Helen Rose is a former Post Office auditor and investigator. Mrs Rose has no formal auditing qualifications or training, no training she can recall on the Post Office Horizon IT system and no formal training in investigation. She is also the author of the Helen Rose report, which provided some of the first concrete evidence that incomplete information was being used as the basis of Horizon prosecutions. More on that here.
Today at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, Mrs Rose was asked about a witness statement she made during the trial of Lee Castleton, a Subpostmaster who was bankrupted by the Post Office at the High Court. In March 2004, Mrs Rose “audited” Lee’s branch and found a £23,000 discrepancy. Lee was immediately suspended, later sacked, and then taken to court over the allegedly missing money.
In Helen Rose’s contemporaneous audit report she notes that Lee was pleased to see the auditors turn up at his branch (he had requested the audit). Mrs Rose notes that Lee explained he had called the Post Office helpline “regularly” in an attempt to get the problems with his Horizon IT system fixed. Both these pieces of information were missing from her 2006 witness statement to the High Court.
In the first draft of her witness statement to the High Court, Mrs Rose also stated:
“As part of an audit, we have to complete a procedural security inspection… The inspection revealed that the safe was left open, the safe keys were left in the safe door and it was not secured, that cash and stock were not secured during lunchtime if the Sub-Postmaster was not on the premises, that Travellers Cheques were not kept in the safe and Foreign Currency was not held securely, that standard procedures for adjusting losses and gains were not adhered to (because losses were unauthorised) and personal cheques on hand had been incorrectly treated.”
This was not true. Mrs Rose, or someone on her behalf, had incorrectly transposed information from an incomplete generic report into her witness statement. In September 2006, Mrs Rose was asked by the Post Office legal team to carefully read her draft witness statement to the High Court. She did so, and raised the issue of the incorrect information above.
On 3 October 2006 Mrs Rose had a conversation with Stephen Dilley, the solicitor acting for the Post Office. The note of that conversation records she worked with him to clarify and correctly reflect the situation, which was that, at Mr Castleton’s branch, the matter of the discrepancy was raised first. This led directly to Castleton’s suspension, before the security checks could be properly completed.
On 4 October 2006 Mrs Rose was presented with a second witness statement, which inserted a new paragraph to state:
“As part of a normal audit, we have to complete a procedural security inspection. This was initiated by my colleague Chris Taylor. When a postmaster is suspended then any remaining compliance tests are not completed, because of the large number of compliance tests (including security compliance) that have to be completed for each audit. Accordingly
although the procedural security inspection was started as a matter of routine, I do not recall it being completed because Mr Castleton was suspended prior to its completion, and it then became irrelevant.”
Nonetheless, the incorrect paragraph, stating (as quoted above) that “safe keys were left in the safe door and it was not secured… cash and stock were not secured… standard procedures for adjusting losses and gains were not adhered to (because losses were unauthorised) and personal cheques on hand had been incorrectly treated”, remained.
Mrs Rose had no explanation for this. The inquiry chair, Sir Wyn Williams, pointed out that she had signed a witness statement to the High Court containing information which she knew was wrong. He wanted to know why.
“I have no recollection of it. I’m sorry” said Mrs Rose.
Elsewhere in her 2006 witness statement to the High Court, Mrs Rose noted that during her audit, Lee Castleton went for lunch and came back “smelling strongly of alcohol”. This recollection was absent from her 2004 audit report. Asked why it was not in her audit report, but suddenly appeared in a witness statement to the High Court two years later, Mrs Rose said:
“I don’t know why that wasn’t in, or came later” said Mrs Rose.
Mrs Rose couldn’t explain why information which would have been helpful to Mr Castleton – his being pleased to see the auditors and his consistent raising of complaints about problems with the Horizon system – was missing from her witness statement to the High Court. Nor could she explain why an apparently invented (or, charitably, lately recollected) detail about Lee Castleton smelling of alcohol had found its way into her 2006 witness statement to the High Court, when there was no mention of it in her 2004 audit report.
By the time it got to trial, in December 2006, Helen Rose had adjusted her recollection about the alcohol matter to say “it was just a vague memory I had of the office”, and apologised to Lee Castleton for making the suggestion he did smell of booze.
Later in her evidence to the Inquiry today, Mrs Rose was asked about the Rose Report, and was taken through her investigation into what happened at the Lepton Post Office branch in 2012. I’ll leave you to watch it or read the transcript here.
It was interesting to note that whilst the Rose report was an exceptionally important document, and used to inform the Clarke Advice, which led to the cessation of all Post Office prosecutions, Mrs Rose had no information to offer the Inquiry on the recommendations in her report, nor its wider effect on the Post Office Security Team. Nor did she take any interest in the subsequent Postmasters’ campaign for justice. She also had little or no recollection of a Subpostmaster who took his own life after one of her investigations, nor the internal disciplinary process she was subject to afterwards.