Post Office expresses hope Court of Appeal judgment brings “comfort and peace”
Hello. I have spent the day a little groggy after a thoroughly enjoyable night watching Eurovision. I’m not why I enjoyed it so much, but as my BBC acquaintance Rob Corp said:
“I’ve been watching this show since probs Bucks Fizz, and this year has been really strong and so lovely to see it back in the midst of a global pandemic. It can be quite unifying.”
Maybe that’s it. Mind you, he did tweet that before the UK got nul points. I still maintain we weren’t worse than Germany.
Anyway, to business.
Letters of Apology
Yesterday morning, by special delivery, several appellants whose convictions had been quashed at the Court of Appeal received fulsome and gushing apologies from the Post Office Chairman, Tim Parker.
In the letters, which appear to be identical, Mr Parker says he wants to “acknowledge and accept all the failings that occurred, as found by the Court of Appeal, in particular, that you did not have a fair trial due to our failures of investigation and disclosure and that those failures were so egregious as to make your prosecution an affront to the conscience of the court.”
He goes on to say: “I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this whole experience must have been for you… I extend my sincerest apologies for the impact that these events have had upon you and I hope that the Court of Appeal’s judgment will bring you some comfort and peace.”
One correspondent called the apology “mealy mouthed” and “too late”. Another was suspicious. Was this a scheme to mitigate any compensation?
A third correspondent thinks he might know what’s going on. Last year the Post Office published the confidential settlement agreement which ended Bates v Post Office in 2019. Paragraph 7.3.5 of the settlement agreement states:
“in the event that any Convicted Claimant who was prosecuted by the Defendant has his or her conviction overturned in the criminal appellate courts as a result of:(A) actions or omissions by the Defendant; and(B) findings or observations made in the Common Issues Judgment or Horizon Issues Judgmentthe Defendant will provide that Convicted Claimant with an apology which reflects the basis upon which the conviction was overturned.”
That appears to be your answer. The Post Office are writing letters of apology to people whose convictions have been quashed because they are contractually obliged to do so.
Incidentally, letters from the Court of Appeal confirming the quashed convictions have also been received. I am posting one example here (left) to mark the occasion. My thanks to the secret emailer who allowed me to do so.
The Post Office has apparently started paying compensation through the Historical Shortfall Scheme. One intrepid secret emailer asked the Post Office via the Freedom of Information Act how much it had offered/repaid to date. The Post Office told him (as per their most recent annual accounts) they had set out a provision of £153m (+ undisclosed additional govt. funds) for the scheme in total but refused to tell him how much they’d paid out already. They wrote to him saying:
“We believe that disclosing the information requested would negatively impact the efficiency of the Scheme. This would prejudice the commercial interests of BEIS, Post Office and of potential claimants. On this basis, we believe that the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs that of disclosure.”
That does not wash with me or the secret emailer, so he’s gone back to them.
If you have applied to the HSS and you’re waiting for a settlement, had an off or you’ve actually had a sum land in your account, please get in touch. I’d like to know if it is what you asked for and if you are happy with the process. All correspondence will be in absolute confidence.
The barrister Flora Page, who represented Seema Misra, Janet Skinner and Tracy Felstead at the Court of Appeal has written a really powerful piece on Ghastly Social Media Site LinkedIn. It’s aimed at her fellow lawyers, but it is really clear and I think any secret emailer would find it interesting. It explains both what it’s like to have to drop out of a case because the Court of Appeal has decided you might have a case to answer over contempt of court AND why landing the CCRC’s “limb 2” argument was so important to her clients. Read it here.
Flora is one of a number of lawyers taking part in an online seminar called “Justice for Sub-postmasters in the Post Office case” at University College London on 7 June – the one I plugged in my last newsletter. It’s free to watch – just register here. One of the panellists, Anthony Edwards, got in touch with me last week to say:
“I am a criminal defence practitioner… My particular interest is to identify if there is more that defence practitioners could have done to bring out the faults in the Horizon system. In one of your programmes you referred to at least one case where an acquittal followed a challenge to the computer experts called by the Post Office. My concern is that others were not as successful – whether they were not instructed or were not adequate… Also if anyone can identify individuals or lawyers who successfully challenged the Post Office “experts” and/or called their own. Any help you can give will be appreciated.”
If you want to talk about your case to Anthony (or if you were instructed on a Subpostmaster’s case or know someone who was), do drop him a line before 5 June. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
I had a belated, but interesting response to the upgrading of the Williams inquiry to a statutory footing. It came from Kevan Jones MP who has been campaigning for Subpostmasters for more than a decade. Mr Jones says:
“The terms of reference and scope of the inquiry must be expanded to include the following: Post Office Ltd’s prosecution function, matters of criminal law, the Horizon group damages settlement, the conduct of current or future litigation relating to Horizon and/or the engagement or findings of any other supervisory or complaints mechanisms. Only then does he have a chance of bringing all relevant parties into this review.
Moreover, as BEIS owns and directs the activities of Post Office Limited and may be found culpable in many respects, including the conduct of its Ministers who were supposed to be providing oversight, it is it not vital for public confidence that the owner of the Post Office is not also the owner of this Inquiry. It therefore must be passed over to the MOJ.”
I’ve asked BEIS what they intend to do about Mr Jones’ demand. I’ll let you know when/if I get a response. I’ll also add Mr Jones response to the epic blog post I put up on Wednesday when the upgrade to the inquiry was announced.
1) My profound thanks to another secret emailer who has alerted me to a blog post by Esther George, currently CEO at Zyber Global Centre. Ms George was High Tech Crime Advisor and then Senior Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, from 2002 – 2014. Her piece is a useful primer for people new to this story, but her comments about the legal presumption that machines are working properly if they look like they’re working properly might be of interest.
2) This is a goodie. Did you know that in 1988 the Post Office was so convinced its investigators knew what they were doing, they proposed setting up a private investigation squad they could contract out to other firms? Just think how much damage they could have done in other industries, not just their own! Have a read of the Times article below.
The piece says:
“In the past year, the 240 Post Office investigators, including fingerprint and for ensic science specialists, have trapped 3,500 people for offences ranging from stealing mail to defrauding Girobank.”
The word “trapped” in that sentence is doing a lot of heavy lifting, but 3,500?!?! Blimey.
Thanks to everyone who has sent me messages and documents in the last few days. Events (dear boy) and the Radio 4 doc has meant I’ve had to take a week off writing so I am going to knuckle down over the next few weeks to get the book finished.
Forgive me therefore, if I fail to respond to any messages or send out fewer secret emails. I do read everything I get sent and I do appreciate it. I’ll be back next week to plug the Great Post Office Trial Episode 11: The Reckoning when it first goes out on 31 May. I am really pleased with what we’ve done so far, but it’s got to be edited to time, sound designed and mixed. Then it has to be sent to the BBC for editorial and legal compliance before it gets anywhere near a transmitter, so it might sound very different by the time it goes out! I know a number of recipients of this newsletter have given their time to put their thoughts on the record. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has done so.