Morning all – I am on a train up to London to observe proceedings at the nth BEIS select committee inquiry into the Post Office. The inquiry opened on 4 March and has its first oral evidence session today.
A select committee inquiry is an investigation by backbench MPs who can summon whoever they want to give evidence. There is usually an open invitation to anyone to submit written evidence for the members to consider, although the inquiry website doesn’t appear to be inviting written evidence just yet. The committee will then come to a conclusion which will be communicated publicly and to the BEIS secretary of state.
Wendy, Alan and Tracy
The first session this morning will be shared by two former Subpostmasters and a former Post Office counter worker. They are:
Alan Bates, lead claimant in the Bates v Post Office high court litigation and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters’ Alliance who was sacked by the Post Office,
Wendy Buffrey, who has a criminal conviction for false accounting and,
Tracy Felstead, who was sent to prison for theft and false accounting.
Ian, Andy, Calum and Ron
The next session should prove sparky. Andy Furey from the CWU will be crossing swords with Calum Greenhow from the National Federation of Subpostmasters. Given one of the terms of reference of the inquiry is: “What role did the National Federation of Sub-postmasters play in the Horizon scandal in terms of representing affected sub-postmasters?”, I would hope MPs are briefed on exactly what the NFSP has been up to over all these years. If you don’t know – here’s my take on it.
Ian and Ron are from Second Sight. They investigated the Horizon IT system and the Post Office’s rather, er, “surprising” business processes between 2012 and 2015. They are speaking under parliamentary privilege. Should be interesting.
As is likely to become public very shortly (y’see secret emailers! you hear all the good stuff here first!), I am currently in the middle of making a Panorama on the Post Office and the recent High Court judgments. This means I am unlikely to have much time to be writing secret emails or blog posts as we approach the tx date – which is still TBC!
Please forgive me if I am not chronicling the inquiry (and other matters) as assiduously as I might. Panorama is a big beast and will be taking up a lot of my time.
It does mean that this is really the last chance for anyone who has worked for Fujitsu or the Post Office in the past and who wants to do the right thing (or protect themselves) to come forward. Please just get in touch via email@example.com and I will treat everything you tell me in the strictest confidence. Also – documentation. Anything you have could be relevant. Please do let me know if you think you might know about or be sitting on a piece of paper which is important. It might help our investigation.
You can watch the inquiry live here. The “fun” starts at 10.40am today. I hope it is a revelatory experience for us all.
At the exact same time Peter and I were on BBC London this morning, Jo Hamilton and Seema Misra were talking to Dan Walker and Louise Minchin on BBC Breakfast on BBC1.
Seema and Jo featured in my first ever BBC piece back in 2011 and we went deep into their stories for the 2015 Panorama. Whilst it is obviously great to see the mainstream attention they are getting in 2020, it is extraordinary that right now both still have criminal convictions and neither have received a penny in recompense for what they were put through.
I’m looking forward to watching their interviews on the BBC Breakfast sofa back when I get a bit of free time this afternoon.
I’m grateful to Maria the secret emailer for taking a photo of her TV screen this morning to provide us with the snaps!
Postmaster petition goes to Downing Street
Chris Head, who has organised a very effective campaign for an indpendent inquiry into the Post Office scandal will today, alongside his MP and other campaigners, hand in a petition to Downing Street. The official handover time is at 3.30pm. Chris is gathering the troops on Whitehall from 3pm. I have said I will try to be there to take some snaps for the blog, but Chris tells me the BBC and ITV News will be there in some capacity to record it for posterity.
As well as running an extraordinary social media campaign, Chris actually went out with several thousand flyers, pounding the pavement close to where he lives in order to raise awareness of the petition and the Subpostmasters’ campaign. He said the t-shirt below is what he wore whilst doing it. It’ll be a collectors’ item one day…!
Parliamentary activity part 10
There are two debates taking place at the Palace of Westminster tomorrow. One is at the House of Lords, initiated by Lord Arbuthnot. The other is in Westminster Hall, initiated by Lucy Allan MP. The government response in each debate will be crucial. Last week the Prime Minister at PMQs agreed with Kate Osborne MP that an independent inquiry should take place into what has been happening over the last 20 years. If he meant that, we should hear exactly how the government proposes any inquiry should be structured and when it might take place.
Select Committee inquiry is officially go
Further to the heads up I gave you in Sunday’s secret email, I can tell you there will be a BEIS select committee inquiry into the Post Office which will sit on both 10 and 24 March.
The sitting on 10 March (that’s next Tuesday for anyone wondering where this year has already gone) will hear from Wendy Buffrey and Tracy Felstead. Wendy is a former Subpostmaster who was advised to plead guilty to false accounting and now has a criminal record as a result (read her story here) and Tracy Felstead is a former post office counter worker who refused to plead guilty to anything and was convicted of theft by a jury and sent to prison. Both were prosecuted on Horizon evidence by the Post Office. Both have their cases lodged at the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Also taking part in the hearing is Alan Bates, lead claimant in Bates v Post Office and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, reprising his role in the inquiry in 2015 (with a LOT more to say, no doubt).
I understand there will also be contributions from Andy Furey at the CWU and Calum Greenhow at the NFSP.
Media round up
Yesterday the Daily Mail printed a piece which may well have been the reason I was called by TalkRadio and BBC London to go on their radio shows. I just happened to be filming with Seema Misra yesterday (see pic taken by Davinder Misra below) so I handed the phone to her and she gave her story to Kevin O’Sullivan.
There is a superb piece published by Tony Collins on his blog which would be a great crib sheet for any MP reading this ahead of tomorrow’s debate.
I have also just taken a call from a TV production company who are trying to turn this story into a drama-doc. Now, that would be interesting…
Once more thanks again to everyone who tells me anything about this story in whatever capacity. Please never think there is something I would already know – I am entirely reliant on the people involved to tell me what is going on and if everyone assumes I know what’s happening, I won’t know anything. Please keep the information coming – something you think might be trivial could be crucial. Documents always help, too!
I am also so grateful to everyone who has recently donated to the crowdfunding pot. Welcome to the ranks of the secret emailers – a growing and influential bunch.
Please please do not donate again if you’ve already done so. I’m seeing a few repeat offenders, and whilst I am extremely grateful to you for the gesture and your generosity, I am managing to do all my blog posts and secret emails in and around other work at the moment, so I really don’t need the money. New subscribers, however, are always welcome, so please do keep forwarding this email to anyone who you think would be interested.
Have a great day.