Secret email about the Post Office Scandal. Shh!

Post Office Scandal: Prime Minister announces plans to quash ALL (subject to Ts & Cs) Post Office convictions

Extraordinary people telling their stories

Hello, good afternoon and welcome to our new joiners. It’s good to have you on board.

We start with some breaking news. Rishi Sunak has just announced that the government is going to attempt to get the majority of Subpostmaster convictions in England and Wales quashed. This is the breaking news feed on the BBC website, so there’s no point in me repeating everything in it, except for the latest quote from Kevin Hollinrake, the Post Office minister:

“We intend to bring forward legislation as soon as we can to overturn the convictions of all those convicted in England or Wales on the basis of Post Office evidence given during the Horizon scandal.

“We recognise this is an exceptional step, but these are exceptional circumstances.”

You may have seen BBC Breakfast this morning with nine Subpostmasters (or relatives thereof) talking about their experiences in the studio (see pic below). Watch it here.

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Nicky Campbell had six Subpostmasters on his radio show this morning on 5 live. They ended up fielding calls from other Subpostmasters who were coming forward for the first time. I’m listening back to it now and it’s making me quite emotional hearing these good people given the time and space to talk about their experience and what they’ve been through. Listen from the beginning of Nicky’s programme here. This scandal is only going to grow.

New lines

I’ve been inundated with new lines about the story from people coming to me for the very first time. They’re a way away from being able to stand up and properly publish, but they are eye-opening.

There has been a long-held suspicion that money was disappearing through the back end of Horizon, because the controls on the system were so appallingly lax. Actual evidence it might be happening has never really come to light.

Now read this – a comment sent for publication to a blog post I wrote from a purported for Fujitsu engineer using a dummy email address:

“While I put through no phantom entries myself, I was aware how commonplace it was, and the trivially easy overriding of the rudimentary audit trail embedded in the software too.

“What started as a prank swiftly became a crime, I prefer to believe most of the perpetrators never seriously consider that POL would treat the discrepancies so seriously and initiate prosecutions. It got totally out of hand. 90% of the phantoms were ‘against’ the agents, thus unjustly enriching POL.

“Did you notice the disproportionate number of victims whose agent locations were in Wales?

“I am able to provide you personally with much more, redacted only to protect my own identity. The Fujitsu non-disclosure agreement is probably more bone chilling than that used by the Post Office, I do not wish at this stage in my life to be bankrupted.”

Might be legit. Might not. Certainly worth pursuing.

TalkTV

I’m delighted to tell you I will be presenting a Post Office special on TalkTV at 7pm tonight. It’s my first attempt at anchoring a live TV news programme so it’ll probably be a complete disaster, but I will be joined by Janet Skinner, Paul Marshall (Janet’s barrister), Joshua Rozenberg (legal journalist) and a few other people who know what they’re talking about, so I’m hoping they’ll make me look good.

Roll of Honour

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Richard Roll flanked by exonerated Subpostmaster Seema Misra and her husband Davinder

I woke up this morning to what I have always wanted for this story – more journalists working on it. More journalists = more investigations = more news lines = more competition to get more news lines = more news lines. It means I get fewer scoops, but I don’t care – it’s a virtuous circle.

There is another element too – the impact of the story and the public support for the Subpostmasters means that people who might have either been blithely unaware, or too scared (or just too busy) to come forward with information (which they may have been sitting on for years), are now feeling compelled to speak up.

That is not a criticism. Going public with any information when you have nothing to gain and a job or a reputation (or home) to lose is a big deal and can have implications.

So before I dive into the latest developments, I’d like to pay tribute to four whistleblowers who have changed my understanding of the story:

Richard Roll – the former Fujitsu employee who appeared in our 2015 Panorama and later gave evidence for the claimants over two days at the High Court

Clint – not his real name – the former Fujitsu contractor who spoke to me under condition of anonymity for my book and Computer Weekly.

Clint has agreed to reveal his identity at the talk I’m doing at the Darlington Hippodrome as he lives near there. It should be an interesting night. We’ve got the indefatigable Lee Castleton joining us too. Do come if you can.

Colin – the ONLY person from the Post Office who has ever come forward, again under condition of anonymity and who spoke to me for my book.

The Senior Legal Insider – who spoke to me and Bob at Whistledown for the BBC Radio 4 series The Great Post Office Trial.

These people all had a LOT to lose and they spoke at a time when it was much harder to do so. I pay tribute to them. Colin especially told me so much more than I have ever been able to publish and I hope, one day, he might be persuaded to go fully public and give evidence to the public inquiry.

Of course, at this point, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Subpostmasters, many of whom had lost everything, who were scared, who had been bullied and cowed, and publicly shamed, and still found the strength to go public about their own stories, some after years of suffering in silence.

Tony (not his real name)

Earlier today BBC Radio 5 live led their bulletins (and programme at 6am) on an interview with a chap they called Tony, who used to work at a senior level within the Royal Mail group’s IT function.

Before 2012, the Post Office was part of the Royal Mail Group, which had originally had three separate businesses: Parcelforce (packages), Royal Mail (letters) and Post Office (counters). Tony worked in Royal Mail (letters) from 2007 to 2009 when the Post Office prosecution spree was at its peak.

Tony, therefore, did not work on Horizon, BUT… he told 5 live some of his colleagues did. Tony said that as a management team they’d come together to talk about IT issues. Horizon 2 (Horizon Online – rolled out in 2010) was coming and therefore the Post Office’s software system(s) was very much on his radar.

Of Horizon, Tony said:

“To hear that Horizon had problems wasn’t a surprise to us… I didn’t actually become aware of what was going on in terms of prosecution of Subpostmasters etc until… probably just before I left and at that point I really became quite shocked and appalled at what was going on… that those sort of punitive actions were being undertaken, but we were certainly discussing the fact that Horizon was problematic and needed to be replaced.”

Tony says his recollection of the priorities of the business was that Royal Mail group were focused on making the mails business more efficient and profitable, whereas the Post Office (and, presumably by extension its IT function) was “not considered a problem child”.

When asked why no one was joining the dots between shonky IT and the prosecution of Subpostmasters over discrepancies. Tony called the question “incredibly relevant” but couldn’t really answer why.

When the presenter asked if Royal Mail Group CEO Adam Crozier would have been aware of “this” (presumably the problems with Horizon), Tony replied:

“I would struggle to think that he wasn’t…. The chap I reported into… would have elevated and escalated those risks to the CIO [Chief Information Officer] and I know the CIO… he would have almost certainly escalated them up to Adam and they would have formed part of a briefing for the Audit and Risk committee. So I struggle to think they didn’t come across his desk at some point… it probably wasn’t deemed to be important enough… The fact that nobody joined the dots is the bit that I find slightly incredulous.”

Tony himself says he “wasn’t aware” of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance until he saw last week’s ITV drama and feels “slightly guilty” he didn’t do anything, but also said he “was not sure where I would have taken” the information he had, even if he had more awareness.

Tony’s interview puts Crozier in the frame, but I think only to a small degree. It’s interesting, nonetheless.

More lines

Tom Witherow has a first interview with Jayne Caveen, Martin Griffiths’ sister. Martin was a Subpostmaster who took his own life. Jayne is a lovely woman and I am glad she finally feels able to speak publicly.

Who knew Paula Vennells got on the shortlist to become the Bishop of London. Why? If you missed it, she’s handing back her CBE).

I wrote this about Vennells in 2021. Forgive me if I’ve already linked to this in a previous newsletter, but I think it stands up.

Finally – I have a little investigative exclusive on this story coming. I am working on finding a broadcast partner to put it together. I hope to find the right people to work with to get this over the line. When it’s ready to go I’ll insist you are the first to know.

But I need to go on work on it for bit. I am hoping to get more newsletters out as I’m so grateful to you for your support, whether you’ve been reading these since 2018 or signed up this morning. Thank you.

Right. I have to get to the studio. More (I think they say) as we get it.

Best

Nick


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