Poor Tom

Thomas Knut Glenn Cooper. I kid you knut.

Tom Cooper was pitched into the Post Office madness quite late in the scandal. He joined UK Government Investments in 2017, and became UKGI’s man on the Post Office board in March 2018 whilst it was already embroiled in litigation with with its Subpostmasters and careering towards the first of two disastrous High Court trials.

Cooper is an accountant by trade, starting at KPMG before becoming an investment banker at UBS and Deutsche Bank. The handover with his predecessor Richard Callard (giving evidence on Friday) was not auspicious. Callard apparently reassured Cooper (per Second Sight’s interim report conclusions in 2013) that “no systematic errors [with Horizon] had been found”. Callard apparently informed Cooper there was “no smoking gun in relation to the system”. Cooper said this message “was all reinforced very heavily by the management team in the company, who consistently said the system is fine”.

Cooper did not get sight of the Swift review – something he considered a very important document because it made clear the Post Office “had never assured itself properly, that the [Horizon] system actually worked”.

So far so bad. The Post Office was also, at the time, trying to restrict Cooper and the Post Office board’s access to legal documents. Despite a “protocol” being agreed for sharing privileged material with the board in 2017, it hadn’t actually been put in place by the time Cooper arrived.

Once he was finally given access to legal documents and had sight of the 23 points being argued for the first Common Issues trial (essentially a trial of the contractual relationship between the Post Office and Subpostmasters) in the Bates v Post Office litigation, Cooper realised things were heading towards catastrophe. He singled out the updated liability clause in the Subpostmaster Contract which made the Subpostmaster liable for all losses even if they weren’t the Subpostmasters’s fault.

Catriona Hodge

Cooper told Catriona Hodge, the barrister asking questions for the Inquiry, that the liability clause was “completely unfair… unethical and I think actually undermined the basis of the partnership between Postmasters and the company, because in effect it let the company off the hook doing what it should do in supporting the [Postmaster/Post Office] relationship.”

Cooper said that when he tried to have a conversation with the Post Office he found their legal team was taking a “very entrenched position” to the extent that “if I could not persuade the Post Office on this straightforward point as I saw it, I would not be able to persuade them of the need to compromise on any of the other contractual issues on which the Post Office was vulnerable.”

Cooper thought another point on which the Post Office was vulnerable was its argument that it was not under a contractual obligation to ensure the Horizon IT system worked properly. He told Hodge “a working computer system is fundamental to the whole relationship so it didn’t seem at all unreasonable to me that Post Office should agree to provide that.”

Cooper clearly did not (yet?) live on the flattened earth of Post Office Land.

Dealing with a brick wall

Strangely, despite having a position of considerable influence, Cooper felt unable to demand that the Post Office change direction, telling the Inquiry that by the time he had got a proper handle on the Post Office’s legal position it was the end of October 2018, and the Common Issues trial began the next month. He told Hodge, “this was sort of one minute to midnight in relation to the hearings, so it didn’t seem realistic.”

It wasn’t just timing. The Post Office legal team were in no mood to listen to their government appointed board director. Cooper said approaching them was like “dealing with a brick wall. I might be exaggerating slightly but that was how it felt. They were completely intractable. You couldn’t get any traction with these people on anything.”

Cooper might have got somewhere had he persuaded his fellow Post Office board members that the litigation arguments being run by the legal team made no sense, but he could not win any allies, telling the Inquiry he found it “disappointing… that I didn’t get a lot of support from, or I didn’t feel I got much support from my colleagues.”

Cooper instead decided he might get a better outcome by pushing the Post Office on contingency planning, that is, thinking about what might happen if it lost the litigation. When he had his first meeting with the Post Office’s top internal lawyer – Jane McLeod, the General Counsel – he “asked her ‘if Post Office loses on these points, what’s your response going to be?’ And she said, ‘Oh, we’ll appeal everything.’… That didn’t really make sense to me. It seemed completely inappropriate for a situation that the company found itself in.”

Some of Cooper’s thoughts were fundamental: “could branches stay open?… if Justice Fraser had said Horizon doesn’t work, the current version of Horizon doesn’t work, what happens? Can the company actually continue to operate? Will people be able to get money out?”

Cooper taking the oath

Cooper also seemed to have spotted something which he claims no one inside the Post Office mentioned at all – if Subpostmasters couldn’t be held liable for Horizon-generated losses contractually, what did that mean for those Postmasters who had been given criminal convictions on the basis of Horizon evidence?

Rather than approach Jane Kill ‘Em All MacLeod, Cooper on this occasion set out his questions in an email to the UKGI General Counsel, Richard Watson. Cooper wrote:

“I’m wondering about the relationship between contract law (where postmasters take on the liability for missing cash where there is a discrepancy between the Horizon system and the actual cash in the till – this is the agency principle in the contract) and criminal law (where there usually needs to be intent and evidence that cash was actually stolen).

I’m wondering whether the complainants can argue that even though contractually postmasters are responsible for missing cash, prosecutions should not have been made without actual evidence of theft (ie it is insufficient to prosecute simply on the basis that some cash was missing without having proof that it had been stolen). I also wonder to what extent any coercive behaviour by POL (eg in encouraging a guilty plea as an alternative to a fraud trial) could be relevant to this argument as well.”

Asked by Hodge at today’s hearing to spell out what he meant in the email, Cooper said: “in very simple terms if you can’t establish a contractual claim how do you establish a criminal conviction?”

It was, in Cooper’s view, a blindingly obvious potential consequence of the litigation. He told the Inquiry:

“it’s particularly struck me with hindsight that in all of the contingency planning conversations we had with Post Office at this time convictions never came up. In other words… one of the risks they didn’t identify as a risk, that if we lose the litigation, there will be unsafe prosecutions.”

We have lost on all material points

Cooper said he did not get a response to his email. When asked why he didn’t escalate things he told Hodge that he was just asking a question at the time, but if he’d got “got support and encouragement for that from Richard” he might have ensured it got put in a contingency risk register and “raised it at the [Post Office] board which is the place where change could be affected”.

Jane MacLeod being doorstepped by the BBC earlier this year

When the Common Issues judgment was first seen by the Post Office on 8 March 2019, it fell to Jane MacLeod to inform the Post Office Board. In an email she told them:

“We have lost on all material points. The judge has criticised Post Office comprehensively – both as to our historic operations and behaviours and our conduct of the case. The judge accepts the evidence of the Lead Claimants but is sceptical of our witnesses who he characterises as ‘extraordinarily partisan’. He has struck out the key contractual provisions which require postmasters to account to Post Office, and he has stated that the Branch Trading Statement – which is the key document on which Post Office relies for postmasters to account for cash and stock in branches – cannot be relied on as a statement of account.”

Cooper responded by asking to see the judgment immediately. He was aghast.

“One of the things that horrified me about the ruling was the argument [put forward by the Post Office] that even if a Subpostmaster had not signed their contract, they were somehow meant to be bound by a contract that was left in a cupboard somewhere in the branch by their predecessor, and I thought this was risible as an argument.”

When he put this to MacLeod and asked “who advised the company to argue this?”, MacLeod apparently responded “well if we hadn’t done that the whole Post Office edifice would have crumbled.”

Cooper told Hodge, “at that point… I completely lost confidence in the legal team.”

Poor Tom. He seems to have had no support from the Post Office lawyers and no support from the Post Office board (in fact, we were told today and yesterday that the Post Office Chairman Tim Parker kept complaining that Cooper was being too interventionist). Why on earth then, did he not raise these matters vociferously within UKGI? Hodge took Cooper to a series of risk reports. These marked the Post Office’s litigation as a deep red risk (those heat maps again), but the language accompanying those heat maps was neutral. Where was the evidence of Cooper making his concerns felt?

Cooper told Hodge: “Effectively I was in the minority of one, in relation to Post Office, I was the only person on the pitch… at least it felt that way, who was questioning the litigation and how it was being handled, and so on.”

According to Cooper, that meant the risk register had to stay anodyne, his reason being “I’m not a lawyer… you can’t colour it too much by the opinions of one person who’s not an expert.”

Cooper also complained that the ministers ultimately in charge of the Post Office didn’t seem to engage with UKGI over the litigation at all:

“I think that we would have benefited by a lot more in-person contact.” Cooper told the Inquiry, “there were times in 2019 when I tried to reach out to the department, particularly the minister [Kelly Tolhurst] to talk to her about it… It was quite hard to gauge to be honest how interested the department was in this. They’d received briefings, quite fulsome briefings actually on the background to the litigation and no questions came back.”

Despite his huge misgivings about appealing the Common Issues judgment and attempting to recuse the judge, Cooper was not party to the discussions or the Post Office board vote which decided to go ahead with both. He sought advice and after receiving it from all quarters, he was told that as a government employee, he should not get involved in something which essentially involved trying to interfere with the judiciary. The real reason, Cooper surmised, was that the Business Department “was telling me that I should not take any action that would increase the chance of this decision coming back to the department.”
Was this, Hodge wondered, because the Business Department “didn’t want to make this difficult decision?”
“Correct”, replied Cooper.

Pot Shots at Misra

Seema Misra with her barrister Ed Henry KC

There is an extraordinary coda to today’s evidence. After the Horizon Issues judgment dropped in Dec 2019 and the Postmasters settled the case in their favour, Cooper asked a junior colleague at UKGI to compile (as he put it in a later email) “a list of the [Subpostmaster] cases that have been covered publicly. I’d [like] to have a dossier of these cases which includes the claimants’ side of the story as a check against what the Post Office will show us.”

Cooper says he did this because the last time he had tried to get proper information about individual Subpostmasters from the Post Office, he had been “fobbed off”, so he turned to the public domain because he couldn’t “trust the Post Office to give me a proper description of what the claimants are saying.”

Ed Henry KC, barrister for Seema Misra, suggested Cooper’s real reason for his research exercise was “to see if you could undermine” the campaigning Subpostmasters. Cooper denied it, saying it was “the opposite of what I was trying to do.”

Henry took Cooper to a note of a meeting in January 2020 between Brian Altman QC, Rodric Williams from the Post Office legal team and Nick Vamos from Peters and Peters, the law firm engaged by the Post Office to deal with the Post Office’s review of its criminal prosecutions. The discussion was clearly around whether or not to resist any criminal appeals arising from the findings in Bates v Post Office.

In the note, someone is minuted as saying: “Board’s concern is that there is a narrative and we’re just letting it go. Board desperate to decide whether to take pot shots at Misra.”

Later someone states: “Tom Cooper/Tim Parker – need to say “Misra has been saying x in the press, what our actual review of her case is x”. Don’t know and are looking to us to tell them.”

The assumption between Ed Henry and Tom Cooper was that the person saying this at the meeting was Rodric Williams. Henry asked Cooper why he or Tim Parker might be looking to undermine Seema Misra.

“I have no idea where this came from”, replied Cooper. “My attempts to look at the press coverage of Mrs Misra’s case and others, was to actually challenge Post Office’s description of events. I was not in a position at this point in time to decide if I was ever going to take pot shots at anyone, whatever that means.”
“Are you saying that Williams just invented that?” asked Henry.
“As far as I’m concerned, yes” replied Cooper.

There followed some to-ing and fro-ing about Cooper’s recollection of the intentions of the Post Office board, and the intentions ascribed to the board in the meeting minute. Eventually Henry said:
“You appear to be suggesting that you are saying stop, but Williams is saying go, in other words… the instructions that the board are giving are – as it were – totally reversed.”
“Correct. Does that surprise you?” asked Cooper.
“I suggest that’s not credible.” replied Henry, slowly.
“Well, I’m sorry in that case,” said Cooper, “but I am I’m being entirely truthful.”

Someone was lying.

Watch Cooper’s evidence in its entirety, read the transcript and his witness statement here.
Jane MacLeod is in Australia and has refused to give oral evidence to the Inquiry.
Rodric Williams has already given oral evidence to the Inquiry

For a real-time gallop through Cooper’s evidence and the documents he was shown today here are the live tweets.


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24 responses to “Poor Tom”

  1. Margie, sadly Jane MacLeod is out of reach – she’s been in her native Australia since 2020 and recently held a practicing certificate with the NSW Law Society. It’s interesting because the first time I checked, the NSW register mentioned that she was an employee of global wealth management company FNZ – and when I checked again last month the reference to FNZ was gone. I have just checked again after reading this blog and MacLeod is no longer on the roll of solicitors. Goodness me, what happened?

  2. Got it!

    This is Tom’s song:

    Jona Lewie
    https://open.spotify.com/track/1IiKfWUNmDG2KBSIkDepa8?si=WaNqOfYoS6SOXHMbcMjfew

    Perhaps we can get Jona to re ord a version just for Tom.

  3. The Horizon IT scandal should never have been called that. I suspect it was Post Office PR trying to shift the blame. It is the Post Office Contract scandal. Post Office legal and investigations were clearly out of control and using their dominant position to impose a contact that was “completely unfair… unethical and I think actually undermined the basis of the partnership between Postmasters and the company, because in effect it let the company off the hook doing what it should do in supporting the [Postmaster/Post Office] relationship.”

    The public money they must have spent over the years must be scandalous – has anyone done a FOI request to see how much was spent? The question should be “How did it take so long to expose this”. If the “Branch Trading Statement” does not equal the cash in the branch it is obvious that there could be many reasons – theft by the Postmaster being one, IT issue a possibility, but many others (miskey, theft by a member of staff…). The Post Office had no incentive to find out the truth as the contract completely unfairly gave Post Office an easy way to pass the buck to PostMasters and even more cruelly did not provide them access to the information they needed (Known Error Logs…) to defend themselves

  4. Steve Elliott avatar

    It would be interesting to know, in Governance terms, what power the UKGI rep has. Do they have a veto on Board decisions? Conversely ,can they instruct the Board to do something ? If not, why not ? Do they have just the same vote as any other Board member ? Are their powers written down ?

  5. Top Cat without the top hat, and not ”leader of the gang….” and certainly more aware of implications and detail than previous participants in this scandal.. I don’t think he got the cream….

    No memory lapses or ‘I don’t recall’ obfuscations, and certainly a firm understanding of the flawed SPM contract and its shortcomings. I really felt he was trapped, though unlike Alan Bates who worked singularly, solidly and heroically to break down opposition and isolation, he was paid, could and should have rattled the cage bars more vociferously. At times he seemed swamped by indecision and self doubt during his early tenure, in contrast to the rest of the management ‘gang’ who were full of hubris.

    Another team working on risk reports? Felt I needed more info on who and why and where they were involved somehow, as the management structure seemed so easily to set one team up against another. Instead of creating a ‘check and balance’ it became shut up and put up, co operate or else.

    I understand more clearly from TC’s evidence that McCleod, a top mover and shaker of the problems circulating at management/ board level etc of PO, is singularly responsible for misleading and misguiding many of those who have sought to deal with shortcomings during this saga.

    I fully expect that at some stage the criminal proceedings will drag Mcleod back to face the music…….otherwise another scandal will erupt…………………

    1. Top Cat?
      Not the most effectual Top Cat.
      His ineffectual close friends get to call him TC,
      Providing he does no scrutiny.

      When he realises the plot he’s Benny the Ball, then for some reason drops it. Benny not on the Ball.

      He could have got Officer Dibble on the phone but left the script open to cartoon get rich quick villains and their sneaky underhanded lawyers.

      The eternally looping cartoon backdrop of bugs, errors, defects, theft charges, plea bargains, jail, dodgy investigators, bugs, errors, defects, jail, cover up, non disclosure, second sight, cover up, mediation, cover up, lawyer up, cover up, Swift, spend, spend, spend, end of cliff, realisation of loss of ground, puff of smoke at the bottom of ravine, inquiry, scroll up, scroll up, scroll up, bugs, errors, defects, lawyer up, cover up, word soup and repeat.

      Griswold the dog, (later to become Dick Dastardly’s sidekick in Wacky Races) laughing and sniggering.

      Perhaps Wacky’s Dick Dastardly’s fiendish schemes to stop the good JFSA guys winning would be the better Hanna Barbera cartoon comparison in terms of plot. You would have had to have been on the Wacky Backy not to realise the race was being fixed.

      A shaggy dog story ending with the cartoon villains and sneaky lawyers saying

      “And we would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for the pesky judge!”

  6. Peter Bradshaw avatar

    If he had these serious concerns and was banging his head against a brick wall with PO lawyers, “eminent” WC and the government he should have spoken to the press. The TV program did that only after millions more was wasted on fat cat lawyers.

  7. Interesting though Tom Cooper’s evidence and limited efforts seem to have been, wasn’t it all a bit late in the day?

    I believe that it was probably in 2001 that a former SPM client of mine told me what was going on. I offered to help in any way I could, for example by writing to his (and my MP). He would have none of it fearing that it would stymie his chance of passing the SPO on to his son who had worked in the SPO with him for many years. He believed that any kind of query or protest would result in the SPO being closed for good. By 2004, it was closed in any case.

    I was led to believe, at that very early stage, that knowledge of the computer failings, the bullying tactics of Post Office management (including deductions from SPM’s remuneration) and the collusion of the NFSP were all well known in the SPM community in the North West.

    The Cleveleys case seemed to be NDA’d but I know, from personal knowledge, that gossip surrounding the removal of other SPMs was rife in the affected communities and constituencies. Surely there must have been dozens of MPs that did get to know about Post Office management practices between 2001 and 2010 and had concerns that they raised.

    James Arbuthnot’s activity seems quite late in this time period but what about other MPs? Which of them made earlier enquiries and were they fobbed off? If so, by whom and why?

  8. Robert H Goff avatar

    The bit I cannot understand is that Mr Cooper was responsible for compiling the risk register yet he stated that Although the Post Office’s litigation was marked as a deep red risk , but the language accompanying those heat maps had to stay anodyne, his reason being “I’m not a lawyer… you can’t colour it too much by the opinions of one person who’s not an expert.”
    So, he is not an expert or a lawyer but he is responsible, and if as he states, he recognised the risk at that time, why not say so?

  9. Exactly that! It’s the “I don’t shoplift because I might get caught” argument rather than “I don’t shoplift because it’s inherently and a priori wrong”. It is that moral dissonance so many of the witnesses seem to suffer from

  10. Ineffectual and incompetent, is the overriding impression I was left with after listening to Tom Cooper. It is utterly depressing listening to all these senior post holders make excuses as to why they did not do the jobs they were specifically intended to do. The lack of curiosity and interrogation on their part is incomprehensible. These are supposed to be experienced business leaders. My God!
    Vennells previous comment re Cooper :
    “His questioning was challenging and because of that it was helpful; it did not lead to any different outcomes.”

    I would suggest the correct wording for this should have been
    “His questioning was not remotely challenging and because of that it was so helpful; hence why it did not lead to any different outcomes.”

    This is also the guy that signed off on the false bonuses of course!

    Ineffectual and incompetent.
    As so many of them have proved to be.

  11. Good morning all.
    I watched parts of both testimonies yesterday and what I came away with was that the whole ‘shareholder/POL’ relationship would not be out of place in one of Orwell’s better known novels.

    *All this talk of ‘risk’ yet no actual humanity; hiding behind coloured spreadsheets peppered with ‘biz talk’ nonsense.
    *Group-think babbling that would be envied by any Banana Republic apparatchik.
    *Meetings to talk about what ‘strategy’ to adopt in err…meetings…but again, no actual humanity.
    *The plotting to get rid of Judge Fraser because he was (rightly) minded to be fair and uphold the law.
    *Protect ‘the Shareholder’ from any association with the machinations of the Rev and her army of PO orks.
    *Remember Big Brother is watching you – the Shareholder sees all, says nothing; after all, the ‘little people’, the ‘drones’ are dispensable.
    *An absolute negation of any concern for the wrongly accused SPMs.

    I have no truck at all with the ‘wise after the event’ protestations of Knut. He was in a position to actually make a difference, to speak up, and he did not. He acquiesced and did his job for his bosses in Whitehall, he kept their hands clean. He allowed this travesty (nay, tragedy) to rumble on and continue to harm innocent people. He is more Lady Macbeth than Winston Smith.

    2+2 = 5. Repeat after me 2+2 = 5. Ad Infinitum.

  12. I hope Jane MacCloud is a person of interest to the Met and that extradition for potential criminal charges is being considered.

  13. So… Hang on here….

    The UK Government’s representative – the representative of the sole shareholder – on the board feels he can’t engage, or have a sensible conversation, with the board or senior execs (including the legal ones) whilst there’s clearly an existential threat to the organisation which (he claims) he recognises at the time.

    So this is what he does.

    He emails the GC at his organisation. He doesn’t receive a reply.
    So of course, given how critical this is and, as he says, it’s all at the eleventh hour, he makes sure all the key players in UKGI are aware of what’s going on, making sure there’s a clear paper trail of his attempts to get this fixed. Because he knows how much publicity there already is over this.

    Well, no. What he actually does is…… nothing.

    Sorry, pal. You’re rewriting this after the event, just like everyone else. We can all feel like a small cog in a big wheel, but you were (meant to be) a big cog.

  14. Cooper seems to have been on the right side, as it were, yet something strikes me as curious about all of this “high level” testimony. At no point does anyone ever say “Hang on, is this the right thing to be doing?” They only say “Are we assessing the risk properly?” (with all the hilarious graphics and the like). I don’t have any actual experience of joining a criminal gang, but I imagine that one would not getting much traction asking “Should we really be robbing banks?” and it would be much more effective to ask “Hang on, there’s CCTV, aren’t we at risk of getting caught?”

  15. Scott Darlington avatar
    Scott Darlington

    ‘Thomas Knut Glenn Cooper. I kid you knut.’
    Your increasing distain is absolutely delightful

  16. Liar, Liar?

    The Jim Carrey lookalike or Super Cooper?

    From the film, it might help you make up your mind…

    Your Honor, I object!”
    “Why?”
    “Because it’s devastating to my case!”
    “Overruled.”

    Another bit of dialogue from the film.

    Max: My mom’s a teacher.
    Teacher: And your dad?
    Max: My dad? He’s… a liar.
    Teacher: A liar? Oh, I’m sure you don’t mean a liar.
    Max: Well, he wears a suit and goes to court and talks to the judge.
    Teacher: Oh! Oh! I see! You mean he’s a lawyer.

  17. I was amused when Tom Cooper introduced himself to the Inquiry this morning as: Thomas Knut (pronounced Canute) Glenn Cooper – his subsequent testimony showed that, just like the Great 11th Century King, Cooper couldn’t turn the tide either.

  18. Peter Burfitt avatar

    Oh dear. Now I’m confused. After the plethora of ‘ I don’t recall ‘, straight forward lies and buckpassing, here we appear to have someone who actually has a memory, talks straight and doesn’t blame anyone else.

    This is so out of kilter with the rest of the ‘ evidence ‘ ( apart from Second Sight and Lord A ) that my brain found difficulty in coping. Not saying he’s perfect, there’s a lot he might have done, but what a contrast – in particular to the POL’s self serving, self financing managers.

    The Court cases can’t come soon enough for me. Pity they won’t be televised ! Would love to see the barristers and KCs let loose on them and not be hobbled by the Inquiries’ adversarial rules. I don’t know how Beer keeps his temper and a straight face at times.

    1. I would hope that a lot of the barristers and KC’s are in the dock as well.

  19. Seemed like a decent person.
    But without the confidence to do the right thing – supine indeed.

    UKIG seemed like they were playing at shops. We had RAG Powerpoints and a codified code of conduct.

    Perhaps like Mrs Straw paid too well and much to comfortable not rocking the boat.

  20. I’d suggest looking into who of these players are subject to the strictures of The Official Secrets Act, signed or otherwise: there’s been some very careful hedging going on…

  21. In general, Cooper was fairly measured in how he apportioned blame. That is until we come to the POL lawyers Williams and McLeod. He clearly feels they have much to answer for. And he’d be right.

  22. “well if we hadn’t done that the whole Post Office edifice would have crumbled.”

    So?

    By 2018/19 there was no intrinsic reason the services carried out by the Post Office needed to be carried out by that organisation, except that many SPMs are a vital part of their community and do a very good job.

    However by this time it was clear that the Post Office had no concern for SPMs, contractually or financially, so what was the point?

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