Post Office legal strategy: “force the claimants to burn money”

The second day of Andy Parsons’ evidence (see here for a piece on the first) was short with only a few new documents to consider. One was another piece of corroboration that the Post Office strategy during Bates v Post Office – the seminal legal battle which blew the lid off the scandal – was to run the claimants out of road.

Today we saw a document in which Andy Parsons, a Womble Bond Dickinson lawyer tasked with co-ordinated the Post Office’s defence of Bates v Post Office told his colleagues on 1 Nov 2018 (the eve of the first trial): “my instinct is that the claimants’ funding is under pressure and they do not want to be burning money on a third trial”.

His suggestion therefore was to try to “force the claimants to burn money” but do so in a way which achieves the Post Office’s objectives “whilst trying not to look tactical!”

Parsons pointed out the suggestion was made in a discussion document and that “there was always an overarching meritorious reason for recommending a particular course of action” though he admitted “a by-product” of some of those actions during the litigation “may have been to place [financial] pressure on the opposing team”.

Julian Blake, asking questions for the Inquiry, took Parsons back to a litigation strategy document Parsons written for the Post Office in 2017 which stated:

“the better solution is to try to force the claimants into a collective position where they will either abandon the claims or seek a reasonable settlement. It should be remembered that the claims are financially supported by Freeths, whose fees are at least partially conditional on winning, a third party funder and insurers. Without this support, these proceedings would not have been possible. All three entities will likely have the power to pull their support if the merits of the case drop below a certain level. Our target audience is therefore Freeths, the funder and the insurers who will adopt a cold logical assessment of whether they will get a payout rather than the claimants who may wish to fight on principle regardless of merit.”

Julian Blake

In response to Blake’s suggestion this was exactly the sort of tactic being discussed in the 2018 document, Parsons argued that: “the key point of that sentence is that it refers to the fact that those entities may pull their support if the merits of the case drop below a certain level.”

Hmm.

Parsons’ Privilege Problem

The Post Office’s borderline paranoid approach to document dissemination was picked over yesterday, but escalated today. It seems as if the Post Office, advised by Parsons, was refusing to give written information about the Bates v Post Office litigation to its only shareholder – the government – and had suggested in a draft protocol that civil servants should only receive oral updates.

The mandarins were more than a bit put out by this. One of them wrote to Rodric Williams (Parsons’ internal counterpart at the Post Office) setting out their position:

Alex Chisholm is the accounting officer for the Post Office and as such is accountable to Parliament for its actions. In order to properly fulfil this role, he requires full and comprehensive information on the progress of this litigation. This will not be possible if the Post Office is not willing to provide written updates. We revised our requirements to provide for updates following reports to the Board to reduce any administrative burden as far as possible, but we cannot agree to a protocol which includes no obligation on the Post Office to report progress in writing in the litigation.

Blake asked what was the problem with giving the shareholder written information about the litigation they were funding.
Parsons replied: “I was aware that there was an issue with information sharing with UKGI, particularly around sharing privileged information with UKGI and how to do it in a way that would maintain privilege.
Blake asked him if this was a concern he “personally” had.
Parsons replied: “I would always be concerned about issues around privilege and making sure the Post Office were properly advising those issues.”

The Mediation Sham

Chris Jacobs

Parsons was one of the architects of the 2013 – 2015 Mediation Scheme. Chris Jacobs, a barrister representing a large group of Subpostmasters asked him a series of questions about it, noting that Parsons took part in two mediations himself and a Womble Bond Dickinson lawyer was at every mediation.

Jacobs told the mediation experience of former Subpostmaster Peter Holloway, one of Jacobs’ clients.

“He says he spent a lot of work preparing for the mediation, turned up, presented what he wanted to say, produced lots of documents in support of his arguments and then everybody went away. The mediator came back to see him at about 3pm, looking “haggard”. The mediator apologised to him and he said, “the Post Office are refusing to make any offer. He couldn’t quite believe it.” He said that the Post Office representatives had been sent to the mediation with express instructions not to settle at all.”

Jacobs told Parsons: “this isn’t just Mr Holloway telling us this, we’ve spoken to at least a dozen other clients who attended mediations and they all say that Post Office sent representatives to the mediation… with no authority or instructions to settle.”

“In practice,” said Jacobs, “the Post Office approach to mediations was disingenuous and amounted to a sham. The Post Office were not mediating in good faith, were they?”

“Each case was assessed on its own merits”, replied Parsons. “Some of those cases we advised the Post Office to settle, some of them we advised the Post Office not to settle. There was then a discussion internally about whether Post Office should still attend mediations where it had no mandate to settle, and the view taken was that it was appropriate still to attend those mediations so that the issues between the parties could be discussed. I can understand why that would have been frustrating for some of your clients, but it was a decision taken in good faith at the time.”

Jacobs was not having this. He quoted the leader of the Justice for Subpostmasters’ Alliance, Alan Bates, who is on the record as saying: “I believe the Post Office had no intention whatsoever of getting to a mutually acceptable conclusion or fair decision. If anything, it seemed as if the Post Office had been using the [Mediation] Scheme as a fishing expedition to see what evidence Subpostmasters actually had about Horizon.”

“Alan Bates is right, isn’t he?”, asked Jacobs. “You were using – and you supervised this – you were using the Mediation Scheme in an adversarial way in a way that to obtain some sort of tactical advantage against the sub-postmasters?”

“I don’t recognise that description of the Mediation Scheme”, replied Parsons.

As a finale, Jacobs told Parsons about an email received that morning from one of his Subpostmaster clients, Sally Stringer. He told Parsons that Stringer had described “you and your evidence as the absolute epitome of arrogance, deceit, corporate corruption and is an absolute disgrace.”

Parsons replied: “I have apologised within my statement and to make it clear, I’ll apologise again now. During my time acting for Post Office, we made some mistakes along the way.”

The Simon Clarke Grenade

Ed Henry KC

Seema Misra’s barrister Ed Henry KC was the next Subpostmaster representative to try to get something out of Parsons. Over the last few weeks, criminal lawyers who have given evidence to the Inquiry, including Simon Clarke and Brian Altman KC, agreed that former Subpostmaster Seema Misra should have been told about the First Clarke Advice, which made it clear beyond any doubt that Gareth Jenkins, the Fujitsu expert witness who had given evidence in her trial, was a tainted witness who had given false evidence in court. Neither Misra nor the Criminal Cases Review Commission was given this information. Henry could not believe this was a mere oversight, failure or mistake.

He told Parsons: “I’m going to suggest that you didn’t make any mistakes at all… there were errors of judgment obviously there were very serious departures from standards that ought to have applied, but what you did was deliberate, it was clear-sighted, it was ruthless.”
“Sorry, you’re asking me to comment on that?” asked Parsons. Henry indicated he was.
“I’m a lawyer acting for Post Office”, stated Parsons. “As a lawyer it’s my responsibility to defend their interests. For a large part of my engagement by post office, my instructions were that they considered the Horizon system to be a reliable system and therefore I defended it along those lines.”

Henry put it to Parsons that his “fundamentalist approach had yawning gaps in it”, which Parsons was well aware of “but you didn’t confront your clients about that did you?” he challenged.
“I don’t think it’s fair to characterise it that way.” Parsons replied.

Henry took him to the Clarke Advice, and suggested that although Parsons was deferring to Brian Altman KC, Simon Clarke and the other criminal lawyers, he was well aware the contents of the Advice should have been disclosed. Worse, he was part of the conspiracy to keep it from her.

“Mrs Seema Misra and her lawyers should have been provided with information of Gareth Jenkins misfeasance as soon as possible after that misfeasance came to light shouldn’t they?” started Henry.
“Looking back on it now that seems that would be my view but at the time that was being advised on by Cartwright King (Clarke’s firm) and Brian Altman and I followed their advice.” Parsons replied.
“What about your fundamental duty to act in a way that upholds justice?” pushed Henry.
“At that time I was not aware that there was any problem with the choices the criminal lawyers have made.”

Henry took him to the letter Parsons drafted to the Criminal Cases Review Commission which failed to mention Gareth Jenkins or the Clarke Advice.

“Isn’t it obvious” asked Henry “that the substance of the Clarke advice, the facts which were not cloaked in privilege, Should have been stated clearly to the CCRC in the holding letter you drafted?”
“At that time I was just drafting a holding letter whilst post office sought advice from their criminal lawyers” replied Parsons.

Henry suggested that “the Clark advice itself is the pin in the grenade” and the Post Office and its lawyers “wanted to keep the pin in the grenade rather than the grenade going off. That’s the truth isn’t it?”
“Not that I can recall at that time” replied Parsons, “but I wasn’t sighted on the decisions that were made on who should get what disclosure and what disclosure should be given.”

And that, more or less, was that.

For the day’s documents and a blow-by-blow account of what happened today, click here.
Day 1 of Parsons’ evidence: Postmasters are liars


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37 responses to “Post Office legal strategy: “force the claimants to burn money””

  1. Is “Those were my instructions” the 21st century equivalent of “I was only obeying orders”? and was that not discredited as a defence, say about 80 years ago?

  2. A delicious irony that the man who wrote

    ‘ … Plus let’s not forget that Alan Bates has a somewhat loose association with the truth … ’

    completes his Inquiry evidence, and then a knighthood is announced.

  3. In his evidence Parsons sought to justify (a) withholding key documents (such as the Post Office guidelines on investigations and prosecutions) when they were requested by Claimants (participants in the mediation scheme) and (b) the instructions given not to make offers at mediation. His position is not sustainable. It involves a breach of the Pre-action Protocol which, as all litigation solicitors know, explains the responsibilities of the parties/their solicitors pre-action. It provides that the parties should exchange information to enable them to ‘understand each other’s position [and] make decisions about how to proceed.’ To do this they should disclose ‘key documents relevant to the issues.’ Parsons admitted that the guidelines were ‘key documents.’ There can be no doubt that the mediation was a sham: how could the Claimants understand the merits of their claims if the PO deliberately withheld (what it admits to be) key documents? The mediation scheme involved colossal expenditure (a massive waste) of public money for which the Post Office was responsible. Parsons’ involvement in that is hopefully a matter which will feature heavily in the findings of the Inquiry.

  4. Did anyone else notice, however composed he seemed, that Andrew Parsons never once let go of his pen (like a protective little dagger?) for the entire two days?!

  5. Surely renamed Andy Privilege Parsons as that seemed is obsession on every document that passed thru his hands. No doubt the 3 million a year paid by taxpayers to his firm had no influence whatsoever. As for Grabiner you could feel the bitterness still there after his comprehensive defeat by Fraser.

  6. Chris Jacob’s used the phrase ‘tactical advantage’ to describe what Andy Parsons was seeking. Specifically, this was said in the context of the mediation scheme but I think it applies more generally. Parsons was all about using his solicitor’s duty to his client as justification to extract the maximum tactical advantage at any given step. But he seems to have lost sight of the fact that the plural of tactical advantage is not necessarily strategic success. He never seemed to step back and ask ‘where is all this taking my client’, which a wiser adviser would have done. Not someone whom I would have wanted advising me – or instructing me, come to that.

  7. Chris Marsden avatar

    Surely the SRA can no longer sit on their hands and strike Parsnip off now, before waiting hopeful police action?
    Sir Wyn will castrate him in years to come, and if the met do put him before a jury 11 and 7/8ths would have him incarcerated for decades.

    Sir Alan was right “you were using the Mediation Scheme in an adversarial way in a way that to obtain some sort of tactical advantage against the sub-postmasters”

    Henry: “wanted to keep the pin in the grenade … That’s the truth isn’t it?”
    “Not that I can recall at that time” replied Parsons

    Parsnip the master or short evasive replies erred. “Yes” would be shorter.

    I look forward to the day I hear ‘Sir Nick’. Thank you for first alerting me in the Radio 4 series years ago!

  8. I have to agree with all the comments on this thread. The legal profession is in the dock as much as the awful senior management at the Post Office who were trying their level best to look the other way at all times. Julian’s comment 14/06/24 @10.20 are spot on – the squillions spent by PO to save their reputation has had the exact opposite effect with their vastly expensive lawyers providing advice that a year one student would know was wrong. We can expect a two year wait before any criminal action is brought but let us hope that the professionally qualified members of both Post Office and WBD/CK are in the optics of their associations. After all……
    “Any solicitor who is shown to have discharged his professional duties with anything less than complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness must expect severe sanctions to be imposed upon him by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.” I’m racking my brain to think of anyone to whom this might apply….!

    1. What i don’t understand is, the “Post Office” is not some intangeable thing, but in realiety, its a group of people, sure, the people from time to time did change, but its still a group of people, the “PO” seems to be used as an abstract, i.e. “it was’ent me gov, it was the Post Office”, when do people start saying it was “You” ? and stop the wrong doers hiding behing the Post Office logo. People did all this.

  9. Mr Henry gave one of the best analogies I have heard so far: “Keep the pin in the grenade”

  10. Sadly Womble Bond Dickinson doesn’t seem to have reached far enough down the tree to include Andy Parsons in its wrong-headed and creepy rebrand apparently in January this year:
    https://www.womblebonddickinson.com/us/point-of-view

    But the approach perfectly captures Andy Parson’s attitude to the mediation scheme highlighted by Chris Jacobs: discuss pre-arranged outcomes with the Post Office (i.e. no remediation to be offered to certain SPMs) then take an entirely different perspective and offer a mediation hearing to those very SPMs, which have been determined in advance to fail.

  11. A question for lawyers here:

    I understand that a lawyer is obligated to represent his/her client’s interest. But if he believes the client’s instructions are a strategic mistake that could lead to disaster, what is his obligation then?

    I would hope that he be obliged to tell the client what he thinks, and if the client refuses to change, he would be professionally obliged to drop the client. He should NOT be able to say “Those were my instructions” if he had any suspicion that the instructions were flawed.

  12. I am surprised how much longer this is going to go on for…we all know what has happened and its up now to judge to write his report and let any police investigations now begin

  13. I saw the Sky News interview with Alan Bates this morning, about his knighthood in the Birthday Honours List. It made my day! It is so richly deserved and it really couldn’t have happened to a nicer man. Best wishes to Sir Alan and Lady Suzanne.

  14. Andy Parsons had a few standard responses to divert and obfuscate, the principle one being he was not a criminal lawyer. A Cartwright King affair. It was too easy for him. He did say that if CK were wrong and he had seen this, even as a civil lawyer, he would raise this with POL (i.e. a duty to do this), then why did he not do this? He instead just continued to act as a post-box. Another question is did POL in reality see WBD not just to act for the civil side but perhaps to also affirm CK’s position/strategy? In my view WBD should not have been a conduit. It should have been someone in POL to coordinate/communicate and manage the common areas between CK and WBD. It should not have been delegated out.

  15. Gareth Jenkins lawyer was nervous and asked questions of no real consequence. Also apologetic when there was no need to be. It gave a hint of what the defence might be – he was not advised correctly – but this will hardly suffice. His lawyers will need to do much better to deflect the overwhelming case against him.

    1. She’s focused on building up his defence to any criminal charges that might follow, and maybe doing quite a good job.

  16. What a difference a day ’produced’. In context it ‘produced’ a new horizon.

    Arise Sir Alan, a knighthood for services to justice. A giant of a man and national hero, honoured by King Charles.

    Crawl back into the woodwork Mr Parsons. A worker ant in the infested Post Office colony, run by Queen Paula and universally despised by the nation.

    The Post Office with despicable drone ants such as Mark Davies, Brian Altman, Rodric Williams and Andrew Parsons have brought the whole British legal system into disrepute.

    Not forgetting the part played in the greatest miscarriage of justice by Lord Neuberger and his bestest mate the infamous Lord Grabbitt and Runne. Shame on you and your profession.

    Together with other members of the flat earth society, terminally computer illiterate branch, they have left the Post Office brand in tatters and the taxpayer with an insolvent company and debts of £billions.

    Each one of them should be forced to kneel down to Sir Alan and each of the sub postmasters in an act of contrition. Starting with the ‘religious’ Queen Paula.

    Some of the brown noses like Davies and Williams should be told to kneel and kiss arse.

    Andrew Parsons should have the legal privilege to kneel before his sub postmaster superiors and then kiss both arse and his career goodbye.

    The King in his honours list has ‘produced’ a knighthood in the best possible context. For services to justice.

    Andrew Parsons ‘produced’ a performance that has shredded his and Womble Bond Dickinson’s reputation. A company committed to zero net services to justice.

    Shove that up your privileged ‘produced’ context you brown nosed parsnip.

    1. A problem with the adversarial litigation process in the UK is that, when in hostile litigation, one would surely want a shameless, emotionless zombie of this sort acting for one, prepared to shelter behind every excuse or opportunity to shaft or mislead (but not in writing or course) the other side.

      The system has relied for centuries on practitioners knowing what the right and honourable thing is and doing it. Instead, it seems that what we’ve got the days is Parsons, WBD, Cartwright King and some of the barristers involved to whom only the result, by fair means or foul, is what matters.

    2. I’m afraid WBD’s reputation was shredded a long time ago.

  17. Day 2 Andy Parson’s was noticeably less smug and arrogant than day 1. I guess the feedback he got in response to his day 1 evidence knocked his ego some so we got more robotic amnesiac non answers and less smirking millionaire.

  18. The current legal system is corrupt, that’s the only way to describe it. The lawyers being paraded through the Inquiry seem to think it’s okay to withhold vital evidence from the opposition that would result in people being acquitted or their erroneous convictions overturned. It seems to me that the authorities, legal and parliamentary, need to seriously reform the systems of disclosure and privilege in particular and other areas of the adversarial legal system currently being weaponised in an attempt to win the case at all costs and bugger the law and innocent people. Parsons, a really nasty, cold piece of work, continually hid behind the fact he wasn’t a criminal lawyer. I don’t have a legal background at all but I know that the prosecution have to divulge important evidence to the defence and so did Parsons (and Altman) but did nothing about it. Another serious issue is the fact that ordinary people cannot afford to take on a serious legal issue unless it’s through pro-bono work or such things as the Group Litigation system of private funding (and even then the POL’s legal team tried to make them run out of money!). This is a disgrace. When a legal system is only available for the rich, and the seriously rich at that, it is a major attack on a democratic system. I’m sure decent legal people recognise this fact but it is extremely disturbing when ‘icons’ at the top the institution, like Neuberger and Grabiner, are seen to be part of the money grubbing cabal of liars and obfuscators. It’s well past time to sort some of these issues (and people) out – over to you Sir Wyn and the Metropolitan Police and the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board.
    PS I’m glad Parsons refused to acknowledge you at the Inquiry yesterday Nick – shows your comments are getting to him at least!

  19. To go off on a tangent a bit. The thing that blows my mind about all of this, is how much money has been spent, and continues to be spent on the lawyersand barristers. I have no doubt quite a few working for the sub PM’s are doing this pro bono, but when I watch that hearing room, and look at the number of people on both sides as well as the actual inquiry people, I can see a digital meter barely being able to turn fast enough to register the spend. Add the obscene amount of money spent by the post office already on arrogant so and so’s like this guy, I’m sure all the sub PM’s could have been compensated by now.

    Maybe nobody would have beeen held to account, maybe PV would still have her OBE, but the sub-PM’s could have all got on with life.

    I am in Oz and it sticks in my craw that the yacht at the head of the recent Sydney to Hobart fleets is called Law Connect. There sure is money in the legal game to be had over arguing on how many angels can be fitted on the head of a pin. All the best to you Nick Wallis

    1. Agreed, Simon. There’s something badly awry when the wronged SPMs can’t question the perpetrators themselves, but are forced to sit silently behind layers of expensive lawyers. And some of the lawyers who do actually perform aren’t impressive.

      The wronged “little people” are too little to be allowed a voice.

      And the lawyers go round the houses asking detailed questions of other lawyers which will have little bearing on the outcome.

  20. “At that time I was just drafting a holding letter (to the CCRC) whilst post office sought advice from their criminal lawyers” replied Parsons.
    Why was Parsons, who has gone to great lengths over the last two days to remind us all he’s a CIVIL litigator, writing to the CCRC at all? Why wasn’t someone from Cartwright King (POL’s criminal lawyers) doing this?

    1. Underlines how disingenuous his “I’m only the civil lawyer” really was.

  21. Mr Parsons is engaged in full-on self-delusional justification of his own terrible actions in this case. He has nearly managed to convince himself with the “my responsibility is to defend my clients’ interests” reasoning, but in the back of his mind he must be starting to recognise that his actions have led to the polar opposite: that the post office paid his firm ridiculous amounts over the course of the civil litigation for its advice and yet POL is on its last legs; and that his futile actions led directly to additional conflict with and heartache for SPMs and the delay of justice. Ultimately, his advice was demonstrably abysmal and he failed in a number of his duties under the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct and I hope the SRA throws the book at him – he deserves it. Moreover, the taxpayer paid his firm for his advice, and will continue to pay for the consequences of it for years to come. I wonder how much of it his firm will be paying back? What. a. ****

  22. Andrew Parsons aka Mr Insincerity. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity”. demonstrated by him so profoundly. Ethical standards clearly lacking or masked by “professioinal duty”.

  23. What a miserable wretch of man, cavilling and hair splitting until the end. The Solicitors Regulation Authority must surely be investigating him with a view to removal.

  24. Mr Henry had it correct….Parsons was ruthless in his denial and milked the lie and the fees…..hence his partnership as mega rainmaker..

    Nasty piece of work and trust his career is questioned by his colleagues..

    1. Alan Cornforth avatar

      I think he will probably get a promotion and lots more work from companies who value this kind of duplicity – unless, hopefully, the law society or whoever oversees his ability to practice law step in!

  25. This guy is nauseating and I’m glad we don’t have to see his obnoxious face anymore.

  26. Kirstie Jenkins avatar
    Kirstie Jenkins

    According to the WBD website ‘Andrew is a partner in the dispute resolution team with a focus on commercial disputes in the technology sector.

    But his claimed faith in the infallibility of Horizon, (a system operating in a complicated dynamic environment integrating many 3rd parties) suggests he would struggle with a calculator.

    1. Parsons, a computer illiterate with his main focus being on commercial disputes in the technology sector. Not Apple Intelligence but Parsnip Illiteracy.

      It has been the common thread throughout this inquiry for those involved in a computer scandal to claim to be illiteracy in information technology.

      Little wonder when the main personality traits required to work within the IT sector are conscientiousness, openness to experience, introversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. How many who have given evidence for the Post Office side have even a single one of those traits?

      As well as lacking the personality traits, Post Office management and their legal lackeys were lacking in intellectual rigour, education, experience or skills to enable them to contribute in a 21st Century organisation with IT systems central to its success.

      Don’t get me started on their lack of care for people, nor their disregard of process.

      People, process, technology.

      It’s not rocket science, but way beyond the limited abilities of those we have seen giving evidence.

      Corporate psychopaths with no empathy or integrity. Lackeys lacking the ability to ask questions that a junior clerk would ask. They couldn’t pass GCSE or NVQ in information technology. Some would struggle to recall what paper they were sitting.

      Accounting for dummies? Double entry bookkeeping may have been as out of their reach as quantum mechanics.

      But top of the class in middle management corporate speak.

      Bullshit in this case though does not baffle brains. They have lost credibility. Time some lost their jobs – and freedom.

  27. Mostly Andy Parsons batted them off again, but Chris Jacobs made a great point about the mediation scheme, which I am glad you brought out.

  28. Julian Hofmann avatar
    Julian Hofmann

    He must on the scale to somewhere to lack such self-knowledge and basic empathy, but it is the malevolence that sticks in the craw.

  29. Parsons is the very epitome of slippery, slimy, unctuous lawyering.

    I hope the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority was paying careful attention.

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