Plus – a fisking of the Burton report
Yesterday was primed to be interesting. Gareth Jenkins was due to give evidence day at the public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal. Jenkins was the Chief Horizon Architect and has been around since the system was designed and rolled out. He was an expert witness in Seema Misra’s trial in 2010 and is currently under investigation by the Metropolitan police.
The Post Office lied to the High Court about the reason for his no-show in Bates v Post Office, where he was very much the spectre at the feast. It all came out in the wash when the Clarke Advice was finally made available. Seema Misra’s barrister Paul Marshall has written (here and here) about Jenkins’ importance.
In November last year Jenkins sought an undertaking from the Attorney General that any response he gave to the inquiry (whether oral or written) could not be used as evidence against him in criminal proceedings (or for the purpose of determining whether to prosecute him).
This was refused by the Chair of the inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams. Jenkins was initially due to give evidence in May. Just before he was due to give evidence, Jenkins made a “commitment to address all of the some 200 questions the Inquiry put to him“, and the inquiry allowed him to put his oral evidence back to June. Then Sir Wyn fell ill, and Jenkins evidence was put back till 6 July. And then yesterday…
… lead counsel to the inquiry, Jason Beer KC, stood up and told the assembled participants, observers and journalists that the Post Office had sent an email alerting the inquiry to the existence of 4,767 documents which may be relevant to Gareth Jenkins.
Beer said it was: “grossly unsatisfactory to be told at 10.32pm on the night before an important witness gives evidence that there are 4,767 documents that are at least potentially relevant to a witness who is being called 11 hours and 28 minutes later,”
Beer suggested, and Williams agreed, that Jenkins’ evidence should be postpoined until after the summer.
As a result of this and other disclosure failings by the Post Office (including its failure to disclose the document containing racist identification codes) to the inquiry, Sir Wyn has issued what I think is known in legal circles as a Stern Bollocking containing Future Directions about the Post Office’s behaviour.
Incidentally, if you want to read a painfully elegant dissection of the Post Office’s ID codes, do read the transcript of the conversation between Jason Beer and Tony Marsh, the former Post Office Head of Security. Here is a snippet:
Beer: You’ll see that, for example, “White-skinned European types” at number 1 is defined, in fact, bya series of countries…
Beer: … or nationalities. So white people arepresumed to be British?
Marsh: Which is nonsense. British people can be from any ethnic grouping just as, you know, French, German, Swedes might be. As I say, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever from any sort of operational perspective and it is deeply offensive. I can’t imagine why anybody would do this, other than some sort of dog whistle racism.
Beer: That category 1 wouldn’t accommodate somebody like me, would it? I’m British.
Marsh: Like I say —
Beer: I’ve got brown skin.
Marsh: It’s an extremely crude system.
Rogers goes for a Burton
I remain exremely troubled by Amanda Burton’s report into the Post Office’s inquiry bonus fiasco. I think it is an insult to our and the government’s intelligence, and (unless Amanda Burton is genuinely inept) I think that was deliberate. If she is the best the Post Office board can attract, it is in serious trouble.
I could, of course, be wrong, and the Burton report is, in fact, a tour de force of investigative writing and reviewing. To test this theory, I asked secret emailer Heather Rogers to give her view on Burton’s report. Heather is no stranger to the corporate world and has read and written many corporate reports in the past. You can read what Heather has to say about the Burton report here. She is not kind. I am grateful to her for taking up my invitation.
Horizon Compensation Advisory Board
The minutes of a recent Horizon Compensation Advisory Board have been published, which is a good sign. Many Subpostmasters have essentially been cheated out of proper redress, due in part to the design and operation of the various compensation schemes. The HCAB appear to recognise this, but given the universally-stated intention to do right by the Subpostmasters, someone needs to take responsibility for ensuring that happens in practice.
Thanks very much for all your recent correspondence which I am, once more, behind with. I apologise, but do keep them coming – I do read every one and I am grateful for the information they contain.
I want to leave you with one of the most stunning pieces of writing I have come across in a long time. I read it when it was published in May and have kept meaning to link to in in a secret email. I have finally got round to doing so.
In a blistering piece, journalist Joe Aston dissects the Australian PwC tax scandal in a way that will ring bells with anyone who has had to deal with the Post Office’s corporate and executive behaviour down the years. It demonstrates something I have long suspected – when something goes wrong, the main priority for many people in the higher echelons of business is their and their organisation’s reputation.
Have a great weekend.