GB Post Office "Horizon" overcharges Trial - the Court Cases

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GB Post Office "Horizon" overcharges Trial - the Court Cases

Post by mikeg »

All I can say is: WOW :shock:

Quote : 'The Post Office has admitted that it may have wrongly prosecuted sub–post office officials after its computer payment system overcharged some branches.

The Horizon system handles all payment processing with the Post Office's 11,500 contractors who run sub–post offices throughout the country. Over 100 have registered complaints after being accused of cooking the books by the errant payment system. Some have been jailed and others have lost their homes and businesses.'

Full story here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/07/09/post_office_admits_f ... em_cockup/

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by toschka »

Lets now see if they rectify the mistakes they have made and compensate those whose lives they have destroyed.

In my dealings with RM it has been rare for them to ever admit they make mistakes and getting compensation out of them has proved to be like getting blood out of a stone. This has been for missing or damaged mail - they seem to think that fobbing one off with a booklet of stamps is compensation enough unless one screams blue murder at them!

Then we have the 'agency' postmen doing the rounds in charge of our mail - no criminal checks - no literacy checks - and so it goes on. Cutting costs and cutting corners and putting prices up have finally given them a profit! Let's see what joys privatisation bring us!

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by norvic »

toschka wrote:Lets now see if they rectify the mistakes they have made and compensate those whose lives they have destroyed.

In my dealings with RM it has been rare for them to ever admit they make mistakes and getting compensation out of them has proved to be like getting blood out of a stone. This has been for missing or damaged mail - they seem to think that fobbing one off with a booklet of stamps is compensation enough unless one screams blue murder at them!

Then we have the 'agency' postmen doing the rounds in charge of our mail - no criminal checks - no literacy checks - and so it goes on. Cutting costs and cutting corners and putting prices up have finally given them a profit! Let's see what joys privatisation bring us!
You're mixing your companies. Your post is delivered by Royal Mail Ltd. The computer system which has failed postmasters is run by Post Office Ltd.
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by toschka »

Indeed you are correct - My apologies for the mix up.

But I still get problems with counter staff at the franchise office I use. Being a dealer I try and pre stamp my mail with nice commemoratives when I can get supplies. What annoys me is when I have lots of pre-stamped packages to send and the counter clerk cannot work out that 60p x 10 is £6 and then either give me stamps for the balance due or print off a label for the difference (this is for overseas signed for stuff). A ten minute visit - queues permitting - becomes a marathon while the clerk either counts one by one each stamp or I have to wait until a calculator becomes available!

Old age is making me far too grumpy!

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by norvic »

toschka wrote:Indeed you are correct - My apologies for the mix up.

But I still get problems with counter staff at the franchise office I use. Being a dealer I try and pre stamp my mail with nice commemoratives when I can get supplies. What annoys me is when I have lots of pre-stamped packages to send and the counter clerk cannot work out that 60p x 10 is £6 and then either give me stamps for the balance due or print off a label for the difference (this is for overseas signed for stuff). A ten minute visit - queues permitting - becomes a marathon while the clerk either counts one by one each stamp or I have to wait until a calculator becomes available!

Old age is making me far too grumpy!
No, I think you are justified in being grumpy. I too prepare my outgoings (including some inland ones) with stamps less than the full amount of postage. If the item is over the basic weight, then a Horizon label is applied, and the items bearing both stamps and label set aside for hand-cancellation later.

On my own certificate of posting I have columns for actual postage, weight, and amount prepaid so I simply and over the amount, tell our postmaster the weight, he tells me the total, I tell him the amount prepaid which he enters into the system, and he prints the label. If you don't have counter staff who can do that, you need to find a different branch where the staff are aged over 40 and can remember how to do mental arithmetic or will take your word for it.

Post enough and they ought to; there is no benefit in you OVER-stating the prepayment: that would simply result in an underpaid item which may cause problems for the customer. There is no benefit in you UNDER-stating the prepayment: that would mean that you would pay more for the balance than is actually due. It matters naught, really, to the PO.
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by HayeSmyth »

It seems quite unbelievable, that these prosecutions succeeded based on the acceptance of so called 'proof', supplied by a computer system.

After all, we regularly see in the media the countless instances of incorrect computerised billing of customers by the energy and communications providers.

How on earth can a court not insist on properly (manually) audited accounting records submitted as supportive evidence?

Or is this a case of ineptitude on the part of defence counsel? Or perhaps this is what you get on legal aid!

I just hope that if justice is done, it is seen to be done big time and the Post Office get a severe monetary spanking!

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by norvic »

HayeSmyth wrote:It seems quite unbelievable, that these prosecutions succeeded based on the acceptance of so called 'proof', supplied by a computer system.

After all, we regularly see in the media the countless instances of incorrect computerised billing of customers by the energy and communications providers.

How on earth can a court not insist on properly (manually) audited accounting records submitted as supportive evidence?

Or is this a case of ineptitude on the part of defence counsel? Or perhaps this is what you get on legal aid!

I just hope that if justice is done, it is seen to be done big time and the Post Office get a severe monetary spanking!
I understand that the postmasters have usually been represented by the Federation of Sub-Postmasters' Legal Advisers.
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by HayeSmyth »

norvic wrote: I understand that the postmasters have usually been represented by the Federation of Sub-Postmasters' Legal Advisers.
I'm sure all currently employed Sub-Postmasters will now have utmost confidence in that lot!

I understand from the TV news bulletin, at least one of the 'victims', pleaded guilty to the charges. Was this plea, under their advice, in order to receive a reduced sentence? It would seem they must have felt totally impotent by not being able to challenge the computerised evidence.

What a disgrace!

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by PeterS »

Not having seen any of the charges brought, other than the one mentioned in the article in the OP (where the official pleaded guilty to false accounting, after lying - in frustration - that everything was now balanced), I cannot comment on why they were convicted.

Is there any more detail available on how many sub-postmasters have been charged, convicted and gaoled?

I am amused to see that, despite the problems, Royal Mail Ltd. has "full confidence" in theorizon system and that there are no systemic problems.
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by norvic »

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by gavin-h »

HayeSmyth wrote:It seems quite unbelievable, that these prosecutions succeeded based on the acceptance of so called 'proof', supplied by a computer system.
Indeed it does seem "quite unbelievable" :!:

Look more closely at the report cited in the OP...

www.theregister.co.uk

...seems to be some sort of IT conspiracy theory / wikileaks type site.

I suspect there's a grain of truth in what they're saying but maybe we're not seeing the whole story.

Certainly in the mainstream media I've not seen stories of wholesale jailing of subpostmasters. :shock:

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by The Pom »

gavin-h wrote:
Certainly in the mainstream media I've not seen stories of wholesale jailing of subpostmasters. :shock:
This has been covered extensively in Private Eye, who are generally well ahead of the mainstream media.

The numbers of people affected are not high, but it seems that nearly all cases are shocking injustices.
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by norvic »

Various reports relevant to this:

A group of sub-postmasters who claim they were wrongly accused of theft and fraud have forced the Post Office to review their cases. (Daily Telegraph June 2012)

Plymouth yesterday: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Plymouth-postmaster-defraude ... story.html

"Over the past few years a recurring theme in my cases are allegations of theft, fraud or false accounting made against Postmasters or Post Office employees. Such an allegation usually arises as a result of discrepancies found (or confirmed) on visits of internal auditors to sub-Post Offices.

In order to obtain a conviction for theft, fraud or false accounting the prosecution have to prove (or the defendant has to admit) dishonesty. Often the defendant will say that discrepancies have arisen through innocent errors or as a result of a problem of some sort with the accounting procedures or software. Accounting Web 2009:

Justice for Sub-Postmasters Alliance has several cases listed
(1) On three occassions I asked my line manager and then BDM about discrepancies and was told don't worry they will sort themselves out. Initially we put the money in but when the losses increased we could not afford to do so. I balanced every week even when the system changed to the trading period balances. Each week these figures were sent by Horizon to Chesterfield so they would have been aware that I was having problems. No one contacted me at all (Lack of due care and attention by PO Ltd). I was audited in Autumn 2008 and was asked if there were any problems and I said yes there was a shortfall in the cash amounting to £27k.

(4) We took over our post office and shop in 1998 and Horizon arrived in October 2000. Having been involved with EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) systems for many years before running a post office, it seemed to be a good step forward. How wrong I was, it turned out to a ‘pig in a poke’, an utter travesty, it was something out of the ark. It’s key flaw was that it did not allow me or my staff to fully access the data which we had input into the system. You could run a few basic reports but it was totally inadequate to keep track of all the transactions and all the hundreds of thousands of pounds which flowed through the business each month.

(6)I recieved no training with the new technology and so when I balanced one wednesday in October 2003 and was over £2000 short I rang the HELPdesk!! Instead of helping they instructed me to perform a number of things on the Horizon system and the deficit proceeded to double!!I was now over £4000 short!! I rang over and over again insisting that this was not my fault but they would have none of it. I was told I had to pay the money back!
Interesting reading, and nothing new. What is new is that POL have at last ackowledged that there may be faults in the system.
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by stampchris »

The Pom wrote:
gavin-h wrote:
Certainly in the mainstream media I've not seen stories of wholesale jailing of subpostmasters. :shock:
This has been covered extensively in Private Eye, who are generally well ahead of the mainstream media.

The numbers of people affected are not high, but it seems that nearly all cases are shocking injustices.
I was about to mention Private Eye's coverage.

IIRC some pleaded guilty as it was on legal advice, and I believe was probably seen as the 'easiest' option - either spend thousands and years fighting the case (with no likelihood of winning), or plead guilty and get on with your life.
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by Global Administrator »

norvic wrote:

... when I balanced one wednesday in October 2003 and was over £2000 short I rang the HELPdesk!! Instead of helping they instructed me to perform a number of things on the Horizon system and the deficit proceeded to double!!I was now over £4000 short!!

I rang over and over again insisting that this was not my fault but they would have none of it. I was told I had to pay the money back!
This is like a Monty Python script. :twisted:

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by toschka »

It just goes to prove that no system is infallible.

My sympathy is with those that were stigmatised with a criminal record because of all this. There cannot be much worse than knowing you have done nothing wrong and being unable to prove it because nobody believes you.

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by gavin-h »

Global Administrator wrote:
norvic wrote:

... when I balanced one wednesday in October 2003 and was over £2000 short I rang the HELPdesk!! Instead of helping they instructed me to perform a number of things on the Horizon system and the deficit proceeded to double!!I was now over £4000 short!!

I rang over and over again insisting that this was not my fault but they would have none of it. I was told I had to pay the money back!
This is like a Monty Python script. :twisted:
Actually, it's more like The Trial by Franz Kafka.

I guess you could use our two responses there to help form the definition of "An Intellectual" :lol: :lol: :lol:

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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by Machaggis52 »

toschka wrote:Indeed you are correct - My apologies for the mix up.

But I still get problems with counter staff at the franchise office I use. Being a dealer I try and pre stamp my mail with nice commemoratives when I can get supplies. What annoys me is when I have lots of pre-stamped packages to send and the counter clerk cannot work out that 60p x 10 is £6 and then either give me stamps for the balance due or print off a label for the difference (this is for overseas signed for stuff). A ten minute visit - queues permitting - becomes a marathon while the clerk either counts one by one each stamp or I have to wait until a calculator becomes available!

Old age is making me far too grumpy!
Not at all, according to the Mrs, I've been grumpy since birth. :D
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Re: Royal Mail- Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by Machaggis52 »

gavin-h wrote:
Global Administrator wrote:
norvic wrote:

... when I balanced one wednesday in October 2003 and was over £2000 short I rang the HELPdesk!! Instead of helping they instructed me to perform a number of things on the Horizon system and the deficit proceeded to double!!I was now over £4000 short!!

I rang over and over again insisting that this was not my fault but they would have none of it. I was told I had to pay the money back!
This is like a Monty Python script. :twisted:
Actually, it's more like The Trial by Franz Kafka.

I guess you could use our two responses there to help form the definition of "An Intellectual" :lol: :lol: :lol:
It is, isn't it. A truly chilling work. A reminder too, never to forget that in other countries, that, and worse, happens daily.
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Re: Royal Mail - Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by PeterS »

This is the organisation (Royal Mail Ltd) that is to be privatised, right?
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Re: Royal Mail - Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by HayeSmyth »

PeterS wrote:This is the organisation (Royal Mail Ltd) that is to be privatised, right?
Royal Mail (carriage and delivery) is being privatised but no it's The Post Office which runs the post offices which use this wonderful computer system. Two separate companies.

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Re: Royal Mail - Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by norvic »

The trial is about to begin.
http://www.postofficetrial.com/
Many UK readers will know the name Nick Wallis. Nick is a freelance investigative journalist who has done pieces for and often appears on The One Show, Inside Out (BBC) and ITV News, and presents Caught on Camera (Channel 5).

Nick has been following the PO Ltd Horizon story since it started, and has recently crowd-funded to ensure that he can faithfully cover and report on this story in a way that no other journalist will, because no other broadcaster or media organisation will pay for any of its journalists to cover it completely. The background to his involvement is here. The Horizon story timeline from 2007 is here.

Nick has now set up a new website/blog called The Post Office Trial - URL at the head of this post. His latest piece concerns the pre-trial ruling from the judge who will handle the Class Action more correctly known as a Group Litigation Order or GLO) which starts on November 5th.
The judge in the Post Office group litigation has issued an interesting ruling ahead of next month's trial.

For the last five weeks the Post Office has been trying to get sections of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA)'s witness statements struck out before the trial starts.

That ended on 15 October with Mr Justice Fraser's ruling, which comprehensively dismisses the Post Office's application along with a suggestion that it was only made to stop some very dirty linen being washed in public.

In judgey-speak:

"I [...] suspect that in the background to this application the defendant is simply attempting to restrict evidence for public relations reasons.... Whether this “generates adverse publicity” for the defendant is not a concern of the court, as long as the evidence is properly admissible... which I have found it is. The court is not a marketing or PR department for any litigant, and the principle of open justice is an important one."

The judge also reveals that the combined costs accrued by both sets of lawyers so far has now topped £10,000,000. Ten million quid! The JFSA are funded by Therium Capital Management. Therium will take a cut of any damages the Subpostmasters are awarded, and shoulder their costs if they lose. The Post Office is funded by you. And me. Assuming they are burning through cash at the same rate as the claimants that's £5m of your money they've spent defending this class action. And the trials have yet to start.

One of the most striking things about the 20 page, 11,000 word document is not the ruling itself, but the world weary, exasperated tone the judge adopts throughout.

Here a flavour:

"The legal advisers for the parties regularly give the appearance of taking turns to outdo their opponents in terms of lack of cooperation... it appears to me that extremely aggressive litigation tactics are being used in these proceedings. This simply must stop. It is both very expensive, and entirely counter-productive, to proper resolution of what is so far an intractable dispute. I made similar comments in judgment No.1. These must have fallen on deaf ears, at least for some of those involved in this case."
But what was that about (edited):
On 10 August this year the JFSA (Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance) made the witness statements it intended to use at the first trial available to the Post Office (the defendant). On 5 September the Post Office made a formal application to strike out 160 paragraphs of evidence from those six witnesses and suggested to the judge that this could be dealt with during an already scheduled costs hearing on the 19 September. The judge refused, saying he thought there would be too much to get through on one day, and so scheduled a hearing to discuss the strike-out application on 10 October.

Having proposed to deal with it on 19 September, the Post Office decided the 10 October date was too soon, and asked to have its strike-out hearing put back to the start of the trial on 5 November. The judge refused, saying:

"Extensive time at the trial... should not be spent arguing about what evidence should be admitted at that very trial." He notes the Post Office had relied "as one of the grounds justifying its strike out application, upon lack of time at trial. It would be rather circular to hear such an application relying upon such grounds at the very trial for which it was argued there was insufficient time."

But why did the Post Office say it didn't like large chunks of the claimants' witness statements? To paraphrase, the Post Office claimed the offending paragraphs:

a) weren't relevant to the first trial, because they related to events which had nothing to do with the witnesses' contracts.
b) were too subjective
c) weren't relevant to the area of law which the trial was examining

The Post Office said the offending parts of the witness statements should be struck out for five reasons:

1) the court had ordered evidence for the trial be restricted to contractual issues
2) there wasn't enough time to deal with the size of the witness statements at trial
3) the Post Office did not have enough evidence to respond to the claims made in the offending paragraphs
4) there was no benefit to the court in accepting the paragraphs
5) the trial was not set up to make findings on issues outside the area of law under examination

Before examining these arguments in his ruling the judge makes two pointed comments:

"The application by the defendant to strike out this evidence appears to be an attempt to hollow out the Lead Claimants’ case to the very barest of bones (to mix metaphors), if not beyond."

and

"[Mr Green QC - the JFSA's barrister] submitted in his written skeleton [argument] that the [strike-out] application “appears to be an attempt by Post Office to secure an advantage at the Common Issues Trial by selectively tailoring the evidence which the Court is to consider.” I accept that submission too; the application certainly gives that appearance."

Over several thousand words the judge concludes the Post Office's application is essentially a load of piffle. He rules the evidence in the paragraphs which the Post Office wants struck out is indeed relevant to the GLO. He also notes the point made by the JFSA's barrister that the subjects and themes which the Post Office has taken legal exception to in the JFSA's evidence are remarkably similar to those relied on (at length) by the Post Office in its own defence.
Also:
These are the comments the judge makes on the subject in his 15 October 2018 ruling:

"Some passages of the Lead Claimants’ evidence relate to the circumstances in which their engagement with the defendant was terminated... The Lead Claimants complain that such terminations were abrupt, came out of the blue, accused them of falsifying accounts and made other statements that were not factually accurate, and also that the defendant’s approach (and that of its solicitors) was generally heavy handed. I have read some of this correspondence, as it was exhibited to the witness statements. The tone of some of it is undoubtedly aggressive and, literally, dismissive. I make no findings about any of this at this stage, nor do I even consider whether such an approach was, or was not, justified in any particular individual case at the time. However, regardless of any rights and wrongs of such an approach then, with the Lead Claimants individually in that correspondence, I wish to make one point entirely clear, so that this cannot be misunderstood. An aggressive and dismissive approach to such major Group Litigation (or indeed any litigation) is entirely misplaced." [my italics - NW]

I wonder why he felt the need to say that?
If you are interested in this can of worms, then you can follow the blog at the link above, where you can also sign up to received daily email reports. You can also contribute, via a PayPal button, to the continued reporting not so much of this first stage trial, which has been fully-funded, but of the second trial next March.

I'll not repeat everything here, but I will throw in juicy and interesting bits from time to time.
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Re: Royal Mail - Do You Trust Their Computer System?

Post by norvic »

Nick Wallis reports on his Kafka-esque foray into the meat of British Justice:

Two weeks ago at the High Court I made an application in writing to see the Particulars of Claim, Defence and counterclaims etc of Bates v Post Office. Public documents.

I made a paper application in person for the above documents in a little office somewhere in the East Wing of the High Court. To say this office is hard to locate is something of an understatement. The directions handed out at the High Court reception are a half page of A4 long. Part of it takes you through a room known as the Bear Garden. It is all very peculiar.

I queued at one window for 15 minutes to be told when I got to the front I was queuing at the wrong window. There was no way of telling the windows apart, but I noticed the electronic signs which might have given me some clue were switched off. I didn’t say anything.

I had to rejoin the back of the queue at another window where I spent a further 10 minutes watching the man who had sent me away twiddle his thumbs at his empty counter.

Eventually my form was taken and stamped. Luckily I had taken a photo of it before handing it in as I didn’t get a receipt.

"What happens now?" I asked. I was told, to my bemusement, it would take two weeks to find them and print them off. Two weeks! "Come back in two weeks." she said, so I did.
Sounds like the Soviet Union?
I got there this morning before the office opened (having been taught a new, simpler, but longer way to get there by one of the Press Association’s High Court reporters) and was second in the queue. The door was opened at 10am.

Which is how I found myself queuing up two weeks later (at the correct window, this time) to discover no one had done anything about my request.

One member of staff who was not on counter duty was so obviously embarrassed by this he took it upon himself to go to the relevant office, locate the documents and order that they be photocopied immediately. He returned to explain the situation and after receiving his reassurance that this was definitely happening I waited.

Half an hour later I approached the counter window wondering what might be going on. The nice man was alerted by one of his colleagues to the fact I was still there, document-less. The nice man apologised again disappeared off into the bowels of the High Court.

Whilst he was gone I pointed out to the woman behind the counter that the signs which may or may not tell visitors which counter window was relevant to their enquiry were still not functioning. She seemed surprised by this and called over a colleague. He was less surprised.

There has, apparently, been a problem with them for a while. At least two weeks, by my reckoning, but not long enough for anyone to put up temporary signs. I didn’t say anything.

Eventually, success. I walked out of the High Court at 11am after shelling out £102 for just under 200 sheets of photocopied paper. I still haven’t had time to read them.
Then, finally, I went to the Rolls Building to check out court 26 (where the trial will start on Wednesday) and see if I could find out in advance how the flow of information and documents to journalists interested about the case could be directed.

Court 26 is on the third floor of the Rolls Building. It’s the biggest court room I’ve been in, with most of the space given over to lawyers’ benches. There is probably seating for 100-odd observers.

My enquiries with regard to the dissemination of information were given short shrift. As things stand both the claimants and defence have refused to tell me the names of their witnesses.

At the Rolls Building I was told that if the claimants or defence don’t want to release the names of their witnesses before they stand up in court, tough cheese. And my informal request to agree a method of ensuring documents referred to in court could be seen by journalists was dealt with thus:

“If you want to make any specific application to the trial Judge as a member of the press, there are certain procedures you would have to follow, upon which I cannot advise you.”

Well, of course not.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

UPDATE - now that documents have been read and reviewed. All these paragraphs are extracts and comments by Nick Wallis.
In very broad brush strokes, the JFSA (Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance) appears to be saying that the Post Office (the Defendant) is responsible for putting Subpostmasters in a horribly disadvantaged situation, which was so unfair as to be unlawful.

The Post Office appears to be saying it followed its contract with its Subpostmasters to the letter and didn't do anything wrong. It is particularly keen to deny its contract with Subpostmasters is "relational" or in any way "tortious".

On the claim form, which summarises the case against the Post Office, the claimants (mainly Subpostmasters, but including some Post Office employees and Subpostmaster assistants) say they "have been subjected to unlawful treatment by the Defendant causing them significant financial losses (including loss of their business and property) bankruptcy, prosecutions, serving community or custodial sentences, distress and related ill-health, stigma and/or reputational damage."

Later, the point about distress, ill health and stigma is extended:

"Many Claimants suffered distress and some of them ill-health as a result of the conduct of the Defendant, with some attempting to commit suicide." {my italics}
The JFSA says:

"From the introduction of Horizon and throughout, the Defendant failed to provide adequate training and support to the Claimants. When financial, accounting and other alleged errors or failures arose... the Defendant... did not investigate the existence and/or causes of the alleged shortfalls, fairly, properly or at all; required claimants to make good the alleged shortfalls; encouraged Claimants to sign-off cash balances without being able to satisfy themselves they were accurate and/or exercised undue or unreasonable pressure or influence on the Claimant to do so."

The JFSA also alleges Subpostmaster contracts "were replete with power and discretion in the hands of the Defendant. In all the circumstances, they included an implied term of trust and confidence and/or were relational contracts imposing obligations of good faith on the Defendant (including duties of fair dealing and transparency, trust and confidence and co-operation)."

It goes on to say that the contract had implied terms including "to account for, and explain any transactions and any alleged shortfalls which were attributed to the Claimants; and properly and fairly to investigate any such shortfalls."

The JFSA also claims the Post Office "concealed material facts from the Claimants and thereby misled them about the reliability of Horizon and the errors in, and generated by Horizon; the problems encountered by other Subpostmasters in using Horizon (Claimants being informed they were the only one); the ability of the Defendant (or its IT provider ICL and later Fujitsu, on its behalf) remotely to access and make changes to transactions, data and/or branch accounts, without the knowledge of the Claimants."

The JFSA also alleges the Post Office is liable for (deep breath here): "breach of express and/or implied contractual terms; breach of duties of care in tort; breach of fiduciary duty; unjust enrichment; harrassment under the Protection from Harrassment Act 1997; negligent misstatement; misrepresentation; deceit [and] malicious prosecution." It also claims several Human Rights Act and/or common law fair trial rights breaches.
My emphasis in colour - IB
The Post Office is having none of it. The generic defence calls the JFSA's allegations "speculative" and on at least three occasions so vague as to be "embarrassing". They allege "the Claimants cannot rely on express contractual terms to support their claims. In an ambitious attempt to invert the legal relationship between the parties, they seek to attack certain express contractual terms as being unenforceable, to imply a great number of new terms and to impose elaborate fiduciary, tortious and other duties on Post Office... Post Office denies the Claimants' elaborate and artificial attempt to re-write Subpostmasters' contracts."

It goes on "Some Claimants chose to submit false accounts to the Post Office... The Claimants attempt to excuse this behaviour by saying they were placed under such economic duress or were dealt with so unconscionably that they had no choice but to deceive Post Office by submitting false accounts and/or making false declarations of cash and/or stock at their branches. These allegations are denied in the strongest terms. Post Office did not make threats or put illegitimate pressure on Subpostmasters."
False accounting

This is one of the biggest bones of contention. The Post Office has inferred in the past that admitting signing off accounts a Postmaster knows to be false is enough evidence to prosecute them for false accounting. Very often, and to their own clients' possible detriment, a Subpostmaster's defence lawyer has agreed with this interpretation, hence the number of guilty pleas to false accounting which the Post Office has managed to secure.

However, to commit the crime of false accounting, there has to be criminal intent, and those accused of false accounting within this claim maintain they had no criminal intent. They say it was something they were either advised to do by the Post Office's helpline in the expectation a transaction correction would come to them down the line, or something the Postmasters did of their own volition, because if they had not signed off their accounts, Horizon would not function the next business day and they would not be able to trade.

The JFSA draws attention to previous legal correspondence from the Post Office in which the Post Office states: "it is a sound and logical inference that one would only submit false accounts to cover up their own theft."

Note the word "only". If that was the corporate mindset between 2000 and 2016, then you have a possible answer as to why there were so many criminal prosecutions.

In the generic defence, the Post Office takes a more nuanced line:

"The act of intentionally submitting false accounts is, of itself, a dishonest act... In some circumstances... it is an appropriate inference that, where the Subpostmaster has deliberately rendered false accounts, he or she has done so in order to cover up some other dishonest conduct (such as theft)... It is denied that it was unfair, flawed or irrational to infer dishonesty from the submission of false accounts."

But the bottom line for the Post Office is stated thus:

"The Claimants' attempt to excuse false accounting, combined with their attempt to place extensive duties of investigation and burdens of proof on Post Office in relation to the root cause of losses, would mean that the greater a Subpostmaster's misconduct, the more difficult it would be for Post Office to recover in respect of losses from his or branch. This outcome would be absurd."
Both parties seem so far apart in their understanding of what each others' responsibilities are when it comes to the relationship between Subpostmasters and Post Office. The Post Office says:

"The Subpostmaster Contracts made clear that Subpostmasters were agents of Post Office, and they owed Post Office the contractual, fiduciary and other duties that accompany that status. They were under a duty to account to the Post Office, not the other way round."

The JFSA states that in reality:

"Whereas the Claimants were agents of the Defendant for the purposes of dealings with third parties, such as members of the public, the Defendant was the Claimants' agent for the purpose of rendering and making available accounts and/or was under an equitable duty to render accounts."
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

From The Telegraph website today.

Image
Image
Image

Today's live reporting y Nick Wallis includes:
The morning was given over to the JFSA's QC Patrick Green who took the judge through the key parts of the JFSA's skeleton arguments (which I now have and will write up later).

The morning was interesting for two pieces of evidence, both internal Post Office memos, both of which only came from disclosure through this trial - one by a manager which clearly states that one of the lead claimants, Pam Stubbs, was having problems in her branch and Horizon was clearly the source of her problems. This, the QC said, directly contradicts the Post Office's assertion (made in its generic defence to the claim) that no claimant had suffered problems in their branch as a result of Horizon.

The second was an explosive document about a system-wide Horizon error in 2012 which was causing losses in branches. This was discussed on internal email by a group of PO people. Three options were discussed for dealing with the error, which included getting Fujitsu to go into individual Subpostmaster branches and changing the accounts without their knowledge. It was discussed as a matter of fact, not conjecture (all three options were given impact and risk assessments) and makes it quite plain that a decent number of people at the Post Office had more control of individual branch accounts than it likes to admit.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

Day 2 summary by Nick Wallis
Fifteen years after his sacking, Alan Bates, former postmaster of Craig-y-Don Post Office in Llandudno, North Wales, had his day in court.

Alan was there to be cross-examined on his evidence as one of the Lead Claimants to the Common Issues trial, which is part of the wider Bates and others v Post Office group litigation action.

Alan's evidence is 41 pages long. You should be able to read it here.

The Post Office's QC, the extremely capable David Cavender started by agreeing Alan's dates as a Subpostmaster and then subsequent campaigner against the Post Office, suggesting that we were going to start talking about things a very long time ago, and memory couldn't necessarily be relied on for exact details.

Alan said "I won’t remember all the detail but because they affected me they were of concern to me - and I recorded them at the time"

Alan then spent the rest of the morning being questioned on his Subpostmaster's contract. Alan has a reputation as a dogged, methodical, precise sort of fellow. Mr Cavender asked him about this element of his character. He suggested Alan was an experienced businessman who had worked on big projects and thrived on attention to detail. Alan accepted this characterisation.

The QC then subjected Alan Bates to some relentless questioning about his purchase of the Craig-y-Don Post Office and retail business. In his written evidence, Alan maintained he did not see a full Subpostmasters' contract before he took over the branch. Mr Cavender found this incredible. Having painted a picture, which Alan accepted, of an experienced businessman who thrived on detail, how on earth could or would he take on a business without seeing the contract or discussing the nature of his liabilities on the business?

Alan knocked this back, saying he didn't discuss the Subpostmaster's contract with his predecessor, because it was something he expected to discuss with the Post Office, and he said when he did sign a contract with the Post Office, he thought the three short documents and covering letter constituted the contract, and had no idea that there was another 144 page document called the Subpostmaster's contract which contained all the detail about his responsibilities if everything went wrong.

The QC seemed to think this was ridiculous. He asked how Alan could possibly have gone into a business deal without seeing the contract which underpinned it. He then suggested that Alan was wrong and he did have the contract. Alan maintained he didn't.

Then Alan was asked why, when he signed upwards of twenty documents on the day he took over the Post Office in the presence of a Post Office manager, he didn't read any of them. Hardly the mark of an attention to detail man said the QC.

Alan said it was because he didn't think they were that important, he took what he was being told on trust and this was on the day he took over the Post Office. A lot of the time they were trying to serve customers.

The QC then asks Alan why he said in his witness statement the Post Office never drew attention to section 12.12 of the Subpostmasters' contract when he had actually signed a document in 1999 in which the Post Office literally draws attention to that very clause.

There is a beat and then the QC asked "Did you draft your own witness statement?"

"Yes!"

Alan collected himself to say the Subpostmasters' contract (as a specific 144 page document) was never discussed by the Post Office during his interview or on the day he took over the Post Office. He says his witness statement is his recollection of what he was told at the time.

The QC put it to him again that he had been sent the Subpostmasters' contract as there is no way he would have entered into a contract with the Post Office without it. Alan said if he was sent the Subpostmasters' contract there is no way he would have signed it without sending it to his lawyer first for advice.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

Day 2 Continued (Alan Bates questioning continued)
After a gruelling couple of hours, the QC changed tack and started asking about Alan's refusal to follow Post Office procedures when Horizon had been installed and he had a cash discrepancy. In the days when Alan was a Subpostmaster it was possible to deal with a discrepancy in three ways

a) settle it to cash
b) roll it over into the next accounting period as a loss
c) put it into suspense and dispute it

Alan had a number of mysterious discrepancies with Horizon which he was frustrated at not being able to get to the bottom of.

He put a four figure sum into dispute which sat in suspense for more than two years. The Post Office couldn't work out the source of the dispute and so wrote it off. Alan got more discrepancies which he, rather than put into suspense, just kept rolling over. Alan was repeatedly told to pay this discrepancy off and stop rolling it over. Alan refused. When questioned on why he didn't just put it into dispute Alan said there were three reasons

a) at the beginning there was already the £1000+ in suspense and he didn't know if it would come back to him
b) he wanted the Post Office to give him the tools to interrogate Horizon properly
c) he wanted to find out whether he was responsible for the debt

The QC pointed out he could do all that and put it into suspense. So why didn't he?

Alan blustered a bit at this. The QC asked the same question again.

The judge then interjected to point out that the QC was ignoring parts of the Post Office's approach in the letters that they sent Alan which basically demanded payment.

The QC admitted that this was, of course, the Post Office's preferred option - Alan just paying up. But he still had the option of putting it into suspense and didn't.

Towards the end of the cross examination, the QC suggested that Alan had become a little fixated on Horizon to the extent he saw it as the source of all his problems and he's remained fixated ever since.

In fact, the QC said it was quite conceivable the errors could have been down to him or his assistants.

Alan rejected this.

But, said the QC he did very little in the way of investigation into how losses were appearing in his branch before blaming Horizon.

Alan said no - every time he looked at Horizon for a mistake he found it.

A few minutes were spent on the quality of the training Alan got for Horizon ("sadly lacking in a major way"), and that was that.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

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Day 2 continued
Then came Lead Claimant number 2 Pam Stubbs. I made a film about Pam in 2014 for the One Show.

Pam and her husband ran the Barkham Post Office near Wokingham in Berkshire for a total of 23 years. Pam's husband Martin ran the branch until his death to an aggressive form of cancer in 1999. The day after he died, Pam became Subpostmaster.

When Pam took to the witness box in court today, David Cavender started in the same way he started with Alan Bates, suggesting this was all a long time ago, we're talking about mundane events and it's likely that memories of that time will be fallible.

Pam seemed circumspect and said her memory wasn't too bad.
David Cavender: "We are talking about everyday events, not something like a car crash."
PS: "If you're referring to the events of August 1999 it very much was like a car crash and I remember it vividly."
DC: "I think you might be referring to your husband's death."
PS: "Yes."

David Cavender says he understands it must have been a very difficult time, but he is talking about mundane things like signing documents.

PS: "Well let's see what documents you want to talk about and I'll see how well I remember them."

And so we began.

Pam was asked if she understood that her husband was operating under a contract. Pam said she guessed he must be, but she never saw one or saw him consulting it or heard him talking about it. It transpires that the Post Office has no record of Martin Stubbs ever having signed a Subpostmaster contract.

For such an important document the Subpostmasters' contract was beginning to assume the tantalising proportions of a snark.
Thoughts turned to Pam's contract.

DC: "You accept you were regulated by the SPMC (Subpostmasters' contract) for the purposes of this process."
PS: "I assumed I would be taking over the branch on the same terms as my husband ran the branch. I don’t recall having seen a contract."

Pam was questioned about her understanding of the agent (Subpostmaster)/principal (Post Office) relationship, though this line of questioning came to an abrupt end when Pam pointed out that for the first few months as Subpostmaster she was being taxed at source as an employee. This wasn't really helping the Post Office's argument that the Subpostmaster/Post Office relationship is in no way tortious or relational (see Day 1 blog post). The line of questioning was quickly dropped in favour of a discussion about contracts. Again.

Pam was asked what she signed signing a contract the day she became Subpostmaster - she maintains she did not see a Subpostmaster contract for the entire time she was a Subpostmaster. A really long exchange about what sort of documents Pam signed on the day after her husband's death or some weeks later goes on for about half an hour before being abandoned.

We eventually alight on Pam's suspension. "Were you surprised?" asked Mr Cavender.
Pam said she was "Astounded, staggered" and "as upset as I've ever been by anything in my life."

He asked if she ever thought she could be sacked without notice.

"No. Not really" said Pam.

The QC then asked why she didn't consult her contract to see if she could be suspended in the way she was. Pam told him it was a bit late by then, and she'd been locked out of her temporary Post Office without access to any of the documents.

The QC then points out when she wrote her resignation letter, some months after her suspension she mentions that she is giving her three months notice. The QC suggests this means she had consulted her contract.

Pam Stubbs is adamant she only put three months because the helpline told her they wouldn't let her Post Office be passed on to anyone else unless she gave three months notice.

Are you sure you didn't have a contract then? asks the QC. Pam says no.

And so ended the second day of the Common Issues trial in court 26 of the Rolls Building in London.

The court will reconvene on Monday when the rest of Pam Stubbs' evidence will be heard.

{791}
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

Since I posted the latest update, about 50 people have looked at this thread.

Could even one of you suggest whether I should continue reporting or leave it for lack of interest?
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by Ubobo.R.O. »

Please continue.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by OldDuffer1 »

Please carry on- is absolutely fascinating! This is so typical of most Govt. Depts. when challenged- after all, they have limitless (i.e. our) money to spend!

I happen to know a little about the running of the Home Office (under our current P.M.). Staggering incompetence which, of course, they would never admit to!

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by honza »

Yes Ian, please continue. Very interesting!

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by Parisboy »

Please carry on.

There has been much discussion of the Horizon scandal in "Private Eye" (a mix of a watchdog and satirical British magazine for those who don't know what it is) over the years.

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by DaveR »

Yes, please carry on.

It'll be interesting to see how on earth they intend to defend this :!:

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by robster »

As above - following with interest :shock:

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

Ok thanks for the responses. I know it can be a bit intense - I did glance at some of the actual evidence pages; can you imagine 144 pages of statements and evidence from just one witness?

Do please take some time to look at Nick Wallis blog, and if you are on twitter follow him there @NickWallis.

I am thinking of subscribing to Private Eye just to see how they report this!
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by OldDuffer1 »

norvic wrote:Ok thanks for the responses. I know it can be a bit intense - I did glance at some of the actual evidence pages; can you imagine 144 pages of statements and evidence from just one witness?

Do please take some time to look at Nick Wallis blog, and if you are on twitter follow him there @NickWallis.

I am thinking of subscribing to Private Eye just to see how they report this!
A long time since I've read that. I wonder if their lawyers "Sue, Grabbit and Run" will be involved?! :?

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by Finchley Chris »

norvic wrote:
I am thinking of subscribing to Private Eye just to see how they report this!
There is a summary on page 39 of the current issue (No.1482). They refer to the Post Office's "bone-headed approach..."

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

So, we've had the weekend break and Nick Wallis has reported on the next stage of the trial.

At this stage I have to tell you that I shall need some help - from just one person. I failed to appreciate when I started this that I would be away for over a week in the middle of it. It doesn't really matter because it needs reporting anyway, but as there are readers here hanging on my every word on this.... I shall be away from Thursday this week (15th), until Thursday next week (22nd). Adding the daily reports here is easy - the easiest way is cut and paste, although you may feel the need to do some editing. You can see the daily reports at https://www.postofficetrial.com/, and if you sign up for the daily email, you can get the same report in an email - so you don't forget to look at the website! oh, and it doesn't have to be same day, it can be sometime the next morning!

So if you will be able to fill in during my absence, please send me a message through the board or email me ian AT norphil-dot-co-cot-uk. Thanks.


And so to Monday 12 November.
Although the courtroom was busier than its been since the trial started, with a large number of former Subpostmasters and observers from the Post Office, there were only two journalists present, a deeply unwell Karl Flinders from Computer Weekly and meself.

The day started with the second half of Pam Stubbs' evidence. Pam was a Subpostmaster at the Barkham Post Office near Wokingham for 10 years after her husband's death. In 2009 she moved, with her Horizon terminal into a Portakabin in the Post Office car park whilst her branch, shop and accommodation attached to it was more-or-less rebuilt. By the time she was suspended in June 2010, the Post Office claimed she had managed to lose around £25,000 and was demanding it back.

Pam was asked to confirm that she had no real problems with Horizon before she went into the Portakabin. The Post Office's QC, the extremely capable David Cavender, notes that there appeared to be a lot of mistakes made by Pam or Pam's assistants in the branch. Pam admits that some assistant were better than others, and she had a particular problem with an assistant who would press the same button multiple times when "remming out" cash (counting, packaging up and remitting cash out of the branch for collection by CashCo), which caused problems. Pam says she became very hot on ensuring it was done properly.

Pam is asked why, when large sums of money started going missing, she didn't take steps to see if the assistants were messing up and/or walking out of the door with it. Pam says the discrepancies were so large and so random, that checking Horizon figures to see even how and when the sums of money might have been going where and when was impossible. She says she was advised to hunt the extra zeroes in her transactions to see if any customer was walking out the door with 10x the money they'd withdrawn. This information just wasn't in the Horizon receipts, so it was impossible to even start investigating. She said one day such a large discrepancy arose, but with no extra zeroes obvious in the transaction receipts, she concluded that every single customer who came into the Portakabin must have had an incorrect transaction to get close to the sums of money Horizon said she was missing.

At one point in court the farcical day when an auditor was sent down to visit her Portakabin was discussed. He sat with Pam for a complete morning session to see if he could see what she was doing wrong. As she keyed her customer transactions into her Horizon terminal, he sat with a his laptop running Horizon software, keying the same customer transactions into his offline version.

When Pam ran a balance check at the end of the session (counting cash and stock versus what Horizon says she should have in the till), she was around £190 down.

The auditor told her he would feed his transactions into her Horizon terminal and she would find, because he had done everything correctly, it would balance to zero. It didn't - the discrepancy got worse - it became £362. This caused some consternation. He checked everything again and eventually told Pam that although he couldn't explain it he was going to have to accept the Horizon figure on the screen, which became her discrepancy and her debt.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

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There was subsequently revealed to be an internal memo about this episode. Whilst the Post Office was still considering legal action against Pam for the cash discrepancy, someone suggested that things needed to be resolved quickly as the only thing the visit of the auditor had achieved was potentially creating a witness for the defence. I have asked for this document.

Pam maintained throughout her experience at the time, and in her witness statement that the Post Office did little or nothing in terms of investigating her situation with Horizon by talking to Fujitsu (which operated and supported Horizon under contract to the Post Office). There was as internal documents reveal quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between the Post Office and Fujitsu, but this was never revealed to Pam. However Mr Cavender was able to point out that actually the Post Office was doing far more than Pam knew to resolve the situation. I have asked for this document too.
This section of my report is taken from Nick's live twitter feed - if you enjoy reading court-room cross-examination and you have time, either follow @nickwallis on twitter or read the separate morning and afternoon twitter threads, linked on the email - if you sign up for it.
(Pam moved into the cabin in late 2009) They are now discussing errors at Pam’s branch, but there is a {courtoom} hiatus as there is a problem with the stenographers’ live feed...
… finding a document everyone is meant to be looking at, and the necessity to move the monitor the documents are being shown on closer to Pam.

These problems are not being swiftly resolved the judge says rather than put people under pressure with everybody watching, he will rise for 5 minutes. He has risen...

The stenographers were asked by the judge how they were getting on before he left. They said they were rebooting the system. It would be glib to draw attention to the fact that a GLO about possible IT system faults has been stopped by IT error.

But that is what has just happened. Judge has come back in for update and told there is someone on their way to fix things. He asks Pam Stubbs to leave the witness box and rises again. I wonder what @Karlfl from @ComputerWeekly makes of this. He’s here today.
Back to the daily report
There was then a really lengthy discussion about £7,000 which was chalked up as a discrepancy.

What happened is that another auditor arrived whilst Pam was cashing up to rem out* (Pam's Post Office was one where local businesses would come to pay in their cash. She and before her, her husband were so trusted that each week they would take in far more than they ever paid out - Barkham is not the sort of area which does much business in the way of paying out cash benefits etc).
rem out* - remit out, ie allocate to be sent to PO's CashCo cash centre.
As is the rules, the auditor takes over. Somehow the auditor managed to rem out £7K more than left the branch. This £7K stayed in Pam's safe when it should have gone to CashCo. She didn't know it had already been remmed out, so the following week she remmed out the £7K alongside £15K of other takings.

The Post Office added this £7K to Pam's outstanding debts and demanded it back. However after she was suspended, the mistake was realised and a transaction correction was issued. The first £7K was a phantom amount and the transaction correction recognised this. However because this came through after Pam was suspended, no one told the relevant department and Pam was still receiving demands for the money.

I really couldn't work out why Mr Cavender was highlighting what seemed to be a case of double incompetence by the Post Office to make a point. First an auditor, not Pam remmed out the wrong amount on Pam's account. Second, long after the error had been resolved the Post Office were still demanding it s part of her debt.

Then it became clear. This Mr Cavender pointed out, was not a Horizon error, yet she was blaming everything on Horizon.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

he final point of interest in Pam Stubbs' cross-examination was Pam Stubbs refusal to surrender her Horizon printoffs/receipts for examination by a Fujitsu or Horizon expert against their data. She said she wanted them to come to her. She said she did print off one day's worth of receipts to send off for them to look at. It went to 22 pages. And, she said, that was a quiet day. She said she couldn't do the maths, but if she did that every day for the 8 months in dispute it would be a lot of photocopying.

The judge helpfully intervened to point out it would be around 5,500 pages she'd have to send off.

Nonetheless, said Mr Cavender, you didn't do it.

No - said Pam - she thought it would be better if a Fujitsu expert came to her and they could sit side-by-side at her dining room table going through their data and her data to see where the discrepancies were. This never happened.

Pam was re-examined by Patrick Green QC for the claimants who asked her about a reassurance she got that the huge discrepancies she was suffering would remain in dispute until the Post Office had completed their investigation into what was happened with Horizon at her branch and shared it with her.

Patrick Green then asked her about a letter she got less than a month later demanding £10,000, telling her she was responsible for all losses in her branch and asking her to contact them with a method of payment. What did you read into that, he asked?

That the Post Office had no intention of carrying out an investigation into Horizon and they didn't because they didn't want to know if the result showed Horizon in a bad light. Also if they had done an investigation she never saw it and despite her requests and the repeated requests of her MP she has never seen the evidence or results of any investigation into Horizon at her branch.
The afternoon was a generally different kettle of fish. Mohammad Sabir took the stand and was cross-examined on much the same terms as Alan Bates on Day 2. Mr Sabir took over two Post Office branches, Cottingley and Crossflatts (in Bingley, north west of Bradford) in the space of a year in 2006 and 2007. He was terminated in October 2009.

Mr Sabir's spoken English and understanding of English was not that great to the extent that Mr Cavender was having difficulty making himself understood. Also, unlike Alan Bates and Pam Stubbs, whose cases I know well, Mr Sabir was something of an unknown quantity to me. Mr Sabir's initial cross-examination evidence largely consisted of him telling Mr Cavender he didn't understand what he was being asked or didn't remember what he did understand he was being asked about. Thankfully after an hour I was given Mr Sabir's witness statement, which at least gave me a clue about the conversation I was supposed to be reporting on.

In short, Mr Sabir became Postmaster of two Post Offices. He never really seemed to feel on top of Horizon and he had particular problems with how to account for his scratchcards on Horizon. He tried to get rid of both Post Offices, but before he could he was audited, a discrepancy of £5K was found on his scratchcards in one branch, he was suspended in both branches and then terminated.

In court, instead of agreeing a statement might be correct, Mr Sabir would say "Yes please." As a result there were dozens of exchanges thus:

Mr Cavender: "Is that correct?"

Mr Sabir: "Yes please."

which I never quite got used to.
It does make one wonder, if (even in Bradford) Mr Sabir could not make himself understood to or understand English speakers,, why Post Office Ltd signed him up as a Subpostmaster to not one but two branches!
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

Anyway, there were a couple of significant exchanges. As with Alan Bates, Mr Cavender was keen to pursue what I'll call the Line of Incredulity - the idea that someone as experienced in business as Mr Bates or Mr Sabir would ever sign a contract without having view or knowledge of its contents. In this case the mythical Subpostmaster contract, which so far, Alan Bates, Pam Stubbs and Mohammad Sabir say they never saw.

Mr Cavender said that Mr Howarth, the Post Office employee representative who interviewed Mr Sabir for the job has given a statment in which he says spoke to Mr Sabir about and explained the contractual relationship between Mr Sabir and the Post Office. He asked if Mr Sabir remembered this.

At this point the judge jumped in quite fiercely and told Mr Cavender he was doing something he shouldn't be doing and which he'd been warned about before. He pointed out that Mr Howarth in his statement says he doesn't remember interviewing Mr Sabir and what he actually says in his statement is that this is what he would have done, rather than what he did do. The inference being that saying something would or should have happened is very very different from a witness saying this is what did happen.

Mr Cavender rephrased the question to Mr Sabir in these terms. Mr Sabir said how should he remember if Mr Howarth couldn't. The judge intervened agained to point out that Mr Sabir's memory should not be contingent on Mr Howarth's. Mr Sabir couldn't remember anyway.
Mr Sabir was eventually sacked because he had nearly £5K's worth of scratchcards debtits which he wasn't declaring on his accounts, yet was rolling them over as accurate. The QC said he had £5K in his safe, why didn't he put that money towards the scratchcard debt. Mr Sabir said he was trying the Horizon helpline for more info on how to do this and couldn't interrogate Horizon well enough to find out what how to sort out his scratchcard mess. It was only when an auditor came in, worked it all out and came up with a figure for the discrepancy that he could pay the money, but by then it was too lates as he was suspended.

But, said Mr Cavender - that means you were signing off incorrect figures whilst all this was going on. He uses the word falstifying. Mr Sabir pushes back on this. He wasn't falsifying his figures.

Mr Cavender says at the very least they were incorrect - why was he signing off incorrect accounts?

Mr Sabir says he had to or Horizon wouldn't roll-over into the next accounting period and he wouldn't be able to trade.

I've requested some of the documents discussed today. It would be good to read them.

Tomorrow - day 4 - brings another Lead Claimants witness. It all starts at 10.30am in court 26 of the Rolls Building at the High Court. I'll be the
If you want more people to read about this trial feel free to forward them these emails, or better still, get them to go to http://www.PostOfficeTrial.com where they can sign up to get their own emails for free.

If they are feeling particularly committed they can donate to support my work too. There is a button on the website which links to a paypal site which will take your card details.
Another point from the twitter feed:
MS found the Crossflatts business wasn’t as profitable as he hoped and tries to get out. He tenders his resignation from Crosflatts on 6 Nov 2008.

[that last tweet supplemented by info from the WS I am reading - as is this] He is told his last provisional working day as Crossflatts SPMR is 6 Feb 2009, but says he’s told he isn’t allowed to leave until a replacement is found.

A replacement is not found. Cottingley isn’t going very well either so on 7 July 2009, MS resigns from Cottingley. He is told he will leave the SPMR at Cottingley on 7 October 2009.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

If this shows up properly it shows how known systems problems could have been resolved but there would be 'integrity' issues if fixed outside the branches. If you can't read it you can see it here.

Image
Image
Image

This is A UK Post Office internal memo (dated August 2010) explaining a potentially serious Horizon IT bug which could directly affect Subpostmaster branch accounts. In the memo, various things are laid out: the delay to fixing the "bug", how much about it should be revealed to Subpostmasters, the potential reputational damage it could cause as is the affect it could have on ongoing court cases (the trial of Seema Misra was just about to start. She claimed problems at her branch were caused by a Horizon bug. Neither this memo, nor the bug was disclosed to the court. She was convicted of theft and sent to prison. This document was referred to and quoted from on 7 November 2018 Day 1 of the Common Issues trial, part of Bates and others v Post Office, a group litigation action at the High Court in London.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by goof »

Honestly the more this goes on the worse light it shows for Post office Ltd. If somebody came up with this as a book storyline they would say it was too far fetched and fantasy!

Any other supposedly reputable company treating its employees in this manner would be hauled over the coals.

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

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I'll repeat this from the start of yesterday's reporting as by the time you get to the end you may have forgotten!

At this stage I have to tell you that I shall need some help - from just one person. I failed to appreciate when I started this that I would be away for over a week in the middle of it. It doesn't really matter because it needs reporting anyway, but as there are readers here hanging on my every word on this.... I shall be away from Thursday this week (15th), until Thursday next week (22nd). Adding the daily reports here is easy - the easiest way is cut and paste, although you may feel the need to do some editing. You can see the daily reports at https://www.postofficetrial.com/, and if you sign up for the daily email, you can get the same report in an email - so you don't forget to look at the website! oh, and it doesn't have to be same day, it can be sometime the next morning!

So if you will be able to fill in during my absence, please send me a message through the board or email me ian AT norphil-dot-co-cot-uk. Thanks.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by mozzerb »

goof wrote:Honestly the more this goes on the worse light it shows for Post office Ltd. If somebody came up with this as a book storyline they would say it was too far fetched and fantasy!

Any other supposedly reputable company treating its employees in this manner would be hauled over the coals.
This seems a wildly optimistic take on a completely unsurprising set of events ... "large company screw over their employees" is not exactly a story without precedent.

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by JonEboy »

norvic wrote: So if you will be able to fill in during my absence, please send me a message through the board or email me ian AT norphil-dot-co-cot-uk. Thanks.
I'm following this with considerable interest and whilst I'm at work and away a lot, particularly next week, I will, if I notice nothing being posted, attempt to go online and grab the summary for this page.

Of course, this is not me volunteering for the job but merely saying that if and when I find myself online I'll try my best :!:

Thanks for the hard work so far Ian.

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by norvic »

mozzerb wrote:
goof wrote:Honestly the more this goes on the worse light it shows for Post office Ltd. If somebody came up with this as a book storyline they would say it was too far fetched and fantasy!

Any other supposedly reputable company treating its employees in this manner would be hauled over the coals.
This seems a wildly optimistic take on a completely unsurprising set of events ... "large company screw over their employees" is not exactly a story without precedent.
They aren't employees, they are contracted agents, but I take your point. What seems surprising is that a publicly owned organisation can get away with it for so long. Not getting party political but David Cameron as PM said "this has got to be sorted out, and quickly", and that is getting on for three years ago!

Another point - and at this time of night I can't remember where I saw it - is that the Post Office have to tell their shareholder about significant liabilities, and their sole shareholder is the government. Whilst the government is busy Brexiting, I wonder if the responsible minister is aware than £5m has been spent so far on legal costs, and the potential liability - if their possibly misplaced optimism is unfounded - is many millions more if you include wrongful arrest, wrongful imprisonment, etc.
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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

Post by goof »

Ian

I'm sorry but I am also away from tomorrow morning for 8 days, I sincerely hope someone keeps up with this, but thank you for your efforts to date reporting this travesty.

I agree large companies screwing people over is not unusual, but suggesting they are guilty of fraud based on flawed evidence is a little more unique!

regards
Mick

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Re: GB Post Office Horizon System - the Legal Trial

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Thanks. Actually I'm not sure how long it will go on - I think there are only a few more plaintiff witnesses, but then I suppose there will be POL witnesses and the palintiffs' QC will quiz them, I'm sure.

So, with me being at the stamp club last evening, here is Tuesday's report from Nick Wallis.
Day 4: Naushad Abdulla and Liz Stockdale

It's unfair to compare and contrast the two Lead Claimants who were cross-examined in court today. They are two individuals who do not deserve to be lumped together, simply because they happened to be in the witness box on the fourth day of this trial, but it's almost impossible not to.

There is a pattern to their experiences and a pattern to the way they were cross-examined, but they brought wildly different styles to the witness box, even though the story they were telling was essentially the same.

It was actually a reminder that this is about individuals, fallible human beings with ambitions and hopes and fears. And when I say that, I'm talking about both the claimants and Post Office staff.

First up was Naushad Abdulla, a former Subpostmaster in Charlton, South East London. Mr Abdulla took over his branch in Jan 2007 and was sacked ("summarily terminated" in his words) after an audit in May 2009 found a discrepancy of £4398.42 in his branch. Naushad was accused in court today of the criminal offence of false accounting. It is a charge he vehemently denies.

Naushad's peroration from the witness box today was one of the most unintentionally epic performances I have ever witnessed. And I say that with respect to him, to the QC questioning him (the extremely capable David Cavender) and the judge who had to referee it.

The lead claimants preceding Mr Abdulla were Alan Bates, Pam Stubbs and Mohammad Sabir. Each was, of course, their own person, but they all seemed to have an awareness of the way in which the theatre of their appearance in court would play out. A QC asks you questions, you answer them to the best of your ability, and everyone bows down to the mechanics of the legal process.

Not so Mr Abdulla. He was neither arrogant nor disrespectful. He didn't seem to come to court to prove anyone or anybody wrong or right. He just had a natural ability to test, and to talk. If you, a QC, in an important trial, are going to ask Mr Abdulla a question, he's going to want to know why you asked him that question and he's going to probe and explore your reasoning, just as much as you are going to want to probe his. Mr Abdulla isn't trying to get one over on you, he just wants to fully understand where you're coming from before he feels he can give you a full and proper answer.

To witness this was a privilege. QCs ask very precise questions in which there is inference and import to be understood from each particular answer. Those questions hang heavy with legal meaning, which perhaps might not be apparent to the witness, and the witness is required to answer them as they understand them to be asked.

Mr Abdulla did answer those questions, but he seemed to have a very natural ability to take control of the situation through a mixture of natural charisma and a predilection for warming to his theme. What I liked about him best was that he treated everyone in court as his equal, and expected the same in return.

The joy of it was watching the judge keep things moving in his courtroom so expertly. He read Mr Abdulla very well, gave him his moment when he thought it merited it, but respectfully brought him to heel when necessary. It was something of a masterclass.
Extract from the live tweets of this period:
David Cavender QC is cross-examining for the PO. I will call him QC for the purposes and Naushad is going to be NA.

QC again starts his xe {cross examination} with a statement about memory not being great as we are talking about events of 11 years ago.
NA Such a traumatic event sticks in the mind
QC what, the signing of contracts?

NA no that was a happy time - I was very pleased to be selected as SPMR after all the work I put into the application.

NA was a salesperson before becoming an SPMR selling therapeutic medicines to GPs.

Mr Abdulla is the most voluble of the witnesses to take the stand to date. He is cutting in over the PO QC and has already told the PO QC not to interrupt him. Getting lively.

PO QC uses the term agent. NA stops him - it wasn’t an agent - he says. It was a franchise - that was the word that was bandied about at the time.
NA "When you have a problem there is no support. The helpline is useless.”

QC goes back to the contract. You would have expected a contract to contain detailed terms governing your relationship with the PO.
NA to tell you the truth I was really happy with getting the job so I just signed everything and sent it off the same day.

NA going on the offensive here. He says when you buy a house you actually sign the contract, when you get a job you sign a contract. Can anyone provide me with the Post Office contract I signed? Where is it because I’d like to see it.

PO QC says we’ll move on to that in a moment.
QC starts on whether he discussed the SPMR contract with his predecessor.
NA says no. if he had maybe it would have raised red flags

Judge intervening to say to NA he knows it’s been an emotional experience that there is a lot you want to say and I know that you must be cross with a lot of the things that mr cavender has to say, but please just focus on the q’s you are being asked.

Judge says it might seem very one sided but that is the way the process works and he assures NA he has read his witness statement.
NA apologises and says he understands.

We are back on track looking at documents which NA is asked if he can remember reading.
On his first letter from the PO, the QC says did you read this?
NA says just the first paragraph
QC you remember 11 years ago reading just the first par?

This is the first communication you got from the PO - surely you would have been interested in what the whole letter said?
NA prevaricates and says its the way the letter is being presented on screen which is confusing
QC [incredulity] is that your answer?

QC you read the paragraphs you like but not the ones I want you to read?
[as I said - getting lively]

NA now being asked about the attachments he would have received with the letter, but admits the PO can’t now find them, but says they would have been attached.
NA now familiarising himself with them on screen.

--8<------

QC asks what he did when he received a summary of the contract
NA notes this only contains a summary of the contract and notes it also says, alongside the terms, it “cannot be relied upon for any purpose
NA says when you read that…
QC moves swiftly on
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