Rod Ismay: the useful idiot

I was expecting more from Rod Ismay. He was, after all, an Ernst and Young auditor – one of the finest bean counters money can buy. Ismay joined the Post Office in 2003 after spending 11 years at the accounting giant, where, amongst other things, he was one of the Post Office’s auditors.

Rod Ismay will go down in history as the author of the August 2010 Ismay Report into the Horizon IT system, a document which Sir Wyn Williams, chair of the Post Office Horizon Inquiry on Thursday suggested might be “a whitewash”.

Ismay disagreed that his report was a whitewash. Instead, he told the Inquiry, he was commissioned by Dave Smith, the Post Office’s then Managing Director, to write a report “to understand the reasons why Post Office should be able to take assurance about the Horizon System, what are all those reasons of positives. [sic]”

One side of the coin

To clarify, Jason Beer KC, counsel to the Inquiry, asked: “So you weren’t given free rein to write what you wished, you were directed only to include reasons that gave reassurance?”

To which Ismay responded: “Yes. Yes… The task I was given was: ‘what are the reasons for assurance?’ I wasn’t given the task of: ‘what are the allegations and can you investigate them?’ That was not the remit of this.”

Beer just wanted to make absolutely clear: “You were only asked to present one side of the coin?”

To which Ismay replied: “Yes.”

You can begin to see now, perhaps, why Mr Ismay was selected for this task. He was was being told to write a whitewash without being intelligent enough to realise that was what it was.

No written terms of reference

Ismay volunteered that his report was a “hugely important piece of work”, but seemed content to conduct this hugely important piece of work without any written terms of reference. He figured that his verbal instruction, restated once more, in his own words as “Please can you list out the reasons for assurance?” did not need written terms of reference – “the question was quite clear”, he told Beer.

Beer wondered then, having been told to produce a one-sided report in favour of Horizon’s integrity, why Ismay wrote in his report: “This paper has been compiled as an objective, internal review of POL’s processes around branch accounting.”

Ismay replied: “It was an objective assessment of the areas where there were positives.”

Oh dear. It would all be very funny were this report not used as an internal justification for continuing to criminally prosecute and ruin Subpostmasters for another three years.

No investigation

On Thursday at the Inquiry, Rod Ismay admitted that when compiling his report (over two weeks) he did no investigation whatsoever. He essentially spoke to a number of departments, received assertions from them which he didn’t test, collated them and “typed” them up. It was, he agreed a “paper exercise”, albeit a paper exercise which allowed him to conclude in his executive summary:

“We remain satisfied that this money was due to theft in the branch – we do not believe that the account balances against which the audits were conducted were corrupt.”

The most sinister and chilling sentence in the report is when Ismay tells Smith:

“It is also important to be crystal clear about any review [of the Horizon system] if one were commissioned – any investigation would need to be disclosed in court. Although we would be doing the review to comfort others, any perception that POL [the Post Office] doubts its own systems would mean that all criminal prosecutions would have to be stayed. It would also beg a question for the Court of Appeal over past prosecutions and imprisonments.”

Ismay told the Inquiry that he didn’t really understand why criminal prosecutions would have to be stayed, and said it was information he got from Rob Wilson, Head of Criminal Law at the Post Office, who was cc’d in the report.

Look the other way

David Smith, former Post Office Managing Director

Beer asked the obvious:

“Do you agree that this paragraph is a warning to the Post Office that if it was to take certain action, ie to commission a review, then the Post Office may be heading in a direction which may lead to the discovery that innocent people may have been wrongly convicted?”

Ismay replied: “Well, yes, this statement clearly is a warning.”

Wouldn’t you want to know if your organisation had been responsible for sending innocent people to prison? Not in Post Office land, it seems.

I thought Ismay was the mastermind behind the Ismay report, but it seems he was, by his own admission, a typist, engaged in a paper exercise of drawing up a list of reasons why Horizon was great. He was told to do this, and he did so, populating his list with other peoples’ opinions and claiming the words as his own. This was not, as he said in the report, “an objective, internal review” written by a senior former Ernst and Young auditor who headed up the Post Office’s Product and Branch Accounting department, but something which pretended to be as much, over which he had very little ownership or understanding. Poor old Rod, bashing away at words he didn’t understand in a report bearing his name.

What if?

When I first had sight of the Ismay report, some time ago, I wrote to Dave Smith asking what he did when he received it. Smith replied to say:

“I have no access to any records relating to my time as CEO but do recall that the [Horizon] system had been in place for many years before my arrival and that the organisation had both internal IT, Finance, Security teams and legal counsel to manage day to day matters around possible false accounting and theft.
I do not remember the email [containing Ismay’s report] nor do i have access to my response to it or more widely relevant material such as the Main Board papers and minutes from that time.
As such i am unable to comment directly on what actually happened but do note from the extract sent by you that the conclusion at the time was that the system was robust.”

If Ismay is to be believed, Dave Smith commissioned an internal report about the Horizon system with a specific remit to reassure him that it was robust. When Ismay complied, sending his boss a typed-up collated list of untested assertions, Dave Smith was able to use it as an excuse for inaction.

Unforgivably, from the evidence we have heard so far, it seems that even by 2010, not one single person in the Post Office asked themselves the “what if?” question, specifically:

What if there is a danger we have been responsible for a single innocent person, amongst the hundreds we have prosecuted, being given a criminal conviction?

Ismay’s evidence continues today.

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10 responses to “Rod Ismay: the useful idiot”

  1. The Ismay report was commissioned by Dave Smith the former Post Office Managing Director,
    yet Smith can’t recall ever receiving it, reading it or doing anything at all with it.

    Yet another case of selective amnesia.

    Ismay seems to be the least inquisitive auditor I’ve ever heard of and seems completely
    out of his depth producing this whitewash report which is full of contradictions,
    for example –

    “Horizon and HOL were both designed with the principle that only
    authorised branch users can create or accept transactions in the system”

    Apart from the small army of Fujitsu SSC workers who were entering data on a daily
    basis to ‘correct’ known errors in the system, all the while unknown to the

    Can’t understand if he’s just incompetent or completely lacking in imagination and

  2. rod ismay the useful idiot

    this man started as a very eager little puppy wanting to earnestly help out this inquiry but unable to understand Mr Beers dry sarcasm or irony .even when he had finished he didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of his”whitwash paper” including sending subpostmasters to prison and bankrupting them and pushing them to suicide 🤔 unbelievable

  3. This chap, along with POL and Fujitsu colleagues and members of their legal teams should be behind bars. Their actions resulted in the wrongful convictions of hundreds of sub postmasters and the misery that caused them. Nothing less than a prison sentence, and a forfeit of any bonuses and pensions would be satisfactory. They need to at least experience what their innocent victims suffered. Really hope he can never sleep at night for the rest of his life.

  4. Beyond the public enquiry, what i am waiting for – and demand – is that specific people who were to blame for the scandal are imprisoned for many years each… UK Government should pass a specific law to make the below mandatory….. Rod Ismay , being the person who is more culpable than most, should be imprisoned for at least TEN years, and be made to pay for his board and lodging there, in terms of a fine – so based upon a £50 000 per year cost of his imprisonment, a £500000 fine would be appropriate, and more for a longer sentence. On top of this, his income for the period he was at the post office should be totted up, and 99% should be taken in a further fine from him – and used to help towards the legal fees the sub postmasters have incurred. Clearly the objective here, is to make those responsible pay handsomely for their lies and stupidity.

  5. Ismay that name rings a bell…Titanic he related?.

  6. […] was tasked by the incoming managing director David Smith to write what he erroneously described as an “objective” report, rebutting the challenges to Horizon. In his report, Ismay […]

  7. […] nonsense is somewhat reminiscent of Rod Ismay’s attempt to justify calling his partial report “objective” when in fact it was completely one-sided, telling the Inquiry: “It was an objective assessment of […]

  8. Nick Canfield avatar

    What if??? Dave Smith had “no access to any records relating to my time as CEO” and “I do not remember the email [containing Ismay’s report] nor do i have access to my response to it or more widely relevant material” Well that absolves you from any accountability does it Dave Smith?
    Dave Smith did not have access to records when he replied to Nick Wallis. Who does have access now? Hope the alleged, legendary POL shredder, has not been working overtime again. Who has/had the keys to the shredder? Is there a special electronic email shredder? Will there be computer logs of when and who uses the email shredder?

  9. Ismay, he knew what he doing 20years ago and he knows now exactly what to say to appear helpful, yet naively innocent to the PO Inquiry.

    Lots of “don’t knows” when asked to name those people he spoke to about various Horizon issues or advice on its integrity. Funny how he is able to remember almost verbatim anything that puts him in an innocent light.

    I know our Crown Office colleagues (i worked on PO Cash Delivery) had similar issues with Horizon but I do not recall any sackings due to missing cash, investigations yes but no sackings. Interesting difference in approach by the Post Office……….!

    1. I also wondered why it was only subpostmasters who were being prosecuted and Crown Office Staff were exempt . Horizon must have been showing problems at the main branches too
      Also , if I remember rightly The Post Office were desperately trying to close the smaller village post offices in the late nineties They we’re facing some objections from the public Also I believe they were facing some financial difficulties .Horizon must have seemed like they had won the lottery. Money gained by prosecutions and able to close some of the Post offices . It seems they were then financially sound again, good for shareholders and bonuses being paid to staff .

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