Official hearing page

17 October 2023 – John Breeden

Hide video Show video

(10.00 am)

Mr Beer: Good morning, sir, can you see and hear me?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can, thank you.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, can I call Mr Breeden, please.

John Breeden


Questioned by Mr Beer

Mr Beer: Good morning, Mr Breeden, my name is Jason Beer and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Can you tell us your name, please?

John Breeden: Yes, it’s John Andrew Breeden.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Thank you very much for the provision of a witness statement in this case and for coming to the Inquiry today to assist us in our investigation. You should have in front of you a hard copy of that witness statement, dated 15 May 2023 and running to 51 pages. Can you look at the last page, please, page 51?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that your signature?

John Breeden: It is.

Mr Beer: Are the contents of that statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

John Breeden: They are.

Mr Beer: For the purposes of the transcript only, the URN is WITN06700100.

Can I start please with some questions about your career, your background and experience?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: I think you have a long history as an employee of the Post Office running between 1997 to 2019; is that right?

John Breeden: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: So a 22-year employment history?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Okay, and that’s in a variety of roles including – and I’m just going to list them to start with – Head of Management Process for Scotland and Northern Ireland?

John Breeden: Correct.

Mr Beer: Head of Planning for the North Territory?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Operations Manager and Area Service Manager in the Central Area?

John Breeden: I think the Operations Manager and the Area Service Manager are two separate roles.

Mr Beer: Yes, I meant them as two separate roles but they’re both in the Central Area; is that right?

John Breeden: The Operations Manager for the National Multiples Team covered the whole country.

Mr Beer: Thank you. The Area Service Manager in the Central Area?

John Breeden: Central Area, yeah.

Mr Beer: Would you agree that your wide-ranging experience brought you into contact with many aspects of the Post Office as an organisation, from those working on the counter to more senior management?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: I think specifically from April 2005 you became responsible for the management of subpostmaster contracts; is that right?

John Breeden: I thought it was 2006.

Mr Beer: Let’s have a look.

John Breeden: Sorry, April 2005 to August. It’s the different job titles.

Mr Beer: Yes, so paragraph 2.4 on page 2.

John Breeden: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: So that’s the date that, from then on, I’m particularly interested in: management of subpostmaster contracts?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that right?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: I think you were responsible for the Central Area of the country then?

John Breeden: That’s correct, yes.

Mr Beer: Where did that area run from and to, what sort of area are we looking at?

John Breeden: It was the whole of Wales and really across from probably Liverpool to the Wash, and then from South Wales across – above London into Norfolk, I think, or into the Wash area. I can’t remember exactly.

Mr Beer: Then from September 2006 you became National Contracts Manager; is that right?

John Breeden: Yes, that’s for the North Area.

Mr Beer: That was for the North Area. So what function did the National Contracts Manager for the North Area perform?

John Breeden: He was responsible for a team of Contracts Advisers, who were responsible for the deployment of the subpostmasters contract, and yeah, anything that occurred, really, contractually within the live time of a subpostmaster with the business. So from them drawing in – we were involved in the appointment of subpostmasters through to their leaving, however that occurred.

Mr Beer: You explain that in your statement. It’s the entire postmaster journey, from before the moment that they sign their contract until the termination of their employment, however that may have arisen?

John Breeden: Well, the termination of the contract of how the – it would have arisen, yes.

Mr Beer: How frequently would you come into contact with subpostmasters in that role?

John Breeden: Not terribly frequently.

Mr Beer: Because you were a manager?

John Breeden: Correct.

Mr Beer: How frequently would the Contracts Advisers come into contact with subpostmasters?

John Breeden: Possibly daily.

Mr Beer: In a daily basis?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Were there any other responsibilities of a National Contracts Manager?

John Breeden: We were involved in the appointment of temporary subpostmasters and the actual appeals process as well, which was part of the contract.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Anything else?

John Breeden: The development of processes and policies that impacted on our role, the policies and processes usually were owned by a different team and we were there to deploy them.

Mr Beer: You said you were involved in the development of those policies and processes?

John Breeden: Yeah, what used to happen is whoever was the owner of the policies would get the teams involved usually that were responsible for deploying them and we would have an input into them to see how they would work on the ground.

Mr Beer: Okay, thank you. When you made this witness statement to the Inquiry, the 51-page document that you have just looked at, were you open and transparent in relation to all of the answers that you gave to the questions that you were asked?

John Breeden: I believe so.

Mr Beer: I think it’s right that you made a witness statement in what we call the GLO or the Group Litigation proceedings?

John Breeden: I did.

Mr Beer: That’s dated 24 August 2018. You made two, in fact, didn’t you?

John Breeden: I can’t honestly remember.

Mr Beer: Okay. I’ll give the reference for the first one, which is the most substantial one, POL00026886. There’s no need to display that for the moment. You gave evidence in the High Court?

John Breeden: I did.

Mr Beer: I think you probably know that the trial judge, Mr Justice Fraser, was critical of your evidence?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: If we can look at that, please, POL00022936. We can see that this is his Common Issues judgment, the trial judge Mr Justice Fraser. If we just expand it a little bit –

John Breeden: Thank you.

Mr Beer: – so we can see the whole of the page. Thank you.

We’ll see it’s dated 15 March 2019 and it’s “Judgment (No 3) ‘Common Issues’”, which we don’t look at very often in the Inquiry. I just want to turn to the part that relates to you and it’s page 127 of the judgment. Can you see that there’s a heading “Mr John Breeden” above paragraph 395.

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: In paragraph 395, he sets out your background. I’m not going to read that. Then in 396 he says that:

“[Your] witness statement covered two main areas. These were selection and appointment of [subpostmasters] (the beginning of their relationship with the Post Office); and suspension and termination (the end).”

Then if we look at 397, please:

“He [that’s you] accepted that compulsory recording of interviews with applicants commenced on 31 March 2008. He had misstated the date in his statement as 2006, but explained he had done this from memory without checking the documents. He also stated [that’s you]: ‘Both the subpostmaster (ie the SPMC) and NT contracts contain important provisions governing how these contracts may be brought to an end. Prior to accepting his appointment, a subpostmaster has the opportunity to review his contract’. That very general statement is correct only so far as the NTC is concerned. On the evidence that I have accepted from the Lead Claimants, it is not even remotely accurate or correct for at least some who contracted on the SPMC, and those affected could be a large number. Mr Breeden is a senior person within the Post Office and must have known that this general statement was not wholly correct. This is an example, I consider, of PR-driven evidence.”

We’re going to come back a little later this morning to what the SPMC contract was and what the NT contract was but, if we skip over 398 and 399, and if we go to his next essential finding, which is paragraph 400:

“Initially he [that’s you] said that there was no material difference in the SPMC and NTC terms, the latter was just more explicit. That is simply not correct, and I do not accept that Mr Breeden could believe it was. At one point in this evidence the following exchange took place:

“‘Q: is it fair to say that Post Office doesn’t tend to focus on the precise words of a contract, you know what your interpretation is and that is what everyone is working to?

“‘A: That is the way would operate, yes.’

“401. This is obviously a very different approach to the interpretation and application of contract terms than is conventional under English law. The words of a contract are extremely important. Here, there are SPMs under both the SPMC and the NTC. Mr Breeden’s evidence makes it clear that the Post Office does not trouble itself with the particular words.”

Then if we skip paragraph 402 to 406 and pick up at 407:

“Mr Breeden also explained that the Support Services Resolution Team within the Post Office would be able to interrogate the accounts that came from any particular branch. He also said that his understanding was that this team could investigate shortfalls that a [subpostmaster] maintained had been caused by software issues, such as defects or bugs, and this could be done by comparing data from the branch with data in what he called ‘secondary records’ held by Fujitsu which would be between the Post Office and its clients.”

Then this, paragraph 408:

“As with the other more senior members of the Post Office Group of witnesses, Mr Breeden is articulate, intelligent and also acutely aware of how much the reputation of the Post Office hinges on these proceedings. His evidence was presented in terms obviously designed to put the best possible gloss for the Post Office on matters, and some of his statements simply did not stand scrutiny. The one I have explained above, that SPMs had the chance to review their contracts before appointment, was expressly preceded by a statement that made clear he was referred both to the SPMC and the NTC. Such evidence is in my judgment inaccurate, and inaccurate factual evidence is not helpful. When faced with the actual documents, he would agree with Mr Green’s [that’s council for the claimants] points to the contrary, but one reason why the factual part of the Common Issues trial became so protracted is because of this approach by the Post Office generally. Agreement to even obvious points would be reached, eventually, but getting there took much longer, and a great deal more effort, than it ever ought to have done. His evidence was again given through a PR prism.”

I’m not going to ask you whether you agree or disagree with these adverse findings from the judge because that’s nothing to the point at the moment. But the issue I’d like your help with is this: when you made your Inquiry witness statement, did you bear in mind these findings of the judge, that you had given evidence by putting the best possible gloss on matters for the Post Office and that you had given evidence, as he put it, “through a public relations prism”?

John Breeden: Well, what, making my current statement?

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: Why not?

John Breeden: I didn’t feel that was something I wanted to take into account. I have read this document, I read this document after the hearing the judge produced, read it, accepted what he said, because that was the only thing I could do. But I didn’t take – I didn’t think of a PR prism or whatever the last comment was that this statement should be presented through that.

Mr Beer: So have you tried in your current Inquiry witness statement, the 51-page statement, to be open and transparent and give an unvarnished account in relation to all matters?

John Breeden: I have tried to be as accurate as I possibly can, taking into account that it is a number of years since I worked for Post Office Limited, and didn’t take these comments into account. So, yes.

Mr Beer: Accuracy is one thing. I’m asking about openness and transparency. Have you tried to give an unvarnished account?

John Breeden: I’ve tried to be as open as I possibly can.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at POL00006671. Thank you. If we just expand the top part. You can see that this is printed on Womble Bond Dickinson paper and it’s described as “Personal attendance”, ie an attendance note, on you, of 19 January 2018. It’s with – you can see the name Lucy Bremner in those second set of tramlines and another lady called Victoria Brooks; can you see that?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Do you remember attending the London offices of Womble Bond Dickinson –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – at the beginning of that year, for the purposes of, I think, giving what they described as a proof of evidence, so a pre-witness statement document, eventually for the purposes of giving a witness statement in the Group Litigation?

John Breeden: I remember attending. I couldn’t tell you exactly the date or when it was.

Mr Beer: You’ll see that it isn’t, in fact, an attendance note as lawyers would understand it, it’s a record of a typed up version of a recording of your meeting. Do you remember the recording was recorded?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: If we just scroll down please, just stop there. The paragraph beginning “You are the most organised person we have met”, and just above that you can see there’s some introductory exchanges between you and Ms Brooks, and in the passage that’s highlighted it says:

“You are the most organised person we have met because so far we will support and humour them so that is quite good to see that you have so sorry I did not give you a minute to sort yourself out but we have got wifi and everything that you can connect to if you want. So as you know the meeting is being recorded.”


John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: So I think that’s a typed up recording of her saying this meeting is recorded. This is, indeed, a very long document. It’s 64 pages of single spaced recording of everything that everyone said in the meeting. She continues:

“The purpose of the meeting is to obtain a proof of evidence from you. That is really just a document that records what you say to us today. We want to know all of the good and all of the bad because we want to know about any weaknesses in Post Office’s case as well as any good points so that we can advise them properly on what their position is. So I will be asking you what you think the weakness was in this if any that sort of question.”

You say:

“And can that come back and haunt me at a later date?”

She answers your question about being haunted:

“It is only an internal document so that is the difference between a proof of evidence and a witness statement. It is just for us to use internally. So what we will do is what you say if it does not come out in a logical way then we may reorganise it so it is all done by topic but we will not be changing it or removing anything. With a witness statement we might remove things that we did not want to say or polish it or you know probe a bit further and that is a document that will be shared with the other side so because this one is just internal it should not come back to haunt you.”

In the light of those exchanges there, that the lawyer was telling you that they wanted to know all of the good and all of the bad, that they wanted to know about any weaknesses in the Post Office’s case and you receiving reassurance that what you said couldn’t come back to haunt you at a later stage, did you feel able to speak freely and openly in this interview with Womble Bond Dickinson?

John Breeden: From the best of my recollection, yes.

Mr Beer: Did you feel able to speak openly to these two Womble Bond Dickinson solicitors because you believed that what you said would not come out in the future?

John Breeden: I just tried to be as honest as I could at the time.

Mr Beer: Was that because you thought that this was, at least initially, being said behind closed doors?

John Breeden: I thought that, yes.

Mr Beer: I’m going to take you to some passages in what you say here and I hope that it isn’t too haunting for you. Can we look, please, at page 59. It’ll come up on the screen, please.

John Breeden: Okay.

Mr Beer: We can pick it up third paragraph. You say:

“But it is exceptionally frustrating at the moment massively frustrating and I would think I do not even know how many people know this is going on because we only tell good news. We do not tell bad news that is the impression we get.”

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: At this date, the beginning of January 2018, was it the case that the Post Office only told good news?

John Breeden: I’m trying to think of the context in which that comment was actually made.

Mr Beer: If you want to look back at the bottom of page 58, if we go back a page, please, and scroll down to the bottom half of the page, and maybe if you just read to yourself the bottom three paragraphs.

Yes, then over the page, please.

John Breeden: Sorry could you just repeat your question to me?

Mr Beer: Yes, was it the case in January 2018, the beginning of January 2018, when you were speaking here, that the Post Office only told good news?

John Breeden: I think there was a – my view and recollection from now is, yes, there was a – there was more emphasis put on the good and not on the things that perhaps weren’t as good.

Mr Beer: You say here “We do not tell bad news”. For how long had that been the position?

John Breeden: For quite a number of years, I think.

Mr Beer: When you say there “we only tell good news we do not tell bad news”, what kind of issues were you referring to? Who was the “telling” to, to the subpostmaster community or to the public or both?

John Breeden: Or perhaps even internally. I’m struggling to recollect the sort of context of that particular comment. But –

Mr Beer: The context was the previous page?

John Breeden: Yeah – where we don’t tell bad news.

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: I think there was a desire to, yes, publicise good news and not perhaps be as balanced in the – both internally and externally.

Mr Beer: Was that a new thing, come the beginning of 2018, or had it persisted for some time?

John Breeden: In my view, that had been going on for a while.

Mr Beer: By “a while” how long do you mean?

John Breeden: A number of years. I mean to say the only real sort of example that springs to mind that I can share with you is that, when sort of issues started arising with Horizon and different events were happening externally, my recollection is that we would get some sort of communication internally about how robust the system was, how many transactions it did, and there was almost a sort of, you know – the system is accurate and 100 per cent right, which is, you know, what I believed at the time because I had no other grounds to doubt it.

Mr Beer: Just stopping there, that’s not focusing, from your perspective, on the good news and not telling the bad news. That’s just telling the only news –

John Breeden: Right.

Mr Beer: – that Horizon is accurate, if that’s all you knew, isn’t it? This tends to speak to the suppression of bad news stories, doesn’t it?

John Breeden: Well, I guess a lot of the work that I was involved in was not good news, you know, dealing with sort of contractual matters wasn’t something that was a good news story. So the Post Office would never sort of say how many sort of issues there’d been or how many suspensions there’d been, I don’t think.

Mr Beer: So this that we read here includes, in your view, issues relating to the operation of the Horizon system?

John Breeden: I’m thinking it could do. I mean to say, in looking at the sort of previous paragraphs, the line looks as if it was also about the sort of viability of the sort of branches, because they talked about – can we just go back?

Mr Beer: Yes, back to page 58, please, and just look at the bottom. The bad things that I noticed in the previous paragraphs were three paragraphs from the bottom:

“I think the only thing you need to just add into all of that is the complexity and I think when we explain to a new subpostmaster during the NT sort of stuff none of them knew what they were getting involved in from a complexity point of view.”

John Breeden: Yeah, and I think I’m trying to make the point that, you know, for the level of complexity in running a Post Office was not straight – was not low and, if you take, sort of like, the local model, which was included within the retail counter, there was an expectation that staff would move between the retail and the Post Office Counter and I think that was, at times, unrealistic. But that wasn’t something that you would do a – be promoting when you were trying to encourage people to take the model on.

Mr Beer: At this time, by January 2018, had you formed the view that the Post Office as an organisation was focused on its brand image, rather than doing the right thing by subpostmasters?

John Breeden: I think the Post Office was always focused on its brand image because it had a very, very strong brand. That was part of the reason I joined the Post Office many years ago.

Mr Beer: There was a second part to my question, namely at the expense of or over and above doing the right thing by subpostmasters?

John Breeden: I think perhaps knowing what I know now, yes, that might be a true statement.

Mr Beer: Where did that culture come from, in your view?

John Breeden: I think it was just – was just part of the DNA of the business.

Mr Beer: Who was responsible for establishing the DNA of the business?

John Breeden: In my view, it came from the top.

Mr Beer: Thank you. That can come down.

Can I turn to the first issue, then the appointment of subpostmasters and contractual issues.

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: You deal with that in your witness statement –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – at paragraphs 13 to 36. If we just turn those up, please, that’s page 5 of the witness statement, WITN06700100 – page 5, please, scroll down.

There’s a whole subchapter of your statement here, “Appointment of Subpostmasters”, and if we just scroll on, paragraph 13 over the page, all through 15, over the page, 17, over the page, and then over the page again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, right up to page 16.

Then at paragraph 37, we can just see it at the foot of the page there, you turn to deal with the “Contractual Liability of Subpostmasters for Shortfalls”.

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: That’s on pages 16, 17 and 18, if we just scroll through and see those. So they’re the two topics that you’re addressing here: appointment of subpostmasters; and then contractual issues, what’s in their contract. You do not say in any of those paragraphs, in any of those 13 pages, nor anywhere else in the 51-page witness statement, anything about the inherent unfairness and undue risks for subpostmasters in their contracts, do you?

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at POL00006671. It’s the recording of the attendance at Womble Bond Dickinson again, and can we go to page 38, please. Top of the page:

“You know and some sort of spotty little oink [sic] like me coming in working four hours a night and he knows it is just sort of to keep the grant going and stuff like that but he could lose me money that I am liable for. There are a lot of tensions in my head, you know.”

The solicitor says:

“Yeah there is that is really interesting actually.”

You say:

“I wouldn’t do it. Having said I will say I wouldn’t [I think that next word should be ‘sign’] I wouldn’t [sign] one of my contracts because I think there is too much weighted against you. You are on the hook to do everything. But that doesn’t absolve people from you know, staying there and say the contract is unfair. You should have read it before you signed it you know. I think I would be very cautious about it.”

Do you agree with me that that should read “I wouldn’t sign one of my contracts”, rather than “sell”?

John Breeden: I think it’s more likely to say “sign”, yes.

Mr Beer: Yes. Why wouldn’t you sign a Post Office contract?

John Breeden: Because I just thought the terms of them weren’t something I personally would want to get into.

Mr Beer: Because they were unfair?

John Breeden: Because I thought they were not something I would want to get into.

Mr Beer: Because you thought they were unfair?

John Breeden: From my –

Mr Beer: Well –

John Breeden: From my perspective, I wouldn’t have signed it because I just thought they were weighted against the subpostmaster.

Mr Beer: Why was there too much weighted against the subpostmaster?

John Breeden: It just felt to me that there was a lot of clauses in there that were things that could – you know, you could lose your contract for and there wasn’t a great deal that – going for the – that POL were doing.

Mr Beer: I missed that last answer. There wasn’t a good deal going for –

John Breeden: There wasn’t a great deal coming from Post Office Limited. So the obligations were all on the subpostmaster.

Mr Beer: Was that a commonly held view amongst senior managers of your level?

John Breeden: I really don’t know. That was my view.

Mr Beer: You were responsible for the team or a team that asked subpostmasters to sign these contracts?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was the view that you held one that was commonly understood amongst senior managers in the Post Office, namely that there was an imbalance of obligations that the contract was weighted against subpostmasters?

John Breeden: I honestly don’t know. I can only tell you what my view was at the time.

Mr Beer: If we go to page 58, please. Just to confirm that the words you spoke earlier on page 38 had the meaning that I thought that they did, just at the foot of the page there:

“It does not grab the hearts and the minds of people. Mostly people walking down the street does it.”

The solicitor says:

“It is very interesting to hear your views on that.”

Then the next answer, you say:

“And like I say I would not sign a contract.”


John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that a view that you held from at least 2005, April 2005, onwards?

John Breeden: No, I think that’s a view that I – probably came with more time passing, in the latter part of my career with the Post Office.

Mr Beer: But, even though you held that view, you were responsible for years and years for a team that enabled subpostmasters to sign these contracts and then enforced them against subpostmasters?

John Breeden: Yeah, I think the sort of turning point was the contracts related to Network Transformation.

Mr Beer: Is that 2011?

John Breeden: Yeah, I think that’s when the programme started. But the contracts did evolve, because they started with pilot contracts and then there was a number of iterations. There were many contracts.

Mr Beer: You’ve been quite forthright and open in this interview with the solicitors here –

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – saying, “I’ve got national responsibilities for contracts with subpostmasters, I wouldn’t sign one”. Why didn’t you tell us that in your witness statement?

John Breeden: I don’t know.

Mr Beer: I asked you at the beginning a couple of times whether you were open and transparent –

John Breeden: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: – in making your witness statement and you said yes, you tried to be?

John Breeden: I don’t recall anything in the Rule 9 letter that perhaps would have elicited that sort of comment. I might be wrong.

Mr Beer: Despite speaking for 16 pages about the terms and conditions of postmaster contracts, you didn’t think it was relevant to say “I held down a job for a number of years at a national level and I formed the view that the contracts we were asking the subpostmasters to sign were inherently unfair”. Did we need to ask you the question: did you think the contracts were fair or not, Mr Breeden?

John Breeden: Yes, perhaps. I mean to say, I don’t know.

Mr Beer: Can we turn to page 5 of this document, please. Just forgive me a moment. In the middle paragraph the one starting “Firstly I am probably not terribly attractive”, which is presently at the foot of the page here, if we just scroll down a little bit, thank you.

About six lines up from the bottom of that paragraph, a sentence begins – and it’s you speaking, and you say:

“I thought this business always had very good values and morals and stuff like that. I think at the moment some of those are sometimes just tested a little bit further than probably I feel 100% comfortable with. I think there is a point where you know if my personal values and stuff like that did not particularly weigh then I could not work in a place that you know it does not matter how much money they are paying me but where their actions are very diverse to what I believe is the right thing to do that is when I would sort of struggle.”

The values and morals to which you refer there, that were being tested further than you felt comfortable with, what were they?

John Breeden: That was the likes of openness, trustworthy, honesty.

Mr Beer: How were your values and morals being tested by the Post Office?

John Breeden: I just thought some of the actions that were being – were going on at that particular time, and that had no doubt happened earlier, were just starting to push the boundaries on some of these areas.

Mr Beer: Which issues were pushing the boundaries of moralities and values?

John Breeden: Well, I think the way – well, as you know, I had issues with the contract –

Mr Beer: Just stopping there, sorry, this is, again, a reference back to the nature of the subpostmaster contract, in part?

John Breeden: Well, I would say, you know, if you’re – sorry, I thought you were asking me what things were sort of pushing the – my concerns.

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: I think one of them would have been the subpostmasters contract. I think another one would have been perhaps the sort of Horizon activities that were going on.

Mr Beer: Just stopping there, sorry, to break it down. What were you referring to in particular, then, in your mind where the Post Office’s values and morals were not in accordance with your own, so far as Horizon was concerned?

John Breeden: Well, I mean to say, you know, we were constantly being told that Horizon was okay, it was fit for purpose and what it did was the right thing, which, you know, is clearly not the case –

Mr Beer: You didn’t know that by then?

John Breeden: No, I didn’t know that by then but I guess it sort of just – you just start wondering, don’t you, what’s going on?

Mr Beer: This seems to have something different in mind. This seems to, if I may say, be a statement that you realised, if it referred to Horizon, that you weren’t being told the whole truth or that the truth wasn’t being told publicly?

John Breeden: I mean to say, I can’t recall exactly what that was relating to but I just felt that, at that time, that some of the things that were going on were – I was struggling with.

Mr Beer: Can you try and help us a little more, please, because, on the account you’ve given in your witness statement, you believed, right up until after the Horizon Issues judgment in 2019, that Horizon had integrity and there were no material bugs, errors and defects?

John Breeden: Mm-hm.

Mr Beer: If this, in part, refers to Horizon and you’re speaking here in January 2018, what was in your mind?

John Breeden: Well, at that point in 2018, Horizon, in my mind, was accurate but I think what’s going on in your head is there’s – there must be something going on that we’ve perhaps not been told about. I don’t know. Perhaps I was just over thinking it at the time but I just – because my job so reliant on that piece of equipment being accurate and, you know, from that point of view, you start thinking the what-ifs, I suppose, without any grounds to think them on, but perhaps that’s the way I was thinking there.

Mr Beer: Mr Breeden, this is referring to reality here. You say that there are things that test you further than you feel comfortable with.

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: You’re referring there to something that actually happened –

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – not imagining meaning things –

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: – not over thinking things.

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: What were the things that were happening that tested your values and morals more than you felt comfortable with?

John Breeden: Well, the only other thing that – because, you know, to clarify, I did not know there was any issues with Horizon at that point. It would be the rollout of different programmes that were going on in the business because I think, at that stage, we’d be coming to the end of the change programme and how that was perhaps being completed, because they were clearly the harder parts of the programme to complete, the tail end.

Mr Beer: In what way did the rollout of different programmes test your values and morals –

John Breeden: Well –

Mr Beer: – more than you felt comfortable with?

John Breeden: I think at times we were, as a team, put under a bit of pressure to make appointments, to allow individual branches to be resolved and converted under the programme.

Mr Beer: So we should read this part of this paragraph as referring to three things: firstly, the unfair postmaster contract; secondly, Horizon; and, thirdly, the rolling out of new programmes?

John Breeden: Yes, but, like I say, at that point, I didn’t know there was any problem with Horizon.

Mr Beer: We’re going to come back to knowledge of problems with Horizon a little later today. Can I turn to a new topic. That can come down, please.

At page 30 of your witness statement, please, at paragraph 92. You say:

“In all the roles I had from 2006 I was responsible for deploying the processes related to suspensions, terminations … The preparation of the policies and processes to be followed was undertaken by a Policy Team, usually with input from those who deployed the policies and processes.”

So that’s similar to what you said earlier today?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Do I understand from this that you had, and your team had, a role in the development and then signing-off of policies concerning suspensions, terminations and the appeals processes?

John Breeden: We had a role in the development. We had input into the development but the sign-off was undertaken by whoever owned the policy.

Mr Beer: I see, but then you had a role in implementing them, ie carrying them into effect?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Now, we’ve heard evidence that there were two different types of contracts between the Post Office, on the one hand, and subpostmasters, on the other. The first was the subpostmaster contract, the SPMC, yes?

John Breeden: (The witness nodded)

Mr Beer: Which was modified in 2006 and became known as the Modified SPMC, correct?

John Breeden: Well, I think there was a modification – there were two separate contracts but you could still be appointed on the first one you mentioned after 2006.

Mr Beer: Then the second species of contract was the Network Transformation Contract, the NTC?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: That became used after the Network Transformation Programme, the NTP, was initiated in 2011; does that sound right?

John Breeden: Yeah, there was – after 2011, there was still – I think when the programme started there wasn’t sufficient funding to transform the whole estate, it was only about half of it. So there was still offices that would continue on the – what I would call the traditional subpostmaster contract.

Mr Beer: So the SPMC was issued, would this be right, between the years 1994 and 2011, in the modified form after 2006, but new contracts were issued as the Network Transformation contract after 2011?

John Breeden: I don’t think that is correct, no.

Mr Beer: Can you tell me then what you think is correct?

John Breeden: What I believe is correct is the SPSMR, subpostmaster contract, was available from the date in the 1990s –

Mr Beer: ‘94 –

John Breeden: – that you mentioned but that could still be issued into beyond 2011 because there was still branches that weren’t suitable, for want of a better word, to go onto the Network Transformation Programme. So, if there was any change in those offices, they would continue. What used to happen, just not to digress, but is that when a vacancy arose in the network, the Network Transformation Programme would model that to see what type of branch, whether it would be one under the Network Transformation Programme or not or whether it would retain initially as a traditional contract.

The modified contract – I’m struggling to remember this but was not used wide scale across the network. There was – I can’t remember how many there were but they were issued in, I think, more specific situations, perhaps where there’d been a Crown Office that had converted.

Mr Beer: I understand. Let’s look at a couple of species or versions of the contract. Can we start, please, with POL00000246. If we just go to page 3 please, and scroll down. We can see a list of amendments. The last one is 2006, and we can see the date of the document at the bottom right – bottom left, July 2006; can you see that?

John Breeden: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: If we can go to page 71, please. It’s paragraph 12, this is within section 8 of the contract under the heading “Losses”.

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “The subpostmaster is responsible for all losses caused through his own negligence, carelessness or error, and also for losses of all kinds caused by his Assistants. Deficiencies due to such losses must be made good without delay.”

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “13. The financial responsibility of the subpostmaster does not cease when he relinquishes his appointment and he will be required to make good any losses incurred during his term of office which may subsequently come to light.”

Is this, the provision in paragraph 12, amongst those which you considered to be unfair and, therefore, you personally wouldn’t have signed it?

John Breeden: I personally wouldn’t sign that, no.

Mr Beer: Was that because the contractual provision was a slanted foundation stone for establishing liability against a subpostmaster?

John Breeden: I’m not sure what you’re saying there.

Mr Beer: You tell us then why you would include this as amongst the clauses in the contract that you would regard as unfair and therefore not sign?

John Breeden: It just felt to me personally it was very wide reaching.

Mr Beer: Why was it wide reaching?

John Breeden: Because of the fact that it – the terms “negligence, carelessness or error”.

Mr Beer: I’m sorry?

John Breeden: Because of the way the first sentence is worded. You know, “thorough negligence, carelessness or error”.

Mr Beer: What about the sentence or the part of the sentence which fixes the subpostmaster for all losses of all kinds caused by their assistants, whether they’re responsible for or caused by negligence, carelessness or error?

John Breeden: Mm. It just seems a very catch-all sort of statement that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with.

Mr Beer: Was it your view that, nonetheless, subpostmasters wouldn’t have contractual liability for shortfalls if they were caused by bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system not being their negligence, carelessness or error?

John Breeden: Well, if it’s caused by not negligence, carelessness or error, I suspect it wouldn’t be, no.

Mr Beer: Can I look then at what subpostmasters were told when the Post Office sought to recover money from them, when it was sending letters before claim to them and when it was considering suspending them and bringing proceedings against them. I just want to look at three example letters if I may. Can we start with LCAS0001117. You’ll see this is a letter to Mr Lee Castleton, dated 18 August 2004.

John Breeden: Mm-hm.

Mr Beer: It’s in respect of his branch, the Marine Drive Post Office and, if we scroll down to the bottom, we can see who it’s sent by.

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: An “Agents Debt” – is that team 3 – “Former Subpostmasters Accounts”?

John Breeden: Yeah, I would imagine that’s team 3.

Mr Beer: In Chesterfield?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Then just scroll back up to look at the terms of the letter:

“I am writing to you in respect of number of errors that have come to light in the accounts …

“The sum of £27,000 is due to Post Office …

“I have attached a copy of our statement of errors …”

Then this:

“Since you are contractually obliged to make good any losses incurred during your term of office for up to six years … it would be appreciated if you could afford a cheque, made payable to Post Office, for the amount to the address below within 21 days …”

Can we look, please, at POL00004671. We can see this is a letter dated 2010, March 2010, in the top right. It’s a reminder letter to Pamela Stubbs at an office in Wokingham. Then at the foot of the page, please, “Current Agents’ Debt Team Leader”, this was sent buy. If we scroll up, please:

“Dear Mrs … Stubbs

“I am writing to you in respect of the recovery of outstanding debts in the accounts … According to our records the sum of [£17,000-odd] is overdue for payment.

“Since you are contractually obliged to make good any losses incurred during your term of office, please call the debt recovery team on the number quoted to so this will this amount via credit/debit card.

“Alternatively forward a cheque …

“Failure to meet these repayment terms may lead us to deduct the outstanding debt from your future remuneration …”

Then, lastly, POL00044903. A little later in 2010, a letter to Allison Henderson, at the Worstead Post Office branch. Foot of the page please, “Former Agents Debt”, a team in Chesterfield. Then up, please:

“I am writing to you in respect of the recovery of deficiencies founding in the accounts at the above Post Office whilst you were subpostmaster.

“The sum of [just under £12,000] is due to Post Office to clear the account …

“Since you are contractually obliged to make good any losses incurred during your term of office”, et cetera.

Do you agree this standard form of wording that we’ve seen in each of the three letters, “you are contractually obliged to make good any losses during your term of office”, materially misstates the contractual obligations of a subpostmaster?

John Breeden: Misstated?

Mr Beer: Yes, it doesn’t include the fact that the loss needs to be due to their negligence –

John Breeden: It’s not using –

Mr Beer: – et cetera –

John Breeden: – yeah, the same terminology as is in the contract.

Mr Beer: It therefore misstates the obligation. It says, “You are contractually obliged to make good any losses”.

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: That’s just wrong, isn’t it?

John Breeden: Yes, if they weren’t made through carelessness, error.

Mr Beer: That’s an important qualification. Even though you regarded it yourself as still unfair, it’s not as wide as any losses whatsoever, is it?

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: Would you regard that as just a matter of terminology?

John Breeden: I think that is a matter of terminology, yes.

Mr Beer: Or would it represent the fact of a belief in senior management at this time that subpostmasters were liable for all losses, irrespective of the cause of them?

John Breeden: Yes, I think it would.

Mr Beer: Was that a commonly prevailing view: subpostmasters are liable for all losses?

John Breeden: I think, as a generalisation, yes.

Mr Beer: Is that, therefore, an example of what the judge described as the Post Office not really caring much about what the actual terms of the contract say and instead relying on its own belief as to what it thought the position was?

John Breeden: I think that’s potentially correct, yes.

Mr Beer: How did that come about, that state of mind?

John Breeden: I think it was there all the time.

Mr Beer: Do you agree that that is poor behaviour by the Post Office, telling subpostmaster that they’ve got to pay up, under their contract, thousands or tens of thousands of pounds because, under their contract, they’re liable to make good any losses when the contract didn’t say that at all?

John Breeden: With hindsight, yes.

Mr Beer: Why does it take hindsight to realise that?

John Breeden: I suppose you just get caught in the way things take place in a business, don’t you?

Mr Beer: So because the culture, the ethos, the morals of the business have developed in a certain way, you don’t have regard to the true position according to contractual documents or the law.

John Breeden: What, me personally or the Post Office?

Mr Beer: Yes, no, the Post Office.

John Breeden: Yeah, I think – well, I think there was a view that if you mentioned the contract, you know, things would happen.

Mr Beer: Okay. So the mere mention of the contract –

John Breeden: Yeah, I think it’s almost used as a little bit, perhaps, of a stick to get things done because I was very conscious that, in my time there, that, particularly when sort of developing stuff, that the appropriate interventions had taken place before something was referred to my team and it was a matter that was a contractual matter, because that wasn’t the case in all instances.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we turn back to your witness statement, please, and look at page 17, paragraph 41. If we can just highlight 41, please, page 17. That’s it. You say:

“Where a loss had been incurred and the reason for the loss was known and a compensating error was expected to be issued, losses could be held in the suspense account. The subpostmaster would have to have investigated the loss and know when it occurred, ie a date, and have evidence of the error. Authority to hold the amount in the suspense account would be given by the Agent Debt Team. This facility was only available where there was a known error.”

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Was the suspense account, on your understanding of it, only to be a safe haven for sums which were the product of an error that had already been established, therefore?

John Breeden: That was my understanding of suspense, yeah, that you had to have authority to put something into the suspense account.

Mr Beer: Authority might be a different issue.

John Breeden: Okay.

Mr Beer: I’m asking, at the moment, whether the suspense was a place, an account to put sums which were the product of an error that had already been established, ie where the reason was known –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and the postmaster had evidence of the error –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – which are the two things you mention here?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Is that right?

John Breeden: Yes, I think so.

Mr Beer: Not to place sums which were in dispute and an investigation was necessary in order to establish the cause of the loss?

John Breeden: I think you probably – if you were disputing something, it could have been put in suspense as well.

Mr Beer: Even if the cause of the error was not known and the subpostmaster had no evidence in relation to the cause of the error?

John Breeden: I think it would be highly unlikely then.

Mr Beer: I’m sorry?

John Breeden: I think it would be unlikely.

Mr Beer: That he would be allowed or she would be allowed to put it in response?

John Breeden: I don’t think they would be given authority to do that.

Mr Beer: The judge – and I’m not going to go through his many findings that established this – held in his Common Issues judgment that it was almost impossible for postmasters fully to investigate the causes of discrepancies or shortfalls in their branches due to their limited access to back office and computing information and data.

How would a subpostmaster establish the reason for the loss and produce evidence of it in those circumstances?

John Breeden: Just by looking through the printouts from Horizon.

Mr Beer: How would they establish that the cause of a loss was the system and not them either miskeying a sum, their staff miskeying a sum or them or their staff not taking money or stock?

John Breeden: I don’t know how they would do that.

Mr Beer: It’s an impossibility, isn’t it?

John Breeden: I think it is.

Mr Beer: On the data that they had available to them, they couldn’t do it?

John Breeden: I wouldn’t have thought so.

Mr Beer: Yet, if they wanted to place a sum in suspense, they had to do it?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was this another example of unfairness, as you saw it, requiring subpostmasters to undertake the impossible?

John Breeden: As you put it like that, it wasn’t one that perhaps was at the forefront of my mind at the time but, as you put it like that, yes.

Mr Beer: Sir, I wonder whether we could take the morning break now. I was going to propose that we took lunch between 12.30 and 1.30 today, if that’s acceptable to you, for a range of reasons and, therefore, that would make the morning break now convenient until 11.25.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, that’s fine.

Could I just ask you, in the first instance, Mr Beer, or Mr Breeden, these provisions that we are now talking about relating to the use of the suspense account, were they written into the contract or were they independent of the contract or subject to some kind of instruction, or what?

Mr Beer: Sir, I’m not going to give evidence. Let Mr Breeden answer it and, even if I thought I knew the answer, I would “phone a friend” first to make sure that what I thought was correct.

Sir Wyn Williams: It’s just something that struck me as you were quite correctly pointing out the difference between the contractual provisions and the letters. It then made me wonder how these provisions about the use of the suspense account were regulated.

If you know the answer, Mr Breeden, would you tell me? If you don’t, Mr Beer will “phone a friend”.

John Breeden: Could I “phone a friend” as well?

Sir Wyn Williams: I think at some stage, I’d just like to know the answer, that’s all.

John Breeden: The suspense account, it wasn’t a term in the contract. So I would imagine that it was subject to what I’m going to term as like office instructions –

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, I follow.

John Breeden: – and by contact of the sort of expert domain within Post Office Limited. So, you know, if an error had occurred, they would no doubt ring Chesterfield or, if they had in issue, and that’s where it would probably get advice from.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Thank you.

Mr Beer: Sir, I should say that accords with my initial view, before seeking confirmation of it, that, in the iterations of the contract we’ve got, the operation of the suspense account is not a term of the contract. We’ve got over a dozen, I think, policies and instructions that address the operation of the suspense account –

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and we can look at those and maybe summarise those for you in due course.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much.

Do you need an extra few minutes now, as a result of my intervention?

Mr Beer: 11.30, please, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s fine.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

(11.13 am)

(A short break)

(11.30 am)

Mr Beer: Good morning, sir, can you see and hear me?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can, thank you.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much. Mr Breeden, can we continue by looking at a real-world example of some of the issues we have just been speaking about by looking at POL00021163. This is an email thread from 2009 involving you, and I should read it all. It will take a little while to run through it, just so you’ve got complete context before I ask you some questions about it.

Can we go to page 5, please, and look at the foot of the page, please. If we just scroll down a little bit further, we’ll see who Karen was – just onto page 6 – a Contract Manager, North Central. Was that somebody you had responsibility for in 2009?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Yes, thank you. So if we scroll back up, please, to the bottom of page 4, we can see the chain starts with her email to Gary Blackburn. We’ll find out in a moment that he was part of the service delivery branch and his job title was “Live Service and Business Continuity Manager”, Mr Blackburn. What would a Live Service and Business Continuity Manager do, can you recall?

John Breeden: I couldn’t honestly hazard a guess.

Mr Beer: Right, okay. Karen Arnold says:


“Further to our conversation last week regarding the losses at Hogsthorpe …”

You can see the subject title of the email is “Hogsthorpe” and then there’s a FAD code, yes?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “… the [subpostmaster], David Hedges (who likes to be known as Tom) has contacted the NBSC to establish what the BAU …”

“Business as usual”, I think that means?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “… BAU/correct process is for suspending a session of Smartpost. Tom tells me that the NBSC said it was okay to use either of the methods he describes, as a reminder I have copied information below in respect of what he described to me last week.”

Over the page. Again, there’s the cut-in passage which Tom, Mr Hedges, had described.

“Tom said that he does a lot of postage and customers come in and leave their items of mail and a blank cheque, so they don’t have to wait. He then processes the items in between serving other customers. Previously he would have several items on the sales stack, items for which labels had been printed and if a customer came in he would suspend the session, from the Smartpost screen and serve other customers before going back and swapping back into the suspended session. This would take him straight back to the Smartpost screen, but when he initially suspended the session it would take a long time, as it also did when he swapped to go back into the suspended session. Around the time the losses started he changed how he suspended the session. Items in the sales stack and in Smartpost, when a customer came in he started going back to serve customer, suspending the session from there, would serve other customers and then swap to go back into the suspended session, by doing it this way it took him back to the serve customer screen and both the suspending of the session and returning back into the suspended session was far quicker this way, than how he did it previously.”

Then Karen Arnold continues:

“Tom unless spoke to the ‘Horizon Helpdesk’ yesterday about this and also the losses which he believes have started since he changed his procedures [a reference number is given]. I understand from Tom that a visit has now been arranged for today to swap the central processor. Once this swap out has been completed, can you tell me whether any investigation is carried out with the old processor.

“As I mentioned last week, if losses continue then I could end up with a conduct case.”

Just stopping there, what would you understand a “conduct case” to mean?

John Breeden: Certainly, as a minimum, getting the subpostmaster to have a conversation with Karen to find out what we’re doing with the losses, ultimately could end up as a suspension.

Mr Beer: So it’s going down a track of misconduct potentially –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – which could end up in suspension and dismissal?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Carrying on:

“If this does happen then the [subpostmaster] will have the opportunity of attending an interview, in which I am sure he will raise what he believes is an issue with Smartpost suspended sessions contributing to losses at the branch. At this point it well have to be investigated, I therefore feel it will be beneficial to do this now and would appreciate your help with this.



So you understand I think, the issue being raised here, is this a fair summary: a subpostmaster suspending sessions whilst in Smartpost –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – changing the manner in which he suspended the sessions and alleging that that change was causing losses to show?

John Breeden: Yeah. I understand – you know, I have read the text and see –

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: I’m not familiar with all the suspended sessions, I can’t remember all those sort of things.

Mr Beer: No, that’s not necessary for the moment but I think we can understand what’s happening here: a subpostmaster saying, “I’m using the system and it is creating losses which are not true losses, it’s the way the system operating”, and your Contracts Adviser is saying, “This could end up, if they swap out the old processor and put in a new one and the losses continue, in a conduct or misconduct case”, okay, and she’s saying, “Can we investigate it now, not halfway through conduct case”.

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Yes, or when we’re into a conduct case. “Can we investigate what the cause of the losses actually is now, rather than as part of a conduct case”, yes?

John Breeden: Yes. That’s my interpretation.

Mr Beer: Yes, thank you. Then if we go back to page 4, please, and scroll down. Thank you. Just up a bit, sorry, a bit more, please, to see Gary’s reply. That’s it. Mr Blackburn replies:


“Fujitsu would not check a replaced processor automatically but I don’t believe that would add any value in this instance.

“As we discussed last week the most likely explanation was/is user error but given the calls into NBSC and HSD we should assume this is not the root cause at this time.

However kicking off any other type of investigation is dependent on transactional evidence of Smartpost suspend creating discrepancies? Does Tom have any? I assume he believes that Horizon is committing each mail item/costs each time that he goes into suspend and therefore on multiple occasions?

“If Tom has specific information such as transaction time and values, please send this across and I will get Fujitsu to investigate immediately. If has no evidence then I’m afraid there is nothing for Fujitsu to investigate.”

Then back to page 3, please, Karen’s reply:


I am not sure why Fujitsu would be changing the processor if they didn’t think there was a problem.

“Having spoken to Tom today, once the new processor is installed he is going to do a BP rollover …”

Can you remember what BP rollovers were?

John Breeden: I can’t remember what “BP” is now. Branch – no, sorry, it’s gone. BP?

Mr Beer: Was it to do with balancing?

John Breeden: Yes, is it the rollover to the next period? I think? I can’t remember what “BP” stands for, just off the top of my head.

Mr Beer: Okay.

“… and then keep a tally manually of every Smartpost item to check against Horizon. This however won’t help with anything that has gone previously.”

So he, the subpostmaster, once the new processor is in, says he is going to keep a manual tally, handwritten tally, of every Smartpost item to check against Horizon but that’s not going to help with the past. You can see that you’re now copied in to this email chain, can you see that at the top?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Then if we go to the foot of page 2, please. Mr Blackburn replies:

“Fujitsu have always had a preventative maintenance policy and therefore sometimes will swap out kit without actually finding a fault, also it generally helps with customer perception of the service they have received.

“I accept in this instance that this policy could work against us, but are you suggesting that if after swapping the processor, and all discrepancies cease that Tom will claim that is clear proof of Horizon creating discrepancies? I strongly suggest that Tom obtains the necessary evidence now, if it is available.

“I am not trying to be obstructive but at present we have nothing to work on.”

Then to the bottom of page 2, please – sorry, bottom of page 1. You sent an email, can you see this, on 3 July?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “Gary

“I have read the recent emails on the above and considered the information I am concerned if we swap the processor now and the errors stop this could lead to (i) a claim that Horizon has problems in its accuracy and fuel some of the recent press articles and (ii) the [subpostmaster] will claim that all previous errors are down to Horizon and we have no way to disprove this if everything is resolved when the new processor is installed.

“Point (i) above would also concern me as I have no doubt that this individual is not the only one that uses Smartpost in this way so we could end up with other claims in respect of this issue where we have insisted that the [subpostmaster] makes the loss good.”

Then over the page:

“I would prefer a more staged approach be taken to this issue where we try to identify the problem by a method that will eliminate potentially different scenarios – I am not sure how easy or difficult this would be to do but if this [subpostmaster] was for example removing money from the till and he stopped doing this when the processor is removed we have not proved it was the processor that was at fault all we have stopped is money going missing.

“I think we need to think this one through carefully and the [subpostmaster] should be providing evidence to support his claims which can be investigated or we change pieces of equipment.

“If you wish to discuss please give me a ring.”

Just go back to the foot of page 1, please. Thank you. You say that you’re concerned that, if the processor is changed and the errors stop, this could lead to a claim that Horizon has problems in its accuracy and fuel some of the recent press articles. Is that a written expression of what you described earlier, a desire on the part of the Post Office to protect the Post Office brand and Horizon in particular?

John Breeden: I guess it could be, yes. I didn’t really think of it in that light until you’ve mentioned it.

Mr Beer: Were you operating on a presumption here that the alleged debt was owed until it was disproved by the subpostmaster?

John Breeden: I think I was working on the presumption that we needed to understand what had happened in the office and take an approach which perhaps eliminated things as we went through and didn’t cause us more problems than they solved.

Mr Beer: You understood, I think, in the context of this exchange, that Mr Hedges may have been suspended in connection with the conduct case, arising from the losses that he believed were caused by the system?

John Breeden: Yes. That’s ultimately where it could have gone.

Mr Beer: Even more ultimately, Mr Hedges could have been dismissed at the conclusion of that conduct case?

John Breeden: That is one of the possible outcomes of a conduct case, depending on the – what investigations come to light.

Mr Beer: He could have been required to repay the losses –

John Breeden: Correct.

Mr Beer: – and could conceivably have been subject to a prosecution?

John Breeden: That is a possibility but not something that was in my remit.

Mr Beer: Given the information that you had been given about the problem that Mr Hedges alleged, why would you not wish to investigate whether in fact the processor was reliable or not?

John Breeden: Well, I think that’s what I was trying to say there in the point that I make, is that I think we needed to take a staged approach of which checking the processor might be one of those stages.

Mr Beer: Why would you be concerned that swapping the processor, might lead to the errors stopping?

John Breeden: Well, swap – the – swapping the processor doesn’t necessarily mean that if the errors stopped it was down to the processor, I think was my train – will have been my train of thought there.

Mr Beer: That he could have been stealing the money and had then stopped stealing the money at the point of the change of the processor?

John Breeden: Well, that something else could have been going on that wasn’t down to the processor.

Mr Beer: Was him stealing the money one of those other things that could have been going on, in your mind?

John Breeden: I – you know, this is back in 2009, so I can’t clearly remember what my mind was thinking at the time but I would imagine that’s one of the options that would have been going through my mind.

Mr Beer: Just go over the page, please. In this continuation of your email, in the third line, you say:

“… if this subpostmaster was for example removing money from the till and he stopped doing this when the processor is removed we have not proved it was the processor that was at fault all we have stopped is money going missing.”

John Breeden: Yes –

Mr Beer: It seems to be that –

John Breeden: – so it was clearly in my mind at the time.

Mr Beer: You refer here to the “recent press articles”.

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: What were the recent press articles?

John Breeden: Crikey, I honestly don’t recall, back in 2009, what the press articles were. I know – I think it was computing magazine had done several articles around –

Mr Beer: Computer Weekly?

John Breeden: I can’t remember the title of it. But they’d done articles on Horizon, and – I’m sorry, I just can’t remember which article I’m referring to there.

Mr Beer: Wouldn’t the existence of articles complaining of other faults with Horizon be more of a reason to investigate the alleged fault fully rather than less of a reason?

John Breeden: Yeah, I don’t think I’m suggesting we don’t investigate it fully but I was suggesting we take a more staged approach to the investigation.

Mr Beer: What were those stages?

John Breeden: Well, I think it was trying to – what probably was going through my mind at the time was trying to eliminate different sources that could have created the problem, of which one would be no doubt the processor.

Mr Beer: How could the subpostmaster produce evidence that Horizon was the cause of the alleged loss?

John Breeden: I honestly don’t know.

Mr Beer: Just go back to the foot of the first page, please.

John Breeden: I think it was in the text a little bit earlier, there was comment about the subpostmaster providing evidence.

Mr Beer: What evidence did you think he could provide?

John Breeden: I wasn’t sure.

Mr Beer: I mean, it seems, again, that your decision making is coloured by the possibility of undermining the belief in the integrity of Horizon; would you agree?

John Breeden: I’m not sure, I’m not sure it was. But I was trying to just be more constructive in the way we – or methodical in the way we investigated it.

Mr Beer: So what did you think would happen –

John Breeden: Hopefully –

Mr Beer: – as a result of your email?

John Breeden: Hopefully we’d get to the bottom of whatever was causing the problem.

Mr Beer: How? If the subpostmaster couldn’t produce evidence that Horizon was at fault, all he could say is that “I know that when I used the Smartpost system in this way, in this sequence, it causes losses on my account which are not true losses”.

John Breeden: Yeah. I didn’t know whether something could be printed at that point in the – from Horizon.

Mr Beer: What was the route for a link between you and your team, who were responsible for making decisions and giving advice about issues such as this, and those responsible for the intricacies of the operation of the Horizon system?

John Breeden: What, you mean how we got information?

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: By the likes of people like Gary Blackburn. The teams that were responsible for the Horizon equipment.

Mr Beer: I’m thinking of how, if you didn’t know a subpostmaster could prove that what he was saying was true or that what he was saying could be tested, to whom would you turn to say, “We’ve got a subpostmaster who alleges the following. He alleges that when he uses Smartpost and presses the screen in this sequence, losses that are phantom losses are created” –

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – “please tell me what questions I need to ask him. Please tell me what data the system will produce to prove or disprove that which he says?” Who would you turn to?

John Breeden: I’d be looking towards the experts on Horizon.

Mr Beer: Who were they?

John Breeden: Well, I can’t remember what you term Mr Blackburn’s job as but I think there was a team based up in the Rotherham area that were sort of – would sort of link the conduit.

Mr Beer: I mean, his job title is on page 4.

John Breeden: Yeah, I find job titles a little confusing.

Mr Beer: Well, on that I think we can at least agree. Page 4 in the middle, please, and scroll down, please. “Live Service and Business Continuity Manager” in Barnsley?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: That doesn’t tell you what he does and whether he knows anything about Horizon, correct?

John Breeden: No, it doesn’t tell me anything.

Mr Beer: But who, broadening it out from these narrow circumstances, would you and your team turn to for technical advice, where you’d got a case just like this: postmaster says X, Y and Z; we need to test whether X, Y and Z are true, does Horizon operate in this way? Is it conceivable that the subpostmaster is correct? What data is produced by Horizon? What back office data is kept by Post Office and Fujitsu to help us navigate our way through these allegations?

John Breeden: I do believe that Gary Blackburn, this has his continuity – Horizon continuity, business system continuity, and he had a team of people in Barnsley or Rotherham that dealt with this and would be, in my view, what you would class as the expert domain.

Mr Beer: So you would expect Mr Blackburn to be able to say, “Look, we can investigate this as follows: by going back to Fujitsu or by the data that we’ve already got to see whether what Tom says is true or not”?

John Breeden: I would be expecting somebody with – whether it was Mr Blackburn, but Mr Blackburn to know how it could be investigated.

Mr Beer: Thank you. That can come down.

Can we turn paragraph 90 of your witness statement, which is on page 29. It’s at the foot of the page. You say:

“I have reflected on whether I noticed any increase in subpostmaster losses or an increase in the number of write-offs agreed following the introduction of Horizon. I do not recall an increase in losses following the introduction of Horizon, but once the reliability of the system began to be questioned I recall that there were more cases where Horizon was blamed for the loss, and that this was cited as a way to challenge debts. I don’t recall that there was an increase in write offs by my team.”

The Inquiry has seen evidence – I’ll give the reference, it’s NFSP00000515 at page 15 – that suggests that, by March 2001, there was about £10 million in suspense accounts, as opposed to about £2 million 18 months before. So in an 18-month period, the amount in suspense accounts had increased from £2 million to £10 million, covering the period of the introduction of Horizon.

Is it your evidence that you were not aware of such an increase in claimed discrepancies or losses after the introduction of Horizon?

John Breeden: I wasn’t aware of those – the figures that you’ve just quoted.

Mr Beer: Were you aware of an increased use, without reference to the figures, in the use of the suspense account after the introduction of Horizon?

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: You say here:

“Once the reliability of the system began to be questioned I recall there were more cases where Horizon was blamed for the loss, and that this was cited as a way to challenge debts.”

What period are you referring to there, “once the reliability of the system began to be questioned”?

John Breeden: I think this was after the JSFA – and I can’t remember when they – that body was created. But that started to pick up momentum. So I’m not sure exactly the time period on this. I’m sort of hesitating around 2011/2012, but I don’t know with any certainty.

Mr Beer: You say, “this was cited as a way to challenge debt”. Cited by whom?

John Breeden: By the postmaster.

Mr Beer: The way that sentence reads suggests that you believe it wasn’t a genuine belief that Horizon was to blame for the debt. What you’re saying here –

John Breeden: On the part of the claimant, you mean?

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: Well, at that time I had no grounds on which to believe that Horizon was – there was an issue with Horizon.

Mr Beer: So what we should read this sentence as meaning is that you believed that subpostmasters were falsely claiming that Horizon was responsible, and they were doing so because of publicity and that this was just a mechanism or a vehicle for explaining way debts?

John Breeden: I don’t think that’s probably what was going through my mind when I wrote that sentence.

Mr Beer: Tell us what it means, then.

John Breeden: Well, I can understand exactly why you’ve taken that interpretation.

Mr Beer: If my interpretation is incorrect, what is the correct interpretation?

John Breeden: Well, I – all I was trying to say, in what perhaps is not a very well worded sentence, was that the instances started to increase for Horizon being sort of blamed for losses. Whether that was – I didn’t want to indicate that the subpostmaster was doing – not telling the truth. That wasn’t the purpose of what I was trying to say.

Mr Beer: It’s the use of your words “this was cited as a way to challenge debts”.

John Breeden: Yes, and I understand what you’re picking up on there.

Mr Beer: Well, I’m picking up on it because the words are there in black and white.

John Breeden: Yeah, I know and what I’m saying that perhaps it’s not the best worded sentence I’ve ever put together.

Mr Beer: Isn’t it revelatory of your true belief, and those around you’s beliefs also, that this is just subpostmasters jumping on a bandwagon: there’s been some publicity about Horizon having faults and subpostmasters were being opportunists in blaming the system for their debts?

John Breeden: I don’t think I’d have used the term “bandwagon”, but –

Mr Beer: Well, some other similar expression.

John Breeden: Yeah, okay. I mean to say, at that time, yes, perhaps that was the way, you know, I would be thinking.

Mr Beer: Can we turn, please, to paragraph 103.2 of your witness statement, which is on page 32. I should read paragraph 102 first. You’re dealing here with the suspension and termination process.

John Breeden: Okay.

Mr Beer: You say:

“When a shortage was identified at an audit, the lead auditor would telephone the Contracts Adviser to discuss the audit findings. The Contracts Adviser would speak to the subpostmaster to discuss the reasons for the shortage and might also, where appropriate, have contacted other teams. The Contract Adviser would gather as much information as possible.

“Factors considered …”

I think this is factors considered in whether to suspend.

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “… would include the following (this is not a definitive list) …”

It’s the second one, 103.2:

“Source of risk, ie subpostmaster or the staff employed at the branch …”

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: The Inquiry has heard a good deal of evidence where the support desks, including the third line of support, the SSC, could not identify the source of discrepancies and has heard evidence that subpostmasters would not know themselves the cause of discrepancies. In circumstances where the cause of a discrepancy, a shortfall, was not known, what would be considered to be the source of the risk?

John Breeden: Well, it couldn’t be identified if it wasn’t known.

Mr Beer: How would the source be attributed as between the subpostmaster and staff employed at their branch?

John Breeden: Well, the subpostmaster was ultimately responsible for the actions of their staff.

Mr Beer: This tends to suggest, this paragraph, that there was a distinction drawn between whether the source of the risk was the subpostmaster, him or herself on the one hand, and his staff on the other, correct?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: In a case where the cause of the loss could not established, was it just assumed to be the subpostmaster’s fault?

John Breeden: Well, initially, it would have to be, yes.

Mr Beer: Well, initially and for always?

John Breeden: Well, subject to any – if the – it if it ended up as suspension there would be investigations to try to establish what had gone on.

Mr Beer: If there was an investigation that tried to establish what had gone on with the subpostmaster saying, “I’m not responsible for that loss, it’s a system-generated loss”, and he could produce no evidence of that, what course would the investigation then take?

John Breeden: I would imagine we’d look to the expert domain to try to see if there was an issue.

Mr Beer: Can we turn to the debt recovery process, please, and you refer at paragraph 19 of your witness statement – and there’s no need to display it at the moment – to your role, which was to consider what was being proposed – this is on the policy front – from a contractual perspective and suggest improvements to existing working practices.

So this is your involvement in the development of policy, so far as debt recovery is concerned.

If we go forward to paragraph 47, please, which is on page 19, you say:

“I did author one document, Operators in Service Debt [and you give the reference]. My recollection is that the reason I took on the role of author of this particular iteration of the Postmasters’ In Service Debt policy was because the previous owner and author were no longer with [Post Office] and the document needed to be update to reflect working practices.”

Can we look, please, at POL00088579. We can see that the title of the document is at the top of the page. We can see authorship is given to you.

John Breeden: Mm-hm.

Mr Beer: If we scroll down, we can see the first iteration of the policy seems to be version 1 in September 2013; can you see that?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: We’re now dealing, I think, with a February 2019 version –

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – so in the year that you left?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: If we go to page 5, please, and scroll down, and scroll down.

Does this set out the decision-making levels and repayment process for subpostmasters in debt?

John Breeden: Yeah, that’s – 6.4.6, I believe is the people who had the authority to agree repayment plans over these different terms.

Mr Beer: Was it part of the policy that negligence or carelessness on the part of the subpostmaster had to be established before they could be said to owe a debt?

John Breeden: No, I don’t think that is in the policy.

Mr Beer: It’s not, no.

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: Why is that?

John Breeden: Very poor excuse but I don’t think it was ever in the policy and, basically, the work I did on this was to update the policy to reflect the actual working practices that were going on at the time because the previous policy had been superseded in different areas.

Mr Beer: So, by that answer, do I understand you to mean that, although the subpostmaster contract meant that a debt was only owed if negligence or carelessness on the part of the subpostmaster could be established, that was never, in fact, translated through to the debt recovery process?

John Breeden: I don’t believe those words are in that process but, like I say, I don’t believe they were ever in the – in the iteration that I amended either.

Mr Beer: So is that again because of the prevailing beliefs and norms in the Post Office, that all loss was the responsibility of the subpostmaster –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and, again, because the mention of the existence of the contract was thought to create belief in the subpostmaster that all debt was his responsibility?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that one of the things that you felt challenging in an ethical or moral way –

John Breeden: I think –

Mr Beer: – to trade off a mistaken belief?

John Breeden: I think so.

Mr Beer: How far did that trading extend, trading off that belief? Was it only in relation to debt recovery or did it extend to conduct investigations, suspensions and terminations?

John Breeden: I think probably more at the fore in debt recovery.

Mr Beer: Can you explain why you think the belief was more at the fore with debt recovery?

John Breeden: Well, I think the terminology was that, you know, the contract was never sort of quoted as it is written. It was always paraphrased as “the subpostmaster is responsible for the debt”.

Mr Beer: Was that in the knowledge, though, that that’s not, in fact, what the contract said?

John Breeden: Well, I think some people had that knowledge; others probably didn’t.

Mr Beer: As the head of the team with a national responsibility for your area of the country, you had that belief and that knowledge?

John Breeden: I knew the wording of the contract, yes.

Mr Beer: What prevented you from speaking up to say, “Hold on, hold on, we’ve got hundreds if not thousands of subpostmasters on contracts here that have, as a trigger for their liability, a certain word. We’re trading off – we’re taking enforcement action, we’re bringing debt proceedings on the basis of a mistaken belief, knowingly, that they may have misunderstood, they may not have known the true position”? What prevented you from speaking up?

John Breeden: I don’t really know. I think some of the – my views sort developed over time where perhaps I just got more concerned about this or more worried about it. It wasn’t – I don’t know what stopped me speaking up; I’ll be quite honest with you.

Mr Beer: What do you think would have happened if you’d spoken up?

John Breeden: Probably not a lot.

Mr Beer: Why do you think not a lot would have happened?

John Breeden: Well, I guess it wouldn’t be the sort of things people would want to hear.

Mr Beer: Why wouldn’t they want to hear it?

John Breeden: Because it was going against the sort of practice that had been going on for a while or a good number of years.

Mr Beer: Were postmasters advised to take legal advice before entering into either the subpostmaster contract or the NT contract?

John Breeden: I don’t think so but I can’t now honestly remember.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at POL00021748. This is a series of questions that Second Sight – and you remember what Second Sight was – posed to the Post Office and the attribution of them in the right-hand column of the questions to various experts within the Post Office business.

Could we turn to page 14 and 15, please. Can you see the heading is “The contract between the Post Office and Subpostmasters”?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Second Sight asked:

“Please provide full details of the following:

“the measures Post Office takes in order to reduce the risk that incoming subpostmasters, who take over an existing branch and its staff, may be inheriting employees who have been found to be, or are suspected of having been, incompetent or dishonest. In this context, was there, or is there now, any competency and integrity verification, performance appraisal, or formal disciplinary/warning process whereby snout going subpostmasters and Post Office’s own Line Managers could warn incoming Subpostmasters where questions had been raised?”

What was the answer to that?

John Breeden: I know when we were talking about the contract in an application interview, the postmaster was – it was explained to the postmaster about if they had – if they take on staff, the staff were their employees. If there was an existing branch they were moving into and there were staff already there, they were perhaps changing the terms of, or something like that, that they should take advice on TUPE, the Transfer of Engagement legislation.

The staff were – I mean to say, you know, I don’t think that it was ever said you should talk to the – you know, what we suggested you talk to the outgoing postmaster about, in respect of the staff.

Mr Beer: Can we go over the page to page 15, please, and read 12.4:

“We understand that the Post Office does not recommend that its would-be Subpostmasters take legal advice … prior to entering into that contract.”

That’s the standard contract.

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “This appears to be contrary to best practice procedures. For example, the British Franchise Association recommends that independent legal advice should always be taken prior to signing a franchise agreement. Please provide full details as to why Post Office does not comply with this best practice recommendation?”

You regarded the contract as unfair.

John Breeden: Well, yes, weighted in one direction, yeah.

Mr Beer: Did that play a part in not including, as part of the onboarding process, suggestions to subpostmasters that they take legal advice about its terms?

John Breeden: What, my view of the contract?

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: What were the reasons, then, that what was described by Second Sight as best practice was not followed?

John Breeden: I honestly couldn’t tell you. I mean to say, the onboarding process was very similar for many, many years, that Post Office Limited used to use. I don’t know why there wasn’t anything explicitly mentioned as part of that process, when somebody is appointed, that you take legal advice on the contract. I know it was an obligation under Network Transformation that the appointed individual had to, or the appointed entity had to, sign the contract. I know that was a requirement.

Mr Beer: Can we turn, please, to POL00085836. This is a two-page email – if we read from the foot of the page, please – from Angela van den Bogerd, who was the Head of Network Services at this time. On 1 May 2012, she says to Craig Tuthill, who, I think, was the National Services Support Manager:


“I met with Simon Baker today – he’s been asked by Alice Perkins to find a way of demonstrating that the Horizon system is robust …”

Just stopping there. Would that sentence fit in with the sort of ethos and beliefs of the organisation that you described earlier, that the imperative was always to approve that Horizon was robust, rather than having an open mind as to whether it was or it wasn’t?

John Breeden: The organisation told us it was robust.

Mr Beer: Continuing:

“… and not subject to ‘glitches’ as claimed by the JFSA former [subpostmasters]. An MP is spearheading their campaign and in particular the Hamilton (2003) case. The MP is to visit it model office in a week or so and Simon would like us to provide an easy to understand walk through document of our appointments and training approach – this is where you come in, no doubt ably supported by John [I think that’s you] and/or Lin and Sue.”

John Breeden: Mm-hm.

Mr Beer: Then over the page:

“I attach a note [and we’re going to look at that in a moment] that I provided to Sue a few weeks back so she could explain to Alice what our approach is. Would you use this as your starting point, amending and updating as you see fit. Would you also embed the supporting documents – eg the training offer document Sue recently pulled together.

“The claims from the JFSA former agents include that they were not aware of their contractual obligations in terms of making good losses. What we need to do is detail the points at which they were advised of this – in the Contracts Advisers interview script; the declaration that they make on transfer and the SPSO contract they signed; I’ll send you what information I have”, et cetera, et cetera.

Then if we go back to the first page, please. Mr Tuthill says:

“To see the updated document with input for Sue and John.”

At the moment, I can’t see any evidence that you, who are a copy-ee to this email, provided any additional input. But let’s look at the document that was attached.

John Breeden: Okay.

Mr Beer: That’s POL00085875. Can we go forwards, please, to page 4. Do you understand this is something that was shown to subpostmasters?

John Breeden: I honestly don’t recollect this document at all and when you say “shown to subpostmasters”, where?

Mr Beer: At the point at which they are either about to be recruited or have been recruited?

John Breeden: I wasn’t aware that was the case. I don’t remember this document at all and, I mean to say, I think it’s entitled “Cash Management”?

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: So if it’s – I am not sure.

Mr Beer: If we go back to page 1, just so you can look at it.

John Breeden: Yeah. Are you – is it the thought that this was part of the application process?

Mr Beer: That’s what I’m asking – that’s what I’m trying to investigate.

John Breeden: Well, I don’t think it was because, as part of the application process, as part of the interview, the subpostmaster would be introduced to a number of terms from the contract, okay, and I think there was a checklist that was used by Contract Advisers to go through that information. That document there or this document here, I do not recall at all. I don’t think that was part of it.

Mr Beer: If you go over the page?

John Breeden: Go back to page 4 –

Mr Beer: If we just go back to page 1, so you can see a bit more context, in fairness to you.

John Breeden: Okay.

Mr Beer: Sorry, the next page. Thank you. Just have a look. I mean, the question/hypothetical at the top, that’s sort of a lecture on why cash management is important –

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – isn’t it?

John Breeden: Well, I think – I mean to say, cash management was always important, primarily because, obviously, there was a cost of funding the network with cash and, also, you know, there was a potential risk, if you’re holding excess cash and anything was – you know, if the office was to be attacked. And I know there was a requirement to, you know, daily declare your cash holdings because I think that helped decide how much cash the branch would need, for cash deliveries and things like that.

Mr Beer: You would say, I think, summarising, that this document is not really addressed at the issue that I’m asking about, which is informing subpostmasters of their liabilities and responsibilities, contractual obligations under the subpostmaster contract. This is addressed to a different issue?

John Breeden: This is not – I feel 100 per cent certain this was not part of the application process when we were interviewing an applicant for a vacancy in the network.

Mr Beer: Was the term of the contract that I drew your attention to earlier, with the trigger for liability of negligence and carelessness, et cetera, specifically drawn to subpostmasters’ attention, to say that’s the fulcrum upon which your reliability turns?

John Breeden: At the application interview, when they were going through the contractual clauses, there was – that would be one of the clauses that is explained to them, and I think the terminology that we’d been using today, “careless, error or negligence”, was actually in the text. Certainly, when we sent out with – I think it was the interview to – the invite to interview, there was a written document that went out with that letter that went through different clauses of the contract that we’d brought to applicants’ attention.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

Sir, on that note, can we break now until 1.30, please?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, yes, that’s fine.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, sir.

(12.29 pm)

(The Short Adjournment)

(1.30 pm)

Mr Beer: Good afternoon, sir, can you see and hear me?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can, thank you.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, Mr Breeden.

John Breeden: Good afternoon.

Mr Beer: Can we turn, please, to POL00006671. This is your attendance at the Womble Bond Dickinson offices on the 19 January 2018 again. Can we turn to page 35, please. You’ll see at the top of the page the solicitor is asking you to address any weaknesses in Horizon. You ask, second paragraph:

“What, weaknesses in the Horizon system?”

She says, “Yeah”.

You say:

“I have got two things I probably would say about that from a personal perspective. Firstly, I don’t think the training that we provide, have been providing of late is adequate.”

She says:

“… from when …”

You say, “Well …”

She says:

“Has it ever been adequate?”

Then you say:

“Well I think it went through, the problem is, and I don’t know when it changed, and that’s not me avoiding the bullet, but I don’t know when it changed, but it seemed to go down to a couple of days which was predominantly sales focused.”

What were your concerns about the adequacy of the training in relation to Horizon?

John Breeden: I think it will have been around the fact that how you can help – can train newly appointed subpostmasters or subpostmasters, any subpostmaster, into how to interrogate, if there is – if they have a discrepancy or something like that, what steps they could take – what they could look at, how they could do that, and the sort of perhaps tips/help/assistance, in that sort of area.

Mr Beer: Okay, that’s, in fact, what you go on to say. You say here that it was sales focused or predominantly sales focused. By that, do you mean it was concentrating on training subpostmasters to sell product?

John Breeden: Yeah, I – it was sort of like upselling of products, you know, as opposed to perhaps selling a First Class stamp, could you sell a Special Delivery service, dependent on the questions that you should ask and the responses that you were getting. But my sort of simplistic belief was that if you have confidence in how to manipulate the sales tool, the equipment, Horizon, that I think the sales – you’ve got to have that first to be able to do the selling. Yeah? If you understand where I’m trying to go.

Mr Beer: Yes, and she summarises your answer:

“You think they should be given tips on functionality that does exist?”

You say:

“Tips on what to check for because you don’t have to give service as a postmaster but you’ve got to have some elements of control and I don’t know whether we give enough on how to, what to look for. You know.”

She says:

“… So do you think that they are provided with enough information by Horizon to do that investigation if they needed to and they knew how to do it, or do you think that something else should be provided?”

You say:

“I probably don’t know Horizon well enough.”

Did you know Horizon well enough to be confident in your judgements in cases where a subpostmaster was blaming Horizon for discrepancies and shortfalls?

John Breeden: No. My knowledge of – I have used Horizon on counters and stuff like that but, I mean to say, the number of times that occurred in the duration of my time with the Post Office was not many, so I would be very much reliant on people who are experts in Horizon telling me that’s things were okay.

Mr Beer: Were you one of those managers that helped out at Christmastime? Was that your interaction with –

John Breeden: And –

Mr Beer: – Horizon?

John Breeden: Yeah, sorry, apologies for interrupting. Yes, I helped out at Christmas and when there was industrial action.

Mr Beer: Did you yourself receive any training on Horizon?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: How long did that last?

John Breeden: I think it was about three hours.

Mr Beer: You go on, if we scroll down the page, please:

“But I don’t think we perhaps give them enough small screwdrivers and spanners in their training pack to sort of say, you know, the checks that I would suggest you do is, you can’t make [them] do it, you know, otherwise we’re going to start blurring the lines between employed and employees and you say, every month you must do this, because that’s why the contract is so high level I guess, to maintain control. But what I think it would be good to do is give people a pointer of the things that are there to do, so you know perhaps do you count the cash every so often, you know or check this or check that.”

You’re asked:

“… do you think those weaknesses that you’ve identified really in the training … is there another one?”

At that point there, dealing with the first issue, were you really saying that subpostmasters weren’t told enough about how Horizon worked and the data that was available to be recovered or harvested from it to be able, if they did come across a discrepancy, to assist those investigating, to pinpoint it?

John Breeden: That, I think, is where I was going, yes. I mean to say, it’s one thing pressing the keys and doing a transaction but, when there is an issue that needs to be resolved, how do you go about doing that? What, you know – and I just don’t think there was enough training on that side of Horizon; it was everything about this is how you do a transaction, as opposed to – I’m sure the training would include balancing and stuff like that but what – the nuts and bolts of, you know, the steps to take when there was a discrepancy just wasn’t included, from my knowledge.

Mr Beer: So it was training, in your view, into how to work Horizon when it did work –

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – rather than training about things that might be done by a subpostmaster, at their end, when it didn’t work?

John Breeden: Yes, I mean to say, if I reflect on the training I got, it was very much “This is how you do a transaction”, and stuff like that. Now, I appreciate I was not being trained to be a subpostmaster but I was being trained to use the kit and I guess that the office manager where I went would help out if there was a discrepancy but there was never anything that I recall in my training that tells you what to do if you had an issue.

Mr Beer: To your knowledge, was that connected to the nature of the contract, ie a contract which was interpreted as meaning all losses are the responsibility of subpostmasters, so it didn’t really matter whether we trained them or not or if the system is not working because it’s not really relevant?

John Breeden: I don’t think I ever made that link, I’ll be quite honest with you but, you know, the contract did say they had – as a subpostmaster, you had to make – maintain control of the office, irrespective of whether you were there or not, and I just wonder whether they should have been given more tools on how to do that.

Mr Beer: You were asked “is there another [thing]?” and you continue at the foot of the page:

“Yeah, the other thing that sort of spooks me and I don’t know how they do this and it only relates to something that happened, well, there were occurrences last but the people were able, staff were able, to put bogus transactions through for the want of a better word, and then cream money off. There was some incidents with Parcelforce products and we are talking about not a couple of quid here, these are thousands of pounds people have been able to manipulate the system to do. So it’s almost like, it’s almost like if you are a computer guy/guyess, present company accepted, there is a danger that if you’re pretty good with a laptop or a computer I don’t know how much you can look at and what you can do with Horizon and that, I don’t know how well it’s bolted down to be honest and that’s just observations that, you know, how can you put a bogus transaction through, it just doesn’t make sense to me that. The system shouldn’t allow that to happen so that’s how they can draw money out.”

The solicitor says:

“… That’s helpful.”

You said:

“It’s not if it goes to court.”

Why did you think what you said was not helpful if the case went to court?

John Breeden: I briefly recount the sort of – this idea of bogus transactions because I remember that there was a couple of instances which were very sizeable sums where something had gone wrong. I can’t remember the products, I’m afraid. I guess – all I could – can think, I’m thinking about there, is, you know, with the business saying that Horizon is accurate, et cetera, something like this would not look good.

Mr Beer: So, although this is a flaw of a different kind you’re referring to here, in that it is not what the subpostmasters were alleging – it’s a system design or operation error that allows money to be taken – you thought it was unhelpful to the Post Office’s case, if the Group Litigation went to court?

John Breeden: Yes, I guess that’s what I was thinking.

Mr Beer: You continue to explain what the issue was, fifth paragraph in:

“Yeah, one of the branches that was involved is, I think it’s called Kibworth Beauchamp, it’s in Leicester somewhere, and a couple of staff took the postmaster there for about £35,000 on these Parcelforce transactions. There’s another two branches in Keith’s area where the sum of money is far greater. Helen Dickinson from the Security team was the person who was looking into that.”

The solicitor says that she’s seeing Helen “next week” and you continue:

“But you know, what I can’t understand is how you can do that, you know, I can understand if I was working in a shop, you know, I’ve got to scan stuff, but I wouldn’t have thought but actually I can make scans up. I can false account in some way. It just seemed a bit too … it seems, unless I’m missing something very fundamental.”

Can you tell us more about this branch, one of the branches involved, at Kibworth Beauchamp.

John Breeden: No, I mean to say, I accept what’s written there but I can’t remember anything more about that particular case.

Mr Beer: You refer to these as “bogus transactions”. What did you understand to have been bogus?

John Breeden: Well, in so much as I don’t think there was a customer that bought £35,000 worth of Parcelforce transactions.

Mr Beer: Where did you get your information from?

John Breeden: What, the information that I referred to here? I presume there was some case papers that I was copied into or some sort of notification because I would imagine the Security team were looking at it.

Mr Beer: What was your understanding of how the staff member or members had manipulated the system?

John Breeden: I don’t think I did ever understand it. I don’t think I had it explained to me.

Mr Beer: If there were concerns that Horizon was lacking in security or could be manipulated for the purposes of fraud, in this way, was that ever discussed with Fujitsu, to your knowledge?

John Breeden: Not to my knowledge, no.

Mr Beer: Had you heard by this time, January 2018, of phantom transactions or ghost transactions being said to be responsible for discrepancies?

John Breeden: I don’t recall those terms.

Mr Beer: You don’t recall that language?

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: If we scroll down, please, about three paragraphs from the bottom where we are now, you say:

“But there’s clearly a way of falsifying the numbers because otherwise we would not have people telling me that there’s £40,000 missing, I’ve falsified the cash declarations.”

Who was telling you that they had falsified the cash declarations?

John Breeden: I mean to say, in this context, I honestly don’t know, don’t know, but there was instances where cash declarations didn’t reflect the cash on hand in the branch.

Mr Beer: So was this a subpostmaster admitting that they had stolen £40,000? Is that what you’re referring to here?

John Breeden: I honestly can’t remember.

Mr Beer: Was this a case of somebody who was truly dishonest, admitting that they were falsifying cash declarations to take £40,000? Can you give us some context to what you’re referring to here, please?

John Breeden: I really am struggling to give you some context, I’m afraid, to actually understand where I am in making that comment.

Mr Beer: You then turn to a different issue, which is the recruitment of subpostmasters. If we can turn, please, to page 43. If we go to the bottom of the page, please, last line. You say, last paragraph:

“[There is an] interview to assess the individual’s ability to run to be a postmaster so there is a number of criteria that … are assessed … If they achieve the passmark, which is 60, they are then offered the appointment. Once they get to that stage they are then issued with a copy of the contract they then have to sign …”

Over the page:

“… It comes back signed, correctly and hopefully all the supporting [documents] come back signed properly because that is where the guarantor [documents] would go …”

You are asked:

“So your team does the interviewing. What is your role … Do they ever discuss it with you …

You say:

“Light touch in so much as when time allows I sometimes read some of the assessments, you know, because they are meant to put the rationale in there and I know when Lin Norbury was about we used to sort of spend one day a month just picking some … rationales at random just to see what there are supporting reasons for.”

Then scroll down, please. Stop there, please. Three paragraphs from the bottom, on the page we’re looking at. You say:

“You know is there anything that we can learn because all it feels like at the moment it feels like we are on a massive hamster wheel in so much as we have got programmes out there that have got targets to do something. All they want to do is push as many people through as long as they are alive they are happy.”

The solicitor says:

“You are not the first person to say that …”

Was the recruitment imperative to push people through, irrespective of the quality of the applicant?

John Breeden: We felt under pressure to push people through and we used to get a degree of questioning if we were to fail an applicant.

Mr Beer: The phrase, quite memorable there, “as long as they are alive they are happy”, who is the “they” in that? Your managers?

John Breeden: Well, whoever we’ve – whichever programme is – we’re appointing on behalf of. I think because there were several sort of tensions in the system, in so much as with something like Network Change, if my memory serves me right here, you could have had a subpostmaster who was hoping to leave the network with compensation but that was dependent on a new postmaster being appointed, and there was a – perhaps the best word is a run rate of how many offices that were to be converted in a set period of time.

So I guess that my team, me, if we’re not appointing people, we are putting a little bit of a spanner in the works.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“But the problem is they do not have to deal with the consequences of the rubbish at the other end.”

Was the imperative to recruit irrespective of merit later used as a justification for the number of subpostmasters being investigated, suspended and terminated?

John Breeden: Can you just repeat that one for me?

Mr Beer: Yes, was the imperative to recruit –

John Breeden: Right yes.

Mr Beer: – so long as they’re alive, the bosses are happy, later used as a justification for the number of subpostmasters being investigated, suspended and terminated?

John Breeden: I don’t think it was ever recognised as a reason for that, no.

Mr Beer: “The reason why we’ve got number of subpostmasters being investigated suspended and terminated is because of our poor recruitment approach”; that wasn’t ever vocalised?

John Breeden: I think – I seem to recall some time back there was some sort of work done by perhaps the Security team or somebody like that, but I think it was earlier than 2018, about whether we were doing the right number of checks and things like that, when we go through the application process.

Mr Beer: If we can move on, please, to the issue of the support that subpostmasters were provided with. This is page 50, please, top paragraph. You say:

“… the theory is the appointment is done, the branch goes live. So the Contracts Adviser will have seen whoever they’ve interviewed and if we make a blank statement that said everyone is interviewed they have touched a Contracts Adviser somewhere along the line. When that branch goes live if there are any issues those subpostmasters should go in through the NBSC and that should really be dealt with there. Anything that comes back out to us should be of a contractual nature. That is where it goes wrong because we do not have the teams. There is two things we do not have. I am not convinced the knowledge on the NBSC is good enough to deal with everything that crops up or it not be in their knowledge base.”

Just stopping there, in what respect was the knowledge in the NBSC, in your view, not good enough?

John Breeden: I think a comment like that can only be – I’ve made that on the basis that things were being referred to ourselves, “Oh, you need to speak to the Contract Adviser about that issue”, or something like that, when they weren’t appropriate to come through to the Contract Adviser.

Mr Beer: What was the NBSC in your view supposed to do? What was its function?

John Breeden: Well, they were the first – my understanding is they’re the first point of contact for the subpostmaster. They had this Knowledge Base of how to deal with queries that were arising and then if there was something not on the Knowledge Base they should be referring that to the appropriate team. So, if it was a debt issue that wasn’t on the Knowledge Base, it should have gone to the debt team.

Mr Beer: So in what respect was their knowledge not sufficient in the NBSC?

John Breeden: Well, I don’t think it was covering all the things that were arising in the Network.

Mr Beer: What was the consequences of that?

John Breeden: There was more referrals coming across to, probably, my team that weren’t appropriate to my team.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“Secondly most other teams that you would think should be the first point of to deal with some sort of intervention activity do not want to talk to subpostmasters so they make it a contractual issue by referring it to us.”

Who were the teams that did not want to speak to subpostmasters, ie the “most other teams”?

John Breeden: Well, I think there’s an example in there of the Property team, that didn’t want to speak to subpostmasters. Very few people wanted to speak to subpostmasters.

Mr Beer: Why?

John Breeden: I don’t know. I think there was something about us having “contract” in our name that thought that, “oh, well, you know, the subpostmaster will respond to you, he won’t respond to us”, which is rubbish because, to be honest, if everything was running really smooth, we should have been out of work, apart from appointing people.

Mr Beer: At the paragraph on the foot of the page here, about five lines in, you say:

“… They were almost like little NBSCs and I have no doubt varying in quality and ability so when you take that out you lose a massive level of knowledge and I think there is a desire not to want to contact offices because if you think about every NT office that was converted must have had the appropriate asbestos report in place for them to do the work so why is it an issue now.”

Then you say this:

“But nobody wants to deal with non-conformance or the difficult stuff. That is the problem and that is the reason why we get so slumped.”

Why did people not want to deal with non-conformance issues?

John Breeden: Well, I think it was (1) a resourcing issue and, “If I can move the problem on to somebody else, it’s the best thing I can do”. Why is this – I think the way the business had sort of stripped some of its support out to the Network as well, didn’t help. I don’t think they ever really replaced that properly.

Mr Beer: You say that “that is the reason why we get so slumped”. What do you mean by “so slumped”?

John Breeden: Just so much work.

Mr Beer: In the Contracts team?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Would the Contracts team deal with things through the prism of suspension and termination? Were they the levers that they had to pull or debt recovery?

John Breeden: Well, the Contracts team was responsible for appointments, dealing with any contractual issues that occurred in the life-cycle of a postmaster.

Mr Beer: But did they have any greater knowledge of the way Horizon operated than, say, you?

John Breeden: I would imagine some of the Contracts team did, yes.

Mr Beer: But as a system, as a process, were they trained up in it or are you referring to some members of the team having a bit more knowledge than you?

John Breeden: Some members of the team had more knowledge than me. We had training on Horizon but these were only sort of quite short sessions.

Mr Beer: How much of a problem, in your working life, is what you’re describing on this page here: other people within the Post Office not wishing to deal with subpostmasters and referring the issue to the Contracts team?

John Breeden: How much of a problem was it?

Mr Beer: Yeah.

John Breeden: It was a time consuming problem, yes.

Mr Beer: A daily issue?

John Breeden: Oh, I would think so, yeah.

Mr Beer: If we can go forward to page 57, please. You’re here dealing with JFSA and the group action and you say, at the top of the page:

“Well I guess the group action on the back of Second Sight this action is really in my view is just Second Sight part two just a different horse that is running as Freeths this time as opposed to somebody else but I do not think Second Sight put it to bed.”

The solicitor:

“No they did not.”


“So as a consequence of that you have got an open and seeping wound out there and a lot of postmasters who have seen or heard that some people have gone through a mediation. Some have got something out of it but nobody has made a fortune out of this and a lot have got nothing out of it and I will be quite honest with the mediation … I was involved in it was an absolute nightmare.”

You say it was Joy Taylor mediation and you give some other details. We’ll skip on beyond those.

Go to the foot of this page here. You continue, fourth paragraph that’s being shown:

“I did not have any involvement in that case. There are a number of people that were picked. I imagine probably most of the people were ex-Appeals Managers or something like that. But she had brought along some guy that was really you know I was expecting loads of questions around Horizon that was the last thing he wanted to know things like the training history of the Security Manager and all this sort of carry on and you are thinking I do not know where this is all going. It was weird it was really weird so I do not know whether I had a good or a bad experience on mediation I will be quite honest with you.”

You continue:

“I think because we did not kill it there and then and it should have been killed there and then and we are now in part two and if this does not kill it we will end up with part three. You know you guys have got a job for life if this does not get killed off I will be quite honest with you.”

Was Second Sight seen within Post Office senior management as an exercise in killing off challenges to Horizon integrity?

John Breeden: I don’t know. I can’t answer that question.

Mr Beer: Was it seen by you as an exercise in killing off challenges to Horizon’s integrity?

John Breeden: Again, I don’t think it was, no.

Mr Beer: Why do you refer to it in that way here?

John Breeden: Why I’ve used that term, I don’t know. I think it was probably where my head was at that time, was that, you know, whatever Second Sight were doing, I was expecting that to sort of finish whatever – come to a conclusion that stopped whatever was going on but, clearly, that didn’t, then the mediation and these things, and it continued.

Mr Beer: “Kill it there and then” or “kill it off” is a reference to killing the challenge off, isn’t it?

John Breeden: I don’t think it’s killing the challenge off, it’s actually concluding whatever the challenge was.

Mr Beer: Why didn’t you say that, that Second Sight should have been an opportunity to openly investigate whether there was a problem with Horizon and come to a proper – an objective conclusion rather than it was meant to kill it off?

John Breeden: If I could answer that question I would but I don’t know why I’ve used that terminology.

Mr Beer: Well, is it because it reflects the truth? It was seen – Second Sight – as it was supposed to be an exercise in killing off the challenges to Horizon?

John Breeden: That’s not my recollection but I can’t remember.

Mr Beer: Was that what the Group Litigation was intended to be for, again to kill off the challenges to Horizon? It was another opportunity for the Post Office? Is that how it was seen?

John Breeden: I think that was seen as a way of stopping this, yes.

Mr Beer: Were you involved in any discussions about commissioning an independent review or an independent expert assessment on whether, in fact, there were problems with the integrity of Horizon or the data that it produced?

John Breeden: Not that I recall.

Mr Beer: Were you aware of – I was going to call it an investigation but I won’t – an exercise conducted by Rod Ismay in 2010?

John Breeden: Only in so much as I think there’s a document that I was sent as part of my Rule 9 letter, and I think – did he conclude with some sort of report?

Mr Beer: Yes, he did. He wrote a Report in August 2010.

John Breeden: Yes, identifying some improvements that could be made.

Mr Beer: Did you play any part in the discussion which led to the initiation of his report or the conduct of it?

John Breeden: Not that I recall.

Mr Beer: Were you aware of any other discussions about commissioning expert evidence or independent investigation into the integrity of Horizon?

John Breeden: I don’t think so.

Mr Beer: Had you got concerns in the integrity of the data that Horizon produced?

John Breeden: At that time, no. Well, I had nothing to base any concerns on. I was continually being told that Horizon was producing accurate figures and that it was, like I say, doing so many transactions a day, a week, a year, and there’s no issues, and that was a communication that was coming across the build – the business. I wasn’t advised by any of my superiors that we have an issue that –

Mr Beer: Did you ever consider that there was a pattern emerging of subpostmasters challenging Horizon and the data that it produces and that that might be a reason to explore whether or not there was anything in the concerns that they were raising?

John Breeden: Well, you could see more subpostmasters mentioning issues with Horizon but it wasn’t my place to investigate Horizon.

Mr Beer: You tell us in your witness statement – no need to turn it up, it’s paragraph 149 – you say:

“From the start of Horizon being called into question and with the establishment of the JFSA, the Post Office continued to advise all staff of the robustness of the Horizon system and how many transactions were completed by the system. I had no reason to doubt whether this information was correct.”

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Who was telling you that?

John Breeden: The Corporate Communications Team. What tended to happen – if my memory is holding up here – is that, if something had been on TV about Horizon or something in the media, then a communication would be sent out advising all staff of that – the wording wasn’t as I’ve got it in my statement but it was very similar.

Mr Beer: You say that that included how many transactions were completed by the system?

John Breeden: Yes, I’m sure –

Mr Beer: Do I understand – I’m sorry, go on.

John Breeden: I’m sure it – I can’t remember exactly the phrasing but I’m sure it said it either did so many transactions a week or so many a year, or something like that.

Mr Beer: What did you understand that to be communicating to you? What was the point, that it did lots of transactions?

John Breeden: Well, there was – what I took from that is it did all these transactions and there was no issues identified from that.

Mr Beer: How frequently were these communications?

John Breeden: Well, like I say, I think they sort of coincided with sort of what I will call – term as significant events occurring, either something in the media, some publication somewhere, perhaps, you know, the start of GLO, JFSA.

Mr Beer: You tell us in your statement that you were responsible for deploying processes relating to suspensions and terminations and the appeal process?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: That was in all of the roles, I think, that you had from 2006 onwards; is that right?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: You, I think, updated an Operating Level Agreement which included a process relating to appeal?

John Breeden: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: What resources and support did Appeals Managers have available to them to conduct their own investigations?

John Breeden: They – any Appeals Manager would have gone through training and they would have been – when asked to do their first appeal, they would have been buddied up with an experienced Appeals Manager so they could discuss – well, perhaps watch the experienced Appeals Manager go through the process and then they turn the tables round at a later date, and they were able to ask questions. My line manager at the time was sort of acting as a – was the sort of point of contact for any queries that they had.

Mr Beer: What resources did they have to conduct their own investigations into the factual accuracy or otherwise of what the subpostmaster was saying?

John Breeden: When you say “resources”, I’m not sure what you mean.

Mr Beer: Yes, did they have – I’ll take it in stages. Did they have within their remit at the appeals stage a brief to carry out investigations into the factual accuracy of matters raised by the subpostmaster on appeal?

John Breeden: Yeah, because what they would have got – as an Appeals Manager, you get all the case papers that the manager who made the decision had, so they would have sent all of those over but you could make – you would go through all of that and you could make subsequent investigations.

Mr Beer: What staff, if any, did they have, an Appeals Manager –

John Breeden: None.

Mr Beer: – to conduct those investigations?

John Breeden: They were on their own.

Mr Beer: They were on their own?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Did, as a matter of fact, Appeals Managers, at the appeals stage, conduct investigations of their own into the underlying facts?

John Breeden: I mean to say, I find that probably difficult to answer. Having been an Appeals Manager, I know I did but I can’t talk for other Appeals Managers.

Mr Beer: You had an overarching national responsible for Appeals Managers for your area of the country?

John Breeden: For the – yeah, for the – my responsibility was for the allocation of appeals. The actual Appeals Managers were managed in their own line but I think it was my line manager at the time acting as their – sort of a go-to person if they’ve got any issues.

Mr Beer: In your interview, you say that when conducting appeals you felt at times as if you were marking your own homework. What did you mean by that?

John Breeden: I don’t know.

Mr Beer: To what –

John Breeden: Which contact – in what context – where has that come up?

Mr Beer: It’s on, I think, page 34.

John Breeden: What, of the interview with Womble Bond Dickinson?

Mr Beer: Yes, POL00006671. I think it’s page 34. I can’t immediately see.

John Breeden: I mean to say, just whilst you’re just looking there, I would never have done any – I know I was an Appeals Manager and trained as an Appeals Manager but the number of appeals I did when I started managing the team, we were taken out of the appeals sort of arena, so to avoid managing your homework. Because one of the criteria for an Appeals Manager was they could not have any prior knowledge of the case or anything like that. So it’s got to be something that’s totally new to you and I think it was decided, even though I only managed half the country and technically could do an appeal in the south, that probably didn’t look good – didn’t look the right thing to do.

Mr Beer: So, irrespective – in particular as I can’t find the passage – your evidence is that you didn’t hear appeals in relation to your own area; is that right?

John Breeden: Absolutely. Well, the overlying criteria was that, if you had any – an Appeals Manager could not have any prior knowledge of the case.

Mr Beer: And –

John Breeden: So it can’t have touched them in any way, irrespective either/or.

Mr Beer: Does that mean that you only heard appeals out of your area?

John Breeden: That would – for me that would, yes.

Mr Beer: What about the other appeal managers?

John Breeden: Well, the other Appeals Managers wouldn’t have Contract Advisers working to them, but they – the criteria that would apply is they had no knowledge of the case. I think there was some additional criteria put in when the field team started to manage the auditors.

Mr Beer: I see.

John Breeden: I’m struggling to remember but it meant that, if the field team leader or the manager that covered that team was an Appeals Manager, they couldn’t be involved in anything that their team would have been involved in.

Mr Beer: Was there any sense that you picked up from senior managers, either at your level or above your level, that overturning a decision would be frowned on?

John Breeden: I can only talk personally from that point of view and I think it was frowned on when you overturned a decision.

Mr Beer: That document can come down, thank you.

In what way was it frowned upon?

John Breeden: Well, I just I don’t think people always viewed the appeal process as something that – one of the results could be that you overturned the decision.

Mr Beer: Who are the people you’re referring to who held that view?

John Breeden: Well, I think it was just, you know, people would say stuff to you that “I think you’ve got it wrong”. Yeah.

Mr Beer: Why was it frowned upon?

John Breeden: Well, I guess they – person who did the initial work or – believed they got everything right.

Mr Beer: Was it the original decision maker, then, who was frowning upon the – those appellate authorities that overturned appeals or was it those more senior in the business who thought that it wasn’t the job of Appeals Managers to allow appeals?

John Breeden: I think there’s probably examples of each. I couldn’t quote you any.

Mr Beer: Did that mean that there was a background pressure on Appeals Managers not to overturn lower decisions?

John Breeden: I don’t think so but – well, I never experienced that personally, as an Appeals Manager.

Mr Beer: How was this frowning upon expressed to you, then?

John Breeden: Well, I only say I – you know, people – I – comments were made, “I don’t understand how you’ve overturned that decision, we made the right decision in the first place”.

Mr Beer: That’s just somebody honestly disagreeing with the result though, isn’t it?

John Breeden: Well, probably, yes.

Mr Beer: That’s not somebody frowning upon the fact that an appeal has been allowed?

John Breeden: Well, not that the – the appeal – the right to appeal was part of the contractual term.

Mr Beer: Yes, I’m talking about the result, not exercising a right to an appeal.

John Breeden: Yes, but I think when people say you’ve made the wrong decision, they’re frowning upon what you’ve done.

Mr Beer: Sir, that, given the time we intend to break today, would be an appropriate moment to have the afternoon break. I realise it’s relatively early. I wonder if we could say until 2.35.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, of course.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

(2.17 pm)

(A short break)

(2.34 pm)

Mr Beer: Good afternoon, sir, can you continue to see and hear me?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much can I just pick up on the reference I couldn’t find earlier, please, POL00006671.

It wasn’t on page 34 at all; it was on pages 9 and 10 so can we look at page 9, please. The foot of the page, please, about four lines from the bottom, you say:

“… and that was almost sort of like I would say customer practice and at that time you know the Contract Adviser was very much more able to make the decisions on precautionary suspension and to make the decisions on termination and I guess we had the I suppose our safety net was everybody could go to appeal. Unless you resigned to avoid termination every subpostmaster had the ability to appeal the decision. You would still get the same accusations when you went to appeal. You are marking your own homework anyhow aren’t you and as an Appeals Manager of which I have been an Appeals Manager you did get frowned upon if you overturned the decision I will be honest with you because I do not think well I am not saying that was not meant to happen but clearly it meant that something had gone wrong in the way the case had been assessed.”

The reference on the top of the page there “You are marking your own homework anyhow”, what did you mean by that?

John Breeden: I’m thinking that – because it was a POL employee that was looking at another POL employee’s work.

Mr Beer: I see. So it’s not literally marking your own homework, in that you as the Appeals Manager are not reviewing a decision that you yourself made?

John Breeden: Oh, no, no, as an Appeals Manager, I wouldn’t be reviewing any decision I made. It would be – the Appeals Manager has got to be a separate person, another person.

Mr Beer: You said that you wouldn’t be hearing an appeal against the decision that one of your Contracts Advisers had made?

John Breeden: Correct, yes.

Mr Beer: It was only off area, in your case?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: But you would be marking your own homework, in that there was an institutional independence, it was one Post Office employee marking the homework of another Post Office employee?

John Breeden: Yes, it was an internal process.

Mr Beer: I’ve got it. Then you continue:

“… you did get frowned upon if you overturned the decision … I am not saying that was not meant to happen but clearly it meant something had gone wrong in the way the case had been assessed.”

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: Just to clear up what you were saying before the break, you felt that allowing appeals was frowned upon both by those whose decisions that you were overturning –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and by other managers within the Post Office?

John Breeden: Yes, that’s my perception.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Just dealing with suspension. Can we go forward to page 12, please – sorry, page 11, and just over halfway down, thank you. It’s three lines from the bottom here. You are asked the question:

“When the decision is made to suspend how does the subpostmaster get hold about that?”

You say:

“[Contracts Adviser] tells them …”


John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “… on the phone?


“… has that changed?

“No … the [Contracts Adviser] should suspend somebody unless we give somebody – ask them to do it for us but the only people that should be suspending is the [Contracts Adviser].”

So the Contracts Adviser makes the decision and normally communicates that by phone?

John Breeden: And then it would be followed up in writing.

Mr Beer: Then you go on to say that. Yes, the solicitor says:

“So the [Contracts Adviser] makes the decision and normally communicates that by phone.”

You say:

“Yes I make the decision and they make a recommendation.”

What does that refer to?

John Breeden: I think it was in 2014 – I know it’s in my statement. Prior to that, the Contracts Adviser could decide whether to suspend or not and also make the decision at the end of a conduct case. After 2014, I had to ratify the decision to suspend and also the decision on the conduct case or my counterpart in the South.

Mr Beer: Got it. The solicitor then asked you about communication of the decision and, at the foot of the page, you would say:

“And I would be careful of which auditor you ask to do. I think some are more experienced probably than others or something like that and it is a more interesting conversation to have face to face than over the phone. But by that time the [Contracts Adviser] might have spoken to them already or they know that the auditor is talking to them somehow.

“… does [it end up] with a letter?


Then you explain that. Then four paragraphs on, the one beginning “Well I guess”, you say:

“Well I guess during the period of suspension, what you’re trying to do is gather the information to find out what’s happened.”

Do I take it from that that, before suspension, there hadn’t been an attempt to find out the information about what has happened?

John Breeden: No, there would have been some facts on which to suspend. We wouldn’t suspend without some facts.

Mr Beer: Was an unexplained loss sufficient to suspend.

John Breeden: If there was a risk, yes.

Mr Beer: A risk of what?

John Breeden: Well, perhaps there was a refusal to repay or, you know, it was a situation you couldn’t really afford to have continuing. If there was an unexplained loss.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“So I suppose the ultimate is the decision on what we do at the end of it. If something comes to light that says you’ve missed something or it’s a bit of a no-brainer, then that is a point where you probably look to have we made the right decision. So when we do non-suspension, let’s go back there a little bit, part of my thinking when talking to …”

Is that the Contracts Adviser?

John Breeden: I’m assuming it is. I don’t know what “CO” is if not.

Mr Beer: “… would be, where are we going to go with this one. If we bring them out where’s it going to end up? If you’re going to bring them out and then you’re going to put them back in, what’s the point of bringing them out? Clearly, you don’t think the risk is that great. If you’re going to bring them out because we’ve got to stop them operating until we train them better because all you’re going to do is create a problem well you could end up with a reinstatement there. So you’re trying to think in making the decision of suspend or not where you’re going to end up with that case. Because I don’t see a point just putting a load of cost in the system, messing somebody’s business about for a period of however many weeks it takes us to do. Having we’ll just put them back in the status quo.”

Then a little further on, four paragraphs in, you say:

“In pre-Second Sight, you wouldn’t have had a non-suspension situation. It was either suspension or not.”

Question: “It was suspension or everything was fine?


Then you say:

“So, you know, you didn’t have the non-suspension element to do.”

What are you referring to as the change there, post-Second Sight?

John Breeden: I don’t know. The – unfortunately. I think – I don’t know. I am struggling with this one I’ll be quite honest with you. I think when – after 2014, any situation where there was an audit loss referred to a Contract Adviser, they would come to me to make a decision and the decision would be either suspend or non-suspend. If it was non-suspend, which was perfectly fine, depending on the situation of the case, there may be some remedial work that needs to be done with the subpostmaster to help resolve whatever the problem is.

So non-suspension – I’m – I don’t – I’m struggling, I’ll be quite honest with you.

Mr Beer: Who was supposed to carry out investigatory work to enable the Contracts Adviser to make the decision as to whether or not to suspend?

John Breeden: Well, on the day of the – if we take an audit scenario, on the day of the audit, you get a call from an auditor to say there is a loss of, and whatever the circumstances were. That would go through to the Contracts Adviser, the Contracts Adviser would take details, would speak to the subpostmasters to see what they’d done, what had happened, if they’ve got any recollection of anything, and they could, at that point, refer to any other teams within the business that they thought was appropriate to do.

Mr Beer: The “they” there –

John Breeden: The Contracts Adviser, sorry. Speed was of the essence because, clearly, you had a team of auditors stood around in a post office, a shop that was, if it was a standalone post office, which I recognise there wasn’t that many about – by 2014 would have been closed but the post office was closed to the public, and so we would really need to resolve that situation as quickly as possible.

Mr Beer: So there was a time pressure?

John Breeden: Yes, there was.

Mr Beer: It had to be resolved there and then on the day?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: We’ve heard from auditors who have told us that they did not consider it their function to carry out any investigation, other than establishing whether there was a loss or not. Would that sound right to you?

John Breeden: Well –

Mr Beer: Ie if the postmaster said “I know there’s a loss, I’ve been saying for the last two months every other week to NBSC, to the Horizon Helpdesk, that there’s a loss, it’s me that reported the loss, it’s me that caused you, the auditors, to be here. I’ve been on the phone day and night”, they would say “All we need to do is establish that there’s a loss”?

John Breeden: Well, I think –

Mr Beer: They’d call the Contract Adviser and say there’s a loss. The Contracts Adviser would say, “Suspend him”; is that how it went?

John Breeden: I don’t think it was as cold as that, I would say –

Mr Beer: A little warmer?

John Breeden: Yeah, well, the Contracts Adviser would not just suspend, they would check out the facts with the subpostmaster and usually any other team, so if it had been raised with the helpline or whatever, I would have thought there would have been a call to the helpline to see what’s been raised and stuff like that.

Mr Beer: Yes and so let’s take an example of a subpostmaster who had, over the course of a two-month period been regularly calling the NBSC and had been referred to the Horizon Helpdesk, had spoken to the Horizon Helpdesk and had been referred to the NBSC, had gone back to the NBSC and had been referred to the Horizon Helpdesk, had gone to the Horizon Helpdesk and been referred back to the NBSC, who’d gone to the Horizon Helpdesk and been referred to the NBSC, who’d gone to the Horizon Helpdesk and been referred back to the NBSC, neither of them accepting responsibility for investigating the complaint which he had and, instead, referring it to each other, what would the Contracts Adviser do on the day with the auditors in the branch having to make a decision on suspension?

John Breeden: I mean to say, I – I don’t recall a situation ever arising like that but I think we would look at that quite sympathetically but I’d also want to understand what sort of cash was involved, and, you know, is it –

Mr Beer: £25,000 in this example. It had built up gradually over a six or seven-week period?

John Breeden: Yeah, but we don’t know how it’s disappearing at the moment, yeah?

Mr Beer: Yes.

John Breeden: So sometimes, you know, my –

Mr Beer: Well, the subpostmaster is saying it hasn’t disappeared; the system is creating the loss.

John Breeden: Right. But there’s nothing factual apart from the subpostmaster –

Mr Beer: Yes, he can tell you the dates on which the happened, he can tell you the amounts by which it can happen, and there are records in both the Helpdesk and the NBSC –

John Breeden: Of the call.

Mr Beer: – of him calling in saying “I’ve just balanced, it’s showing a phantom transaction, it’s double the amount, say, of the amount that should be cash in the safe. I don’t know how that’s arisen. I’ve checked and rechecked my figures. I stayed up late on Wednesday night going through everything that’s available to me to try to get them to balance and I can’t”.

What does the Contracts Adviser do when they get the call from the auditor who says, “Mr X is showing a £25,000 loss”?

John Breeden: And he also gets the information about this toing and froing?

Mr Beer: Yes, the auditors say, “It’s not our job to investigate the toing and froing”.

John Breeden: Yeah, okay, I think my first port of call, if I was the Contracts Adviser, would be to the toing and froing people because, if something has been made so explicit and nobody really wants to take responsibility, it seems a bit harsh to suspend the subpostmaster until that’s been investigated.

Mr Beer: So in that example, admittedly perhaps an extreme one, the fact that there had been contemporaneous complaints by the subpostmaster over a period of time as to balancing issues would be a relevant factor or should have been a relevant factor to take into account on the suspension decision?

John Breeden: I would hope any Contracts Adviser would take that into account.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we turn to the last topic for my questions, please, and turn up POL00107696. Thank you.

This is an email exchange and you can see from the first page there that it ends up with you on 20 December 2011?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: But can we get some context by going to the last page, which is page 4. This is the foot of an email, just to see who it’s signed off by, Emily Springford, a lawyer, a Post Office lawyer, yes?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: If we go back to page 2, please, and the foot of page 2., we can see the beginning of Ms Springford’s email, and you can see on a copy list there you’re not included originally?

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Angela van den Bogerd, amongst others, Susan Crichton and Mr Scott, from whom we’ve heard. Is there anyone there who was your manager?

John Breeden: Err … 2011. There was a time I reported directly to Angela van den Bogerd but I can’t remember when that was. I have never reported to any of the other people that are mentioned.

Mr Beer: So there’s a possibility that, at this time, she was your report?

John Breeden: Yes, I just can’t remember when I reported – because line management changed quite frequently.

Mr Beer: Ms Springford says:

“As you are aware, [the Post Office] has received 4 letters of claim from former subpostmasters, making a number of allegations about the training they received, the support available to them in using the Horizon system and the Horizon system itself.”

Those are all three topics that you yourself had concerns about, I think it’s fair to say; is that right?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: “There is a possibility that these letters of claim will be followed up with court proceedings, in which [the Post Office] will have a duty to disclose to the claimants all documents relevant to the claims, even if they might adversely affect [the Post Office’s] defence. This obligation extends to soft copy documents [then there’s a description given] as well as hard copy documents and manuscript notes.

“Please ensure this communication reaches everyone in your department who has access to, or is in position to create, documents relating to the issues arising in the claim (as set at more fully below). I have started a list of teams which we believe may hold relevant documents.”

That’s attached, okay?

Then there’s a section on document preservation and document creation. I’m not going to read the bit about document creation for the moment, we’ll deal with that elsewhere, but “Document preservation”:

“[The Post Office] must take immediate steps to preserve all documents which might potentially be relevant to these claims. ‘Relevant’ documents are those which contain the information about the issues below …”

Amongst those is recruitment, training and support given to subpostmasters:

“Please note no historic time limit applies …

“Could each of you please inform the members of your teams who hold or create documents … that they should not delete or destroy any documents in these categories until further notice.

“It is important you keep a note of any routine document destruction policies that you suspend within your department, and the dates on which they are suspended, together with a note of any other steps you take to ensure your department complies with the above requirements.”

Then if we go up, please, to page 2 in the middle and keep going, please, and a bit more. Thank you.

Ms Springford emails you directly two months later in December. We were previously on 20 October, we’re now on 15 December 2011. The others on the list there, can you help us as to the roles they performed at that time?

John Breeden: Alison Bolsover would have been in the debt area in Chesterfield; sue Richardson, I think, was responsible at some point for the training team; graham Padget, I’m struggling with; Sarah Rimmer was certainly based in the HRSC at Bolton at I think will have been dealing with application cases or subpostmasters remuneration; Dave Hulbert, I don’t know, I think he was something to do with IT.

Mr Beer: Okay. Ms Springford says:

“Please see the [message] below: [it] should have reached you via your team leaders but in the interests of certainty I have included it here.”

So previously people who might have been your team leader, including Angela van den Bogerd, have been asked to pass the message on but she is now sending it on directly to you anyway, in case it hadn’t:

“I understand you kindly helped Alison to complete the attached table, showing the sources of documents which may be relevant. Many of these appear to relate to individual branches. Our solicitors have asked where we keep documents relating to general policy surrounding the issues below (branch accounting, recruitment, training, Horizon issues and so on) …

“Could you each please update the table to make clear where such documents are held? If they are sent to Iron Mountain after a period of time, please could you indicate at what stage they are sent there and how they would be described …”

Then scroll up, please, on to the foot of page 1. You reply directly to Ms Springford and say you’ve updated the table, just a couple of points in relation to the email of the 20 October, that’s the original one at the foot which we read under “Document preservation”:

“do we want to include on the list of relevant documents performance and conduct … papers?”


“do we want to suspend the Iron Mountain destruction policy of destroying files after 7 years (I think we have discussed this and said no to this question in the past).”

The original email said that there was a duty to preserve documents and that teams should ensure that, in relation to documents that they hold or create, they are not destroyed or deleted until further notice and any routine destruction policies that need to be suspended, a note should be kept of that fact. You’re here saying that we’ve discussed whether to suspend destruction in the past and have said no –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – to the suspension of a destruction policy. Can you remember in what context that was?

John Breeden: No, I really can’t.

Mr Beer: Was it in the context of the threatened claims by the JFSA?

John Breeden: I would be guessing, I don’t know.

Mr Beer: Can you think of any other context in which the destruction of files may have been mentioned, in particular a decision not to suspend a destruction policy?

John Breeden: No.

Mr Beer: Can you help as to why you would not suspend destruction in the light of threatened claims?

John Breeden: Well, I guess you would suspend destruction, if you needed to retrieve documentation.

Mr Beer: So you would suspend –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Beer: – destruction?

John Breeden: You wouldn’t stop them.

Mr Beer: So why are you asking the question, “Do we want to suspend”?

John Breeden: I think just for clarity. I don’t know whether this was – I am really sort of guessing here. I’m not talking from any sort of knowledge. Now, whether there’d been some sort of change of who reported to me or – but there was a contract admin team that I think looked after all of the branch files for every branch in the network, that originally were kept across the network. They all came together in Leeds. Whether I had then responsibility, I don’t know. I’m struggling with that question, I’m afraid.

Mr Beer: Just for completeness, to see what her answer to you was, a reply to you next day, on your specific questions, and then the second bullet point:

“no, in relation to files relating to individual branches.”

Which I think in context means no, we’re not going to suspend destruction of individual files:

“However, if there are boxes at [Iron Mountain] containing general policy documents, we would like to recall those now if that is feasible, as mentioned below.”

Can you assist any further as to why it seems that a decision was taken not to suspend the destruction of individual branch files in the context of threatened litigation?

John Breeden: No, I can’t.

Mr Beer: Was the advice given there carried into effect, to your knowledge?

John Breeden: I know the suspension of – destruction of branch files at Iron Mountain was suspended, but when that happened, I cannot – I can’t tell you whether it’s 2011, 2013, or when it was. I mean to say, as a little bit of background, hopefully not digging myself into a bigger hole here, but the branch files, we did a lot of work on making sure we had files for every branch and, where we couldn’t find anything, we made sure we had notes of which ones we couldn’t file.

So a lot of work and time went into trying to get the branch files in some sort of order and so – and I don’t know if that was as a consequence of the Second Sight stuff or anything like that. But, you know, we were quite particular about these and wouldn’t want something destroyed that we’d spent a lot of time on, if it was going to be material to something.

Mr Beer: Mr Breeden. Thank you very much, they’re the only questions I ask.

Sir, I believe there are some questions on behalf of one subpostmaster team, Mr Stein.

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly. Over to you, Mr Stein.

Questioned by Mr Stein

Mr Stein: Thank you, sir.

Mr Breeden, my name is Sam Stein. I ask questions on behalf of the solicitors Howe+Co and we represent a very large number of subpostmasters and mistresses. In your statement, Mr Breeden, you say, and I’m referring to and I’ll just briefly read out, paragraph 146.6 at page 45. It doesn’t need to go on the screen. You say this:

“Other than what I have gleaned from the information provided in the supporting documents, I have no recollection of the cases relating to Peter Holmes …”

Then you go on and refer to a number of other individuals.

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Stein: Sitting to my left in the Inquiry room is Mrs Marion Holmes, who is the widow of Mr Holmes. Mr Holmes himself died in 2015. That was a number of years before his name was cleared in the Court of Appeal in the High Court in London.

Now, I’m going to take you, please, to a document which is POL00054555. At the top of the page, you’ll see, Mr Breeden, that that is an email from you –

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Stein: – to Andrew Daley –

John Breeden: Yeah.

Mr Stein: – and then copied to others, Robert Daily – spelt differently to Andrew Daley – and also Andrew Carpenter. Now, this appears to be directed mainly to Andrew Daley, and it says:


“Thanks for your email below.

“In respect of this case where the SPMR was precautionary suspended on 18 September 2008 when a loss of £46,049.16 was identified. The outcome of the contractual case was that the SPMR was reinstated with a warning …”

Then if we scroll further down the page, please, roughly to the middle of that. We see at the end of this message:

“The only one thing I am not sure of is whether the assistant was debarred in this case – could you arrange for this to happen if the form has not been completed.”

So, let’s piece this together. The assistant that has been identified, in fact he was the office manager, was Mr Holmes. If we scroll further down on this particular email chain we’ll see it relates to – there we go, top right-hand corner, subject matter, “Regina v Peter Anthony Holmes,” and it concerns the Jesmond Post Office.

John Breeden: Right.

Mr Stein: Now, just help us a little bit more in understanding what was going on at this stage. Clearly, you did have some involvement with the matter that related to Mr Holmes?

John Breeden: Well, only because of what you’re telling me here. I can’t – I couldn’t – I don’t recall the case, because it goes back to 2010.

Mr Stein: We see this email, if you go back to the top, you’re asking this question:

“The only thing I am not sure of is whether the assistant was debarred in this case …”

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Stein: Help us understand what you were doing here. Mr Holmes was not directly employed by the Post Office?

John Breeden: No.

Mr Stein: He was an employee at this particular Post Office branch. What was happening regarding his debarment here, Mr Breeden?

John Breeden: Well, there was a department register that if somebody had been undertaking some inappropriate activity, would mean that they would not be picked up as an employee for Royal Mail or the Post Office.

Mr Stein: I see. So this was making sure that in this particular case, that Mr Holmes, who’d worked at this particular Post Office branch for many, many years, was never going to be employed by the Post Office again or working within a Post Office branch; is that right?

John Breeden: That’s correct, yeah. The process is related to the debarment process – the debarment lists were very – I think haphazard is the best way to describe them.

Mr Stein: The Post Office branch was in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne?

John Breeden: Yes.

Mr Stein: Mr Holmes had worked in that area for many years as a beat police officer, also ran a hotel in that area for many, many years. As a result of his conviction, he suffered severe depression, he found it very difficult to deal with matters in his life. He couldn’t even find occasional or voluntary employment within voluntary services because he would have had to disclose his conviction. He was eventually cleared at the Criminal Court of Appeal many, many years later in 2021. Have you got anything to say to his widow, who sits in this Inquiry?

John Breeden: Well, naturally, I’m very sorry for your loss but, as I said in my statement, I do not recall this case and we dealt with this matter contractually with the subpostmaster. I was not aware that – or I had nothing to do with taking this individual to court.

Mr Stein: Now, since your email that related to the debarment of Mr Holmes, obviously many years have gone by. The matter went to the High Court, where Mrs Holmes took part in the proceedings representing her husband as part of the 555 Litigants. You said earlier in your evidence that you believe the High Court litigation was at least partly taken by the Post Office in order to try to – this is my paraphrase of what you said – in order to try and get rid of these issues, stamp it out. Why did you say that, Mr Breeden? Where did you get that idea from, that the litigation was taken on against the 555 people and stamped out?

John Breeden: This is the –

Mr Stein: The High Court litigation.

John Breeden: That I was involved in, yes?

Mr Stein: Yes.

John Breeden: In 2018?

Mr Stein: Yes. At the High Court.

John Breeden: Well, I think that’s the perception I had, that –

Mr Stein: From where, Mr Breeden?

John Breeden: From the business, from Post Office Limited.

Mr Stein: Who within the business, Mr Breeden?

John Breeden: The people that were communicating with us.

Mr Stein: Who were they? Name them.

John Breeden: Well, there was a number of sort of people in the Legal Services team at the time that were sort of briefing us on this.

Mr Stein: They were what?

John Breeden: Explaining what was going on.

Mr Stein: The impression that they were trying to stamp out the 555 – one them is sitting here to my left, Mrs Holmes – from who did you get that impression, Mr Breeden?

John Breeden: That’s the perception I picked up from within Post Office Limited when I was there.

Mr Stein: Excuse me, sir, for one moment.

Sir, thank you. Those are my questions.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you. Does anybody else have any questions?

Mr Beer: No, sir, they don’t.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, thank you, Mr Breeden, for your witness statement, and for coming to give evidence.

I think that brings the hearing to a conclusion, does it not, Mr Beer?

Mr Beer: Yes, it does, and we’re back at 10.00 am tomorrow with Alan Lusher.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Sorry, 12.00 tomorrow, with Alan Lusher.

Sir Wyn Williams: 12.00, because of a personal commitment I have.

Mr Stein, on one occasion, at least, I’ve seen Mrs Holmes before, so convey my best wishes to her, will you?

Thank you very much, everyone.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

The Witness: Thank you.

(3.10 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until the following day at 12.00 noon)