Trials and tribulations
Hi secret emailers
Hope all is well with you. I spent the first part of today at the High Court chasing my application for a copy of the JFSA’s claim, the particulars of claim, the amended particulars of claim and the Post Office’s defence in the Bates v Post Office GLO you hopefully know something about.
I made a paper application in person for the above documents two weeks ago in a little office somewhere in the East Wing of the High Court. To say this office is hard to locate is something of an understatement. The directions handed out at the High Court reception are a half page of A4 long. Part of it takes you through a room known as the Bear Garden. It is all very peculiar.
When I got there I was told it would take fourteen days to locate and photocopy these documents. Only when they were ready to collect would I be told how much I would have to pay to release them. Then I would be given a docket, sent to a payment office, and the people there would take my payment, stamp my docket, send me back to the relevant office and release the paperwork. It felt like I was trying to retrieve something from the 18th century.
I got there this morning before the office opened (having been taught a new, simpler, but longer way to get there by one of the Press Association’s High Court reporters) and was second in the queue. The door was opened at 10am. There are three counter windows in the office. It is not clear they have different designations but they do.
Two weeks ago I queued at one window for 15 minutes to be told when I got to the front I was queuing at the wrong window. There was no way of telling the windows apart, but I noticed the electronic signs which might have given me some clue were switched off. I didn’t say anything.
I had to rejoin the back of the queue at another window where I spent a further 10 minutes watching the man who had sent me away twiddle his thumbs at his empty counter.
Eventually my form was taken and stamped. Luckily I had taken a photo of it before handing it in as I didn’t get a receipt.
“What happens now?” I asked.
“Come back in two weeks.” she said, so I did.
Which is how I found myself queuing up two weeks later (at the correct window, this time) to discover no one had done anything about my request.
One member of staff who was not on counter duty was so obviously embarrassed by this he took it upon himself to go to the relevant office, locate the documents and order that they be photocopied immediately. He returned to explain the situation and after receiving his reassurance that this was definitely happening I waited.
Half an hour later I approached the counter window wondering what might be going on. The nice man was alerted by one of his colleagues to the fact I was still there, document-less. The nice man apologised again disappeared off into the bowels of the High Court.
Whilst he was gone I pointed out to the woman behind the counter that the signs which may or may not tell visitors which counter window was relevant to their enquiry were still not functioning. She seemed surprised by this and called over a colleague. He was less surprised.
There has, apparently, been a problem with them for a while. At least two weeks, by my reckoning, but not long enough for anyone to put up temporary signs. I didn’t say anything.
Eventually, success. I walked out of the High Court at 11am after shelling out £102 for just under 200 sheets of photocopied paper. I still haven’t had time to read them.
My next engagement was with a crowdfunding backer who was sacked by the Post Office this year after supposedly “losing” tens of thousands of pounds. He is not part of the class action as this happened to him after the window for applications closed. He was an IT contractor before becoming a Subpostmaster. He was making a good living working 100 hours a week doing a job he loved. He was audited last year, suspended on the spot for a massive Horizon discrepancy, interviewed under caution and then told he would not be prosecuted providing he made good the discrepancy. He paid up and was then sacked. He has tried to find out how the discrepancy could possibly have been caused. He was told to his face by the Post Office it couldn’t be anything other than theft either by him or the family member who worked with him.
He showed me documents. He told me some eye-opening stuff. In his opinion the Post Office did not properly investigate what could have caused the loss. He tried to do his own investigation after contacting other Subpostmasters who gave him advice. The Post Office dismissed his efforts, but wouldn’t, or couldn’t show him what they had done to eliminate every other possibility but theft.
After working all his life and “never even having so much as a parking ticket”, he’s now £100,000 in debt and driven to distraction by what has happened. He’s sad and angry and utterly disheartened at losing a business he’d done so much to build up.
I told him I was grateful he’d taken the time to meet me, but the likely media focus over the next few months would be on the trial and its claimants. I put him in touch with some people who may be able to help him.
Then I had a call booked with a GLO claimant who ran a successful Post Office for several years before racking up a Horizon discrepancy, out of the blue, for tens of thousands of pounds in two weeks. He was audited, suspended, told he wouldn’t be criminally prosecuted, sacked and, on this occasion, pursued for the discrepancy through the civil courts. He told me he didn’t take any cash, nor could he find out what he was supposed to have done wrong. He has successfully got the civil action parked whilst the GLO is ongoing. I haven’t seen any documentation in this person’s case, but I suspect he wouldn’t have been taken on as part of the class action without someone looking through his paperwork.
Then, finally, I went to the Rolls Building to check out court 26 (where the trial will start on Wednesday) and see if I could find out in advance how the flow of information and documents to journalists interested about the case could be directed.
Court 26 is on the third floor of the Rolls Building. It’s the biggest court room I’ve been in, with most of the space given over to lawyers’ benches. There is probably seating for 100-odd observers.
My enquiries with regard to the dissemination of information were given short shrift. As things stand both the claimants and defence have refused to tell me the names of their witnesses.
At the Rolls Building I was told that if the claimants or defence don’t want to release the names of their witnesses before they stand up in court, tough cheese. And my informal request to agree a method of ensuring documents referred to in court could be seen by journalists was dealt with thus:
“If you want to make any specific application to the trial Judge as a member of the press, there are certain procedures you would have to follow, upon which I cannot advise you.”
Well, of course not.
There are good pieces about the forthcoming trial in today’s Daily Mail and last week’s Private Eye which I urge you to buy and read. The Daily Mail piece is free online here:
I’m going to spend tomorrow ploughing through the information I was able to get hold of this morning and will post you a précis tomorrow. I will also start following certain mysterious procedures.
Please hit reply if you have any comments or thoughts.