Ismay: the Idiot Returns

Rod Ismay

Rod Ismay’s role in the Post Office was senior – he finished as Head of Product and Branch Accounting reporting directly to the Chief Finance Officer. He appears to have taken a leading, or as Jason Beer KC would have it “co-ordinating” role in responding to Horizon challenges throughout his career at the Post Office. This went well beyond his authorship of the disastrous Ismay report, which the Post Office relied on to keep prosecuting Subpostmasters for at least two years.

I’ve written here about Ismay’s first stint at giving evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. Today, almost exactly a year on, Ismay returned, seemingly much more nervous and fortgetful. His testimony on oath was preceded by the Chair’s notice on self-incrimination – which gave Ismay the right to ask if he might not answer a question if he felt doing so might incriminate him in a court of law. It was an indication that Ismay is a person of interest to the police and Crown Prosecution Service.

You can read my collated live tweets from today’s session in one single web-page here.

Rambling Rod

Today, the fact of Ismay report was more important than its contents. Jason Beer KC who asked questions on behalf of the Inquiry wanted to know more about Ismay’s position within the Post Office’s structure and culture. Was he more of a controlling mind, as his qualifications, seniority and involvement in Horizon rebuttal activities appeared to suggest? Or was he just a hapless chump – willing to look for criminal stupidity in Subpostmasters whilst blithely defending Horizon in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary?

Time and again, Jason Beer pointed to clear evidence Ismay knew about Fujitsu’s capacity to access Subpostmaster accounts. Time and again, this qualified auditor agreed he did have knowledge of remote access to Horizon, or bugs in the system, or red flags raised by independent investigators, but time and again he failed to draw the dots. There was a lot on, he told Beer. So many meetings about so many things. The idea an innocent Subpostmaster might have been suspended, sacked, prosecuted, or sent to prison was very far away from what passed for the front of Ismay’s mind.

When confronted with document he wrote acknowledging Fujitsu’s ability to tamper with Subpostmaster accounts, Ismay told Beer:

“This is written as if at the time I’d got some perception in writing this that perhaps it hadn’t been built. That it was an option that would require some build.”

Beer wanted to know how Ismay had come up with this:

Jason Beer KC

“Where had you got that “perception” from if from the documents we have seen that you were passed made it clear that there was no conditionality? It wasn’t that ‘if Fujitsu could do this, it would be a bad thing’. It was ‘they could do this thing’.”

“Well, I could only think it came from a conversation with IT”, ventured Ismay, before embarking on a long explanation of “a concept” of “a number of options” that would require “a build” to make it function.

Beer cut in to point out that there was no “conditionality” in his email. Ismay insisted it could be “read into” the document, whilst acknowledging:

“I know the narrative in here doesn’t say that, but one writes what one writes and in hindsight you can wish there were all sorts of things you could have written into it and I’m giving you the wider context of what I think could have influenced my thinking and that wider context hasn’t all been written in here.”

Quite.

When asked why, on the basis of what he was now claiming he didn’t know for sure about remote acces and seek to his 2010 report (celebrated in 2013 by the Post Office Chair, Alice Perkins who told him it was “a very good document”), Ismay replied:

“Well because evidently lots of people were aware of it from this and I wasn’t tasked with doing an ongoing update of [sic] report. My… as you can see from the annual appraisal document that we’ve got in this pack you can the number of things that I was involved of which this was a very small part of a wide range of things and so in hindsight, absolutely in hindsight, I wish I’d done something to respond to this, but at the time, with loads of competing pressures, sadly, this one didn’t lead me to do what in hindsight I would wish I would have done to have responded to it but I was doing many many, and I know this doesn’t… this won’t satisfy Subpostmasters impacted by all of this, but I’d got loads and loads of different competing priorities – pre-privatisation – going on and efficiency reviews in my team and so, sadly, I didn’t do something on the back of this. I wish I had, but I didn’t. And I was exceedingly busy with loads of other competing priorities.”

I would describe this as one of Ismay’s shorter answers. Over the last twelve months he seems to have become more incurious, more verbose, more rambling.

A cold mess

Ismay claimed to be a big supporter of Subpostmasters and their work. Yet in 2006, when he saw an email from a Post Office civil litigator Mandy Talbot crowing that the High Court ruling against Lee Castleton “will be of tremendous use in convincing other postmasters to think twice about their allegations”, Ismay quoted it approvingly, adding that the ruining of Castleton:

“should be a considerable addition to our armoury in responding to the number of other cases that may have been stirred up by Mr Castleton’s letters into the Subpostmaster magazine. One letter tried to get something like “class actions”. He certainly had other agents writing in to reply to him and suggesting more cases.”

Ismay said he was “not proud” of this response. investigating these cases to get to the truth of the matter was not Mr Ismay’s priority. And when Beer asked Ismay about what actually happened to Lee Castleton, he replied:

“My belief, from what auditors were saying to me from what they’d found, that there was a genuine theft of something.”

Yet this was one of the most obvious cases of Horizon error across the whole Post Office estate. Lee had the Horizon helpline from the moment there were problems in his branch, explaining everything that was happening, keeping all his paperwork and begging the Post Office to come and have a look at the hardware and/or software in his branch because it was throwing up random discrepancies that Lee was being told were his responsibility.

Ismay told Beer:

“I understood in this case safe doors were open, the office doors were open and someone came back in a state into the office there and there’d been all sorts of audit satisfaction that money had been stolen and so in hindsight that may have been totally wrong and what’s been said by the person who’d written that witness statement suggests that it was not a reliable witness statement that had been put but that was the kind of stuff that was influencing my perspective… that context of auditors went to a branch because there was some suspicion that led them to go there, and when they found all the doors open and the things that were in that statement that would reinforce well… probably there was a theft had happened.”

As we now know, thanks to the Inquiry investigation into the Castleton case, the witness statement by Post Office “auditor” Helen Rose (who had never been trained as an auditor) contained wholly false information. Suggesting the safe and office doors were open later turned out to be a “mistake” on a checklist, and the allegation about drinking was apparently fabricated some twelve months after the event, conveniently, just as the case was about to go to trial. There was no evidence (or indeed allegation) of theft, but that didn’t stop Roderick from sucking up the Post Office cultural narrative. Despite his seniority, training and apparent intelligence.

Lee Castleton was ruined as a result of the High Court action against him. Talbot and Ismay were right – the Castleton ruling was used as a way of warning off Subpostmasters who were considering legal action after being sacked or forced to use their own cash to plug Horizon-generated discrepancies in their branch accounts. Throughout all this Rod (another pious sort, btw) counted his fat salary and looked forward to his comfortable pension.

Of course Ismay is a spoon, but it rather suits him to present himself as one right now. A jury might just buy fatuous stupidity over criminal intent. Either way the legacy of his actions is more than unfortunate, it’s malignant, even by the standards of the individuals complicit in this scandal.


I am currently touring Post Office Scandal – the Inside Story until Thu 16 May 2024. There are six more dates remaining in Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Surrey and Essex. You can find the specific venues and timings here. All look likely to sell out except Swindon (Mon 13 May) which, for some reason is doing quite badly. If you can make it to the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon, I’d love to see you.


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47 responses to “Ismay: the Idiot Returns”

  1. Rodney – you plonker!

  2. One of my favourite (to date) Beerisms is in this one at 2:41:33 in the AM video when Ismay is apologising (again) as poor thing has so many documents floating about in his delicate head, and our Jason says “yes, apologies for the number of documents in the inquiry, we like to give people full disclosure”.

    Classic put down sarcasm, I tip my hat to you sir !

  3. I was watching this, and also the John Scott interview.

    Seems the Post Office has so many people with job titles that overlap each other. The 2nd and 3rd level managers seem to spend all their time emailing each other about what should be done, and who (anyone but themselves) should do it. The wrong decision gets made, and once in a while the wrong decision is actually implemented.

    Despite the overlapping functions they claim they have no idea what was done by others, or even, in Scott’s case, what their own subordinates were doing.

    The buck stops nowhere. W1A + the Office, with malice. I look forward to the producers of W1A giving us a series “A day th at the post office”

  4. For me, one reason I find this saga interesting is how it highlights the calibre of people in the managerial class that now seem to infect many corporations and government departments. With these people, the bottom line is the bottom line. Unethical behaviour is rewarded and scruples are seen as a negative. Do we think these PO employees are much different to what you would find in a lot of workplaces or bureaucracies such as rail companies, water companies, local councils or large tech companies?

    This is why the likes of Paula Vennels can shift quite easily from PO to the NHS.

    Last year, in Australia, where I live, the former premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, resigned due to corruption allegations. Within days, she was appointed as a Senior Executive of Optus, one of the biggest telecommunications company in Australia. A few weeks after this appointment, they had major crash with their internet supply and mobile phone connections which caused chaos for thousands of businesses who couldn’t take any card payments and some people where unable to contact emergency services for several hours.

    What does that say about corporate culture?

  5. Richard Cansdale avatar
    Richard Cansdale

    If these villains are not prosecuted by the CPS, a crowdfunded appeal to cover the legal costs of private prosecutions will reach its target in record time

  6. Roderick Ismay FCA needs replacing with Roderick Ismay I D K * I don’t know.
    How these people get put in positions of power is quite beyond me.

    1. It’s named the “Peter principle”.
      This is a good explanation of it:
      https://youtu.be/b5myhat3MdE?si=16Dt9gmkNVnSF6by

  7. How did the PO manage to bring together such a collection of spineless, lying jobsworths? The recruitment and personal development processes must have been something really special.

    1. In my experience the majority of senior managers and directors are corrupt clowns who don’t know their a**e from their elbow. I saw so many directors come and go at my last employment before retirement and could work out how useless they were within minutes of meeting them. If I could why couldn’t their interviewer? If this inquiry is anything to go by then the Post Office was similarly afflicted and probably still is.

  8. I’d like to hear more on Suspense Account cash – surely someone (Dismay?) should have been investigating why there was a kings ransom of unallocated cash sloshing about every year?

  9. How did this clown ever get to a senior position in ANY organisation?

    1. I wonder where all these people were trained in management. Cranfield?

    2. In answer to your question: the colloquialism “”Yes Man” in describing him and his ascent!

  10. I have viewed the “second sight”(pardon the pun, but it does seem rather appropriate) of Rod Ismay giving oral evidence to the enquiry. My first thoughts are that he continued to attempt to obfuscate in the extreme, almost to the point of usng the Klingon(Star Trek) fictional “cloaking device” which obscures reality.
    In answering the questions put to him by Jason Beer, Mr Ismay almost invariable commenced his answers with the phrase “I think/thought” or “we think/thought”………….and then proceeded to state that random and unverifiable acttions and decisions had occured to justify the position that he/they had taken with respect to certain events/disclosures.
    The truth emerged that, in actual fact, he/they DIDN’T think in a clear and rational manner about those events/disclosures. He/they bahaved like automatons(persons who seem to act in a mechanical or unemotional way), lacking in humanity.
    Hinduism identifies karma as the relationship between a person’s mental or physical action and the consequences following that action. Hopefully, karma will be realised……….

    1. I write as a former senior manager at Post Office Ltd and Royal Mail during the period 1989-2004 and as a self-employed insurance claims investigator 2005-2019. I believe that that the actions of POL have echoes of the 2009 banking crash. Viz: POL saw Horizon as “too big to fail” and that corporate belief, for want of a better phrase, is evident ( no pun attended) in the evidence of the witnesses
      PS: my own dealings ( as a Post Office Ltd senior manager with Horizon amounted to one meeting with Fujitsu personnel in 1999 where attitudes of said personnel left me shaking my head and saying to myself “who’s paying who here?”. Fujitsu struck me as wanting to milk POL for every penny they could get

  11. If Ismay’s live testimony was a “The Simpsons” episode come to life (not sure if you in the UK know this wonderful US program), he would be in a room with a lie detector apparatus (yes, I know full well those devices are not trustworthy, but let’s just go with the satire and the humor) and literally every answer he gave would register off the charts with “blatantly lying.” All sorts of bells and buzzers would be sounding. Interesting to me, from the US, that this whole string of witnesses, presumably many from posh schools and with their inherent privilege, are putting themselves out as being unthinking incompetents, rather than owning up to their part of this disgraceful scandal. Please, please, may at least one of them be criminally indicted, tried, found guilty. And please may Lee Castleton receive a settlement in the millions of pounds.

  12. Lizzie Cahill avatar

    It amazes me that these highly paid and supposedly intelligent people all seem to accept absolutely no responsibility for anything. It’s always somebody else’s fault, and when that ‘somebody else’ is questioned, they respond “Well, it was [so and so] who dealt with [whatever], I was just collating stuff and forwarding emails”.
    They may as well just say “A big boy did it and ran away” and have done with it. Pathetic, and yes, criminal, in some cases.

  13. Thank you Nick for putting it all succinctly as usual. As an accountant myself, I know that a senior auditor from one of the big firms in the UK would know of the importance of ensuring that the computer system running the accounts is properly controlled and checked. He would have known how frequently other business systems’ computers contained multiple bugs and what was done about them.
    On the other side of the coin, the major accountancy practices haven’t come up smelling of roses in the last 20 years, with too many audits missing quite large frauds. Ethics went out of the window a long time ago especially in the upper end of the accountancy world where big money can be earned.
    As Dismay’s former employers were the PO auditors presumably they didn’t push too hard to ask questions about Horizon. So he would have fitted in nicely to the corporate structure in that regard.
    Any senior accountant worth their salt would have read even just the Computer Weekly article and probed internally until they got to the bottom of things, or resigned if they couldn’t get co-operation from the rest of the business.

    1. Concerned citizen avatar
      Concerned citizen

      The problem is that the “auditor” that Ismay is/was/pretends to be is more about “auditing” that there is a process or control that people can describe as being in place, NOT that anyone actually follows the process or control! This is now the common practice in “audit” – check whether there is a process in a manual, not whether someone actually follows it.

    2. Very well put.! Having followed the Inquiry for some time now I note that Mr Beer is becoming a lot tougher with witnesses. One can’t blame him given the persistent obfuscation he has had to face. I have also noticed that Sir Wyn Williams, a real gentleman, is becomingmore and more exasperated.
      I now look forward to watching Mark Davies, ex Director of Communications, giving evidence tomorrow

  14. Did you catch the bit where Ismay claimed to have been overloaded by all the documents sent to him by the inquiry for review and Jason Beer responded by saying something like “sorry for all the documents but we take DISCLOSURE quite seriously”. An obvious comparison to POL.

    1. Yes, spotted that. Quite the burn!!!

    2. A lovely putdown by Beer.

      1. Very well put.! Having followed the Inquiry for some time now I note that Mr Beer is becoming a lot tougher with witnesses. One can’t blame him given the persistent obfuscation he has had to face. I have also noticed that Sir Wyn Williams, a real gentleman, is becomingmore and more exasperated.
        I now look forward to watching Mark Davies, ex Director of Communications, giving evidence tomorrow

    3. Steven Ksiezak avatar
      Steven Ksiezak

      Yes I did and thought it was a brilliant put down.

    4. “This Inquiry likes to give full disclosure”
      Yes – it was masterful!
      Several of the witnesses have bleated about masses of papers, partial and late. Notably Roderick Williams at whom I wanted to scream: It’s YOUR email. YOU still work at PO – in the Remediation unit ffs. Why haven’t YOU disclosed it all, and any much earlier???

  15. So always too busy. At least he remembers he was too busy. Did he inform his boss? Did he work extra time? Maybe inefficient and slow with everything? Maybe out of his depth and had poor attention span? Perhaps his team did not give him everything on a plate? Could not multitask? Not interested in his role? Not valued by anyone? Now just coasting along and biding his time? There are always a few in any company like that and much damage is done

    So, many emails went unread. No time to wade through or properly digest. Just a cursory read. I know many people who just do not read emails. Some never if only cc’d. Some never if longer than a few lines.

    He really did not know Horizon. Very naive to think there would be no backdoor which then had to have the necessary safeguards

  16. So who did he think was correcting the accounting discrepancies caused by the bugs? Wasn’t it his job to know?

  17. Lack of Contrition! The most recent interviewees, senior people from POL have all shared a common character flaw. They have failed to display remorse and contrition. Sometimes, they have been embarrassed, often pleading they were ‘only human’, but time and again failing to display real sorrow about the impact of their actions on the SPMs. When the Inquiry moves to interviewing Board Members questions need to be put to them about their personal feelings … any shame, remorse, contrition … or just a bit of personal embarrassment?!!!

  18. Ismay was to POL what Arthur Andersen was to Enron.

  19. Idiot?

    I think Lee Castleton would prefer a stronger term for Ismay.

    As someone from Brid, I suggest Lee would prefer the far more descriptive Yorkshire term of wazzock.

    Apt as wazzock takes its name from the habit of medieval kings to “take a crap on a shovel”. The royal turd would be “wazzed” out of the window and the wazzock was the tool for performing this operation.

    Substitute medieval kings for Post Office bosses and a turd for Horizon and you get the Ismay connection.

    We saw today a master of shovelling crap.

    A great steaming wazzock.

    1. Thanks for this, a little ray of sunshine in this whole heartbreaking, truly shockingly depressing criminal coverup. Rod Dismay a true Wassock of the highest order. I don’t buy the rabbit caught in the headlights image he so pathetically attempted to display.

  20. Alan Cornforth avatar
    Alan Cornforth

    When I heard the initial comments from Jason Beer today asking Sir WW to administer Rod Ismay with his right to not incriminate himself with his answers etc, I was expecting something special. Alas, no – not even the assembled core participant solicitors made this man look anything more than he was – a middle manager who ghosted inbetween departments without any responsibility for his actions and able to fend off questions with “I don’t know” as opposed to the now familiar “I don’t recollect”. His words may well come back to haunt him but I would reflect on him as more of a sideshow than a prime suspect in the prosecution of SPMs!

    1. He had the self-incrimination warning in Phase 3 too.

  21. Your heading brought a smile to my wife and I, as I had described him to my wife as a little wide eyed puppy explaining why he had weed on the carpet.

  22. Sophistry and forgetfulness “to a man” seems to be common among all these witnesses.

    1. Yes – though he was particularly poor at sophistry. Started off determined each time to call it “the document that came to be known as ‘the Ismay report’” – despite calling it exactly that in his witness statement. Slipped a few times as the day went on and eventually gave up completely.

  23. Over this weekend, I will write, in my professional capacity and formally, to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales, presenting a compelling case for Liar Ismay’s membership thereof to be revoked.

    The rulebook, which his Second Coming in this Inquiry has prompted me to study, has proved fruitful and helpful. I’ve already liaised with Professional Standards.

    Fingers crossed, we won’t have to wait till the Police/CPS finally wake up and drag the miserable specimen to Court and then to prison, then, to see the first professional scalp. We’ll have the sluggish SRA and BSB beat!

    Fingers crossed, it will soon cease to be Roderick Ismay FCA and instead be Prodded Dismay F*C*A, with a “K” and a “U” used to replace the asterisks, and not necessarily in that order. Eventually he will work it out.

    1. It’s a disgrace that the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales hasn’t initiated disciplinary proceedings alreadym

    2. Great that you’ll write – can you start a campaign of fellow accountants?

      I’m certain no regulator will act before the end of Inquiry. And although I’m less sure about needing to await the report, I’m sure it’s right to await all the evidence.

      Nick Wallis asked the CCRC to await the GLO outcome as so much evidence was emerging. What came out un those trials is a fraction of what the Inquiry is gathering – a billion times more (and better analysed) than any regulator or the police. We are funding the Inquiry rightly at massive public expense including a top team. If giving the Inquiry chance to do its job (and not fail the victims) is good enough for Alan Bates, it’s beyond me why anyone suggests others (regulators who are toothless, incompetent and under-resourced… or the police) might do anything effective any sooner.

    1. Lizzie Cahill avatar

      Very good!

  24. Did you mean to publish his personal email and mobile?!!!

    1. To be fair, that document is already in the public domain and has been for six years.

      1. Perhaps – but not advertised to a group of Haters. The Inquiry has gone to massive trouble to redact personal details.

    2. Hope so……

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