Perkins in Wonderland: Day 1

Alice Perkins takes the oath

The Post Office scandal did not happen, or get covered up because of a single Machiavellian baddie. It happened because a bunch of serially incompetent people spent oodles of other people’s cash groping their way around a crisis without the competence or moral backbone to do the right thing.

Alice Perkins, Chair of the Post Office between 2011 and 2015, has all the hallmarks of a capable, clever person. And it’s true that capable, clever people sometimes makes serious mistakes, or lots of regular stupid mistakes, whilst surrounded by people making similar stupid mistakes. Maybe.

But, come on. The short story is that the appalling experiences of multiple Subpostmasters, whether channelled through the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, James Arbuthnot and his group of MPs, journalists, or the rigorous independence of Second Sight was staring Perkins and the Post Office in the face for years. Years. The only people telling the Post Office that the Post Office had done nothing wrong were Post Office staff and its compliant contractors (hello, Brian Altman KC).

That should have told these witless corporate drones something. But it didn’t. And all of us remain completely mystified as to why.

Watching Alice

Over five painstaking hours, Jason Beer KC today showed Alice Perkins all the opportunities she had to challenge, change, intervene and make a difference to the course of the scandal. Time and again she failed.

She hadn’t read Computer Weekly or Private Eye before taking the job. She listened to her external auditor, Angus Grant from Ernst and Young tell her right at the beginning of her tenure that the Horizon IT system was a “real risk”, as its accounts could not be verified. She did nothing.

Sir Wyn Williams

After taking the oath, Perkins’ evidence began with the Inquiry Chair, Sir Wyn Williams, reminding her of her “privilege against self-incrimination”. This suggests she is a person of interest to the Metropolitan Police, who are currently investigating a possible conspiracy to pervert the course of justice at the Post Office.

Then came the obligatory apology, in which Perkins told Subpostmasters and their families that despite her “serious efforts” to get to the bottom of what was going on, “I did not succeed in doing so during my four years at the Post Office and therefore the suffering of those affected was prolonged.”

Perkins witness statement was entered into evidence. It is a whopping 232 pages long and can be downloaded here. I suspect there are some gems within.

Bright start

The two gold stars we can put in Perkins’ achievement chart are her determination to instigate an independent review of the Horizon system (which led to the Second Sight Interim Report) and her equal determination to ensure that any review of campaigning Subpostmaster cases included those with criminal convictions.

When asked why, in March 2012, she volunteered an investigation of the Horizon system during a meeting with James (now Lord) Arbuthnot, she told Jason Beer: “I had had the meeting with Mr Grant. I was aware that Private Eye had been covering this. It was clear to me that Lord Arbuthnot was very concerned about this issue. I took him seriously and I think at this point I’d come to the view… that we should take a fresh look at this to see for ourselves.”

Two days after the meeting with Arbuthnot, Post Office board minutes record her telling her fellow directors that she and Company Secretary Alwen Lyons “met James Arbuthnot at his request to discuss the Subpostmaster cases questioning the integrity of the Horizon system. The chairman hoped that she could find a way to convince him and the other MPs that the system was not at fault.”

Beer wondered why Perkins was proposing an investigation designed to convince MPs the system was not at fault.
“It was not my intention”, she replied.
“Why did you tell the board that it was?” asked Beer.
“I don’t know”, said Perkins.

We were taken to notes Perkins apparently made after a private dinner she had with her CEO Paula Vennells at The Zetter restaurant in Clerkenwell on 19 March 2012. Included in the notes were the statements:

“We do not like prosecuting sub-postmasters. We are one of the very few public bodies who are allowed to bring our own prosecutions. Not something we take lightly. Our lawyers want a very high standard of proof (plus, no one would take lightly the decision to plead guilty to a criminal charge). We have taken a number of cases to the criminal court and we’ve never lost.” and “Horizon records transactions in great detail and with total transparency. All the keystrokes are recorded so we can reconstruct precisely what a Subpostmaster has done.”

Jason Beer KC

Perkins agreed these notes are not her “thinking that up from nowhere” and accepts that it was highly likely Vennells told her this. She also agreed she was being given the Post Office “party line”, which held for the duration of Vennells’ tenure as CEO. It’s also interesting to note that this appears to be the earliest evidence that Vennells had become aware of the Post Office’s status as a prosecutor.

The Empire Pushes Back

Having made the offer to James Arbuthnot to set up an independent investigation, Perkins was nonplussed to discover that no one at the Post Office thought it was a good idea or was inclined to do anything about it.

“Did you feel that the business was pushing back unnecessarily?” asked Jason Beer.
Perkins did.
“Who in the business was pushing back unnecessarily?” he asked
“I thought that Susan Crichton [General Counsel] was definitely pushing back unnecessarily. I thought Mike Young [Chief Technical Officer] was pushing back unnecessarily, and those were the two people who I had in the front of my mind”, replied Perkins. This was apparently partly because Horizon had already been proved to be robust and “given everything else that the business was trying to do at the time that there wasn’t the capacity to do this as well.”

Perkins persevered and got her way. Second Sight were formally appointed in July 2012. Yet twelve months later, in the days leading up to the delivery of Second Sight’s interim report, Perkins seems to have gone native and was attempting to either shut down Second Sight’s report or stall it so the Post Office could get it changed:

Beer asked her: “What was your understanding of the concern amongst senior Post Office executives about the Second Sight review?”
“My understanding” replied Perkins, “was that the executives thought that there were likely to be things in the interim report statements made by Second Sight which were not properly substantiated by the evidence.”
“What steps, if any, did you take to ensure that you were fully aware of what those issues were”, asked Beer.
“I obviously at this stage didn’t know what was going to be in the Second Sight report”, said Perkins “but I would have been concerned that there might be things in that report which were critical without being properly substantiated.”
Beer tried again: “Were you given any evidence of that as opposed to what people were saying?”
“I simply can’t remember how much detail I was given about it at that point”, Perkins replied.

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less

Not crying, just blowing

Nonetheless Perkins had somehow become convinced that Second Sight were wrong-uns, telling Paula Vennells in the run up to a meeting with MPs (where the Interim Report would be discussed) that “the risks of getting heavy with Second Sight [are] deeply unattractive. But I haven’t heard anything yet which gives me hope that we can get this properly back on track… Keep aiming high here. That is for the goal of no interim, no meeting.”

Perkins told the Inquiry in her Witness Statement she did not know what she meant by writing “keep aiming high”. Beer pointed out that she explained herself in the following sentence. Kill the Interim Report. Kill the MP meeting.

Oh no, waffled Perkins: “What I had in mind there was not what some people might read into this…. I think that what I was expressing there was the thought that the Interim Report was premature, that this was that more time needed to be spent on on the work leading up to a document that was going to be public. That’s what… that’s what I think.”

Perkins was taken to another document she had written, this time on 31 July 2013 after a meeting in which she berated her General Counsel, Susan Crichton, for not keeping a tighter control of Second Sight. Perkins wrote:

“I understood that Second Sight’s investigation had to be independent but in the civil service there would have been someone marking it who was close to all of the key people – Second Sight, James Arbuthnot, JFSA – and knew what was going on between them… Susan Crichton said that as a lawyer, it was inappropriate for her to influence key stakeholders.”

Beer picked her up on this:

“Would you agree that marking someone means to stay close to them, usually an opponent, in order to hamper his or her play?”
“If you’re a footballer, that’s certainly what it means”, started Perkins, before conceding: “I realise that that verb and the one about influencing give a very particular impression of what I was trying to do.”

Perkins told Beer that marking an investigation meant something completely different, which was: “liaison… keeping the channels of communication open with people who are doing an independent review, knowing how their time frame is working out, knowing how their costs are building up, knowing what they’re planning to do in terms of the way they go about their work and when it’s going to be presented and finding out whether there are things that they are encountering which are causing them difficulty or anything else that the organisation can reasonably be expected to want to understand.”
It was, said Perkins: “absolutely not my intention that Susan or anybody else in the Post Office should be trying to influence the substance of Second Sight’s report.”

My understanding is completely right from my point of view

Beer clearly thought this was hogwash. “You meant mark in exactly that sense. Influence, hamper their conduct, stay close to them. You wanted the key people, Second Sight, James Arbuthnot and the JFSA influenced in their conduct, didn’t you?”
“No”, replied Perkins.
“If you didn’t mean that”, said Beer “or you were not understood… then can you explain why Susan Crichton replied in the second paragraph there that it was inappropriate for her to influence the key stakeholders.”
And here Alice really did enter Wonderland, suggesting that “there was a complete failure of communication between what it was that I had in mind and what she… she interpreted that I had in mind. So I was… I’ve already said this, I’m on oath and I’m a truthful person. I am absolutely categorical that I, it was never my intention for anybody in the Post Office to try to influence Second Sight’s evidence-based findings, and I can see that if that is what Susan thought I meant, why she didn’t think that that was a proper thing for her to do. Because it wouldn’t have been a proper thing for her or anybody to do.”
Beer spotted the obvious problem with this answer:
“Why did you not say, “Hold on, Susan, I’m not even suggesting that at all. You’ve got the wrong end of the stick.”
Perkins replied with one for the ages: “My understanding of it is completely right from my point of view.* What I am saying is that I completely failed to communicate what I was trying to say.”

More Beer

Beer reminded Perkins that Susan Crichton was under no doubt what Perkins means and gave evidence that Perkins was demanding that Crichton “should have exerted influence over the people responsible for the commissioning and conduct of the independent report and that’s why she said what she did about her professional duties.”
Perkins replied: “She did say that, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right.”
Once more, Beer asked: “So why wasn’t it corrected at the time?”
“Well I obviously wish that I had paid more attention to making sure that the record of this meeting was a correct description of what I intended.” replied Perkins, apparently suggesting that she now wished she had actually written down a false recollection of the meeting which didn’t represent the facts of what happened, but an intended version of events.

Perkins’ bullying of Crichton was also discussed in the context of her decision to keep Crichton on the naughty step during a crucial board meeting in on 16 July 2013. Whilst Perkins insisted it was out of sensitivity to Crichton, the decision had two clear outcomes. Firstly, by denying her the chance to argue her corner Perkins was able to scapegoat Crichton in her absence and avoid any pushback or blame over the way Second Sight were appointed and allowed to carry out their investigation. Secondly it prevented Crichton from telling the board about its liability for potential miscarriages of justice, which according to a board paper she had prepared, she may have intended to do.

“Did you know from any other source that that was Susan Crichton’s view that there would be many successful claims against the Post Office arising from past prosecutions?” asked Beer.
“No.” replied Perkins.
“Do you agree that that is important information to have received from your general counsel?”
“I do.”
“Do you accept that this critical information may have been passed to you if she had been allowed into the room?”
“I have no way of knowing that”, replied Perkins.

Secrets and lies

And to be fair, what Susan Crichton was going to tell the board remains a mystery, because at the very end of the day we were taken through a series of abject failures by three successive General Counsels to tell Alice Perkins and the Post Office board that they had a very serious legal problem on their hands, beginning with the first Clarke Advice of 15 July 2013.
Beer asked Perkins what she thought was going on: “I honestly don’t know”, she replied. “I mean, perhaps people… weren’t paying attention.”
“That would mean that a succession of General Counsels were each not paying attention on each occasion to a variety of papers.”
“Seems a bit…” agreed Perkins in the crosstalk. Beer tried again, eliciting a new suggestion from Perkins:
“Well, I don’t… I just, I mean, maybe it was too difficult… but I still don’t really understand that because if something’s very difficult, then you want to share it to make it hopefully less difficult.”

Yes, the only thing that really makes sense was if there was a concerted effort to keep information from the (somnolent and incurious) Post Office board by a series of execs over a period of years.

And that might be where the police go looking next.

* My understanding is completely right from my point of view is going to be my second tattoo, after a piece of Vennells drivel from 2020: His questioning was challenging and because of that it was helpful; it did not lead to any different outcomes.

Perkins continues to give evidence tomorrow – 6 June – starting at 9.45am – watch it live here (and see today’s evidence, if you want).
Read my preview of Perkins’ stint in the witness chair here.
Read the live tweets from today here.

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62 responses to “Perkins in Wonderland: Day 1”

  1. Mark Jefferies avatar
    Mark Jefferies

    Dear Nick Wallis, For future reference I’d be grateful for feedback on why my comments have not survived moderation.Thank you.

  2. I’d love to see the world through her glasses. All rose coloured with flowers and puppies and Disney birds singing along while you take afternoon tea with the ladies at the golf club.
    And then you take them off and see hundreds of broken, ruined innocent hard working people who still haven’t been compensated for her actions.
    I believe the term is criminal negligence.

  3. You get a fascinating insight into non/exec board sinecures when Chris Patten is questioned at a select committee meeting regarding his ’portfolio’ of roles. He is questioned about the debacle at the BBC and becomes very peeved when it is suggested that he couldn’t possibly give the appropriate amount of time to such important, remunerated roles. It is interesting how he gingerly dismounts his high horse when pushed. I note that one of the very first things Alice Perkins wanted to say was that she worked a lot more than the two days for which she was contracted. Here is the elephant in the room; an intelligent, experienced woman with a moral compass has ‘ta’en too little care of this’

  4. Craig Stevens avatar

    Alice Perkins, the Chair of the Post Office, has been a subject of significant controversy. Allegations against her suggest she is not only untrustworthy but also involved in fraudulent activities. Such accusations, if true, paint a damning picture of her leadership and integrity.

    Concerns of nepotism are rampant. Questions arise about her appointment process and qualifications. It’s imperative to scrutinize who appointed her and what credentials she possesses to justify such a high-ranking position.

    If these allegations hold any merit, the consequences should be severe. Transparency and accountability are crucial, and if found guilty, she must face the appropriate legal repercussions, potentially including imprisonment.

    Ultimately, the situation calls for a thorough investigation to ensure justice and restore public trust in the institution.

    1. Absolutely! I would imagine that the Post Office is the tip of the iceberg relating to widespread corporate crime.

    2. Incompetence is not illegal.

  5. I don’t believe AP just forgot the E&Y auditor’s warning about Horizon.
    1. She’s not stupid.
    2. She had support staff to remind her of issues she’d flagged. But even if she’d been completely unsupported, all she needed was an A4 pad. Summarise each big issue at the top of a page and flip through the pages once a month. It really really isn’t hard.

    I wonder if SC is fuming and wants another chance to give evidence? You’d expect her to be recalled. Were they really all sniggering at AP behind their hands? Who chose PV, who was already in a senior PO job but apparently knew so little?

  6. I worked with stereotypical “career civil servants” in the UK Air Traffic Management sector who:

    * held non-technical qualifications, such as a degree in history or English literature;
    * were buzzword-bandits, who would repeat cluelessly technical phrases;
    * spent 5% of their time on engineering and 95% playing politics;
    * were consummate title-tarts, always inventing new preposterous (Head of) titles for themselves;
    * would depart their farcical and failing project quicker than a coffee-break;
    * struggled to disguise their envy or even hatred for competent professionals.

    Posh boys and girls who could never aspire to a real career!

    1. And this afternoon on Day 2 we heard from Edward Henry KC, when questioning Ms Perkins, that she lectures in Board Governance.
      Yes, I had to replay that gem just to check that I’d heard it correctly.

      This woman could single handedly transform British boardrooms and thereby take the nation even further into the economic wilderness. How did Liz Truss not headhunt this genius?

    2. I read an article in the FT by the CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering, on how to avoid another IT centric scandal.

      The successful engineering of complex computer systems is fiendishly difficult. After decades of lessons-learned on thousands of projects, why do so many organisations still tolerate incompetent techno-twats?

      Formal competence management, based on objective criteria, is the only guaranteed solution.

  7. Question: When is an audit review by Delloite invalid?
    Answer: When it is clearly an internal POL review!

    Question: When is an audit review really positive?
    Answer: When at least some of the 10 audit concerns from E&Y have been closed.

    Some basic leadership (sic) blunders here, verging on a vacuum of common-sense.

  8. Isn’t strange she can correct minor details that are incorrect in some of the questions she is asked but cannot recall other important details that someone in her position would obviously be aware of? It will require a very big bus to accommodate all the bodies that continually being thrown under by those being questioned.

    1. Exactly!

  9. Perhaps I am simply being overly cynical, but the higher up the Post Office chain of command the Inquiry progresses, the less credible the individuals being questioned appear. Ms. Perkins, with her mixture of ‘I didn’t know, no one told me that, and the executives seem to have kept it from me’ is, even by the abysmal standards of Ms. Vennells, the worst of the breed so far.

    Her career record to date, involving as is does steady progression up the Civil Service ladder, seems to suggest a remarkable lack of actual management experience in the commercial world. One wonders how, given that lack of knowledge, she was even considered for the role of Chair of the Post Office, let alone appointed.

    Perhaps her husband, Labour Party Archduke Jack Straw, might be able to shed some light upon this conundrum?

  10. Illuminating reading. Nick, there’s an error in the page where you refer to “Vennells drivel from 2020” – the link is incorrect, it just reproduces the English “his question was challenging …” in the link rather than an actual URL.

    1. Apologies will sort

  11. Based on her performance Day 1 and now watching her Day 2 she is giving one of the finest performances of a congenital idiot that I’ve witnessed. Possibly just about bettered by John Mills in Ryan’s Daughter.

    This lady is absolutely toxic.

    If she isn’t prosecuted them there’s no justice.

    1. If she isn’t prosecuted then all faith in British justice is gone.

    2. Incompetence is not illegal.

  12. All three of her General Council’s apparently kept Alice in the dark…. Is there a better example of why an ex civil servant is not a good idea to appoint in charge of a £1billion+ business? Answers to the John Lewis employees please.

  13. We’re already only 30 minutes in on Day 2 and it’s clear that, given Perkins’ tendency to want to throw her former colleagues at the PO under the bus to protect her reputation, we’re going to need a bigger bus. Much bigger. Quite the operator. A ruthless woman.

  14. It’s more like “Alice in blunderland”

    1. Malice in blunder.

      1. Callous in Blaggerland

  15. Kirstie Jenkins avatar
    Kirstie Jenkins

    Poor Alice. If only she had read the Private Eye article and googled your blog!

    (Is Private Eye routinely ignored by board types? Is the assumption that by the time the inquiry takes place the subjects can plead amnesia?)

    1. I’m afraid that Private Eye is routinely ignored by everyone when it is one of the last remaining bastions of investigative journalism left standing, leaving independent warriors like Nick and his ilk aside, and apart from its hilarious satirical articles. I would urge everyone to buy it on a regular basis.

  16. You start your review today with the extraordinary statement that:
    “The Post Office scandal did not happen, or get covered up because of a single Machiavellian baddie. It happened because a bunch of serially incompetent people spent oodles of other people’s cash groping their way around a crisis without the competence or moral backbone to do the right thing.” You also refer to “witless corporate drones”.

    Thus there are apparently the only alternative explanations.
    1. a single Machiavellian baddie.
    2. serially incompetent people, or witless corporate drones .

    What about the vague, extravagant, exaggerated, fanciful and of course wholly improbable possibility of deliberate serial dishonesty or even a number of Machiavellian baddies?

    By the way, has any (and if so who and when) witness, being a present or former Post Office person (employee or otherwise) taken up Sir Wyn Williams’ reminders apropos the privilege against self-incrimination?

    Your incomplete two-possibility analysis excludes any possibility of a Machiavellian conspiracy or deliberate wrong doing other than by one controlling Machiavelli. Thus, if there isn’t / wasn’t one Machiavelli, it must have been incompetence; as though incompetence precludes deliberate wrong-doing by one or more people.

    Putting this scandal down to incompetence is so far from what we have heard and seen and read.

    My impression (and I haven’t seen all the witnesses by any means) is that many may be prepared to admit incompetence, But not deliberate wrong-doing by themselves.

    The restrained and rather rare audible responses by core participants at the hearings is a useful reminder of what they must think of both the apologies, the explanations and the amnesia. And of Post Office witnesses’ tears actually.

    1. Excellent.

      I’d thought the same.

  17. I lost count of how many times Alice said absolutely yesterday.

    It is absolutely fabulous darling, how two immature women ‘Eddy’ Vennells and ‘Patsy’ Perkins could run an organisation while in an almost alcohol and drug induced daze. Selfish? Absolutely.

    One Pol makes you larger
    One Pol makes you small

    The errant daughter sat on the naughty step. Off with her head. For her own good. Absolutely.

    Horizon? Absolutely Fabulous Darling.

    If your memory serves you well

    Horizon’s wheels on fire? Rolling down the road? Better notify my AXA kin, this wheel shall explode!

    Mr Dictionary was awol yesterday and replaced by the white knight talking backwards. My understanding is completely right from my point of view. Absolutely.

    When your mind is moving low
    Go ask Alice
    I think she’ll know.


    1. Katharine O'Connor avatar
      Katharine O’Connor

      Lovely absolutely

  18. The truth started to emerge at a very inconvenient time for the PO (and possibly RM too). So ,having started so well with the intention of a proper investigation, she then decided to fall in line with the PO and joined in with the ongoing denials and cover up. At the same time she was (mostly) careful what she put in writing so that she could hide behind the claim that others were keeping her, Vennells and the Board in the dark.

  19. Geoffrey Freeman avatar
    Geoffrey Freeman

    When asked by JB “who pushed back?”, why did she omit Saint Paula? Because she wanted to protect her friends (and fellow conspirators?).

  20. Perkins, Vennells and Van Der Bogerd – a grubby cabal of useless and incompetent duffers wholly unsuited for the power they were given. Although who on earth gave them that power ? And continued to give them that power. One assumes the government… A lesson if any was needed that nationalisation of commercial enterprises is a very very bad idea. Alan Bates himself made that point and he would know.

    1. Except de-nationalising the train system and the water supply has worked well hasn’t it? Plenty of corporate entities are stuffed with incompetents too and even more nasty psychopaths (Fujitsu for eg). It’s all about getting the right people in place and the government’s decision to operate the business at ‘arms length’ meant it had no oversight at all.

    2. I’d like to add the svengali, Alwen Lyons and the ‘who me??’ Lesley Sewell.

    3. Malicious, malignant and very competent, in my opinion, corporate criminals.

  21. I my goodness…has the English language ever undergone such torture. The way JB cut through the mangled civil service-ese full of self serving sentences full of clauses, subclauses, caveats etc, and create a sentence we English speakers can understand was pure genius. I guess, though, he wasn’t trying to lie his way through awkward questions with obvious answers. Having been dropped into the chair courtesy of the sole share holder (HMG) to sort out the organisation she MUST have been pretty shocked to discover, on day ONE, that the whole structure was built in the shifting sands of a shonky IT system. She had a significant decision to make at that junction….and, like Vennells, made the wrong one..As WW has asked a number of times…..WHY??

  22. I wonder whether an alternative reason why successive GCs didn’t apparently furnish her with key legal documents, is that they suspected her reaction would be to blame the messenger and put their jobs at risk.

    After all, she had form.

    Susan Crichton had been forced out before them. Why would they risk that too? I’ve heard several senior POL witnesses talk about their aspiration for an open culture – the reality was it was the kind of place where if you challenged the party line, you’d be out of the door.

  23. It is interesting to observe how AP’s confident fluency disappears into waffle and inconsequential rubbish when she struggles to rewrite the truth of what was really said. The same thing happened with PV.

  24. Greg Nikoloff avatar

    So Vennells clearly knew about the PO doing prosecuting of SPMRs – much earlier than the “middle of 2013” as she stated on oath.
    As evidenced by Perkin’s meeting notes. From The Zetter dinner “date”.

    I think Perkin’s herself therefore knew about this at least the same time as Vennells did. If not much earlier.

    It seems odd that the board chair (Perkin’s) would know this information while the CEO, Vennell’s – did NOT before that March 2013 meeting.

    Perkins expressed no surprise about the PO (and/or RMG) acting as judge, jury and executioner for SPMRs.

    As shown by her meeting notes from that meeting at The Zetter.
    So clearly it wasn’t news to her (Perkin’s) by then.

    Just goes to show that Vennells lied through her teeth so what else has she lied about?

    I think Perkin’s and Vennells double act is largely the fault for this saga. They each had plenty of opportunities to “stop the insanity” and at every turn they took the wrong turn – Every. Damn. Time.
    But their excuses of “we were so busy with other things we overlooked these in the crowded schedules and back to back meetings”. Doesn’t wash.

    They got paid big money to do their jobs – precisely because they needed to bring their “A” game to POL – each and every day.

    And most of the time these 2 were literally “phoning it in”.

    1. These ladies would not have any concept of never mind the competence to deliver an A game, or a B game for that matter.
      They were into the C for convictions game. In this game Perkins and Vennells were the overseer and driver.

  25. Philip Boxall avatar

    I wondered why JB didn’t ask her, when she repeatedly said she was trying to forestall SS making ‘unevidenced criticisms’, as her reason for trying to delay the interim report, on what basis she was expecting that. I think I can guess why it was, but you’d only anticipate such a thing if you deeply suspected your system was dodgy.

  26. Kirstie Jenkins avatar
    Kirstie Jenkins

    I think this is the Private Eye article that was brought to her attention 2 days after E&Y told her that Horizon wasn’t reliable, yet apparently she couldn’t join the dots? How much clearer did it need to be?

    Her tolerance for failure in herself (so much going on, so much information) isn’t matched by similar sympathy for others. How much was she being paid?

    I’m interested in what she said about her concerns about cash held in post offices, and what it means for the current organisation.

    I assume that although we handle less cash in general, proportionately more of that is handled by post offices. My village had 2 banks and a stand alone Post Office in 2011, but now just has a Post Office in tbe Co-op.

    The risk of handling cash has moved from big international businesses to small business owners, because banks don’t want to cover the overheads of maintaining a physical presence.

    Perkins and others have talked a lot about the responsibility of dealing with other people’s money, but don’t seem to have acknowledged that the Post Office just transferred the risk.

    Wasn’t this the whole goal of network transformation – the thing that was distracting Vennells and Perkins – cut costs, transfer risk?

    I would assume this blindness to structural causes is due to advice from their lawyers, but the structure doesn’t seem to have changed.

  27. Perkins kept Crichton out of that board meeting where she was going to be updated on these issues.
    She then went on to complain that Crichton wasn’t updating her on these issues.

    1. Mark O'meara avatar
      Mark O’meara

      Quite so. That’s one of the many interesting contradictions for her here. How to explain that away?

  28. Wow, Alice Perkins really has it in for Susan Crichton. I enjoyed watching Jason Beer thwart her attempts to throw SC under the bus for withholding information from her by pointing out that her two successors had done exactly the same thing. Why, pondered Beer, had 3 successive Legal Counsels failed to bring key information to her attention? I really don’t know, says AP, perhaps they weren’t paying attention? Or perhaps it was because they thought telling AP what she didn’t want to hear was career-limiting?

  29. Her complete incompetence is literally staggering from day 1 having been given the steer from the audit partner.
    i cant help but assume she was reporting back to HMG and the also inept civil servants to keep the lid on it.
    Perkins, Vandells, Lyons and VDG make up the corrupt club.

  30. Amazing how she “remembered very clearly” what she thought when it was to her advantage – despite there being documentation, written contemporaneously, stating the exact opposite. However when there was an issue that showed she acted badly she “couldn’t recall”.
    This selective memory syndrome is really catching.

    The question I’d like to know though is why she is still simply Alice Perkins. As a lifelong civil servant she would normally only have to prove she still has a pulse to get an honour. She hasn’t got one. She must have been seriously useless.

    1. She is a Companion of the Order of the Bath since 2002; she is the second wife of Jack Straw, onoe-time Labour MP for Blackburn.

      1. Ah. Thank you for putting me right.

  31. was it sheer incompetence by so many senior people in one organisation or was it to their financial advantage to hide the situation from the board?. Are we ever going to get an answer to Tony Hooper’s key question – “what happened to the money?”

    Can anyone believe that 3 successive general counsel did not raise the issue?

  32. Yet another in the very long list of POL witnesses who didn’t query things much at all and on the odd occasion they did ask a question they completely accepted the garbage they were given by other POL apparatchiks. It’s also plain that Susan Crichton has been singled out as the scapegoat by Perkins for not informing her about anything and for letting Second Sight get away with being far too independent and not ‘marking’ them properly. If just one of these nasty and incompetent people had sorted this saga out years ago it would have saved the subpm’s all their heartbreaking problems and the taxpayer a great deal of money. They should be prosecuted.

    1. This is well said by you. It is so striking and revealing to see so many of those responsible, hide behind things like technical competence and know-how, and the failure of others to properly inform them. The obfuscation, the degrading and infantile excuses and poor memories, cannot disguise the clear fact, that all senior people being paid to run the P.O., are the ones who should, first and foremost, be setting the agenda. At the first sign of problems emerging from the system, that’s when the alarm bells should have started ringing and when serious questions should not only have been asked, but addresed and answered, too. It’s barely comprehensible, that the P.O. prosecuted well over 900 people who were running what you could largely refer to as corner-shop-type businesses, when just a modicum of plain common sense would make you realise something was seriously and obviously wrong with the system.

  33. Exactly.
    Despite her “complete failure of communication” defence, Perkins made no attempt to answer Beer’s question of why, given she maintained she’d realised Susan Crighton had (apparently) misunderstood her, she didn’t correct this apparent misunderstanding.

    And, as you identify, when Beer asked; “Why did you not say, “Hold on, Susan, I’m not even suggesting that at all. You’ve got the wrong end of the stick.” Perkins gave no intelligible reply.

    This is a significant difficulty for the coherence of Perkins account of what (purportedly) took place at the time and, as far as I can see, a very important problem for Perkins.

    1. AP didn’t correct the record at the time, because SC was not misunderstanding her in any way, and they both knew it. It was only later that AP conveniently decided she’d been “misunderstood”.

    2. That exchange was an absolute low point for Perkins on Day 1. Any last vestige of credibility as a witness was shot.

      1. Absolutely. The ‘rehearsed’ responses were delivered in definitive terms, the more intrusive and probing questions were greeted with hand-wringing, huffing and puffing, and requests to scroll up/down documents to give her thinking time.
        As others have noted, it’s amazing she could remember the minutiae of what others had said/done wrong but had very little recall on her own behaviour or knowledge of events – even when presented with evidence! What arrogance.

      2. PCOJ Investigator avatar
        PCOJ Investigator

        “an absolute low point for Perkins”

        Not in her own mind it wasn’t.

        Psychos don’t think that way.

  34. Feel that Susan Crichton should be given a right of reply to many of the “extraordinary” aspersions made by Alice Perkins (and Paula Vennells for that matter). Not that she is without sin but seems to be very much a scapegoat by these two incompetents.

    1. ‘When she’s out of the building’ Remenber how Martin Sheen left the building in The Departed

  35. It was interesting to watch her try to explain that board meeting situation with SC being left outside. She was spinning, spinning, spinning…

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