The Post Office’s “caring” side

Hugh Flemington giving evidence on 30 April

The other story to come out of today’s evidence (21 May 2024) took us away from inability of Alwen Lyons to see herself as anything other than a helpful facilitator of Post Office business and Second Sight’s investigation into the Post Office business. 

It concerns a couple of emails sent by Post Office Head of Legal Hugh Flemington.

The first, in 2012, he sent to Paula Vennells. “We have a civil (not criminal) case in court tomorrow”, writes Flemington “where we have already had an admission from the Subpostmaster that she owed us [£10,4000].”

The Subpostmaster was a Mrs Etheridge who ran the Gurnos Post Office in Merthyr Tydfil. Flemington tells Vennells:

“Tomorrow sees us try to put a charge on her property so if she ever sells it we (hopefully) get paid back out of the sale proceeds. Her husband has seen the press coverage on Horizon, is now saying he will contact his MP, Justice for Subpostmasters etc. and is blaming Horizon for his wife’s debt (amongst other alleged causes).”

The admission appears to have been made under duress. Not that Flemington cared. According to Fleminton, Mrs Etheridge: 

“started out as an SPM in 2008 and seems to have had balancing issues from the start. She closed temporarily in 2010 due to ill health and finally for good in 2011. We never terminated her because of her illness. She resigned in June 2011 but it seems by November 2011 we had noticed losses (10k). The husband then makes various allegations…. We issued court proceedings for the whole debt in Feb this year and the SPM admitted the debt!”

I wonder why. Maybe they took legal advice and were told that if they took on the Post Office they’d end up bankrupt like that Lee Castleton fella. Flemington continues:

“We then took the steps to place a charging order on the property to try to ensure we actually see the money if they ever sell their property.”

Does Flemington have the slightest interest in the concerns raised by the Subpostmaster and her husband? Of course not. He’s got his admission. But there’s a fly in the ointment.

“The husband will attend the hearing tomorrow with the SPM and try to get an adjournment of the case – probably on the grounds of the current forensic investigation we have initiated.”

Bandwagonesque, again

Flemington wantes to resist an adjournment on the grounds that if they don’t it “will just encourage more debtors to play the system and use these tactics to slow down our ability to recover. They will all jump on the band wagon.”

Aware there are potential reputational downsides to acting like bully-boy c***s, Flemington tells Vennells: “We will however need to manage the PR side.

Five days later, Flemington returns with some good news:

“The hearing went ahead last Friday and we were granted a “Final Charging Order” over Mrs Etheridge’s (the ex SPM) house.”

Trebles all round! “Apparently”, writes Flemington “Mr Etheridge turned up to Court with a bundle of papers, including correspondence with his MP.”

Didn’t do him any good, though, did it? Vennells seeks clarity on Flemington’s legalese:

Just so I’m clear,” she asks, “does this mean we got the outcome you wanted, ie no adjournment and future repayment of the debt?

Flemington replies: “Yes we got the outcome we wanted

And because the Post Office will often jettison its professed mania for protecting public money if there’s the slightest whiff of reputational damage in the media, Flemington gives Vennells the win-win:

“and we have the flexibility not to press it further etc if we ever want to be “caring” etc.”

These Post Office folk really are great guys.

Give Off The Signals

The other email concerned a letter sent by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Post Office in the light of Second Sight’s Interim Report on 15 July 2013. It is a very serious letter raising the prospect of an investigation into possible miscarriages of justice. The letter itself was not shown to the Inquiry today but in her covering email sending it on Susan Crichton notes: “There is a reference to the Attorney General.

Crichton is concerned at this potential escalation of the issues raised in the Clarke Advice, which she has seen, but not yet told the board about.

In what circumstances could the Attorney General get involved?” she asks.

A response to Crichton’s questions comes from Martin Smith at Cartwright King. It is cc’d to Hugh Flemington.

“The Attorney General has no role in the referral of cases to the Court of Appeal. The Attorney General can, however, set up an inquiry to see if there has been a miscarriage of justice. If he determines that there has, he can refer cases to the CCRC.”

Caring Hugh responds:

“Presumably we need to give off the signals that we are proactive, doing all the right things re writing to people to keep the AG and CCRC calm. Hopefully if they see that they may leave us to it for the moment.”

Pretending to be proactive to the AG and the CCRC? Presenting the impression of activity without actually doing much? I do wonder just how close that comes to being evidence of an intention to pervert the course of justice. 

To read about Alwyn Lyons evidence to the Inquiry today, please click here for the blog post, or click here for the link to the live-tweets and documentary evidence.


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17 responses to “The Post Office’s “caring” side”

  1. Legislation permitting, I could have some real fun with this one.

  2. When you consider the range of ‘professional’ people involved in this scandal and their atrocious attitudes and behaviours, it makes you wonder whether The Law Society, The Bar Council, The Institute of Directors, various accountancy and audit bodies, Institute for the Management of Information Systems, The Chartered Governance Institute – DO ANY OF THEM BOTHER WITH ETHICS AND MORALITY? Are ethics and morals considered impediments and inconveniences? ARE THEY OPTIONAL? Are ethics and morals only important if you get caught?

  3. Royal Mail got me to sign an NDO when I was sacked for having an accident with a van that I should not have rried to move I.e. released the handbrake on a slope. Nobody died but I got 4 free therapy sessions and a payoff after being told I only had a 50 percent chance of winning an unfar dismissal case by the CVU. How many gagging orders did the PO put on their victims I wonder?

  4. I think there is a real issue of the culture there even now.
    I dont think the Post Office is actually fit for purpose.
    I spoke to my local Post Master who has run the local shop and post office service for 10-15 years.
    He said only a couple of years ago they tried to say there was a short-fall at his Post Office and he pushed back….he received the usual threatening letters and then they backed down very suddenly.
    He invited them to come and audit him but they never did (& shockingly never have).
    Says it all.
    I worked in banking for many years and to not be formally audited? How can that be?
    Scratch beneath the smoke & mirrors processes and I think you will find a can of absolute sh*te there.
    Embarrasing.
    Just a load of people on huge salaries in London.

  5. Alan Cornforth avatar
    Alan Cornforth

    When I hear the stock phrase, “I am not an IT person” in response to the remote login conundrum, I despair that the barrister does no just break it down in to simple office speak. A database is another form of spreadsheet, so a simple analogy would be to ask these overpaid board people –> If you created a spreadsheet that contained all the salaries and bonuses of your colleagues on the board, password protected it with a very weak password and saved it on the network – would you be surprised if someone came along who was not authorised to see it, accessed it and starting changing the figures without your knowledge?

  6. Jane Stringer avatar

    Vennells, this morning, broke down in tears, when the ‘sharp as a razor’ Mr Beer, brought the subject of Mr Griffiths’ suicide up. Vennells answered by saying that she had had a friend and PO colleague, who had also taken their own life and went on to relate how she had spoken to her friend’s father after the death. It was at this point, in my view, that the tears flowed. Not for Mr Griffiths and his family, but more for her friend and colleague! I do not know how she could possibly think that anyone will ever believe what she has to say.

    1. Not a friend. A “colleague”, just to remind everyone how much she cared about SPMs.

  7. How is it possible that basically everyone at the Post Office was evil? So many people, united in unethical behaviour? Did they look for these qualities when recruiting?

    1. The evil of an organization can be so much more than the sum of its parts…

    2. It seems that everyone was (is?) evil except, that is, the person testifying to the inquiry at any given moment.

  8. PCOJ Investigator avatar
    PCOJ Investigator

    “Caring side” filters down from the boss (CEO), a liar whose convenient tearburst around 11.30 am might fool the simple-minded.

    What is most a-Paulaing of all is that in this country Life Imprisonment without the possibility of Parole, and bankruptcy, are the heaviest punishments that can be levied?

    Woefully inadequate.

    Where’s that Crozier?

    1. CROZIER, now Chairman at BT. When asked about where the money the SPM’s paid to POL went (to repay money the did not owe). Crozier – “I’m not an accountant”. So Chairmen and CEO’s get paid enormous salaries and bonus’s but do not need to know where the money goes!!!!

  9. THE TRACK RECORD OF RM/PO;s CEOs

    Adam Crozier was paid £8.8m (plus pension) over 7 years and prosecuted 400+ innocent SPMs
    Moya Greene (2 years) was pad £3.7m plus pension and prosecuted 150+ innocent SPMs
    Paula Vennells (7 years) was paid £5.8m plus pension and prosecuted c200 innocent SPMs

    Note we are yet to receive convincing definitive numbers of prosecuted SPMs; the above are best estimates to date.

    Far worse, there were many, many others threatened with prosecution who were then extorted into paying over vast sums of money they did not owe and which were never PO losses in the first place, and who were “merely” bankrupted and/or thrown out of their businesses.

    And these roos think just saying “oops, sorry” even begins to suffice? They individually need to make the money good, which of course will bankrupt the lot of them.

  10. Rosie Brocklehurst avatar
    Rosie Brocklehurst

    This callous is a piece of work isn’t he? Where are Mr and Mrs Ethridge now? Is she dead due to illness? Were they made homeless? “Play the system. Jump on bandwagons…..”. This is blind prejudice. “Admitted the debt” Well I am imagining myself a fly on the wall as to those hideous low-lifes, the untouchables as they have the poor woman with her ‘illegal’ post office contract, up against a wall, forcing her to read the contract which says she has to own all debts. This is the one thing Alan Bates refused to agree to. She obviously had shortfalls like so many from day one, and Hugh Flemington lied to the Inquiry in saying he had nothing to do with any SPM’s prosecution. Yes he did. He gloried in and delighted in relaying news to the higher ups of an admission, then a ‘charge’ on a home (so they could be potentially homeless) to a CEO convinced in 2012 that SPMRs were criminals, and then took the vast sums Horizon had invented which the SPMRs had never really owed and consumed it into post offices own balance sheet, and used as a measure for which the untouchables and bosses bonuses were based. The perfect scam.

  11. Alan Cornforth avatar
    Alan Cornforth

    I think I need to revisit Huge Flaming Tongue’s evidence to the inquiry again as I really can’t remember being quite as revolted by him as I did today with the evidence that came out in Alwen Lyons testimony.

  12. “and we have the flexibility not to press it further etc if we ever want to be “caring” etc.”

    I’ve felt sick enough through listening to a lot of this inquiry, but this one made me sick to my stomach. Literally I thought I might throw up.

  13. Hugh’s not only SO caring but also the one who said he had NOTHING to do with any SPM prosecutions, knowing nothing at all about criminal law … so the only sense in which he managed Singh at all was to do with holiday dates and the like. Yeah right.

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