Nothing personal, Mr Castleton. It’s just justice…

Stephen Dilley giving evidence at the Inquiry today

Today, Stephen Dilley, a partner at Womble Bond Dickinson, gave evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. Womble have a long and inglorious history with the Post Office, right up to acting for them (disastrously) in the Bates v Post Office group litigation. Back when they were known as Bond Pearce, Dilley helped the Post Office destroy former Bridlington Subpostmaster Lee Castleton at the High Court. Today, Lee Castleton, and his wife Lisa sat before Dilley at the Inquiry.

Lee Castleton’s daughter, Millie-Jo, who is now in her twenties, has written to the Inquiry about her family’s experience at the hands of the Post Office. This is an edited version of her impact statement:

“I must have been 8 when I first took note the confusion, frustration and anxiety that was leeching into my home. This was before talks of court, trials and accusations of theft. This was the period that my father started noticing the IT faults that wouldn’t be taken seriously for so many years. In the years running up to my father’s trial in 2006 I vividly recall sitting on the staircase late at night, listening to conversations I barely understood or could really comprehend. To a child, the answer always seemed obvious, my father hadn’t done anything. Why didn’t people believe him? Why is the dining room table covered in papers as well as the back office of the post office, and why is he always down there late at night making phone calls and faxes?..

Millie Castleton

“This was an ordeal that not only cost my father legal fees, this was an event that blackened our name and branded us all with something that was unjustified. Court ruling, local gossip and unyielding arguments from the post office would lead to my whole family being branded as thieves and liars. It’s deeply sickening to look back to my life in that small town. A place that would in time, fill me with anxiety to walk through. How comfortable can anyone be when people spat at you based on what you know is a lie? It was also a lonely time, the financial strain of legal fees and supporting the family saw my dad working near 100-hour weeks, often involving traveling and spending days on end away from us. He became a stranger to me, someone I barely saw and lost close relationship with. My mother worked too during the day, upholding the newsagents we still had, which was failing due to the label attached to us and it after the legal case.

“I remember feeling cold and terrified when a child on the bus in my first week asked, ‘didn’t your dad steal loads of money or something?’ This set me on edge for a long time, causing me to become that ever so anxious child who regularly was the subject of bullying. After a few incidents of supposed friends treating me poorly, I completely disconnected.

“At home I was dealing with parents who were working their hardest to provide, utterly pained by the stress that the post office trial caused them. Dad was working insane hours as well as beginning to work with others to try and solve the many emerging cases of other sub-postmasters and post-mistresses like him. My mother was also working as much as she could but also dealing with a stress- induced epilepsy. She lost her driving licence as a result and had to take medication. These seizures where unpredictable at first when the medication was still new. I remember having to handle her seizures alone as a child, sometimes in the middle of the night.

“I didn’t tell my parents about the bullying or social withdrawal. They didn’t know I spent my breaks sitting alone or just walking around, they didn’t know I could go a day or two without really talking. They didn’t know that I was assaulted on the school bus and had to run off on the first stop, wet from water being thrown at me, being spat on and having been hit by paper balls. In my mind this was an additional stressor they didn’t need. I could deal with it alone and not put more weight on their load. I just felt like such a burden all the time.

“My late teens and early twenties were governed by my eating disorder and mental anxieties. I began to sink under the weight of it all and subsequent grabbed for some sense of control. I was anxious about going to university and leaving my family. Mum was still having seizures and Dad was still fighting a legal battle, I felt guilty. Leaving and not being able to help more. I left, already dealing with an undiagnosed at the time eating disorder. It began in my GCSE year, just eating less bit by bit and skipping out on the canteen and pack lunches to avoid questions. By this point I was visibly skinny. Living alone however gave way to me being vulnerable to all my demons… By the end of my first year of university I had been diagnosed as anorexic and too sick to go to my second year… My lowest weight saw me weighing little more than 5-stone and having to stay in hospital for heart related issues for days on end. I’d be lying if I claimed that this wasn’t a cry for help. The surrender of a broken spirit, the pain and self-loathing if someone who just couldn’t escape a terrible situation. Every part of my late childhood and teens was absolutely tainted by the post office case.

“But I fought. I tried. I’m better for it. Not perfect but better, part of me will always feel a little broken-up. I still feel a burning fear at spending larger sums of money or doing something purely for myself. That nagging voice in my head still says ugly things sometimes. It still tells me that my past and family’s struggle will define me, that it will be a branding on my skin forever. Broken, thief or liar.”

At the outset of his cross-examination, Julian Blake, counsel to the Inquiry, asked Dilley:

“Having reflected on the evidence of the Inquiry as a whole, is there anything that you would like to say to Mr Castleton or his family?”

Dilley replied: “No there isn’t.”

Dilley spent the rest of the day arguing the toss with Blake over his behaviour and attitude towards the Castleton case, covering his backside by justifying his decisions as not just thoroughly professional, but absolutely correct at all times. He tried to re-shape the meaning of contemporaneous documentary evidence when it suited him to do so, and seemed to be suggesting that Castleton was largely hung by his own bad decisions – including his refusal to settle. Settlement, it transpired, was only acceptable to the Post Office on their terms – paying the Post Office a “debt” Castleton did not owe, and signing a non-disparagement statement stating that the errors in his branch were human errors, and that the Horizon system “did not contribute to the error[s] in any way”.

Understandably Castleton was unwilling to “settle” in this way. Flora Page, Castleton’s barrister, called the settlement offer “a sham”, suggesting the real reason for offering such unreasonable terms was so the Post Office could take Castleton to court and make an example of him.

“Absolutely not,” replied Dilley, firmly.

The overall impression I got was that Dilley couldn’t give a **** about Castleton (or his family) then, and he certainly couldn’t give a **** about them now. It was a case of: sorry mate, purely business. I suspect Dilley’s back will be warmly slapped by his WBD litigation colleagues when he gets back to the office.

Incidentally, legal gossip site Roll On Friday trailed Dilley’s appearance before the Inquiry. Underneath the article was a comment from an unverified source:

“As a non-litigation Womble I am deeply angry about this. Stephen was removed from the Post Office litigation team after this case by the client partner who was based in Southampton because Stephen very ironically was not regarded as aggressive enough! The following cases were given to a “young buck” who did the client partner’s bidding and more. Both of them were promoted off the back of Post Office and given culture-busting bonuses. It is an open secret in Wombles about who knew what and when. I only hope we can hold our hands up for the sake of the 33 who lost their lives before they could prove their innocence and for their families. It is about integrity. Time to draw a line. Sadly our board are too weak to stand up and do the right thing. To all of us non-litigators it is deeply depressing and embarrassing. I fear worse is to come.”

You can watch Mr Dilley’s evidence here. A write up of this morning’s session can be found in this Law Gazette piece, by the superb John Hyde, who has been sitting behind me all day.


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20 responses to “Nothing personal, Mr Castleton. It’s just justice…”

  1. Although I came to the Inquiry late, because of my own Human Rights abuse situation, I’m playing catch-up on my phone. I just don’t know where to begin! My thoughts and deepest sympathies must go to ALL those people affected by the disgusting criminal actions of POL and others! How in the name of Heaven did you expect to get away with this! At the very least you deserve a damn good thrashin, in every sense of the word! Massive praise to the truthful and courageous, and of course to Sir Wynn and all in the Inquiry Team. What goes round comes round, one way or another. KARMA!

    1. Let’s hope so…

  2. Another post office svandal solicitor who should be held to account by the law society.

    Potential clients should look carefully at this man’s evidence before engaging him or his firm.

    Or did he treat his verbose testimony as a chance to advertise just how appallingly low his behaviour is capable of sinking.

    Who would want to be associated with a man who has zero compassion and was happy to be involved in ruining lives without robust evidence.

    1. Ann, the legal system is riddled with crooked lawyers. So much so you can happily regard the lawyer joke circuit as many a true word is spoken in jest.

  3. Mayoma Ekeruche avatar

    Watching the details unfold around the post office scandal is like watching a playback of my experience over the last ten (10) years. A known IT loophole/backdoor is exploited by a corporate body to harass, criminalize and dispossess employees/contractors. In my case it lead to a wrong diagnosis of psychosis on which basis the corporation decided I was unfit to carry out a leadership role.

    The similarities are stark. Failure of supposedly independent bodies/authorities/services that could have and should have held the corporation to account. The unions, who brand themselves as champions of workplace fairness, are conspicuously absent in any tales of vindication for the postmasters. External auditors and risk managers who failed to spot discrepancies and/or effectively challenge high-risk practices. The court system rendered ineffective by the conduct of proceedings which is commonplace in the UK – the use of threats, non disclosure agreements (NDA’s) and pressured timescales to force a settlement based on LIES, BIG LIES; the failure to disclose known material evidence; and in my case the manufacture of false evidence and tampering of evidence using the loophole/backdoor in IT systems.

    For me the similarity that is so gut wrenching is the scape-goating of victims who dare to maintain their innocence as a tactic to deter others from ever speaking up. The order from the corporations to their enforcers is: “shoot to kill, show no mercy.” In their skewed mentality, the victims become the “high risk” to be eliminated.

    I am so glad that the tide has turned in favour of the victims. That the deep pockets of corporations, the professional cloak of “trustworthiness” of their experts and lawyers, the reach of their lobbyists and press teams have been dismantled by the willingness of ordinary people to endure hardships in pursuit of the truth.

    I am not surprised that it has taken over twenty (20) years for the tide to turn in favour of the victims. Time is weaponized by those who wield power and resources to force ordinary people to surrender. I have just one question to ask – why did everyone who knew the truth (except the victims) fail to act? And there are lots of people who knew across different organisations. For me, it is understandable that things can go wrong, what is indefensible is for bad actors to continue to be given free rein to destroy human life when they have been called out.

    For context, my experience of the UK legal system began in April 2014 when I filed for divorce (hence the 10 years). That was my first experience of lawyers using threats, withholding information and approving knowingly false witness statements. This practice was repeated in my next encounter with the justice system in an employment case. I’ve just spotted that my corporation used the same law firm as the post office, what a coincidence.

    1. Hi Mayoma, I was a victim of a crooked lawyer who covertly played both sides to conceal important evidence from a court to protect my deep pocketed corporate opponents from going to jail. The amusing thing: my opponents lawyer once worked for the same law firm as Stephen Dilley. Looks like Lee Castleton had no chance.

  4. From the Law Gazette

    “The inquiry heard that Dilley and his team had estimated it would take three to four weeks to go through the thousands of calls which would cost the Post Office up to £3,000. The organisation ended up spending £300,000 overall on the Castleton litigation.”

    Imagine an alternative scenario where they wonder whether Castleton was right, pay the £3,000, find the error, drop the charges, pay damages as they stood then and come up with proper protocols for dealing with Horizon discrepancies.

    Would have cost a lot less, in every sense of the word.

    1. From what I’ve gathered from Mr Bates Vs the Post Office on ITV, and the excellent account given by Nick Wallis in his book, The Great Post Office Scandal, it would appear that the Post Office, by lies and coercion, stole thousands of pounds from vulnerable Sub-Postmasters under the pretext, “You are the only one having problems with Horizon” when they knew hundreds of Sub-postmasters were having problems with Horizon. Example: £36,000 was stolen from Jo Hamilton as a ‘payback’ for a missing £36,O00 that didn’t exist, which would suggest that the only ‘missing’ £36,000 is somewhere within the Post Office coffers. And not just Jo Hamilton, it looks like hundreds of Sub-postmasters were scammed out of thousands of pounds by this method, resulting in millions of pounds ending up within the Post Office coffers? Why do I suspect a carefully organised corporate crime?

  5. It does not appear to be about anything other than the inept privileged who manage a government department celled the P.O, without any restraint although they would not really qualify for any more than a sweeper in a private company. It is just a case of stamping on anyone who may get close to exposing their incompetence.

  6. The fact that the Government and the Post Office are requesting unknown victims to ‘come forward and get in touch with the appropriate authorities’ epitomises what a mess the entire business systems of the Post Office are in!

    Do the Post Office (or indeed their lawyers who have erroneously received so much of tax payers money) not know who they have prosecuted over the past 20 years as a result of this ill fated computer system implementation. The Post Office should be informing the Justice Department how many people they may have wrongly prosecuted and who they are. The fact the Post Office don’t seem able to do this suggests that they have no Personnel Records and anyone who was correctly prosecuted by the Post Office in the past for criminal action could return for more ill gotten gains without the Post Office knowing! Perhaps this is why the Post Office were telling victims they were the only ones affected by this problem can we assume the Post Office were in such a mess they didn’t know how many people were affected.

    This is not just about one computer system that has been used to do so much damage to completely innocent victims it is about the entire management and business systems of the Post Office.

    If I was investigating this I would be looking very closely at all the personal relationships of the very senior management in the Post Office. It would not be the first time an entirely inappropriate computer system had been purchased for a large company purely on the basis of a personal relationship! I would also be looking very closely at where all the money involved had supposedly and actually ended up including that repaid by the victims. The Post Office do not seem to have provided an audit trail of for the money they claim went missing. Any financial computer system that does not include audit trails should always be regarded with great suspicion as should the people managing it.

    1. Frank Birchenough avatar
      Frank Birchenough

      The contract was placed by the government. Peter Lilley was the minister in charge. Perhaps this is why there has been such a cover up. As Lord Grabiner said in evidence in the Bates case in 2019, when he unveiled the rather rash attempt to recuse Peter Fraser “This is regarded as an extremely serious application to be making. It was made at board level within the client, and it also involved the need for me to be got up to speed from a standing start.” Note Board Level, and in 2019; just before the whole cover up was blown away by the judgement. The Post Office Limited is a wholly government owned company, financed through subsidies from the taxpayer by the Chancellor of the exchequer, and with a government nominated and controlled member (Callard I believe) on the board of directors. This civil servant is the eyes and ears of the government. As POL is essentially in the pocket of government, either the whole board lied to ministers, including to the government nominated director, a civil servant with his career and pension at risk, or the government knew and agreed to every lie, foul and illegal tactic, trial disruption, the destruction and hiding of evidence and documents etc. And then sat on their hands for nearly five years in the fervent hope all the subbies died before they got any money. Frank Birchenough

  7. Even if the Post Office ‘management’ genuinely believed that the people they seem so proud to have destroyed were guilty they still have some very serious questions to answer.

    In that case they need to explain why for 20 years they operated a computer system, the purpose of which was to process financial transactions correctly but which allowed people to regularly steal tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money and did nothing whatsoever to change the computer system so that these thefts could not occur.

    I presume had the Mr Bates and the other courageous people who stood up to these egregious people and their lawyers, auditors and all the other fat cats that support their legally dishonest actions they would still be using this computer system in the same way!

    I believe the Post Office Board should be charged with Corporate Manslaughter at the very least!

    1. Yes – why were they spending so much money on litigation instead of establishing whether there were errors?

      No IT system is bomb proof, particularly one with third party integration. It’s ridiculous to suggest that this case would prove the integrity of Horizon, or that it was legitimate to put pressure on post masters to absorb losses instead of reporting faults.

      I wonder if there is a claim to be made against the law firm for poor advice, given the eventual cost to the post office of pursuing this strategy.

    2. To M magill – I also presume that had it not been for Mr Bates and the other courageous people, the Post Office would still be using Horizon in the same way. After all, what a money spinner for the Post Office, together with the contract making Sub-postmasters responsible for shortfall. And it was so covert. Had it not been for ITV airing Mr Bates Vs the Post Office and Nick Walis’s book, The Great Post Office Scandal, I and most of the nation would never have heard of Horizon.

  8. […] If you want to read the effect of the Post Office’s actions on Lee’s daughter, Millle, you can read this or listen to episode 15 of the BBC’s Great Post Office […]

  9. OMG OMG.
    Do these people have no empathy, no humanity?
    People still won’t admit they got it wrong.
    Millie-Jo, I hope you are ok

  10. I am in awe of the Castletown family and all the families who have been blighted by the pernicious treatment meted out by POL. To persist, to appeal, to believe that the truth will out and exonerate them over a 20 year period is truly courageous. There is no happy ending to this horrific tragedy for the Castletons or the Bates. It really hurts me to say that but we understand their operating challenge as ex-SPM’s. EVERY SUB BRANCH that operated HORIZON experienced to different degrees surplus and or losses, no branch escaped the eye watering outputs of a HORIZON generated monthly trading statement but the massed ranked of ordinary shopkeepers kept quiet and just made the adjustments as part of operating a sub-post office . POL must be dismantled to root and branch, rebranded and rebuilt into a business that values people before profit or reputation, because how we treat other is what separates us from Lions.

  11. I’ve spent all day watching the oral evidence of Dilley: a verbose, arrogant, despicable weasel of a man. He seemed to think the day would be run to HIS timetable, rather than Sir Wyn’s or Justin Blake’s, regularly demanding documents be put up to refresh his memory on some minor and/or irrelevant point. He spent so long reframing many of Justin Blake’s questions (when a simple Yes or No would have sufficed) that the session was set to over-run – in fact, I wondered if this was a deliberate tactic on his part. The Core Participants had an hour of questions at the end, but were reduced to just 20 minutes so the day could end on time. When Sir Wyn requested that everyone return tomorrow morning to finish the CP’s questions, the supremely arrogant Dilley said he’d preferred if they finished today!
    Well, I can now spend the evening NOT screaming at my TV screen, but I’m ready to recommence tomorrow at 9.30am (an earlier start to accommodate the odious Dilley!).

    1. I’m watching it now. He’s so infuriating! What a nasty, smug, little man. Every time he does that ‘hmm hmm’ thing, when Justin Blake is reading, I’m close to screaming!! I can’t not watch this to the end though… argh!!

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