Official hearing page

20 January 2023 – Rita Palmer and Trevor Rollason

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(10.00 am)

(Proceedings delayed)

Ms Kennedy: Good morning, Chair.

Sir Wyn Williams: Good morning.

Ms Kennedy: Ms Kennedy, may I call Mrs Palmer, please.

Rita Palmer


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Could you confirm your full name, please.

Rita Palmer: Yes, Rita Ann Palmer.

Ms Kennedy: Do you have a copy of your witness statement in front of you?

Rita Palmer: Yes, I do.

Ms Kennedy: For the transcript, that is WITN05360100. If we bring up page 13 of that document, please.

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Is that your signature there?

Rita Palmer: Yes, it is.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Rita Palmer: Yes, I have.

Ms Kennedy: Is it true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: That statement is in evidence. Everything I ask you now is supplementary. Thank you very much for preparing that witness statement and for coming to give evidence here today.

Starting with your background, what was your background before you started working for the Post Office?

Rita Palmer: I went to college and did a Private Secretary certificate, and then I went to work for the local council as a secretary, typing pool, and then I did a short spell with the Wells conservative – working for the local conservative MP as his PA, and then I moved to the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: Your first job at Post Office Counters was as a counter clerk; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes, it was.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a bit about that.

Rita Palmer: Well, I did six weeks’ training, classroom and being observed on the counter at a local branch office, and then went onto the counter, and I did altogether about 17 years in Wells Post Office which was my local branch. I worked on the counter and then I also did – I covered for the – well, he was a postmaster then, because we had the sorting office attached to the back. So the postmaster looked after the postmen and the counter at that time. So it was all one business. So I did some cover for his leave and things as well, and I also did some relief work.

We had a floating reserve that would go round different Crown branch offices when they needed them cover. So I worked in Bath and Shepton and Street and different branch offices.

Ms Kennedy: Did you enjoy those jobs?

Rita Palmer: I loved it, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What was the accounting system like at that time?

Rita Palmer: It was manual. It was a pencil and a rubber. We had a daily book to put all the figures in which had to be transferred over to a weekly book and reconciled and, yes, it was a paper, a pencil, a rubber and a cup of coffee.

Ms Kennedy: You then became a trainer in 1997; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you want to become a trainer?

Rita Palmer: I think I’d been on the counter then for about 17 years and I think – I didn’t really want to go into manager. I’d done it as relief but I didn’t really enjoy it. Then there was a vacancy for a trainer in the Bristol area, and I just – I loved the job, I loved working in the Post Office, I liked the customers, I liked the transactions, and I liked the achievement you got every week by doing a balance and proving that you’d done all your work correctly and everything. So I enjoyed that bit of it, and I just thought I wanted to help somebody else do it, and it was an opportunity and I took advantage of it. I enjoyed it.

Ms Kennedy: Between 1997 and 2012 you had various roles within training?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: You were a trainer, training manager, audit and training manager; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a bit about those various different roles and what they involved.

Rita Palmer: Yes, I started off initially as a trainer. But with that I was supporting new subpostmasters. When they bought a post office, I would attend their branch to help them understand the transactions and how to serve customers, how to process the transactions, all the paperwork side of it and their accounting and everything. Then I did that for – I can’t recall the dates. I’m not very good with dates, so I can’t recall them really. But I did that for quite a length of time, and then I think the process then was I went on to manage the team.

So I managed a team of trainers in the south-west because I’m from the south-west down, as far as Cornwall, Somerset, Devon. I also managed the team at different times for South Wales, so down as far as Carmarthen and Swansea, Cardiff and that area, and I also managed a team of trainers in the central part of the south, so sort of the like the M4/M5 corridor down, so Southampton, Portsmouth, round that way. At different times I managed those teams.

Then there was another – well, there was lots of reorganisation. I had to apply for my job on several occasions, reapply for it with the different re-organisations, and then I – when they amalgamated the training and the audits together, multi-skilling the team, I managed a team of trainer auditors then as well.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find being in that management position?

Rita Palmer: I enjoyed it – they were really good people to work with. The teams were – I think anybody that – all the trainers and auditors that I’ve come across in the times I managed them, they always worked so hard and put themselves out. They wanted to do the best they could for the people that they were working with and work for each other. So I really enjoyed that side of it.

I think the only thing was that – my favourite role was the training bit and the face-to-face with customers and working with the subpostmaster. So that was obviously any job, when you sort of like move up and you move away from the practical bits of it, it changes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a bit about the background of trainers that you managed. What kind of backgrounds did they come from? What were they like?

Rita Palmer: They – all different backgrounds basically. I think the one thing that sort of like they all had was a motivation to support and do the best they could for the person they were training and, you know, the hours we worked, the distances we travelled, and even when, sort of like, you weren’t feeling 100 per cent, they would still be there because they didn’t want to let people down.

Ms Kennedy: In 2012, you moved to a Field Change Adviser role; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What did that involve?

Rita Palmer: That was when they started the rollout of the Network Transformation Programme. So that was visiting subpostmasters and post offices to discuss the benefits of changing to the new models, because the two new models they were bringing out was the local model and the main model. So it was sitting down and having conversations with subpostmasters. Then, once they’d agreed to change over to the new model, it was following that process through. So making sure, sort of like, taking them on that journey where their office would be having new counters installed, and right the way through the process.

Ms Kennedy: You then left the Post Office in September 2016; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What was the Post Office culture like when you joined?

Rita Palmer: When I joined, it was just a step away from the Civil Service, sort of like, mentality in that – I suppose the job we did then, the customer wasn’t as much of a focus as doing the work and doing the transactions and the balance and that sort of side of it and, you know, as the Post Office has become more retail-focused and things, and the Government transactions have reduced, and we’ve got to look for new transactions, it’s gone away from that sort of thing.

Just for an example really, when I worked on the counter, it was the days when there were separate queues and if I was going – for my lunch hour, I would close and my queue would have to move to somebody else, whereas it generally changed after. Going forward, it changed so the focus was on the customer. So, you know, you won’t leave the counter until the queue’s gone.

But back in those days, it was very regimented and very sort of the – like I said, it was, if you have a tea break for 15 minutes, you’d have a tea break for 15 minutes. As those doing training and things like that, you didn’t have tea breaks, you didn’t have lunch breaks. If you are a subpostmaster and had customers and you were in a post office and there was people waiting, they got served.

So it was quite a change of culture really, I think.

Ms Kennedy: So, when you left, it was much more customer-focused as opposed to when you joined some years earlier?

Rita Palmer: Definitely, because the reduction in the Government transactions and the processes, we’ve lost, you know, sort of like, child benefits and TV licences and all that sort of – those products. So, you know, a lot of – part of the local and main models was looking at the retail side as well which is part of some of the job I did when a Field Change Adviser was under NT between 2012 and 2016, it was also helping subpostmasters with their retail side as well, because that was getting – that was more important to fill up some more income for them because of the reduction in the Post Office transactions and products.

Ms Kennedy: Turning back to when you started as a trainer, before Horizon was introduced, what was the training like? What did it involve?

Rita Palmer: I can’t really recall. Because it changed so many times, the actual length and stuff, but I think I remember it was probably about two weeks with a subpostmaster, and then you would go back the following two Wednesdays to help them do their accounts as well. Just do – they needed some time to, sort of like, do bits on their own as well. Because they loved you being there and holding their hand, right the way through when they started, because they didn’t know what they were doing. But you had to give them some time to, sort of like, do things on their own. But then, going back on the Wednesday to do the balance with them, you could fill in any gaps and questions and help them through that process as well.

So I think it was two weeks and two follow-up balances initially, but that was going back to, sort of like, 2008 – well, quite early anyway.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up your witness statement at paragraph 5 that’s WITN– there it is. If we could go over the page, looking at paragraph 5, you say there:

“When the Horizon System was introduced (I am unsure of dates) I completed my initial training on a one-week course in Leeds before the system was rolled out to the whole Network. I had some computer knowledge as I had done some evening classes at Strode College to gain qualifications in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I had no previous knowledge of the Horizon System until this training.”

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you elaborate a bit more on what that training was like when Horizon first came in.

Rita Palmer: I can’t really recall the actual training as such, but I know the actual system was completely different from any sort of computers and things as well, because it was purpose built for that, and it was a case of, sort of like, going – being shown all through all the processes, through the different screens and things like that, and getting used to it, and I know they also covered doing reversals and, you know, transaction corrections and balancing as well. But I can’t remember any more detail than that about the course.

Ms Kennedy: Did you feel like it was a lot to take in at the time?

Rita Palmer: Personally, I think, because I had the knowledge of the transactions and the understanding of the background, it was basically, sort of like, putting them on to a computer and things. So that helped. I think it was much harder for somebody who didn’t understand a transaction in its paper form and then trying to put it on there.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned training on balancing. How easy did you find that?

Rita Palmer: Compared to the manual balancing, when you’re doing a manual balance, it was very easy to transpose figures or put things wrong, write things down wrong or add thing up wrong. So it took all that bit away from it. So you have actually basically a list of what stock should be there and you just ticked it off. So in that way it was easier.

There were different reports that had to be completed to get to that balancing process, and that was the bits that took time. But there were handouts and, sort of like, work aids to show you each process. So, if you follow it step by step, you could have done it if you didn’t understand have any background at all, but it was just following it slowly step by step without any interruptions and things.

Ms Kennedy: Did you feel like you were well prepared after that training to go and train subpostmasters?

Rita Palmer: I think probably – as prepared as I could have been. I wasn’t unconfident, but it’s like anything, when you’re shown first, you need to get out there and see how it works in the real world and actually do it that way, and then, you know, it’s from there that you build up your experience and your knowledge.

Ms Kennedy: You would have been one of the first people to deliver training – would that have been right – one of the initial kind of cohorts training on Horizon?

Rita Palmer: Well, before me would have been – when they rolled out Horizon, there were Horizon support officers. So they actually did all the – most of the initial training.

Ms Kennedy: But you would have been straight after that one of the first groups of people training subpostmasters after the initial –

Rita Palmer: Yes, I would have been.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find the subpostmasters that you were training? What was their perception of Horizon like at that time?

Rita Palmer: I think it – it did depend on the individual. Some, sort of like, were looking forward to it, getting rid of the paper, the pens and all the paperwork, because it was supposed to get rid of a lot of the paperwork side of it. So for those people they were happy to look at it that way.

Some of the subpostmasters hadn’t – especially sort of – and I’m not being ageist here, but some of the older people hadn’t been used to using a computer or a keyboard. So they were starting from, sort of like, a really concerned area. They didn’t want to put things on there and, you know, they were scared of it, really. So it’s just putting people at ease and showing them how it worked.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a bit about the classroom training element.

Rita Palmer: From when Horizon was in?

Ms Kennedy: Yes. Now we’re talking about when Horizon was introduced.

Rita Palmer: Yes. The classroom, we had training kits. So you had – it was set up so you had, like, sort of like, most of the classrooms, as far as I remember, were six work units. So they would have the Horizon keyboard, the terminal and the printer and everything on there, and we also had dummy transactions and dummy stock and cash and things.

So basically, over the period of training, we’d start them off – we covered, sort of like, basic, sort of like, customer care and that sort of side of it as well, as well as some sales. But to do the transactions, we would give them dummy transactions and show them how to process on Horizon. So they were getting used to the key board and getting used to the screens.

Then those transactions, we’d use those and perform some balances as well to get them to have – at least go through the system and stuff as well. So we would use practical materials, and we would also use – give them handouts and things as well to take back to their office when they go live. So they had those to refer to.

Ms Kennedy: Then can you tell us about on-site training.

Rita Palmer: On-site training, generally they’d been to – some had been to a classroom, so had a little bit of knowledge. Some subpostmasters had some knowledge because they’d had previous offices, but some were coming in without any experience at all.

So it was very much starting from scratch really for some of them, and it was – if they’d been to the classroom, it was all right because at least they’d seen the system stuff. So doing it from scratch was really difficult. So classroom before was really important. But on-site training – I thought I was quite a good trainer. In my way of doing it, I stayed back and they had to do it. I can remember one subpostmaster who said, “You do the first a couple of hours and I’ll watch.” I said, “No, that’s not how it works. You do it and I’ll stand back.”

It took – it takes a long time, and they’re under pressure because there’s a queue of customers as well. But generally I always found that the customers were quite respectful and patient, because they appreciated they were having a new subpostmaster, they appreciated the Post Office was still staying, and they would be patient with that person.

So, you know, it was – it was different but everybody learns differently and everybody takes a little more – some were quick to pick things up and some people or slower but …

Ms Kennedy: Did you feel that you had enough time to train subpostmasters?

Rita Palmer: It depends how the time was used, because sometimes you would go to an office, and a new subpostmaster, although you made it clear that you needed them – if I was going to be there for two weeks, I needed them to focus on the Post Office bit for that two weeks. But obviously with taking over a post office and a retail, reps are coming in, they know the office has changed, they will be coming in, and so they would disappear and, you know, you would be stood there behind the counter especially – when there was none of the customers were queueing up, that was fine, because you could keep them focussed. But sometimes they would appear and go and talk to the card rep or the cigarette rep and stuff, not realising that’s important time that they needed.

So yes, there was never enough time and, from a postmaster’s point of view, they would have been – they would have loved us to stay there for a month, you know, and hold their hand, but it just practically wouldn’t work.

So for the majority of cases that was – it was enough time and, if it wasn’t, then we could flag for extra support if somebody was really struggling.

Ms Kennedy: How often did you refer people for extra support?

Rita Palmer: I can’t recall, but I wouldn’t have said very many times.

Ms Kennedy: At one point – you have mentioned this already – the training and auditing functions were combined in around 2008. If we could turn up your statement, please, again it’s WITN05360100, and if we could turn to page 3, please, if we pick it up it says, four lines down:

“Personally I didn’t feel that the roles of trainer and auditor were appropriate to combine. There are different skill sets required to train people to adapt to different learning styles, whilst completing an audit is more process-driven and people skills are not so crucial. Some of the auditors were uncomfortable delivering training and, likewise, some trainers were not comfortable completing audits. It was a job role change that was a business decision that we had to implement but I did not feel it was a change for the better.”

Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by that.

Rita Palmer: Yes. I mean, I understand the business wanted to multi-skill people because it’s a better – a better use of resource, especially when you are covering a whole country and you have got 17,000 or 11,000 post offices. So, you know, for the needs for the business it makes it more sensible. But personally some of the – I was a manager then. So I had to – I supported some of the auditors through learning training, learning how to train, and I supported some of the trainers learning how to audit and, for some of them, yes, they could adapt from one to another; it came naturally. But for some of them it wasn’t an easy – it wasn’t an easy move, and it wasn’t comfortable, because the people skills for training and actually keeping back and letting people learn in their own way is different from going in and filling in – I don’t want to take it away from an auditor but, sort of like, completing spreadsheets and figure work and things like that.

So I still felt it was two different skills which some people – and, I mean, one of my auditors, when he did classroom training, was absolutely fantastic. It’s something he would never have tried and never have done. So some people developed really well, but some of them it was – they had to do it because that was the job role and they’d take it on board and they adapted. But it didn’t necessarily mean they were happy and comfortable doing it.

Ms Kennedy: Did you think it was appropriate that the same people were training as conducting audits?

Rita Palmer: I don’t think it was unappropriate. I think you can do both, because you’re not doing it at the same time, and some of it – I think I can remember that we did – sort of like, we would do a transfer audit, and then stay there and do the training. So, you know, there was times when it did work.

Ms Kennedy: So did you know people who audited people that they trained?

Rita Palmer: I can’t recall anybody that …

Ms Kennedy: Did needing to carry out audits impact on how you saw subpostmasters, if you were training them but also auditing them?

Rita Palmer: I don’t feel it did for me. I don’t think it made any difference to me.

Ms Kennedy: To your colleagues?

Rita Palmer: No, I don’t think so. I can’t speak for them, but I don’t think it would have done, because it was like, you know, whatever role you were going in there to do, that was what you did.

Ms Kennedy: You attended courses during your time to up-skill. Can you tell us a bit about the courses you attended while you were a trainer to up-skill yourself.

Rita Palmer: Yes, I can’t recall the specific ones, but I know I did things like, sort of like, learning styles, and then we did different courses on new products and stuff like that, sort of thing. But it was, sort of like, there was development there, you know, that was available, and you could put yourself forward for different courses as well, so …

Ms Kennedy: There was never anything like: subpostmasters are struggling with balancing, let’s do a top-up course on balancing for trainers, or responding to issues like that?

Rita Palmer: Not at that time, no. I mean, I think anything that – as a team we were very good at sharing best practice and, if anybody had any information to share, then we would share.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up NFSP00000261 and if we could turn to page 7, please, we’ve looked at this report a number of times in this Inquiry. Did you see this at the time?

Rita Palmer: No.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn to page 15, please, “Training”. So this was at the beginning of 2000:

“It was found that opinion was split on the training with 50 per cent saying that the training was goods and 50 per cent saying it was poor.”

If we turn over the page to page 16, scrolling down to “Balancing”:

“Nearly a fifth of respondents are finding balancing using Horizon very difficult and a further quarter are finding it fairly difficult.”

I appreciate this would have been before you started carrying out training, but did that reflect your experience?

Rita Palmer: Yes, it probably did. But, again, the purpose of the feedback and getting that from them is to then improve and develop what training they’re getting.

Ms Kennedy: Did you feel like you did improve the training that they were getting?

Rita Palmer: I know there was – even in the classroom we introduced more practical examples so they could – where we probably were doing maybe one balance in a week, we’d bring in two balances, Wednesdays and Fridays, just to get them practising going through the system. So there were, sort of like, improvements ongoing.

Ms Kennedy: If we could take that document down, please, and go back to your statement WITN05360100, and if we could turn to page 10 of that, please, paragraph 17 scrolling down. You say at paragraph 17:

“In the early days I would leave my phone number [this is the second sentence] in case they got stuck but this caused problems when I was working that following post office, so I encouraged them to use the Helpline.”

Can you tell us a bit more about why you gave these subpostmasters your telephone number.

Rita Palmer: I think – when you’d been with somebody for, like, two weeks and working quite close with them, you had knowledge – part of helping them was to, sort of like, tidy the office up, put things in an order so they could find things and stuff as well. So I had knowledge of the actual offices. So, if they had a query, sometimes it would have been easier for them to call me and say, “How do I do this”, or, “Where will I find this”, than phone the helpline because the helpline hasn’t got that local knowledge.

So – because you build up a relationship with people when you’re working with them that closely as well. But then, because of the nature of the job we were doing, the following two weeks I could be busy somewhere else or not have a signal or things, and you wouldn’t want them holding on just to talk to you. So it was to encourage them really to use the helpline or the Horizon Help or whatever support, you know, NBSC, whatever support was appropriate for whatever query they had.

Ms Kennedy: Did you ever have someone phone you and say, “I just can’t do this, I can’t balance, I don’t know what’s going on but I can’t” –

Rita Palmer: The time I can recall was when I was going for a meal with some friends and I was in the back of a car – it was about a 40-minute journey – and my subpostmaster called me and he couldn’t balance his lottery. So I spent that 40-minute journey talking him through it step by step to get there, but we did and it was fine. But, yes, sometimes if they’ve got in a pickle, it is really difficult.

Ms Kennedy: Was that one of the reasons why you stopped giving your phone number; were you being bombarded?

Rita Palmer: No, it wasn’t that at all. No, that’s not why I stopped doing it. It was mainly because it was – I didn’t want to sort of have anybody having that delay in getting help when they needed it, just because they were waiting for me to answer the phone if I was busy or working somewhere else. So yes, that wasn’t why I stopped it.

Ms Kennedy: You received feedback throughout your time as a trainer; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up POL00005850, we heard from Chris Gilding that these were kind of collated feedback forms. If we turn over to page 4, Rita Kendellen.

Rita Palmer: Yes, sorry.

Ms Kennedy: So these are the types of feedback comments that you would have received; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes. They would have been from my team members, my trainers. When they were doing obviously the passports and bureau bit, that’s sort of the classroom training. So it’s – when they’re in the classroom, if they had any feedback then we would feed it back, and I can take it to the review meetings.

Ms Kennedy: So when it says in the right-hand column “No change”, these are things that would be flagged to you, and you would consider and decide whether or not to take forward to the –

Rita Palmer: Yes. No, no, this would have been after we’d gone to the – we meet – as field team leaders, we would meet and then discuss the feedback and the comments or suggestions from the team, and then decide whether it was appropriate to make those changes, if it was possible to make those changes, and then feed back to the team whether it was possible or not.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up POL00033610, this is another form of feedback form, isn’t it?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Do you recognise this? What does this show?

Rita Palmer: Basically the insurance session in the classroom was too long. So obviously, when they’re delivering it, you’re getting a sense then of how well it works with the postmasters in the classroom. So obviously they said, if the session was too long, so split it up and try it in a different way. Because trying to get – trying to get the messages and the knowledge to the delegates, if it doesn’t work, there’s no good just keep trying it in the same way. So we would try it in a different way.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn over the page, I think this is still the feedback from your team –

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: – and we can see – I think it’s the sixth box down –

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: It says:

“Lose the one-month phone call and the PTV at the three-month stage and change it to a PTB at one month and PTA at 6 to 9-month stage.”

Can you tell us what’s going on in that box.

Rita Palmer: Yes, it’s Post Office jargon, most of it. It’s – the PTC in the first box is post transfer contact. So there was a process where, following the transfer of an office, we would keep in contact with the subpostmaster to find out how things were going and help if they needed any help. So basically there was a one-month phone call. The PTV is post transfer visit. So that would be after three months. But what we were looking at there, I think, is that it would be better to visit after the one month because then you’re face-to-face and, if they have got any issues or they have got any queries, you can actually help resolve them then, and then, after three months, do a call.

Ms Kennedy: So this was a suggestion –

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: – and then you evaluate it and decide practically what’s best?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: How often were you doing this kind of exercise?

Rita Palmer: I think it was quarterly, but I couldn’t – I don’t recall properly but I think it was quarterly reviews, I think, at the time.

Ms Kennedy: We previously touched on audits. If we could pull up POL00033398, this is a slide show of Assurance Review, Quality of Auditing that was carried out in 2011. If we turn to page 3, we can see in the introduction that the purpose of this report is:

“To document the findings, conclusions and recommendations in respect of an annual review that sought to independently assure the quality of branch auditing within Post Office.”

If we turn to page 6, we can see there that chapter 4 “Transfers and Conversions”, you were down there as the author.

Rita Palmer: I don’t think I was the author. I was – that was my chapter that my team would review.

Ms Kennedy: Okay. So when it says author Rita Kendellen, that that would be your team’s responsibility?

Rita Palmer: Yes, it would be – we had a chapter each to review on a regular basis, and then I would feed that back in, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you explain how transfers and conversions fits within this framework of auditing.

Rita Palmer: From what I remember – we did transfer audits. So when an office was transferring to another subpostmaster, then it would be audited by one of our team with the postmaster there, so that all that was collated, and the conversions, I can’t recall that, but that’s probably – no, I really can’t recall that bit, the conversion bit.

Ms Kennedy: That document can come down, please.

Turning back to your witness statement, if we could bring up WITN05360100 at page 12, please, looking at the bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon IT System, you say:

“I was not aware of any issues or problems with the Horizon System in my time with Post Office Limited. I never heard of any issues from anyone, so there was no impact that I had to deal with.”

The same at paragraph 27; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes, it is and, to be honest, I was told – I’d had nothing else to change my mind on it – that Horizon System was fit for purpose. So whenever I did an audit or did training, or if I was trying to find any errors or anything, I was looking for an input error, a human error or something else, and I had no reason to question that the Horizon System was wrong, and nobody ever told me any different.

Ms Kennedy: You never had a subpostmaster saying, “It’s the system, it’s not me”?

Rita Palmer: Not at all, no.

Ms Kennedy: Were you aware of a Computer Weekly article in 2009 that raised issues with the integrity of the Horizon System?

Rita Palmer: No, not at all.

Ms Kennedy: So that wasn’t something that was spoken, to your knowledge, at the time?

Rita Palmer: No, no, and if I had thought there was any bugs or things in the system, my approach would be completely – would have been completely different, in that I wouldn’t always be looking for the human error and for people putting wrong figures and things in. Yes, I don’t – yes, it would have been completely different.

Ms Kennedy: What about after the Panorama programme in 2015; do you remember people talking about that while you were still that Post Office?

Rita Palmer: Yes, and I did watch it.

Ms Kennedy: Were you shocked?

Rita Palmer: Absolutely.

Ms Kennedy: What did people you spoke to within the Post Office think about it?

Rita Palmer: I can’t remember talking to any people within the Post Office, but personally I felt – I suppose I felt let down and I felt really bad that I hadn’t known and, you know, these terrible things had happened to people, and it wasn’t anything I could have helped with.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up WITN06380101, please, and if we can look that bottom email first, please. This is an email from the communications team that Post Office. It’s unclear who – it seems to be within the communications team in 2014, and it says:

“You may be aware of some media coverage about the Post Office’s Horizon System, relating to the contents of some of confidential documents, and this may prompt questions from postmasters you speak to. We are challenging the reporting of this matter as it implies we acknowledge there are systemic faults with Horizon. This is absolutely not the case.”

Looking further down, two or three lines from the bottom:

“If the postmasters you speak to have specific concerns caused by the coverage, please let us know by email to …” and then the email address.

Scrolling up, we can then see that someone called Julia Marwood – do you know who that is?

Rita Palmer: I knew her from Post Office, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What position did she have?

Rita Palmer: I can’t recall. She was head of something but I can’t recall the proper title.

Ms Kennedy: We can see here that she forwards the email saying:

“Cascade, please. Forward media coverage on Post Office IT system:

“Guys, Please make sure all your guys are on message with this as they may well get asked when in branches. It’s critically important they maintain the line below and not give any personal opinions or otherwise as to the validity of HOL!”

We can see that that’s then, if you scroll up again, forwarded to a number of trainers.

Were you aware of this email being sent at the time?

Rita Palmer: No, I wasn’t, because I was working for the Network Transformation team at that time.

Ms Kennedy: Does it surprise you to see an email like this –

Rita Palmer: It shocked me actually.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up WITN06380102, please, and if we can go to the bottom of that first page, this is in 2015 and this is an email following up from the BBC’s Panorama programme saying:

“I wanted to send a short update on the plans by BBC Panorama to broadcast a programme about the Post Office and its Horizon System on Monday.

“We have spent a great deal of the week dealing with this issue, and making our position clear to the BBC at very senior levels. We do expect, however, that the programme will include a number of unsubstantiated allegations. We have decided against being interviewed as part of the programme and have instead issued a robust statement. This was a very carefully considered decision but the programme wanted us to speak publicly about individual cases, and we’re not prepared to break the confidentiality commitments we have given about these. Whilst it is difficult to take this position in the face of untrue claims being made in public, we believe it is the right one.”

If we scroll up again, and a little bit more, we can see that this was then forwarded again to, I think, a wide array of trainers. Do you recognise any of the names on that email?

Rita Palmer: Some of the names I recognise as being trainers, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Do you find this email shocking?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: No-one was saying at this time, “You’ve got to get your consistent public line correct”, to you, about what you thought about the Horizon System?

Rita Palmer: No, I think – because I was on a different team then, I wasn’t included in any of this, and even – I mean, I would have still been in touch with some of these people, but nobody – I didn’t have any inkling of that at all, and I had no knowledge of it.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you. Those are all the questions that I have, Mrs Palmer, but, Chair, do you have any questions at this time?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, thank you very much.

Ms Kennedy: I believe Mr Jacobs has some questions.

Questioned by Mr Jacobs

Mr Jacobs: Thank you, sir.

Mrs Palmer, good morning. I represent 156 subpostmasters, managers and assistants who Howe+Co act for. I have some questions for you about what you say in your statement about resolution of disputes. Could we turn to page 12 of 15 of your statement paragraph 31. That’s WITN05360100. Right at the bottom there you say that you were never aware of any contact or input by Fujitsu in any disputes; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes, it is.

Mr Jacobs: Were you aware that Fujitsu held audit data which contained a complete and accurate record of all actions performed by subpostmaster, manager or assistant when they were using the Horizon System? Is that something –

Rita Palmer: No, I wasn’t aware of that at all.

Mr Jacobs: Again, I have to ask you: did you know – I imagine that your answer is going to be no because you have answered no to the first question – did you know that the Post Office had a contractual right to request audit data from Fujitsu to ascertain exactly what keys on the Horizon System had been pressed at any given time?

Rita Palmer: No, I didn’t.

Mr Jacobs: Now, you were a field team leader who led audits; is that right?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: Do you think now looking back that is something that you really should have known about?

Rita Palmer: Yes. To be honest, that would have probably helped when you were looking for discrepancies as well, if we could have got all that knowledge.

Mr Jacobs: To the best of your knowledge, did the contracts managers with whom you worked know about this?

Rita Palmer: I don’t think – well, I can’t say they did or didn’t. I wouldn’t – I don’t know.

Mr Jacobs: But you weren’t aware?

Rita Palmer: No, I weren’t aware of it, no.

Mr Jacobs: You say at paragraph 33 of your statement – this is moving on to page 13 of 15, perhaps if we could just share that so we can see it. You say:

“As an auditor, it was difficult to identify errors that had occurred in the past as the documentation wasn’t always available and the systems didn’t go back far enough.”

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: In the light of what we have just been talking about, do you accept there actually was a means by which these investigations could have been carried out fairly?

Rita Palmer: Yes. When we did an audit and you couldn’t or you were trying to help find a loss or discrepancy, if the system didn’t go back far enough, we would then refer it back to Chesterfield because, as far as we understood, they could go back further than we could go on-site. But apart from that, yes, I didn’t know anymore.

Mr Jacobs: You also say at paragraph 33 that you had every faith that the system was working as it should –

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: – and when errors occurred it was down to human error?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: I think you have also said this morning, haven’t you, that whenever you did audits, because of this belief you had, you were looking for human error or something else?

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: And you were shocked when you saw the Panorama programme?

Rita Palmer: Definitely yes, I was.

Mr Jacobs: Was this view, that when errors occurred it was down to human error, was that a view that was shared by your colleagues?

Rita Palmer: I can’t speak for anybody else, but I think that was – the general approach was the first thing you go and look for is either something that had been input to the system wrong or something they put as a deposit instead of a withdrawal, or there would be something physical that you could actually see had been put in by error, yes.

Mr Jacobs: Now, again, at paragraph 33 you say that you:

“… feel the Post Office should have been open when they discovered faults” –

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: – “as they made everyone involved feel absolutely stupid and rotten through no fault of their own.”

Rita Palmer: Well, that’s what I felt when that Panorama programme came out because, you know, I’d done my best all the time I worked for Post Office to do the best I could for my subpostmasters and, you know, you just feel, like, awful.

Mr Jacobs: We’ve seen the email that Ms Kennedy put up on the screen –

Rita Palmer: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: – that Post Office sent out in relation to the Panorama programme. Are you able to say, and you may not be able to say, but why do you think Post Office weren’t being open about all this?

Rita Palmer: I really don’t understand why not. I think – no, I just – I can’t understand it. I know that the size of the business and – one of the very first things we used to cover on the classroom course was the fact that the Post Office was one of the most trusted brands and that – you know, that was what we were telling people that were buying a business and putting their money into it and that was, you know, they were buying into the Post Office because it was one of the most trusted brands in the country.

Mr Jacobs: What do you think about that now?

Rita Palmer: I’ll don’t like to comment to that, sorry.

Mr Jacobs: Thank you. I am just going to ask Mr Hull if I have any further questions. No, I haven’t. That’s it. Thank you very much.

Rita Palmer: You’re welcome.

Mr Jacobs: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Is that it?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, Chair.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much, Mrs Palmer, for coming to give evidence to the Inquiry and for the straightforward nature of your answers, if I may say so. Thank you very much.

Rita Palmer: Thank you.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, unfortunately Mr Rollason still hasn’t received his equipment. We are looking at alternative arrangements but unfortunately we won’t be able to sit for the rest of the day and hear his evidence.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s confirmed, is it, Ms Kennedy? There’s no point in us waiting for 30 minutes or even an hour just to see what happens?

Ms Kennedy: I believe the most we have been told is that he may get it by 6.00 pm, so I don’t propose we sit then.

Sir Wyn Williams: Even allowing for the best will in the world, I don’t think we want to start evidence that late on a Friday.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, the other point to note is that we aim to publish the timetable for the rest of the Phase 3 hearings by Monday.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s fine, thank you. All right. Well, we’re now going to have a reasonably substantial break in the hearings, are we not?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, though the alternative arrangements team Mr Rollason’s evidence may mean that we might try and do something sooner than the break. But, yes, other than that, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Subject to Mr Rollason, we are going to have a few weeks’ break in the Inquiry. It’s not ideal that this is happening – and I’m now not speaking to you, Ms Kennedy, but generally – but this is a function of us having to be accommodated as and when we can at the moment at the Dispute Resolution Centre and I’m reasonably hopeful that over the coming weeks we will find ourselves a permanent place where there will be less possibly of disruption to the hearings as we’re going forward.

But, be that as it may, I’m sorry that there will be this few weeks’ break in the hearing of evidence but no doubt no-one will be surprised to hear that myself and the Inquiry team will have lots to do during that period.

So I’ll see you in a few weeks, everyone. Goodbye.

(10.54 am)

(A short break)

(12.00 pm)

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, sir. We have resumed and we’re going to hear from Mr Rollason.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine.

Trevor Rollason


Questioned by Mr Blake

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. Can you give your full name, please.

Trevor Rollason: Trevor Rollason.

Mr Blake: Mr Rollason, thank you very much for joining us today and apologies for the difficulties with transporting the equipment to you. We’re grateful that you’ve joined us from abroad today.

Do you have in front of you a copy of your witness statement dated 16 January?

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can you look at the final page of that document, page 25 of 26, it has there a statement off truth. Is that your signature that bottom?

Trevor Rollason: That my signature, yes.

Mr Blake: Can you confirm that that statement dated 6 January is true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Trevor Rollason: It is.

Mr Blake: For the purpose of the transcript, the statement is WITN05240100.

I’m going to start, Mr Rollason. You joined the Post Office from school in 1974; is that right?

Trevor Rollason: That’s correct, yes.

Mr Blake: You worked as a counter clerk and then acting branch manager?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, I did.

Mr Blake: You held various roles before being promoted to the Post Office headquarters?

Trevor Rollason: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: At the headquarters you again held various roles such area and counter manager in Basildon?

Trevor Rollason: That wasn’t the headquarters; that was at the district office. At headquarters I did operational efficiency, industrial engineering work, and then I was promoted to area manager at the Colchester district office.

Mr Blake: Thank you. In those early experiences, to what extent were you familiar with cash account balancing and using pre-Horizon Systems?

Trevor Rollason: Very familiar, very familiar.

Mr Blake: How familiar were others who worked in the headquarters with those processes, such as the management?

Trevor Rollason: Sorry, you’re getting it slightly confused. You are talking about headquarters or you’re talking about the Horizon project?

Mr Blake: So, when you were working on the Horizon project, you have said that you were familiar with cash account balancing and using pre-Horizon systems because of your previous experiences. To what extent were those who you worked with, particularly in management roles, familiar with things like cash account balancing and using the pre-Horizon systems?

Trevor Rollason: Oh, are you talking about my immediate managers or the staff that I had work for me?

Mr Blake: Let’s start with your immediate managers.

Trevor Rollason: My immediate managers were ex-district managers, regional managers, probably direct graduate entrants, but they will have known the business reasonably well, I would have thought.

Mr Blake: And who was your direct manager?

Trevor Rollason: Douglas Craik.

Mr Blake: From your experience further up in the business within the Post Office, so management level, senior management level of Post Office, how familiar from your own experiences were they with those processes?

Trevor Rollason: I would have thought certainly Bruce McNiven would have known most of those processes. I don’t know whether Dave Miller would have had the detail that we had, but he would certainly have been aware of how a sub-office worked. Whether he knew the detail of the cash account, I couldn’t say for sure.

Mr Blake: Thank you. The most relevant role that you held for the purposes of today was the National Horizon Training Manager from 1995; is that right?

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: So that’s quite early on in the project. Looking at contemporaneous documents, it seems as though you were at least receiving documents relating to Horizon into 1999. Do you remember that at all?

Trevor Rollason: This is something I’ve said to you already. I think late ‘99 was probably when I left the project, maybe just into 2000. I saw my name on several documents in ‘99, so yes.

Mr Blake: You have said in your statement your role was to agree a training course with ICL Pathway for 70,000 people.

Trevor Rollason: Not one training course, a number of different training courses for 70,000 people in total, yes.

Mr Blake: Did that cover, for example, managers, assistants, counter clerks; was it a broad range of –

Trevor Rollason: Absolutely. It covered auditors, investigation, trainers, postmasters, branch managers, counter clerk – it covered a whole range of different people within the business.

Mr Blake: I want to start today with an overview of your concerns that you’ve expressed in your witness statement regarding the training that was available. You have made very clear in your statement that, although you considered user awareness events to have been excellent, you consider that the training itself should have been longer. Can you summarise for us what made you reach that conclusion.

Trevor Rollason: You’ve got 70,000 people. They’re not all subpostmasters, but you have got an age range of 87 down to 16. You’ve got those people that had never used technology, you’ve got those people who feared technology, those people who embrace technology. So you had a whole range of people, and whatever you try and do – and I did hear somebody say about trying to profile the resource that we had, which would just have been impossible to try and profile our resource – you were going to have people on these courses who had IT knowledge, who were trained by the Post Office, and you were going to know postmasters and their staff on the game source, and it was going to cause problems because they work at different speeds.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I know that we ended up – because I came to an impasse with my opposite number in Pathway because they wanted to do just the one-day course and –

Mr Blake: Can you tell us, just pausing there, who was your opposite number.

Trevor Rollason: At the time it was a lady called Lorraine Holt, and then it became Andy Barkham – I think it was Andy Barkham who took over after she moved.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us: what was their view as to the length of time that was appropriate for a training course?

Trevor Rollason: At the time they obviously wanted to start with classroom – not classroom – workbooks sent out, so distant learning. That was never going to work. Then they came back to me. The final offer, as it was then, was for one day for all subpostmasters, branch managers and counter assistants, and I just wouldn’t agree it. It came to an impasse that we had to call a meeting between Douglas Craik, Bruce McNiven and myself from Post Office Counters. Liam Foley, Lorraine Holt, Barry – Barry someone was there, and I think the managing director of ICL Pathway came along.

At the end of that meeting we had to come up with a solution to move forward on how long we were going to have to train. My view was that subpostmasters needed at least two days. The second half should have been working on the cash account, error reversals, et cetera, et cetera. But at the end we had to reach a compromise, and we accepted that one-and-a-half days was what we had to work with for branch managers and subpostmasters, and one day for counter clerks.

Now, if you ask me today, I think Bruce was right in saying that one day for the assistants was enough, one-and-a-half days for branch office staff was enough, but one-and-a-half days for postmasters was not enough, and they should have had the extra half day doing cash account, more cash account work.

Mr Blake: Can you give us an indication of when this discussion took place.

Trevor Rollason: I can’t. I can’t remember exactly when it took place, no.

Mr Blake: I’ll take you through some documents and, if while I’m taking you through those documents that’s gives you a better indication of the period of time, please do say so.

Trevor Rollason: It was certainly before Peritas were involved in terms of the training, because they were waiting for the outcome of how long they would have to build the training around. I can’t honestly remember exactly when it was.

Mr Blake: Can you tell me how high up within the Post Office you raised concerns about the length of training.

Trevor Rollason: Certainly Deputy Director level.

Mr Blake: Who was that?

Trevor Rollason: That was Bruce McNiven and Douglas Craik as well. I raised it with them.

Mr Blake: And what was their response?

Trevor Rollason: My main concern about the lack of cash account training was the knock-on effect of when we went into a live environment on transactional TIP, I think it was called, in Chesterfield, and all cash accounts going there and obviously the increase in error notices. I could see that was going to happen, but it was very difficult to get my point of view over.

Mr Blake: You’ve said at paragraph 59 of your witness statement that you were outvoted. Can you tell us what you meant by that.

Trevor Rollason: Well, Bruce and Douglas, they were my senior managers, and they said, “Well, we will work with one-and-a-half days”, and I wasn’t going to go against them, I had to agree with them. So we did, and we had to build a course the best we could for one-and-a-half days and one day.

Mr Blake: What do you recall of the view of ICL or Peritas at that time regarding the length of training?

Trevor Rollason: Well, ICL obviously were not happy to have to extend it because of the additional cost to them. Peritas didn’t quite know what the time was going to be anyway. It wasn’t until we passed that information that we were going to try and build these courses up between one-and-a-half days and one day that they actually got really involved in the detail of the courses.

Mr Blake: I’m going to move on to the issue of feedback. You’ve also made clear in your witness statement at paragraph 73 that you didn’t think that the Post Office were bothered listening to subpostmasters. Why did you think that was?

Trevor Rollason: Bothered – can you –

Mr Blake: Absolutely. If we could bring your witness statement on screen and we can have a look at paragraph 73, it’s page 23 and if we scroll down to paragraph 73. You say there:

“I’ve been asked what Post Office did with feedback obtained from the subpostmasters. The answer is not a lot. This is my opinion because the training programme wasn’t changed. I don’t think we bothered listening to the subpostmasters, to be honest. They were asked to give feedback at the end of the course which went to ICL the Pathway/Peritas, but it was irrelevant what they said as nothing was done with it and the training course wasn’t going to change.”

Trevor Rollason: Yes, that’s right. Yes, they all completed feedback forms at the end of the course, but I don’t think – certainly in Post Office, I don’t recall us doing anything with the feedback, and we certainly didn’t modify the course, after it was initially signed off – not to my knowledge. It might have changed after I left but up, until I had left, we still had the same course that we signed off.

Mr Blake: How did you feel about that at the time?

Trevor Rollason: To be honest, what’s the point in having a feedback form if you don’t actually take notice of what’s being said? Sometimes what was said you couldn’t have changed anyway, but sometimes there may have been some relevant points, like we need some more time on cash account training.

Mr Blake: I’m going to take you through some documents chronologically and, as I say, if that jogs your memory in terms of the various discussions you had, let me know. The first document I am going to take you to is from 7 January 1999. That is POL00039749. This is a letter from or a note from Bruce McNiven to RGMs. Can you tell us who RGMs were.

Trevor Rollason: Yes, the regional general managers.

Mr Blake: What was the role of a regional general manager?

Trevor Rollason: There was seven of them across the country, and they looked after the whole network of post offices within their catchment area. They were the top man or woman in the region.

Mr Blake: Thank you. You’re copied into this note. Is this something you remember? I’m going to read to you the first two paragraphs. I’ll read the paragraphs and you can let me know if you recall this issue. It starts to say:

“Training courses for 64,000 of the 72,000 target audience had been agreed in principle. This includes the managers course which will be aimed at branch managers and subpostmasters, together with other staff who complete the cash account, and the basic training course for sub-office assistants. Currently, however, we have not reached agreement on how to deliver training to an estimated audience of approximately 8,000 comprising at least 6,500 counter clerks and upwards of 1,600 franchise staff who operate ECCO+.

“Clearly the training is not aimed at teaching people how to complete a cash account, which is an assumed competence of those attending the courses, but the conversion to the automated version is more complex than originally envisaged. The gap is approximately two hours of training which cannot be added to the one-day event.”

Is this a discussion that you remember at all?

Trevor Rollason: No, I don’t, absolutely not.

Mr Blake: The reference there to the automated version being more complex than originally envisaged, is that something that you remember?

Trevor Rollason: No.

Mr Blake: Not as expressed in this particular note but, in general, was it that the automated version was more complex than you or your colleagues originally thought it was going to be?

Trevor Rollason: I don’t believe it was, no, I really don’t. I’m looking at this now, the second half of the first paragraph:

“Currently, however, we have not reached agreement on how to deliver training to an estimated audience of 8,000 comprising at least 6,500 counter clerks and up to 1,600 franchise.”

Well, that’s not true; we had. It was the same course as what all branch managers and subpostmasters and all counter clerks had.

Mr Blake: So might it have been that in January of 1999 formal agreement hadn’t been reached as far as counter clerks and franchise staff were concerned?

Trevor Rollason: But they weren’t treated separately; they were all treated as part of – it’s 70,000 actually, not 72, because 72 was the target for user awareness, but it was 70,000 for the training. But they were all treated the same. I don’t remember seeing this document, this letter, even though I was copied in on it.

Mr Blake: Thank you. If we scroll down, it talks about different alternatives that could be undertaken by counter clerks, one option being that they attend managers course, and it has various concerns there and costs. If we scroll down, it has another option, 8,000 individuals attending a one-day course, et cetera, and it gives a costing there.

This gives various costings throughout this document. Not basing your recollection on this document at all but just in general, to the best of your recollection, to what extent did the cost of training impact on the amount of time that was agreed?

Trevor Rollason: I think you need to ask ICL Pathway that because obviously, being a Private Finance Initiative, it will be a cost to them.

Mr Blake: So was the cost a concern for the Post Office at all, to the best of your recollection?

Trevor Rollason: No, not to my knowledge – not a cost that was delivered by ICL Pathway, no.

Mr Blake: So, if it didn’t impact the Post Office on cost, why was there resistance to extending the time period for training to one-and-a-half days?

Trevor Rollason: Because it impacted ICL Pathway, not the Post Office. We would like to have had – I’m sure if we could have got four days/five days’ training we would have happily had that, but obviously, if it’s a Private Finance Initiative, you have to listen to what your partner’s saying.

Mr Blake: So, if you were raising with Bruce McNiven and others, for example, that you thought it should be a day-and-a-half, why did you understand there to have been resistance on had Post Office side to extending the training?

Trevor Rollason: I don’t believe there was resistance on the Post Office side really.

Mr Blake: So, to the best of your recollection, why didn’t Post Office push for more training?

Trevor Rollason: Well, I did, but we had to compromise at a meeting. Otherwise we’d never have moved forward with a training programme, and that’s what it came to. We came to that impasse with Pathway, and that’s why that meeting was held to find an agreeable way forward. Whether it was the right way or not is debatable, but we had to come to some agreement to work with to get the course moving.

Mr Blake: So, where you say you were overruled by those senior to you, or outvoted, et cetera, is it that they were seeking to agree a compromise, whereas you wanted what you considered to be the best solution?

Trevor Rollason: I think so. I think they were looking at some way of moving this forward and, like I said earlier, I do believe that they probably got the majority of that decision right. The part that they never got right, in my opinion, was we should have given subpostmasters a separate extra half a day on cash account. But that wasn’t to be.

Mr Blake: I’m going to move on couple of months to March 1999, and can we look at POL00039733. If we can go over the page, please, were you aware of ICL Pathway receiving feedback during this period?

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: I think this is a document you saw in preparing your witness statement.

Trevor Rollason: Yes. They would have got fed back definitely.

Mr Blake: Were you aware at the time that this feedback was taking place?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, yes.

Mr Blake: There are in this document concerns raised about the lack of training in respect balancing and also insufficient time being allocated to training. I’d like to just give you a flavour of that. I think you have had an opportunity to look at this, but let’s just look at page 12 just to give a flavour.

This is an event that took place on 8 and 9 March involving Birmingham counter managers. I’ll just read the first few entries there, if we could scroll down slightly. The first one refers to stock units, more time. Then it says:

“Concerned. I feel if you’re not careful in the accounting aspects of Horizon you might find yourself in trouble. You need to know what you’re doing. More time needed on the balancing procedure. Sped through a lot of information and the course quite intense. Balancing (more time). Pretty confident with day-to-day work and procedures. Still confused over the balance in relation to comparing what I do at present”, et cetera.

Were those issues being communicated to you by ICL at that time?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, we met quite often, but Birmingham counter managers – I’m assuming from that you mean the Post Office-trained managers?

Mr Blake: No, if we look back at the beginning of this document, page 2, this was the trial of the training. It was involving the first 14, and there was a group – there were different groups around the country that ICL looked at training and receiving feedback back on. So that is the feedback that was provided by some Birmingham training.

Trevor Rollason: Yes, but I’d need to know a breakdown of who those people were because I’d be very surprised if they were ECCO+ trained branch managers who were finding it difficult to operate the Horizon System – very surprised. It may have been subpostmasters. If that’s them passing the comment, then I understand that.

Mr Blake: Yes. So these are counter managers in Birmingham. You find that surprising?

Trevor Rollason: If they’re Post Office employees, I do, yes.

Mr Blake: If they were subpostmasters – if the training was for subpostmasters in the early days of Horizon, and the feedback was that the length of time taken is insufficient, and that there is insufficient training with regards to balancing, would that have surprised you?

Trevor Rollason: No, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

Mr Blake: Was it consistent with your own experience?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, absolutely.

Mr Blake: Two months later we have something that we know as Acceptance Incident 218. In your statement I think you’ve said you can’t remember very much about that incident, but I’ll take you to a document to see if it brings back any particular memories. That’s POL00090478.

Can we look, please, at page 4 of that. So this describes Acceptance Incident 218, and it has a date observed there in the right-hand corner as 19 May 1999. The description of that incident is as follows. It says:

“The managers’ training course is not acceptable due to deficiencies in the accounting modules. In the live environment the training given did not equip the users to perform the completion of office cash accounts. This is a basis [I think it means basic] POCL function that is central to running and accounting for the POCL network.”

So this is the Post Office raising with ICL an Acceptance Incident that is essentially saying in the live environment that the training given didn’t equip users to perform the completion of cash office accounts. Is that something that you remember, even if you don’t remember the particular nuances of Acceptance Incident 218?

Trevor Rollason: Possibly. It’s very difficult to remember. This was – was this live trial or …?

Mr Blake: This would have been – yes, there would have been a small number of a relatively small number of outlets that had received Horizon by this time in May 1999.

Trevor Rollason: I really can’t recollect that at all. I know that, when we did model office testing, any issues that came up, a corrective action was taken to ensure that we did have sufficient time – well, not sufficient time, but we did cover how to produce a cash account. But I can’t remember this.

Mr Blake: If we turn perhaps to page 7 of this document, we see there a letter to John Dicks of ICL Pathway from Bruce McNiven, and it concerns a review of Acceptance Incident 218. If we move on to page 11, he has highlighted the certain concerns that still exist as at the date of his letter. So his letter there is 10 August 1999, and I’m just going to read to you this paragraph. It says:

“Although the small sample size of 18 responses limits the validity of the findings, some significant improvements were found in comparison to live trial 1 … Overall attitudes towards Horizon are better that LT2 offices compared to the LT1 experience.”

So that gives you an indication of the time.

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: “The key outstanding issues to emerge from research were as follows.”

It lists there:

“The course is still considered to be too short and intensive. ICL have proposed a pre-training course but details are awaited. The need to further stream the training groups. This issue has not been addressed by Pathway beyond the streaming required by POCL for ECCO+ staff. Pathway’s response is to do whatever possible. There were impacts on the number of training places.”

The next entry:

“Variation in training quality. Discussions taking place between POCL and ICL Pathway to look at how there can be a greater quality assurance for trainer ability and consistency of delivering the course specification. There are significant problems with technical and software faults in the training sessions. POCL regard these are significant issues which will require rectification.”

Were those concerns that you recall at all?

Trevor Rollason: All valid points. I recall all of those points, and I remember listening to Kevin Fletcher say that they had somewhere in the region of 250 trainers coming out, and I went to many training courses, and we were not happy with a number of their trainers, and this was passed on to Pathway, and I believe that Pathway did speak to Peritas, and either more training was given to those trainers or they were removed from the project programme.

As for, “ICL had proposed a pre-training course”, that’s new to me. I don’t remember ICL proposing a pre-training course, but “details awaited”, so may have been they didn’t pursue that.

Mr Blake: If we look at that first bullet point and that first sentence, “The course is still considered to be too short and intensive”, in the summer – so August 1999 – was that view that you shared?

Trevor Rollason: Absolutely. My view never changed from when we agreed to go towards the one-and-a-half days. All we could do, my team could do, is to make sure that we – I basically say crammed as much information as we could into the time we had.

Mr Blake: If we go over the page, this is a response to Bruce McNiven from John Dicks in August, 11 August 1999. I won’t spend much time on it because you don’t really recall much about the Acceptance Incident. I’ll just see if this jogs any memories. This is a response that says:

“Pathway is convinced that it has done everything it can to improve the training and prepare for Horizon, and that the essence of the remaining issues we are seeking to address relate to POCL’s own management of change.”

Moving to the next paragraph, it says:

“Pathway has consistently maintained that user confidence in the system will be achieved only through managing the change in POCL business processes such that POCL’s target standard approach is adopted across the Post Office network.”

Next paragraph:

“For these reasons, Pathway believes that Acceptance Incident 218 which formally relates to training should now be closed. Pathway does not accept that any further revisions to the training courses, other than routine minor improvements already identified, are required or indeed are now desirable in light of the commitments made by both parties to revised courses and collateral.”

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: Do you remember during this period – so the summer of 1999 – there being essentially a decision that there would be no extension, for example, of time for that managers’ course?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, I do remember it was. There was lots of other things done in the interim to support the training. There was eight different workbooks, I think, were produced, quick reference guides. We had the HFSOs allowed to support when they went live.

Mr Blake: That’s the Horizon Field Support Officers?

Trevor Rollason: Field Support Officers, sorry, yes. The Horizon Field – they were there, I think, for the first week, maybe the second week, certainly for two balances or if needed three balances. So almost like holding the hands of the subpostmasters or subpostmistresses to take them through the transition from a manual system to an automated platform.

So there was – it wasn’t just about the training, it was about the support that was given post training.

Mr Blake: Was your view that, despite that additional support, there still should be an extension in the managers’ training?

Trevor Rollason: I still believe that. To be fair, there was subpostmasters who went on that course and had no problems with going back to their office, using training mode, practising in the time before they had to do a live balance. There were some subpostmasters who just didn’t want change, and it was never going to work in their offices. It was very difficult, very difficult times.

But some subpostmasters coped, but everybody seems to concentrate on those that struggled. I don’t know. I don’t know what more we could have done in terms of support of that network there.

Mr Blake: Other than extend the time for training?

Trevor Rollason: Other than – but, even so, we could have extended it another half a day, or day and a half, and there would still have been subpostmasters that wouldn’t have been able to balance.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00028441, please. We’re moving now to the end of 1999/early 2000. Now, I know that you are likely to have left certainly by January 2000.

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: But let’s have a look at this document. Can we look at page 3. This was a research project that took place in Christmas of 1999, so it may be that you were around at that time or certainly near the end of your time. Do you remember who Lorna Green was?

Trevor Rollason: Never heard of her, no.

Mr Blake: If we look over the page, page 4 – thank you – it says:

“This document accompanies the report entitled Christmas Horizon Research, January 2000, by Lorna Green. The report discusses the results of a telephone questionnaire carried out in December 1999 with a sample of 335 national rollout post offices and asks questions about various aspects of the Horizon programme.”

Was this a project that you were aware of before you left at all?

Trevor Rollason: No, no. Never heard of Christmas Horizon Research at all.

Mr Blake: Were you, during your period of involvement, aware of any research projects other than the first one that I took you to – in fact, that was carried out by ICL – any research projects that were undertaken by the Post Office to get substantive feedback from subpostmasters and others using the Horizon System?

Trevor Rollason: I know there was, but I can’t tell you who done them or when they were done. There certainly was. I would have thought perhaps our national training team may have done some research into how it was rolling out, but I can’t remember who.

Mr Blake: If we turn to page 14 of this document, this addresses training and this provides some of the feedback from those who took part in the survey. The first heading there is “Not enough training”. I won’t read them all to you but I’ll read to you the first few.

“One Respondent said there wasn’t enough training. Another said, ‘On the course, we were booked to go together and didn’t get the appointment. We needed much more training and more time. Balancing needs looking at.’

“It was completely inadequate. Day and a half was not enough, especially training for balancing was concerned. I am used to computers but some of the training was horrendous. Good but not enough. I only got one-and-a-half days’ training.”

That again refers back to the beginning of your evidence today about the one-and-a-half days:

“We needed more training. It was too rushed.”

If we turn over the page, there’s another section of feedback which talks about not enough training on balancing. Again I won’t read them all but I will just read the first few. It says:

“Training for accounting was bad. Balancing took hours to sort out and was kept up until midnight sometimes. Tried to call Helpdesk but it was almost always engaged. But needed more time on balancing. The first day was all right but the quality of the training was not good on the second day.”

The next person said:

“Because we concentrated on serving customers which was very easy but needed training on balancing in back office, I think it was useless.”

The next:

“Inadequate particularly for balancing.”

Then, if we turn over the page:

“Not enough time allowed. It was trying to cram too much in not enough time. Inadequate, day and a half was not long enough. No time to practice anything. It could ideally have been longer training session. We ended up being left totally confused. There was not enough time. Not long enough”, et cetera.

Although you didn’t see this document at the time and weren’t part of this research, are those consistent with your recollections and the concerns that you had at the time?

Trevor Rollason: I think it’s perfectly – exactly what I thought. I think there’s a lot of – what you have got to realise is these comments that people are making here, they could have practised, if they’d gone into training mode when they got back to their office, and they could have practised, practised, made their mistakes then. So there was additional support, if they could be bothered to use the training mode. But, no, those comments, I probably agree with most of them.

Mr Blake: To summarise where we’re up to now, you’ve given evidence about your opinion that there was insufficient time for training, or you wanted an extra half a day. We’ve seen the feedback that talks insufficient time and a lack of balancing and cash account training. You have that note from Bruce McNiven about the complexity of conversion to the new system, and you have the Acceptance Incident 218 being raised.

What I’d like to ask is: why, during your period of involvement, weren’t those concerns about the length, including your concerns about the length of the training, taken seriously by the Post Office?

Trevor Rollason: I’m no idea. I’ve no idea. I mean, I used to go up to Chesterfield and speak with the TIP people to try and pre-warn them about the error rates that were going to increase, and I spoke to all my people in the Post Office that I knew and tried to look at the downstream effects. But perhaps it wasn’t me. Perhaps I wasn’t strong enough in trying to put my opinions over but – yes, I could see all those comments happening. I really could.

Mr Blake: Would it have been easy to add half a day more training or a day’s more training on –

Trevor Rollason: Probably not. I mean, we could have separated it, but it would have been a bit of a logistical nightmare for them because, as soon as they finished the training, the Post Office – the Peritas trainers would pack up all the equipment, get ready to move on to the next venue where they were holding training and reset all that up for the following courses.

But, if we’d had programmed it right, we could have done it. We could have had an extra half day with no problem.

Mr Blake: I would like to go to FUJ00001356. This is the Counter Managers’ Course Specification, and it has there “status approved”. Your name does appear there in the distribution list towards the bottom there. Can we scroll down slightly. So the distribution list there includes people from ICL Pathway, people from Post Office Counters Limited and also people from KnowledgePool. Is this a document that you remember at all?

Trevor Rollason: Not particularly, no, but I know the author was Andy Barkham who was my opposite number. So I’m sure I must have seen it.

Mr Blake: If we turn over the page, it has the document history there and I’m just going to read to you what it says about version 2.0. It says:

“Contains amendments made following evaluation exercise in July 1999. Document is based on the courses presented as dry runs through Post Office Counters Limited and signed off by Trevor Rollason in September 1999.”

Do you remember the evaluation exercise; do you remember signing it off?

Trevor Rollason: No. No, I don’t.

Mr Blake: We have at 0.2 there the approval authorities and we have Andy Barkham of ICL Pathway, we have yourself from the Post Office, and we have Stuart Kearns from KnowledgePool. Can I just understand what an approval authority was. Does that mean that all three of you agreed this document?

Trevor Rollason: I believe so, yes.

Mr Blake: Was that generally routine for these kinds of things that the three different parties would agree the specifications?

Trevor Rollason: We wouldn’t sign off unless all three of us agreed that it was the right thing to do, yes.

Mr Blake: What I want to understand – this is the document that sets out what the counter managers’ course is going to involve. If we look at, say, page 4, it gives the introduction:

“This document contains the course specification to be used by KnowledgePool trainers…” et cetera.

Is why, despite the concerns that you had at the time, you approved this particular document – you have given evidence before about being outvoted. Is this an example where you were told to approve it rather than –

Trevor Rollason: Absolutely. This would have been the outcome of our first meeting we had with Pathway when we had the impasse. This would be what I had to work within, the boundaries I had to work within.

Mr Blake: So, although we see your name as the approval authority, in truth who would you say was the approver?

Trevor Rollason: Well, it would probably have been by direct boss Douglas Craik.

Mr Blake: I would like to move on to several discrete topics now and I won’t be particularly long.

Chair, I don’t think we need a break this afternoon. If you are happy –

Trevor Rollason: No, no, no, no, that’s fine.

Sir Wyn Williams: I think you have Mr Rollason’s view of that.

Trevor Rollason: Sorry about that.

Sir Wyn Williams: I am quite happy for us to continue until Mr Rollason has finished his evidence, subject only to thinking of the transcriber as well.

Mr Blake: I think the transcriber is happy to have an early Friday afternoon.

Sir Wyn Williams: Then we are all happy, Mr Blake.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we look at FUJ00001322, please, and that is the “Training Programme, Training Needs Analysis”, and we have you there on the distribution list.

This is version 2.0 and it’s dated July 1999. There are earlier versions of this dating back to 1997 that we have, and it’s the same point that’s contained throughout multiple versions of this document that I’d like to take you to, and it’s page 5 which lists the objectives.

But just before we get to page 5, sorry, if we just look at page 2, it has again there “Approval Authorities” and we have the same ICL TS. Sorry, are you aware of TS?

Trevor Rollason: No.

Mr Blake: So it’s part of ICL, ICL Pathway, and then you have POCL. So you have the three approval or three approval authorities for this document, very consistent with what you’ve told us about requiring multiple approval authorities.

It’s page 5 which has the objective of training. I’m just going to read this out. So it says:

“ICL Pathway have contracted ICL TS Limited to provide the training programme…”

So this was one of the – I think Peritas had multiple different names over the years.

Trevor Rollason: Yes, this is Peritas, we’re talking about here.

Mr Blake: “… to provide the training programme in support of the POCL counter automation project. The training programme is required by ICL Pathway to meet the following objectives.

“Compatibility – the programme must be managed and delivered in a manner consistent with the implementation programme undertaken by ICL Pathway Limited and their other subcontractors.

“Timeliness – no individual is to be trained more than five working days prior to the automation of their normal counter position.

“To the required scope which is [and this is part in bold] to ensure that all staff who work within a post office are competent in the use of the automated platform, are aware of the impact on operational procedures caused by the introduction of the platform and that specialist staff are provided with the appropriate additional information to perform their job role within an automated Post Office.”

It then goes on to say:

“Achieve appropriate competence levels – the delivered programme is required to ensure that 95 per cent of personnel have a minimum competence that they are capable of processing 90 per cent of all transactions undertaken by their base office correctly.”

Do you remember this objective at all?

Trevor Rollason: Yes. Yes, I remember this document. This was like the Bible, to be quite honest.

Mr Blake: Are you able to assist us with those figures that bottom there, so:

“The delivered programme is required to ensure that 95 per cent of personnel have a minimum competence that they are capable of processing 90 per cent of all transactions.”

How was that monitored?

Trevor Rollason: We actually introduced a competency test. You didn’t like the name competency test, and I listened to Bruce’s statements yesterday or day before. It was changed to “certificate of competence” and it was measured against that. Processing 90 per cent of all transactions, I’m not quite sure how we measured that, but 95 per cent of the personnel had to pass the competency test to obtain their certificate of competency to go back to work in a live environment.

That was measured by Pathway – Peritas’ trainers and, if they failed to reach the required standard, they were invited back for another training course. If they failed again, they become the responsibility of Post Office Counters to finish off their training. That’s about what I remember of that part of it.

But we were heavily involved, myself and Ann Green were heavily involved, in developing this competency test along with Kathryn Cook to make sure that, you know, the counter clerks could do the basic things like switch the computer on, log in, do a sale of stamps, multiple transactions, savings bank. So they could do the whole range of business that they could actually do and, at the end of the day, do the end-of-the-day requirements as well. So yes, it was – that was measured by the Peritas trainers.

Mr Blake: Do you consider that the competency testing sufficiently focused on balancing, or was it more focused on those inputting type tests that you have just described?

Trevor Rollason: It did concentrate on balancing, obviously, but probably not enough. It certainly was enough for the basic one-day course. It wasn’t overly difficult, I don’t think, the one-day course. The one-and-a-half day course was obviously more difficult with the balancing aspects, and it would have – they would have had to achieve a balance to have passed the competency test, yes.

Mr Blake: But you have expressed views about the length of that course, testing competency when it became to balancing. If there wasn’t sufficient training in relation to those issues, did that impact in some way on how difficult or rigorous or stringent the competency test would be when it came to issues such balancing?

Trevor Rollason: Well, I can’t remember what we put on the second part of that course in terms of competency. But they would have had to have achieved a balance to have been classed as competent to go back to their office.

Mr Blake: If we look at the figures there, 95 per cent have to have a minimum competence, do you know what happened to the 5 per cent who didn’t, who failed?

Trevor Rollason: They become our responsibility, Post Office Counters’ responsibility, to continue their training and that would have been the responsibility of the subpostmaster probably.

Mr Blake: The 90 per cent there of transactions that need to be correct, was that in any way an acknowledgement that it was unlikely that 100 per cent of transactions would be correct?

Trevor Rollason: I mean, the Post Office did so many different transactions, you’d have needed a week to train someone on all the different transactions we did. So you could only cover as much as we could cover, and they were all the main transactions that you would have done, like a Girobank deposit/withdrawal, savings bank deposit/withdrawal. All the main transactions that you normally would perform would have been covered in that competency test.

Mr Blake: If we scroll down, we have the population to be trained there, and it starts with postal officers, branch managers, et cetera. It has also auditors and Post Office security.

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: Do the concerns that you have raised regarding the managers’ training extend to the training of the auditors and the Post Office security?

Trevor Rollason: No, no.

Mr Blake: Why not?

Trevor Rollason: Because we had – auditors were certainly involved in developing the course as were – you haven’t got on there our investigation department. That was also on there. So we knew all the requirements. I can’t remember the length of the courses but they were happy with the length of the course that we gave them. Post Office security probably the information investigation department trainers, yes. No, we didn’t have any problems with the length of courses for those outside of the core number that needed doing.

Mr Blake: Thank you. If we could take that down, I am going to ask you now about fraud investigations, and that’s something that you’ve mentioned in your statement. Can we look at your statement at paragraph 21, please.

That should be page 7. Thank you. If we could enlarge paragraph 21, I’ll just read that out. It says:

“I spent a lot of time with Judy Land to sort incorrect and incomplete cash accounts and the problems it would cause.”

Pausing there, who was Judy Land?

Trevor Rollason: She was the head of our finance in Chesterfield. She looked after all the reconciliation of the accounts.

Mr Blake: Thank you. You say:

“She was the head of group in the finance division and looked after the cash and reconciliation accounts. I forewarned her of problems when there first lot of cash accounts came in. Some didn’t balance and others hadn’t been completed correctly. I also spent time with the fraud department to discuss the problems and fraud that may happen with automation. That was a big concern.”

Can you give us an indication of the typical problems that were experienced with the cash and reconciliation accounts?

Trevor Rollason: Well, you have already mentioned that some people were there until 11/12 at night trying to balance their accounts. There’s others, come 9.00 on Thursday morning, that still hadn’t reconciled their accounts, but they had to open their office and go live. So they were sending accounts that didn’t actually balance up to Chesterfield, and Chesterfield then would have to try and balance their accounts, try and find out where any errors were, and this increased the number of error notices significantly. It was something – it was obvious that it was going to happen.

Mr Blake: You said there in paragraph 21 that you forewarned the head of the group finance division. What was the purpose of forewarning? Was it for them to go easy on subpostmasters –

Trevor Rollason: Oh, no, no. No, certainly not. To ensure they’d got sufficient staff to unravel some of the problems that were going to occur, and I remember vividly there was a subpostmistress down in Oxfordshire, she was in her 80s, and myself and Ann Green had to go down to her office and unravel the accounts that she got into. It took us nearly a day to reconcile what she’d got left in there.

So there was going to be problems. We knew there were going to be problems, and it was just to forewarn them to expect a bigger workload than what – until they got used to it and knew what they would additionally be getting.

Mr Blake: Having left in 1999, you weren’t around to see whether the amount reduced or not; is that right?

Trevor Rollason: No, I wasn’t around. I hope it did.

Mr Blake: Were potential bugs, errors or defects in the Horizon System discussed with the finance division?

Trevor Rollason: I didn’t discuss them with them, no.

Mr Blake: Was it in your mind at all at the time?

Trevor Rollason: No, no. I mean, we were hearing the problems that they were having with Horizon in the outlets, like screens would freeze, printers wouldn’t print out, barcode scanners wouldn’t scan, they’d have a power surge and something would happen with the system. So we were aware that there was problems with the hardware, in particular, and possibly the software, but that was all.

Mr Blake: You said you spent time with the fraud department. Was that the fraud department within the Post Office, was that the security team or was it something else?

Trevor Rollason: Both. The fraud was with the benefit agency in the early stages, looking at the issues, and then we also spoke to the investigation team to find out what they needed to understand about interrogating the system, and developing the course that suited their requirements. So there was a specific course for them.

Mr Blake: What did you understand their role to be in connection with Horizon?

Trevor Rollason: The investigation people?

Mr Blake: Yes.

Trevor Rollason: They would go in when there’s a large loss, and they should go in and try and find out what’s wrong with the system or what’s wrong with the accounts.

Mr Blake: The problem that you described having discussed with the group finance division, were those discussions you also with that team?

Trevor Rollason: Possibly. I can’t remember. I would have thought so. I would have thought so.

Mr Blake: Who in particular in that team would you have spoken to, or who was your contact or main contact?

Trevor Rollason: I don’t know. It was – there was auditors from head office, there was local auditors involved in developing their course. I would imagine there was the same with the investigation departments. There was headquarters investigation team and local investigators to tell us what they needed, because we didn’t know exactly what they required, and we worked with them.

Mr Blake: Can you remember any names of any individuals that you discussed that problems with the cash and reconciliation accounts with in Chesterfield or elsewhere?

Trevor Rollason: Well, obviously there was Judy Land, and we had several – well many, many meetings in different people from – Chesterfield’s a huge place, and we’d had many meetings from different departments just to explain to them where we were within it, how we were developing a system. But no, I can’t remember anybody else, mainly Judy Land.

Mr Blake: Was your impression of your knowledge that those kinds of issues were known higher up the chain in Post Office management at all?

Trevor Rollason: If they weren’t, they should have been.

Mr Blake: Looking back, do you think they were?

Trevor Rollason: That’s difficult to say, difficult to say.

Mr Blake: It may be difficult but shall we give it a go?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, I’m sure some of the senior managers knew that the problems were going to be experienced in Chesterfield, yes.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the workbooks that you mentioned, can we look at FUJ00117722, please. This is a training workbook. It’s number 8 of 10. Is this document familiar to you at all?

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: You remember the training workbooks?

Trevor Rollason: I remember there was eight. There was EPOSS, BES, OBCS. There was all different categories, and I think there was an interview on this morning where the lady said, if you went through these documents, these workbooks stage by stage, you could actually do the job.

Mr Blake: It was hundreds of pages long in total.

Trevor Rollason: Oh, absolutely. There was pages and pages of it.

Mr Blake: Can you remember when these were given to subpostmasters, whether it was before the training, after the training?

Trevor Rollason: Do you know what, I was trying to think that today, whether they were given at the training or whether they were at the outlet when they got back, and I honestly can’t remember.

Mr Blake: If we turn over the page, I think you saw Mr Fletcher’s evidence. They were produced by KnowledgePool.

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: Do you remember who produced them or who inputted into them at all?

Trevor Rollason: The input would have been from our team from Peritas.

Mr Blake: So it would have been a joint document?

Trevor Rollason: Absolutely, yes. We would have to have had an input into all those books.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we look at page 11. So this is the training workbook 8 which addresses help and basic maintenance on the Horizon System.

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Blake: If we look at page 11 at the top, it says:

“Occasionally things may go wrong with the Horizon System, or you may need help with a particular process or procedure. This section explains the help functions available. If a failure occurs on any part of the Horizon System, you must telephone the Horizon System Helpdesk.”

If we look over the page, you may recall I took Mr Fletcher to this. It says:

“If you have a failure of the complete system or one of its components, these are the procedures to adopt.”

Then it talks about power failures, touch screen failures, card reader failures, et cetera, and for each of those entries ultimately it says, “Call the Horizon System Helpdesk.”

I think you have said in paragraph 50 of your evidence that, where there is a discrepancy, the subpostmaster had the helpline available. Was the helpline seen as where postmasters and assistants and others should turn to if there are, for example, software issues and discrepancy issues?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, I think the helpline was the first point of call. I heard someone say it was very difficult to get through to helpline. If they couldn’t get through to the helpline, then you obviously had the workbooks that you could refer to. There was quick reference guides I saw back there. There were other ways. Also I know a lot of them actually contacted fellow subpostmasters and spoke to them and said, “Look, I’ve got this problem. Have you experienced it?” They networked between them.

But the helpline was there. The helpline was very good.

Mr Blake: We spoke at the beginning and throughout your evidence about needing a bit more time doing the training. Do you think that there was too heavy a reliance on the Helpdesk to make up for any inadequacies in the training?

Trevor Rollason: Well, it wasn’t just the Helpdesk that were there. Don’t forget, the Horizon Field Support Officers were there and they were there for at least the first week, second week, maybe even third week of balancing. So they were there. They were the first line. Physically they were there to help and build the confidence. It’s probably when they left that most of it went then to the Horizon System Helpdesk. Was there too much? I don’t know. It must have been, I suppose, if they couldn’t get through to it.

Mr Blake: To give you an example, if we look at POL00090478 which is a document we’ve looked at earlier – this is the Acceptance Incident document – and, if we look at page 9, if we look that left-hand side, it’s talking about inadequacies in training, and it says:

“The consequences are also that the number of cash account related incidents reported to POCL NBSC is considerably greater than expected. (About a third of the calls coming to NBSC Helpdesk indicate a lack of understanding of the cash accounting and balancing process). Horizon System Helpdesk are responsible for resolving these incidents but are unable to cope with the contents and volumes of calls which are therefore having to be dealt with by NBSC. As the manager’s training course is deficient, NBSC and presumably Horizon System Helpdesk staff who receive this training course are also inadequately trained.”

Would you agree with that?

Trevor Rollason: No. I don’t see how you can relate the two. Horizon – is that – HS Horizon Helpdesk is that?

Mr Blake: Yes. I think the suggestion there is that the Helpdesk staff received the same training and, therefore, are as inadequately trained as the subpostmasters, assistants and others?

Trevor Rollason: I don’t recall but I doubt very much if the Helpdesk staff received the same training course as the subpostmasters. I would have thought they would have received more training.

Mr Blake: In respect of the subpostmasters and assistants and others, do you think that the insufficiency, in terms of time allocated to training for balancing, impacted on the Helpdesks because those subpostmasters were having difficulty balancing the cash accounts, et cetera?

Trevor Rollason: Quite possibly, quite possibly.

Mr Blake: Thank you, Mr Rollason. I don’t have any further questions. I am going to look around the room just to see. Thank you. Mr Whittam from Fujitsu has some questions.

Questioned by Mr Whittam

Mr Whittam: Just some very short ones in relation to your statement, if I may, if that could come up on the screen, please. WITN05240100, and if we could go to page 13, please. This is just to put it into the context. If we scroll to the bottom, please, it’s in the passage dealing with Horizon Training and Competencies Development Group. So that’s just to put it into context. If we go over, please, to page 15, it’s paragraph 46. I’d just like you to help us with, please.

You’ve been talking there in the previous paragraph just above it about the entry level competencies of the SPMs coming on to the course, and then in paragraph 46 you say:

“POCL staff weren’t a problem.”

Who would you include in the POCL staff there, just to help us understand?

Trevor Rollason: Directly employed staff that worked for the Post Office.

Mr Whittam: Thank you. You carry on:

“However, once you went live, any new staff employed by the SMPs were trained by the SPMs not POCL.”

Trevor Rollason: That’s correct.

Mr Whittam: Was there any difference in the training before it went live than after it went live as to who was responsible, as far as you were concerned?

Trevor Rollason: The subpostmaster was always responsible for training any new members of staff that he or she took on board. POCL were responsible for training any new subpostmasters that came on.

Mr Whittam: Thank you. You make the observation:

“That diluted the quality of the training”, presumably because it was being then second-hand not from a trainer but from somebody who had been trained?

Trevor Rollason: Correct.

Mr Whittam: And you thought that This was another area of risk that you raised with Douglas Craik and with Bruce McNiven, “but there wasn’t a solution we could afford to do.”

Is that POCL affording to do it?

Trevor Rollason: Yes.

Mr Whittam: As you have already indicated to us, you just had to accept that there would be mistakes made by these people. You don’t know how POCL became aware of this issue, but you all knew about these issues. So it was common knowledge there were going to be errors?

Trevor Rollason: Yes. I mean, I was an ex-area manager, so there was mistakes in the manual environment. So it was fairly obvious to all of us that there was going to be more mistakes in an automated environment to start with anyway. Then, when you take on new staff, not only have they got to learn how to do the transaction and understand the transaction, but they’ve got to learn how to use the Horizon platform as well. So inevitably there will be more mistakes until they get the experience not to make the mistakes.

Mr Whittam: Thank you. If we could go to page 17, please, just at the top, paragraph first. You touched on this in one of your previous answers. You had been asked what you thought an SPM ought to be able to do at the time, once they noticed a discrepancy between Horizon-generated data and the actual cash and stock in the branch, and you described to us having the helpline available.

There were obviously discrepancies on the old paper system before Horizon came in.

Trevor Rollason: Correct.

Mr Whittam: Were subpostmasters, both before and after Horizon came in, warned or trained as to the implications of a cash account error or a discrepancy error? Was that just common knowledge?

Trevor Rollason: It was part – I’m not sure. Please don’t quote me, but I’m pretty sure it was part of the contract that, if a subpostmaster incurred a loss, it was his responsibility to make good that loss and, likewise, if he made a profit, which very rarely happened, he could take that or she could take that money out. As an area manager my advice to all my subpostmasters was, “If you get a loss, record the date, make the loss good, but wait for an error notice to come back in case you’ve made a mistake, and Chesterfield have to find that mistake. Don’t take the money out, keep it separately and, if the error notice comes back, you’ve got the money there to put back in.” But it was always the responsibility of the postmaster to make sure that his account balanced.

Mr Whittam: If there was a particular problem or a large problem, there would be the possibility of an investigation or a prosecution?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, of course.

Mr Whittam: Was that, as far as you understand it, the same contract that the subpostmaster had on the paper-based system pre-Horizon and obviously post Horizon?

Trevor Rollason: I don’t recall anybody telling me that subpostmasters’ contracts were changed from when they originally signed their contract.

Mr Whittam: Thank you.

If we could just go to page 22, paragraph 72 at the very bottom, please, you describe the support that was provided after the training session, was that via the Horizon Field Support Officers?

Trevor Rollason: That’s correct, yes.

Mr Whittam: You described the help that was given. Were you aware of subpostmasters raising issues with the Horizon Field Support Officers about problems with balancing?

Trevor Rollason: Yes, absolutely. They even raised them with us, myself, when we went to user awareness events. Some subpostmasters who had gone live came along to the events and said they were having a problem with the balancing.

Mr Whittam: So being reported back, and did you report it on to other people?

Trevor Rollason: I think it was just common knowledge that they were experiencing problems. I don’t recall actually saying to someone, “This postmaster’s had a loss.” But the Field Support Officer would have been the person that was reporting to whoever their bosses were – and I can’t remember what they were called – of the problems that they were having with balancing.

Mr Whittam: It sounds like a silly question, but common knowledge, common knowledge within the Post Office?

Trevor Rollason: Within the Post Office, yes.

Mr Whittam: Thank you, sir. Those are the only questions I have.

Mr Blake: Thank you, sir. Ms Page, has some questions as well.

Questioned by Ms Page

Ms Page: Thank you, Mr Rollason. I ask some questions on behalf of some of the subpostmasters in this Inquiry, and I’d like to ask you about your contact with Chesterfield that you have told us was pretty extensive during the time that you worked on Horizon. Did you stay in touch at all with people in Chesterfield?

Trevor Rollason: What, after I left?

Ms Page: Yes.

Trevor Rollason: No.

Ms Page: So you don’t know anything about large job losses in the 2000s in Chesterfield?

Trevor Rollason: No.

Ms Page: All right. Well, I won’t ask any further questions about that then.

Can I just ask this: you say in your statement that you think that glitches in the software were the root cause of the wrongful prosecutions that subpostmasters faced.

Trevor Rollason: Mm-hm.

Ms Page: If you’re right about that, that might explain, mightn’t it, why somebody like Janet Skinner, who I represent, who was prosecuted might be able to work with Horizon for some years before then she was subject to mis-balances which led to her prosecution?

Trevor Rollason: I don’t know if I said that. I think I said something along the lines that Fujitsu had admitted that there were glitches in the system. I didn’t know whether that was a glitch that happened in 1997 or it was a new release of software that happened between 1997 and whenever these prosecutions took place. If it took place after Horizon had rolled out, then I don’t see how you can blame the initial training, et cetera, et cetera. Someone’s released software in there that hasn’t been tested properly. That was my concern.

Ms Page: So if somebody in 2006 who’s been working with Horizon for some years without problems then faces problems, that does rather suggest it’s the software, doesn’t it?

Trevor Rollason: I would have thought so.

Ms Page: Thank you.

Trevor Rollason: It’s what release and was the release tested properly.

Ms Page: Thank you.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, sir, unless you have any questions.

Mr Rollason, do you have anything you’d like to add?

Trevor Rollason: No, no, nothing at all. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, after a degree of difficulty in getting you equipped to give evidence, you have given evidence and I’m very grateful for you for so doing. So thank you, Mr Rollason.

Trevor Rollason: Thank you very much.

Sir Wyn Williams: So I won’t repeat what I said about an hour and a half ago, Mr Blake, but we’re now going to have a break for a few weeks and a new timetable will be published on Monday. That’s it, isn’t it?

Mr Blake: Absolutely. Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. All right then. Thank you all very much.

(1.13 pm)

(The Inquiry adjourned)