• The Ismay Report

    Rod Ismay

    This is Rod Ismay. In 2010 he wrote what has become known as the Ismay Report. It was written as an internal Post Office response to the formation of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, the questions raised by MPs about the Horizon IT system and the first journalistic investigation into the Post Office’s wild, decade-long prosecution spree.

    The Ismay Report only became public in 2021, during the Court of Appeal proceedings, which eventually saw 39 Subpostmasters have their convictions quashed. I cannot understand why it was not disclosed during Bates v Post Office at the High Court in 2018 or 2019.

    In the report, Mr Ismay asserts the Horizon IT system is “robust”. He concludes any independent investigation into Horizon would be “to comfort others” and warns:

    It is also important to be crystal clear about any review if one were commissioned – any investigation would need to be disclosed in court… any perception that POL [Post Office Ltd] 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.

    This, I believe, is one of the most egregious sentences written by anyone in authority in the entire Post Office scandal. Ismay is essentially warning the Post Office that setting off on a path of action may lead to the discovery that innocent people might have been given criminal convictions.

    The Post Office heeded Ismay’s warning. When I contacted the former managing director of the Post Office, Dave Smith, who received the Ismay report in 2010, he told me:

    I do not remember the [report] nor do i have access to my response to it or more widely relevant material such as the Main Board papers and minutes from that time.

    As such i am unable to comment directly on what actually happened but do note from the extract sent by you that the conclusion at the time was that the system was robust.

    It is of course a matter of personal regret that in the subsequent ten years the veracity of the system has been questioned and that this appears from news reports to have resulted in a number of potentially unsafe convictions.

    Please find below the Ismay Report to the Post Office senior management team, dated 2 August 2010.

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

  • Andrew Winn: the Over-promoted Postie

    Andrew Winn

    I first became fascinated by the Post Office’s willingness to place loyalty and length of service over ability in 2018 at the Bates v Post Office litigation at the High Court.

    During the litigation’s first trial, a succession of Post Office witnesses took the stand. Some were sharp, some were the dimmest of dim bulbs, but all had one thing in common – the extraordinarily long amount of time they had been working for the Post Office. The smallest period of unbroken service was ten years. The longest nearly forty. Almost all had worked their way up after joining the Post Office either as a counter clerk or postman.

    Andrew Winn, who gave evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry on Friday 3 March 2023 started at Royal Mail in 1996 as a part-time postman, briefly moving to Parcelforce (part of the Royal Mail Group), before switching to the Post Office in 2001.

    By 2008, Winn somehow found himself a senior middle manager within a department called Product and Branch Accounting (P&BA). He reported to Rod Ismay, author of 2010’s infamous Ismay Report.

    Before P&BA, Winn worked in the Post Office’s problem management team, which he described as:

    a response to basically the Post Office moving onto an IT-type platform… the concept was that anybody within the Post Office who got a problem [including Subpostmasters] reported it to the problem management team… the problem management team managed the problem in terms of making sure the relevant people were involved in correcting the problem, rather than actually resolving the problem themselves, which I found a difficult concept to deal with.

    During his evidence on Friday, Winn was asked if his P&BA role required knowledge of and understanding of the operation of the Horizon System. He replied: “Yes, but I didn’t have knowledge of the Horizon System. So I would have said I was a bad placement into that role.”

    Asked how he got the job, Winn told the Inquiry:

    that’s probably one for the people that were interviewing, rather than – in fact, I don’t think there was an interview for that.  I think I was placed in there.  So that was more probably a case of Alison Bolsover, or whoever within P&BA, talking to my manager in the reporting team at the time and seeing how the fit went, after I said I’d expressed an interest in the role.

    When counsel to the Inquiry, Jason Beer KC, wondered what gave him the edge over other potential candidates, Winn replied that it was probably due to “a lack of competition”, telling Beer: “there was very few people within the Post Office who’d got much IT knowledge, to be frank.”

    Seema Misra

    The Prosecution of Seema Misra

    Andrew Winn is a man of interest for many reasons (and I would recommend watching or reading his evidence in full), not least because he was present at a joint meeting between the Post Office and Fujitsu likely held in late September or early October 2010, to discuss a bug in Horizon.

    The bug was known as the Receipts and Payments mismatch bug, which had caused discrepancies in Postmaster accounts. The meeting was held shortly before the trial of Seema Misra, a Postmaster from West Byfleet in Surrey. Mrs Misra claimed the £74,000 hole in her accounts was due to the Horizon computer system.

    The minutes of this meeting noted the discussions around fixing the discrepancies and how sensitive the whole issue was, given the “ongoing legal cases where branches are disputing the integrity of Horizon data”.

    Mr Winn was taken to a request which reached him via the Post Office legal team in July 2010. Seema Misra’s representatives had asked the Post Office for access to the Horizon system:

    in the Midlands where it appears there are live, reproducible errors, access to the operations at Chesterfield to understand how reconciliation and transaction corrections are dealt with, access to the system change requests, Known Error Log and new release documentation to understand what problems have had to be fixed.

    At the time, Winn replied to his colleagues:

    Rod Ismay the head of P&BA is not happy at the prospect of an open-ended invite. He has asked the question of what are the legal parameters we are working within. Simplistically if we refuse or impose conditions do we lose the case? I think we need more guidance on how something like this might reasonably operate.

    An update to the disclosure request came in September 2010, either just before or just after the Receipts and Payments mismatch meeting. In an internal email, a Post Office member of staff wrote:

    Rod Ismay

    This was discussed by Andy Winn/Rod Ismay. I have today spoken with Andy Winn and he has informed me that Rod had made a decision to not allow this. Therefore could you please update me with the latest progress on the case.

    Painfully slowly, Jason Beer sought and received confirmation that the “open” and “honest” thing to do would have been to say:

    Look, there’s someone on trial for a very serious crime here based on data produced by Horizon. She’s alleging that the data’s not accurate. We know that the data produced by Horizon may not be accurate. We need to find out a way of ensuring that she knows what we know.

    Winn struggled to explain why this did not happen, telling Beer:

    I’ve got to say that I didn’t put up any impassioned disagreement with Rod. I accepted that he took a considered view of things and he was my boss and, yes, I didn’t put up a fight.

    Winn was asked if the disclosure request was on his mind when he attended the Receipts and Payments mismatch meeting with Fujitsu. “No”, he answered. Beer reminded him that the specific issue of court cases was raised during the meeting. He asked if there was any reference to Seema Misra during the meeting.

    “I don’t recall,” said Winn. “I don’t recall that case being raised.”

    Mr Beer suggested the general tone of the Post Office’s communications around this period appeared to be: “we can’t disclose material that might undermine our system, even if the system is, in fact, faulty.”

    Winn called this a “fair summation”.

    Twitter’s “Malcolm V Tucker” (not, I suspect, their real name) posted on Friday that they had been watching Winn’s evidence in the office, and wrote:

    My co-worker who only knows the outline of the PO story kept giving me looks that varied from incredulity to mirth, to outright anger at his performance. For any time you’ve wondered how institutional evil has occurred, this is your explainer.

    In October 2010, after repeated failed attempts by her legal team to get the disclosure they were asking for, Seema Misra was found guilty of theft by a jury at Guildford Crown Court. In November 2010, on her son’s tenth birthday, Seema was sent to prison. It took eleven years for her conviction to be overturned by the Court of Appeal.

    Rod Ismay currently works as Director of Finance and Estates at Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield. He appears to be a religious man, and well known in the York Diocese, where he served as Interim Finance Manager in 2018.

    Ismay has not given evidence to the inquiry yet, nor do we know if he is under police investigation.

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

  • Post Office v Castleton – a second category Abuse of Process?

    Lee Castleton

    An extraordinary piece of evidence has been raised at the Post Office Horizon Inquiry. It came during the day long car crash which was Andrew Winn’s testimony.

    Winn was a hopelessly over-promoted former postie who eventually fetched up reporting to the Post Office’s Head of Product and Branch Accounting, Rod Ismay (author of the infamous Ismay report).

    Winn admitted he was completely unsuitable for the role he found himself in, which required a detailed knowledge of the Horizon IT system (he had almost none).

    More on Mr Winn here. I want to draw your attention to a document mentioned by Flora Page, barrister for several Postmasters, towards the end of Mr Winn’s evidence. It concerns Lee Castleton, who in 2007 was taken to the High Court by the Post Office and bankrupted.

    In 2003, Lee was the Subpostmaster at East Bridlington Post Office in Yorkshire. He had served in the RAF and worked briefly in the City of London as a stockbroker. He was comfortable with numbers. 

    Lee had invested his savings in the Post Office business and, with his wife and young family, was making a go of it. Over a twelve week period starting in January 2004, the Horizon system at East Bridlington went haywire, randomly chalking up negative discrepancies in the thousands. Whilst this was happening, Lee repeatedly asked the Post Office for help, complaining that his Horizon system was malfunctioning. None was forthcoming. On 23 March 2004, there was an audit. A discrepancy of £22,963.34 was found. The branch was closed, Lee was suspended, and he was told to repay the discrepancy under the terms of his contract.

    Going to Court

    Lee refused. He did not see why he should hand over £22,963.34 of his own money to fill a computer-generated hole in his branch accounts. The Post Office sacked Lee and sued him in the civil courts. On the appointed day at Scarborough County Court, Lee arrived, prepped and ready, with his legal advisor. The Post Office didn’t show. The judge dismissed the case and awarded Lee damages on his counter-claim.

    After months of silence, the Post Office re-raised their case at the High Court. We have not, until yesterday, had any unequivocal understanding as to why. Lee had no income, and no assets, save the now closed Post Office and his mortgaged home above it.

    Bringing a case at the High Court is astronomically expensive. There was no way the Post Office would recover their costs from a penniless former Subpostmaster.

    By this stage, Lee had run out of legal insurance. He defended himself, and lost on the basis he had signed for his accounts and therefore legally accepted responsibility for them, even whilst challenging the alleged debt. 

    The judge also took evidence from Anne Chambers, a Fujitsu engineer (currently under police investigation). The judge accepted her evidence and ruled:

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

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

    Lee Castleton’s name forms the opening two words to Rebecca Thomson’s groundbreaking investigation into the Post Office Horizon IT system for Computer Weekly. He is a heroic campaigner, and was one of the 555 Subpostmasters who took the Post Office to court in Bates v Post Office. Due to his experience of being bankrupted, Lee has not received anything like the compensation he is due. It is only this month he will be able to apply for compensation under the government’s new GLO scheme for Postmasters.

    Sending a Clear Message

    It has long being suspected that the Post Office took Lee to the High Court to make an example of him. On Friday we got the first hint that documentary evidence exists to support this suspicion.

    Mr Winn had spent much of the day being questioned by the lead barrister to the Inquiry, Jason Beer KC. At the end of his evidence, Flora Page had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

    During this, Page said:

    What we now know from documents in this Inquiry… is that there was a clear intent on the part of the Post Office, with legal advice, to pursue the claim: “not to make a net financial recovery but to defend the Horizon System and hopefully send a clear message to other SPMs that the PO will take a firm line and to deter others from raising similar allegations.”

    The document Ms Page was referring to was not placed (at her request) on the inquiry screens, but it appears to suggest that the widely-held suspicion is correct. The Post Office ruined Lee Castleton pour encourager les autres. Not to recover the £22,963.34 they said he owed them.

    Of course, the judgment could have gone against the Post Office. Lee, representing himself, could have persuaded the judge that Horizon was not working properly and that he did not owe the Post Office any money, but His Honour Judge Richard Havery QC was having none of it.

    The testimony of witnesses Lee found who gave examples of Horizon going wrong were dismissed. Anne Chambers, the Fujitsu expert witness who told the judge there was nothing wrong with Horizon at Lee’s branch, was believed. This, as we now know, was incorrect. The inquiry is bringing to light a significant amount of evidence to suggest that even in 2007, the Post Office knew it was incorrect too. More on that to come, no doubt.

    If you’d like to read more about Mr Castleton’s case, do have a look at Paul Marshall’s careful evisceration of HHJ Havery’s judgment in his lengthy, but excellent essay The Harm That Judges Do.

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

  • Pushing the Neidle: “Don’t pay the tax now. Don’t take any step now, because I think there will be an exemption”

    Dan Neidle

    Nadhim Zahawi’s nemesis Dan Neidle, founder of Tax Policy Associates very kindly gave his time to appear on the latest episode of Investigating the Post Office Scandal.

    Dan got involved in this story after reading Tom Witherow’s 16 Feb article about Francis Duff in the Daily Mail. Mr Duff, a former Postmaster, was awarded £330,000 by the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall Scheme. No sooner had he received the offer, he was told that £251,359 would be taken from him to resolve his bankruptcy and a further £71,533 would be recouped by HMRC in tax, leaving the 80 year old Mr Duff around £8,000. Mr Duff, who lost his business, his marriage and his reputation as a result of the Post Office’s action, told the Daily Mail that he had been “shafted twice”.

    Traction Dan

    Tom’s article sparked outrage. When Dan saw the tax sum being claimed by HMRC he decided to get involved. He posted an article on 19 Feb on his website detailing all the instances where the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall Scheme was “misleading” and “unjust” and could lead to “unconscionable” outcomes. He proposed an obvious solution – make all the Postmaster compensation schemes exempt of tax.

    Dan’s piece got traction. The minister for Postal Affairs, Kevin Hollinrake, tweeted that he was “working on a solution”. As if by magic, on 21 Feb, a new law appeared on the government website stating that compensation for two groups of Subpostmasters would not be taxed. But what about the Historical Shortfall Scheme? Dan ramped up the pressure with an op-ed in The Times, published on Saturday 25 Feb. And then yesterday (Mon 27 Feb) on the same morning the Post Office wrote a letter of response to Dan’s column in the Times, we recorded Episode 28 of the ItPOS podcast.

    Not holding back

    In our interview Dan wants to know why HSS compensation for Subpostmasters was not assessed according to the Gourley principle, which ensures that when compensation is being assessed, enough is calculated to cover the liabilities which occur when a large lump sum payout catapults you into a higher tax bracket. Dan had no idea why this was not part of the Post Office’s original thinking. He also said the Post Office “actively misled” recipients of large amounts of compensation with their “boilerplate” terms and conditions.

    The Post Office has said, as of Monday, that:

    Together with the government we are looking at the tax implications so that we can identify whether any unfairness exists and if so what action could be taken.

    Dan describes this as:

    “not good enough… it took me and my volunteer team one or two days to spot the problem. They’ve now had almost two weeks, and these aren’t ‘passive tense’ unfairnesses. They’re the results of actions by the Post Office.”

    Dan believes the government is going to “do the right thing”, and sort this out, partly because, as he says, “this is not a subtle point.” He adds:

    “There is an urgency here. The urgency is we need to stop people receiving settlements that are misleading and wrong. And we need to stop people making potentially irrevocable decisions with their money because they don’t realise they are taxed.”

    Don’t pay any tax until this is resolved

    Dan is recommending that HSS and Suspension Pay scheme* compensation recipients should not pay any tax they are told is due on their settlements immediately and wait to see what happens. He is confident the situation will be resolved, probably by statutory instrument.

    “This isn’t advice but it kind of is,” he said. “Don’t pay the tax now. Don’t take any step now, because I think there will be an exemption.”

    I admire Dan’s faith in the system to correct itself. Nothing I have seen suggests the Post Office or the government are planning to remove the tax liabilities from the HSS or the Suspension Pay scheme.

    I might be wrong. To get to the bottom of it I asked if the Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake might be available for an interview (at his convenience) at some point over the next two or three weeks. His office declined.

    The final insult

    Looked at in the round, the HSS is so evidently problematic I suspect it is only a matter of time before the statutory inquiry into the Post Office deems it unfair. If that happens I suspect the government will be forced to intervene, whether they are currently minded to or not.

    From what the Postmasters and their legal representatives have been saying for months now, the HSS either has been designed to be unfair, or was so badly designed and executed it is delivering patently unfair results (and doing so very, very slowly). The HSS is, in effect, the Post Office’s final insult to many of its victims, and Dan’s work has highlighted another facet of that.

    If you have a moment, do listen to the podcast. We spend the first half talking about more general stuff, including the Nadhim Zahawi story before we switch to covering the Post Office situation about half way through.

    * For postmasters who were historically, and unfairly, suspended without pay.

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

  • Inquiry re-start preview

    Davinder and Seema Misra with Richard Roll

    Part 2 of Phase 3 of the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry gets underway today. There will be three more weeks of evidence before another break until May, punctuated by another compensation hearing on 27 April.

    There are going to be some intriguing witnesses over the next three weeks. I have picked out a few.

    Richard Roll – Thu 9 March

    Richard Roll is something of a hero of this story and gets chapter to himself in my book. He is the Fujitsu whistleblower who appeared on our first Panorama programme and subsequently became a star witness in the Horizon Issues trial during Bates v Post Office. During the trial, Roll was subjected to a lengthy cross-examination by the Post Office. Everything from his experience, level of seniority and quality of recollection was rigorously challenged. In his judgment, Mr Justice Fraser, said:

    “Mr Roll’s evidence was supportive of the claimants’ case and it was necessary for the Post Office to render his evidence unreliable, insofar as they could, in order to damage the claimants’ case and bolster their own. In my judgment, this the Post Office failed to do.”

    par 184, Judgment (No.6) “Horizon Issues”, Bates and others v Post Office

    The judge described Roll as a “reliable and helpful witness” whose evidence was “very important”, particularly when it came to laying bare the scale of remote access Fujitsu had when it came to delving into Subpostmaster accounts. Although I have interviewed Richard a number of times and was in court to watch him on the stand in the Horizon trial, it’s going to be very interesting to hear what evidence the inquiry will seek now it has the opportunity.

    Andrew Winn – Fri 3 March

    Andrew Winn also appears in the Horizon Issues judgment and my book. He was a senior Post Office exec who was tangentially involved in Pam Stubbs’ case and was also present at the infamous joint Fujitsu/Post Office meeting to discuss a serious bug in Horizon a month before Seema Misra’s trial (see Paul Marshall’s submission to the inquiry on that matter here). Winn was criticised by Mr Justice Fraser for his lack of interest in Subpostmaster concerns, closing an internal query over one problem with the dismissive:

    “My instinct is that we have enough on with people asking us to look at things.”

    par 218, Judgment (No.6) “Horizon Issues”, Bates and others v Post Office

    Winn was in post when the Post Office knew it had problems with Horizon, a campaign group had been set up to raise awareness of problems and whilst the Post Office prosecuting frenzy was at its height. His evidence could be newsworthy.

    Andy Dunks – Wed 8 March

    Andy Dunks used to be an Information Technology Security Analyst at Fujitsu. He was a witness in the Horizon Issues trial and provided a witness statement in the prosecution of former Subpostmaster Sarah Burgess-Boyde in 2010. Mr Justice Fraser found that Dunks “expressly sought to mislead” him in court, which is serious.

    The context was specifically to do with the boilerplate witness statements produced by Fujitsu to aid Post Office prosecutions. Fraser said:

    Mr Dunks expressly sought to mislead me by stating that there was no “Fujitsu party line” when it came to the contents of drafting witness statements about audit records for legal proceedings. There plainly is; it was used in the Fujitsu statements in 2010 and it was used by him in his statement for the Horizon Issues trial.

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

    I wonder what he’ll come up with when it comes to giving evidence, again under oath, to the Inquiry.

    Brian Trotter – Thu 2 March

    Brian Trotter was a Post Office witness in the first Bates v Post Office trial – held at the latter end of 2018. Under cross-examination Trotter accepted a key part of his witness statement was wrong and that he knew it was wrong. When asked if he wanted to correct the wrong impression it gave, he replied “No”. The Post Office’s written closing at the end of the trial did not mention him once, which is telling. As a former contracts manager, Trotter was responsible for suspending and ultimately ruining at least one Subpostmaster. In his Common Issues trial judgment, Mr Justice Fraser wrote that Trotter:

    “was accused of being evasive in some of his answers. I do not accept that he was being evasive, but he certainly seemed extremely nervous about giving evidence before me that he thought might be unhelpful to the Post Office.”

    par 534, Judgment (No.3) “Common Issues”, Bates and others v Post Office

    I hope that by 2 March, that nervousness has gone.

    You can read the full list of confirmed witnesses on the Inquiry website here.

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

  • Isabella Wall

    Isabella Wall

    I was contacted by Gavin Wall in September last year in my role as a trustee of the Horizon Scandal Fund. Gavin’s mum Isabella had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Isabella was one of the 555 litigants who took the Post Office to court and won in 2019. The fund provided some financial help to Isabella, but shortly before Christmas Gavin wrote to let us know his mum had sadly died. I asked Gavin if he would consider posting a tribute on this website. It follows below:

    Isabella Wall passed away peacefully on 19 December 2022 after a short but brave battle with Motor Neurone Disease.  

    Isabella was the former Subpostmistress of Bowness Road Post Office, Barrow-in-Furness from 1995 to 2012.  It was a role she loved dearly for 22 years, acting as the focal point for her local community, despite things ending not the way she wanted. 

    Isabella was dismissed from her position after several interrogations without legal representation, losing her role and livelihood as a result. 

    No charges were brought, but as the Post Office’s Horizon IT system showed inaccuracies in her accounts she was deemed unfit to run the branch. Her career destroyed, Isabella was plunged into debt, permanently damaging her mental health. Unfortunately Isabella did not live to receive an official apology from the UK Government nor receive long overdue compensation from the Post Office.

    Her family would like to thank Computer Weekly, Alan Bates, Kay and all at the JFSA campaign, Imogen at Freeths solicitors for going above and beyond to support, Dominic Curran at Howe and Co, Simon Fell MP, the Horizon Scandal Fund charity and all subpostmasters and their families affected by this travesty of justice. 

    Donations to the Motor Neurone Disease Association (https://isabellawall.muchloved.com/) to fund much needed research into this underfunded and devasting disease would be greatly appreciated by the family.  

  • Altman General Review finally published

    Brian Altman KC

    On Friday, a key document in understanding the Post Office scandal was brought to the surface. It is the 15 October 2013 General Review into the Post Office’s past prosecutions and future prosecution policy, written by Brian Altman KC.

    The Review came up almost in passing during former Post Office auditor Chris Gilding’s evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry*.

    As soon as it had been mentioned, I asked the inquiry to publish the Review, which they kindly did. I have published a searchable version of the Review below this blog post.

    What’s the Review about?

    Brian Altman KC represented the Post Office in Hamilton v Post Office at the Court of Appeal in 2020/2021, after which 39 Postmasters had their convictions quashed. He also advised the Post Office on multiple occasions during 2013 about their prosecutions of Subpostmasters. 

    This Review and his other Advices are crucial to this story, given Altman’s expertise and seniority. He was First Senior Treasury Counsel – the country’s top prosecutor – from 2010 to May 2013. The Post Office has repeatedly refused to give me the Altman advices on the grounds of privilege. This is the first time this document has been put in the public domain, though it has been quoted from in published submissions to the Inquiry by Subpostmasters representatives.

    In his General Review, Altman writes: ‘The Post Office Ltd (“POL”) has commissioned me to review past practice and make recommendations as to the future approach to the conduct of prosecutions.’

    Altman’s terms of reference came from Bond Dickinson LLP, later Womble Bond Dickinson, the firm of solicitors who represented the Post Office so disastrously during the Bates v Post Office civil litigation. Part of those instructions to Altman include ‘Meeting/Reporting to the Post Office Audit Committee/Board.’

    Context: the Second Sight interim report and the first Clarke Advice

    The reason for the Review can be traced back to Second Sight’s Interim Report dated 8 July 2013. Second Sight are a company run by Ron Warmington and Ian Henderson. They were invited to investigate the complaints of former Subpostmasters about the Post Office Horizon IT system. Their investigation was paid for by the Post Office, but instigated by senior MPs and the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. The interim report was signed off by both the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and the Post Office and published on the Post Office website. Here is what I had to say about it at the time. I have published the Interim Report below this blog post as I can no longer find it on the Post Office website.

    The most important thing in the Second Sight report was the revelation that two IT bugs in the Horizon system had caused problems with account balances. Although the report didn’t say it, this information had come from Gareth Jenkins, the Horizon system architect who worked at Fujitsu, which designed, maintained and operated the Horizon system as part of an outsourcing deal with the Post Office.

    On reading Second Sight’s interim report, the barrister Simon Clarke, who was prosecuting Subpostmasters for the Post Office at his firm Cartwright King, raised the alarm. He halted several prosecutions and instigated an immediate review. He discovered Jenkins was the source for Second Sight’s information. The Post Office had been prosecuting Subpostmasters for theft, false accounting and fraud on the basis of Horizon data. Now a formal report had been produced which suggested the data might not be sound. Clarke was concerned there was the slightest possibility that Postmasters might have been given criminal records on the basis of potentially flawed data.

    Clarke was asked by the Post Office for advice. On 15 July, after a brief investigation, he delivered his advice. All prosecutions by the Post Office needed to be reviewed, and Gareth Jenkins, who had been used as an expert witness by the Post Office, should never be allowed near a witness box again.

    The Post Office asked Cartwright King to start reviewing prosecutions dating back to 1 Jan 2010 (the date at which a new version of Horizon (Horizon Online or HOL or HNG-X) began rollout. This became known as the Cartwright King Sift Review. The parameters for the review have not yet been made public (though they are discussed in the Altman Review). They were essentially to decide if any of the people whose cases had been reviewed should be alerted to problems with Horizon. This would be done by giving them Second Sight’s Interim Report and a document called the Helen Rose report, both of which describe accounting error bugs within Horizon, which may not be obvious to the user. The Helen Rose report eventually surfaced during Bates v Post Office. I published it here.

    What’s in Altman’s Review?

    Brian Altman was brought in by the Post Office to oversee the Sift Review and basically check Cartwright King was doing the right thing in the right way. Shortly after being instructed, Altman handed the Post Office an Interim Review on 2 August 2013. This has not yet been made public.

    The General Review of October 2013 essentially reviews the Cartwright King Sift Review. Altman notes he has met with the Post Office’s in-house legal team, led by Susan Crichton with Rodric Williams and Jarnail Singh in tow (again, all familiar names to those following this disaster). Altman also met with Simon Clarke, Harry Bowyer and their team at Cartwright King. He also saw Andy Parsons at Bond Dickinson (Parsons is a familiar name to those who followed Bates v Post Office – he submitted more than a dozen witness statements to the litigation).

    Altman’s initial conclusion was that reviewing prosecutions from 1 Jan 2010 was ‘logical, proportionate and practicable’. That in itself is a contentious point. Altman’s Review notes the date was settled on by Simon Clarke (despite his initial advice demanding all Post Office prosecutions be reviewed) for reasons of ‘proportionality, resourcing, transparency and POL’s reputation’. Hmm. Not sure any thought should be given to reputation if you’re considering whether or not you might have sent innocent people to prison. As it turns out, pre-2010 cases very much should have been reviewed.

    Conflicts of Interest

    Altman also wonders about the wisdom of Cartwright King reviewing their own prosecutions. He spends several paragraphs setting out his recommendations to ensure that no CK lawyer involved in deciding a case for prosecution should be involved in reviewing it for post-prosecution disclosure. Altman also addresses the potential for Cartwright King’s commercial conflict of interest ‘given CK’s professional relationship with POL and the fact that the very counsel and solicitors making decisions about POL cases are those who rely on CK and POL for this work.’

    Altman decides there is no case to answer having ‘seen no evidence other than a professional and independent approach to this review.’

    Given how alive Altman was to potential conflicts of interest in 2013 it would be interesting to know what consideration he gave to his own potential conflicts of interest in representing the Post Office at the Court of Appeal in Hamilton, where he was essentially defending actions made on his advice in 2013 (and again, as it transpired, in 2016).

    Richard Moorhead, Professor of Legal Ethics at Exeter University has addressed this point before. In his post ‘Independence, a particular professional blindspot‘, Moorhead wonders whether Altman ‘was sufficiently independent to advise and represent in the Hamilton appeals. It adds weight to concerns about the extent to which Altman’s prior involvement in the Post Office case was understood and candidly disclosed before the Court of Appeal in the Hamilton case.’

    I have asked Mr Altman if he considered a potential conflict of interest and whether he took advice on the matter. He hasn’t responded.

    The case reviews themselves

    Altman tots up the reviews already completed and notes a) the numbers don’t add up and b) disclosure has been advised in nine cases already. The former is obviously a concern to Altman, who says ‘the statistical picture is confusing and I have been unable to reconcile the number of cases reviewed by CK with those seen by me. This needs rectification, if CK’s audit trail is to be robust.’

    The latter – a minimum of nine post-2010 cases passing the disclosure test – should be a red flag, but it passes without comment.

    Altman has plenty more to say about about the forthcoming (and ultimately doomed) Subpostmaster Complaint and Mediation scheme, not least the ‘real dangers’ of letting those with convictions onto the scheme. He notes that Sir Anthony Hooper, the retired Court of Appeal judge hired to oversee the scheme’s working group had ‘suggested (quite firmly) that it might be more appropriate for cases that have been through the courts to be referred to the CCRC [Criminal Cases Review Commission] rather than go through the mediation scheme.’

    It turns out that, despite advice, the Post Office had made a policy decision to allow convicted Subpostmasters onto the scheme in order to try to stay in control of the process. If the CCRC took over, the Post Office would have no say in the outcome of any CCRC’s decisions. They would be unable to keep the lid on a brewing scandal. As Altman says ‘If a policy decision has been taken to permit those convicted of crime against POL to participate in the mediation process, then there is no case to refer convicted cases wishing to engage in mediation to the CCRC.’

    I wonder whose fingerprints at the Post Office were on that?

    Simon Clarke

    The Shredding Advice

    On 2 August 2013, less than a month after Simon Clarke issued his initial advice, he was forced to issue another, now known as the Shredding Advice.

    Clarke described a weekly conference call which had been set up (in the light of his first advice) between Fujitsu, the Post Office and lawyers involved in prosecuting Subpostmasters to discuss issues with Horizon and how they might impact on future prosecutions.

    Clarke reported: ‘The minutes of a previous conference call had been typed and emailed to a number of persons. An instruction was then given that those emails and minutes should be, and have been, destroyed: the word “shredded” was conveyed to me.’ (You can read the full Shredding Advice here).

    Altman addresses this in his Review, though is never so vulgar as to use the word shredded. Instead he chooses to say:

    ‘early teething and “cultural” problems arose as highlighted in Simon Clarke’s 2 August 2013 Advice, and indeed to me in Harry Bowyer’s response to my interim review’

    If the shredding of documents was recognised a ‘cultural’ problem within the Post Office (or those dealing with it) in 2013, it suggests the Post Office was already a rogue outfit with some genuine rot at its core. Should it be investigated?

    Funny you should ask. This month marks the third anniversary of the criminal inquiry by the Met Police into Post Office and Fujitsu staff (hi Operation Olympos!) As yet no arrests have been made.

    How many more bugs?

    In his Review, Altman doesn’t seem to express any curiosity about any other potential bugs in Horizon beyond those brought to light by the Second Sight and Rose reports. The obvious questions for any Post Office board/Audit and Risk Committee member reading the Review is how many bugs are there or have there been within the system since its inception and what implications do they have for all Post Office prosecutions? It is a question it seems both Altman and the Post Office deliberately chose not to ask.

    It is my understanding that Brian Altman is one of the barristers who has been referred to the Bar Standards Board for investigation over the Post Office Horizon scandal. The BSB was recently found to have improperly paused its investigation into Altman et al by the Legal Services Board.

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

  • A Christmas message to the Post Office CEO

    Susan Craddock outside her Post Office in Largs, Ayreshire

    Susan Craddock (above) has multiple sclerosis. She runs Largs Post Office in Ayrshire on Scotland’s West Coast. She cc’d me in the letter below.

    When I asked her if I could publish it she agreed, describing herself and many other Postmasters as “desperate”. There is something Dickensian in the tone of Susan’s letter. I couldn’t help thinking of Bob Cratchit and Ebeneezer Scrooge when I read it. Maybe it’s the time of year.

    I asked the Post Office for a response to Susan’s letter, ideally from the Post Office CEO, Nick Read, himself. They have provided me with a statement which I have also pasted below.

    I have been hearing stories like Susan’s for a while now. Here goes….

    Dear Mr Read,

    I know you have said that you are trying your best but there’s a few things I feel you should know. 
    I paid you in excess of £20,000 for the privilege of running a Post Office. 
    During Network Transformation I was hounded until I signed the new contract. Your financial experts approved my business plan when I had the post office income and a few cards and souvenirs. 
    Now, ten years later, I have a much bigger retail area, a cafe and market stall. My husband runs this.
    We are working ourselves into the ground. We can do no more. 
    Why, oh why then am I earning far less than I did before NT? 
    No pay rises for all those years, that’s why! In fact decreases for some products! 
    Our income is constantly eroded and I believe the Post Office are taking a massive proportion of the money that we generate, although we cannot find this out of course. 
    I would like to retire, but one look at my books would put anyone off for good!
    We have recently discovered that Postmasters are paying for the Horizon scandal. This is a scandal in itself! 
    The minimum wage has gone up along with many other regular expenses. This is unsustainable 
    I am not alone. You will find this in almost every postmaster you ask.
    Is it really okay that highly experienced post office workers are only worth minimum wage and Subpostmasters not even worth that! 
    The government says it wants 11,500 post offices but who pays for this?
    More and more it’s the poor Postmaster!
    We know the the Post Office has made millions this year and we will get none of it!
    Please give us some respect and be open and truthful and please give us the money we have earned! 

    Kind regards,

    Susan Craddock
    Largs Post Office

    The Post Office Response

    “This is the most challenging economic climate retailers have faced in decades and we fully recognise the pressures Postmasters face to keep their branch open and serve their local community.

    “Post Office increased remuneration rates in August to support Postmasters, including a one-off lump sum to help with the difficult winter ahead.  We have also secured partnerships with Amazon, DPD and DHL Express to help increase footfall for our postmasters and have just announced a new trial partnership with Evri.

    “However, we made clear to postmasters in August that further help, particularly with energy costs, would be required from the UK Government who is the sole shareholder of the Post Office. The Energy Bill Relief Scheme announced in September that provides a saving until the end of March 2023 is not only welcome but vital. 

    “The immediate priority is for post offices to be considered ‘particularly vulnerable’ for further support by the UK Government when it announces the conclusion of its review of energy support by the end of December.

    “Postmasters demonstrated through the Covid-19 pandemic that they are there in person to help every community in the country.  They continue to provide essential services, including some 400,000 banking deposits each month in Scotland; and over eight million £400 payments across the UK as part of the consumer Energy Bill Support Scheme. If postmasters lose the support for their business energy costs, this could significantly affect their ability to stay open and help millions of people access the help they need.” 

    With regards to the point about remuneration rates not going up, please see below the full package of remuneration improvements announced in August 2022.

    The improvements, taken from a speech delivered by CEO Nick Read, are detailed below:

    In Cash & Banking:

    • We will double the per transaction payment for banking deposits
    • We will pay you a fee for each £100 of any cash withdrawal of £500 or more
    • And we will pay you for balance enquiries and failed transactions
    • All of these improvements will be effective from the start of September trading.

    In Mails:

    • We will Introduce an acceptance payment for Click & Drop letters, passing on the full amount of the payment we receive from Royal Mail directly to you.
    • Again this will be effective from September trading.

    And for Payout:

    • We will double the payment you receive for all Payout transactions for the rest of this financial year.
    • This will be back-dated to 1 April 2022, so you receive a full year’s worth of this 100% uplift

    To provide you with immediate support in the midst of this cost of living crisis, we will also;

    • Pay you a one-off lump sum worth 7% of your Mails and Travel Money remuneration based on the five months of trading already this financial year.
    • You will receive this lump sum in your September remuneration.

    With regards to the Postmasters of today paying for the failings of the past, this was acknowledged by Nick Read in a speech in April 2022 and covered by the media too.

    From Better Retailing’s “Post Office CEO Unveils Key Priorities for the Year Ahead“:


    Lastly, Read recognised the remaining priority needs to focus on rebuilding trust, in light of the Horizon IT scandal, noting “until we fully address the past, we cannot fulfil our future”.

    He said this means giving “every possible assistance to the Horizon IT inquiry”, “delivering compensation to those impacted” and “continuing to deliver operational and cultural changes across the business”.

    “To do this, over the anticipated end-to-end timeframe of providing redress for historical matters – from 2018 through to 2025 – the government has chosen to have us set aside over £300m in our accounts,” said Read.

    “This is for the administration, management, and legal fees to delivery compensation to all those impacted – including some contributions to those settlements. It is a huge sum. But is a sum driven by the process we must follow and to ensure that full, fair, and final compensation is rightly paid.

    “It pains me to say that it is therefore some £300m that is not available for investment in you and our network.”

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

  • Government ‘unveils’ compensation scheme for Subpostmasters in Bates v Post Office litigation

    The government has announced some details of its compensation scheme for the civil claimants in the Bates v Post Office litigation. You can read the ‘process document’ here.

    The scheme will be run by BEIS, the government’s business department, and overseen by an ‘independent advisory board’ to ‘ensure the scheme works effectively’.

    Although there is no mention of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance in the press release, the independent advisory board includes Lord Arbuthnot and Kevan Jones MP, both of whom have campaigned for more than a decade for Subpostmasters.

    The new business minister, Grant Shapps says:

    “I am acutely aware of the pain and suffering that these postmasters and their families have been through as part of the Horizon IT scandal. As Business Secretary I will always stand by them.

    Today’s compensation scheme will ensure these trailblazing postmasters who did so much to uncover this injustice receive the compensation they deserve.”

    (“Always stand by them”, eh?)

    Meester Jones

    I spoke just now to Kevan Jones, who told me he is not fully across the detail of how the scheme is supposed to work and, crucially, he does not know which firm of lawyers will be running it (though he did say Freeths had advised on the matter), but he did tell me the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance were involved in setting it up and that, importantly, the Post Office are ‘nowhere near it’.

    Jones thinks the scheme is ‘a major step forward’ and an opportunity to get ‘the money out of the door quite quickly’ so the claimants ‘don’t get bogged down in litigation’.

    He says it will run on a ‘tariff’ basis for various categories of loss including financial and mental health, reputation etc. The independent advisory board will sit across the operation of the scheme but won’t be ‘sitting in judgment on individual cases’. Essentially, he says, ‘if there are complaints from the participants then we can raise them with the minister.

    I put to him the JFSA’s case that no scheme is fair until it has put claimants back in the position they would have been had they never come into contact with the Horizon IT system. Jones replied: ‘that’s exactly where we’ve got to get to.’

    Lord Arbuthnot

    Lord Arbuthnot told me:

    ‘I have to do what I can to make this scheme as good as possible – I must not just sit on the sidelines and criticise. My understanding is that the oversight board is something that Alan Bates has been calling for for a long time, so I hope he will be pleased now that it’s happening.’

    In terms of how quickly things will get going, Lord A said: ‘I gather the first meeting should be this month, which is good. We must ensure that speed goes hand in hand with fairness to give the subpostmasters the compensation they deserve and need.’

    With regard to his and Lord Arbuthnot’s involvement in the scheme Kevan Jones told me they have both been campaigning so long ‘we’re not going to suddenly sell out at the last minute’ and ‘if we’re not happy with it we’ll say we’re not happy with it.’

    Start prepping now

    Subpostmasters are being told to start preparing their claims ‘today’ in advance of the scheme opening for applications in the new year. The government says it will pay £900 per claimant as part of reasonable legal fees to prepare their claim.

    Qualification for this scheme is limited to the Bates v Post Office claimants were excluded from the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall Scheme on the grounds that the High Court settlement, announced in December 2019, was full, final and binding. Despite blowing the doors off the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, the claimants were locked into a deal which saw them sharing (after deductions) approximately £12m between the 555.

    In March this year, the then Postal Affairs minister, Paul Scully, announced the government had reversed its position and was going to give proper compensation to Subpostmasters. Today’s scheme is a development of that announcement.

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

  • From the archives…

    The gentleman behind this website – Andrew Neale, Master of the Dark Arts – is currently engaged in a mammoth project which involves taking every single secret email newsletter I have written and converting it into an archive.

    Each newsletter will then get posted up on this site once it is six months old.

    A lot of interesting reportage and information has been exclusive to newsletter subscribers (as it should be), but I think there is some sense in ensuring the older posts can be made available once they have lost their immediate news value.

    For example, nearly four years ago today, in the middle of an epic High Court battle, I wrote the newsletter below. It’s quite a trip down memory lane for those of us around at the time, and potentially of use to those who might be interested in seeing how this scandal has developed.

    Mr Neale is himself a secret email subscriber who very kindly volunteered to get involved in helping me set up this website. I am giving him a percentage of the money which has been raised via crowdfunding, but it doesn’t come close to the huge amount of work he has done for free, in his own time, simply because he believes the Post Office scandal is important and needs properly documenting. I am deeply grateful to him.

    If you feel able to make a contribution to the crowdfunding campaign to keep this website afloat and power my and Rebecca’s Investigating the Post Office Scandal podcast, we would be deeply grateful. You will get the newsletters as they are published rather than six months down the line, and you will be making a significant contribution to public interest journalism. And have our undying gratitude.

    Okay here goes with a post published on 8 Dec 2018:

    Not even the end of the beginning

    Part of my route to work for the last five weeks, Inner Temple, Lawyerland.

    Fifteen days doesn’t sound like much, but I feel like I’ve been through the wringer. Trying to synthesise and process the volumes of information which have come out of this trial is going to take weeks. I will give you a quick summary of what happened today and then take you to the next stage, which in many ways is more interesting.

    Today was, like yesterday, the slow, methodical demolishing of the edifice which the JFSA, Freeths and Patrick Green QC have built up over the past month or so. Mr Cavender QC cut a knowledgeable, urbane and extremely assured presence. I sensed he was in his comfort zone – delighted to take the court step by step through the apparent flaws in the JFSA’s claim, but equally happy to think on his feet and spar with the judge as the situation required. He was convincing as he pursued the same argument as yesterday. Which is:

    The Post Office has the right to do as its contract suggests. There is nothing in the contract which is obscure, hidden or designed to spring traps on Subpostmasters. It is all there in black and white and if you didn’t get that contract or didn’t ask for it or didn’t read it before lumping your life savings/nest egg/pension fund into that deal, well…

    The inference was clear – who goes into business, who risks almost everything without asking for their contract or taking legal advice on it or both?

    You can complain after the event to the high heavens, but in business-to-business agent/principal situations you do the hard yards. No one was being taken advantage of here. The law assumes you are going to do some due diligence and the law assumes due diligence involves reading the contract.

    Run that alongside the position stated position yesterday – that the Post Office is entitled to believe that Horizon’s figures are correct because it is generally reliable, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    A possible unexpected side effect of this hardball position is the warning signals it sends out to existing Subpostmasters. If, contractually, you and your business and your entire family’s livelihood are at the whim of a computer system you have no control over, you’re f***ed. Having seen the performances of the procession of employees called to the witness box on behalf of the Post Office there is no way I would let them near my business in a million years. Yet they are authorised to take life-changing decisions with no implications for them, even if they get those decisions catastrophically wrong.

    I said in a previous piece: if you are a Subpostmaster and you read the factual information that now exists on the record about the NFSP and you still believe they are looking out for your interests, you are fool (they unfortunately refused to advance a counter argument to that, but I am all ears if there is one).

    To the above I would add: if you consider taking on a branch Post Office, and read the factual information that now exists in the public domain about the risks of doing so – you are taking one hell of a gamble, with very little obvious upside. Apart from footfall, of course.

    Respect my Authorities

    So how do we get to a judgement? From what I have been able to ascertain, each QC delivers a binder of case law to the judge, thoroughly marked up, directing his Lordship to the specific judgments which each party thinks has a bearing on the law with regard to this case. Contract law appears to be a well-developed area and there are lots of landmark judgments made at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court which are binding on the High Court.

    The judge then asks which judgments the QCs want him to favour at and how they want him to consider them. The judge may also have his own view on what he thinks important, and he will occasionally mention this – or more likely challenge the QC on their interpretation of the case law he is presented with. In this way, the judge is not only given the measure of the case, but what both parties say are the parameters in which he should make his judgment.

    This trial has generated vast tranches of data. Off the top of my head:

    Claim and particulars of claim

    Generic Defence

    Common Issues and pleadings

    Opening statements x 2

    Witness statements x 20

    Documentation put to witnesses (thousands of pages)

    Daily transcripts (ie oral evidence and cross-examination) x15

    Closing submissions x 2

    Claimant statements 500+

    The Authorities

    The closing submissions alone are 200+ pages each. The Authorities can be between 20 and 200 pages, the claimant witness statements are vast. Some of the documentation are Post Office manuals which are more than 100 pages long.

    The judge doesn’t necessarily have to go through every word on every document, but he certainly has to take note of the important ones, and I would say that’s probably at least 2000 pages of relevant technical data, personal experience and nuanced legal argument, much of which he will have to read more than once.

    His job is to funnel all that information into his decisions on the 23 Common Issues. It is a big task. I have already uploaded a version of the Common Issues which has a lot of pleading references attached. The judge asked for a clean version. He got that last week. I was issued with it on Monday. Have a read. This afternoon he rather sensibly asked the QCs to give him two more versions of the Common Issues in which each QC states the judgment they wish him to make after each issue.

    What next?

    At the end of the trial there was quite a bit of what Mr Cavender called “housekeeping”. Various documents and bits and bobs were requested and/or ordered. The Post Office found its own encryption of Liz Stockdale’s interview impossible to crack, which is great for them as it might have corroborated her witness statement in the same way Louise Dar’s lately-discovered interview transcript corroborated hers. The judge has ordered a witness statement from the Post Office on why it has not proved possible to crack their own encryption keys. The judge also asked for a proper flow chart on the process of dealing with a) a Transaction Correction and b) a shortfall when submitting branch accounts.

    All this takes us up to Christmas. The judge has ordered a Case Management Conference [CMC] on 31 January 2019 and put the parties on notice they can expect a draft judgment under embargo from 14 January 2019 onwards, which gives us a two week window during which the public judgment will be handed down.

    The CMC is to decide the date, terms of reference, agreed quantam expert (likely a forensic accountant) and number of claimants to be tried in what will most likely become known as round three: the breach trial.

    The judge has a duty to expedite proceedings, but the lawyers obviously want things to last as long as possible as it means more money for them. At one point the judge lost his patience and said he didn’t wish to be abrupt or look like he was trying to steamroller the parties, but if it was not possible to try the cases of all six of the Lead Claimants in October 2019 he would schedule a trial for every judicial period thereafter in order to get to a resolution in the case starting in Spring 2020.

    At this point I (temporarily, m’lud) lost patience with the judicial process. If the only way to steamroller the parties into doing something positive is promise them five weeks in court three times a year until one of them folds then you have a problem.

    So we’ll get our first judgment in this epic saga in six or seven weeks, then we’ll get a confirmed date and structure of the third trial, then on 11 March 2019 the second Horizon trial starts.

    I personally think someone needs to take this process by the scruff of the neck and boot it into the world of politics, media and public affairs or the legal action will continue ad infinitum until one party runs out of money, and I suspect that party will be the JFSA.