Subpostmaster in 1999, when, due to ill-health, Julie’s father decided to retire. Cottam assessed Wolstenholme’s suitability, stating at the time: “I have no reason to doubt her honesty”.

    Beer wanted to know how she went from this assessment to sacking her for dishonesty just over a year later. Cottam had an interesting take:

    “I soon picked up on when I was going to the office – she worked very closely with her husband and he was heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the office. And that was not taken into consideration because I wasn’t aware that that was going to be the case when Julie was appointed.”

    Beer was intrigued. “Why are you telling us this?”

    “I think it’s relevant” replied Cottam.

    “Are you hinting that you think he was the dishonest one, not her?” asked Beer.

    “I’d rather not say”, said Cottam, suddenly all prim. She admitted to Beer she had “no proof at all” of any dishonesty or criminality on Julie’s husband’s part, either now or in 2000.

    Can she be a witness?

    Jason Beer started to explore more of Elaine Cottam’s 2003 witness statement. This became a difficult and protracted process as it transpired that Elaine Cottam not only had very little understanding of the information she had submitted in the witness statement she signed, but seemed to have absolutely no idea there had been a legal case against Julie Wolstenholme in the first place:

    Cottam: “I didn’t know there was a civil court. The first I knew that there’d been a court case was when I got this bundle of documents.”
    Beer: “You provided this witness statement to the civil court?”
    Cottam: “I don’t remember doing that.”

    Beer read out the following passage in Cottam’s 2003 witness statement:

    “Mrs Wolstenholme persisted in telephoning the Horizon Helpdesk in relation to any problems which she had with the system and generally, these problems related to the use and general operation of the system and were not technical problems relating to the system. Copies of the call logs for the period 10 January 2000 to 30 November 2000 together with a brief analysis of the calls to the Horizon System Helpdesk which I prepared following Mrs Wolstenholme’s suspension are at pages [then you give some pages to an exhibit]. Whilst there were some problems at other branches, they were not insurmountable and were often due to the system crashing or were general teething problems.”

    When asked about this sentence, Cottam said she didn’t remember asking for any call logs, didn’t remember receiving them and didn’t know why she needed them, because she wouldn’t understand them. She seemed utterly mystified at the idea she might be able to offer any analysis of them, and with the air of someone looking at hieroglyphics on a piece of wood, told the Inquiry:

    “I don’t understand these. Don’t understand them. I don’t know what it’s saying, “Gateway is now stuck at 3%”. That means nothing to me.”

    One thing she did spot was that Julie Wolstenholme’s husband had made some of the calls to the helpline, and on the call log had been classified as the Subpostmaster.

    Cottam: “But he’s not the postmaster, is he?”
    Beer: “What’s your point?”
    Cottam: “Well, he doesn’t feature very heavily anywhere, does he? And yet his name’s on all these now.”
    Beer: “What’s your point?
    Cottam: “Well, it says, “Title: Postmaster”, and he wasn’t, was he?”
    Beer: “What’s your point?”
    Cottam (suddenly prim again): “Well… well, nothing. It doesn’t matter. “
    Beer: “Is this the suspicion without proof issue raising its head again?”
    Cottam: “I’m not going down that line at all.”
    Beer: “I thought you just did.”

    Beer managed to steer Cottam back to her “analysis” of the call logs and what they might mean. Cottam had been sent them in July this year but seemed to have no recollection of seeing them then, let alone 20 years ago. Then her brain seemed to melt down a little bit and she started crying.

    Beer and the inquiry chair, Sir Wyn Williams, immediately stepped in and a fifteen minute break was agreed. Sir Wyn noted how “confused” Cottam appeared to be, and asked Beer where this was all going. It turned out Beer had evidence of Cottam calling the Horizon Helpline third line support to explain various software problems on behalf of Julie Wolstenholme from the Cleveleys branch, yet for some reason none of the calls that Cottam had made were included in her 2003 witness statement to the court. And her witness statement also stated the calls Julie Wolstenholme had made were “not technical problems relating to the system”.

    After the break, Beer asked her about it:

    Beer: “This is you calling in. Why would you be calling the Helpdesk?”
    Cottam: “Because I would have been at the office trying to help them sort out whatever it was.”
    Beer: “Why wouldn’t the subpostmaster call in?”
    Cottam: “Well, she probably did.”
    Beer: “No, she didn’t. You did.”
    Cottam (unable to help herself): “Or he did. We were looking for some advice from somebody.”
    Beer: “Sorry, did you say “or he did”?”
    Cottam: “I don’t know, I can’t remember.”
    Beer: “Was that slipping into the suspicion without proof thing again.”
    Cottam: “Well, I wouldn’t like to say.”
    Beer: “Well, but you just did.”

    Despite her clear insinuation, which she admitted was based on no evidence whatsoever, that Julie Wolstenholme’s husband might have been responsible for dishonest behaviour in 2000, Cottam insisted her memory was a blank when it came to the very existence of her 2003 witness statement.

    Ms Cottam in full flow

    “Can you help us as to how it came about that there’s a witness statement to the Blackpool County Court in your name and signed by you as true, which says, “I prepared this analysis”?” asked Beer, after about five minutes of Cottam’s protestations.

    “I don’t ever remember seeing it”, she replied. “I mean, it was a long time ago. I may well have done it but I really don’t, I just wouldn’t understand it.”

    Beer tried to get Cottam to accept that her call to the Horizon Helpline’s third line support about a mysterious £100 adding itself to the Cleveleys branch balance when the weekly accounts were calculated was evidence of a software problem. Cottam wasn’t having it. Beer kept trying.

    “That’s not Mrs Wolstenholme or Mr Harrison [Julie’s husband] adding something to the stock unit, somebody adding something. You’re telling the Helpdesk here that there’s a problem with the system, aren’t you? A stock unit has had something added to it.”

    “Well, yeah”, replied a defensive Cottam. “How it was added to it is another matter.”

    Beer gave up. But he had another point to make.

    Enter Fujitsu

    Following the trail of information about Cottam’s call all the way up the support line to Fujitsu, it transpired the problem Cottam was reporting was a known bug in the system. This was evidenced with some notes in the error log between Fujitsu engineers. Because it was a known bug, Fujitsu took the decision to close the call, without telling the Subpostmaster. Or apparently, Cottam:

    Beer: “So you didn’t know about the known error log?”
    Cottam: “No. Never heard of it.”
    Beer: “There’s no record on here or indeed elsewhere of you or the Subpostmaster being told that a known error in the system occurred, which was affecting the balancing process? Do you see, there’s no record on this PinICL? [technical term for an error note]”
    Cottam: “No, no, no, I didn’t know about it.”

    Cottam accepted this would have been useful information. Beer went back to her 2003 witness statement. He wanted to know why this specific incident and the known error it revealed had not been included with the other call logs attached to the witness statement. There followed some of the most surreal gibberish I’ve ever heard from someone under oath. Here is an excerpt:

    Cottam: “I will help you as much as I can but, really, I don’t understand where all this is coming from. Am I supposed to have written all this? I might well have signed it but I don’t remember all this.”
    Beer: “Generally, when you write something to a court and say, “I believe the contents of this statement are true” and sign it with a pen underneath it, that indicates that you’ve written it. No?”
    Cottam: “Well, when am I supposed to have signed this?”
    Beer (wearily): “16 October 2003.”
    Cottam: “I don’t remember it. I don’t remember it and the very first time I knew there’d been a court case about this was when this has just been raised again, when they sent me this bundle of papers. I didn’t even know there’d been a court case before that.”
    Beer: “So you can’t help us why the call log recording you on two occasions assisting Mrs Wolstenholme, complaining about the service offered by the Horizon Helpdesk, about a balancing issue and the system adding sums on rollover was not included in the documents exhibited to your witness statement? You can’t help us there?”
    Cottam: “No, no, I can’t see it.”
    Beer: “Three weeks before she was suspended?”
    Cottam: “Am I supposed to be looking at this now? Is this on here? I simply don’t understand what you’re asking now.”
    Beer: “Well, I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”

    Matters reached a head when Beer asked: “Do you think somebody has fabricated your signature on this witness statement?”

    “Well”, said Cottam, “I don’t know if that’s the case or not but I didn’t know anything about the court case and I wasn’t called to the court case.”
    Beer responded patiently: “As I said, it didn’t reach court because the Post Office settled.”
    “Oh” replied Cottam. “But I didn’t know anything about it. You would have thought that they would have at least
    approached me about it. They must have wanted some input from me at that stage.”

    You would have thought, right? But maybe dealing with Elaine Cottam in 2003 was as difficult as it appears to be in 2023. So maybe they didn’t bother.

    Beer tried one last time: “This is a 15-page witness statement signed by you.”
    “No, this long… this statement of truth, yeah?” replied Cottam, as if she were seeing it for the first time.
    Cottam paused. “I just don’t really understand what it is I’m supposed to be doing here, really. What… I haven’t got copies of the call logs, so… other than in this bundle… I don’t understand.”

    It appears that Elaine Cottam genuinely didn’t know what a witness statement was, nor had she worked out what its purpose might be, even by the end of her inquiry session.

    Beer’s questioning concluded shortly thereafter. He had, without being derailed, successfully demonstrated that Fujitsu had kept a serious software problem from a Subpostmaster who then lost money and subsequently her livelihood as a result of the callous ineptitude of Elaine Cottam and her colleagues at the Post Office. Having achieved this, it seems someone at the Post Office went on to produce a misleading witness statement supposedly authored by someone without the capacity or capability of being responsible for it.

    You can watch the full car crash here. I recommend it.

    The world is full of thick-as-mince, malevolent incompetents like Elaine Cottam. The problems start when they are promoted into positions of power, as the Post Office appears to have done with multiple idiots on multiple occasions. I really hope the Met Police are taking note.

    UPDATE: More than one person has suggested to me in good faith that Elaine Cottam, in giving evidence to the Inquiry, might be displaying possible symptoms of early onset dementia. I have no idea if Elaine Cottam has the condition or has been diagnosed with anything of this nature. I have approached in the Inquiry to pass on the concerns of the people who contacted me, in the hope that Ms Cottam might, if she wants to, consider seeking medical advice.

    If you liked this post and would like to be added to my mailing list, please consider making a one-off donation to join my newsletter mailing list and keep the journalism on this website free.



Alan Bates Amanda Burton Andrew Winn Bates v Post Office Bonusgate Clarke Advice Detica Disclosure Double-entry accounting Elaine Cottam Eleanor Shaikh False Accounts Fraser Fujitsu Grabiner HCAB High Court Horizon Inquiry Janet Skinner Jarnail Singh Lee Castleton Lord Arbuthnot Neil Hudgell Nicki Arch Nick Read Noel Thomas Outcasts Creative Paula Vennells Paul Marshall Post Office Racist document Rebecca Thomson Receipts and Payments mismatch bug Richard Moorhead Richard Roll Rob Wilson Rod Ismay Seema Misra Stephen Dilley Suspense accounts Swift Review The Stamp of Innocence Tracy Felstead Wendy Buffrey

Subscribe For Latest Blog Updates


  • 2024
  • 2023
  • 2022
  • 2021

Latest Comments

  1. Ps to my earlier comment: even if direct lies were not told, the errors of omission quoted in Lord Arbuthnot’s…

  2. I am sickened by the appalling lies told to Lord Arbuthnot by Alice Perkins and the others, including Paula Vennells.…

  3. Absolutely staggering! Hard to believe this could happen on this scale in this country.

  4. So sorry to reply yet again – but I wonder if anyone else noticed a lady newsreader’s slip-up on TV…