Reporting the class action against the Post Office at the High Court
Okay we are in court 26 of the Rolls Buildings for Day 5. Michael from the @ft is here. Yesterday’s witness Liz Stockdale is here taking notes and Louise Dar – final claimant witness of this trial is being sworn in.
LD’s dates. Started Nov 2014 – terminated 27 March 2017. Previously worked for Hilton Hotels as an IT support desk operative.
Louise has a quiet voice with, I hope I’m right, central Scots accent.
mentions David Cavender QC asking questions for the Post Office. I am going to call him QC and Louise Dar LD.
LD calls taking over a Post Office as “exciting” and “incredibly” important – it was her family’s future.
QC probing on terms she was “happy” to accept as part of the deal.
mentions LD talking about how important it all was to her – the PO was where she was “born and bred” and the help she had putting together her application from her parents.
LD “It’s not something you just jump into”
QC your father was your wise counsel and you would have shown you lots of documents
QC talks about LD setting up a convenience store business in 2012
QC asking about the lease LD looked up to set up for her convenience store.
LD we read over it, but it was more of a gentleman’s agreement at the time
QC well you say that, but looking at the lease – it’s a 1 year lease with an option to extend to 5
QC so those are the kind of commercial terms you would have considered?
LD had been made redundant from the Hilton on maternity leave. Saw a sign go up in a shop for let and decided with her husband to go for the convenience store idea.
QC so you did that yourselves [he is asking in the context of whether she had legal advice in signing the lease]
LD confirms she and her husband negotiated the lease with the landlord Colin themselves.
QC you applied to become an SPMR to increase the income to your business. Is that fair?
LD Yes and for the community
QC you knew you weren’t going to be an employee, is that right
LD it wasn’t that clear because they’re trying to sell you the idea
QC I suggest it became clear
We are now talking about correspondance from the PO to LD in the latter half of 2013 – a general draft contract.
LD I didn’t get the draft contract at any point.
QC they say they are going to send you a general draft contract and they say they’re going to do that by posting an information pack. Do you remember seeing that?
LD not at that point
QC I suggest you woul dhave been looking out for it
LD I did send an email in fact because I didn’t get it and the PO person said they had sent it
QC so you must have received it
LD I do remember I didn’t get a draft contract.
QC I don’t quite understand – if you’re being told you’re going to be sent this information pack in the post, and you’ve told your husband and father you’re expecting this
LD I didn’t tell my husband and father about every email I got
QC surely you would have asked for it if…
… if it wasn’t there.
There is some confusion here about what documents LD should have received, said she received and the QC thinks she was sent.
We move on to her interview with Mr Trotter from the PO.
LD I remember it vividly
QC “If you had received the contract, which I suggest you would have done, you would have had it for 2 months by this stage”
LD I don’t think so, no.
QC “one thing you do deal with is training” [he is talkin about her presentation to Mr Trotter] “how did you know you were responsible for training if you hadn’t had sight of the contract.”
LD that’s just the kind of person I am – this was about the service I was providing
QC you just assumed that you’d be responsible for doing the training because that’s the sort of person you are?
LD you can’t assume anything, that’s the point – I wanted to be involved with everything.
Moving on to her interview [presumably one under caution when things went bad]
QC asks about the concerns she mentioned about training.
LD starts to answer
QC could you answer the question?
LD I was and you won’t let me finish.
Judge Right both of you when you both talk at once it makes it difficult to follow. Mr Cavender will ask his question and you will listen to it and Mr Cavender will then listen to your answer.
QC says there’s nothing in her interview under caution which suggests she had any reservationns about taking on the PO
LD I’d like to see the whole transcript again before I agree with that.
QC you say in the interview you thought you would be working as partners with the PO – did you say partners or was that something you took to mean.
LD I thought it was going to be a partnership
QC but nowhere in here is the word partnership mentioned
LD won’t confirm this as she can only see one page of the doc on the screen
QC but you said you’d read this and listening to the tape.
Judge intervenes to say it’s a little unfair to expect her to remember everything in a 25 page document. He will arrange for LD to read it later.
I am assuming that the transcript they are talking about is one of an interview under caution else why would LD’s initial interview with the PO be recorded, unless that is now standard practice. It must be the one under caution. Not sure. Sorry.
I *think* we are discussing the transcript of an interview under caution in which the initial job interview was being discussed.
They do record the interviews aswell Nick even back in 2006 they had them on record of a tape https://t.co/75vyUoOcce
— Christopher Head (@chrish9070) November 14, 2018
so – based on what I’ve just retweeted I assume we are talking about a recording of the initial job interview.
QC the net effect of the iv was that the proposal was never going to work.
LD didn’t say “never” he just said it wasn’t going to work as was
QC so the interview ended
QC at the end of the presentatoin and you wouldn’t have discussed contracts etc
QC so you apply again in Jan 2014 and have another interview in Feb 2014 – this was the start of the process again
LD well – I was resubmitting a business plan if I had to start
LD all over again I would have given up at that stage
QC so the business plan passes the assessment stage and yo have another interview with Mr Trotter
LD yes it was referred to as a discussion but I treated it as a second interview.
Thanks to @chrish9070 for clarifying point on the recording of job interviews by the Post Office.
The second interview, because it was a “discussion” and not an interview was apparently not taped.
The discussion is important because the QC wants to know whether LD getting legal advice was discussed…
LD confirming she understood her responsibility wrt to handling cash and stock and resolving any issues
QC also points out Termination clause – 6months
LD yes but it wasn’t something we were considering. we thought this was for life
QC but you would have discussed it
LD not really we discussed notice periods with other
QC but this clause as it reads in the contract is pretty clear
LD it’s clear enough there
QC now questioning LD’s recollection of receiving the full (?) contract. Notes her evidence about it has changed over time. Makes the point that if she hadn’t received it, she would have asked for it.
QC You got everything the bundle sent to you. reads from it and…
… points out that in the bundle there was a clause saying the PO “strongly suggests” that the applicant SPMR takes legal advice.
QC Did you receive this?
LD I don’t remember
QC you disclosed it as part of this action so you did get it
LD I had a whole cupboard full of documents
We move on to another document. It is guide sent along with the “pack” which LD is asked to send back to the PO re her SPMR application. QC notes it mentions notice period of at least 6 months.
LD at least 6 months
QC [reads] “if you are not happy to accept the legal obligations
“… you shouldn’t sign them.”
QC I think the PO is suggesting you need to read these very carefully.
LD I did read them but I was full of excitement and adrenaline “fired up and excited about the business”. She intimates the full import did not strike her.
QC is that really true?
QC you were going into a business relationship, receiving cool-headed advice from your husband and father.
LD I was excited.
QC you suggest in your WS it was all very difficult, but I suggest it was all very straightforward.
LD It’s not straightforward
QC PO couldn’t really have done any more to make it clearer to you, I suggest to you.
LD makes a non-committal gesture
On to Horizon (H).
QC Do you agree that you would expect H to be a reasonably reliable system.
LD Oh yes
QC And you would expect your training would be of a good standard
We are going to take a break. Judge asks if he expects the xe to go past lunch. Mr Cavender says no.
Could be an early bath today.
Or we might start xe of PO witnesses this afternoon. There appear to be lots of them here.
Okay we’re back – asking if LD remembers signing a document that says she “agrees to be bound by the terms of your agreement”
Do you agree that this refers to your contract.
LD it’s not that simple – the auditor was in a hurry and it was just “sign here”
QC it’s a pretty simple document, there are very few words on the page you’re an intelligent and educated woman
LD yes but it was busy and the auditor had left the place in a shambles – sorry to speak openly…
[LD’s voice cracks and she is in floods of tears]
She talks about the auditor who left her PO in a “mess” and thrust the documents in her hand whilst she was late opening “she should be here – she’s got questions to answer…”
Judge intervenes to tell LD she should not be concerned about speaking openly.
And asks her if she wants a few moments. LD says she’s fine, gathers herself and they carry on.
QC gets on to deficits in the branch – they are in four figures.
QC it’s a serious matter
LD yes – very serious – not something I’d take lightly
First audit in July 2015 now under discussion:
The totalling up of everything got intially to £10K negative discrepancy – but some cheques were found which got it down to £7K
QC Cheques had been posted to the branch but hadn’t been entered into the system
LD I was in Pakistan visiting my mother-in-law. Someone experienced was working my place
QC says there appears to have been some deliberate falsification of cash figures by the locum
QC would you accept [the locum] was deliberately falsifying cash figures
LD isn’t sure she agrees, explains a lot of cash was going out the door at that time but agrees it was a big figure.
Judge says QC is putting to you that your assistant…
is deliberately falsifying the cash figures.
LD yes I had to sack her for gross misconduct and took legal advice to make sure she couldn’t come back at me
QC turns his attention to forex money that went missing
QC you say in your interview that you counted it before you went away you must have put it in the wrong place.
mentions LD I did worry – it did go missing it’s never been explained to this day
QC exactly so thousands of pounds went missing
Goes on to disciplinerary with locum – Jasva Sodhi [sorry that phoentic] who could not explain some of the discrepancies that LD confronted her with.
QC were you concerned she might be responsible for other losses?
LD yes you wonder but we knew her, her husband had worked for us before so she was like family, you don’t want to think that of people.
We’re on to other audits. QC is asking questions about LD’s competence in cashing up and cash and stock checks.
Being £7K down is quite a big figure he suggests. Surely it would have come to you attention.
Before the audit.
LD it didn’t
QC you balanced to zero before then
LD I never balanced to zero once – not once since I started. She started talking about the auditors telling her she was “laughing” if she was up or down £30…
LD “and that was the auditors!”
LD talks about her experience at hotel where in a £150 float if you were 50p down you had to find it. She starts talking about being in the PO late at night trying to find the source of her problem. She is crying again.
LD says she has never false accounted once. “Never!” apart from once when she was advised to by the helpline as a workaround.
Describes having to balance on rollover day by 7pm or it would break down and she had to do it again the next morning…
… and people would come in and ask if she was okay cos they could see the lights on in the post office late at night and she would say everything was fine, but she was trying to find the source of the problem.
LD describes having to put her own retail business money into the till to make Horizon balance.
QC asking about some specifics of the audit. Point out she declared hte night before an audit there was 400 x £2 coins. When the auditor arrived there were 2.
QC can she explain this?
LD cannot explain this.
We move on to LD’s suspension.
No we don’t we go back to losses QC says the losses were caused by LD or her staff in the branch [inference being, not H]
LD says she tried to investigate what was going on asked for help and didn’t get any.
QC I put it to you it was dishonesty by you or your staff that caused the losses in your branch
LD no never I was never dishonest. I would never do that.
QC asks what investigations she did do
LD answers about her post-suspension experience of not being able to investigate losses cos she was locked out of her counter. Explains how when suspended she had to lock herself out of her own safe because the people the PO sent weren’t able to do so.
So they asked her to close her shop. She refused and so locked herself out as part of her own suspension.
We move onto training.
QC you think it was far from sufficient?
LD Yes I do.
Whilst the QC and LD talk about the quality of their training I’m going to take you to LD’s Witness Statment (WS) which I now have…
She was in tears earlier about the auditor who left her branch in a “mess”. Here’s what she says about it in her WS…
“On the first day of set up, Ms Guthrie experienced problems logging in to Horizon, and it took her around 2 hours to even get in to the system.
In the weeks leading up to the branch opening, Post Office had delivered various labels,
forms, and other items necessary to set up the counter. There were also deliveries of cash, stamps and stock which arrived on the first day of set up.
It was Ms Guthrie’s job to enter the cash, stamps and stock which had been delivered onto Horizon but she made mistakes when she was doing this, so that even before we had even opened we had an apparent shortfall of £977.
Ms Guthrie did tell me that I would have to make good shortfalls showing on Horizon, and said I would be lucky if I was only £20 to £30 down when balancing. I was concerned about this, and specifically asked Ms Guthrie what do if the system wasn’t balancing, but she just said to call the Helpline and that they would resolve any problems I told Ms Guthrie that I wasn’t comfortable opening the branch without any troubleshooting training and I asked if any could be provided, but she didn’t offer me anything more, she told me that I would just
have to get on with it and call the Helpline if I had problems.”
There’s more on Mrs Guthrie:
“After branch opening Ms Guthrie stayed on site for 6 or 7 days. She was shadowing me, and intervening in customer transactions. I often didn’t find her interventions helpful, and she was sometimes rude to customers. She seemed overwhelmed by the fact that the shop was busy at particular times of the day, but a main reason for opening the branch in the shop was that it had existing customers.”
Whilst I’ve been pasting this from LD’s WS they have been discussing these exact paragraphs in court.
QC says that other people have said the training was good.
QC now puts it’s to LD that the helpline was in fact helpful
LD disagrees. This is what LD says in her WS
“I was one time told how to “get around” Horizon by altering stock figures to balance,
which was obviously not helping me to find the specific problem, and was just covering it up. They told me they ‘shouldn’t be doing this’ but that this was the only way around the problem I had. This felt wrong and it was concerning to me that there were little ’work arounds’ to dealing with the Horizon system, this really suggested that there was some kind of fault in the system. At times the advice I was given by the Helpline was not in line with the advice that I was given by Post Office representatives.”
This has just been discussed in court.
QC This did not happen.
LD It categorically did.
QC so what did you do.
mentions LD I did what I was advised.
QC “So you falsified the figure.”
LD “On advice from the helpline.”
QC has no further questions, but we are going back to the 25 page transcript which caused problems earlier. LD is going to read the hard copy.
JFSA QC stands up “Could I just put down a marker”
Judge “No you can’t actually. This is about a very specific area of cross examination”
JFSA QC makes to politely protest. “No I’m sorry Mr Green” – judge says if has to make a point he can do so after LD has been xe’d on…
… the document she is currently reading in the witness box. The judge has risen, giving her 10 minutes to digest the doc. She will be xe’d on the document (a transcript of her formal job interview in 2014).
Whilst we are waiting let’s have a look at the LD witness statement:
The assistant she sacked for gross misconduct was Jasbir Sohi.
Her husband, who I believe is here in court today, is called Rehman.
“Although the letter I had been sent on 4 June 2014 and email I had been sent on 24 September said that Ms Guthrie would support me with my first balance day, which was 3 December 2014, in fact she was not present that day. Ms Guthrie attended the Thursday before, on 27 November 2014 and prepared for rollover on that day, but that was not the same process and this did not assist me with my balancing. Also, although Ms Guthrie said she would come back after opening to give me more training or support she did not. In fact, the first time Ms Guthrie came back was on 15 July 2015 to carry out an audit.”
This bit is about to be discussed in court so it’s worth posting:
“I didn’t really understand the contractual position, either the documents which I was sent and signed on 2 July 2014, or the acknowledgement of appointment on 19 November 2014. I had understood from Mr Trotter that legal advice wasn’t really necessary and there was nothing too complex or concerning in the contracts. I don’t fully understand now all of the documents which Post Office say have contractual effect, or how I was supposed to know how Post Office would operate the contract in practice.”
Judge is back. LD is explaining what she was saying in the transcript to the judge, but I don’t know which point she is referring to.
QC hasn’t asked any question yet.
LD is explaining she did have reservations and did discuss them.
Pointing out where those reservations are expressed in the transcript.
ie reservations about taking on the PO contract.
Previously the QC suggested she didn’t express reservations.
LD confirming here that legal advice was NOT discussed at the interview says she got confused between the first interview and the second interview.
LD points out the expression “hand in hand” is emblematic of her understanding that this was a partnership.
QC points out her reservations expressed are a million miles away from expressing reservations about taking on a PO
LD says no – it has to be looked at all together.
QC suggests that she changed her story on what she was told during interview
when the transcript and tape recording of the interview surfaced (LD had changed her recollection of the iv in the lead up to the trial)
QC its not a small thing – you tried to say there was legal advice discussed in this interview and I think we both agree now it wasn’t..
… you’ve tried to shift it into the later discussion.
LD sorry I thought that was an interview but I accept now that that was referred to in emails not as a meeting.
No further questions from the QC.
JFSA QC now re-examining on “two short points” the first of which is not clear to me, the second is about Mrs Guthrie – a moment “in which you became quite stressed in the witness box” and it was suggested to you that what you said was not consistent with your WS.
Mrs Guthrie being the auditor who when LD was crying LD said “she should be here” with questions to answer.
JFSA QC asks about the time Mrs Guthrie suggests a discrepancy might be down to dishonesty.
JFSA QC asks if Mrs Guthrie tried to switch her terminal into training mode to find the source of the discrepancy or refer to any manuals.
JFSA QC: no further questions.
Judge asks LD about her IT experience. LD says it was operating a DOS based system at Hilton and “a small amount of programming”
He now shows her a PO memo (which I will request) about an “intervention” visit.
Specifically focusing on some cheques sent in, received, remmed in, remmed out. No q asked about this, as judge wishes to show LD another document – an email from LD to Mr Trotter again about the cheques…
… now to another email about cheques.
Judge: “All of those 3 documents relate to what is called – quotes ‘Missing Cheques’”
“Am I right in thinking this relates to cheques that you were sending out from your branch which weren’t being received.”
Judge “and by the phrase cheques ‘turning up’ is that cheques being credited to you by the PO, or is it you finding them in a drawer?”
LD the PO finding them.
PO QC on his feet discussing the cheques.
QC brings in the way the system works in Horizon. Asks LD to agree if his interpretation is correct.
LD says yes
Judge says – oh – I thought I understood, it but let’s explore this further.
Gets to the point that Jas, her assistant had sent the cheques to the PO but…
… not remmed them out.
We are all agreed on this point.
Judge releases LD from the witness box.
Judge also says we will NOT decide dates of the third trial today [drily] “we’ll keep that exciting moment for some point in the future”
Judge says we will start at 10.30am tomorrow. There will be 2 Post Office witnesses cross-examined by JFSA QC Patrick Green. Or to be more accurate the Claimants’ QC Patrick Green (not all members of the JFSA are claimants, not all claimants are JFSA members)
Mr Beale and Mr Williamson from the PO will give evidence tomorrow. We are done for the day.