• Prof Moorhead: “Crass does not come close”

    Professor Richard Moorhead

    Following a Q&A with one member of the independent Horizon Compensation Advisory Board (Lord Arbuthnot) earlier this week, I am delighted to bring you another.

    Richard Moorhead is Professor of Legal Ethics at Exeter University and a respected industry blogger. He has taken a close professional interest in the legal failings which contributed to the Post Office Horizon scandal. You can read his dedicated substack column here.

    Prof Moorhead’s thoughtful and measured contributions brought him to the attention of the government, which led to his invitation to sit on the HCAB.

    In recent weeks we have had the Bonusgate revelations and serious Post Office failures when it came to disclosing documents to Sir Wyn Williams’ public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. On top of that, the various Subpostmaster compensation schemes set up by the Post Office and government have been accused of being unfair, overly complex, legalistic and far too slow.

    Herbert Smith Freehills have been instructed by the Post Office since 2019, where they were brought in to (among other things) negotiate the Dec 2019 Bates v Post Office settlement, design and operate the Historical Shortfall Scheme (set up in 2020), negotiate settlements with those who’ve had their convictions quashed and to work on the inquiry. It was recently announced HSF would stop working on the Inquiry, but the Post Office has retained the City firm to deal with compensation settlements.

    Professor Moorhead asked me to make it clear he is answering these questions in a personal capacity, not as a member of the independent Horizon Compensation Advisory Board.

    Have Herbert Smith Freehills covered themselves in glory?

    No. Disclosure has gone badly wrong. The Historical Shortfall Scheme was misconceived and should not have involved them. How much of this is their fault and how much the Post Office’s or the Government’s remains to be seen.

    Given their prior role in the Bates case, it was always unwise for them to be involved in the Inquiry. Now their work for the Post Office has become a focus for the Inquiry, it is beyond embarrassing for them. 

    The possibility of conflicts, actual or perceived was always there and the problems were foreseeable. Even if these do not lead to professional misconduct concerns, and they might, they have caused reputational damage to themselves. 

    The rest of the firm must be raging at the embarrassment HSFs Post Office team have caused them; they make HSF look like they lack wisdom and competence. It will put other clients off.

    What did they get wrong?

    Getting involved post-Bates. The most sensible advice to the Post Office on a compensation scheme would have been to make it as independent of any of the history in this case as possible. That meant independence from the Post Office and from the lawyers who ran any parts of the cases for the Post Office, including HSF. 

    Running it on a lawyers’ litigation like model was also unwise.  The HSS scheme they set up was legalistic, it lacked independence and there were errors of foresight (tax and insolvency being the obvious ones). The scheme suffered from a failure to think about fundamentals from the outset and relied on broken models of dispute resolution in a situation particularly unsuited for it. 

    I do not think unusual foresight was needed to see this would not work well and the forms they designed had the effect of minimising claims unfairly. Having an opaque, negotiation-based system, run by City lawyers whilst applicants (in reality, legal claimants) were denied any cash to instruct lawyers to help them complete their forms was also obviously unfair.

    They should have said “you need a restorative and Ombudsman-style system which can be trusted by the victims and we and as far as possible, you, the Post Office, should be nowhere near it.” Instead, they went for something which looked like a re-run of Bates, with the Post Office and some of the Bates lawyers at the helm. Crass does not come close to describing how bad this idea was.

    We should leave open the possibility that the Government prevented something more sensible, but that would not require HSF to be involved. They should have run away as fast as they could. And the Post Office Board should have spotted the problem too, and not instructed them. Bonusgate tells us a fair bit about the quality of the Board, though.

    What do you think of Sir Wyn Williams’ interim report on compensation?

    It’s a sensible ratcheting up of the pressure, which seems to be Sir Wyn’s modus operandi. Another way of looking at it is – he has, as with disclosure, said on each occasion: you are getting this wrong, here is some rope – then giving it a firmer tug at each stage. Right now he is giving the idea of fairness the firmest and hardest of tugs and saying to the government and the Post Office you have to be absolutely sure that you have given fair compensation. 

    Whilst I cannot speak for the Advisory Board, I can say without any doubt the HCAB is very firmly behind that aim and I believe the Minister is too.

    What are your main concerns about compensation?

    There is a big agenda:

    • have HSS cases been undersettled,
    • have public interest case claimants (Vipin Patel, Parmod Kalia and Teju Adedayo) been treated like second class citizens,
    • the tax and insolvency problems,
    • the size of awards for stigma,

    with time being of the essence. None of us forget Sir Wyn Williams announcing each time someone has died.

    When the dust settles I’d also like the Inquiry to stand back and think bigger picture about compensation and restorative justice schemes of this sort in the future, but that’s a point for down the track.

    What lessons should the Post Office (and government) draw from the compensation debacle?

    These are fragile, deeply-wronged people, subjected to a process similar to the one that violated them. You cannot have the wrongdoer, or their lawyers, administering reparation. And rule-based parsimony is money badly spent. You need some generosity, common sense, and institutional actors capable of building trust.

    Start thinking properly about what it takes to make such schemes independent, fair, fast, efficient, and meaningful because these compensation schemes are not uncommon and they deal with real lives ruined by others.

    HSF will soon cease work on the Inquiry, to be replaced by Burges Salmon and Fieldfisher. What do these incoming legal teams have to do to sort the disclosure mess out out?

    The Post Office (and its General Counsel, Ben Foat) do not yet seem to have a full and accurate grasp of the disclosure problem. This is shocking. For the new lawyers, working out what went wrong, the scale of the damage and how to correct it will be fundamental. 

    I would expect them to engage very openly with the Inquiry and core participants on what they are doing, how they are testing what they are doing, how human insight is deployed to look for gaps and missing documents, and so on. They or the Inquiry need also high quality e-disclosure expertise at their fingertips

    Their key task is to get it right and convince the Inquiry and the other participants that they are doing so. It is now an enormous ask.

    Sir Wyn Williams (the inquiry Chair) has said he will attach a Section 21 notice to all future disclosure requests. How serious do you think the threat of criminal proceedings might be, and what effect will this threat have?

    As things stand, lead counsel to the Inquiry, Jason Beer KC, thinks the Post Office will have a defence on their work to date (essentially incompetence, rather than criminal intent) which the Inquiry cannot yet argue with. That could change as they delve deeper into the history.

    Now the Inquiry has laid the ground for criminal enforcement and will be keeping a detailed grip on what the Post Office are doing now, and what they have or have not got wrong hitherto, that may open up enforcement.

    That said, I’d say the Inquiry will, if they can, and rightly, want to concentrate on ensuring disclosure is full and accurate from here on in rather than spending time and precious brainpower on enforcement.

    My thanks to Professor Moorhead for his time.

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

  • Lord Arbuthnot: “I feel we are heading in the right direction”

    Lord Arbuthnot outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2021

    Last week the Sunday Times asked me to write a piece about the Post Office scandal. The result can be read here. In the course of researching the article I picked up a lot of interesting material which, for reasons of space, didn’t make the final cut. Rather than let some good stuff go to waste, I am going to publish it on this website. We’ll start with an interview with Lord Arbuthnot.

    James Arbuthnot, formerly the MP for North East Hampshire, became the leading parliamentary campaigner for Subpostmasters back in 2010. He has continued to campaign from the House of Lords and was recently appointed to the Horizon Compensation Advisory board, along with his fellow campaigner Kevan Jones MP and two academics, the legal ethicist Professor Richard Moorhead and Chris Hodges, Emeritus Professor of Justice Systems at Oxford University, who chairs the group.

    Please remember this exchange took place before Sir Wyn Williams’ interim report into the compensation situation, which recommended (among other things) that Lord Arbuthnot’s advisory board be given more powers.

    Does the Post Office chief executive, Nick Read, have your confidence?

    I am sad to say that nobody in the Post Office has my confidence. I am suspending my judgement about Simon Recaldin [the Post Office’s Historical Matters Director], because he appears to be doing his best to put things right; but I remember believing that Alice Perkins [Tim Parker’s predecessor as Post Office Chairman], Paula Vennells [Nick Read’s predecessor as Post Office CEO] and others were also doing their best to put things right, and they made things worse.  Nick Read paid himself a bonus for his Inquiry achievements – and only last week it was shown what a fiasco the Post Office has created in the Inquiry – and has paid back a few thousand pounds. 

    How do you feel, personally, about where we are now, given we are three and a half years into Post Office and government apologies?

    Oddly enough, I feel we are heading in the right direction. We have the Public Inquiry and I have faith in Sir Wyn Williams [Inquiry Chair] and Jason Beer KC [lead counsel to the Inquiry]. We have several compensation schemes expressly aiming to put the subpostmasters back into the position they would have been in had the scandal not happened.  We have an able Post Office Minister [Kevin Hollinrake MP] who, as a former campaigner for the subpostmasters, believes in their case. 

    Of course it’s all much too slow, and of course there is far, far more to be done. But whereas three and a half years ago nobody had heard of the issue, there are now hundreds of campaigners all doing different and valuable things to ensure that justice is done.  We have lift off.

    What should the Post Office minister be doing?

    Kevin Hollinrake has my trust. He is working diligently and effectively to achieve justice. The key thing he needs to do is bring other government departments into his way of thinking.  Those departments include the Treasury (as always) but also the Ministry of Justice. The subpostmasters have been failed by so many sectors of society, but the Courts have been a major part of that failure. The presumption that computers are working properly is ridiculous.  The failure to properly police the disclosure of evidence is shocking. The length of time taken to consider the consequences of Mr Justice Fraser’s scathing judgement is unjustifiable. The fact that any Post Office convictions – not just those relating to Horizon – are regarded as safe is bizarre.

    You recently said all Post Office post-Horizon convictions need to be revisited. Why?

    The Post Office’s appalling behaviour towards the victims of Horizon was an infection which must have run through its entire legal department and cannot have been limited to the Horizon cases.

    What do you hope to see in Sir Wyn’s final report?

    Lots.  But I would begin with an apology, on behalf of the nation, to the subpostmasters.  We have been seeing formulaic apologies on an almost weekly basis from the Post Office, but I know of nobody who thinks those apologies are worth anything. The week after an apology something will happen that is even worse than has gone before. I hope Sir Wyn’s report will, first, set out clearly what happened and who knew what and when.  It will presumably be for others to take action against individuals as a consequence, but it will form the basis of that action.

    Second, I hope it will make any comments needed to ensure that proper compensation is paid to every single person who has suffered as a result of this scandal, including the subpostmasters, their families and their employees.

    Third, I hope the report will highlight the failings in the courts and legal system, with a route to improvement.  We smugly suggest that British justice is the best in the world.  This has been a failure of justice on an epic scale.  One such failing is the presumption that computer-based evidence is correct unless proven otherwise; another is the refusal of disclosure of evidence that might help to rebut that presumption.

    Fourth, I hope it will set out how it was that corporate governance failed so badly at the Post Office and the changes needed to ensure that that does not happen in other organisations.  Those changes need to be cultural and not box-ticking.

    Fifth, I hope it will examine the failures in the introduction of complex computer systems.  Fujitsu was permitted to bring into service a system that had already been rejected by the DWP, that was full of faults and under-tested.  The Government has not learnt its lesson from this, as we see from the introduction of the Common Platform system in the Ministry of Justice.  Yet the Government continues to assume that savings can be taken from computerisation before the benefits of that computerisation are clearly established.

    I have faith in Sir Wyn.  He is doing an extraordinary job in the face of the usual roadblocks being created by the Post Office. I am already disappointed that he has ruled out considering the role of the auditors in what the Post Office, the Government and Fujitsu have done. I believe the auditors too should be held to account. Sir Wyn said that to include their role in his Inquiry would be “disproportionate”. While I disagree with him, he may be making the valid point that the best must not be the enemy of the good.

    I would also be disappointed if Sir Wyn did not address the issue of non-Horizon related prosecutions and litigation. I understand that he may feel constrained by the title of his Inquiry (“the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry”) and by his terms of reference; but he dealt most effectively with the issue of compensation despite that being expressly excluded from his remit, and it is clear from the thrust of his questioning that the matter is far more than an IT inquiry but goes also to the behaviour of the Post Office arising out of the contracts it imposed on the subpostmasters. The general approach of the Post Office towards prosecution (an approach which I would describe as deliberately unjust) is a matter on which Sir Wyn should be able to comment and draw conclusions from.

    Of course there are many other issues which, if left out of the report, would disappoint me (the role of Fujitsu, the individual responsibilities of the management personnel of the Post Office and of those civil servants and Government appointees to the Board of the Post Office, and so on and on) but I see no sign that the Inquiry will fail to deal with them.

    All of this is a lot to ask of Sir Wyn Williams.  While I believe he is up to the task, the Government’s response must reflect his own energy and integrity.

    My thanks to Lord Arbuthnot for his considered responses to my questions.

    The minutes from the most recent meeting of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board can be read here and below:

    Horizon Compensation Advisory Board

    Report of fifth meeting held on 14 June 2023

    Members present: Prof. Christopher Hodges (Chair); Lord Arbuthnot; Kevan Jones MP; Prof. Richard Moorhead. 

    Also present: Carl Creswell; Rob Brightwell; Eleanor Brooks; Beth White; Eleri Wones (first part of meeting) (all DBT).

    Fairness of the HSS

    1.     The Advisory Board agreed that 

    ·       Fair compensation should be delivered that puts victims in the position that they would have been in if the scandal had not occurred and properly reflects the significant harms that had been visited on their lives and reputations.

    ·       Legal or other related costs should be reimbursed in full, so that compensation payments were fully compensatory.

    2.    It recognised that Government already subscribed to those principles. Its concern was that they should be effectively implemented, and that postmasters and others should have confidence that they were being applied fairly. Officials informed the Board that Ministers would shortly be announcing their intention to fund top-ups to HSS payments to address the issue relating to tax. [Post-meeting note: announcement to Parliament is here]. 

    3.     The Board noted that offers had been made to 99.3% of postmasters who had originally claimed under the HSS, and that 82% of these offers had been accepted. However there had been public comment about the outcomes and handling of a number of cases perceived to have been unfair. Some of these had not yet completed the dispute resolution process within the HSS.  

    4.    The Board have had a discussion with KCs from the HSS Independent Panel. The KCs had explained that the Panel had adopted a practice of ‘acting as advocates for claimants’ where it could see matters within a claim that were not addressed in the options presented by HSF, rather than as wholly disinterested arbiters, and had adopted a presumption in favour of applicants if there was a shortfall and no other explanation. 

    5.     The Advisory Board believed that the Panel had been guided by principles of independence and professionalism, and by legal precedent so as to seek consistency between awards, in reaching decisions in individual cases. 

    6.     The Board noted the difference in process between the HSS and GLO schemes. Under the HSS, the independent Panel recommended an offer. If the offer was not accepted there was a dispute resolution process managed by the Post Office, including referral back to the Independent Panel and then with independent mediation as a final stage. By contrast in the GLO scheme an initial offer was made by DBT followed, if necessary, by independently facilitated discussions. Only if these did not produce agreement was a case referred to an independent Panel. There was provision for review by a senior legal figure in the event of manifest error or irregularity. A broadly similar sequence was being envisaged for the new arrangements for compensation for overturned convictions. 

    7.     The Board also noted the different remuneration arrangements for representation and the very high levels of cases without representation in the HSS scheme.

    8.     In the Board’s view, having an independent Panel (and, if necessary, the Reviewer) in place at the end of the process to make final decisions on individual claims increased the trust which could be placed in the final settlement. 

    9.    The Board noted that given the history of mistrust in the Horizon scandal born of adversarial litigation, many postmasters would lack confidence in the fairness of any compensation delivered under the auspices of the Post Office or its legal advisors. They also noted concerns about the administration of HSS, including issues in respect of the application form. 

    10. They concluded that if the Scheme was to be seen to be fair, individuals who were unhappy about the settlements which they had received needed to have recourse to an assessment which was wholly independent of the Post Office. This should come at the end of the process, on similar lines to the role of the GLO Independent Panel. They recommended that the Minister should consider how such an appeal process could be introduced. It should focus on assessing whether settlements were fair based on the evidence provided, whilst allowing consideration of elements of a claim which had been missed or not included on the original form.

    11. The Panel discussed the differences in the extent and timing of legal advice in the schemes, which tended to suggest there may be merit in the concerns that unrepresented claimants have been disadvantaged under the HSS scheme. The Board noted that the HSS had been established under schedule 6 of the agreement between the Post Office and JFSA which had settled the GLO case. DBT’s understanding was that, in the light of their members’ difficult experiences in the High Court and elsewhere, the JFSA had argued for a process which did not expect postmasters to take legal advice in making applications. The Post Office had, however, provided support with the costs of legal advice to help claimants consider compensation offers. The HSS Panellists had also explained that they took the approach of scrutinising HSS applications with a view to identifying any heads of loss that had not been explicitly included. Nonetheless, claimants’ lawyers had suggested that claimants who were unrepresented may have received smaller awards than those who had engaged legal advice. 

    12.  The Board noted that many of the concerns about the fairness of settlements related to the overall treatment of individual postmasters by the Post Office over many years. They noted that the HSS had paid careful attention to legal principles and precedents in respect of loss of reputation, stigma, distress and inconvenience and related heads of loss, but that this had led to potential differences between different claimant groups. However they believed that the facts of some Horizon cases went beyond those of precedents, for instance in respect of damage to reputation irrespective of prosecution given the impact of any branch intervention or civil action, the prominence within the community of many postmasters, the length of time during which the individual suffered damage, and the consequences for family members and family unity. If such cases were decided by the Courts, there were good reasons for thinking that judges may well create new, more generous precedents, especially given the egregious and bullying behaviour of the Post Office during the course of the scandal – behaviour whose impact was increased by virtue of the Post Office’s credibility as a Government-owned organisation.  They were also concerned that the operation of some rules of thumb in the scheme (such as the 26 month guideline on termination and the starting points for assessing reputational harm) risked unfairness to some claimants.

    13. The Board was therefore not convinced that the application of existing principles and precedents would lead to consistently fair results. They noted that postmasters who had been prosecuted by the Post Office would receive exemplary damages. Whilst such damages were intended to punish the Post Office, they also had the effect of acknowledging the sustained personal impact which its actions had had on individuals. They recommended that the appeal process recommended above should put particular weight on securing a fair outcome in respect of the issues described in the preceding paragraphs.        

    Overturned convictions

    14.  The Board noted that of about 900 people prosecuted by the Post Office in 2000-2015, to date only 86 convictions had been overturned. More were in the process of appealing and the Post Office had recently written to a further group to indicate that it would not oppose their appeals. 

    15.  In the Board’s view, postmasters would inevitably distrust any action of the Post Office or its advisors in reviewing cases, even if this were done with the utmost professionalism. 

    16.  The Board believed that the criteria set by the Court of Appeal for Horizon cases were too tight, and that a significant number of miscarriages of justice could be outstanding. They also believed that the Court of Appeal’s judgment was based on a limited understanding of the extent of problems with financial systems in the Post Office and with the extent of wrongdoing lying behind the “affront to public justice” finding. This led to a much wider and higher level of concern about Post Office prosecutions (and their review) with a number of critical documents not apparently disclosed and available to the Court. 

    17. The Board recognised that Government cannot challenge the decisions of the Courts. They agreed that their Chair should write to the CCRC and its equivalents in other nations to strongly encourage it to propose a wider set of criteria in the light of the full range of cases prosecuted by or on behalf of the Post Office. 

    18. They also agreed to recommend that the Minister should 

    a.     consider whether the Government or Post Office could do more to encourage postmasters to appeal their convictions; 

    b.    arrange that a review of all Horizon prosecutions be undertaken, by a team independent of the Post Office and without any prior involvement, to identify appeals that should be reviewed as unsafe, based on a presumption of innocence; and

    c.     encourage the Post Office, when considering which potential appeals meet the Court of Appeal’s criteria, to only resist appeals in which there remained substantial evidence wholly free of taint.

    19. They agreed to look further at the issue of cases not yet appealed.

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

  • Nick Read: The First Interview

    Click here

    On 20 June I was waiting outside Committee Room 6 at the Houses of Parliament, waiting to hear Post Office CEO Nick Read and his fellow execs grilled by Darren Jones MP and various members of the Business Select Committee.

    I was in the process of putting together Episode 12 of The Great Post Office Trial. My producer Robert and I had already bid for an interview with Mr Read, but we were cannoning towards our deadline and time was running out. The day before we had been told that despite initially positive soundings, the CEO was unlikely to be able to accommodate us in his schedule.

    Mr Read arrived in good time for the meeting, tracked by his “Group Corporate Affairs, Communications & Brand Director”, Richard Taylor. I introduced myself and asked Read if he would do an interview after the session – pointing out we had a bid in and we were up against a deadline. He agreed.

    Nick Read on 20 June

    After the committee hearing (which you can watch here), we found a quiet corner and started recording.

    Robert managed to get four minutes of the resultant interview into Episode 12, but I was delighted when Robert told me the BBC had agreed to put the interview up in its entirety as a “bonus” episode for the series.

    This is the first time in my thirteen years of covering the story that a Post Office Chief Executive has agreed to be interviewed by any journalist about the scandal. I am grateful to him for his time.

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

  • Inquiry to consider yet more delays

    Sir Wyn Williams at work today

    UPDATE: The inquiry’s hearings have now been postponed at least until 25 July, possibly until after summer.

    ORIGINAL COPY: The statutory public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal is looking very wobbly. Last month’s hearings were postponed as the Chair, Sir Wyn Williams, was ill. Last night we heard Sir Wyn is considering postponing most of this month’s hearings until after summer because of the Post Office’s failure to properly disclose documents to the inquiry, which might be of relevance to this month’s witnesses.

    We’ve already seen the second postponement of Gareth Jenkins’ evidence (the Fujitsu engineer under criminal investigation), firstly because he wasn’t prepared to give full evidence without immunity from prosecution (refused), secondly due to a lack of Post Office disclosure.

    Today the inquiry will hear from lawyers for the Subpostmasters. The chair wants to know if they are happy to plough ahead, aware that the Post Office still has not disclosed all the relevant documents, or if they want to punt the next two weeks’ witnesses back to the other side of summer. It’s a tricky one to call, as the chair has made it plain that if a relevant document comes to light then witnesses can be recalled.

    Reverberations and ramifications

    Eleanor Shaikh
    Eleanor Shaikh

    Whilst the lawyers for the Subpostmasters have complained about the Post Office’s manner of disclosure to the inquiry in the past, the reason the Inquiry knows the Post Office has not been disclosing relevant documents to it is entirely down to Eleanor Shaikh’s FOI request which revealed the Post Office Security Team Compliance document’s racist classification codes for Subpostmasters.

    This document had not been given to the Inquiry. On realising this, the Inquiry carpeted the Post Office’s General Counsel, Ben Foat, on Tuesday last week, and then the chair issued a Stern Bollocking to the Post Office demanding it sort its disclosure out.

    You may remember Post Office execs awarded themselves bonuses for their brilliant work on the Inquiry and then falsely stated why the bonuses had been approved. They said it was because Sir Wyn Williams had signed off their target metric. This was completely untrue.

    What had happened was that the Post Office, in the absence of getting approval from Sir Wyn (who didn’t know anything about the bonus scheme), asked its own lawyers to the Inquiry if it had been doing a good job. Amazingly its lawyers, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), told the Post Office it had been doing a grand job and should award itself 100% of the bonus metric (see Q7 here). Which it did.

    Darren Jones MP

    The Chair of the Business Select Committee, Darren Jones MP, believes there is the possibility that the person at the Post Office who decided it was fine that HSF had signed off on the bonus metric rather than Sir Wyn (whilst stating in the PO’s annual report that he had), may have committed the crime of false accounting (see Qs 7, 10, 13, 55 here).

    The Post Office commissioned the incoming chair of its remuneration committee, Amanda Burton, to find out how it managed to put a falsehood in its annual report. Burton wrote an awful review which not only failed to find out how it happened, she couldn’t even identify who at the Post Office made the decision to use HSF rather than seeking sign-off from Sir Wyn. I am of the view that neither the Post Office, nor the Post Office minister should accept this report. It’s not even semi-competent.

    Darren Jones has now written to the Post Office asking for the identity of the person who made the decision to accept HSF’s conclusions and allow the falsehood into the annual report. They may now face criminal investigation.

    Only a Bit of a Bonus

    Don’t forget the Post Office executives who handed back their bonuses after this was all exposed, only handed back a quarter of their bonuses relating to work on the inquiry, despite stating in their annual report that to qualify for their inquiry bonuses all the work had to be approved by Sir Wyn (see page 39 here).

    Darren Jones has asked the Post Office execs to consider returning all of the money awarded to them for their work in the inquiry, given they patently failed to meet the target they set. When I asked Post Office CEO, Nick Read if he was prepared to do that, he said: “I don’t think so.”

    This disastrous sideshow is distracting from the key job of the inquiry, which is to find out which individuals were responsible for the potential criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice which came about when the Post Office realised it had been prosecuting Subpostmasters on the basis of flimsy evidence.

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

  • The Burton Report

    Amanda Burton

    When it transpired the Post Office had chosen to award itself bonuses for co-operating with the public inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal, it caused something of a storm.

    The somewhat crass idea that the Post Office should reward itself for co-operating with the inquiry was bad enough. Even worse was the fact the bonus metrics were said to have been met with approval from Sir Wyn Williams, the inquiry chair.

    This was entirely false. Sir Wyn Williams had done no such thing. He wasn’t even aware the Post Office had a bonus scheme related to his inquiry.

    To compound matters, the Post Office stated in its annual report that the inquiry was over, when it wasn’t.

    Once this latest scandal broke, the incoming chair of the Post Office’s remuneration committee, Amanda Burton, was tasked to write a report detailing how the inquiry bonuses came about and why the false statement about them ended up in the Post Office annual report.

    I’ve read the report a number of times. In short, Burton believes that it was fine for the Post Office to offer incentives to its executives for their work on the inquiry, but she (says she) was unable to get to the bottom of how the falsehoods about the inquiry metric being achieved found their way into the report.

    Burton did not explain how the Post Office came to believe Sir Wyn Williams had signed off the metric, nor did she really get to the bottom of how the idea the inquiry was already over ended up in the PR’d, legalled and signed annual report.

    Burton also failed to mention that the external agency the Post Office used to assure itself that the bonuses for work on the inquiry were deserved, was Herbert Smith Freehills, the Post Office’s lawyers to the inquiry.

    In fact Ms Burton was so incurious, or just inept, that whilst she identified that each bonus metric had an “owner”, she failed to find out who at the Post Office was responsible for monitoring the inquiry bonus metric, something picked up in a recent hearings (see Question 64), by the Chair of the Business Select Committee, Darren Jones MP.

    It is, in my view, a desperately inadequate piece of writing, which fails to properly articulate what happened or single anyone out for getting things wrong. Burton is not, apparently, an idiot, so it must be deliberate. Or maybe I’m wrong.

    In order to get a secondary view, I asked Heather Rogers to give the Burton report a fisking. I have never met Heather, but I am aware she a) a corporate type and b) takes a keen interest in the Post Office scandal. Heather is a director, accountant and tax practitioner with nearly 40 years’ experience in her field. She is a member of the Expert Witness Institute and the Institute of Directors as well as being the current Tax Expert for This is Money. She has worked in the corporate world for national and international companies, and has run her own company – Aston Accountancy – for nearly 30 years. She tells me she has reviewed countless board reports, minutes and financial statements in her long career. 

    When I asked her to take a considered look at the Burton report, she very kindly agreed. What follows is a slightly edited version of what she sent back to me, with apologies to Heather for taking so long to post it up.

    Heather Rogers’ view of the Burton Report.

    Heather Rogers

    “There was outrage when the Post Office board paid itself bonuses relating in part to its co-operation with the Public Inquiry into the Post Office Scandal. A review into this was conducted by Amanda Burton, a former General Counsel and COO at Clifford Chance LLP as well as, according to her Linked-In page, an experienced Chair and Non-Executive Director. She also lists corporate governance as one of her skills.

    The review into the bonus scheme is extremely badly-worded, lacks sense and would’ve been better written by ChatGPT. If you want to know how bad it is, just read the paragraph “terms of reference.” It is without a doubt the worst review into any corporate document I have ever read. It belongs in the Post Office’s shredder.

    By the way, none of the appendices to which her review refers “as attached”, have been published, including the terms of reference for the report she has written. Always a bad sign. If they are part of the report, they should have been published with it. Why haven’t they been? [good question. I have asked the Post Office for them and I know they have been FOI’d. Hopefully they will surface soon – ed.]

    In 2020/2021 the Post Office suffered such a reduction in profits and a downturn in its business, the normal bonus schemes to “incentivise” its execs were not going to be payable. These were: annual bonus scheme and long-term bonus scheme. The Post Office therefore needed a new way to calculate bonuses to pay its execs to incentivise them to work.

    It came up with the TIS, (Transformation Incentive Scheme) which is not based on profits but non-monetary results. There were several designs of the scheme but the board and the Remuneration Committee eventually settled on four (to use Ms Burton’s words) “metrics”, the second being cooperation with the Inquiry. They were as follows:

    (1) Delivery of a step change in Postmaster engagement through delivery of key milestones and metrics aligned as part of the culture change programme. Measure the effectiveness through delivery of top priority areas identified from the feedback and ensure this represents a significant change by January 22 vs. the existing feedback from the Postmaster Consultation with Quadrangle.

    (2) Delivery of all the required information and support for the Horizon inquiry satisfying the requirements of Sir Wyn Williams, ensuring that there is a clear measurable plan created to demonstrate action on improving the overall culture to be Postmaster centric and to ensure processes for Postmasters are addressed in line with recommendations from the inquiry. Any actions or plans must have been endorsed by the inquiry and the Board.

     (3) Create a Board approved SPM plan and business case to move off Horizon dependence (first version by March 21, final by December 21) and deliver a prototype to operate an ‘express’ proposition fully outside Horizon by 31/12/22 with ability to subsequently scale across the POL network.

    (4) Delivery of an improved organisational design and lower cost operating model through the successful implementation of Tranche 1, 2 and 3 of the organisational change plans. Measured by improving metrics on spans and layers (in accordance with the McKinsey key metrics on spans and layers and best practice), making the organisation flatter and more aligned to the Postmaster.

    The original cost of all this “incentive” was expected to be £3.56m for 52 people. There was also an additional 5% funding (amount unspecified), to be made available for consistent high performers, those rated 4 and 5 on their assessment. The scheme would be available for those rated 3 or above. This changed later to 41 eligible employees “bringing the total to £1.97m.” However, in the end the amount accrued in the accounts, according to her report, is £2.5m for 47, including two who left. Burton states: “I have not been able to establish why the numbers of recipients changed, as the relevant HR people have left the Company.”  Really? Do they not have records? Perhaps the shredder has been active again.

    Burton further states:

    “The original estimate of £3.56m (discussed in November 20) presumably included the 5% “pot” and also presumably included NICs. Perhaps this is a question she should have asked. Oh and also the pension contributions which would have gone along with this payout, no doubt. She continues:

    The actual base awards made totalled £1.66m, with an additional £144k paid out for the “pot” plus £249k NICs (a total of £2.05m) so well within the accrual of £2.5m. I have not been able to determine the original amount of the “pot” as the Reward Director at that time has left . Did he take his calculations with him?

    The Remco minutes do not show any discussion as to the modelling but they did approve the multipliers of 1.75 for the CEO and 1.5 for the other high performers, which was disclosed in the paper tabled at that meeting. The CEO was not present when his performance ratings were discussed.”

    It seems that written records aren’t a thing at the Post Office. 

    The scheme was the brainchild of Nick Read, the Post Office CEO, presented as a paper written by the Pension and Rewards Director, although he is not mentioned by his actual name in the report. Burton gives the names of the directors who have left the Post Office:

    “I have sent the final draft of the review to Ken McCall, (Chair of Remco until December 2021), Tim Parker (Chair of POL at the relevant times), Lisa Cherry (CPO who went on maternity leave in May 2021 and chose not to return) and Angela Williams (Interim CPO from May 2021), all of whom have left the Company as they are specifically mentioned in this report.”

    But there is no mention of the name of the apparent author of the bonus scheme in the report, other than to advise us that he’s also left the Post. Office, so presumably they’ve lost his employment file as well.

    The TIS took so long to draw up, that the bonuses calculated under it were not paid until March 2022. These were paid alongside the normal bonuses which came back into force in 2022, the annual and long term bonuses. So the board received in March 2022, three bonuses: the normal two for 2021/22 and the “one off” – TIS from 2020/21. This gave the CEO Nick Read a whopping £455K in bonuses which is more than his salary of £415K for the 2021/22 year. The CFO received bonuses of £238K.

    According to Burton’s report, the TIS was approved by not only the government representative on the board, Tom Cooper, but also by the then minister for BEIS [now DBT], Paul Scully. Considering the number of people under whose eyes this scheme passed, it’s hard to understand how it wasn’t picked up, or if it was, why someone didn’t raise hell. 

    All this against a backdrop of the fact that so many of the postmasters affected by the egregious scandal, are still waiting for their compensation and also disclosure documents from the post office to assist them in their claims.

    Some of the conclusions drawn by Burton’s report are eyewatering. Amongst her conclusions;

    “TIS was a one off scheme. This wasn’t unusual during 2020, many organisations felt they could not put in place sensible targets as there was so much that was unknown. At the same time, POL was facing a great deal of public scrutiny as a result of the Inquiry, and was directed by Government to move away from dependency on Fujitsu. The CEO had been appointed in September 2019 and needed to motivate his immediate team against a background where previous scheme awards had been reduced. I therefore can understand why a Transformation Incentive Scheme was proposed.”

    It sounds from her interpretation that, as it was a “one off” scheme, that makes everything fine.  It doesn’t seem to occur to Ms Burton that the investigation is into the terms of the scheme itself – the fact it was devised in the first place. The fact it is a “one off”, is quite simply irrelevant.  Her phrasing concerning “public scrutiny” of the Post Office is also rage-inducing, as is her attempt to defend the bonus scheme further, by saying that the CEO needed to motivate his team. These people are employed to do a job. The team is there to steer the company through rocky times and to expect to have to take appropriate action to respond to the needs of the business. That’s their collective responsibility.  This can include taking a pay cut, never mind a bonus.

    “The Remco was mindful of corporate governance best practice and as far as applicable aimed to follow the UK Corporate Governance Code issued by the FRC (which is applicable to public companies). Many aspects of the TIS followed the Code eg predictability, proportionality, alignment with culture and shareholder engagement. However, there were issues with clarity and simplicity.”

    If Ms Burton thinks the only thing wrong with this bonus scheme is the “clarity and simplicity” then she needs to go back to college. I also doubt that anyone with any idea of corporate governance would think that the bonus scheme aligned with any of the code given the circumstances the Post Office has created.

    “In hindsight it was clearly inaccurate to suggest that Sir Wyn would be in any way involved in determining whether any part of the bonus had been achieved. There was no deliberate intention on anyone’s part to mislead the role of Sir Wyn in this matter. Having said that, numerous people both inside and outside POL saw the wording over many months, and no one questioned it”

    Why was this included in the accounts and annual report? Can incompetence alone cover it? I feel even Ms Burton has doubts here and struggles to continue what I see as a thread throughout this report, to defend, rather than criticise, and to excuse rather than investigate.

    “In conclusion, the rationale for the TIS looks sound”

    Of course it doesn’t. How can she even write this?

    “…I will be recommending that Remco exercises its discretion not to award the element of bonus specifically relating to the Inquiry. Any variable pay schemes going forward should not include any metrics relating to the Inquiry.”

    She is just recommending it exercises its discretion. That’s all. I had to read this sentence twice. There really is no sense here by the new Chair of Remco and author of this review that such an award is so palpably insulting to the postmasters and the public and so completely at odds with good corporate governance,  that this should have been condemned in the strongest terms possible and struck from scheme with immediate effect.

    Ms Burton’s review of the TIS is like all matters relating to the Post Office, deplorable in its attempts to defend its behaviour, to excuse and justify its actions with no sense of shame or wrongdoing and refusing to learn anything from its recent history. It is quite simply a moral vacuum, a company that seems to put the needs of the few over and above its responsibility to act with good governance, to accept its responsibilities and to work to improve. It is a stark reminder of what can happen when people who do not have the company’s best interests at heart are allowed free reign with no one to challenge them.

    No further bonuses should be paid until the postmasters compensation is fully paid out. There’s an incentive for the Post Office’s senior executives.”

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

  • The Post Office Race Equality duty in the application of its prosecutorial powers

    Dr Minh Alexander

    Dr Minh Alexander is back. Dr Alexander contacted me a few years ago when she was alarmed to hear that The Reverend Paula Vennells had sailed into a job running an NHS Trust.

    Dr Alexander felt The Revd Vennells’ active attempts to play down and possibly suppress the Post Office scandal whilst CEO of the Post Office made her exactly the wrong sort of person to be running a large NHS Trust.

    The NHS has form when it comes to trying to suppress revelations about serious wrongdoing. Bringing someone in whose instinct, it seemed, was to cover-up a scandal could make her a danger to patients.

    You’d think the authorities would take note of Dr Alexander’s detailed referral, but unfortunately our country doesn’t tend to work like that. Good chaps (and chapesses) go on failing (sometimes disastrously) upwards despite live concerns about their abilities and leadership. Troublemakers and whistleblowers are at best ignored, at worst, crushed. After making her complaint, Dr Alexander was stonewalled for more than a year. Vennells eventually stepped down from chairing the Trust after the then Business Minister in the Lords, Lord Callanan, followed up Dr Alexander’s complaint of her own accord, but not because she felt she was a safeguarding danger.

    Anyway, Dr Alexander rides again. On 30 May this year, during the furore over the Post Office’s racial classification of suspect Subpostmasters, Dr Alexander put together the following Freedom of Information Request:

    Dear Sir,

    Post Office Ltd’s Race Equality duty in the application of its prosecutorial powers

    In an FOI disclosure exactly a year ago, ref FOI2022/00186 30 May 2022,  Post Office Limited disclosed that of 476 Horizon prosecutions of sub post masters between 1999 and 2015, ethnicity was NOT stated in 160 cases.

    In the remaining 316 cases, 123 of the prosecuted sub post masters had ethnicity recorded as BME.

    For the sake of argument, and assuming that the 160 cases with missing data proportionately reflected the overall group, this implies 39% (123 of 316) of prosecutions were against BME sub post masters.

    Please disclose:

    1)    Does a 39% prosecution rate against BME sub postmasters represent a disproportionately higher (or lower) level of action set against the proportion of sub post masters who are of BME background?

    2)    What was the ethnicity breakdown of all sub post masters over that period, assuming that this data was collated?

    3)    What data did Post Office Ltd collect during that period, if any, on the protected characteristics of all sub post masters?

    I note from a blog by a Post Office Ltd Diversity and Inclusion manager, which is not clearly dated but was posted after 2020, that it is stated:

    “We don’t collect data on the ethnicity make-up of our Postmasters.”

    “Last year however, in our annual survey of independent Postmasters, we did ask Postmasters to voluntarily declare their ethnicity. There are over 7,000 independent Postmasters and around 1,300 completed the survey. Almost one in three (29%) described their ethnic group as Indian, 6% described it as Pakistani, 1% Bangladeshi, 8% any other Asian background and 1% a mixed White and Asian background. Whilst these stats cannot be deemed statistically representative of the whole independent Postmaster population, it nevertheless gives an insight into why it’s so important that Post Office celebrates and champions South Asian Heritage Month”

    4)    Has Post Office Ltd ever analysed the ethnicity data that it collected on the sub post masters who were prosecuted over the Horizon matters and/or conducted any Race Equality assessment or general Equality impact assessment with regards to the Horizon prosecutions? Has it looked for patterns and the experiences and outcomes for different ethnic groups? If so, please share copies of the relevant reports. If not, please disclose the reasons why no such assessments were conducted.

    5)    Post Office Ltd infamously helped to send a pregnant Asian sub post mistress with two small children to jail, who was later exonerated by the Court of Appeal. This is in spite of the Corston report recommendations against custodial sentences for women unless absolutely necessary because of the huge social harm that such sentences cause. Has Post Office Ltd ever conducted a specific review of this case with regards to any issues of bias and Race impact?

    6)    There have been concerns that Post Office Ltd discriminated against sub post masters from minorities:

    Post Office Horizon scandal – was racism an issue?

    There is now concern that Post Office Ltd used an offensive classifications (for example, “negroid”):

    Post Office used racist terms for sub-postmasters in official guidance

    If there has been no Race/ Equality impact assessment of the Horizon prosecutions so far, is there any plan to conduct such an assessment? If so, please provide details.

    Yours sincerely,

    Dr Minh Alexander

    Cc The Earl of Minto Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade

    I’m looking forward to reading the response.

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

  • Help Noel translate his book into English

    Noel Thomas on the day his conviction was quashed in 2021

    UPDATE: Noel has done it! Here is a message sent to everyone who donated to the campaign, sent on Friday night:

    “On behalf of the Thomas Family, I would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone for the wonderful response to our crowdfunder. We have by now received support from nearly 200 individuals from all parts of the UK. I had set a target of £6,000 to cover the costs of translating and adapting “Llythyr Noel” into English with a closing date of August 2, 2023. But by today, June 23, this sum has already reached an amazing sum of £8,600! We are so moved and humbled as a family that so many people want to be able to read about my Dad’s story- through the medium of English this time. Having smashed the target in just three weeks, there is therefore no need of that August 2nd deadline now! However, with still so many expressions of interest in contributing, as a family we have decided to keep the crowdfunder open for just a further two weeks- to Friday, July 7. The additional monies above £6,000 will now be used to cover the publishing and marketing costs of bringing “The Stamp of Innocence” to the market later this year.”

    Well done to everyone involved!

    ORIGINAL MESSAGE (posted on 22 June at 10.55pm):

    You may be aware that Noel Thomas (along with his daughter Sian and ghostwriter Aled Gwyn Jôb) has written a book about his experiences. It’s called “Llythyr Noel“, which mean’s Noel’s Letter. The book has been a roaring success among Welsh-speaking audiences. You can read a review (in English) here.

    Noel is now very much hoping he will be able to raise the funds to allow Aled to write the English translation, provisionally titled The Stamp of Innocence. Sian has set up a crowdfunder which has 41 days left to go. They need £6,000, and they are in sight of it (£4,499 at the time of writing)!

    I think Noel’s story is an exceptionally important piece of social history. Noel gave his entire career to the Royal Mail and Post Office and could have been destroyed by them. He spent his 60th birthday (Christmas Eve) in Walton prison in Liverpool. He refused to be broken by the experience, and was one of the first to join the long campaign to prove his innocence. Noel fought hard to clear his name, and yet has always been cheerful, happy to chat and generous with his time. He is just a lovely man. 

    I looked into seeing whether the Horizon Scandal Fund could make a donation towards the cost of translating Noel’s book, but because there is a possibility that one day the project might turn a profit we can’t make a grant. I can tell you from bitter experience that the possibility of a profit on a book is a long way off, but them’s the rules. 

    Donatoris Emptor

    A word of warning about the crowdfunder – it’s not “all or nothing”. If the campaign does not reach the £6000 target, then your money will not be returned. The team behind the book are determined to get it made so will look for other ways of fundraising to get the project over the line. This may mean the process takes longer, but I am in touch with both Aled and Sian, and I do not doubt their commitment to the project. That said, there is a possibility that you make a donation and the book does not appear, so please donate only accepting that worst-case scenario. Knowing Sian and Noel, I am quite sure that if they do have to throw in the towel, the accumulated funds will be donated forward to an equally good cause.

    Also please note you will still have to buy the book if it does get translated! The cash simply goes towards paying for the translation (a difficult and time-consuming job, as you can well imagine), but you will be thanked by name in the pages of the book.

    Please donate here, if you can afford to. The more literature in the public domain about this appalling scandal, the better. 

  • What were they thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What’s wrong with “Black”?

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

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

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

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

  • Sam Harrison, former Nawton Subpostmaster

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

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

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

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

    Nawton Post Office

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

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

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

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

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

    Tribute to Sam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Current Post Office Horizon IT issues

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

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

    Improving Horizon – current issues under review (May 2023)

    (last updated 3 May 2023)  

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

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

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

    Western Union Error Msg90025 – PRB0041518

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

    Branch Unable to Roll Over – PRB0041552

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

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

    Drop & Go – PRB0041550

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

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

    Western Union – PRB0041553

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

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

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

    PinPad Inspection Statement MSG90025_PRB0041331

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

    Western Union Error Code 0058 showing when signing onto the counter_PRB0041512

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

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

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

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

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

    MoneyGram Transaction is Settled to Debit Card_ PRB0041303

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

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

    PIN Pad, (PCI Device) Inspection Report_PRB0041241

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

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

    Incorrect Trading Period number for MSG01052 and MSG40086_PRB0041275

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

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

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

    Bureau pouches unable to be Scanned into Horizon_PRB0041268

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

    Please rescan the pouch into Horizon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Invalid session receipts printed before session settled_ PRB0041242

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Travel Money Card_ PRB0041211

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

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

    Banking Transactions_PRB0041211

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

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

    Back Office Printing is not Cancelled_PRB0041159

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

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

    Customer not refunded for card transaction_PRB0041109

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

    Existing Reversals_ PRB0041160

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

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

    Basket Failed to Settle Causing Forced Log Off_PRB0041096

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

    Failed to settle the basket which has recoverable transactions.


    You will now be forced to logout.

    Please press continue and follow the on-screen prompts.

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

    Branch Trading Statement Reports_PRB0041099

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

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

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

    Travel Insurance Discounted Receipts_PRB0041069

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

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

    Transaction Existing Reversal_PRB0041104

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

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

    Banking Transactions_PRB0041095

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

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

    Method of Payment_PRB0041042

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

    Existing Reversal_PRB0041003

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

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

    Transaction Log_ PRB0041100

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

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

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

    Transaction log Criteria Blank on History Tabs_ PRB0041049

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

    Apple and Android Payment non-Credit Card Acceptable Transaction_ POL100058

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

    Banking Transaction Balance Enquiry_PRB0040994

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

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

    Horizon Logging On_PRB0040997

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

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

    Banking Pin Pad Card Acceptance_PRB0041001& PRB0040993

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

    Please follow the on-screen prompts.

    Banking Bank and Credit Card Refund_PRB0041002

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

    If you experience this:

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

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

    Banking Transactions Withdrawals and Deposits_PRB0040948

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

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

    If you experience this:

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

    Printing Help Pages_PRB0040954

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

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

    Banking Transaction Text_PRB0040956

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

    Pin Pad Communication_PRB0040959

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

    If you experience this:

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

    Corporate Credit and Debit Cards_PRB0040894

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

    Travel Insurance Discount Code_PRB0040839

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

    Unable to Login Updates To Horizon_PRB0040829

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

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

    If you experience this:

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

    Foreign Currency Rem In_PRB0040811

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

    If you experience this:

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

    Obtain the Advice Note from inside the pouch

    Instructions for manual entry can be found on Horizon help.

    Back Office

    Rems and Transfers (F5)

    Pouch Delivery (21)

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

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

    MoneyGram Timeout_PRB0040712

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

    If you experience this:

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

    Log into Horizon.

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

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

    Back Office Printer Printout Delay_PRB0040743

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

    If you experience this:

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

    Horizon Help Screen Freezes_PRB0040520

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

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

    If you experience this:

    The following messages may be displayed:

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

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

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

    British Gas_PRB0040498

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

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

    Bureau Pre Order issues Communication failure_PRB0040527

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

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

    If you experience this:

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

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

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



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  1. There’s no coverup. This (lik nick’s ‘shameful’ comment unusually) completely misunderstands. He’s given a witness statement. The Inquiry isn’t an…