Feeding them to the Lyons

The mystifying thing about a lot of witnesses we’ve been hearing from recently is that Second Sight, the independent investigators tasked in 2012 to really dig into what was going on at the Post Office, were somehow not good enough at their jobs. The Post Office’s definition of not being very good at a job appears to be not telling the Post Office what it wants to hear.

Despite being presented with evidence from their own people (Subpostmasters) and Second Sight that their computer system didn’t work properly, their training was dreadful and their prosecutions and investigation work was not up to snuff, senior Post Office staff somehow persuaded themselves that the best thing to do was ignore and minimise this information and/or go spend a fortune get a more acceptable version of that information (hello Deloitte!) which they could use to persuade themselves that what they were doing was okay.

In her witness statement of April 2024, former Post Office Company Secretary Alwen Lyons spends a large amount of time slagging off Second Sight, stating that the company “was not providing the granular forensic analysis that the business really needed and instead was focusing on higher level and more subjective issues“.

Issues like the truth of what was really going on and what affected Subpostmasters. It is a theme Lyons returns to again and again:

“Second Sight’s contract was terminated because its review was taking longer than expected and it had not been sufficiently forensic and granular… Second Sight’s findings were more subjective, focusing on issues such as the fairness of the sub-postmaster contract, the quality and availability of
training, and the level of support provided by the helpline. These were all important issues but not the forensic review of the IT system the Board was expecting.”

Second Sight’s seminal Interim Report:

“identified various general issues with the Horizon system it did not address the specific forensic issues that the Board was seeking clarity on and for which the report had originally been commissioned.”

This is factually incorrect. Second Sight were instructed on the basis they would get to the bottom of the Subpostmaster complaints. Doesn’t stop our Alwen though:

“the Board believed that Second Sight had gone beyond its terms of reference, and instead of conducting a forensic analysis of figures and considering individual accounts in detail, had instead looked at wider and more subjective issues… the Second Sight review was taking too long, and had failed to deliver the granular forensic analysis that the Board required.”

At the end of her witness statement Lyons bleats:

“With the benefit of hindsight, there are many steps POL should have taken to address Horizon and the issues being raised by sub-postmasters… I now wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that greater scrutiny had been applied to the assurances that were given and I deeply regret this. I genuinely believed in Horizon’s integrity, however mistaken this belief has subsequently been shown to be.”

Second Sight were in the building doing everything they could to tell Lyons and her cronies what was going wrong and what had gone wrong. They were obstructed, sidelined and undermined. Lyons writes:

“I cannot imagine how it must be for the sub-postmasters whose voices went unheard throughout these years. I want to express my deep and genuine remorse for what has happened.”

Yet there is no recognition of the fact that she was one of the people who was determinedly not listening. Second Sight presented Lyons and goodness knows how many other people at the Post Office with clear evidence of what was going wrong. That was the scandal, staring you in the face, Alwen. And you missed it.

Toxic Subpostmaster cases

In her oral evidence of 21 May, Lyons was shown emails which demonstrate that she was trying to shape and control the flow of information around the investigation around the Horizon IT system whilst she tried to persuade the Inquiry:

  1. she wasn’t acting on her own authority, and 
  2. was trying to be as helpful as possible. 

She’s either deluded or a very good liar. It’s really hard to tell.

When Lyons was asked why she had removed a July 2013 draft board paper recommendation from Susan Crichton to stop prosecuting Subpostmasters, Lyons said “I can’t really comment… I don’t know why those two things changed” or why she thought the removal of a recommendation by her boss was “a better update for the board paper”. 

Lyons was also the company high-up who ordered that the word “bug” in relation to Horizon problems be replaced with “anomaly”.

When asked why some Justice for Subpostmaster Alliance cases were viewed in internal documentation as “toxic” she suggested toxic simply meant they were “specific cases” Alan Bates from the JFSA should “be discussed face to face”.

When a desperate Subpostmaster was found to have lost money due to an error in his cash machine rather than Horizon, Lyons playfully emailed her colleagues:

“This isn’t the only ATM [complaint] so we need to be careful we don’t make that the next computer system they want a forensic review of!”


Perkins knifes Crichton

Lyons did give an interesting account of the moment the Post Office General Counsel Susan Crichton was left out of a board meeting she was due to attend. Lyons told the Inquiry it was the board chair, Alice Perkins, who told Lyons to keep Crichton outside.

The 16 July 2013 meeting was significant because it would have given Susan Crichton the opportunity to tell the board about Second Sight’s Interim Report, the letter from the CCRC and the first Clarke Advice – a document Crichton had received the day before and evidently wasn’t ready to forward to the board in writing. 

When asked how Crichton had come to be left waiting outside the meeting instead of brought in to present her paper on Second Sight’s Horizon investigation, Lyons told the Inquiry:

“At the relevant point in the board meeting, I stood up and walked towards the door and was asked to ‘hang on a minute’… to ‘sit down’… because (I assumed) there was going to be a discussion before Susan came into the room.”

Julian Blake, counsel to the Inquiry, interjected. “Who asked you?”

I believe… the Chair.”

So it was Alice Perkins?” checked Blake, for the record. Lyons agreed.

On being asked why Crichton was left hanging around outside like a lemon, Lyons said she initially thought it might be because the board wanted to discuss something related to the Horizon matters before Crichton came in. Then Lyons realised it might be something else. Suggesting she couldn’t remember anything that was said, Lyons referred Blake to her minutes of the meeting in which it says:

“The Board were concerned that the review opened the Business up to claims of wrongful prosecution. The Board asked if Susan Crichton, as General Counsel, was in anyway implicated in the prosecutions.”

Lyons settled on that as her preferred explanation. Crichton could be conflicted, which is why Paula Vennells, the CEO, ended up delivering the Horizon briefing.

The Chair of the Inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams, wondered if it might have been more to do with the following point in Lyons’ minutes: 

“The Board expressed strong views that the Business had not managed the Second Sight review well and stressed the need for better management and cost control going forward”

… combined with another, later entry on the matter which stated:

“the Board asked the CEO if she had considered changing the person leading for the Business”

This oblique reference to the person, Lyons agreed, was probably Susan Crichton.

This is really unusual”, volunteered Lyons, suddenly. “It’s really unusual that someone was left outside the door.

“It being so unusual why is there no reference to that fact in the minutes itself?” countered Blake.

Well, there’s reference that she is not in the room”, replied Lyons. “‘cos she’s not on the list.”

Blake was not buying it.

“There isn’t any reference throughout these minutes to the fact that the Chair had asked for Ms Crichton not to be called in…. so if somebody had been asked to attend, but had been kept outside you would not expect that to be minuted in the minutes?”

There was a long pause.

I would not have expected it to be, no”, replied Lyons “because the board minute is what happened in that room. And she did not come into the room.” 

Blake tried again. “It wasn’t just that she wasn’t at the meeting. It was, as you’ve said, somebody specifically asked during the course of the meeting for her not to come in. Is that not a notable event which should be minuted?

There was a very long pause.

I don’t think so”, replied Lyons “but clearly… it could have been minuted differently.

Whether this event is that significant to the enusing cover-up (or any future prosecutions) we might never know. We’ll get Paula Vennells’ side at some point over the next three days, no doubt.

To read today’s evidence as live-tweets with screenshots of documents shown to the inquiry, click here.

If you want to read about a Post Office lawyer pretending to care about miscarriages of justice in order to get the Criminal Cases Review Commission off the Post Office’s back, also revealed today, click here.

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24 responses to “Feeding them to the Lyons”

  1. Firstly, thanks to Nick for documenting this travesty.

    I watched some of Allen’s babble and, as with many other testimonies, was left open-mouthed at the sheer audacity of these people – many of whom would be perfectly at home running kangaroo courts in some Third World republic. One thing in Nick’s write up struck me re: who knew what and when…
    ‘That was the scandal, staring you in the face, Alwen. And you missed it.‘
    I don’t think she missed it at all. She knew exactly what was going on, and as with all good apparatchiks, she drew veil over it, then lied when questioned. As for her fabled LGBT and equality support – what she’s shown is that unfortunately women can be just as duplicitous and bloody-minded as men.
    Lady Macbeth wants a word Alwen, you’re making her look like a pushover.

  2. Kirstie Jenkins avatar
    Kirstie Jenkins

    There is a Chartered Institute for Company Secretaries, and they have their own post graduate exams. (From memory it takes 1-2 years to complete them).

    A CIMA qualification *should* have covered the skills she would need to spot errors in the accounting system, but doesn’t cover corporate governance in any depth or detail.

    A few online courses wouldn’t be enough to give her the teeth needed to enforce governance at this level – but I suppose that is what they wanted.


  4. Minutes will have been reviewed by the chair before they were circulated for agreement. That’s how all senior boards work. So if the fact that Susan Crichton was left out was in the first cut of the minutes, the highly politically aware chair, Alice Perkins, would have almost certainly taken that out. I’ve been on senior boards.

    Few people on such boards are stupid and they are very aware that the minutes can be examined in minute detail at a later date.

    1. Mark O'Meara avatar
      Mark O’Meara

      True. But they haven’t been able to hide (or to hide forever) the fact that SC had been invited to speak to the Board meeting; that she had been waiting outside to be brought in; and that the Chair had decided (in the course of the meeting) not to bring her in.

  5. Kirstie Jenkins avatar
    Kirstie Jenkins

    So she had worked in the finance department and is a chartered management accountant, but felt that transaction data in the accounting software wasn’t something she should understand?

    This seems like a basic book keeping requirement.

    But she apparently feels qualified to criticise Second Sight?

  6. Ms Lyons proved to be a fully-qualified Convenient Memory Lapse Practitioner (CMLP). It seems to have been quite an advantage in the corridors of power at the Post Office to be a CMLP.

  7. Geoffrey Freeman avatar
    Geoffrey Freeman

    2nd Sight weren’t doing the job because the PO weren’t supplying the information requested by them – as revealed at the Select Committee by Ron Warmingtion, much to the discomfiture of the Reverend Vennells at said Committee.

  8. It’s hard to believe that it took 20+ years for Lyons to discover that Post Office conducted its own prosecutions of subpostmasters. My money’s on her being an accomplished liar.

  9. Adrian Eisler avatar

    Good to meet you today, Nick. Have followed your more recent work online from Australia.

    A day in the Lyons den was intriguing for glimpses of the machinations of the POL Board, the pulling of strings with Second Sight interactions, and influencing of support staff of JA.

    Her “story” seemed to resemble more like a senior “emissary” of the Chair/ Board, rather than what I understood to be a conventional “Company Secretary” role.

    Keep up the great work, Nick.

    What will today bring?

  10. Another rather pathetic lier..albeit one with a very inflated view of her importance and role within the business.
    This appears to have been fed by those (allegedly) running the ship. it is obvious from email chain after email chain that she was given the role of “enforcer” of the “horizon is robust” narrative. Blake alluded to this when suggesting that she repeatedly acted outside the usual role of a company secretary. Pretty well all of her responses were of the “amnesic” variety but then followed by a detailed account of what she would have done in the circumstances or what she would have meant by the email if only she could remember. The twisting of logic and the obvious lies were painful to listen to (not to mention the endless use of “so” at the start of every answer)….a definite removal of gong and pension for me

  11. She appeared to be someone who people relied on to communicate matters to the higher levels in the right way, what to include/exclude and to what detail. So she was involved in the detail, copied everything and expected to advise. Many thought they had done enough then to elevate critical matters. In reality, she was out of her depths, she filtered/buffered based on her, at times, limited understanding and poor judgement and thus obstructed the proper flow of information. She over-reached but liked being involved and asked her advise. Gave her a sense of importance when she was really only set out to be a PA. I wonder how much time she had with the Royal Mail separation also a priority and just organising the meetings and writing the minutes. The board/chair also then relied on her to keep them informed, so also guilty. She took on a dangerous role

  12. They are all cut from the same cloth at the Post Office, cunning smart liars with no regard for what they are doing, have done, to innocent people. So far, perhaps Susan Crichton aside, no-one has dobbed any of their colleagues in the mire. I suspect that they all got together before the Inquiry started and worked out what they would say to provide a co-ordinated response. Let’s face it they have good experience of this type of cover-up. Nick’s comment about the emails from Hugh Flemington, shown yesterday, are interesting. Fleminton has already given evidence to the Inquiry so can these emails and his response be obtained without attending again or can he be recalled? More emails are being turned up by the day. In other issues – it’s interesting that the Chair, Alice Perkins, being the wife of Jack Straw, has gained little coverage. l also watched the release of the ‘Infected Blood Inquiry, which was 20 years too late but brilliant. The Chair, Sir Brian Langstaff was magnificent and I hope Sir Wyn also rises to the occasion, which I’m sure he will.

  13. Mark O'Meara avatar
    Mark O’Meara

    Having been a Company Secretary, the thing that struck me the most, in today’s proceedings, was how little of Alwen Lyons’ involvement with Horizon could really be called the proper or usual work of a Company Secretary.
    What a strange organisation POL was (and perhaps still is).

    1. … especially since the “that was not my job” defence has been so widely deployed

  14. Once again we see a member of the clique beginning every sentence with that great delaying ‘So’ – thus buying some thinking time. Am I the only person who thinks these witnesses have been coached by the same firm, at taxpayers expense of course? I thought she was a liar. She was clearly manipulating or shaping the Board whether at Perkins behest or bigging herself up we will probably never know.

  15. I, like others, am constantly staggered at just how incurious were all these executives, POL legal eagles and other managers! And their almost dementia-like symptoms as their memories fail them time after time. Plus, of course, the constant deflection (“I’m not a legal expert”, “I’m not an IT expert” etc.etc.etc.).

    Alwen Lyons, the Company Secretary, responsible to keeping the Board apprised of legal changes and challenges was utterly unaware, despite decades in POL, that POL was a private prosecutor. So, not a “legal expert” then. But I knew that back in 2009 after the CW article – and I have nothing to do with POL. And she carefully polished her non-IT credentials by referring to Horizon as “the computer” – even though she’d had some training on the Horizon system!

    I was very disappointed at the questioning and little time given to the CIO, Lesley Sewell. She was, theoretically, the technical guru (coming up from years of IT work at Northern Rock) – who should have had her vision firmly on the Horizon system but seemed to have scant knowledge of any Horizon systems or architecture. In my life as an Enterprise Architect and CTO, if I’d worked for CIOs as ignorant as Sewell, I’d have been very worried indeed.

    1. We hear many times the excuse of not being technical, not an expert, not IT ilterate, not a software expert, not a lawyer etc when in reality the situation or judgement did not require this. It was more critical-thinking or curiosity, general awareness, general knowledge, common-sense, the ability to find out etc. All expected in those who have had a rounded education and experience in rising to the positions held. Actually this is what the job would demand in a large professional organisation. Just interacting with the other departments and disciplines would provide a degree of insight and the ability then to participate in a team. Prosecution by PO vs CPS, disclosure to defence, software can be buggy in many weird ways, software is complex, seeing patterns and trends etc are all not earth-shattering or obscure

  16. Having discovered your blog I am really enjoying it. I’ve spent a career mostly in retail technology, and have indeed had some dealings with POL and Horizon, although not related to this.
    Saw some of the evidence today. Felt frustrated that they couldn’t really put a glove on Lyons when I was watching. How can such a meticulous woman have such a poor memory. And yet again the astounding lack of curiosity. Definite shades of what working for the Chair might be like. At such a senior level, Vennells would have spent a lot of time managing up. It doesn’t speak well of the Chair.
    Despite her manner, it struck me that Lyons has quite the ego. Certainly too much to allow her role to be characterised as a glorified facilitator. I would love to have suggested to her that her career at POL ended in failure (how could it be otherwise, given her role?) She might have thrown someone else under the bus. Terribly important job in governance, accountable for nothing apparently.

    1. Quite. It’s amazing that their memory always disappears for the crucial questions. The last week has been a frustrating watch. It almost feels as though Counsel for the inquiry have been working too hard preparing for questions to PV that they have let others off in their questioning. I think this reached its peak (or trough) with the questioning of the despicable Mark Davies. Sadly, Wyn Williams didn’t allow core participants’ Counsel to question them when he should clearly have done so given the lacklustre questioning by Julian Blake.

      I was a bit disappointed that Nick Wallis didn’t get to covering Mark Davies’ evidence in any detail, and nor did anyone else. If anyone deserved to be taken down for his general attitude, Mark Davies is the one: he still lives in an alternative reality where Paula Vennels and Alice Perkins are brilliant and where Jarnail Singh is probably the world’s foremost authority on bringing private prosecutions.

      1. Is that Mark “let’s get a specialist media lawyer in” Davies? Just realised he’s a second degree connection on LinkedIn. I feel suitably tainted!

        1. Yes, him. The one with the attitude (stated repeatedly in his witness statement, despite all evidence to the contrary) that POL was doing a great job. A man whose ethics are exclusively tied to his salary.

        2. He’s also now at the Refugee Council. God help us.

  17. The clearest way in which she threw Mrs Jack Straw under the bus today was to say “Alice’s concern was the MPs”. Always. Of course. Interesting she kept in social touch with PV after leaving (though obvs has NO memory of what they discussed when last they met for dinner) but had not spoken to Perkins.

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