The Magic Signature

Cath Oglesby, the woman who sacked Lee Castleton

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

There was some bewildering evidence at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on the afternoon of Thursday 16 November from Cath Oglesby, the Post Office area manager who sacked Lee Castleton.

Lee first came to Oglesby’s attention in December 2003, when he had a £1,100 discrepancy at his Marine Drive branch in Bridlington, Yorkshire. At the time Oglesby advised trying various things to see if the source of the discrepancy could be uncovered. When it couldn’t, Oglesby told Lee to make good the loss out of his own money and sign off his accounts so he could roll over into the next trading period.

As one of the Inquiry barristers had it: “You were, in effect, advising him to accept the loss, sign off the accounts, even though he did not think they were accurate?”

Oglesby replied: “Well, he would have shown the £1,100 short in his account, so he would be signing to say he had
a shortage in the account.”

Would he? Really?

The Inquiry barrister continued: “But you were encouraging him to make good on the basis that it would all come out in the wash with an error notice; is that right?

“That’s what I was hoping, yes.” replied Oglesby.

Lee paid the £1,100 into his Post Office branch account out of his own pocket. Three weeks later, Oglesby visited Lee’s branch again. The Inquiry barrister asked her if she bothered chasing up the hoped-for error notice.

“I can’t remember doing so, no”, replied Oglesby, “but as it was only three weeks or so after the loss, the error notices could take a long time to come back, so I didn’t think anything untoward or anything at that point.”

Imagine trying to account for what was happening in your branch on a (then) weekly basis with no idea when or why an error notice might appear to change your accounts – particularly if you didn’t know why you had a discrepancy in the first place.

Nothing untoward

Lee Castleton in Oct 2023 outside the branch he was sacked from in 2004

From January 2004, Lee went on to suffer larger losses, eventually totalling more than £26,000. Neither Lee, Oglesby or anyone else at the Post Office knew where these losses had come from, so Oglesby sacked him.

Then the Post Office took Lee to court for £26,000. As we have discovered during recent inquiry hearings, the Post Office took the view it was worth spending more than £300,000 of public money to take Lee to court for £26,000, because doing so would deter other Subpostmasters from potentially taking legal action over their Horizon discrepancies.

The fact Lee was bankrupted when the Post Office won the case and were awarded costs was of no consequence to them. If you want to read the effect of the Post Office’s actions on Lee’s daughter, Millle, you can read this or listen to episode 15 of the BBC’s Great Post Office Trial.

Although the Post Office wanted to win their court case against Lee pour discourager les autres, the legal argument which persuaded the judge to find in favour of the Post Office had nothing to do with Horizon, it was because Lee had taken legal responsibility for the discrepancy by signing off his accounts.

On Thursday, the inquiry barrister picked this up with Cath Oglesby:

“The case being run by the Post Office against Mr Castleton was that the act of doing that, of signing and rolling over, was an acceptance that the accounts were correct, and [in your witness statement to the High Court] you say here “The Subpostmaster had to sign the Cash Account and of course should not have done so unless it was accurate.” But because error notices took time to come through, there might well be occasions where cash accounts were confirmed and a Subpostmaster rolled over to allow them to continue trading, when they didn’t accept there was a discrepancy;
do you see that?”

Which of course, is totally mad, but Oglesby did see that, explaining:

“They’d still be signing the account to say that that was accurate, the cash and stock was accurate and, at that point in time, there was also a discrepancy. So that would be a loss or a gain. So they’re signing the account, you know, to say that’s accurate at that point, with the loss or the gain in there.”

This interpretation of what a signature may or may not mean 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 the areas where there were positives.”

What, the Inquiry barrister wondered to Oglesby, would happen if the Subpostmaster disputing a discrepancy refused to sign the accounts before rolling over?

“Well, nothing would have happened that I could think of”, replied Oglesby, who agreed that the Subpostmaster could roll over their accounts and continue trading as normal. “It’s only a signature on a document.”

Try telling that to a High Court judge.

Lee’s balancing problems

There is a huge bone of contention about what happened at Lee’s branch in 2004 after he was suspended. It was touched on on Thursday. Oglesby put two different temporary Subpostmasters into Marine Drive, and whilst both had minor balancing discrepancies, neither had anything more than £100. Oglesby says this was a big factor in her decision to sack Lee: “the decision to dismiss him… because I’d put people into the branch and there were no real… I know there were small losses and gains but that’s something you would expect in any branch, I based, you know, part of my decision on that the Horizon system was working and was robust. I had no reason to believe it wasn’t.”

Lee is adamant the first temp had far more serious problems than that, to the extent that the Horizon system went down in Marine Drive for the best part of a morning, and the temporary Subpostmaster reverted to manual accounting. Lee suspects during this period of downtime his system was being fixed remotely. It was raised by his barrister, Ed Henry KC at the end of Oglesby’s evidence, who suggested the Marine Drive Horizon system: “crashed. Do you not recall [the temp] saying that it had to be rebooted, and then [in court] she offered a different explanation, so a mutually inconsistent explanation, that it hadn’t crashed but that she just decided to work manually.”

Oglesby had no recollection of this. Henry tried again:

“I suggest that there were evident problems with Horizon when Ruth Simpson took over and no one was being frank about it; isn’t that right?”

Oglesby disagreed.

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6 responses to “The Magic Signature”

  1. On a more cheery note – see below the common issues trial judgement which covers this specific matter Mrs Ogeslby was cross-examined on by Mr Jason.

    Castleton was a test-case lead by Mandy Talbot who used it to put many, many people away. Also see link to original judgement by Judge Richard Havery in 2007. Havery addresses the issue of burden of proof straightaway – ie. zero to do with Horizon. – it is uncomplicated – Castleton’s counter claim was thrown out pronto – much to Mandy’s delight.

    ~extract from Fraser’s common issues judgement 2019~

    1) If a Subpostmaster contacts the helpline to dispute Horizon’s figures in any given trading period, then the Branch Trading Statement they are required to sign off before rolling into the next trading period cannot have the status of a “settled” account.
    This means the Post Office cannot treat any branch discrepancy as a debt (or worse – evidence of dishonesty) if the Subpostmaster has flagged the fact they are having problems.

    The judge goes on to say: “The issue of a Subpostmaster as an agent deliberately rendering a false account to his or her principal, in relation to any such Branch Trading Statement for such a period therefore simply does not, in my judgment, arise.”
    Rather important when you consider the number of prosecutions for false accounting.

    2) The impossible bind Subpostmasters used to be in where they would be held liable for a discrepancy unless they could prove it wasn’t their or their assistants’ fault has now gone. The judge ruled: “It is not for a Subpostmaster to demonstrate that there was no negligence, carelessness or error on his or her part. It is for the Post Office to demonstrate that there is.”

    I think Fraser may have saved the PO from extinction with these rulings.

  2. > An absolutely totally disgusting thing to do. How can she sleep at night?

    I assure you creatures of her mentality and “calibre” have no problem with things like that.

    The kindest thing I can say is that, improbable as it sounds, even more despicable worms than her have appeared before the Inquiry so far.

    What useful purpose these creatures serve on our planet, other than forming part of the carbon cycle, beats me.

  3. in tracing any anomaly in finance , you need to first look at what is “missing ” is the amount divisible by 9 …. ? think about it is it whole numbers ?, is it always a debit?, when does it occur ?, what happened after when it was last right ?, what’s the shift accounting period, is it the escrow /reject total from the cash machine escrow , chase the available figures , do no assume , mistakes happen

  4. this issue was well known in the computer industry at the time, there were many rumours of inadequacy at Fujitsu , it was suspected to be cash machine transactions which were not correctly accounted for , these would be invisible to the branches staff because they didn’t see them , they are not “sales” and are non vatable but reduce the cash totals, that is what we suspected was the “route”

    I didn’t tell you this …

  5. I have just watched Cath Oglesby’s inquiry evidence, on YouTube here at 1h33m31s, where Lee Castleton’s handwritten note, begging for Horizon data, is shown. This runs through to the Cath Oglesby’s document shown at 1h40m20s, summarising her reasons for sacking Lee.

    In that document she writes “I was doing all I could to get the information that he had requested” whereas elsewhere in her testimony she admits that requests to Fujitsu effectively went off into the ether, and she even says in this document “I probably would not be able to get all that he was asking for”

    What did she do? Did she bother to follow up with Fujitsu, even just once, given that his livelihood was on the line? No, she just sacked him. What kind of a person is she?

    An absolutely totally disgusting thing to do. How can she sleep at night?

    I urge all readers to watch all of her evidence, it’s a horror show. I am appalled that Cath Oglesby and Helen Rose still to this day cannot seem to accept that Horizon was fatally flawed and that good honest people were telling the truth. They were wilfully blind to the possibility that Lee was telling the truth.

  6. 48 years service I gave to post office and on the day I left ,no phone call ,no thanks ,NOTHING !!! Cath Oglesby was my area manager

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