Summit meeting to discuss cooperation
Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, appears to have slightly softened his stance towards the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry now it has been put on a statutory footing. The inquir is chaired by a retired judge, Sir Wyn Williams.
In a circular to members of the JFSA, Mr Bates said:
“At the moment most of the statements being issued just suggest there will be powers to make witnesses appear and for requested documents to be provided. But in reality a Statutory Inquiry can do so much more, and it is really down to the judge leading the inquiry to set out how he sees the inquiry progressing and what ground he want to cover.
“If you happened to have seen the statements about the inquiry yesterday where it lists the ‘new’ Terms of Reference (ToR), you like me, would have seen there was almost no difference to the ToR of the current non-statutory inquiry, which we refused to engage with for reasons I have previously listed.
“Yet now it is to be relaunched as a Statutory Inquiry, something we were pressing for to the extent that BEIS [the Business ministry] knew that next week we were to submit an application for Judicial Review in order to halt the current ‘whitewash’ inquiry and establish a Statutory Inquiry.
“In fact BEIS already had all our paperwork, including the legal argument that had been prepared for the court. So this sudden change of heart by the Minister was probably instigated more by advice from his legal department than from any concern for doing the right thing. And we should give a big thank you to our legal team at Howe’s for their work in bringing pressure to bear.
“So now there is to be a Statutory Inquiry, something we were after, the question is, are we going to engage with it? The big problem is that they have just gone ahead and slightly revamped the ToR without any public consultation as to what others believe should form part of the Inquiry.
“Following his announcement in the Commons yesterday the Minister and I met (virtually) to discuss the JFSA response to his statement. My first concern was the ToR and how little they changed and the limited scope surrounding the Inquiry.
“In summary his answers were that it was very much down to Sir Wyn Williams who chairs the inquiry to decide the parameters and direction of the inquiry, and so I agreed that we would meet with Sir Wyn to clarify how he intends to take the inquiry forward before making a final decision about engaging with it.
“They say the ‘devil is in the detail’ and that’s what we need to see now, we’ve learnt the hard way that you don’t take the word of POL or BEIS but you can usually rely on the judiciary.”
I am grateful to the secret emailer who forwarded me Mr Bates’ circular about twenty minutes before I interviewed the BEIS minister Paul Scully this morning. It meant I was able to put some of the points in it directly to him. I won’t spoil the Radio 4 exclusive other than to say when I asked if it was the threat of a judicial review application which made BEIS hump up the inquiry’s powers, Mr Scully replied: “No.”
Computer Weekly has also written up the JFSA position here.
Chris Head – an energetic campaigner, former Subpostmaster and High Court claimant who met with Nick Read (the Post Office CEO) recently, has explained his position on the upgraded inquiry here.
Some of the legal bods who were either involved with or pored over the recent Court of Appeal shenanigans are gathering for a Zoom discussion at 4.30pm on 7 June hosted by University College London. It’s free to regester and attend. Paul Marshall, Flora Page, Richard Moorhead and Nick Gould will all be speaking. You can watch and lob questions by clicking here.
Incidentally Paul Marshall recently wrote a lengthy piece about the length of time it took his Subpostmaster clients to get justice. It seems to be getting traction on goddawfulsocialmediasite LinkedIn.
Whilst we’re on the subject of legal long reads, there’s another interesting Law Gazette piece using the Subpostmasters’ campaign as a way into a wider discussion about miscarriages of justice and the problems with guilty pleas. The newly-exonerated and deeply wonderful Janet Skinner gave an interview to the Law Gazette as part of the piece. You can read it all here. I interviewed Janet for Panorama last year. She let us into her home, took us to her former Post Office and let us drive her to the police station where she was duped into an interview under caution by Post Office investigators. What happened to her after that beggars belief. She is an extraordinary and extraordinarily strong woman.
Speaking of strong women – Ms Merritt from Yetminster in Dorset has been in touch recently. Pilloried in the local press when she was targeted by the Post Office, but now completely exonerated, I think even Tracey was surprised when her local rag made her and former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells the subject of their weekly cartoon!
Noel honoured by his community
Noel Thomas’ entire life has been about service and family. He was sent to prison because the Post Office chose to believe their awful computer system over his personal integrity. Noel was one of the 39 people whose convictions were quashed on 23 April at the Court of Appeal. I am absolutely delighted that he is going to be recognised by the local council he served in Anglesey until he was forced to resign due to his prosecution.
There is a piece about it here and a follow up by the BBC here. I hope that round the country local councils and newspapers take note. Why not extend the same courtesy to the people within your community, who, like Noel, were criminalised for no reason…
The generosity of strangers
Finally, take a look at this…
It is a letter to Michael and Susan Rudkin, whose story featured recently in Sabah Meddings piece in the Sunday Times. Susan was among the first six people in this scandal to have their convictions quashed on 11 Dec last year.
The letter they received reads:
“Dear Michael and Susan Rudkin
I am appalled to read in my Sunday paper the problems you have been through with the Post Office. Here is a token from an 83 year old pensioner.
John Smith (former school teacher)”
The letter contained, as you can see, a five pound note.
Michael has very kindly allowed me to share the letter and the photograph to remind us that helping others is a universal human trait, no matter what our resources.
Have a relaxing weekend.