Secret email about the Post Office Scandal. Shh!

The three biggest Post Office scandal news lines to come out this week

Well That Was Quite A Week

Hello there,

I had no idea Mr Bates vs The Post Office would take off in the way it did. We are all reeling at the attention it has got. Goodness me. If you haven’t seen it yet – it’s definitely worth a watch.

You can find it on ITVX, which is available on most smart TVs. You can also watch it on your laptop or computer or by downloading the app to your phone.

If you have joined the growing throng of newsletter subscribers in the last week – thank you. I’m sorry this is the first email since the drama and excellent accompanying documentary went out, but I’ve had quite a few broadcast commitments and precious little time to sit down and write.

Rather than gush on about the drama, I thought it might be helpful to point you in the direction of the news lines it provoked, none of which I can claim any credit for.

Then I’ll point you in the direction of a couple of things I’ve been up to or which have caught my eye, and then I will go downstairs to help my wife prepare for/monitor my 16yo daughter’s first “gathering” at our house, involving music, pizza and 12 excitable friends.

Line 1: The Met pull their finger out

Credit to Catherine Baksi (@legalhackette on twitter) for this excellent piece in The Times (aided and abetted by Tom Witherow). We knew the Metropolitan Police were asked (in January 2020) to investigate possible criminal activity by Fujitsu engineers.

Thus begat Operation Olympus (or Olympos as they called it for the first two years of its existence). Despite saying they would go wherever the investigation took them – ie to the doors of the Post Office, Op Olympus has, in three years, only interviewed two people, twice.

Last night the Met finally confirmed they were investigating the possibility of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice at the Post Office (the cover up) and – in a completely new development – the possibility that the Post Office’s practice of initiating debt recovery procedures against its Subpostmasters without properly investigating the source of their discrepancies might amount to fraud. In the Met’s words:

“The investigation is ongoing into potential offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice. These potential offences arise out of investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office. “We are also investigating potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions, for example monies recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions.”

It’s interesting the Met’s statement is specific about Post Office prosecutions and civil actions, because many other serving Subpostmasters were told (with menaces) to give the Post Office money to cover alleged discrepancies without being prosecuted. Scared of losing their jobs, they handed it over. Some, of course, were sacked.

Making an artificial distinction between those who were prosecuted and taken to court and those who weren’t seems odd. I will enquire to see if they really mean that.

It’s also notable the Met statement says:

“Our investigation is considering the actions of individuals connected with Fujitsu and the Post Office” rather than the two corporate entities themselves. If any of m’learned friends could tell me why that might be the case I would be delighted to turn it into a blog post as I think some digging into this might be worthwhile.

Anyway – do go and read Catherine and Tom’s excellent Times piece. If you don’t have a subscription, there’s a good BBC follow up here.

Line 2: What’s on them tapes?

Tom Witherow had a scoop of his own this week, revealing the public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon Scandal had possession of “about 80” covert recordings of Post Office executives, which were about to be distributed to all core participants of the Inquiry. Depending what’s on the tapes, this could be huge. At the very least it will be revealing. I have an inkling of where the tapes have come from and may have heard one myself. I may not. But I really, really want to.

If you are a core participant reading this and get sent the tapes please consider getting in touch. All conversations and communications are, and will remain, completely confidential.

Line 3: At least 50 more victims have come forward

I think this line originated from Neil Hudgell’s interview with BBC Radio 5 live on Thursday morning (apologies to anyone if I’ve got this wrong). There was a discussion between m’podcast colleague Rebecca Thomson, Neil Hudgell (whose firm Hudgell Solicitors has been instrumental in geting so many Subpostmaster convictions overturned) and Mohammed Rasul, who I’ve never met, but sounds like a lovely man. His parents did not live to see his conviction for theft quashed.

Mr Hudgell confirmed that more than 50 people had come forward with potential claims against the Post Office. A few had criminal convictions, but any “new” Subpostmaster or Post Office worker coming forward is a tangible benefit of the drama. I know the exec producers, writer and cast would be thrilled if the awareness their drama creates leads to just one quashed conviction. Hopefully it will be many more.

The discussion was on Chris Warburton’s programme and you can listen to it here.

Other things

I really had no idea the drama would kick off in the way it did. Also I am a jobbing freelancer, so when the ITV and C5 News admin teams asked me before Christmas and if I would work the first week in January, I thought “well I’m not doing much else”. So I said yes. The day after the first episode of the drama went out I walked into the ITV newsroom and witnessed just how big this story had become.

On that day I was assigned to a different story, but already the news editors were starting to point resources towards the Post Office scandal. On Wednesday I bolted together a piece for ITV News which focused on Paula Vennells (which I don’t think has been put online), and then on Thursday I had the privilege of working on a longer form item focusing on Jess Kaur and Lee Castleton’s stories (with a bit more on Paula Vennells – who hid again after seeing me walking up her drive).

Lee is a brilliant talker and I am endlessly grateful to him for his willingness to agree to interviews. I have been to his home in Scarborough and both Lee and his wife Lisa could not have been more welcoming (have a listen to Episode 15 of the Great Post Office Trial for the result here).

Jess I had only ever seen in an Al Jazeera studio until this week. Then I saw her stunning interview in the Mr Bates… documentary. It is a raw and harrowing watch. I am so grateful to her for agreeing to speak to ITV News for what I think might only be her third broadcast interview. I met Jess’ husband Perm when Alan Bates kindly allowed me to film at a JFSA meeting in January 2015. Perm was such a gentleman.

What Lee and Lisa and Jess and Perm went through is writ large in the drama. The piece which went out on Thursday is a hybrid of the drama and the interviews Jess and Lee kindly gave us. Do have a watch.

I also did an ITV News podcast (part of their What You Need to Know strand) called “Will Mr Bates v The Post Office help deliver justice?” which has a little bit about my (in the general scheme of things, miniscule) involvement in the production of the drama and the story itself. It’s quite hard to get a specific link to the actual podcast – you can hear it on the links above or just search for it where you usually get your podcasts.

The Mighty Karl

Karl Flinders from Computer Weekly has put together a brilliant primer for people who might be relatively new to the Post Office scandal. There’s also a great profile of Alan Bates in tomorrow’s Sunday Times.

Horizon Scandal Fund

You may, or may not be aware of the charity the Horizon Scandal Fund. I am a trustee and we have been overwhelmed by the scale of the donations we have been receiving over the past few days. If you have donated ot us – thank you so much.

We have been able to disburse a significant number of grants over the past 24 months, but we are also acutely aware there are people who may be in need of help who have no idea about the charity.

I know many lawyers and Subpostmaster representatives are secret emailers. If you know someone affected by the Horizon scandal who needs any kind of help, please suggest they have a look here. We are primed and ready to help out where we can, however we can.

Your messages

I am deeply grateful to everyone who has got in touch over the past week for whatever reason. I always say that I am unable to respond to every message, but I read every one.

Over the last week I have been receiving around 700 – 1000 messages a day. Which is nice. But for the first time I have not been able to read every message, let alone respond. Please forgive me. If what you had to tell me needs a response, try sending it again next week. I am going to methodically go through everything and try to get on top of it soon, but it will take time, and I apologise if I don’t see what you sent me at the first time of asking.

Right I really need to go – I have to buy pizza for some 16 year olds and fish and chips for my son James who has been waiting patiently to play Rocket League with me for most of the evening.

Back soon – and thankyouthankyouthankyou for being a secret emailer. It’s great to have so many motivated and intelligent people to correspond with.

Yours

Nick


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