Experts, execs and turning Japanese
Phase 2 Week 2 of the inquiry gets underway today. Charles Cipione, the inquiry’s own IT expert gives his assessment of the Horizon IT system. It’ll be interesting to hear how his examination and conclusions differ from those of Mr Justice Fraser in 2019.
I’m not sure we’ll get the fireworks we did last week, but those could be famous last words. Cipione will be speaking for most of the next two days, and then on Thursday we’ll hear from Paul Rich, former Post Office Development Director and on Friday Peter Copping, a former Director of PA Consulting Group will give evidence. John Roberts, former Post Office Managing Director will also give evidence, but it’s not clear if this will be on Thursday or Friday.
I am still wrestling with the vast amount of interesting stuff which came to light last week. I am grateful to Professor Richard Moorhead for alerting us to the written submission of UKGI, which takes the form of a report covering the chronology of the scandal from a corporate governance perspective.
What leaps from the page is that the Post Office board were fed nonsense by the Post Office executive management team but were too incurious to challenge it.
There comes a point in late 2015 where UKGI notes that “it was not adequate simply to rely on POL’s assurances as to the integrity of the Horizon system.” ie they recognised the Post Office was either incapable of telling the truth or did not have the capacity to understand it.
When the directors and shareholders of a company can no longer trust the executive management to deliver honest information, it’s time to get rid of them. What did UKGI do? Support the commission another report – this time, the Swift Review, which Post Office executive management (and the Post Office Chairman) kept from the board.
UKGI’s stern, responsible tone actually belies its complicity in the scandal and I hope the inquiry starts to pull apart the actions of the UKGI/ShEx board members (Susannah Storey, Richard Callard and Tom Cooper) far more critically than UKGI seems to have done.
Second Sight and Mark Davies
There are two other striking things about the UKGI written opener. The first is the complete lack of praise for Second Sight’s heroic activities in prising open the Horizon can of worms from the inside.
UKGI merrily lists the criticism Second Sight was getting from the Post Office, the JFSA and some work done by Linklaters as if that justified the board’s lack of interest in Second Sight’s incredibly important work. At one point UKGI wonders wistfully whether the “active consideration should have been given by the Board as to whether the appointment of Second Sight, a relatively small and inexperienced team of forensic accountants, was appropriate in the first place.”
Without Second Sight, the Post Office, Fujitsu, UKGI and the wider government (with the help of Brian Altman QC, Jonathan Swift QC et al) might have been able to keep a lid on the scandal. The paragraph above is telling.
The second thing which struck me was the involvement of the Post Office’s then director of communications and corporate affairs – Mark Davies – in trying to manage the Post Office’s response to the scandal, internally and externally.
Davies and the Post Office’s legal team came up with the idea of sacking Second Sight and closing down the Mediation Scheme working group, and he also appears to have been responsible for trying to get the BBC to delay or can the 2015 Panorama.
Davies is censured by UKGI for sending the BBC a “misleading and inaccurate” statement for public consumption before the programme was tx’d, which UKGI says should have been seen and signed-off by the full board. He seems a key reason why UKGI and the ministers could, by Autumn 2015, no longer “rely” on what was coming from the Post Office’s own executive management, and yet his role in this scandal has not been properly scrutinised.
Davies left the Post Office in late 2019 whilst the organisation was imploding around its catastrophic handling of the group litigation, and slunk away to the World Wide Web Foundation, where his work for the Post Office was championed alongside his work for Rethink Mental Illness. In 2020 Davies was diagnosed with cancer, successfully coming through his treatment in 2021. He is vocal on twitter, where he projects a matey, man-of-the-people persona, often taking the moral high ground on political issues of the moment.
Davies has, despite repeated interview requests, never addressed his role in the scandal, and nor has he, to the best of my knowledge, ever shown a scintilla of interest in the mental health of the Subpostmasters whose campaign he worked so assiduously to bury.
I’ve again asked Davies for an interview in the light of UKGI’s criticisms, but given the last communication I had from him was via his lawyers during the production of my book, I am not holding my breath. I very much hope the inquiry will consider him a person of interest.
If you want to read a more thorough fisking of UKGI’s written submissions, Professor Richard Moorhead has done his usual excellent and thoughtful job here. You can read all the core participants’ written submissions on the inquiry website here.
Do you read Japanese?
In July, after I had completed a talk about the Post Office scandal at the Leatherhead Theatre I was approached by a Japanese journalist – Matsuo Kimura – who was appalled by Fujitsu’s role in the Horizon scandal, which he said had received little or no traction in Japan. Mr Kimura asked for a comment and we had a recorded chat in the foyer of the Leatherhead theatre. Mr Kimura has just got in touch to inform me his piece has finally been published. It is in Japanese, but Mr Kimura says: “if you have spare time please try to translate by Google or DeepL. I hope Fujitsu in Tokyo will listen to you. Thank you very much for your cooperation.” I am grateful to Mr Kimura for his interest in this story.
A heartfelt (and for regular readers – now traditional) welcome to everyone who has joined the secret emailers in recent days, whether it’s through making a direct contribution to the tip jar, buying a book direct from the publishers, or making a contribution to the Horizon Scandal Fund via the widget on the website, I am very, very grateful. It’s good to have you on board.
After a note I made in a previous email I received a couple of queries from existing secret emailers about repeat donations. Whilst I am grateful to those who wish to help out, I would far rather you kept your money in your pocket and used what influence you have to spread the word about this newsletter. If you think you know someone who might find these emails useful, please just keep forwarding them on. If someone signs up as a result, that’s wonderful.
If you have donated before and you are determined to continue supporting me financially, please do consider buying a(nother) copy of my book, perhaps as a present for a friend or relative. That has a triple whammy effect of getting the word out there, financially supporting me and making a small indirect contribution to the Horizon Scandal Fund.
My publisher is currently taking pre-orders for the updated paperback version of The Great Post Office Scandal for the cover price of £13.99 with free P&P. Click here to order it. Shipping will start in November, well in time for Christmas. Due to the reduced margins on the paperback, we can only afford to donate 5% of our takings to the Horizon Scandal Fund, donations from the hardback income will stay at 10%.
When I say the paperback back has been updated, it has two extra chapters to reflect the events of the last twelve months – I haven’t completely revised the book. That’s probably going to happen after Sir Wyn reports in a couple of years’ time. If we’re all still here.
Listeners to Investigating the Post Office scandal will know we have interviewed the writer and producer of a play about the scandal called False Accounts.
It opens in Birmingham tonight. I know several secret emailers will be attending at least one of the nights in Brum. I am hoping to get to the play when it opens in West London in November. If anyone wants to send me a review of any of the nights in Birmingham (plus some photographs of the outside of the theatre – and, if you get them, any of you with the cast after the show), please hit reply to this email and we can get the notices up on the Post Office Scandal blog.
I know I mentioned it last week, but if you didn’t get a chance, do have a read about the legal big dogs who helped suppress the Post Office scandal and tried to assist the Post Office in having Mr Justice Fraser recused from Bates v Post Office. Nailing Sir Peter Fraser – the legal hit squad and Brian out of the shadows can both be found here.
That’s it from me for a bit. Rebecca Thomson will be at the inquiry today, so she might put something up on her substack newsletter tonight. I’ll be watching events remotely and then I’ll head up to London on Friday with Rebecca to live-tweet from the inquiry room, record another episode of our podcast and put together a blog post on the week’s events.
All that will come out on Friday night or over the weekend, along with another secret email alerting you to the content.
We are continuing to refine the postofficescandal.uk website, which is also funded by your kind donations. Thanks to everyone who has fed back formatting and content issues over the past week. We have been doing our best to fix them. Please do keep your feedback about any aspect of this newsletter and associated content coming.
Have a great week, and as ever, thank you for your continued support.