Martin Smith and the Instruction to Shred

Smith takes the oath

The mystery of who at the Post Office (or Bond Dickinson) decided to shred minutes relating to an important meeting at the Post Office to discuss problems with the Horizon IT system got a little more dramatic today as Martin Smith, a solicitor working for Cartwright King, gave evidence.

Smith was a prosecuting solicitor who took on Post Office cases under instruction from the Post Office. He had no training in the role having been a duty defence solicitor who then joined Cartwright King and moved to Post Office prosecutions after Cartwright King won the Post Office contract.

Smith was walked through his involvement in the case of Khayyam Ishaq, an innocent man who Smith helped put in prison. Smith did not read relevant documents and he made disclosure decisions which seemed to fly in the face of the relevant requirements. Nonetheless it was his evidence about the Post Office’s apparent desire to illegally shred documentats relating to problems with Horizon which made the only two hacks in the Inquiry room – me and Fiona Parker from the Daily Telegraph – suddenly start paying very close attention at the end of a long day.

If you want to read my live tweets (lots of screenshots of documents and a blow-by-blow flavour of what’s happening) covering the entire day click here. Fiona’s live-blog (fewer posts, but plenty of direct quotes) can be found here.

Was it the external lawyers?

It is July 2013 – the Clarke Advice, written by Smith’s colleague, the barrister Simon Clarke, has been issued to the Post Office. The Clarke Advice was prompted by the realisation that Gareth Jenkins from Fujitsu was a tainted witness, and that some prosecutions were likely unsafe. To ensure all were across the risks going forward, Clarke had recommended setting up a weekly conference call between the Post Office’s IT, legal and security teams, their external lawyers Bond Dickinson and Cartwright King to monitor issues with Horizon to see if they affect any prosecutions.

The first meeting, known as the “Regular Call re Horizon issues”, opened (according to the minutes published on the Inquiry website) with a note from Rob King in the Post Office Security team stating “no minutes circulated, but we will be taking notes”. According to Smith, Andy Parsons from Bond Dickinson (later Womble Bond Dickinson who ran the disastrous Post Office defence of Bates v Post Office) explained that all documents would be kept on a central hub for reasons of keeping control of the dissemination of information.

In his witness statement, Smith said he thought this was a sensible idea:

“Mr Parsons expressed concern with regards to the difficulties which could arise following the circulation of minutes. He was particularly concerned that they could be further disseminated and attract opinion which might well be incorrect and also result in information being stored elsewhere without it being relayed back to the call. He explained that he had previous experience of such issues. It was evident that he was concerned about pre-action discovery in civil cases.

“My view from a criminal law perspective was that the information was to be reported to a single central hub in accordance with Mr Clarke’s advice – that was the very purpose of the call. I could also understand Mr Parson’s concerns that incorrect information could possibly be generated or that information might not be relayed back to the central hub.”

Was it the Head of Security?

Two weeks later, on 31 July, after the third Horizon Issues call, Martin Smith received a phone call from the Post Office’s (then) top criminal lawyer, Jarnail Singh. Smith was driving at the time. According to Smith’s note of the call, Singh told him:

“JScot [John Scott, the Post Office head of Security] has instructed that the typed minutes be scrapped.”

That’s the only contemporaneous statement available, but the call lasted 24 minutes. Julian Blake, asking questions for the inquiry, asked Smith what he remembered.

Smith’s note of his call with Jarnail Singh re John Scott. Note the key word: “scrapped”

Smith replied:

“I can recall complaining to [Singh] about the influence being exerted over Post Office in my view by the external civil lawyers and I can also recall him telling me that an instruction had been sent out that typewritten minutes should be scrapped and that if anyone asks, the Cartwright King would be blamed for providing that advice.”

Smith reports being “absolutely horrified and shocked” by what he heard. He continued:

“When I had the opportunity to pull over, I was able to use another mobile telephone to record, at a distance, the latter part of the conversation. Because I was so shocked by what I heard.”

Smith recalled saying to Singh that he understood that no minutes were being circulated, and could see the benefits, but:

“by the third [Horizon Issues] call there was some form of change proposed… I don’t remember exactly what the change was, but I do remember saying on the call, ‘no – hold on… you still have to keep a central record’.”

Smith resolved to get Simon Clarke to write another Advice which spelled out “absolutely in black and white” the Post Office’s obligations to record information. Smith actually thought it was the civil lawyers [Bond Dickinson] trying to “water down” and “pull away” from the Post Office’s agreement to keep minutes in a central hub:

“By the time we got to the third [Horizon Issues] call to start having a position where we’re not going to have anything in writing… that did worry me. I was concerned about that.

Julian Blake

Julian Blake wanted to know what Smith meant in his note by the word “scrapped”.

JB: From your understanding of that telephone call, was it that notes or typed minutes were to be “stopped” or “destroyed”?
MS: To be destroyed.
JB: Was that your clear understanding from that conversation?
MS: Yes.
JB: We know that in Mr Clarke’s Advice he uses the word “shredded” – do you know where that came from?
MS: I can only assume it’s arising out of my conversation with Mr Singh.
JB: And is that something you recall from your conversation with Mr Singh?
MS: Not at this point in time, no.
JB: So you don’t recall the specific word “shredded”, but you do recall that typed minutes were to be destroyed rather than there was going to be some kind of stop on taking future notes.
MS: That was very much my understanding…. Mr Singh told me that the minutes were to be destroyed – I can’t remember the exact phraseology….
JB: Were to be? Or had been? There’s a big difference between the two.
MS: I was under the impression that the instruction had gone out and that they had been.

Blake now wanted to know who the instruction had come from and who it had been sent to. Smith said he was definitely told it was John Scott who had sent the instruction out, but he was unsure who it had been sent to.

“I’m hesitant here because there were a number of people with the name David, and I’m thinking it was either David Pardoe or David Posnett [both in the PO Security Team], but I’m afraid I can’t… it was a long time ago.”

Was it the internal lawyers?

Blake wanted to know if Scott had “received advice on that matter or was acting on his own instigation.” Smith had no idea. Blake took him back to the third Horizon Issues call and wanted to know what had changed. Smith told him:

“I was left with the distinct impression that Post Office were no longer wanting to keep a record of the [Horizon Issues] calls, and I recall saying ‘No – you must still keep a central record…’.”

Blake cut in: “You say the Post Office. Who at the Post Office?”

“I think that was information that came from Rodric Williams”, replied Smith. “I think it was Rodric Williams who said that [and] I think I said “Rodric, you still need to keep a central record”, and I remember not being very happy about it and think this is one for Simon Clarke.”

All this begat the Second Clarke Advice, on shredding.

In summary, Martin Smith appears to be alleging that:

a) during the third Horizon Issues meeting on 31 July 2013, the Post Office lawyer Rodric Williams suggested not taking minutes. Smith remembers admonishing him, telling Williams he had to keep a recprd.

b) after the meeting, according to Smith’s recollection of his call with Jarnail Singh, a decision was taken at the Post Office to destroy the minutes anyway. John Scott had disseminated the order, and this was complied with.

c) Singh then called Smith to tell him of the decision and that if anyone queried it, Smith’s firm, Cartwright King, would be “blamed” for issuing the order.

According to Hugh Flemington’s evidence earlier this week, Scott and Singh did not get on. But something here doesn’t add up. Why would Scott take a unilateral decision to order the shredding of minutes? How could it possibly be accompanied by the suggestion that if word got out, Cartwright King would be blamed? What did Rodric Williams have to do with all this? And why did Simon Clarke’s shredding advice, once written and sent to the Post Office, sit in Rodric Williams’ desk for two weeks before being seen by Susan Crichton, the Post Office’s general counsel?

And why did none of them seem to give a flying monkeys about the Subpostmasters?

I am currently touring Post Office Scandal – the Inside Story. Please do come and see us as we make our way around the country (all dates here).

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19 responses to “Martin Smith and the Instruction to Shred”

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  2. Julian Hofmann avatar
    Julian Hofmann

    The whole scenario must be a nightmare for any solicitor but there seem to have been multiple points where Martin Smith and Cartwright King could have pulled the escape cord and come out with a reasonably intact reputation? No?

    For instance, along with Simon Clarke the barrister, they do their own mini-investigation into a key expert witness (Gareth Jenkins) which establishes that his credibility is shot and that he has not been properly instructed (which is their fault) and has likely committed perjury in multiple criminal cases. Your options at this point include contacting the police and asking for an independent investigation, telling the courts, or contacting the CCRB.

    They do none of this and instead keep sending “advice” to the Post Office which is clearly ignored.

    Cartwright-King then find themselves in a situation where their biggest single client POL – which in order to service they have hired 30 members of staff across three offices – turns around and threatens them with blame over the destruction of Horizon evidence, apparently initiated by Jon Scott, the creepy head of security at POL – we don’t known yet who gave him the order.

    It is also clear that the main contact with POL, Jarnail Singh, is an erratic nut job. Rodric Williams looks like an increasingly malign influence, the ubiquitous Andy Parsons for Bond Dickinson – who was later instrumental in the POL’s disastrous defence strategy at the High Court – is clearly being backed by General Counsel Chris Aujard in pursuing a defensive and self-defeating strategy of not pursuing proper disclosure, based at least in part on the fact that civil disclosure is different and delaying tactics might mildy more tolerated. Unfortunately with criminal cases that might called conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

    What a mess.

  3. Chloe Alexander avatar
    Chloe Alexander

    If Gareth Jenkins wasn’t briefed properly by POL, as well as being compliant to peruse ARQs and not receiving them from POL, the plot thickens and my 0% sympathy for Jenkins increases to 0.5% sympathy.

    Nick I’m losing track of the Heroes and Villains. Do you think you could do a list for us, especially for the ones coming up at the Inquiry? It’s fascinating how lucid and free flowing are the Heroes …

  4. Many questions around Gareth Jenkins. Was he nominated by Fujitso? Was he nominated on the basis of someone who would tell POL/Fujitso what they wanted to hear? How much of an expert was he really? What were his precise roles in ICL? Did he just become an ‘expert’ or acquired that tag because no one else wanted to come forward? Was he really regarded an expert by his co-workers? He should have known about the buggy software from the early days. No need to look at the data logs really as there were clear signs of the root cause and the remote access.

  5. Neil Appleyard avatar
    Neil Appleyard

    Some of the interrogating solicitor/lawyers come across as not being particularly enthusiastic when questioning another member of their profession. Gives the impression that they are to some extent closing ranks. There’s so much withholding of essential information and redaction of information from the defence that have any of the prosecutions been fair ? I suspect none of them have. The moral of the story seems to be ‘ be very careful before trusting a member of the legal profession’

  6. Having listened once more to a long day of nonsensical language from yet another puppet character, I too was intrigued by the late twist in the storyline.

    Who was shredding what and why?

    Were the Wombles suggesting gathering up all the paper and recycling it?

    Was it Bill or was it Ben? Or was it David or was it David?

    Sadly our latest exponent of nonsensical POL Oddle Poddle wasn’t paying attention at the time, but hopefully Sir Wyn Williams is of an age where he was an avid watch with mother viewer and listened attentively when asked which of those two flowerpot men was the culprit.

    The role of the Jim Carrey cartoon lookalike Rodric Williams was thus brought into focus. Why was the advice of Simon Clarke put in a wooden desk for a fortnight?

    What were the Woodentops in POL trying to achieve?

    I’m looking forward to Andy Pandy explaining the Wombles role in this recycling of utter corporate garbage.

    By then we will have heard from the people pulling the POL puppets strings.

    More POL Oddle Poddle.

    1. Thanks for your great new site and these entries, Mr Wallis. Keep up the great work! Hope you’ll be adding new episodes to your Post Office Scandal podcasts, too.
      Only a rugby enthusiast could wade through the scrum of all these witnesses to get to the bottom of all this.
      And they’ve got the right man with Wyn Williams. Good luck to him.

  7. Need to find who gave the shredding order.

    David Posnett, David Pardoe , and especially John Scott all should be prosecuted.

    Please tell me they are not going to get away with this

  8. When word got around POL that Gareth Jenkins was a tainted witness, Horizon was no longer robust and bunker-blinker-mode was activated by the Post Office.

    What intrigues me is how slow POL staff appear to act from this point onward.

    Years go by and the faithful Post Office ltd corporate response seems to be delay, delay and obfuscate. All these clever well paid professionals could not find a way out of the hole they dug themselves, so they collectively kept digging and tried to bury the truth as deep as they could.

    Second Sights Independent Inquiry = cynical delay tactic from POL
    Token Mediation Scheme = a more cynical delay tactic and fishing expedition for existing incriminating evidence
    Lawyers paid a billion pounds of tax payers money = obfuscate the truth for as long as inhumanly possible

    The people at POL and their lawyers knew a lot more than they telling us today and should be quietly soiling themselves for ever parroting the line “Horizon is robust”.

  9. Excellent report , look forward to more!


    RE: “Crackle…”

    Henry, Stein and Jacobs, too. Jason Beer has got some real steel. But Blake is bland and Sam and Emma are Grade A wet blankets; regrettably, none of the ladies representing ‘Interested Parties’ are up to snuff.

    The sharper witnesses are really getting a free pass most of the time.

    1. Adrian Thomas avatar
      Adrian Thomas

      Julian Blake has a mild approach but I don’t think that means ineffective. When things got interesting, he didn’t suddenly change style to put witness on notice, but just let him keep talking. It won’t take long to move from A list to KC.

      I’m a fan of Jason Beer of course. Good to watch. But you could say that he gives off “tells”.

      Steen irritates me. Even when asking Cipione and retired civil servants questions, it’s an aggressive style ” right…OK…now then.. “. Since he does it all the time with anyone it seems calculated to give a bit of show fir his postmaster… “go on, punch him again”. So I rather tune him out. I assume that outside of this theatrical production he is more varied.

  11. I found Mr Smiths evidence highly dubious. He was deflecting throughout, and more than willing to throw his associates- and anyone else that could take the wrap – under the proverbial. How many more times will we hear evidence that a crucial email was not read for utterly implausible reasons. I hope counsel for subpostmaster highlight this ludicrous testimony tomorrow.

    1. Malcolm Sharp avatar
      Malcolm Sharp

      A crucial “non recall” will be Richard Callard who “does not recall ever receiving such a briefing” (The Deloitte Briefing) despite being emailed a copy by Alwen Lyons, along with the rest of the board, on 4th June 2014 at 19:26 BST. It is good that the Govt’s representative on the Post Office Board was on the ball and looking after the taxpayers interest.

  12. As an ex Post Office employee, an ex Horizon trainer for subpostmasters and someone who had Angela van den Bogerd for a line manager, this has all been a lot for me to cope with. The enormity has been overwhelming and knowing what I do about the effects on so many people’s lives is mentally exhausting to process. Then there are days like today. Watching and listening to these buffoons simply reminded me of my childhood. They put me in mind of watching a rerun of The Magic Roundabout.

  13. Disclosure violations up the wazoo here – some pieces of the jigsaw are still missing but there’s about three days of Andrew Parsons and Jarnail Singh to come.

    1. Unfortunately, those of us who watched Jarnail Singh’s previous two days of oral testimony to the Inquiry last year know that his appearance this Friday will provide zero clarity around the questions raised today. I just hope Jason Beer KC’s patience isn’t stretched too far.

    2. I can’t listen to Jarnail give evidence as it makes me nauseated. I’ll use Nick as a filter for the nonsensical spewing in the form of a “I’m not a legal expert” defense from a Solicitor and Head of Criminal prosecutions ‘copulating’ at the Post Office.

  14. Find the lawyers rep the enquiry – are like listening to recipes being discussed…its only when Mr Heny and Mr Stein ask questions do we get any “crackle”

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