The Ismay Report

Rod Ismay

This is Rod Ismay. In 2010 he wrote what has become known as the Ismay Report. It was written as an internal Post Office response to the formation of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, the questions raised by MPs about the Horizon IT system and the first journalistic investigation into the Post Office’s wild, decade-long prosecution spree.

The Ismay Report only became public in 2021, during the Court of Appeal proceedings, which eventually saw 39 Subpostmasters have their convictions quashed. I cannot understand why it was not disclosed during Bates v Post Office at the High Court in 2018 or 2019.

In the report, Mr Ismay asserts the Horizon IT system is “robust”. He concludes any independent investigation into Horizon would be “to comfort others” and warns:

It is also important to be crystal clear about any review if one were commissioned – any investigation would need to be disclosed in court… any perception that POL [Post Office Ltd] 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.

This, I believe, is one of the most egregious sentences written by anyone in authority in the entire Post Office scandal. Ismay is essentially warning the Post Office that setting off on a path of action may lead to the discovery that innocent people might have been given criminal convictions.

The Post Office heeded Ismay’s warning. When I contacted the former managing director of the Post Office, Dave Smith, who received the Ismay report in 2010, he told me:

I do not remember the [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.

It is of course a matter of personal regret that in the subsequent ten years the veracity of the system has been questioned and that this appears from news reports to have resulted in a number of potentially unsafe convictions.

Please find below the Ismay Report to the Post Office senior management team, dated 2 August 2010.

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6 responses to “The Ismay Report”

  1. […] of the first things to hit his desk was the Ismay report. Day was Rod Ismay’s boss. We have met Mr Ismay […]

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. Nick, I agree with you, this report is very important. It proves that institutional self interest trumped justice or legal rights for the SP, for the author. Also anyone of the long list of recipients receiving this and not flagging that aspect of the author’s work as a serious concern, is accessory to that illegal action.

    I can see in the report that Ismay writes various conflicting statements about data security and fault rectification. If he had thought about what he thinks is happening to rectify faults, it is obvious other assertions about data integrity cannot be true. This cognitive conflict would have been present during writing and the question is what does the author do about it in executing the task?

    Given that the report is 26 pages of text, without appendices, it took a lot of time to write and assemble. The cognitive conflict would not have taken half a day to resolve. He should have thought, I need to find out how are faults that are reported by SP dealt with? Working for him, in whatever capacity, was Winn. He should have questioned Winn, “so what did you do about this problem that came in, how did you identify it to Fujitsu and how did they confirm they had solved it?” Then he should have followed the trail of a few faults from Winn’s desk to Fujitsu and back again. There he would have arrived at the dept. Richard Roll had worked in and he would have questioned staff there and asked about the log held there recording adjustments made. The nature of that log would have undoubtedly raised concerns. Fundamentally he would have then known his third paragraph of his executive summary was completely false.

    “The integrity of Horizon is founded on its tamper proof logs, its real time back ups and the absence of “backdoors” so that all data entry or acceptance is at branch level and is tagged against the log on ID of the user. This means that ownership of the accounting is truly at branch level.”

    There was a backdoor and it was being used by a third party to attempt to keep up with errors they had detected or been informed of. At the same time he would have recognised that the Fujitsu “expert witness” authorising the statements of fact, Andy Dunks, was totally ineffective with respect to the process. Sat in a high security office any role Dunks had as “cryptographic key manager” was irrelevant to security of that backdoor and therefore the statements from Dunks were meaningless.

    Now of course Ismay did none of that. Critical is why. We can speculate but that will not be helpful. Hopefully Ismay will be called before the inquiry to tell us why.

    However the construct of the report is revealing in itself. The use of language is poor where authorship is clearly Ismay’s. He obviously “copy & pastes” from other documents that have been sent him or contracts or agreements. Sometimes that pasting is comical in what it has included. But the whole theme is one of the deliberately incurious bureaucrat quoting the corporate speak of others and throwing in a few fairly irrelevant top line figures (when over 27,000 of “other” at 18% is your third biggest source of transaction corrections in one year, it sounds like there is something going wrong that is not defined), but he writes this waffle & padding rather than addressing exactly what his report was asked to address.

    The report does not do what it was asked to do and that is very clear. It also most clearly represents that the author does not understand that legal liabilities to the SP with whom POL is contracted, must trump corporate self interest. That then begs the question of that little army of people to whom the report was sent. MD Dave Smith, Head of Criminal Law Rob Wilson – jeepers what’s his excuse – the dog ate it before I could read it? Mandy Talbot Principal Lawyer, Keith Woollard Head of Compliance Mike Granville Head of Regulatory Relations – all comatose at the wheel? And then two IT heads – Burley projects and Sewell all IT – if they saw this guy spouting nonsense “there are no back doors in our system….ownership of accounting is truly at branch level” then they surely had a duty to tell the MD Dave Smith the report was incorrect in one of its founding assumptions. So what was the response to this by these people?

    Someone promoted Ismay to his role and someone asked Ismay to construct this report. What did the commissioning agent think when he/she actually read it? “That’s great, a pile of badly written conflicted statements and holes in others I can see from across the road; that is just what I wanted”?

    This report is critical evidence. Of interest is why Ismay did such a poor job. More critical is what did those who received it do.

  4. Rosie Brocklehurst avatar
    Rosie Brocklehurst

    Something in all the reading I have done of blogposts and updated books is the question of culpability in early investigations prior to prosecution i.e. the investigators line of approach to isolate victims by tellig them they were alone in having reported errors on Horizon. Who gave that directive? Who knew it was false? Have names been given? Are these liars in what I presume is a chain, to be named and prosecuted?

  5. […] Winn was a hopelessly over-promoted former postie who eventually fetched up reporting to the Post Office’s Head of Product and Branch Accounting, Rod Ismay (author of the infamous Ismay report). […]

  6. […] By 2008, Winn somehow found himself a senior middle manager within a department called Product and Branch Accounting (P&BA). He reported to Rod Ismay, author of 2010’s infamous Ismay Report. […]

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