Official hearing page

2 March 2023 – Brian Trotter

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(10.00 am)

Ms Kennedy: Good morning, Chair.

Sir Wyn Williams: Before you begin, is the transcriber in the room? Probably not.

Ms Kennedy: She is indeed. May I call Mr Brian Trotter.

Brian Trotter

BRIAN TROTTER (affirmed).

Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Good morning, Mr Trotter. My name is Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Could you confirm your full name, please?

Brian Trotter: My full name is Brian Alexander Trotter.

Ms Kennedy: You gave a witness statement to think which is at WITN00980100. Do you have that statement in front of you?

Brian Trotter: I do, yes.

Ms Kennedy: If you turn to page 22, is that your signature there?

Brian Trotter: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: It should be dated 4 January 2023; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Brian Trotter: I have, yes.

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

Brian Trotter: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: That statement is now in evidence. Everything that I ask you will be supplementary to that.

Could you start by telling us what did you do before you joined the Post Office?

Brian Trotter: I actually joined Royal Mail Group in 1980, so before then I was in the Royal Navy for six years. When I joined the Post Office in 1980, at that time it was classed as Post Office Telegrams. So I was there from 1980 to 1982 and made a decision to move into the counter side of the Post Office. So I worked at the counter for a couple of years – well, five years actually between –

Ms Kennedy: When did you do that? When did you move to Counters?

Brian Trotter: From 1982 I moved to the counter and I worked on the counter for about five years to 1987. I was then promoted to assistant branch manager at the branch I worked at and then an opportunity came up and, forgive me, I’m not completely accurate with dates here but I think around 1990 I moved up north to a branch – very well north in Scotland actually Peterhead and relocated up there with my family until 1993.

There was a restructure of the Post Office at that time so I moved back down south to the central belt and I was appointed to – it was a new concept in the Post Office, I was a regional helpline manager from 1993 to ‘95.

From there, I think my witness statement covers pretty much the rest of my career.

Ms Kennedy: You stayed at the Post Office until 2020; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Between 1995 and 2005 your role was an area manager role?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Could you tell us a bit about what that involved.

Brian Trotter: Primarily, you’re responsible for looking after a geographical patch, so it could be anywhere between, you know, couple of hundred offices at that time, close to 1,000 maybe and the responsibility was to try and make sure that every office in that part, you actually went to see them at least once a year. More concentration was given, obviously, in the bigger branches where there was more issues, if you like.

So there was more face-to-face contact in the bigger branches, as I think I’ve said in my statement, than the smaller branches.

Ms Kennedy: Shall we turn that up. So WITN00980100 and if we go to page 2.

Brian Trotter: Yes, I’ve actually said there “dependent on branch size”.

Ms Kennedy: Yes. So I think you are looking at paragraph 5, which says:

“Initially, this role included visiting branches as determined by the Head of Retail network usually once a year and dependent on branch size I would also manage sites’ adherence to his standards. These could be done by face-to-face visits, telephone or written correspondence. This management activity would be triggered by a wide range of issues, including customer complaints or postmasters asking for assistance, which was mainly via the National Business Support Centre helpline.”

So you generally go to visit the branches once a year but you would also go when a management activity triggered it; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes. So, for example, if an enquiry or complaint came in about a branch then you would need to go and speak to postmaster and get their version of events. Obviously, that was important. I’m not being completely correct in my terminology there about the helpline. I think in those days there would have been some sort of helpline but, forgive me again, I’m struggling to remember what kind of structure was in place. But, generally speaking, any escalations for branches came through some sort of centre, whether that be regional centres or, you know, later on in my career it was generally centre of the business.

Ms Kennedy: How often would you visit branches because there have been some kind of issue that had come to you through management?

Brian Trotter: It’s really difficult to remember actually. Thinking back about this, the whole programme was driven by the number of branches in your area, the size and I guess, potentially, in the number of problems. That was the rationale. You know, if there’s a bigger branch then potentially there could be more problems. The smaller branches that were in the rural part of the network, less footfall, less customers; generally they created less problems.

But that was the sort of rule or the measure that we used to determine or drive the visit programme.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn back to your statement and scroll down to paragraph 6, please. It says there that:

“This role did not deal with quality assurance or training. However, I supported the rollout of Horizon by supporting postmasters with their first balance post implementation of Horizon. Agents would already have some training, but I would go in person to the site and ‘hand hold’ the postmasters through the Horizon balancing process in the first week.”

Can you explain to us what that was like or what your experience was when Horizon was first rolled out?

Brian Trotter: Yes. So when Horizon was first rolled out, I think it’s been mentioned earlier in the Inquiry, the Retail Line – or area managers, as it’s known – were responsible for supporting the first balance or the first follow-up balance. So, essentially, what that meant was I’d make contact with the postmaster, probably couple of days before the balance was due, to let them know I was coming, we’d just have a general commercial about how things were going.

I would ask them if there was any issues you know that they wanted to speak about, I could potentially flag up, because they could be flagged back up to a central point.

From there, on the day the balance was due, I would arrive couple of hours earlier before it was due. We’d just talk about, again, how things were going, we’d talk about the work aids that were available, whether they were using them. When the branch closed for business, then we would systematically work through the balance process until its completion and that could take anywhere between a couple of hours, in as much as it could fall into the following day. It really depended on, I guess, how well the new – sorry, the postmaster had grasped the operation of the new system.

Ms Kennedy: Did you deal with anyone who was struggling with the operation of the new system?

Brian Trotter: Yes, absolutely. I think again, depending on where the branch was, how many staff were employed in the branch. You know, for example, if it was a rural branch it might be one person running the branch and they obviously had to try to get their head round this big change, you know, get used to using IT.

So, in my mindset, I had to make allowances for that and say, right, okay, if it was me, how would I actually systematically work through this process to make sure that when I did actually leave the branch they would feel capable and equipped for the following week.

I mean, what would happen is, you know, if you completed the process or the balance and you felt in your mind that there was still some issues, from memory we had like a hot desk in the Retail Line, we could flag that back up to an individual and say, “Look, although the balance has gone reasonably well, this may require another visit, it may require another support visit to help them through the balance”. That was kind of how it worked.

Ms Kennedy: How common was that, what you just described, flagging something for further assistance?

Brian Trotter: I mean, I’ve given this a great amount of thought in detail and, given – because, in the main, my responsibility was visiting branches or going to branches in Scotland, so you had the geographical challenge. In addition to that, in Scotland you do have a lot of rural branches in isolated locations. I couldn’t put a figure on it or a number on it but I would say if you asked me a general question I would say that it would be more challenging for rural branches and maybe there’s only the postmaster there or maybe one other member of staff.

Bigger branches that could consult with each other, you know the staff and the postmaster, they seemed to have a better idea of how to use the IT and a better grasp, actually, working their way through the balance process.

Ms Kennedy: Focusing on the rural branches then, which you said tended to have more problems, was it quite common then for subpostmasters in that situation to say they were struggling at this time?

Brian Trotter: I would think so when you were there, you would encourage them to be open. You know, it wasn’t in anybody’s interest to leave that branch, certainly not in my nature to walk away from somebody and say, “Look, you’ve had, you know, your one balance support visit”. My nature is always to try to be helpful and supportive.

So if I thought that there was any indication or any evidence, actually, that they were going to struggle I would have been putting it back up the line to say “Look, we really do need to continue maybe putting in another support visit”. The challenge of that was obviously, because of the size of the programme, you know, a visit schedule had already been put in place but we could work within that. You know, you could go back to the branch outside of the balance day and spend some time with the postmaster and just maybe go through the work aids again, you know the support material, just to try and help them along.

Ms Kennedy: Turning back to your statement, if we could turn over the page to paragraph 7, please, you say there, at this stage:

“The Contracts Manager for each particular area would have dealt with any allegations or suspicions of false accounting and therefore as Area Manager, I had very minimal dialogue on interventions or suspensions although I may have got involved with meeting with a postmaster after red flags were raised via escalations from support teams or field intervention teams.”

When would a red flag be raised and what would that involve?

Brian Trotter: I mean, there was certain paperwork or materials that came from the centre, that didn’t go through the contracts team. It was more appropriate to have a field visit. So, in those days, before we actually moved to the next restructure, the area manager was responsible for going out to actually speak to the postmaster. I think it was important to get, you know, both sides of the story, get their version of events. What I used to find from experience was that, if you spoke to a postmaster, in those days when you actually went to visit offices, it was more of an informal discussion. You could sit down and go through things logically.

Again, if there was anything that they said during that informal meeting, you could push it back up the line. It didn’t mean to say that when you got the paperwork that was the end of it, you know. It wasn’t an automatic default to “Right, we think you’ve made a mistake, you must pay the money”.

Ms Kennedy: How often were red flags raised or how often were you doing that kind of job or role?

Brian Trotter: I can’t really say. It’s difficult to determine or estimate, actually, because, during that time – I mean, it was early days of Horizon. There was a new structure. I think – I haven’t actually mentioned in my statement until, I think, it’s the second last line, in 2001. A restructure took place in 2001 where we had dedicated contracts managers and, generally, although I wasn’t one at that stage, generally they took responsibility for those red flags.

Our role was to continue working with the agent to make sure business standards were being maintained, there wasn’t too many customer complaints, that sort of thing.

Ms Kennedy: So did you feel that an area manager role was more of a supportive role, whereas – sorry, go on.

Brian Trotter: Sorry, that was the impression I got, yes, certainly, and again following that restructure. The focus of the business at that time was to allow area managers to concentrate on, you know, either building new relationships with new agents or continue developing relationships with existing agents.

Ms Kennedy: You then moved to a role as a contract manager between 2004 and 2006, contracts and service manager, and then that in 2006 changed to contract adviser, but it was all broadly the same role; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes, broadly speaking, it was the same role. It was looking after all aspects of the agents’ contract. The only difference was that again – because another restructure took place in the Post Office in 2004 where they split sales and service. So to address that, the team that I worked in between 2004 and 2006, I had line management responsibility in the area that I was responsible for. I had couple of area intervention managers and an area performance manager.

Ms Kennedy: Who reported in to you?

Brian Trotter: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Your geographical scope covered about 1,000 branches; is that right?

Brian Trotter: It was but in those days they were still recutting areas. Again, I’ve thought about this in a bit more detail. Possibly, at that time, I may have been covering Northern Ireland as well. So my area geographically could have been possibly as big as – I think guessing between 1,600 and 1,700 branches. But, again, a realignment took place as the structure developed and embedded itself to make it a fairer balance of branches.

Ms Kennedy: As a contract manager, your role did involve audits. I know you say in your statement you didn’t organise them but can you tell us how you were involved in audits?

Brian Trotter: So in my role as a contracts manager – well, just to go back a step, generally speaking, the audits would be requested and planned by the centre. So they would be unannounced, unless it was – you know, the only other audit out of that sphere was audits that followed a new postmaster being appointed. That was usually sort of nine months to a year after.

But to answer your question, yes, an audit would be scheduled from the centre. I would become involved when the lead audit was ready to report their findings. So that could be, you know, a couple of hours after the audit started or it could be at the end of the day. It really depended on the complexity and the findings.

Ms Kennedy: How often were you having to go and speak to subpostmasters and inform them of the results of an audit?

Brian Trotter: Well, if the audit went – you know, if the audit was done and there was no issues, then the branch would be allowed – I mean, they would phone me and say “Look, Brian, the audit’s been done, we’ve been here. There’s no issues, we’re going to reopen the branch”. I would only really be contacted urgently if there was an issue or a problem at the branch concerning the balance.

Ms Kennedy: If there was a problem concerning the balance you would meet with the subpostmaster; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That would be later on. On the day of the audit – I mean, there’s sort of three steps. When the audit was taking place, we would work through a checklist of quite a lot of – you know checking a lot of detailed documents. You know, we would be checking, like, call logs for the NBSC. We’d be checking to see how the training had gone. We’d be checking to see how the application interview went.

So really what I’d be doing, I would be logically working through a list of things that had happened before the audit took place, so that when I eventually spoke to the lead audit or when I spoke to the postmaster, I would be fully appraised of what actually happened before the audit.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up your statement again, WITN00980100 – thank you – and if we could turn over the page to page 4, please.

Brian Trotter: Okay, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Just scrolling down to paragraph 11, you set out in paragraph 11 what happens on completion of the audit and you say:

“On completion of the audit I would speak to the postmaster and go through the findings, I might have also made reference to any checks that had been undertaken during the audit such as calls logs, training records, Horizon report and any other interventions, which had been undertaken by the Contracts team.”

That’s the process you’ve just been describing; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes, that’s it.

Ms Kennedy: You then go on to say:

“It was usual at this stage for the postmaster either to admit to misusing funds or to say that they couldn’t provide an explanation for the shortage.”

Brian Trotter: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Taking each one of those in turn, how usual was it for the postmaster to admit that they had misused the funds in this type of situation?

Brian Trotter: I think the percentage could be quite high. You know, that conversation might even have taken place before I spoke to the postmaster. I mean, I’m again wracking my brain for examples. I do remember that an audit was done at a branch and, forgive me I don’t recall the name, but it’s pretty much as soon as they walked through the door the postmaster had admitted to the lead audit that he’d went to the cash and carry the day before and he’d intended replacing the money.

It wasn’t a massive sum of money but those sort of the scenarios happened, where you might get an explanation straight away or you could, in actual fact – I could go through my tick list, I could speak to the postmaster, I could speak to my line manager, we do further checks as a result of doing the audit and still come to the conclusion that there was no explanation.

Ms Kennedy: Yes, and when there was no explanation or the subpostmaster said they didn’t have an explanation, how often did that happen?

Brian Trotter: I really think it depends on the time of day. I mean, I could say that there could be quite a high percentage of those where, you know, you’ve seen the audit report and it’s reported as unexplained. So an unexplained audit, in my mind, needed further investigation if the answer wasn’t in the branch on that day of the audit.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn over the page to page 5, please, and looking at paragraph 16, which is at the bottom, you talk there about where concerns are raise about the functionality of the Horizon System. If a balance couldn’t be explained, did it ever cross your mind that it might be a problem with Horizon itself?

Brian Trotter: Not really, no, because throughout programme the messaging was, you know, the system was fit for purpose, it was secure. I’m not technically minded when it comes to front office, you know, processing packages but, in my mind, I believed that it was operating the way it was intended.

The reason I deducted that was because I had been a user and, in my experience, and I can only talk about my experience, it always worked as intended.

Ms Kennedy: In paragraph 16 you say:

“If concerns were raise about the functionality of the Horizon System, then I would raise that with my Line Manager and also the appropriate technology team for input into the report. I recall that if there was no obvious explanation for problems, I would monitor the performance of the temporary postmaster to see if the same problem continued. However, from my personal experience there were no problems with temporary postmasters.”

So, in terms of your investigation that you carried out, you basically passed it on to technical people and your line manager; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes, I don’t think I was equipped to actually come to some sort of conclusion or decision about technical matters like that. There was people that worked in the business that were much better qualified than me that could look at a situation or, if a postmaster said to me, “Look, Brian, this has been going on for a while” – I mean, you know, to explain in its broadest terms, I would say, “Look, I’m pulling my hair out here and these losses are reoccurring”. They’d ask for an opinion, try and get some answers.

So the only place that I could actually go at that time was put a red flag against it and pass it back up the lined keep pushing until I got some answers.

Ms Kennedy: Did you trust the technical people to give you the right answers?

Brian Trotter: I had to, yes, because I trusted their judgment but I also knew I had known these individuals for a number of years had worked – not worked directly beside them but worked in the same teams on other projects and other things. So I trusted them to take ownership of the problem and deal with it for me. That’s pretty much what I would say.

Ms Kennedy: That last line that of that paragraph about monitoring temporary postmasters, if the temporary postmaster had no problems, did you take that as evidence or a factor to take into account in the fact that it was the subpostmaster who’d made the mistake; it wasn’t a system error?

Brian Trotter: Well, I put that paragraph in my statement because when I was thinking about it, and forgive me I don’t remember the year, but I do remember dealing with a case in Glasgow, actually, where a postmaster – and I think this is maybe where I was an area manager at the time possibly – that he was concerned about ongoing losses that were reoccurring. It was quite a big branch, employed quite a few staff. It got to a point that the shortfalls were so high a decision was made to suspend.

But following the suspension, one of our large temporary subpostmaster companies took over the branch and they put some very, very strict and rigid controls in place and after about six weeks, or maybe longer than that, they reported back to me to say that they’d found a thief working in the branch and she’d been using the postmaster’s money to pay her bills.

Ms Kennedy: So was your assumption that if there was no problem with the temporary subpostmasters that there was a thief in the branch or someone misusing Post Office funds?

Brian Trotter: Yes, I think I still had an open mind. I think I put that as an example of being that case. I think, if any postmaster had come to me – and I guess the relationship with an area manager was different from contracts manager because you are visiting the branches and you get to know these people because, at the end of the day, you know, they are human beings. They were happy, they were comfortable taking you into their confidence and say “Look, this has been going on for a while, Brian, this is what I’m doing. Is there any more that I can do to prevent or reduce these shortfalls?”

That’s where I would, you know, possibly look at extra training, if it was available, or, with my experience of coming through the branch network, say “Well, have you done this, have you checked that? Are you being visible”, that sort of thing.

So I wouldn’t immediately default to saying that it was that, because of that example. I gave you that example because I remember it.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up POL00033169, please. These are a series of slides that you’ve seen about the role of the contract manager. You say you don’t know where these slides are from or the audience but that the content looked accurate; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes. Yes, my immediate observation was there’s no date or time on it. What I would expect to see in a presentation of this type would be an author. So typically on slide 1, there would be an author or the presenter would be on there. But when I looked at it a bit closer, I do see that in the notes it mentions – it uses the terminology “instructor”.

So what I’ve deducted for that is that, at some point, possibly following a restructure, the contracts team or somebody in the contracts team has provided the training team with a slide pack to brief new agents of the Post Office as they are working their way through classroom training.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn to page 3 of that slide show, this sets out the network contracts team and we can see you there under contracts advisers. Does this help you at all as to when this slide show would have been from?

Brian Trotter: What I can tell you is it’s post 2006 because this structure – thinking back at my career and the changes, this structure would have been – I can’t tell you – I can’t give the exact date of this slide deck, obviously, but this structure, these individuals and the line management structure and the support structure suggest to me it’s post 2006, but it could be possibly later than that. I’m not sure.

Ms Kennedy: We can see there that you answer to a Mr John Breeden. Would that have been correct?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: He had line management over all the contract advisers who were split by geographical area; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct. He had line management responsibility for all the contract managers in the north, as is says on the slide.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn over to page 5, please – sorry, actually, if we could go back to page 4, it sets that main roles and responsibilities:

“Subpostmaster Recruitment Interviews …

“Conduct/Disciplinary cases

“Culpability cases

“Debt Recovery

“All other contractual issues involving subpostmasters.”

Is that broadly how you understood the role?

Brian Trotter: Broadly speaking, yes, that’s how the role evolved and that’s how it was set, yes.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn over to page 5, please, this sets out “Conduct/Disciplinary Cases”. It gives a target. It says:

“Target – 80% of conduct cases to be completed within 6 weeks from date of suspension the remaining 20% to be completed within 8 weeks.

“Robust and established process to be followed in all cases …”

Could you explain to us what that target meant in practice?

Brian Trotter: Yes, it was very challenging, I’ll be honest. It was challenging. I always felt that because you had complexity in the mix. You also had volume, so if you had a lot of cases that formed part of that target. I always prided myself and liked to make sure that any recommendations I was making or any investigations that were being done, six to eight weeks was a very, very challenging target but we had very little control over the setting of these targets that were set basically and, as a team of individuals, we had to do our best to try and work within them.

Ms Kennedy: Were you put under a lot of pressure to meet that target?

Brian Trotter: Yes, I think – I’m happy to say that, yes. There was a lot of pressure because there would have been the number, the volume, and then usually cases that ended up going down the conduct route would be more complex. They could be unexplained losses.

So if you have an unexplained loss, then, in my mind, because I’m not qualified as a data analyst, I would need to seek and look to other areas to try and get some explanation. So six to eight weeks was a very challenging target.

Ms Kennedy: Do you think it may have created a temptation to just try and shut down these cases as quickly as possible?

Brian Trotter: Not in my mind, no. I would have been quite happy to fail the target but get to the correct answer. I mean, the target was there. There could have been consequences for failing the target, for me as an individual but, in my mind, it was important for me to make sure that when we did provide answers or indeed when we did make a formal decision, we had, you know, investigated every possible area.

Ms Kennedy: What about for other people doing your job? Do you think this might have created an incentive for them to quickly want to shut down cases or resolve them?

Brian Trotter: That wasn’t the impression I was getting. The impression I was getting was “Right, we’ve got to make sure – well, we’ve got a responsibility to make sure that the investigations are done properly”. That wasn’t the impression I was getting.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn over the page to page 6, please, this deals with audits. It says:

“Conduct cases – How can you help?

“… Information which would be useful to the Contract Team.

“Cash declarations + Last 3 Branch Trading Statements.

“Any personal cheques in the account?”

Why are personal cheque’s in the account potentially relevant?

Brian Trotter: Well, personal cheques under the subpostmaster’s contract are not allowable. You can’t encash personal cheques. You can buy goods and services and use a personal cheque but you couldn’t write a personal cheque, for example, and withdraw the money from the branch and use that money to go and pay a bill or whatever. You could pay a bill in the branch by writing a cheque but you couldn’t write a personal cheque and then replace that with cash.

Ms Kennedy: What does it mean when it says “Horizon event logs – to identify [subpostmasters’] personal involvement”?

Brian Trotter: Could I just say, Ms Kennedy, when I’ve relooked at this again, what I do think is, when I go back to what you asked me at the start, I do believe that this presentation may have been presented to audit members who work in the field. You know, we’re looking at this slide here and it talks about information that would be made available to the contracts team on the day of the audit. It seems to make more sense now that this would have been a presentation from the team leader on the audit team to members of the audit team.

Ms Kennedy: In order to help them assist you as contract managers?

Brian Trotter: Yes. So when they do – I mean, the whole point of this was that, when you eventually had the conversation with the postmaster or your line manager at the end of the audit, instead of saying to the postmaster “Look, we’re going to have to go away and check this stuff or find out what’s actually happened with regard to these areas”, it was really just to make sure that they were taking responsibility for checking these things when the conversation took place.

Ms Kennedy: Turning back then to Horizon event logs? What were those and how did they identify subpostmasters’ personal involvement?

Brian Trotter: From memory, I would have been heavily dependent and guided on what the auditor was telling me, you know. So if there had been an event or something that had taken place in that event that looked peculiar or abnormal, I’d be heavily reliant on him to say “Look, Brian, well, this was done but it doesn’t look quite right”.

Now, if that had been a systemic problem, if they said to me, then we would have had to have that discussion but they may have been able – at that point in time, before any further investigations took place, I might have been happy to accept their explanation before I had a discussion with my line manager.

Ms Kennedy: So, generally, would you defer to what the auditors thought about these Horizon event logs?

Brian Trotter: They had much more experience – I think I said earlier in my statement, I think, four hours training on the Horizon System and, you know, on an ad hoc basis working on the counter – they were much better placed through their experience to actually go into – I think they could go back a month. So any events that had happened in the last, you know, 30 days or whatever – because I would ask that question if it had been raised, “What have you actually checked here?” I had to be satisfied in my mind that, based on this checklist of reports and other checks that, before I had a discussion with my line manager, every possible check had been done.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about Callendar Square –

Sir Wyn Williams: Before you do, it’s a small point, Mr Trotter, but on the first slide – we don’t need to get it up again – there was a demarcation between north and south.

Brian Trotter: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: I was curious where north ended and south began.

Brian Trotter: To be honest, I think it was a moving line because as you went through the passage of time and the numbers reduced … in those days it would probably have been running along the Scottish border into north England.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s what I wanted to ask you, really. Did the north include parts of the north of England from time to time?

Brian Trotter: It did, depending on the structure, yes, at that time.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. So it wasn’t exclusive to Scotland it was sometimes the north of England as well. Fine, thank you very much.

Brian Trotter: I think I said as well, at some point in time, through memory, it did include Northern Ireland as well.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, sure. Thank you.

Sorry, Ms Kennedy.

Ms Kennedy: Not at all.

Turning then to Callendar Square, FUJ00083815. This is an “Area Intervention Manager Visit Log”, and we can see the name there is Sandra MacKay, who was the area intervention manager; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: We can see that the branch there is Callendar Square and this is 12 January 2006. If we could scroll over to the second page, please, and scrolling down – actually sorry, up again – it says under “Action”:

“Brian to email Shaun Turner to request that Horizon kit is checked/replaced to try to eliminate problems currently being experienced in the office.”

Scrolling down, it says:

“As instructed by APM, I visited the branch to go over the Audit Report of 8 December 2005. Brian Trotter, C&SM was with me during the visit.”

So you have gone along with Sandra MacKay to this visit following an audit; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes. The reason behind that was Sandra was new to the job. It was a new role for her, although I had known her previously in some other roles.

The other reason was that I knew the branch well from my area manager days. From a location point of view it’s less than 5 miles away from where I live. The postmaster I knew pretty well, as well, again from previous structures, and he also had another branch nearby. So the postmaster in question here, although this is about Callendar Square, he did have two branches.

So a combination of those things, I felt that it was appropriate to go along. In addition to that, Sandra and I had obviously had some telephone conversations about or worries about Callendar Square and what the postmaster had told her.

Ms Kennedy: So you wouldn’t normally go along to this or necessarily go along to this type of visit?

Brian Trotter: No, no.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that you think that this was brought to your attention via – or this visit came about because of the helpline; is that right?

Brian Trotter: Yes. I’m just trying to place it in a time. 2006. The NBSC would probably have been in operation then. The postmaster, again looking at the emails, it looks like he’s already escalated it to the Horizon System Helpline and also, I believe, the NBSC. So that escalation has taken place.

From what I’ve deducted, and I’m sort of speculating here, looking at the emails, he hasn’t been given or he hasn’t received the response that he was expecting, so he’s gone back to the helpline and said “Well, I’d like to speak to my contracts manager”, or whatever. That’s come through to the area performance manager or the area office and they’ve put a high priority on it and asked Sandra to go and visit the office and I’ve agreed to support that.

Ms Kennedy: Returning to the text, it says:

“Discussed the report fully with the SPMR and the recommendations that had been made by the audit team. The SPMR is aware of his responsibilities and agreed to complete the training records as outlined in Appendix A relating to AML & FS.”

What do those mean in that context?

Brian Trotter: Sorry, could you repeat the question?

Ms Kennedy: What do “AML & FS” stand for?

Brian Trotter: Sorry. Anti-money laundering, sorry. That’s – again, these are regulatory requirements by the postmasters, so it’s like tests they have to complete, including the staff, and also financial service regulations as well.

Ms Kennedy: “All issues in Appendix B were discussed and I am satisfied the SPMR has taken the necessary steps to rectify.

“We discussed the problems that had been encountered in September with the Horizon System and the more recent recurrence. Alan (SPMR) showed Brian and myself the balance snapshots from [5 January 2006], showing the problems with the communication between nodes. I have already contacted Shaun Turner asking for help to rectify the system problems, and Brian has agreed that he will also email him reiterating the need for the system to be checked or the kit replaced.”

At this stage, it looks as though or it reads to me as though you think the issue might be with the kit itself rather than Horizon; is that fair? Was that your first instinct?

Brian Trotter: That was the impression I got and it was through conversations, obviously, in the office with the postmaster. I also took into consideration that I was speaking to somebody who was very experienced. He was running two branches, running them well, he employed a lot of staff.

So I was really taking all those things into consideration when I was sort of coming up with some sort of rationale and, for me, having said that, and although it’s not mentioned there, there was also quite a high shortfall, a very high shortfall actually, that had been discussed.

So taking all those things into consideration, in my mind, yes, to answer your question, I thought it was the kit, but definitely needed further investigation.

Ms Kennedy: You thought it was the kit because you thought, as you’ve just said, this is a good subpostmaster, it’s a high shortfall, all of the evidence points to the fact that there might be something else going on but all you could think of at that time was it’s the kit; is that right?

Brian Trotter: The reason I’ve said that is because it mentions nodes and I was technical enough to know that nodes was actually a piece of kit that sat in every counter position. So the explanation I was getting or being given was that there seemed to be a problem with the kit communicating with each other but, again, the limited knowledge that I had of the Horizon System, that’s sort of where it finished – it started, sorry, and ended.

Ms Kennedy: At this stage, would you have been aware of the prospect of bugs, errors, defects?

Brian Trotter: No. No, like I said, going back to what I said earlier, I’d always thought it was fit for purpose and operated as intended.

Ms Kennedy: If we could pull up the next document which is FUJ00083770, please, and if we could turn to page 6, this is an email chain from around the same time – I think it’s the day before that log – and we can see an email from Sandra MacKay to Shaun Turner copying you in. It says:

“You may recall that in September the above office had major problems with their Horizon System relating to transfers between stock units.”

So that acknowledges that this is a problem branch, that the NBSC and you were aware there was a problem with; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: It goes on to say:

“The SPMR has reported that he is again experiencing problems with transfers, ([5 January 2006]) which resulted in a loss of around [£43,000] …”

That’s the large shortfall that you were referring to a moment ago; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: “… which has subsequently rectified itself. I know that the SPMR has reported this to Horizon Support, who have come back to him stating that they cannot find any problem.

“Clearly the SPMR is concerned as we have just spent a number of months trying to sort out the first instance and he doesn’t want a repeat performance. He is convinced that there is something wrong with his Horizon kit. I would be grateful if you could investigate this and give him any support that you can. I’m due to visit the office tomorrow to have a look at his paperwork and discuss the situation with him.”

If we scroll up, it’s an email from you then to Sean, saying:

“Further to Sandra’s email, I visited the branch with Sandra last week and the SPMR provided clear documented evidence that something very wrong is occurring with some of the processors when carrying out the transfers between stock units. To be absolutely sure from our side can we either carry out a thorough check of the alleged faulty processors or swap them out.”

So at this stage, you are very much convinced that the problem is not the subpostmaster, the problem is the system itself; is that fair?

Brian Trotter: Yes, so basically during the visit the postmaster had presented to us a number of documents, I think they were transfer receipts, showing that although it was going through one node it wasn’t appearing at the other. So with our – because I would class Sandra in this as well – with our limited knowledge of the kit, how it operated and also the software, I personally felt responsible for making sure that we could take this as far as we could take it.

My mind at this time, if you’re asking the question, was on the kit and also the shortfall, in getting things sorted out so we could get things back to a steady state and the postmaster would feel and his staff would feel confident in using and operating the system.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up your statement again, please, it’s WITN00980100, please, and if we could turn to page 10 please, paragraph 33, it says:

“This appeared to be an isolated issue and it was not within my skills or remit to understand the nature of these problems.”

Is that right? Was it really an isolated issue because it seems, on the basis of what we’ve gone through, that this was something that had happened in the branch before and was continuing to happen?

Brian Trotter: From my experience and knowledge, it was isolated to Callendar Square. I think that’s what I’m saying there in my statement. When it did reappear or reoccur, I had no doubt in my mind that it needed and required further investigation.

But in terms of what I put in my statement here, although it says “isolated”, I do accept that it did happen again.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up the next document, POL00030241, please, this is another email chain with some overlap to the last one but, if we look at this front page, we can see that Shaun Turner – and scrolling down, please – is emailing you and Sandra to say:

“Pretty much the same status with Callendar Square.”

So we’re now in March, this is 2 March:

“They need to let Horizon Systems Desk know if they have further problems, and the fix should be down to them with the S90 release as stated in my previous email. As you can see from the email below though, there is now recognition that is [wider] than just a software ‘quirk’ at just one branch, which means it is now being actively managed as a cross domain problem with Fujitsu.”

So Shaun Turner is telling you in terms there, this isn’t isolated, this is an issue that is affecting numerous branches.

Brian Trotter: Yes, I accept that’s how the email reads, yes, I accept that.

Ms Kennedy: Do you remember receiving this email?

Brian Trotter: Not specifically. Obviously, it’s happened quite a considerable period of time ago. So, without seeing the bundles, I don’t specifically remember seeing that email and reading it at the time.

Ms Kennedy: But isn’t that quite shocking? You thought that there was nothing wrong with Horizon and here you are being told that there’s an issue that’s cropping up in a number of places.

Brian Trotter: Well, it was shocking to me because, if we put the email in its time and place, the conversations or discussions that I would be having with my colleagues in the team and also with my line manager, for me, I don’t recall being told or somebody saying to me “Look, this is a bigger problem that we need to worry about”. For me, that would certainly – there’d be alarming bells ringing for me.

Yes, I do accept what you’re saying there.

Ms Kennedy: If we turn to page 3 – so this is a thread I think that’s been forwarded to you. So you would have received the rest of the email thread and, if we scroll down, we can see an email from Anne Chambers. Did you ever come across Anne Chambers?

Brian Trotter: No. One of the things I’ve deducted from the bundles and email chains, in quite a number of the emails myself and Sandra MacKay were not copied in. So, again, going back to what I knew of these emails, what investigations were going on was completely unknown to me.

Ms Kennedy: But I mean, if we scroll back to the first page and to the bottom, it looks as though this particular chain has been forwarded to you. I appreciate you weren’t copied in to the email I was about to take you to but you were forwarded this email chain, were you not?

Brian Trotter: Yes, yes.

Ms Kennedy: So – sorry – you go.

Brian Trotter: I don’t recall seeing it, if that’s the question that you’re asking me. My main focus, I guess, was on the latest email, what was being reported, what investigations had been done, and I think I did say in my witness statement that, when I reviewed these emails, some of the terminology that was being used was way outside of what I understood of, you know, how the software operated, how the hardware worked.

I struggled with some of the terminology and I think I’ve said that in my witness statement.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn back to page 3 and if we could scroll down, it may be that this is one of those emails where you say that you don’t understand the terminology but I’m going to take you to it.

So if we look at this email from Anne Chambers, it says:

“Haven’t looked at the recent evidence, but I know in the past this site had hit this Riposte lock problem 2 or 3 times within a few weeks. This problem has been around for years and affects a number of sites most weeks, and finally Escher say they have done something about it. I am interested in whether they really have fixed it which is why I left the call open – to remind to check over the whole estate once S90 is live – call me cynical but I do not just accept a 3rd party’s word that they have fixed something!

“What I never got to the bottom of, having usually had more pressing things to do, was why this outlet was particularly prone to the problem. Possibly because they follow some particular procedure/sequence which makes is more likely to happen? This could still be worth investigating, especially if they have continuing problems, but I don’t think it is worthwhile until we know the S90 position.”

So this email, is this an email that you would have looked at and thought “I don’t understand the terminology there or the technological speak, I’m not going to engage in it”?

Brian Trotter: I case if I put it in context, there’s two things. The technological speak, I would have struggled with. I guess in hindsight, the alarming thing for me, having seen it in the bundle, is that it had been going on for years. Going back to what I said earlier in my witness statement, that the people I was speaking to, the comments that I was getting, was the bigger picture, you know the wider picture was this appeared to be isolated.

So putting this in context in this email chain, that would alarm me, having seen that that there’s a wider problem. I guess at the time if I’d seen it I would have been speaking to my boss and my line manager and saying, “Well, is there a wider problem” and he may have said to me – well, he may have known or not known but, if there had been a wider problem in my area with more branches having the same sort of issues, I would like to have known about it.

Ms Kennedy: I mean, she also seems to say that she’s not convinced that this fix will actually work. So there’s a big problem but there’s also a technical person saying “I’m not sure this fix will actually work”. Isn’t that extremely concerning?

Brian Trotter: It is yes, it is. I accept that.

Ms Kennedy: So as I’ve taken you to, this was an email that you were forwarded at the time. What would it have taken for you to go to your line manager and say “This is a real issue, I’m worried about the system”? Would it have been someone saying to you there’s a problem with the system we need to take action? What would it have taken?

Brian Trotter: It would probably be somebody more qualified than me to say, “Look, actually, reading this email in its context there’s a bigger issue here, it needs escalated” and I would then speak to my line manager and say, “Look, you know, it’s not just Callendar Square, according to this individual’s email”.

I wouldn’t have been frightened to push it back up the line, if there was a wider problem, if that’s what you’re asking. I wouldn’t have just sat on it and thought “it’s only Callendar Square and that’s it”. But I could only comment on what I was hearing at the time and being told at the time.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn up your witness statement again WITN00980100 and page 21, please. Just looking at paragraph 78 there, which is at the bottom, you say:

“The limits of my role in investigating incidents meant that I was reliant on the audit team, the security team, and any associated teams eg IT teams or Horizon teams into would have been involved if there were allegations or suspicions of system errors. With the exception of the incident above”, which is the Callendar Square one; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: “… where Fujitsu were involved, I was not aware of any credible suspicions of system errors. In the cases we investigated, the issues were resolved by training, if there was a suspension by appointing a temporary/replacement postmasters or explained by admissions from postmasters. As a result, there was a context which pointed towards human error being the cause of issues and not system errors. It would have been impossible for someone in my position to discriminate between human errors and system errors but I accept that the same might be true of postmasters themselves in some cases.”

With the benefit of hindsight, wasn’t this Callendar Square incident – couldn’t it have been a huge wake-up call for you to look at whether or not there were system errors when shortfalls arose for subpostmasters?

Brian Trotter: It could have been, yes, but, like I say, I was doing my best in the role that I was in, to push as hard as I could back to the technical teams, people that were much more qualified than me to look at why, you know, the tech wasn’t communicating with each other.

The other issue was this 43k shortfall that appears to have been resolved. I haven’t seen any mention of that in the bundles but I think I was trying to do the best that I could do with the information that I had in speaking to people within my sphere, that could push it harder.

Ms Kennedy: If we could take that down, please.

I’m now going to move to ask you some questions about another incident. If we could turn up POL00004403, please. This concerns Winlaton Mill. Am I saying that correctly?

Brian Trotter: It is, yes, and I believe it’s north England, that branch. Going back to what I was asked earlier, I’m kind of confused why I’ve been involved in this but it may be for some valid reason. Yes. So to answer your question, it’s Winlaton Mill.

Ms Kennedy: So if we could turn to page 6, please and scrolling down, who is Jacqueline Whitham?

Brian Trotter: Jackie Whitham, at that time, looking at dates of the email, would have been quite senior, I think, maybe in the Product and Branch Accounting team. She would have been responsible for flagging or pushing this paperwork out to the contracts team for – well, basically to escalate it and contract intervention.

Ms Kennedy: Is that what she’s doing here by emailing you?

Brian Trotter: Reading the email and again trying to rely on my knowledge and experience, the form that’s being referred to at the time was as process that had been agreed, probably at quite a higher senior level, on how we should deal with any shortfalls or any discrepancies that had occurred in branches.

Ms Kennedy: If we turn back to page 5, we can see that there’s an outstanding debt. That’s why this has come to you. If we scroll down we can see that you then email Nick Barnard – sorry, Neil Barnard. Who was Neil Barnard?

Brian Trotter: So, again, probably another restructuring, I’m not sure of the time. Neil was a business development manager. So he was responsible, a bit like when I was an area manager, for developing the relationship between him and the branches in his area.

Ms Kennedy: What you are doing in this email, which is in November 2006, is you say:

“Please see the attached. I think this warrants further investigation. Can you contact the branch advise that because a debt is already be repaid this new debt will need to be settled in full immediately. If the branch is not in a position to repay I may have to consider their contractual position.”

What you mean by “consider their contractual position”?

Brian Trotter: Basically, that statement ties in or is aligned to that process. So if the paperwork had been referred to the contracts team – again, I’m working on my memory – there would have been a target to get it back to say, “Look, actually, we’ve already done some investigation centrally, that’s been done, evidence has been produced, that’s been done”, so it would have now been passed to me to see if possibly there was any grounds for recommending write off.

I see from the paperwork this postmaster’s fairly new. I’d be thing about how much training he got, how he was coping and that’s where Neil would have come into the equation because of his relationship with the branch and the postmaster.

Ms Kennedy: So Neil was going to investigate whether or not there was any basis upon which the debt could be written off.

Brian Trotter: Yes, it’s like I said earlier in the conversation, Neil was better positioned and placed, because he already had that relationship with this postmaster, to sit down in the branch and just go through it step by step to try and get his side of the story or version of events before we jumped to any sort of “Right, okay, you’ve got to pay it back and that’s it”.

It was very much a case of let’s find out exactly what’s happened here.

Ms Kennedy: That last line, which says, “If the branch is not in a position to repay I may have to consider their contractual position”, that suggests that, if the branch can’t repay, they may be terminated; is that fair?

Brian Trotter: That doesn’t suggest that. Contractual position might mean, like, you know, sending a letter to the postmaster and saying “Look, we’ve been enable to get an explanation for this. Under” – at that time, again looking at the date – “under 12.12 of the contract you’ve got a liability for all losses. You know, you’ve had the conversation with Neil, would you like to come and speak to me?”

It wouldn’t be an immediate default to terminating somebody’s contract because we couldn’t get some answers as to why a shortfall or a debt had occurred in the branch.

Ms Kennedy: If we could turn back up the chain to page 4, please, and scrolling down, we can see what Neil says after that meeting. He says:

“I’ve made a tentative arrangement with the son of the subpostmaster (currently off sick) to drop in at the branch on Wednesday afternoon, however, I thought I would come back to you to clarify some concerns I have about this.

“During the conversation with the son of the subpostmaster, it appears that they have no argument against the payment of the latest shortages, however, the earlier discrepancy of £4,000 is the one they dispute. It appears that the branch was informed of a remittance that hadn’t been accounted for, and being new to the Post Office were talked through how to process through Horizon without scanning the advice notice. The result was a discrepancy in the following balance.

“I was told that the branch has not signed any agreement for deduction from remuneration for repayment, which certainly used to be a requirement in the days I last got involved with this sort of thing. The branch would like the opportunity to search for the paperwork relating to the cash delivery and get some help in investigating what has gone wrong. At this stage I’m not sure who would help them, as I would certainly struggle.”

Can you explain to us what’s going on here? What is he describing that’s happening?

Brian Trotter: Well, I think there’s couple of things here. I think he mentions the fact that, you know, if a repayment plan has been agreed with a postmaster, it needs to be agreed. We can’t just automatically default to enforcement. He’s also going on about the 4,000 dispute about, and I think that’s down to some remittances into the branch.

For me when I looked at this paperwork in the bundle, I’m at a loss to see what I actually did. You know, Neil’s obviously sent me this back me. Me reading this fresh, it being sent to me, the questions I would be saying in my mind is “Okay, we’ve got this issue about the receipts, this other thing”, I think it’s in the second paragraph about the £4,000 discrepancy, and also what decision I made. There’s nothing in the bundle that actually shows clearly what actions I took following this email.

If there is, I apologise for missing it but I can’t see it.

Ms Kennedy: Let’s just take it step by step. So at the moment, I’m just asking you about this email and I’m about to ask you then about the next email that Neil sends, which is, if we scroll over to page 3 and scrolling down, this is an email that says:

“With reference my recent visit to the above branch to discuss the various discrepancies at the above branch. There were a number of points raised which I hope you can help with some clarification/advice.”

He raises a number of questions there asking for further guidance. He then says at the bottom of that:

“If you can provide the dated [scrolling over] and evidence to support this error it may be possible to shed some light on how such a small branch could ‘lose’ an amount equivalent to the remittance.

“Although I have no previous knowledge of the branch, it would appear that the branch has been naive in accepting all the above without question and without any supporting evidence. As things stand, they will end up paying half of their remuneration back to cover these repayments, which would certainly affect the viability of the branch.”

So leaving aside any decision that you did or did not take on this branch, generally was the attitude: it doesn’t matter whether it looks ridiculous or implausible that a branch could lose this money, they’re still liable if there’s a debt showing on Horizon or generally?

Brian Trotter: Generally, that’s what the contract said but I think, going back to the top of that email and who it had been addressed to, it looks like conversations have already taken place directly with the postmaster that didn’t involve the contract team for enforcement.

That’s what I go back to. I guess the last paragraph there. There has been naiveté and I don’t really remember if the postmaster or somebody else contacted me directly to see, “Look, this is ridiculous, you know, we’re having to pay this money back”, and these investigations haven’t been done.

But when I go back to the top of the email, I guess to answer your question, I trusted these individuals that had been dealing with this type of scenario and situation daily, that they would take responsibility for investigating any of these errors, shortages in the branch fully before it came to the contracts team.

Ms Kennedy: If we could then turn to page 2 on this email thread – so this is further up again – this is your email then which says “Neil”, and this is following the emails that we’ve just gone through:

“As far as I can see to date we have not received any documentary evidence from the subpostmaster stating that he is not liable for the loss of £1,463.07. I therefore have two options. 1, you have one last go at recovering the money or 2, I write to the subpostmaster and invite him to a fact finding interview to explain why he is still refusing to repay. If you opt for 1, can you let me know how things progress.”

So here you are saying if we don’t have any documentary evidence from the subpostmaster themselves, we’re potentially going to enforce the debt obligation; is that right?

Brian Trotter: I think what I’m saying in that email is that if it’s 2 in its contracts, I would like to speak to the subpostmaster directly because he may have something to say to me or show something to me that might involve me pushing it back up the line again.

I think I said at the start I wouldn’t automatically default to, “Right, you’re paying the money and that’s it”. I think it’s important that we get a full explanation from the postmaster, and I realise and appreciate there’s other emails in the bundle and in the email chain where conversations have taken place.

In terms of the process for this, I would be under scrutiny, yes, to provide answers because, like any other debt recovery process that was in place, there was targets, there was timescales. So I guess the question would be getting asked of me, “What have you done to progress this?” and rather than just say, “Right, that’s it, you have to pay the money back because that’s what your contract says”, in my mind I still wanted to be satisfied that I had a conversation with the postmaster to possibly just go through it again, review the paperwork. I might have recommended actually he’s new; I’d look at the training; does this warrant write off, and I’d push it back up the line.

So that’s when I said to you, yes, it’s important in its context here but my observations in reading the emails, there’s no final decision from me here from what I did, what I said, who I passed it back to.

Ms Kennedy: Did you feel like you were ever under pressure from the Post Office to recover debt and to gather money for the Post Office?

Brian Trotter: Yes, I’m happy to say that, yes. There was targets. They were performance-related; so yes. Using this as an example, there was a target for this process.

Ms Kennedy: What was that target?

Brian Trotter: I can’t remember but it may have been a couple of weeks. You know, typically how it would work is all of the – well, just to take it back a step. The discrepancy would come to light, conversations would take place (probably lengthy ones) with the postmaster and the product branch training team. When they had been exhausted, then typically it became part of the concurrence process.

From memory, I believe that I had a target, a deadline, to push it back up the line and say, “Look, this is what’s actually been done”. So, yes, to answer your question, there was pressure, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, that might be a convenient moment for a break. I don’t have much left at all. Would now be a fine moment for a break?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, of course. So what’s the time now?

Ms Kennedy: 11.10.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. 11.25.

Ms Kennedy: Yes, thank you, Chair.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

(11.11 am)

(A short break)

(11.26 am)

Ms Kennedy: Picking up from after the break, Mr Trotter, in 2009 were you aware of a Computer Weekly article.

Brian Trotter: I was aware of it, yes. I’d heard it being spoken about within the business. From memory, I may have read it, yes. I do remember hearing about it, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What were people saying about it within the business?

Brian Trotter: I think the general feeling was that this article had been written – if you are asking me about the credibility of the article, I don’t think I would be qualified to actually say to you what my understanding was of what was being said against the messaging in the business.

So although I may have read it, I don’t think I’d have been qualified to put that alongside what I was being told in the business, in terms of the Horizon System and its operation.

Ms Kennedy: What were you being told in the business at that time?

Brian Trotter: As I said in my statement, I can only speak from my user point of view, albeit limited, and it all seemed to work okay when I used it, and through my involvement and interactions with agents, they seemed to be limited. When there was a question mark, with the limited power that I had I tried to push it as far as I could push it and put it in the hands of what I thought were qualified people, and that’s as much as I could say about it.

Ms Kennedy: Do you think there was a sea change in 2009 or a more forceful message being communicated within the Post Office that Horizon was robust and it couldn’t be at fault?

Brian Trotter: Possibly. I did watch some of the sessions yesterday and it did prompt some reminders to me. Yes, I don’t recall actually seeing those communications but it – certainly it can’t be ignored. There’s dates there, there’s information there about the Horizon System, its integrity and that sort of thing.

So having watched the Inquiry and watched the sessions yesterday, at that time, if it’s, you know, in that context, it could have been the case.

Ms Kennedy: I want to ask you about one more document. If we could pull up POL00005245, I know you say you don’t recall this note or this meeting and you don’t know who wrote it. I’m not going to ask you in detail about this particular case but we can see that it’s a meeting, Monday, 27 July 2015, and someone has written it’s a meeting with you as the agent contract adviser –

Brian Trotter: Yes –

Ms Kennedy: Sorry, go ahead.

Brian Trotter: No, I was just confirming that’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: There’s just one aspect that’s recorded in this note that I wanted to ask you about, so if we could scroll down, there’s discussion about a discrepancy and a shortage and trying to resolve that shortage. In the second bullet point, I wanted to ask you about the line that says:

“I had to accept the correction as it was a Wednesday and with balance etc I couldn’t continue without doing so. I spoke to Jill Southern who issued the correction on behalf of the cash centre.”

Was your understanding of the Horizon System that you had to accept something or you’d be prohibited from continuing to trade?

Brian Trotter: I can only speak from my knowledge and experience but my understanding of the issue of transactional corrections were, if they were issued to the branch, then they did have the ability to send them back or speak to somebody and say, “Look, actually, this warrants further investigation”. But I’m talking really from an experience.

If that had been put in front of me, I would probably have had to go away and check with somebody and say “Look, if you get” – it’s an electronic message, basically, but there is a possibility that – if it had landed at certain times of the month because at the end of every month there were mandatory procedures but I’m not 100 per cent sure if it had to be – I think what you’re asking me is is this forced and I’m not 100 per cent sure.

Ms Kennedy: What were the mandatory procedures that you just mentioned?

Brian Trotter: The mandatory monthly procedures are completing the Branch Trading Statement, where you have to make a declaration at the end of that, obviously, and you’ve got the option there to settle centrally any discrepancy. Whether that formed part of this and it was settled centrally and it became part of a wider investigation – I mean, I do recall from memory that there was some cheques – some problems, sorry, with cheques at this Post Office and that I think, through my intervention, we pushed for further investigation, just to try and bottom out why there was a problem.

But to answer your question, technically, I don’t think I’m 100 per cent sure if this is a forced instruction that the postmaster would have to have complied with.

Ms Kennedy: That document can come down. Thank you.

There are a few questions from the Core Participants. One of those questions is: were you aware of members of the audit team being union members?

Brian Trotter: I mean, I guess that they could be in the union but would that have been –

Ms Kennedy: Was it something you were aware of at the time?

Brian Trotter: No. No, their personal circumstances might have been some interest but to answer your question, no.

Ms Kennedy: Were you aware if there were ever situations where an auditor was investigating a fellow union member?

Brian Trotter: No.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that you would investigate issues if they were raised by an NFSP representative. What would you do if there were issues raised by an NFSP representative?

Brian Trotter: Well, I’d like to say I certainly prided myself on having a good relationship with the NFSP. So, typically, outside the sphere of it being through an audit, if they had come to me and said, “Look, Brian, this doesn’t look right, can you take it forward”, I think throughout my career I encouraged tried to encourage the dialogue and the relationship we had with NFSP. But I would struggle to actually give you an example of an actual case. It was more about the relationship and working together.

Ms Kennedy: Did you feel the NFSP stood up for their union members effectively?

Brian Trotter: Absolutely. Yes, that’s the impression I got, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Investigations carried out in Scotland had to be handed over to state agencies to prosecute. Do you know whether this had any effect on how investigations were carried out?

Brian Trotter: I’ve got no idea. Like I said – I think I said in my statement, the interactions that I had personally in my role were limited with the security team.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement that you received media training.

Brian Trotter: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What kind of training is that?

Brian Trotter: The whole point of the media training was – and it was probably – I went through I did twice, actually. It was more to deal with any comments that we got from the media, the public, about branches closing, so that we were equipped to actually explain why a branch had shut.

So, for example, it could have been as a result of a suspension. If any calls were fielded, we felt that, or the business felt, that we should be equipped to deal with those sorts of calls of enquiries.

Ms Kennedy: What would you typically be told to say?

Brian Trotter: Well, if it was a suspension, it was a confidential matter between the Post Office and the individual, so we’d be told to say – I mean, there would be a brief. Basically, “unexplained circumstances”, you know. It was kept very much as a private matter between the individual and the Post Office, until that investigation had been concluded.

The conversation really that we wanted to have with the media was the efforts we were making to reinstate service if a closure had taken place. It was more like a positive discussion rather than negative.

Ms Kennedy: Were you ever briefed to say it’s closed because the subpostmaster was stealing from the till or anything like that?

Brian Trotter: Never, never, never in my experience. Never.

Ms Kennedy: I understand that you are now back working for the Post Office; is that right?

Brian Trotter: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What are you doing at the Post Office now?

Brian Trotter: I actually joined – rejoined the Post Office last year in July on a fixed-term contract for a year. So I work in the historical matters unit dealing with postmasters’ claims and redress.

Ms Kennedy: What does that involve?

Brian Trotter: Well, it’s basically – the area that I look in is dealing with claims of – it’s classed as lost pay or pay lost during suspension. So it’s going back over when the policy changed, I think it was 2011. So any postmasters that lost pay, they can actually apply to the scheme to have that the lost monies repaid.

Ms Kennedy: Is that connected with Horizon or something else?

Brian Trotter: It’s connected with suspension, right. It could have been any suspension case, it’s not specifically Horizon. ^^.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you, Mr Trotter. Those are the end of my questions.

I can see Mr Jacobs has a question.

Questioned by Mr Jacobs

Mr Jacobs: Thank you. I have couple of questions in relation to a couple of the clients who I represent.

Mr Trotter, I act for 156 subpostmasters who instruct Howe+Co and you have been asked about your role in investigating subpostmasters.

I want to ask you about one of our clients, Louise Dar. You may recall you gave evidence in the Group Litigation and she was a lead witness there.

Can I take you to WITN022890100 (sic), please, and it’s page 15 of 20. That should come up on your screen in a minute. Just waiting for it to come up.

Ms Kennedy: I’m afraid I am being told the number is wrong.

Mr Jacobs: I will try it again WITN02890100, it’s the witness statement of Louise Dar. Great, thank you.

If we could have page 15 of 20 up, please, and go to paragraph 87. Ms Dar says in that paragraph:

“I was treated like a criminal by the Post Office~…”

This is in relation to the alleged shortfalls emanating from the Horizon System and she says when she sought help:

“… the Post Office audit team were extremely callous and made no attempt to find the root cause of the alleged shortfalls. Specifically, Brian Trotter my contacts manager, was particularly keen to get me to admit to falsifying the books. He asked me to admit to this several times.”

Do you recall this?

Brian Trotter: Yes, I’ve watched the Human Impact video twice. I’ve actually read the statement twice.

Mr Jacobs: Oh, good.

Brian Trotter: I’m shocked by that comment, quite frankly. I can’t prove this discussion didn’t take place but it’s not the sort of thing that I would have been saying to anybody and I’m not completely sure what audit she’s referring to, when it took place, what the shortfall was, but it’s not – I think, in the Human Impact hearing I think she does refer to it as a phone call, several phone calls.

Mr Jacobs: Yes, and she said in her evidence in the High Court that this happened within phone calls about seven or eight times between you and her and you would repeatedly ask her “Did you falsify the books, did you falsify the books?” So that is her account. Do you remember speaking to her on the phone?

Brian Trotter: I may have spoken to her on the phone about several things, obviously, at the start of her journey when she was applying for the Post Office. She had several problems with her application. That was before she took over. So, yes, telephone calls or conversations would have taken place.

In terms of my role in making sure that I kept to process, if that’s the best description, it wasn’t the done thing to actually discuss things of this private nature on a telephone call. If a face-to-face meeting had taken place, generally speaking it had been recorded and the postmaster got a copy of that recording.

But I can’t remember having these conversations, I’m sorry, if that’s what you’re asking me.

Mr Jacobs: You have said in your evidence that you were under pressure because of timescales and deadlines. Many of our clients have said they were told when interviewed and during audits that if they pleaded to false accounting they would not be prosecuted for theft.

Is this something that you were aware of and were you under instructions to obtain a confession from subpostmasters in relation to falsifying accounts?

Brian Trotter: Well, that statement would be outside of my sphere of control and responsibility anyway because I wouldn’t be dealing with prosecutions. I’d be looking at contractual breach and things that had actually happened in the branch. So I wouldn’t be looking to agree something with Ms Dar that was outwith my control. Like I say –

Mr Jacobs: I think the question was, really, this wider idea that the Post Office were trying to get subpostmasters to agree that they were guilty of false accounting in relation to dropping a theft charge came at a later point. I just want to know: did that filter down to the initial interviews in the initial investigations? Was that something that contracts managers or investigators were trying to look at during that process, that earlier process?

Brian Trotter: Not really, we went through a strict – it was a strict protocol, actually, of reports that had to be done. Any decision or any recommendation that I made was under heavy scrutiny. I think I mention in my witness statement I didn’t make the final decision on any of these and, certainly, every – you know, the benefit of the doubt would have been given to the agent. If Ms Dar had said something to me, “Brian, I’ve got these unexplained losses, I’m tearing my hair out, can you help me”, it’s in my nature to be helpful and supportive. Like I say, I do not recall having these conversations or saying anything like that.

Mr Jacobs: Were you under instructions – I mean, you’ve said earlier on, in respect of your answers to Ms Kennedy, that several subpostmasters made admissions, made confessions. Were you under instructions to obtain admissions or confessions from subpostmasters?

Brian Trotter: No, no. Like I said earlier when I was being asked the question – and I can’t put a percentage on it, so I’m sorry – but there was a number of cases, a number of times, where almost immediately after walking into the office the postmaster would want to speak to the auditor privately to possibly getting it off their chest.

But in this particular case, I don’t – well, certainly from memory, that wasn’t the situation here from the information I’ve been sent and my recollection of the case.

Mr Jacobs: Well, I have to obviously suggest to you that that is what happened because that’s Ms Dar’s evidence.

Brian Trotter: Well, I can only tell you what I recall and how I conducted myself as a contracts manager.

Mr Jacobs: I’m going to ask you about another one of our clients now, Shazia Saddiq. You said that you followed the evidence yesterday.

Brian Trotter: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: Did you hear the evidence of Ms Peacock?

Brian Trotter: Yes, I watched some of it, yes.

Mr Jacobs: So essentially you would have heard that Ms Saddiq was a subpostmaster with three branches in Newcastle. She paid over £10,000 in relation to Horizon shortfalls that were alleged. Post Office demanded another £20,000 from her, and she became a victim of cyberfraud which she later found out affected 11 other branches, and Post Office sought to recover 33/nearly £34,000 from her.

Can we go to her statement, please, and that is WITN02230100. I hope I’ve given you the right number this time. Thank you. Page 13 of 16, please.

If we go to paragraph 72, you will see that Ms Saddiq describes a very distressing experience when she was attacked with the children in the street and called a thief because the Post Office had closed. Then moving on to paragraph 76, this led for her to flee her home. She fled her home with just her children’s teddy bears and toys.

If we could move please to page 14 of 16, paragraph 82, and if we could probably highlight 82 if that’s possible. So Ms Saddiq says:

“I have received threatening calls to my mobile phone and emails from Stephen Bradshaw and Brian Trotter. Mr Bradshaw was a post office security officer and Mr Trotter was a post office contracts manager.”

Do you recall contacting Ms Saddiq, Mr Trotter?

Brian Trotter: No, no. I’m sorry, I don’t.

Mr Jacobs: Ms Saddiq says that you telephoned her on at least ten occasions. Do you recall that?

Brian Trotter: No.

Mr Jacobs: Do you remember any incident when there was a subpostmaster who had a MoneyGram loss and you telling that subpostmaster that they were responsible for paying for that because they hadn’t followed procedures?

Brian Trotter: What I do recall – and, I’m sorry, I can’t put a time and a date on it – was when these losses occurred, I do – and this is from memory, so I apologise. In the contracts team, because of the number and also the values, there was a dedicated team set up – I wasn’t part of that team; I can confirm that – where they were actually – they were responsible for engaging directly with these postmasters to talk about these shortfalls that happened in these branches.

In terms of – you know, I may have spoken to them on the phone. I don’t believe it was ten times. It certainly wouldn’t have been in any sort of threatening sort of way. I may have called her up and said, “Look”, actually out of courtesy because that may have been in my area at that time, “this has occurred. Somebody in our team will be making direct contact with you to talk about next steps”.

But I was not – I do believe and I can – and I think my memory’s pretty clear here. We had a dedicated team within the contracts team at that time who dealt specifically with MoneyGram losses or shortages or shortfalls.

Mr Jacobs: Did you – in your work for recovering losses from subpostmasters, did you deal with the Post Office Security Team?

Brian Trotter: Rarely, very rarely. Like I say, they looked at – if there was any evidence of criminality, they dealt with it. Our role in the contracts team was to deal with any contractual breach. Very rarely did our paths cross. The interactions were few and far between and limited.

Mr Jacobs: Ms Saddiq says that you were working with the security officer in her case and that officer was Mr Bradshaw. Do you recall that?

Brian Trotter: I don’t recall that, no.

Mr Jacobs: Can we move through then to paragraph 83 on the statement. Just waiting for it to come on the screen.

It’s page 14 of 16 so the final paragraph there she says that she received a number of calls that were intimidating from Stephen Bradshaw as security officer. How did the contracts managers and the security team work together? What interaction did they have in cases of this kind?

Brian Trotter: Like I said, interactions from my experience – and I can only speak about how I operated – we should all have been operating the same way – unless they had some intelligence, some information, to share that was it. But their responsibility was to look at any elements of reported criminality and it was quite clear we were looking at contractual breach that had been as a result of an audit or whatever.

In this particular case, if we’re talking about the MoneyGram shortfalls, I can’t give you an answer on why both parties are involved. All I can tell you is that at this time there was a dedicated team, including a senior manager, who was dealing specifically with a MoneyGram shortfalls and I wasn’t in that team.

Mr Jacobs: You may not be able to answer this question, Mr Trotter. Many of our clients have said that Post Office security officers engaged in bullying and thuggish behaviour, shouted at subpostmasters, accused them of stealing. Were you aware of heavy-handed behaviour from the security team?

Brian Trotter: Directly I wasn’t aware of that in terms of – because obviously, as I’ve said already, there were independent investigations dealing with – there could be similarities with different – but to my knowledge and my experience I don’t recall ever hearing anything like that, to answer your question.

Mr Jacobs: If we could go to the next paragraph, please, paragraph 84. And I accept that you may not be able to answer this question but I want to ask you whether this is something that you were aware of indirectly. So Ms Saddiq says:

“On 29 September 2016 at 13:34 Stephen Bradshaw called me and I refused to speak to him because I didn’t know who he was or who he worked for. In that telephone call, which was witnessed by my husband on loudspeaker, he called me a ‘bitch’ which I found extremely distressing.”

Ms Saddiq says that Mr Bradshaw called her at least 60 times. Were you aware of this sort of approach going on by members of the security team?

Brian Trotter: Well, firstly, it’s the first time I’ve seen this statement and I’m shocked by those comments. And to answer your question: no.

Mr Jacobs: What procedures were there within the Post Office to curb or to check this sort of thuggish behaviour from the security team?

Brian Trotter: I don’t know because I didn’t work for the security team. Maybe ask me about the contracts team. I think it’s been covered earlier in some of the slides about the steps, the formal steps, that we were required to go through to make sure that everything was done professionally and appropriately. I cannot comment on what was going on in the security team when I wasn’t part of that team.

Mr Jacobs: I asked you the questions because it’s my client’s evidence that you were working closely with Mr Bradshaw on her case.

Brian Trotter: I can’t – and the other thing is, without seeing other evidence, I guess – you know, throughout my career my paths may have crossed at some point with Mr Bradshaw, and indeed other security managers, and the interactions I would say would be very limited.

But, like I say, in the – sorry, in the contract team there was very strict processes and procedures that we were required to follow so that, when a decision was made, we could feel that everything had been done appropriately and properly.

Mr Jacobs: Well, thank you. I don’t have any further questions for you.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, I believe there are further questions from Mr Moloney.

Questioned by Mr Moloney

Mr Moloney: Just one very quick one, please, sir, and Mr Trotter, and it’s this: Mr Trotter, did any of your family work for Post Office?

Brian Trotter: Yes, my father-in-law worked for the Post Office and my father worked for the Post Office, yes.

Mr Moloney: Did you know a Judith Trotter working for Post Office?

Brian Trotter: The name rings a bell but she’s no relation. I think – did she work with the security team? Maybe. Yes, I mean, the only reason it rings a bell is because of the surname but, other than that, I’ve no – no connection.

Mr Moloney: Thank you, Mr Trotter. That’s all I ask.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, there are no further Core Participant questions.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mr Trotter, for attending remotely to give your oral evidence and thank you for making a witness statement.

That’s it for today, Ms Kennedy?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, Chair. We’re back tomorrow with Mr Andrew Winn.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. All right then. We’ll see each other tomorrow. Goodbye.

(11.54 am)

(Adjourned until 10.00 am the following day)