I have been reminded that the Post Office annual report is laid before parliament because the Post Office is a government-owned company. The falsehood in its annual report therefore means the Post Office has misled parliament. The latest the Post Office was aware of this was 6 April. Yet it chose not to inform Post Office minister, Kevin Hollinrake, or the business department that it had misled parliament. The Business Department and the Minister have confirmed to me this weekend that the first they learned of the falsehood was when their attention was drawn to the apology and correction quietly published on the Post Office corporate website on Friday.
The Director General of the Business Department, David Bickerton, has written to the Post Office CEO, Nick Read, demanding a) an apology for not informing the Minister of the error and b) an explanation as to how the falsehood came to be published in the annual report. A review of the Post Office’s corporate governance is now underway.
I believe the review needs to investigate not just the falsehood, but how a bonus target related to the Inquiry was considered appropriate, and then approved by the remuneration committee, chairman and CEO.
Third phase of the scandal
We are now in the third phase of this scandal. The first was the wrongful prosecutions of hundreds of people over the years 2000 to 2013. Then we had the cover-up: 2013 to 2019. Now were are in the Post Office’s third phase: screw the victims a second time whilst rewarding ourselves bonuses for tolerating something we don’t particularly care for but are forced to participate in.
Let’s spell this out. Post Office executives are showering themselves with cash for co-operating with the Post Office Horizon Stautory Inquiry whilst actively engaged in trying to give people whose lives it has ruined as little compensation as possible.
Parmod Kalia is one of the most gentle and kind people I’ve ever met. The shame he has felt since being convicted more than twenty years ago has broken him mentally and physically and destroyed his family. I told Parmod’s story for the first time back in 2018, when I met him on the first day of the first Bates v Post Office trial. At that stage he didn’t want his photo taken, nor did he want me to use his real name, so we agreed I could call him Parvinder.
Parmod’s conviction was quashed in 2021. The Post Office at first refused to compensate him and then offered him a desultory amount and letting him know that if he thought that wasn’t enough, he could take them to court. Parmod was quoted in the Times on 27 April saying he felt “bullied” into accepting the offer, telling Tom Witherow “I just didn’t have the energy to fight them”.
Post Office execs are re-destroying people whilst awarding themselves bonuses, putting falsehoods in their annual report and misleading parliament. And this is the organisation which has supposedly seen the error of its ways since being dragged kicking and screaming to a miserly settlement ending a litigation during which they enlisted the former President of the Supreme Court in an attempt to recuse the presiding judge.
Reputation, reputation, reputation
I somehow managed to stumble across an article published yesterday by an Aussie journalist about an Aussie scandal involving the giant accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. It is sharp, witheringly funny and entirely relatable to the Post Office scandal or indeed any other major state/corporate cover-up in recent decades. Do read it if you can. The main takeaway point is that time and again, the actions of those directly, tangentially or potentially responsible for any major scandal (be it Grenfell, Hillsborough, Infected Blood, Windrush or the Post Office) DO NOT CARE A SINGLE THING about victims or accountability. Not a thing. It is all about reputation preservation. That’s it. That’s why we’re still mired in the brown stuff.
But even by generic standards of appalling corporate governance what has come to light about the Post Office this weekend is extraordinary. This is not normal. This is very, very serious. I hope the people involved recognise that, and for once, do the right thing.
My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.