And the slow conviction-quashing concern…
But first (hello, by the way), an announcement:
I have put together three crowdfunding campaigns to aid my reporting of the Post Office Horizon scandal. The first, in 2018, allowed me to report the Bates v Post Office High Court action. The second, in 2021, covered my reporting of the Court of Appeal proceedings and subsequent fallout. The third, last year, allowed Rebecca and I to report Phases 2 and 3 of the statutory inquiry. At a guess, I would say that 90% of the people receiving this email has made at least one contribution to one of those campaigns. Some have made many more. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am that so many kind and generous souls have seen fit to support my work out of their own pockets. It means everything.
All good things come to an end. For complicated reasons, which are not just to do with the economics of this process, Rebecca and I have agreed to scale back our reporting of the Post Office scandal to a level we can sustain, bearing in mind many things, including the other projects we are working on.
THIS IS NOT AN APPEAL FOR MORE CASH. It is explicitly to request that you do NOT make another donation, to the extent that if any existing secret emailer tries to, I will immediately refund it. This is a painful process, as whilst you will receive 100% of your donation back, I will get charged a fee by paypal. So please, please, don’t do it.
Gotta have a reason
Rebecca and I discussed closing down the donation portal/tip jar, which I will consider doing if this email sparks repeat donations, but I would rather leave it open to allow new secret emailers to join. I will still continue to produce podcasts, write newsletters and blog posts and cover the scandal as my time allows. If someone comes along and thinks that’s worth a few quid, I will be happy to take it off them and add them to this mailing list.
At this point I ought to acknowledge that several new secret emailers have joined in the last couple of weeks. They may be at this point wondering if they are about to be short-changed. To reassure any new subscribers and indeed everyone reading this – my work covering this scandal will continue. Over time, you will get bangs for your buck, I promise.
I will also determinedly seek paid work from broadcasters and newspapers (as per The Sunday Times this weekend) as and when there are any developments which merit comment, or if a juicy exclusive falls into my lap.
The GLO scheme debacle
Part of my reason for taking this decision has to do with the announcement of the GLO scheme. It came the same week my new book was due to be sent to the printers. I was invited up to Whitehall to interview the Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake, and receive a verbal briefing from Department for Business and Trade officials. It was not something I felt I could or should turn down.
On the day the scheme was announced I cut and edited the interview, whilst trying to get my Depp book to the printers. To my shame I did not read the published terms of the scheme before posting up the interview. I took some comfort from the fact that Lord Arbuthnot, Kevan Jones MP and Prof Richard Moorhead sit on the scheme’s advisory board, and whilst the Justice For Subpostmasters’ Alliance’s Alan Bates has by no means endorsed the scheme, he was involved in the discussions around creating it. But I didn’t do my job properly, because I didn’t read the small print, because I didn’t have time.
Thankfully, the redoubtable former Subpostmaster Chris Head did read the GLO scheme small print, and he spotted the maximum £10k payment for reputational damages. Chris alerted Dan Neidle, who was understandably outraged. Dan tweeted about it, and this crucial detail was made public, in some style.
(Although Dan is relatively new to the machinations of this scandal, he is a natural newsmaker because he knows his onions, is lucid, accessible, free to say what he wants and clearly has a strong moral compass – more power to him.)
It’s a mess
I quickly hopped on the bandwagon to highlight Dan’s tweet thread and the Minister’s response. Kevin Hollinrake replied to say the independent advisory board (eg Messrs Moorhead, Jones and Arbuthnot) were now looking at this £10k maximum and would be “reporting back”.
Good. The Historical Shortfall Scheme is a mess, as Dan and many others have highlighted. The GLO scheme clearly has a serious flaw in it, in that it does not seem to recognise what Subpostmasters have been through. I am also starting to hear some very worrying stuff about the Overturned Historical Convictions compensation scheme, which has still only managed to reach a settlement with 4 out of the 84 people who’ve managed to get their convictions quashed.
This wholly unnecessary situation is of course just a tiny part of the wider scandal, which has yet to play out in the Inquiry and criminal (if the Met Police get their act together) courts.
The GLO scheme launch was essentially a very clear reminder that this story is basically bigger than mine and Rebecca’s capacity to do it justice to the degree we would like, certainly on the sort of income that crowdfunding can provide.
Having said that…
We’ll still be around. I have to go abroad at the end of the month, so I’ll miss the compensation hearing on 27 April. Rebecca has kindly agreed to cover the whole day for the PostOfficeScandal.uk website. I am fully intending to see how the Anne Chambers/Gareth Jenkins week of evidence plays out, I have a BBC doc to complete, I am continuing to do public events and I am quite sure the evidence of Phases 4 and 5 of the Inquiry will have me sucked right back in. This story has become as much a part of my life as my career and I will always be taking an interest in what’s going on, even if I’m not producing huge volumes of content.
But – I currently have £2 in my clearing account and I need north of £4K by the end of the month to pay my rent, keep HMRC happy and feed the family. I need to go chase the almighty dollar, or its sterling equivalent, until the wolf is a long way from the door. Again a reminder, this is not a subtle (or sledgehammer) request for donations. Any subscriber who does so will be refunded, at extra expense to me, so please don’t.
If you are determined to hand over money to someone for something, please consider making a donation to the Horizon Scandal Fund charity (of which I am a trustee), which is providing direct and welcome help to people, many of whom are in desperate need.
Kevan Jones MP, a long term campaigner for Subpostmasters, has told me he is extremely concerned at the slow conversion rate when it comes to the quashing of Subpostmaster convictions. He wants more effort made to contact the 600 or so people who still haven’t even applied to get their convictions quashed.
A legal source has also told me they are gravely concerned at the interpretation of what qualifies as a Horizon case when it comes to convictions. The Court of Appeal (or at least the Post Office’s interpretation of their ruling) says Horizon evidence must be “essential” for a conviction to be unsafe. You could argue that given Horizon generated the figures on which every single prosecution was based, then it is essential to any prosecution. My source suggests the Post Office and the Court of Appeal seem to think that “essential” evidence means “only’ evidence when assessing appeals. This could be problematic for all sorts of as yet, not properly explored, reasons.
Hey hey, techUK
Another legal source has been in touch to alert me to the fact that techUK, a trade association which “collaborates” across “business, government and stakeholders” to bring together “people, companies and organisations to realise the positive outcomes that digital technology can achieve” is next month hosting a reception on “Justice and Emergency Services”, sponsored by Fujitsu.
My correspondent suggests this “says a lot about people in charge not having the foggiest or simply not giving a sh*t – either way its not a good look for anyone in the room”.
I’ve asked techUK if they do, in fact, give a “sh*t”. My experience of dealing with companies, charities and individuals who can make a difference, is that they tend not to, unless it might affect their reputation. Here, with reference to the Post Office scandal, is a piece I wrote about the mental health charity Time to Change.
False Accounts is back!
The amazing play about the Post Office Scandal – False Accounts – is back for a 5 day run from 31 May to 4 June at the the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes Green, West London. Whilst it is very much a dramatic rather than factual representation of the scandal (with all the dramatic licence that entails), I have seen former Subpostmasters reacting to it on a visceral, cathartic level. It is also very very funny. If you get the chance to go along, I would recommend it.
Rebecca and I remain extremely grateful for the correspondence and support we continue to receive. There are so many people from so many different walks of life who are signed up to this newsletter. I am fascinated by the sheer number of people exercised by this scandal and how it has affected them. I am deeply grateful to the former Subpostmasters, managers, assistants and crown office workers who stay in touch and remain the very best people I have ever met.
Yours with thanks
The stereotyping (eg “I have another Patel scamming again”) shouted across the Yorkshire call-centre floors became ingrained, stopping the operators from connecting on a human level with the distress of the individual Subpostmasters, with obvious consequences.
Varchas told us about his strong reaction to Mr Singh’s revelation, and you can hear what he has to say about it on our podcast here.
Again – apologies for only alerting you now. If you want to get every episode whilst they are still warm, subscribe or “follow” (as the uncool kids keep trying to make us say) Investigating the Post Office Scandal on Spotify or Apple Music.
Despite his many other responsibilities, Professor Richard Moorhead at Exeter University is building an impressive body of writing on the Post Office scandal. I am delighted he has decided to put himself to work on the Altman Review.
The Altman Review was written by one of the most pre-eminent criminal silks in the business – Brian Altman KC – and yet it is riddled with inconsistencies and basic failures of logic, which Moorhead calmly explains.
This is significant because it was the Altman Review which gave the Post Office the comfort it needed to continue covering up the miscarriages of justice it was directly responsible for.
Some context: in 2013 the barrister Simon Clarke produced a document which informed the Post Office it had a potentially serious problem with its prosecutions. Clarke advised “on the need to conduct a review of all POL [Post Office Ltd] prosecutions”. The Post Office took this to mean all Post Office prosecutions since 2010, an arbitrary cut-off date given the patina of plausibility by marking the launch of Horizon Online, a new version of the dreaded IT network.
In the Altman Review, Brian Altman seems to have considerable difficulty coming up with a coherent reason for the 2010 cut-off point, yet decides it is “logical, proportionate and practicable”.
In Altman III: Relying on the unreliable? Prof Moorhead systematically demolishes this idea. Yet it allowed the Post Office to decide not to examine the hundreds of prosecutions it undertook using Horizon evidence between 2000 and 2010.
Reading Moorhead’s post – particularly this morning’s Altman III made me feel like I was watching the mechanics of the cover-up whirr into motion in real time.
The award-winning Karl Flinders has done some more work on Lee Castleton’s case, which I think we are going to be hearing more about over the next few weeks. The evidence coming out of the Inquiry suggests that the Post Office was aware at the very highest levels of problems with the Horizon system and the need to crush any challenge to it in the courts.
Lee spoke about the Post Office’s decision to take him to court in 2007, telling Karl “I want the name of the person who decided to do this to be made public by the inquiry, because that person made terrible decisions that caused so many consequences to my family. I can’t tell you how painful the journey has been for the last 20 years.”
You can read Karl’s piece here.
I know my work on Johnny Depp is of minimal interest to some readers of this newsletter. I am also aware more than a few secret emailers were a wee bit distracted by last year’s trial in Virginia. I have had the privilege of being asked to write a book about the saga by Bath Publishing, who also published The Great Post Office Scandal.
I am beyond delighted to tell you that Depp v Heard: the unreal story has gone on worldwide pre-sale this week.
You can get it direct from the publisher (if you want to do that, and we’d be very grateful – the link is here), or you can buy it from Ian Amazon, who has it on at a discount already (how does he do it?).
Or buy it from Waterstones, who I am hoping will order it in large numbers and put it in their stores. It’s up on their website.
The book will be published on 17 May in ebook, kindle and paperback. I am hoping to have some news about an audiobook soon.
In writing Depp v Heard, I applied a similar methodology to the Post Office book. Be there in court. Get the documents and transcripts. Speak to as many people as possible on or off the record, and try to turn impossible volumes of information and misinformation into a coherent, readable, factually-accurate narrative. It’s a story which has a lot to say about the way (alleged) domestic abuse is dealt with in courts (in both the US and UK), defamation actions, expert witnesses, evidence and memory, the way the Hollywood media machine operates, movie star excess, the social media bearpit and dog-smuggling.
Enough of the sales pitch. I would love you to buy it, even if you think it might not be for you. I’m hoping I’ll be able to win you over in a few pages.
This all does mean that I will be spending a lot of time on promoting the book over the next few weeks and months. I currently have no real income to speak of and I need the book to earn back my advance before I will start to see any royalties, so getting the word out is the only way I’ve currently got of paying the mortgage.
I will try my level best to continue cracking on with what Post Office work I can do (and I’m very excited about a forthcoming BBC project), but please forgive me if my twitter feed and attention wanders.
There are plenty of excellent journalists, campaigners, activists, academics, lawyers and politicians doing their best to give this story the oxygen it still needs. I am in awe of the Subpostmasters’ stoicism in fighting for justice, and I think the lack of fair and equitable compensation many of them will receive will leave lasting psychological damage, shorten lives and leave a permanent stain on my understanding of what a good and moral society is supposed to be.
I don’t think I’ve become any more cynical over the course of this story, but I was relatively optimistic between 2019 and 2021 when Fraser’s judgments came through, the CPS was alerted, some convictions were quashed and hte subsequent Inquiry became statutory. It feels like a lot of that energy has drained away.
The Postmasters I speak to just want it to be over, which the Post Office and government lawyers know they can exploit when it comes to negotiating compensation claims.
At least we have the prospect of seeing some of the former Post Office big guns (and Altman Himself?) on oath later in the year, when I’m sure things will pick up again.
Right – the rugby’s underway. I’ll say goodbye.