Official hearing page

19 October 2023 – Alison Bolsover

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(9.58 am)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: I can, yes. Thank you.

Mr Blake: Thank you, sir. You have granted Ms Bolsover permission to attend remotely today so she appears in front of me on a screen.

Sir Wyn Williams: So I see, yes.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can I call Ms Bolsover.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Alison Bolsover


Questioned by Mr Blake

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

Alison Bolsover: Alison Bolsover.

Mr Blake: Ms Bolsover, you should have in front of you a witness statement dated 5 May this year; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: That’s correct, yeah.

Mr Blake: Can I ask you to turn to page 42, the final substantive page. Is that your signature on the page there?

Alison Bolsover: It is, yes.

Mr Blake: Is that statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Alison Bolsover: It is yes.

Mr Blake: Thank you. For the purpose of the transcript that statement is WITN06120100 and that statement will be published on the Inquiry’s website shortly.

I’m going to begin just with a little bit of background. You worked for the Post Office for 36 years between 1985 and 2021; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: Correct, yes.

Mr Blake: You progressed from an administrative grade, the whole way up to Senior Manager?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, that’s right.

Mr Blake: For today’s purpose in particular, between 2007 and 2018 you were the Senior Debt Recovery Manager; is that right?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, that’s right. It did have different titles but in my statement I’ve continued to say Senior Debt Recovery Manager.

Mr Blake: Can you give us an idea of a few of those titles or some of those titles?

Alison Bolsover: I think there was one of around like a Branch Accountant and various names, Revenue Protection Manager, but mainly it’s been, in latter years, Senior Debt Recovery Manager up until me not having debt recovery in 2018.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. The department you were based in was originally called the Product and Branch Accounting Department; is that right?

Alison Bolsover: That’s right, yes.

Mr Blake: Then it became the Financial Services Centre?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: Are you able to assist us in terms of the timing of that change?

Alison Bolsover: I can’t remember the exact dates, it actually moved different names, because then it also, latterly, became the Branch Reconciliation Team within Network, so it’s had three different steps, although the same teams within it or similar teams within it, Product and Branch Accounting first, then Transaction Correction, Transaction Processing and then Branch Reconciliation Team.

Mr Blake: Thank you and were there any substantive difference between those departments or significant differences between those departments?

Alison Bolsover: Other than different teams that I was managing. So whenever there was a reorganisation or teams were moving about, I might take different leads for different teams.

Mr Blake: In 2018 you became Senior Manager in the Network Operations Support Team, heading the Branch Reconciliation Team; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: That’s correct, yes.

Mr Blake: That was until 2021 when you retired?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: Was there a difference between your role in 2018 onwards and your role prior to that?

Alison Bolsover: I didn’t have the Current and Former Agents Debt Team working to me after, I think, 2018, so they split into another path within the Network Support Team but I took on all the issuing of transaction corrections within my area and enquiries.

Mr Blake: Thanks. I’m going to take you to an organogram, which might give us an idea of your position in the hierarchy for quite a lot of that time. Can we look at FUJ00116860, please. It’s page 57. So we have you in the top of the hierarchy there. This is, I think, a 2009 organogram?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: We have you there at the top, Branch Conformance and Liaison Manager –

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: – managing, for example, Andrew Winn, the Relationship Manager?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: We have the Fraud and Conformance Team underneath you, another layer below?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, that was until 2012 and then that moved into Security.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with that? What do you see is the difference between fraud and conformance?

Alison Bolsover: The team were looking for various patterns and I think the biggest role that they did play was looking for excessive cash in the Network, so contacting branches to try to reduce, potentially, risk of – you know, if an office had a robbery or a burglary, so to reduce the cash holdings that were in there.

But also looking for patterns of anything that caused concern. So were there patterns that, you know, there was excessive transaction corrections or things like that, and it could be that, yes, there could have been an element of fraud but it was also around the conformance aspect.

Mr Blake: So, on the one hand, you have fraud which is an offence of dishonesty and, on the other, you have conformance which might be somebody simply not following the right processes and procedures; is that a fair distinction between the two?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Did you see it as appropriate that those two teams were part of the same team?

Alison Bolsover: Not potentially, no. I think the fraud element was around looking at data to see if there were patterns. The team wouldn’t necessarily progress fraud themselves; they’d pass it to a Security team. So it was around finding the data, it – were there any patterns and raising a flag to say “Is there an issue here? Security, can you investigate it?”

Mr Blake: You say in 2012 that team moved to the Security team. Are you able to assist us with why it moved to the Security team?

Alison Bolsover: I think it was seen that, you know, they could do the analysis themselves and it fits, rather than being within Product and Branch Accounting, it sat better within the Security area.

Mr Blake: We’re going to come to it in due course but in 2012 it was quite an important period in the Post Office in respect of emerging concerns about the Horizon system. Are you aware of that in any way playing a role in that team moving to the Security Department?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t believe it formed a role in – formed that role. It was just around looking at what teams we were managing at the time and it moved out. Likewise, Cash Control moved out of my area, so there was different splits of teams. So I was predominantly around Accounts Receivable, as such, and collecting debts.

So some teams were moved out and one being Fraud and Conformance into Security. Cash Control went to sit within another Senior Manager within Product and Branch Accounting.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. That can come down.

I’m going to take you through a few basic terms and principles that you’ll be well familiar with, quite a few people in this room will be familiar with, but it will assist us in looking at the various policies. I’m going to begin by looking at the process for disputing debts then I’ll move on to the recovery of debts before moving on to other topics.

So starting with disputing debts, in your statement you refer to the SAP or the POLSAP or the SAP system. Can you assist us with, in basic terms, what that was?

Alison Bolsover: It’s a – well, it’s supposed to be a standard SAP package that the finance ledgers were sat on, as such. So all transactions at summary level daily fed through to a SAP, POLSAP GL account. And information from clients came in, and were matched, so then, if there was a mismatch, it was investigated and that could lead a transaction correction being issued.

Mr Blake: Thank you. I’ll take you through transaction corrections in a moment.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: In terms of that system though, was that the main system, then, that your department used in order to carry out their function?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, that and Credence. So looking at individual transactions in Credence, whereas POLSAP was a summary of that day’s transaction, Credence was seen as each individual transaction.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. Are we talking about post-2005, in respect of these systems?

Alison Bolsover: No.

Mr Blake: They predated the changes?

Alison Bolsover: They were – POLSAP was introduced in 2005, late 2005, after the branches were – started using Horizon. Then Chesterfield – prior to 2005, Chesterfield was working on a paper basis. After 2005, it was more electronic data.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Error notices: you say that pre-2005 nothing in relation to the cash account was automated in branches and the subpostmaster completed a paper cash account and sent it to Chesterfield.

Alison Bolsover: That’s right.

Mr Blake: I’d like to clarify what you mean there by “paper cash account”. Presumably that did include a Horizon printout of some sort? The subpostmasters weren’t still keeping a separate written record, for example, of all their transactions?

Alison Bolsover: Until the whole network was transformed, as such, we were still keying documents. So I do believe there were some branches that sent Horizon data, as such, or an Horizon sheet, but there were still paper cash accounts as well, which was literally a piece of paper that was completed by hand.

Mr Blake: So prior to 2005 there were – for those who had the Horizon system in place, Chesterfield was actually referring to Horizon printouts, though, in order to carry out their analysis?

Alison Bolsover: I think they were being keyed. I’m unsure. I can’t quite remember whether there was any level of interface prior to 2005. But, mainly, it was around keying a cash account, manually keying a cash account, and the supporting documents –

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with what you mean by “keying”.

Alison Bolsover: Physically keying the data into a system.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can you tell us what an error notice was, please?

Alison Bolsover: It’s either – where there’s a difference in the values, either a debit or a credit, so were either requesting money for a debit TC or giving a credit to the branch where they’ve understated something and they’re claiming a credit.

Mr Blake: Prior to 2005, that would be dealt with by Chesterfield; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: That’s correct, yeah.

Mr Blake: That wasn’t something that you were involved in?

Alison Bolsover: I was involved in managing of the teams, as such but there was a whole raft of people there, as well, so there was quite a few Senior Managers who had different areas at that time.

Mr Blake: Moving to transaction corrections, those who have been following the Inquiry carefully will know what transaction corrections are but can you briefly tell us what you understood transaction corrections to be?

Alison Bolsover: A transaction correction is issued via the POLSAP system or – and it’s an electronic message to Horizon that confirms what’s happened. So it’s got – it’s either a debit or a credit to the branch and it’s got a narrative on it to say what has happened, what’s gone wrong, as such, postmaster’s not claimed enough within his pouch or, you know, a cash remittance, and things like that.

So any product that was matched, we – any differences were sent to branches.

Mr Blake: The issuing of transaction corrections came from within your department; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: I took the issued of transaction corrections around 2016, I think. So, initially, I was doing it from 2005 to 2007, then I wasn’t issuing – my teams weren’t issuing transaction corrections up until, I think, 2016, but – yeah, ‘16.

Mr Blake: Who was responsible in between those periods?

Alison Bolsover: Other Senior Managers within Product and Branch Accounting. So I think there was five Senior Managers reporting in to Rod Ismay.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with why a system of transaction corrections is needed?

Alison Bolsover: To enable us to, as such, balance the book – if in a purely – everything going right scenario, if a branch has keyed something in wrong to Horizon, the clients would be paid incorrectly. By issuing the transaction correction, we are then amending that product to pay the clients correctly and balance the books, as such, in the branches. So if they’ve taken £1,000 but only keyed 100, they should have a surplus, and a transaction correction would request that surplus.

Mr Blake: The way that it would work is data would come from two main sources and that’s the Horizon system but also data from the clients. So when we speak about clients, you’re talking about, for example, Camelot or an ATM or debit cards; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, or cash management from a – for cash remittances.

Mr Blake: Thank you. There’s also something called a transaction acknowledgement. Very briefly, can you tell us what a transaction acknowledgement is and how that’s different from a transaction correction?

Alison Bolsover: A transaction acknowledgement sends out the data that the clients have given us as an electronic message into Horizon to ask the branch to confirm or acknowledge that that transaction is what they took that day, or those transactions. So such as Camelot, for the online game it would – when it was originally put in place it was called a ping project. It was around pinging data out to branches, rather than branches having to put the figures in themselves.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Moving back to transaction corrections, can you assist us with what level of expertise and experience the staff who were carrying out those transaction corrections were?

Alison Bolsover: There was a lot of experienced staff within Product and Branch Accounting and some left after, you know, 49 years’ service to retire, so there was a lot of experience there on the product. So the teams dealt specifically with products, so they became expert in that product line and how to gain additional evidence was such as Camelot, or, you know, another supplier – another client, as such. So they could then investigate – use the systems as well, so such as cheque remittances, there was a system where we could see all the cheques that had been processed and be able to analyse that, and the staff were able to analyse that against the data.

Mr Blake: Thank you. That’s their experience but, in terms of their level within the company, I think you’ve said you started at administrative grade and moved to, eventually, Senior Manager. Where on that hierarchy did the people who were dealing with transaction corrections fall?

Alison Bolsover: They were administration grades, Postal Officers.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we look at POL00029370, please. This is a document from 2010 called “Review of the Creation and Management of Transaction Corrections in POLFS to Correct Accounting Errors in Horizon” and it has you down there as an “approver”. Is this a document that you remember from your time?

Alison Bolsover: I vaguely remember it being produced, yes.

Mr Blake: Can we look at page 8, please. It’s 3.1 I’d like to look at, please. It says there “[Investigating] and Correcting Transaction Corrections”:

“There are several ways to create a Transaction Correction in POLFS. The manual option is used by teams that don’t raise many Transaction Corrections. These teams spend time [investigating] errors and enquiries that don’t result in a Transaction Correction. The automated option creates Transaction Correction individually but carries data into fields from the original open item.

“Teams that are driven by requested Transaction Corrections are able to use a spreadsheet to upload bulk branch details. This saves time and effort.”

Are you able to assist us there with what that all means? It sounds as though there are multiple different ways of creating a transaction correction.

Alison Bolsover: Yes, there were – the open – individual open item was for the branch, so a branch with – that had a difference on the general ledger account. The team could go in and issue an individual transaction correction straight from the system. So it went onto a file that was then uploaded into Horizon.

The other method, such as cash remittances, they could be bulk uploaded, as such. So the cash centres would send information on the differences between what was stated as returned from a cash remittance from the branch to the Cash Centre, any differences were uploaded on to a spreadsheet and that would be uploaded into the system. So it was a bulk upload, as such, of information going out.

Mr Blake: Was that quite a manual process in terms of creating a spreadsheet and uploading it in that way?

Alison Bolsover: Not from a cash point of view. The data was collated by the Cash Centres. So from a Product and Branch Accounting or transaction processing point of view, it was a file that needed loading, rather than individual items that needed to be gone through and a narrative put on –

Mr Blake: So another department created that file?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, I did.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we look at paragraph 19 of your witness statement, it’s WITN06120100, and it’s page 11. Paragraph 19, you have described it this way, you say:

“The open item accounts were fed by two streams of data, one from the Branch via Horizon and the other stream from a Client, Cash Centre or Supplier that processed items, such as the Cash Centres, Camelot, ATM, Cheques, Debit Cards and MoneyGram. The open items accounts were matched daily, any mismatched or unmatched accounts were investigated to give evidence and narrative for a [transaction correction] to be issued.”

Can you assist us with what kind of investigation was carried out?

Alison Bolsover: It depends on the product line, so, as I’ve just said around cheques, if a branch had dispatched cheques to processing, any differences, the team member could look at the batch control voucher sent by the branch and each individual cheque that was processed behind that batch control voucher. So if there’d been a keying error by the branch or they’d transposed figures, it could be seen on the individual cheques and copies of those cheques could be sent out to branch and the narrative would be formed around which cheques were incorrect. So anything that we could investigate in that vein was done.

Mr Blake: We’ll come to it something in due course but something like an alleged bug, error or defect in Horizon wasn’t something that your team would investigate; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: Not – I think the word “bugs” or “defects”, were not necessarily used, so I think that’s where some of the confusions happened. So there were sometimes issues that were raised by the NBSC and my team, or the team leader or analyst, would be involved in those meetings but not in any scale that, you know, they’d ring up and say they’d got a bug. It would go into NBSC.

Mr Blake: But, as part of those investigations that you’ve described, if it was, say, a software error, for example, that’s not something that you would be able to investigate?

Alison Bolsover: No, no, it would have to be IT that investigated that.

Mr Blake: When you say IT, who do you mean?

Alison Bolsover: The IT Service Desk.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we go back to the document we were looking at. It’s POL00029370, and it’s page 5. It’s the bottom of page 5, please. There’s a section here on “Failed Transaction Corrections”.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Then, if we look over the page, it gives some examples of why some transaction corrections would fail.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: For example, the branch is closed; the value of the transaction correction is not within the parameters of product; the product is not valid; Crowns settled centrally; the wrong flag is chosen when creating a transaction correction; and then the final one:

“Horizon allows branch to roll over to next trading period without accepting all Transaction Corrections. There is an anomaly in Horizon that when a multi-terminal branch has two or more terminals completing a transaction simultaneously the branch is able to roll over to the next trading period without accepting all the Transaction Corrections. This not a widely known or occurring problem.”

Are you able to assist us with that final –

Alison Bolsover: I’m struggling with that one because we did do checks that branches were rolling over and the report that we used to get used to show which transaction correction would have failed, and then the investigation would go on to all these points around, you know, is it – is the branch closed, that’s why it’s not been able to be sent or to be received? But I don’t know, I can’t remember this anomaly.

Mr Blake: It says there “This is not a widely known or occurring problem”. Was there a system within your department to share and inform those who are dealing with transaction corrections about these kinds of issues?

Alison Bolsover: At 2010, I wasn’t managing transaction corrections. I don’t know, is the honest answer.

Mr Blake: But during the period that you were managing?

Alison Bolsover: I’d never known that happen, so –

Mr Blake: But was there a system in place that shared this kind of – I mean this is one paragraph in quite a thick and complex policy document. Was there a system in place within the department to make those administrative officers who were dealing with transaction corrections aware of these kinds of issues that might occur with failed transaction corrections?

Alison Bolsover: If a failed transaction had happen, it would be investigated by the issuer and their team leader to ensure the transaction corrections did go out.

Mr Blake: But that’s in an individual case.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: But was there a process to share that knowledge?

Alison Bolsover: I think there was – there was some sort of documentation around failed transactions, transaction corrections. So it would have been in the library of processes within that.

Mr Blake: So – an individual at administrative grade would have to go into the library, the electronic library, and try and find out that kind of information?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, I think we had a systems team at this stage, I believe, within Product and Branch Accounting that created the ledgers, et cetera, and they flagged that – I think at this stage they flagged back to the team leader that a transaction correction had failed. It was then investigated and it was the responsibility of the team leader to ensure it was reissued or steps were then taken to – if it was a closed branch, the transaction correction would be transferred over to the customer account, so to clear the open item.

So there were steps and control steps in place to ensure we didn’t just have transaction corrections hanging on the system.

Mr Blake: Again, that’s for individual cases –

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: – but it seems to be on the head of the team leader, effectively, to cascade any information around the team, about those kinds of issues, plus a document in a library; is that a summary?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, there were procedures in place around that, yes.

Mr Blake: Were there procedures in place? I mean, what were the procedures in place?

Alison Bolsover: That the team leader gained the information from the system manager and actioned it. So if the transaction correction didn’t go out, it stayed as an open item on that GL account.

Mr Blake: But I think the process you’re describing is simply one of: it’s on the team manager?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, and it was.

Mr Blake: The list here is quite long of failed transaction corrections. We’ve heard about spreadsheets being created for bulk transaction corrections –

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: – the system having input from various different sources. It sounds like quite a complicated system; is that fair? Was that your experience?

Alison Bolsover: After working on it 36 years, no, it didn’t seem complex to me but it would, I believe, with the complexity of the products and everything else. You know, there was a lot of work within it.

Mr Blake: If you were an administrative officer who was working in that team, do you think it was quite a complicated process?

Alison Bolsover: As an administrator, no. I think all the procedures were laid down, staff did get training if they moved on to new teams, and it was basically a step-by-step process for them to administer.

Mr Blake: Do you think there was potential for error in what they were administering because of the underlying complexity to the system?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t think we could ever say that it was – it could be 100 per cent when there’s human intervention. There were issues and, if a branch had got an issue, they could call the person that had issued the TC to discuss it or to dispute it.

Mr Blake: In terms of numbers, in your statement you say that there are approximately 125,000 transaction corrections a year.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: I’d like to take you to one other document that you have detailed some further figures, it’s POL00006650. We’ll come back to this a number of times today. This is a conversation that you had with a solicitor at Womble Bond Dickinson in 2018. I think this is –

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: – related to the Group Litigation. Is this something that you remember?

Alison Bolsover: Only from reading it, yeah. I remember it happening.

Mr Blake: We have at page 10, it’s about halfway down on page 10, you have given other figures. You say to the interviewer at the bottom there:

“We’re issuing between sort of 7,500 and 12,000 [transaction corrections] a week. It is, there’s quite a lot in there. Some are automatic so like your Lottery TCs, your stock TCs, we do them by upload.”

So, I mean, if it was 12,000 –

Alison Bolsover: No, it should say a month.

Mr Blake: That should be a month, should it? Okay. Did those numbers, though, quite high numbers, did they raise any cause for concern?

Alison Bolsover: The majority of TCs that we issued were for cash remittances, where the cash returned by branches wasn’t correct, so there was a shortage or a surplus within the pouch. And I think it was around – I’m wanting to say between 50 and 60 per cent of those TCs were related to cash.

Mr Blake: Did that mean, where the cash figure didn’t meet the figure that Horizon produced, that would be included in that figure?

Alison Bolsover: So it was – yes, it was whatever the postmaster had sent back as a cash remittance to the Cash Centre –

Mr Blake: Yes.

Alison Bolsover: – and then the cash was counted in the Cash Centre under camera.

Mr Blake: Where that figure didn’t meet the figure on the Horizon printout, that was considered within that percentage that you’ve just given?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, it was, and I think it’s remembering there were both debits and credits, so where there was a surplus in the cash that was sent, so the branch had understated cash, as well as overstating it.

Mr Blake: Let’s say there were 12,000 transaction corrections a month. Do you think that the team was appropriately resourced to deal with that?

Alison Bolsover: There were various cuts within the teams along the years, so we did struggle at times with resource and we were always being targeted to reduce staffing but, as a whole, I think it became – it was a process that we were on top of in, you know, the latter years.

Mr Blake: Can you give us an idea you’ve spoken about trends and times, was it an overall downward trend in staffing numbers or were there particular times where pressure was put on you to reduce staffing?

Alison Bolsover: There was always or always seen to be pressures to reduce staff and efficiency processes, you know, trying to make the system more efficient. So yes, there was a downward trend of staffing.

In some of the times, during peak times, you know, around the holidays, or we had term time staff working for us, we would have additional agency staff brought in to supplement the permanent resource that we had.

Mr Blake: Do you recall there being any analysis looking for trends or root causes of that large number of transaction corrections?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, there was and there was documentation around it, so what are the causes of these transaction corrections?

Mr Blake: Yes. What kind of period: was that throughout your time in office or in a particular period?

Alison Bolsover: I think we did it quite regularly, where, when you look at the biggest numbers being cash, that’s how can you get a branch to count the cash any different, you know, putting secondary checks in, and things like that. For areas such as Lotteries, that’s when the transaction acknowledgements came in.

So rather than sending transaction corrections on all the product lines, we sent transaction acknowledgements because there tended to be timing delays or timing differences when the branch took the reports off the Horizon terminal and put it in – sorry, off the Lottery terminal and put it into Horizon versus when that Lottery terminal actually closed down. So the Post Office side may shut at 5.30 but the – and take a summary off Camelot, the Camelot terminal, but the terminal was still working up to 7.00, 8.00 at night. So the figures were always different on a daily basis. So –

Mr Blake: Did anybody carry out any analysis, to your knowledge, of the impact of software errors, for example, on the percentage or number of transaction corrections that were being made or being requested?

Alison Bolsover: Not to my acknowledge, no.

Mr Blake: The Inquiry has heard evidence of delays in the transaction correction processes, in some cases where the system for a subpostmaster was quite slow; is that something you recognise at all?

Alison Bolsover: As in the Horizon system?

Mr Blake: No, the transaction correction system, so the ability to obtain a transaction correction?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, I – I think when we first went live in 2005, there were a lot of issues with the data that we – that was being input into the POLSAP system and that led to delays in transaction corrections going out –

Mr Blake: So there was a particular problem in 2005. I don’t know if you heard Rod Ismay’s evidence on that but he raised concerns about, for example, egg timers on screens and things like that.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, so that’s more around the staff in Chesterfield had slow equipment. So it would take ages for them to be able to issue a transaction correction, which then the productivity levels in the teams were very low because of the IT that Chesterfield had –

Mr Blake: That’s a 2005-specific issue, is it, or is it a broader issue?

Alison Bolsover: No, it was a broader issue and, probably even around up to 2010, there were issues with the kit that Chesterfield were using.

Mr Blake: Was that addressed?

Alison Bolsover: It was, eventually, yeah. They swapped out a lot of the computers within Chesterfield.

Mr Blake: Were you aware of other complaints from subpostmasters about delays in the transaction correction process?

Alison Bolsover: I think, if – we used to do a KPI that said that we were issuing 95 per cent of all transaction corrections within 60 days, which is still a long time and, you know, everyone trying to get it closer to the 30 days. But we –

Mr Blake: How long was the trading period?

Alison Bolsover: The trading period is a four or a five-week period, as such.

Mr Blake: So if it was 60 days it would be quite significantly longer than the trading period?

Alison Bolsover: Yes. Yeah.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00039028, this a 2008 document. It’s the “Operating Level Agreement”. It’s a draft version. I don’t know if this is a document that you recall at all? If we scroll down and perhaps look over the page.

It doesn’t really matter if you saw this at this time or not because I just want to take you to an indication of the kinds of times that certain provides for transaction corrections seemed to take.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: If we look at page 6, we have there at 2.1, if we scroll down, “Transaction Corrections issued by P&BA”. If we go over the page, 2.1.4, so slightly down, it addresses “Automated Payment Overpayments and Personal Banking Overpayments”:

“These have to be queried with the Client and customer. A Transaction Correction will only be issued if the Client and Customer agrees and these can take up to 2 years.”

Then “Fraudulent Cash Cheques” below, it says there:

“Transaction corrections will be issued within 4 months of the transaction date.”

So those are two cases where quite long periods seem to be recognised or inbuilt into the transaction correction process; is that something you recall at all?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t by then because, as I say, my teams weren’t issuing transaction corrections but on the 2.1.4, it all – if there was an over or an under– usually an overpayment on the automated payment bill, say, it took the client to agree that, you know, we could adjust the money and give the branch the money back. So if they’d over-keyed a bill, it needed client and customer agreement to get that money back. I do find it quite astonishing that it’s documented there as up to two years. That does seem excessive.

Mr Blake: So did you say 90 per cent or so would be within 60 days; is that –

Alison Bolsover: 95 per cent.

Mr Blake: 95 per cent within 60 days –

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: – albeit you recognise that that in itself is quite a long period?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Then the other 5 per cent, in your experience, could they take significantly longer periods?

Alison Bolsover: It could, yeah, I think for automated payments, there was no open item. So there wasn’t an open item that said this is an aged item, the branch reported that they’d keyed something wrong. We would then have to go to the clients to try to retrieve the money and the transaction could only be created once we’d got the money back from the clients.

Mr Blake: So where particular information needs to be sought from the client it could take significantly longer?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

Alison Bolsover: Or if a customer said they’d got a banking item, you know, they believe they deposited X amount but their account’s only been credited with Y. So a client – a client, a banking client, could come up back to us to say, “This is information we’ve got”, you know, “You’ve not credited our customer enough and they’ve got a receipt”.

And I think a lot of the issues were around the branch potentially had not put it through Horizon but they’d stamped a paying-in book or something like that, and that –

Mr Blake: A lot of the things that you’re mentioning are potential human errors but, where a complaint was made, for example, about a software error, typically how long would a transaction correction take to be processed?

Alison Bolsover: Well, unless we knew about it there wouldn’t be one issued. So it needed to be flagged up to us that one would be needed, as such.

Mr Blake: Flagged up by who?

Alison Bolsover: By whoever was dealing with the anomalies that were there. So the IT department needed to confirm that there was an issue that had caused a financial issue.

Mr Blake: Typically, how long would it take for that team to get back to you?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know. I can’t potentially put a timescale on that. I think there’s only a few instances that I can remember. I didn’t necessarily deal with the detail of it but there was a receipts and payments mismatch, and that was highlighted to us, and I think Rod and Andy Winn dealt with it but we were told there was an issue and it was then looking at what is the financial impact of that. And I believe they went on to issue transaction corrections and write to branches but I’m not that close to it that I understood all the issues that were raised.

Mr Blake: Thank you. We’ll get to the receipts and payments issue shortly. Was there a system in place that allowed a subpostmaster to know that a transaction correction would or would not be issued or was it simply a case of waiting and seeing?

Alison Bolsover: In some instances, the branch – if they rang NBSC, we could in – Product and Branch Accounting could look to see if there was an open item ready to be issued and issue it, or it was a wait and see. So they might have a branch discrepancy and be ringing up to say, “Is there a transaction correction that’s going to come down the line?” and we would issue.

Mr Blake: Some of the evidence that the Inquiry has heard concerns subpostmasters trying to find out whether there would be a transaction correction and not receiving that information and having to wait and see. Is that something that you recognise at all?

Alison Bolsover: No, because I think if they’d gone into NBSC and asked specifically for Product and Branch Accounting, there should have been a response to that.

Mr Blake: But might the response have been “We can’t tell you just now”?

Alison Bolsover: If it was the same day that they balanced, we wouldn’t be able to see the data, no. But –

Mr Blake: You’ve talked about quite long periods, up to 60 days for 95 per cent of cases.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah –

Mr Blake: If you called on day 30, for example, what would be the typical response?

Alison Bolsover: That they should be able to see if there’s a transaction or an open item there waiting to be issued, and staff –

Mr Blake: What do you mean by an “open item”?

Alison Bolsover: An open item within the general ledger waiting for a transaction correction to be either investigated or/and issued.

Mr Blake: So if you phoned up on day 30 and you were told it was an open item, what kind of certainty would you have as to whether a transaction correction would or would not be issued?

Alison Bolsover: If it had been investigated or it was confirmed, you know, the branch said “I sent my cheques off wrong”, or whatever, the team would confirm it and send the transaction correction out.

Mr Blake: But, again, we’re dealing here in particular with things like software errors. If you had said there was a software error and you call up, you haven’t received a transaction correction, and you were told it was an open item would you have any certainty as to when, in fact, that would be dealt with?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t think those two correlate, as such, or have done. So the data that is in the system is what Product and Branch Accounting or the staff within Chesterfield dealt with. They didn’t get queries raised to say, “I’ve got a software issue” –

Mr Blake: Are you saying that no subpostmasters in the context of transaction corrections raised issues of software issues of potential software issues?

Alison Bolsover: No. Not to do with transaction corrections, is my belief, no. There may have been some issues or some issues in sending TCs out but not the Horizon system being at fault or a system issue in Horizon.

Mr Blake: So at no point while you were responsible for the transaction corrections process or for managing that process, were you aware of complaints about the Horizon system that may or may not require a transaction correction?

Alison Bolsover: No. Only on a very few occasions, in which case (unclear) were involved.

Mr Blake: Knowing what you know and how long you’ve been involved and the fact you were involved, even in the early stages of the litigation, do you find that surprising that you were never informed about that?

Alison Bolsover: Yes. I think it’s – if there were more bugs and defects, et cetera, it’s were Product and Branch Accounting and Transaction Processing joined up on that?

Mr Blake: I think we’re struggling – what we may struggle to understand is how complaints about the Horizon system causing discrepancies, discrepancies that require transaction corrections, didn’t reach the person that was responsible for managing those transaction corrections. Are you able to assist us at all with that?

Alison Bolsover: No, I think the only time – if a branch that got a branch discrepancy and they settled it centrally, they could raise it then, that they believe there was an issue. But it’s what support we could give or what NBSC could give in trying to find out why there was a branch discrepancy.

Mr Blake: During that investigation, presumably a transaction correction hadn’t been issued?

Alison Bolsover: It could have been, and – so the branch could have been issued a transaction correction for a debit, so you have not put this much cash in your till. If they then accepted that, so like the Lotteries, they accepted a transaction correction for £1,000, but they didn’t put the cash into the till, that would then, when they were balancing, form a £1,000 discrepancy that they then could put – settle centrally. And that happened on a– quite a few occasions.

So the branch should have had £1,000 sat in the retail till for the lottery but they didn’t transfer it into their Horizon till and, if they accepted a transaction correction and didn’t put the cash in, that would lead to a branch discrepancy.

Mr Blake: Thank you. I’ll deal with the issue of discrepancies shortly. Perhaps we’ll move on to the suspense account because I think that addresses this particular issue. What did you understand a suspense account to be?

Alison Bolsover: As in a local suspense account –

Mr Blake: Yes.

Alison Bolsover: – within the branch?

Mr Blake: Yes.

Alison Bolsover: I think it changed in 2005. So, pre-2005, I’m led to understand that a branch could leave something in local suspense for a while, and it was authorised out in the regions, I think. Chesterfield didn’t do the authorisation.

After 2005, the local suspense is still there on a weekly basis but at branch trading, on week 4 or 5, they had to clear the local suspense and either put the cash in or settle the amount centrally.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can I just take you to your statement on this just so we can see a small or perhaps maybe insignificant difference between the evidence you’re giving and the evidence of Susan Harding on this issue. It’s WITN06120100 and it’s page 15, paragraph 30. It says:

“Susan Harding states that the local suspense account which had previously been available to [subpostmasters] to hold losses until they removed them, is said to have been removed. The Local suspense is actually still available to branches to use when they complete their daily/weekly balance, but it is not available to hold losses or surpluses for long periods of time or on a permanent basis as branches may have done previously.”

So I think you are agreed with the essential point that the IMPACT Programme, in essence, meant that subpostmasters were required to either accept the debt or cease trading when it came to the end of the trading period and, in that sense, they couldn’t hold any money in a suspense account; is that a fair summary?

Alison Bolsover: That’s correct, yeah. They could settle the amount centrally.

Mr Blake: Yes. So they had to accept it or settle it centrally –

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: – or they had to stop trading, essentially?

Alison Bolsover: Well –

Mr Blake: I mean, those are the only options?

Alison Bolsover: Well, they wouldn’t – the option was that they didn’t roll the branch trading statement.

Mr Blake: Which would have, in effect, meant –

Alison Bolsover: Pardon?

Mr Blake: Which would, in effect, mean that they couldn’t continue to trade?

Alison Bolsover: Well, they could trade, yeah, even without doing a Branch Trading statement.

Mr Blake: How could they do that?

Alison Bolsover: It just continued.

Mr Blake: Pardon?

Alison Bolsover: It just continued.

Mr Blake: They’d have to –

Alison Bolsover: It –

Mr Blake: I mean, the Horizon system would not let them continue if they didn’t complete that –

Alison Bolsover: It did.

Mr Blake: So –

Alison Bolsover: There were branch – they had not completed branch trading, so one of the controls within Chesterfield is to check after the branch trading period for the branch if there are items left in local suspense. If there are, that would indicate that the branch has not rolled their branch trading period.

Mr Blake: That would begin your actions to begin debt recovery?

Alison Bolsover: No, that would – it would be an escalation route to get the branch to actually complete their branch trading –

Mr Blake: So where Susan Harding says that the suspense account isn’t actually available at the end of the trading period, or at least at the end of the trading period, is that wrong? I mean, where would you put these figures? Where would they go?

Alison Bolsover: No, it was – it’s available on a weekly basis so I think Sue said that the local suspense was removed and it wasn’t removed so, over a trading period, a branch may on the first week have a surplus and the second week have a loss, and they could be aggregated together to a net. So they –

Mr Blake: But at the end of that trading period what was the option?

Alison Bolsover: Any discrepancies, if they’re over £150, they could settle them centrally or make good the loss or take out the gain.

Mr Blake: If they didn’t do any of those options, what could they do? Is your evidence that they could continue to trade despite that, if they did neither of those options?

Alison Bolsover: If they didn’t complete a branch trading statement but, if they completed the branch trading statement, they had no option other than to either put the cash in, take the cash out or settle centrally. If, at the end of the branch trading, they continued then into another trading period and didn’t put the cash in, it would be classified as a rolling loss, so a loss from one period in a the next period.

And such as originally, the – like, the branch conformance team would check for rolling losses, where a loss appeared to be getting larger and larger but not declared.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

So can I give you a scenario. If you postmaster had identified a cause of a discrepancy and was waiting for a transaction correction but it hadn’t yet been received, could they complete their branch trading statement?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, but they’d have to declare a loss or a gain. So they could say, the £1,000 scenario, “I’ve got a difference at the end of branch trading, I know it’s going to be a transaction correction”, and they could settle it centrally –

Mr Blake: Are they then putting themselves at risk of facing debt recovery action?

Alison Bolsover: Yes. But if – letters went out to postmasters on the amounts held in their customer account and they could say, “I’m waiting for a TC”, and the operator who was dealing with the customer account could get in touch with the issuing teams to say “There’s a transaction correction on this, can we have it issued, please?”

Mr Blake: Where a subpostmaster hadn’t completed their branch trading, did that instigate action from your team to start investigating? Was that one of the things that started an investigation?

Alison Bolsover: If – yes. If there was an item in local suspense after branch trading cut-offs, the team would escalate it and find out is there a problem – has the branch shut down? Has there been a fire in branch? What is the reason for the non-completion of a branch trading statement?

Mr Blake: So –

Alison Bolsover: So they would essentially put it out into the network to ask questions, what’s happening here, and monitor the levels that were in local suspense.

Mr Blake: So I think, if I’m to understand correctly, your evidence is that you could continue trading but, from that moment onwards, you would effectively be under investigation or you would have triggered an investigation?

Alison Bolsover: Could have triggered one, yes.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we look at paragraph 32 of your statement it’s WITN06120100.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: It’s page 15, paragraph 32. So we’re looking now at when that investigation has been triggered.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: This is your description of what that investigation would involve. So you say there:

“FSC investigation/escalation would be focused on”, and it sets out the various things it would be focused on.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: First:

“Escalation to the Network Teams to enable branch training to complete the branch trading statement …”

If we could scroll down:

“Understanding if there was a fundamental problem with the Horizon kit in branch and the branch was closed, [for example] had it been permanently damaged in branch (by a fire) …”

So one of the things that you would investigate was whether the kit was – there was a fundamental problem. Am I right that that is intentionally distinguishing it from something like there being a software problem?

Alison Bolsover: I think it is, yeah, because it’s quite fundamental if there was a fire in branch and it had destroyed the kit.

Mr Blake: “If the Horizon kit had been removed from the branch due to problems with the terminal and balances had not been completed. (FSC would not be involved in the reason why the kit had been removed or have [investigated] its removal) …”

Then (d):

“Establishing if the branch had unexpectedly closed without balancing and Network support or intervention was required.”

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: So those are quite limited circumstances. Am I right in saying that none of your investigations involved the investigation of software issues, as far as your department was concerned?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t believe it did, no. If the – if the terminal had been removed, it could be said that there were problems with the kit but it wouldn’t necessarily be that was showing up to us. It was a case of we’d got an item in local suspense and it had not been cleared, but not the ins and outs of if a terminal wasn’t working what was the matter with it and why had they had a swapout.

Mr Blake: Trying to get to the bottom of a discrepancy, for example, to enable you to issue a transaction correction, it doesn’t seem that that was in any way part of that exercise that’s set out from (a) to (d)?

Alison Bolsover: No.

Mr Blake: Following an investigation, what were the options available? Was it a binary issue of issuing a transaction correction or not issuing a transaction correction?

Alison Bolsover: Not in local suspense. Predominantly it was around getting the branch to roll the trading period to declare their own discrepancy.

If it was caused by a fire or something else, there could be an option to write off the value and not pursue it or gaining intervention or training from the Network to support the postmaster in completing a branch trading statement.

Mr Blake: But, in terms of the transaction corrections were the options, essentially, you’re going to get –

Alison Bolsover: We didn’t issue – we didn’t issue transaction corrections on local suspense.

Mr Blake: Putting aside the local suspense issue, just talking about your investigations, the investigations carried out by your team, can you assist us with what was the end result of an investigation: was it one of we will issue a transaction correction or we won’t issue a transaction correction? Was there anything in between?

Alison Bolsover: The transaction correction came about because of an open item on a general ledger. So they would issue, if there was an open item, ie the two product streams didn’t match or they’d raised an enquiry and we’d received money back from clients or banks to enable us to issue a transaction correction. So it wasn’t arbitrary, “We’ll just issue one”. If you issued a transaction correction without there being an open item, it would create an open item on the ledger that needed actioning.

Mr Blake: What would be the next step from there?

Alison Bolsover: If they did issue one?

Mr Blake: If they didn’t issue one.

Alison Bolsover: If they didn’t issue one, it would be an open item that would be monitored at our weekly meetings: why has it not been cleared or issued?

Mr Blake: Can I look at paragraph 36 of your witness statement it’s WITN06120100 and there’s a passage in there that I’d just like your assistance with. It’s about halfway down. It says:

“A postmaster could dispute a [transaction correction] even if they had accepted/settled centrally the [transaction correction], which would usually have been due to branch trading time constraints.”

When you say, “branch trading time constraints”, do you mean the need to enter the next trading period or is that something else?

Alison Bolsover: Yes. So if they’d received a transaction correction two days before branch trading, they didn’t investigate it, they could settle it centrally and then request, when the team rang up or when the team sent the letters around, “You have this transaction correction on your account”, they could say, “But I want to dispute it”.

Mr Blake: You then say that a relationship manager could block the debt. Can you assist us with blocking the debt and what that means?

Alison Bolsover: So if they a postmaster had settled an item centrally, there was a blocking option to say, “Do not chase on this debt”. So if somebody had said, “I’m going to dispute this”, there was a blocking code put on the line within the customer account and the debt wasn’t chased.

Mr Blake: So a blocking would occur, am I right in thinking, only if an investigation was taking place?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: For those reasons we saw earlier, the investigations that were carried out by your team were rather limited.

Alison Bolsover: That was local suspense, that was totally different to transaction corrections.

Mr Blake: Okay, thank you very much. So in terms of transaction corrections, what kind of investigations would take place in relation to alleged software errors?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t see correlation between that.

Mr Blake: Well, if a subpostmaster said that there is a discrepancy due to a software error, in what circumstances would their debt be able to be blocked, if there was no investigation into that software error?

Alison Bolsover: So if the postmaster came back to us and said, “This transaction correction is incorrect, I believe the Horizon figure is incorrect”, then Andy, the relationship manager –

Mr Blake: Is that Mr Winn?

Alison Bolsover: Mr Winn, yeah – would take that up and try and get it resolved with the IT suppliers.

Mr Blake: Were you involved in that process at all?

Alison Bolsover: Not in the nitty-gritty of it, no. All Andy’s disputes that came in were in writing. So that we understood what the postmaster was trying to convey the issue was.

Mr Blake: So every time –

Alison Bolsover: So –

Mr Blake: – there was a software issue raised by a subpostmaster, that would be in writing?

Alison Bolsover: No, it’s a totally different thing to a transaction correction.

Mr Blake: Well, if somebody is seeking a transaction correction, would like a transaction correction because there’s a discrepancy caused by a software error …

Alison Bolsover: How would they know it’s caused by a software error?

Mr Blake: Well, we’ll absolutely come to that.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, and that’s – I think that’s where I’m struggling because the team in Chesterfield were just processing the data that they’d got, so what had come in from Horizon and what had come in from clients.

If the – if a postmaster said, “That Camelot data is incorrect, I keyed this into Horizon”, or whatever, we would go back to Camelot for evidence that that’s what had happened on that terminal but it wouldn’t be a software issue.

Mr Blake: So if they said, “There is an error there in the Camelot issue, I think it’s down to a software error”, would they be able to block the debt or not?

Alison Bolsover: But I don’t believe it would be down to a software error. If they’d not keyed –

Mr Blake: How do you reach that conclusion?

Alison Bolsover: If they’d not keyed the amount into Horizon from the end-of-day Camelot slip, there would have been differences between what Camelot said they’d completed on that terminal versus what the postmaster input into the Horizon till.

Mr Blake: So am I right in thinking that, as part of the transaction correction process, so far as your department was concerned, software errors just didn’t feature in that process?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t think it did, greatly, no, and the level of disputes we had on transaction corrections were very low.

Mr Blake: Thank you, sir. That might be an appropriate time to take our mid-morning break. Could we come back at 11.30?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, certainly. So feel free to have a wander around wherever you are, Ms Bolsover, and just come back by 11.30, all right?

The Witness: Yes, thank you.

(11.10 am)

(A short break)

(11.30 am)

Mr Blake: Thank you, sir, can you see and hear me?

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

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

I’m going to move on to the topic of recovery of debts. Can you assist us with what, if any, legal experience those who were charged on a day-to-day basis with recovering debts had?

Alison Bolsover: None.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00084996, please. This is a presentation from 2009. If we go over to page 2 – do you recall this workshop at all?

Alison Bolsover: I think I do, yes.

Mr Blake: What were the circumstances? If we go back to page 1, then. Sorry, it might assist. Do you remember the purpose of it?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, I think it was around the efficiency programme to reduce staffing levels within Chesterfield.

Mr Blake: If we go over the page, there’s a heading there “Legal Skills”, on the left-hand side, and it says:

“Determine the legal skills required by Product and Branch Accounting for managing debt recovery processes.”

It has your name next to it.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with that?

Alison Bolsover: I think it was highlighted as a – there was a gap there that the team were there to process information and recover the debt amount but didn’t have the legal skills or terminology. So if solicitors were coming back to the team with a long-winded email, they didn’t always understand the terms, and I believe the steps taken was workshops with – and I can’t remember whether it was Bond Dickinson or other legal – legally qualified people to do workshops with the team to enable them to gain an understanding of the processes for moving to civil recovery.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard some evidence of the size of the Legal team being reduced at the Post Office. Would this be around this time or was that some other time, to your recollection?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know. We were gaining input or passing cases to the Royal Mail Legal team to pursue debt recovery, so it – at the point of we can’t recover this debt then we would seek legal support to then chase the debt until Legal Services Royal Mail and Post Office split, and then work was undertaken by myself and, I think, Rebekah Mantle to set down what steps should be taken and to gain a fixed price pricing, as such, for the work that needed undertaking.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Sticking with this document, we see there Mandy Talbot’s name mentioned quite a lot, “Solicitor Service Improvements”. She’s to “Create a checklist of evidence required by solicitors”:

“Solicitor Service Improvements

“Develop standard checklist of information provided to solicitors.”

If we keep on going over the page, we see your name mentioned together there, “Use of local Solicitor Services”:

“Investigate viability of using local solicitors (ie for low value debt) where it is uneconomical to pursue the debt using existing external Solicitors.”

What did you understand Mandy Talbot’s role to be?

Alison Bolsover: She was the internal lawyer, as such, that we went to.

Mr Blake: Her name is mentioned quite a lot. Are we to read into that any particular level of responsibility that she may have had on a policy side or taking –

Alison Bolsover: I’m unaware of that. All she was seen as is another interface for us to then gain support to recover the debt. So, from a legal aspect, sending letters before action out, et cetera, and/or passing on to an external solicitor.

Mr Blake: But something like investigating the viability of using local solicitors which are both tasked as the lead role, in carrying out that kind of work, did you see Mandy Talbot as simply a case worker who handled cases or something else?

Alison Bolsover: She was a touch point for us, so I didn’t really know her position, as such.

Mr Blake: Did she give you any indication –

Alison Bolsover: (Unclear) that didn’t happen. We didn’t. I think there was some suggestion that we would put cases of a low value into court ourselves and – of which I said that wasn’t feasible. You know, we weren’t experienced in lodging claims for money, not within Chesterfield.

Mr Blake: Ignoring that particular issue, was Mandy Talbot someone who you saw as having decision-making power or something else?

Alison Bolsover: I did, yeah, from a legal aspect, yes.

Mr Blake: How about from a policy aspect or something slightly wider than a legal aspect?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know.

Mr Blake: Thank you. That can come down. I want to ask you about – I think it’s the Dunning Process, is that correct? I think it’s set out in your witness statement?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us what the Dunning Process is?

Alison Bolsover: Once a debt is created on POLSAP, so if a postmaster settled centrally a transaction correction or a branch discrepancy, the Dunning Process started one week – automated one week after branch trading, letters would be sent and statements to the branch to say “This debt is outstanding”.

So it was done over three letters, I believe. One seven days after branch trading and then one 21 days after branch trading. I think that’s it for the current agents. There was two. And if we’d got either no response from the branch or the postmaster, or they pointblank refused to pay, rang us up and said they weren’t prepared to pay it, the debt would be referred to the Contracts Advisers.

Mr Blake: So when we spoke before the break about the IMPACT Programme, et cetera, and the fact that a subpostmaster would settle centrally, even in cases there the discrepancy was caused by a software error, that would then trigger this process where they would then be sent a letter within a week?

Alison Bolsover: If the debt was set on the customer account which was the individual to the branch and postmaster, then the letters would say to contact us and discuss it or discuss it with the agent that was dealing with that debt. But if they just pointblank either didn’t respond, then it would be passed to the Contracts Adviser to discuss it over the telephone with the postmaster.

Mr Blake: I think you said there were three different letters. Were they increasing in escalation?

Alison Bolsover: As such, yes. Yeah, “We’ve not heard from you”. They were rewritten, the letters were rewritten as part of the – I believe the Branch Efficiency Programme, so there was different wording put in each letter.

Mr Blake: When you say rewritten, to become more or less confrontational, aggressive, or?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially less, but I’m wondering whether that actually happened. The letters were passed through Legal and Communications teams. So –

Mr Blake: You described in your statement that there are separate processes for current agents and former agents. Very, briefly can you tell us the differences?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, well, we couldn’t then depend, if it was a former agent that had left the business, then there was no contact via the Contracts Managers. So it was the same Dunning Process, letters sent out at different intervals, and then it might be a third letter, which was a letter before action. So we could potentially be pursuing civil recovery.

Mr Blake: In respect of writing off debts, in what circumstances would debts be written off during this process?

Alison Bolsover: For the former agents?

Mr Blake: For either.

Alison Bolsover: If an administrator said there was an issue with the debt and they would document the issues raised and request a write-off by their team leader, and it was done on an authority level. So if there were problems identified, then the individual could pass it to the team leader or to myself to seek authority to write off.

Mr Blake: Problems identified by who?

Alison Bolsover: By the branch calling the Current Agents Team or the Former Agents Team being unable to trace the former subpostmaster. They could put recommendations in to write off because it wasn’t viable to pursue.

Mr Blake: So we have a circumstance where they can’t be traced, that’s one case in which it would be written off. Can you give us some more examples of typical circumstances where debts would be written off?

Alison Bolsover: If we’d gone into using a solicitor, they might say “This is not worth pursuing, there’s no assets”. So you would only be securing a judgment for judgment’s sake. I think it was later that we determined this is, you know, it’s – we’re spending an awful lot of money trying to get something back for what? To no gain. So that process was reviewed but I can’t remember the date it was reviewed, but it could be that “It’s going to cost you this much to pursue this debt, are you prepared to spend that much?”

Mr Blake: So we have can’t trace, we have to effectively a waste of the Post Office’s money to pursue.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Any other circumstances?

Alison Bolsover: Or not economical to pursue, yeah. There could be varying scenarios. It depended what came up, you know, what circumstances there were.

Mr Blake: In your experience or to your recollection, at this stage, so the Dunning Process stage, prior to it moving to solicitors, how often would a debt be written off in the case of, for example, a subpostmaster who complained about a software error with Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: I think prior to the court case, we had very little escalation that it was Horizon or software issues. It was only after the judgment, the Alan Bates litigation, that we got people saying it was Horizon. So there were very few numbers, I believe, prior to that.

I can’t give you numbers on how many were written off. The stats would all be there on the values that we wrote off each month and each write-off would be backed up with a reason and a paper around it of why we should write this debt off.

Mr Blake: So would there be a statistic that could tell us how many debts were written off because subpostmasters had raised complaints about the software?

Alison Bolsover: No. I don’t believe so.

Mr Blake: Your experience was that it wasn’t until the Bates & Others Group Litigation that people were making complaints about the software that were escalated –

Alison Bolsover: No.

Mr Blake: – to your team?

Alison Bolsover: No, because I believe the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, that started raising the initial issues, and then there were MPs’ cases, mediation cases so there were various places that things were coming in and we were asked “Is there debt on these accounts?” And we would then feed back “We’ve got this debt” and we would be told to hold recovery and, again, put a block in on the debt, if we were told that there was an issue.

Mr Blake: Do you find it surprising now, given what you now know, that, during your time in this role, nobody said that, as part of the Dunning Process, as part of that increase in escalation to recover funds, people were raising bugs, errors or defects or software problems with Horizon? Is it surprising to you that that didn’t reach you, that message?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: Why do you think that is?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know, in all honesty. We had very few, you know, say that – if we were told “it was this”, then we would investigate it. But, for my recollection, I can’t remember that happening and I think I’ve said in my statement I’m very surprised that the evidence given to say Fujitsu were amending postmasters’ accounts, that that –

Mr Blake: Had the facility to amend subpostmasters’ accounts?

Alison Bolsover: Had the facility, yes. And I think I potentially knew something could be done but it was under a controlled process.

Mr Blake: But if there were – if there was a pattern of complaints during this recovery process, where subpostmasters were saying “I know you’re saying X equals Y or X should equal Y but, in fact, the numbers there are wrong and it’s because of the Horizon system”, and that simply wasn’t reaching you in any kind of pattern or trend, what’s gone wrong there?

Alison Bolsover: The communication from wherever it’s been reported. So if it was a financial loss or they wanted a transaction correction, say, and prove that there was a system issue, then the communication lines appear to have broken.

Mr Blake: All of those administrative officers who were dealing with the transaction corrections process, those who were dealing with the recovery process, you were their manager?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Were they not raising these issues with you?

Alison Bolsover: They were asked to, if they were being raised to the individuals, yeah.

Mr Blake: Were you regular meetings at which those topics were raised?

Alison Bolsover: I can’t think of regular meetings but I know, internally with the Legal Services Team, Rodric Williams, et cetera, we had discussions on the cases that we held or, if a postmaster raised it that it was a Horizon issue, it was fed over to Legal.

Mr Blake: Your evidence is that that was exceptionally rare?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah. I think the biggest chunk of work was the Justice for Subpostmasters and that was around former agents debt that we raised – we were told which postmasters it was that had raised it, and we sent copies of the files that we held over to Legal Services, if we held the file.

Mr Blake: Prior –

Alison Bolsover: (Unclear) postmaster –

Mr Blake: Sorry, we’ll get to all of those documents but, prior to the Justice for Subpostmasters campaign, can you recall debts ever being written off in respect of a subpostmaster who said that the debt was actually just an apparent debt that was caused by a bug, error or defect or software failure with Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: No, it doesn’t stick in my mind that that was raised no.

Mr Blake: It doesn’t stick in your mind that it was ever written off?

Alison Bolsover: They may have been written off but we sought reasons for debts to be written off. So –

Mr Blake: Nowhere, to your recollection, prior to that campaign, was a debt written off because of a complaint about a bug, error or defect or other software issue with Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: Not to my knowledge, unless we’d been requested to write a debt off. So within the business, people could come to us and say, “Please write these figures off because of X, Y and Z”, and that was the part of the case that we used to control the write-offs.

Mr Blake: You were the manager of this team?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: To the best of your knowledge and recollection, you don’t recall anyone coming to you and saying, “I have written off this debt”, or, “Can this debt be written off because the subpostmaster is complaining about the Horizon system and there might be something in it”?

Alison Bolsover: I can’t say that there would be none. I just can’t recollect any.

Mr Blake: I’ve said prior to the Justice for Subpostmasters campaign, how about after? When was the first case that you can recall that was actually written off during this pre-litigation phase, due to an allegation about the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: I think during the mediation sessions that happened, we were requested to write debt off.

Mr Blake: So –

Alison Bolsover: So –

Mr Blake: – are we talking 2013, 2015, 2018?

Alison Bolsover: 2013, I think. So we would be advised “Don’t pursue this debt, please write it off”.

Mr Blake: Was that the first period really when you became aware of issues?

Alison Bolsover: We didn’t – I didn’t necessarily know what the issues were. We weren’t privy to the mediation sessions that happened or the reasons for it. We were just told “This is a mediation case, please write it off under the authority of Angela”.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Where debts weren’t written off, I think you’ve said in your statement that you would then liaise with the lawyers, and Mandy Talbot is a name you’ve mentioned in particular?

Alison Bolsover: We would liaise on the case, on the pursual of it. If there was no recovery from it then it would potentially go for a write-off – as a write-off recommendation and be written off. If it wasn’t worth pursuing or unable to pursue.

Mr Blake: But at some point during that Dunning Process the lawyers would become involved. Which stage was that?

Alison Bolsover: After we’d sent at least two letters out to the branch – to the ex-postmaster, if we –

Mr Blake: Then I think you say a pre-action letter was the third letter; is that right?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Was that drafted by Mandy Talbot and the Legal team?

Alison Bolsover: I believe it was in the early days pre-the split of Royal Mail.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00006650. This is the interview with Womble Bond Dickinson that I’ve already taken you to and I’d like to look at page 30 of that. I’m afraid I’m going to read a fair bit of this transcript. I’m going to start at the bottom of page 30. So “VB” is the interviewer, Victoria Brooks, and “AB” is yourself. She says:

“We’ve talked a bit – and now I need to know a bit about civil claims and recoveries action which is definitely more you.

“AB – Yep.

“VB – … we’ve talked … about the procedure for bringing a claim, erm so is it it’s basically a commercial decision as to whether or not to bring a claim based on whether or not you think they’re going to get the money back.”

Over the page. You say:

“Yeah – in the past we’ve always gone Judgment if we can – if we think we’ve got a good enough case we’ve gone for judgment.”

“VB – And was that always the commercial decision about whether you get the money back or was it more, was it more because sometimes erm I think about the Post Office specifically but some clients are like no they owe us money we’re going for the Judgment, doesn’t matter about the cost and someone will be like you know we’re not actually going to get money at the end of it so we’re not going to do that. Does that change?”

“AB – I think we’ve been swayed by this action …”

Can you just assist us with that? What do you mean there?

Alison Bolsover: I think in the past we did go for judgment, irrespective of whether there were any – it would come to fruition on a payment. But it became, in my view, uneconomical to go for judgment on some of the cases because it was costing us too much to do that.

Mr Blake: So where you describe it before as basically a commercial decision, was that the core to your thinking in respect of actions, that they were ultimately commercial decisions and to be approached in that way?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: She says:


“AB – … into not doing it.

“VB – So you used to just go for it all the time.

“AB – If we would go for Judgment erm and I would say 95% of the time would get into the default so it’s then – you’ve got on it record.

“VB – Yeah.

“AB – We’ve got an option of [then something] years.”

So was it important to get a judgment and to get a finding on record against the subpostmaster?

Alison Bolsover: I think that was the view in the early days, yes.

Mr Blake: “AB – And we’ve got some leverage if they get a job, attachment of earnings, etc.

“VB – Yeah.

“AB – And if they got property you would definitely …

“VB – Yeah.

“AB – … to try to get it secured even if they have got kids in there or whatever and by this time we’ve had erm changes come to fruition after 30 years.

“VB – Really.

“AB – … which we didn’t know we’d got. So Royal Mail used to put our charges on.

“VB – Oh right.

“AB – And now we are having to ask them to lift this charge, we also have people dying and no charge change and debt not being paid so there were a case the other week, he died in 2009. The family have just continued, so they can’t [something] anything.

“VB – So they didn’t sell the property or prove the will or whatever they’d have needed to do and then.

“AB – Why I don’t know so why they’ve done nothing from a, you know. I don’t know. I find it very interesting.

“VB – That is very interesting.

“AB – Yeah. And I did want to go for more than Roderic wanted to go for.

“VB – Yeah [laughs].

“AB – He looks quite happy with himself for 120,000 I think.”

Was this the attitude towards subpostmasters and recovery of debts in terms of, for example, there’s reference there to try and get secured, even if they’ve got kids. There seems to be a slight lack of sympathy in the approach that’s taken; do you agree with that?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially, yeah. It was a debt that was outstanding to the business, a loss.

Mr Blake: Can we go on to page 33, please. About halfway down, the interviewer says:

“… what involvement does your team have with actually if at all looking at the contracts when they’re considering recovering shortfalls from either formal or current Postmasters. Do they ever look at the actual contracts for those individual Postmasters or is it more of a ‘this is our process based on those contracts’.

“AB – All contracts say they should pay the losses.

“VB – They do.

“AB – So irrespective of which contact they’ve got they should be paying the losses.

“VB – Fine, that’s fine. I thought that would be the answer but erm.

“AB – We would, we would gain a copy of contract and have it in the file from the former agent’s point of view.

“VB – Yeah.

“AB – But from a current agent’s point of view they owe us the money.

“VB – Yeah, and it doesn’t really make a great deal of difference because.

“AB – What contract they are on now.

“VB – Ok, so looking at the contracts and probably more what the contract advisers don’t do if it’s more of a problem that might justify suspension or termination but other than what you’re doing because you’re right, they do all say in one way or another that you’ve got to pay the money back.”

Do you recognise that that isn’t actually correct in terms of – you’ve said there “All contracts say they should pay the losses” and the interviewer says, “In one way or another they’ve got to pay the money back”.

Alison Bolsover: I think it’s only come to light to me since watching some of the testimonies that have come on through the Inquiry. I think the viewpoint was that all losses should be paid and I do take it that, you know, if they were caused by software issues, then they are not caused by the branch but I think the view, from a business point of view, was the debt was there and it was owed, and the team that we had were processing debts.

Mr Blake: If we look at POL00000246, please. If we start at the first page to see what it is we’re looking at. It’s the “Community Subpostmasters Contract” and if we look at page 71 – if you’ve seen other evidence you may well have seen witnesses being taken to this particular paragraph – it’s paragraph 12, which says:

“The Subpostmaster is responsible for all losses caused …”

Then it limits it:

“… through his own negligence, carelessness or error, and also losses of all kinds caused by his Assistants. Deficiencies due to such losses must be made good without delay.”

Do you recognise, looking at that and looking at your account in the 2018 interview, that, in fact, the suggestion that was made in that interview was, in fact, wrong, in terms of all losses are payable?

Alison Bolsover: I do now. I don’t necessarily think it was thought that way previously.

Mr Blake: If we –

Alison Bolsover: I think that was – you know, one paragraph covered all losses because they were committed, as such, through a branch discrepancy by the branch themselves or a transaction correction being accepted and settled centrally, creating the debt.

Mr Blake: I think you may have seen me take Mr Inwood to the next document, it’s POL00113670. This is a document that you’ll be familiar with. It’s the “Operators’ in Service Debt” policy.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Your name is on the front there as a key stakeholder, approved by Mr Inwood. I think you’ve said that you actually worked on this policy to some extent?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: If we look at page 4, did you see me take Mr Inwood to this particular document?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: So it’s paragraph 4 and it describes there:

“From a purely contractual perspective the Operator of a Post Office branch is responsible for …”

Then the first one:

“Making good any loss of Post Office cash and stock without delay.”

Can you see there how that error and that approach seems to be included in this particular policy?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Can we please look now at NFSP00000043, please. This, I believe, is a draft policy in 2004. If we could go over the page to page 2. We see there “Reviewed” and your name is in the “Reviewed” section. It’s called “Debt recovery – Horizon related errors”, and if we look at the “Objective” on page 3 please, we see there it says:

“The objective of our debt recovery process is to achieve a 100% success rate in proven charge errors brought to account and made good. The only exceptions will be where there has been a dispute that on investigation has been upheld or, as referenced in the Liability for losses policy, agreement has been given by the retail line representative to write off the loss to their profit and loss account.”

So where we’re past the Dunning Process, the approach is to try to achieve a 100 per cent success rate. Is that something that you would agree with, something that you recall?

Alison Bolsover: Well, this was in 2004 that this document was written.

Mr Blake: Yes.

Alison Bolsover: So that’s where I would struggle because I don’t know the processes for debt recovery back in 2004. I appreciate I’m on the circular of this but it wasn’t within my remit.

Mr Blake: Is that an approach that is consistent with the approach that occurred throughout your time when it was within your remit, that the approach was in reality for a 100 per cent success rate?

Alison Bolsover: No, because we couldn’t receive – we couldn’t achieve 100 per cent success rate for all debt.

Mr Blake: But the objective of the debt recovery process is to achieve a 100 per cent success rate; is that something that you subscribed to during your time?

Alison Bolsover: No. I never had that as an objective, no.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00088867, please. This is the “Liability for Losses Policy”, it’s a 2003 version. It’s a document that I’ve taken some witnesses to previously. It’s page 8 that I’d like to look at, which refers to “Horizon Issues”. It says there:

“If an agent feels that an error has occurred via the Horizon system, it is essential that this be reported to the Horizon System Helpdesk. The Horizon System Helpdesk will only consider the incident for further investigation if the branch has evidence of a system fault. If no evidence is available, the case will not be investigated and the agent will be held responsible for making good the loss.”

So it’s only going to be investigated if the subpostmaster can produce evidence of a system fault. Am I right in saying, then, that we have the Horizon System Helpdesk there that won’t investigate unless the branch can evidence a system fault. I think, in respect of your team and their processes, they didn’t see it as part of their job to investigate an alleged software fault either?

Alison Bolsover: Well, I don’t think they were told about it, no, because they were sending transaction corrections out. This is 2003, so it’s prior to the POLSAP system.

Mr Blake: Were you aware, whilst you were the head of the team, that the Helpdesk was only considering an incident where the subpostmaster themselves had evidence of a system fault?

Alison Bolsover: No, prior to the Inquiry sending me the paperwork, I’ve never seen this document from 2003.

Mr Blake: Were you aware of any particular team, then, that was investigating system faults that were raised by subpostmasters but who didn’t have evidence of such a fault?

Alison Bolsover: Not necessarily, no. I think it should have gone in to Service Delivery area, if there was an issue.

Mr Blake: Should have gone into who and where?

Alison Bolsover: So there was an IT Helpdesk within, I think, Service Delivery that should have raised any issues and, if there were financial impact, then should have been engaging with either Rod Ismay, in the first level, or whichever Senior Manager were managing the area where the system was deemed at fault.

Mr Blake: As part of your debt recovery actions, nowhere in your experience did you receive the product of an investigation that had evidenced a system fault that meant that you had to stop the debt recovery action?

Alison Bolsover: Other than the one that’s – I am aware of, the receipts and payments misbalance, it didn’t create a debt but it did show as an overall loss in branch, then, other than that one, no. And I think that’s probably one of the first times we were engaged in “There’s an issue here”.

Mr Blake: Thank you. If that could come down, could we bring on to screen your witness statement, WITN06120100, it’s page 21, paragraph 46. It’s here in your statement that you talk about the system issues raised by branches to the NBSC?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: I think you explain it in this way. You say at the bottom:

“FSC worked with the NBSC if multiple branches raised the same queries. Some of those …”

Just pausing there, did you have a system in place to record the fact that multiple branches were raising the same queries?

Alison Bolsover: NBSC would come in to FSC, yes.

Mr Blake: But it wasn’t something that FSC itself kept any record of or?

Alison Bolsover: No.

Mr Blake: “Some of these were referred to as system issues, and these would be escalated to the [Post Office] IT service desk and onto the IT suppliers [and you’ve said] (ATOS/Accenture) for investigation.”

You’ve given examples there. First:

“Non-arrival of TAs in branch for Lottery/pay station.”

Then over the page –

Alison Bolsover: I think my point on this one was they were classified as system errors where they weren’t Horizon system errors. It was around the data going out to branches that was an issue.

Mr Blake: So, as far as you were concerned with system errors, in fact they are to do with the transaction authorisations and transaction corrections and not to do with the broader Horizon system; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: Transaction acknowledgements, yeah.

Mr Blake: It’s only at paragraph 49, so if we go down the page, where you talk about the receipts and payments issue.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: You say:

“There were only a few occasions that I can remember that I came across branch trading problems due to what may now be referred to as a Horizon bug (although I do not remember it being called a Horizon bug at the time). I believe that these were for Receipts and payments mismatch issues. I am however afraid that I cannot recall the details of these as the issues were managed by Rod Ismay … and Andrew Winn … I was not aware of widespread issues or names for Horizon bugs at the time. The IT Service Management helpdesk would need to be contacted to give details of these issues, their specific cause and resolution that was supported by the FSC.”

Was this recorded in some way by your team at the time? First of all, can we start by saying when was this time? It’s quite an important issue for this Inquiry to know when it was that you became aware of the receipts and payments mismatch issues.

Alison Bolsover: I can’t put an exact time on it. I want to say 2013/14 but I don’t know. If this was reported into us from the IT Service Helpdesk, then Rod, I believe, took the lead on it with Andy to understand what the issues were and what should be done about it. And I think the conclusion to this issue – I don’t know how it was resolved with the system, what went wrong or what they did to make it right.

I do remember, though, that I think, if it caused a loss in branch, this mismatch, then we issued the branch with a credit TC, so they didn’t stand the loss and, if it created a surplus, I believe in the letter that Rod and Andy sent out, it said that we would not be seeking to recover the surplus.

But I can’t honestly remember whether it was around 20 offices or how big it was.

Mr Blake: How would that information be shared amongst those who were dealing with transaction corrections?

Alison Bolsover: This wasn’t a transaction correction issue. It wasn’t an open item but it was flagged up as a misbalance of the account.

Mr Blake: But you’ve said that they would issue, for example, credit transaction corrections as a result of this?

Alison Bolsover: Give the branch cash back, yes, and –

Mr Blake: Via a transaction correction?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah. So they issued them the credit that, potentially, this misbalance caused.

Mr Blake: Absolutely.

Alison Bolsover: So if there was a misbalance of £1,000, I believe that a cash transaction correction was issued to them to accept, to negate the loss that they – had occurred on their account.

Mr Blake: We began today talking about the various people at administrative officer grade who were dealing with transaction corrections. This does seem to have resulted in a transaction correction in certain cases. Was there a process by which information about the receipts and payments mismatch issues was cascaded down to those administrative officers who were dealing day to day with transaction correction issues?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t believe so, no, because they wouldn’t hit the GLs that the individuals were working on. They were separate product GL accounts, general ledger accounts.

Mr Blake: Why do you say that? How can you say that with any confidence?

Alison Bolsover: Well, I suppose I can’t but, to my knowledge, it didn’t affect the product lines. I don’t know what the bug created. I know the transactions didn’t match the cash, so the receipts in and the payments – receipts out didn’t match with the cash in branch.

Mr Blake: Do you think that the fact that the transactions didn’t match the cash – and I think you said that 95 per cent, or something, of your transaction corrections related to cash –

Alison Bolsover: Cash (audio disruption).

Mr Blake: Yes. Was it not information that was important for those dealing with the transaction corrections to be aware of?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know. I didn’t believe so at the time, no.

Mr Blake: Knowing what you know now, do you believe so?

Alison Bolsover: Not necessarily within the individual product teams, no.

Mr Blake: This is the, I think, the only issue that you say you were aware of that meant that X didn’t necessarily mean Y, in terms of the numbers that were being shown in the accounts. I think we spoke about a Camelot issue earlier, for example. To use that issue, that a subpostmaster’s Horizon figure and the Camelot figures, if they weren’t the same, what would happen in those situations? Was this something that those dealing with transaction corrections should have had been aware of?

Alison Bolsover: In the early days, if there was a Camelot transaction correction sent out, it was “Horizon says this – you’ve input Horizon as this, and Camelot data says this”.

Mr Blake: Yes.

Alison Bolsover: And with the Camelot transactions, I believe it was done over a full month. So it could – the branch could be up one day, down the next, et cetera, and it was netted out over probably a 30-day period until, for the online gain, it went to transaction acknowledgements.

Mr Blake: So the position that was being considered was, “Does X equal Y?” but there was no factoring into that the possibility that a bug, error or defect, a bit like the receipts and payments mismatch issue, might have featured in there somewhere?

Alison Bolsover: I suppose it could have done, yeah, but it’s the postmaster that’s inputting the Lottery figure into Horizon.

Mr Blake: Well, again, how can you be sure that the figure that you are seeing is the figure, in fact, that the postmaster was inputting?

Alison Bolsover: If there was a difference and we’d issued a transaction correction, he would be able to challenge it but it would be down to the slip from the Lottery terminal as well.

Mr Blake: You’re looking at two pieces of paper and seeing if they match.

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: But, in fact, if one of the pieces of paper shows an incorrect figure because of a bug, error or defect, you simply wouldn’t be aware of that, would you?

Alison Bolsover: Other than there’s a difference from what the client’s saying that had been transacted on the Lottery terminal.

Mr Blake: You generally took the view that that was probably something like a miskey?

Alison Bolsover: Yes. I think it was more around the Lottery slip on the terminal, on the retail side of the business, being taken at the wrong time, and it being inputted into Horizon before the close of business on the Camelot terminal.

Mr Blake: If you stand back now, though, and really think about it and think about the fact that you knew about a bug that could cause a mismatch between receipts and payments, looking back at the work that those people who were dealing with transaction corrections were dealing with, do you think it would have been useful for them to have known that the Horizon system was capable of causing a mismatch of some sort rather than it being down to user error?

Alison Bolsover: It may have been but I think these were, as I’ve just said, probably 20 branches with a receipts and payments mismatch versus 125,000 transaction corrections going out a year.

Mr Blake: I think I said that you couldn’t be sure about those figures and I think you accepted that you couldn’t be sure about those figures of the numbers of branches affected by receipts and payments mismatches?

Alison Bolsover: Well, I just – I said it earlier, that I think it was maybe around the 20 mark, this incident that –

Mr Blake: Did you carry out an investigation into the Horizon system to identify if was only 20 branches?

Alison Bolsover: No. That information went to Rod and Andy, I believe, on a spreadsheet of these are the offices that it involves.

Mr Blake: Does it strike you that a system that is capable of a receipts and payments mismatch issue might also be capable of another issue affecting figures in a different way?

Alison Bolsover: I suppose it could have been, yeah, but I wasn’t aware of it.

Mr Blake: Do you think that the fact that the system was capable of such an issue was something that should in fact have been cascaded down to those who were dealing with transaction corrections?

Alison Bolsover: Maybe it should have been, I don’t know.

Mr Blake: I want to address, perhaps, cascading upwards now. Before I do, can you tell us why Rod Ismay and Andrew Winn? Why were they managing the receipts and payments issue, in particular?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know. I just know that Andy was involved with Rod when this was raised as an issue.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00001538, please. This is a “Major Incident Management Process” document and it sets out different levels of management within the Post Office. If we look at page 7, it sets out “Level 2 – [Post Office Limited] Business Protection Team”. It’s at the bottom of page 7:

“This team consists of empowered business representatives from across [Post Office] Limited. These business area ‘experts’ are available at all times and will be used to support, inform and influence the management of a medium/high severity incident.”

Am I right in saying that you were one of the “empowered business representatives”?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, I was.

Mr Blake: If we look at page 22, please, we see there the members of this team and, if we scroll down, your name appears about three quarters of the way down.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, I think Rod was the lead on it so he was highlighted in bold and I was the sort of deputy if Rod wasn’t there or we both were on the call.

Mr Blake: Was this the kind of forum where those kind of issues could be discussed and shared?

Alison Bolsover: Yes. If there was a major incident, major power outage or something, a call would be put out to all the people on the list, I believe, at that time, so – saying there was a Business Protection Team call at 11.00. So everybody dialled in, within this remit, to determine what the impact of the issue was. And I’m not necessarily saying it’s bugs and defects but it was any major incident or that was classified as a major incident.

Mr Blake: We have Rod Ismay listed above you there. You say you’re not saying it was bugs, errors and defects necessarily. Was it ever bugs, errors and defects in this group? Do you recall any discussions of that nature?

Alison Bolsover: No.

Mr Blake: This is a 2009 document. Can you assist us with how long you were on this team and how long Rod Ismay was on this team?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know. I don’t know whether it was –

Mr Blake: Would this likely have been during your time in a managerial role you sat in this team?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, it would. Even to me leaving, you know, at the point of leaving, there could still be, like, a business protection type meeting called if there was an issue. So if NBSC were raising an issue, “There’s a problem here”, there could be a call put out for people to go on the call to understand the impact of any issues that were being raised.

Mr Blake: You don’t recall, for example, NBSC ever raising the issue of software issues with Horizon amongst this group?

Alison Bolsover: No, I don’t.

Mr Blake: I’d like to now move on to knowledge of bugs, errors and defects in the system. Can we look at POL00006650, that’s the document that we’ve looked at quite a few times. It’s the Womble Bond Dickinson interview. It’s page 38 that I’d like to look at.

So the bottom of page 38, you’re asked:

“And really interesting, erm as I am somebody who has done a lot of Post Office work over the years as well erm it’s really interesting to meet people and hear what actually happens erm so it’s been really useful.

“AB – I think in any case I’ll sort of say that we [something] were Lee Castleton and Lee Castleton’s evidence is sat in a box in office and it is this big.

“VB – Really? My boss who I work with in Bristol, Stephen Dilley – he did that case with Lee erm so I remember that being an interesting case at the time and that was a really …

“AB – Was it?

“VB – … important case of a bit of a Judgment that erm to do with signing off the accounts and the meaning of what that was so you know that was erm so was that the only one that went to trial.

“AB – That’s the one that was seen as the test case of all test cases that we got here.”

Now, Lee Castleton’s case, that was in court in late 2006, judgment in early 2007, that was when you were in the position of Senior Debt Recovery Manager. Would you have known about the case at the time?

Alison Bolsover: I wasn’t – until 2007 – I went into the role in late 2007.

Mr Blake: Yes, so the same year the Lee Castleton judgment.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, I think when I took the role over, there was a cupboard within the office that had a very large box in it and I was told that was the Lee Castleton case, don’t destroy it, it was seen as a test case.

Mr Blake: Were you aware of why it was seen as a test case?

Alison Bolsover: Other than proving that Horizon – to prove that Horizon worked, was my understanding.

Mr Blake: What was your understanding of why there was a need to prove that Horizon worked?

Alison Bolsover: Well, I don’t think – it was the challenges that were probably coming forward at that time, but I had no real – it had no real impact on the areas that I was working on then. It wasn’t until 2007 that I went into Debt Recovery.

Mr Blake: So from 2007 and going into Debt Recovery, you, very soon into that role, were aware that there were challenges coming forward relating to the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: This one I was, but I wasn’t aware of mass numbers.

Mr Blake: But you were aware of a particular important case, the case of Lee Castleton, that challenged the integrity of Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: Other than – yeah, because it was a big box taking a lot of cupboard space up that I was told “Don’t ever destroy it”.

Mr Blake: In 2009, so two years later, there was an article in Computer Weekly about the Horizon system. Was that something that you were aware of or that was brought to your attention at the time?

Alison Bolsover: I believe Rod Ismay have brought it to our attention that there was an article.

Mr Blake: An article that challenged the integrity of Horizon or that raised concerns about the integrity of Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the Seema Misra case, can we look at POL00093686. We’re now at 21 October 2010, so the next year. If we could look at page 5, please. Could we zoom in to that bottom email, please. There’s an email to you, it’s to Mandy Talbot as well and number of other people. You’re listed there alongside Rod Ismay, Susan Crichton, et cetera, and it’s about the Seema Misra case from Jarnail Singh. He says:

“After a lengthy trial at Guildford Crown Court the above named was found Guilty of theft. This case turned from a relatively straightforward general deficiency case to an unprecedented attack on the Horizon system. We were beset with unparalleled degree of disclosure requests by the Defence. Through hard work of everyone, Counsel Warwick Tatford, Investigation Officer Jon Longman and through the considerable expertise of Gareth Jenkins of Fujitsu we were able to destroy to the criminal standard of proof (beyond all reasonable doubt) every single suggestion made by the Defence.

“It is to be hoped that the case will set a marker to dissuade other Defendants from jumping on the Horizon bashing bandwagon.”

Why were you a recipient of this particular email?

Alison Bolsover: Because I believed that we’d got debt outstanding for Seema Misra.

Mr Blake: Do you recall receiving it?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know whether I can or not. I can remember the Seema Misra trial, which – I know it was instigated by Security, I believe, as a criminal prosecution.

Mr Blake: If we look at the comments from Jarnail Singh there:

“It is to be hoped the case will set a marker to dissuade other Defendants from jumping on the Horizon bashing bandwagon.”

Would that comment have struck you as unusual, business as usual, totally normal, something else?

Alison Bolsover: I think it’s probably very unprofessional for it to be written like that.

Mr Blake: Because, of course, you were already aware of the Lee Castleton being a significant case in respect of protecting the integrity of Horizon. We now have the Seema Misra case. As at this time, so October 2010, do you think it’s fair to say that you were aware of reputational concerns at the Post Office about the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, that they were being raised but, equally, that the business was defending that Horizon was robust. So I think that’s the message that was coming down – down the line, that Horizon – the integrity of Horizon, it was a robust system.

Mr Blake: But you were also being made aware that there were quite significant challenges to the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: I think – well, there’s two there, yes.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00073014. I’ll move away from Seema Misra for a minute but I will return to that case in a second.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. We have there, if we look at the subject, it’s Katherine McAlerney, it’s a case that we may be hearing more about in due course. We have there 22 September 2011, so the next year. Who was Jacqueline Witham?

Alison Bolsover: I believe she was the team leader for Former Agents at that time.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Could we please – I’m going to actually start – I’ll read quite a bit of that email out, actually. It says:

“Dear Joe

We currently have some cases on hold where former agents are claiming that Horizon has caused their discrepancies and so this case gives us some cause for concerns.

“The ideal solution for us would be to secure a confidential settlement of £4,000 to £6,000 on commercial grounds which would avoid any risk of criticism of Horizon by the Judge.

“To progress to Court I think we would need to give serious consideration to acquiring the Fujitsu data to validate the integrity of our Horizon system.”

So I’m going to take each of those one by one. “We’re currently having some cases on hold”, so you were aware that there were cases on hold where Horizon was being raised as the source of discrepancies, and that’s September 2011.

Alison Bolsover: I think that was the JFSA cases.

Mr Blake: “The ideal solution is a settlement so that we avoid any criticism of Horizon”; was that an approach you were familiar with from within the Post Office?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, I think it was suggested by one of the solicitors as well but I think around that, I’ve read the other papers on this, there was a cheque for £4,100 and something so that’s why they suggested 4,000 was there, that there was a cheque within the deficit of 10,000 that had not been received at the processing centre, so we’d not had the funds.

So I think that’s probably where the rationale came from for 4,000 to 6,000.

Mr Blake: If the Post Office was concerned about criticism of Horizon by the judge, why would they pursue the matter at all if there was cause to criticise Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially, we shouldn’t that have, then, you know, in that scenario.

Mr Blake: In the final sentence there about “giving serious consideration to acquiring Fujitsu data to validate the integrity”, do you recall there being issues with obtaining data from Fujitsu or cost implications or a reluctance to obtain that data?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, so I think on this debt of £10,000, Fujitsu were quoting 6,000 something to gain the data, which again, commercially, is madness.

Mr Blake: Might it be worthwhile to acquire the data before bringing an action against a subpostmaster?

Alison Bolsover: Then yeah, I suppose that could have been one way round but the cost of doing that, there were no budget held for requesting data from Fujitsu by the FSC teams and the quotes that were being said were astronomical.

Mr Blake: Do you think, in all those circumstances, it was appropriate to pursue settlement in the Post Office’s favour when you knew, for example, that there could be arguments about Horizon, that Post Office might have difficulty in proving parts of its case?

Alison Bolsover: I think possibly on this case – and I can’t be 100 per cent certain without seeing case papers – that this subpostmistress hasn’t raised Horizon Issues until Joe Napier went or sent his paperwork or his letters over, the solicitor in Northern Ireland sent the paperwork to her. So I don’t know whether she had responded and said it was a Horizon case prior to it being sending it to Legal.

Mr Blake: Was the burden always on the subpostmaster themselves to try to figure out what it was that was going wrong with their system?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially, yes, but I think if you get a letter saying you owe £10,000 worth of debt broken down in this way and, initially, you’ve not responded to us to say, “I believe it’s a system error” or “Horizon caused this”, then the normal BAU process would take place.

Mr Blake: You were top of the tree in terms of management of this team and you weren’t even very familiar with system errors, were you? Do you think it was appropriate to put that burden on a subpostmistress?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially not, no. But, equally, it’s what level of reporting it or telling us there was an issue had taken place and I don’t know that. You know, you’d have to look at the paper case on this to understand what level of communication we had.

Mr Blake: I’m going to return to the Seema Misra case. Can we look at POL00057681?

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry Mr Blake, before you do, just the first sentence, Ms Bolsover are you the “Alison” referred to there.

Alison Bolsover: Yes, I am.

Sir Wyn Williams: So before this email was written, you’d actually reviewed what was to happen with Jacqueline Witham; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: Err –

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s what the email says.

Alison Bolsover: When Joe Napier wrote back to say it was being challenged, the debt was being challenged, I believe Jackie sat down with me and reviewed what was in the case at the time.

Sir Wyn Williams: This email, no doubt, was written as a result of the work that you and she did on the available information?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. Thank you.

Mr Blake: Returning to the Seema Misra case, can we look at POL00057681. We are going broadly chronologically. If we look at the second page there, there’s an email from yourself to Jenny Smith and Zoe Topham. Can you assist us with who they were?

Alison Bolsover: Zoe was the postal officer on Former Agents Debt and I think Jenny was the team leader.

Mr Blake: Thank you. That is an article you’re forwarding and you say “The Misra”, so it’s about the Seema Misra case?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: If we scroll up, we can see an email from yourself to Dave Posnett and others, including Rod Ismay, as well, and I’m just going to read that email. You say:


“The Misra case was closed on 1 March 2011 but she has been in court in April 2012 re confiscations hearing see new article on link below.

“Can we have an update on this and a view on if any further work re civil recovery would be viable as it looks like there are no assets left here to go after.

“This is one of the cases on our Horizon issues spreadsheet that we may need to close.”

Can you assist us with what the “Horizon issues spreadsheet” was, please?

Alison Bolsover: This, I don’t know whether it was Justice for Subpostmasters or not. I’m struggling on the timeline of, you know, what was raised by what areas, whether it’s an MP’s case or a Justice for Subpostmasters case.

Mr Blake: So at some point in 2012 there was either a complaint raised by Members of Parliament or complaints raised by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance that caused the Post Office to build up a “Horizon issues spreadsheet”; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, yes.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with what was on the Horizon issues spreadsheet or what you considered to be a Horizon issue?

Alison Bolsover: Not – only that it had been raised as a Horizon issue, so it was just a – the branch name, the FAD code, the date and that it had been raised as an Horizon issue, not the details of the issue.

Mr Blake: As at 2012, did it have quite a lot of names, only a few?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know.

Mr Blake: Who was responsible for managing the Horizon issues spreadsheet?

Alison Bolsover: I think it was the team in Chesterfield that put in the Horizon sheet, if – or the solicitors advised us that these were the Horizon Issues cases. I think it may have been the latter, that we’d been informed that these were postmasters that were claiming Horizon. So we kept a list of all cases.

Mr Blake: Thank you. If we can scroll up, we’ll see the emails that followed. From Zoe Topham, Former Agents Debt Team:

“I refer to the latest developments below, please could you confirm if you attended the confiscation hearing? Also I know Ms Misra’s house had been repossessed and back in January was being sold, do we know how much this went for and where the money went? Obviously if the house was repossessed then Ms Misra would not have received any payment from the sale.”

The response above that is:

“My understanding from Jarnail Singh (who deals with criminal cases for [the Post Office]) is that the confiscation order remains in place, albeit for a nominal sum of £1 on the basis that Misra has no assets. This can, however, be varied in the event that her financial position changes in the future.”

Are you able to assist us with how the relationship was between yourselves and the criminal team and how it was that you became involved in emails about a criminal case?

Alison Bolsover: Because there was a debt outstanding. So there would have been a debt on the customer line for West Byfleet and we wanted to know what was the next part of the process. Were the Security team recovering the debt or not? And if they saw no advantages in – so if they’d not gone through with the case, do they see an advantage in us going for civil recovery or trying to make civil recovery?

Mr Blake: Say in your statement that the decision to take proceedings to recover debt via the criminal courts was a decision of the Security and Investigations Team; is that correct?

Alison Bolsover: That’s correct, yeah. So we wouldn’t pursue civil recovery if there was a criminal investigation or an investigation taking place. The debt would be blocked and noted that it was with Security.

Mr Blake: The decision making, though, you have said it was the Security and Investigations Team, am I right to say that the ultimate decision then, in your view, was not with a Legal team of some sort?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know the processes around the Security team’s decision making.

Mr Blake: Now, we’ve spoken about the receipts and payments mismatch issue. Do these emails about the Seema Misra case, do they assist you in giving a timeline as to when you were aware of the receipts and payments mismatch issue?

Alison Bolsover: No, I didn’t know that – if Seema Misra was part of that, I don’t know about that.

Mr Blake: But do you think it was around about 2012 that you found out about that issue, very roughly?

Alison Bolsover: I didn’t work on it so I don’t know. I’m only doing it from memory. This is what I remember at the time but – when I did my statement but I can’t remember actual dates around it. I can remember all the letters being on a SharePoint site in Chesterfield, and I think they were still there when I left, for the receipts and payments mismatch, which would probably, you know, guide you around what time this happened.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we –

Alison Bolsover: (Unclear)

Mr Blake: – please look at POL00073165, please. I’m going back in time, slightly, just back to the end of 2011, December 2011. We have an email from you in the bottom half of the page, to Emily Springford and Sabrina, can you assist us with who Emily and Sabrina were?

Alison Bolsover: They were Legal, within the internal Legal team, I think.

Mr Blake: You say:


“Re my action from the meeting last week please see the attached file for all cases I have and the recommendations made to progress.

“Can you confirm your availability for a [telephone conference]”, et cetera.

Then you have an update on the JFSA meeting and you say:

“Of the 533 live cases there are 23 known cases that are Horizon challenges totalling £751,000.”

Are you able to assist us, we saw reference earlier to a Horizon spreadsheet. Is that the same issue or a different issue to this particular correspondence?

Alison Bolsover: I think it’s probably the same, the same as what was quoted then, yes.

Mr Blake: So in December 2011, it’s likely that there were 23 cases that were considered to be Horizon challenges of some sort?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Then there’s suggestions about which ones are progressed. If we scroll down, I won’t take you to the individual cases but there’s reference to which ones will be proceeded with or how they’ll be proceeded with. Was there a pause at any stage in respect of recovering from Horizon related cases?

Alison Bolsover: Was there a what, sorry?

Mr Blake: A pause on the recovery action? The fact that something is on a spreadsheet, does that mean that you paused action until there was further investigation on these particular cases?

Alison Bolsover: These were all paused, yeah, and I think the request was made how would we prioritise these cases if we were to resume – if we were to resume debt recovery.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00085749. There’s a document produced by Emily Springford, Royal Mail Legal Services. Do you remember Emily Springford?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, I remember Emily’s name.

Mr Blake: Is this a document that you recall seeing?

Alison Bolsover: In the bundle. I can’t remember prior to this but, from the bundle, I can remember reading it.

Mr Blake: It seems that in December 2011, there was a weighing up as to whether to pursue those who’d raised Horizon Issues for debt or not; is that right? Is that something you recall?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Blake: She’s there weighing the benefits and risks. Can we look at the risks, please.

Alison Bolsover: I think this was done on the request of Susan Crichton.

Mr Blake: Thank you. The risks there:

“If [the Post Office] is pursuing claims in several County Courts, there is a risk that the Post Office could lose some, as the quality of judges invest variable.”

Is that something that you heard said at all?

Alison Bolsover: Not particularly, no.

Mr Blake: No:

“[Post Office] could be accused of acting prematurely (and potentially penalised on costs) if it were to start Court proceedings against [Scott] Darlington and Walters whilst the ‘pre-action’ dialogue with Shoosmiths was ongoing.”

You she then says:

“Arguably, bringing more claims increases the risk of systemic problems coming to light (such as training for support failures). However there is little that can be done to minimise the risk, apart from analysing the claims carefully at the outset, and bringing them in batches, with the strongest first, as suggested.”

Now, in December 2011 were you aware of concerns that systemic problems might come to light, systemic problems that relate to Horizon, appreciating that, in brackets there, we have “training and support failures” as what are recognised as systemic problems?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know what Emily Springford’s – where she put that, got that from. So, you know, I can’t really comment on what she’s written there.

Mr Blake: Were you aware –

Alison Bolsover: (Unclear) about spreadsheets, so the JFSA, there are also letters coming in from – or Shoosmiths or Shoosmiths-type letters coming in to the Legal team or to ourselves.

Mr Blake: Yes. Were you aware of concerns at the Post Office about the risk of systemic problems coming to light?

Alison Bolsover: I think, yes, and I think that’s why the messages kept coming down that say Horizon was robust.

Mr Blake: So by the end of 2011 and into 2012 you knew about the Lee Castleton case that was important in defending Horizon; you knew about the Seema Misra case that needed to defend the Horizon system; you knew that the Post Office wanted to avoid criticism of Horizon; and it’s there being circulated that there were systemic problems about the Horizon system; you also have this spreadsheet of concerns being raised about the Horizon system.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Did you not at that point think that it was important for your team to be aware of those concerns and criticisms of the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: I think they were, from the communication that came down line but it was always rebuffed that Horizon was reliable.

Mr Blake: Was your impression that the company, the Post Office was doing enough, in that regard?

Alison Bolsover: Communicating to teams, or?

Mr Blake: Communicating that there were significant issues being raised with the Horizon product?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t think – when you say it’s considerable, I don’t know what the numbers were. I knew what cases we’d got flagged as potentially raising it as an Horizon issue.

Mr Blake: 23 known cases as at December 2011 –

Alison Bolsover: 23 at alleged Horizon, yeah.

Mr Blake: – plus concerns about systemic problems, plus two very significant cases that were trying to defend the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: But I think at that time there was about 14,000 offices, so the ratio was potentially small. Not that that, you know, negates anything else but two cases out of potentially 550 that I had, or even 23, were a low percentage.

Mr Blake: I think that was two lead cases which were used by the Post Office. I think, by this period, you also knew about or likely to have known about the receipts and payments mismatch issue.

Alison Bolsover: Potentially, yeah.

Mr Blake: Do you think at this time the Post Office was doing enough to interrogate the integrity of the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially not, no.

Mr Blake: Did you consider that continued enforcement action against subpostmasters in 2011/2012, during the period of those emails that we’ve seen, do you think that that was appropriate, in all the circumstances?

Alison Bolsover: In – I think in respect of was it raised back to us as an issue? So if you’re sent a letter and you vehemently don’t agree with it, you would get in touch with the issuer. So, you know, if somebody wrote to me to say, “I owe this much money”, I’d want to know why I do, and “Here’s your statement”, so work out, did I owe that money?

So I think some of it, whilst I appreciate issues have been raised and numbers have risen, if you, as the recipient of that debt letter, don’t come back to the Post Office and say, “Hold on a minute, you know, it’s not this, it’s caused by this”, then we would continue on the process that was set in place.

Mr Blake: Do you think it was fair, given the imbalance in the state of knowledge between the two parties, for the burden to be on the subpostmaster to be the one who has to bring that forward?

Alison Bolsover: I think if you consider – there wasn’t just Horizon that came into play for branch discrepancies. When you consider we may be issuing £1 million a month in credit TCs to a branch, that should have been offset against a branch discrepancy that they’d got. So if there was a – you know, a branch – there must have been hundreds of branch discrepancies that postmasters may have made good and we were crediting them back with the transaction corrections that we sent out.

So it’s a wider picture, but £1 million a month in credits going back out to branches is a lot of misbalances within branch. It’s not necessarily caused by Horizon. As I’ve said, you know, the cash scenario is a postmaster counting the cash to send to the Cash Centre, and that cash being counted under camera and a shortage or a surplus being found. But £1 million a month is a lot that could potentially be classified as an Horizon issue, that wasn’t.

Mr Blake: Before we break for lunch I’ll take you to one example that might assist you with the potential consequence of that attitude. Can we look at POL00090669, please, page 11. We’re now in May 2012, so after many of those documents that I’ve just taken you to about concerns with the Horizon system. Page 11, please.

There’s an article in North West Wales BBC News, “Subpostmistress Margery Williams sentenced for … post office fraud”:

“A subpostmistress who stole more than £14,000 to help keep a community shop open has escaped a prison sentence.”

If we look at the page before, just for your information, that particular case, the conviction was subsequently quashed. The Court of Appeal found that it was an unexplained shortfall case, that there was a basic failure to investigate the issues that she had raised in interview. Nothing to suggest that ARQ data had been obtained and that there was no evidence to corroborate Horizon evidence that was used against her.

Can we please look at page 14, sorry. At 14 we have an email from Helen Dickinson, April 2012:

“Please see attached the case closure …

“A full recovery of [£14,000] has been achieved.”

There’s a big “YAY!” there on the top. If we go back to page 10, which the reference to the BBC News article in May 2012, Matthew Hibbard, who is a Product Accountant, says:

“She sounds like a nice lady just doing her best, then the nasty Post Office comes along and finds an error!

“I bet this is your fault!”

He sent that to you. Why did people at the Post Office, including within your team, feel that they were able to joke about Horizon cases as late as May 2012, given that all of those documents that we’ve looked at with spreadsheets being put together about problems being raised about the Horizon system.

Alison Bolsover: I think you’d have to direct that question at on Matt Hibbard on why he sent it through.

Mr Blake: Was he somebody who you were managing?

Alison Bolsover: No, he was a Senior Manager within Product and Branch Accounting.

Mr Blake: Do you think that there was an atmosphere within the Post Office that saw the conviction of Ms Williams as something to joke about?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know. He obviously did.

Mr Blake: Thank you, sir –

Alison Bolsover: I can’t defend that, can I? And I can’t. It’s in writing now.

Mr Blake: Sir, might that be an appropriate moment to take our lunch break?

Sir Wyn Williams: It is, but I just want to address Mr Enright or, if Mr Stein or Mr Jacobs are present, them. So could the camera go onto those persons, please?

Mr Blake: Mr Stein and Mr Enright are both present.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Fine.

Well, I understand that Mrs McAlerney and Mr Scott Darlington and members of their family after present and one of the reasons they came to the Inquiry this morning was their belief that Ms Bolsover was giving evidence in person.

Mr Stein: Sir, that’s right.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m very sorry that that understanding on their part wasn’t correct, and that the Inquiry hadn’t done more to alert the public at large, but those persons in particular, that this was a remote witness.

In the future, I will try to ensure that, if a witness is giving evidence remotely, that that will be publicised in sufficient time for those who may be particularly interest in that witness, to make a decision about whether they wish to attend the Inquiry in person or look on through Internet channels, if I can call it that. All right?

I just wanted to make that clear.

Mr Stein: Sir, thank you and thank you for considering the matter.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Then we’ll start again at 2.00.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

(1.01 pm)

(The Short Adjournment)

(2.00 pm)

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

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

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

Can we bring up on to screen POL00057991, please. We’re now into June 2012 and you’ll see at the bottom there’s an email from yourself to Angela van den Bogerd. It may assist if we actually start on the page after, which is an email that’s been forwarded. That is an email from Chris Darvill, who is in Legal Services, to Angela van den Bogerd, about “MPs visit” and it seems as though Members of Parliament’s visit. He says:


“I have compared the list of branches against the known cases being fronted by Shoosmiths. 3 of the 5 cases formally notified to [the Post Office] fall within the constituencies of one of the 37 MPs due to attend the meeting.”

It gives some names there:

“I have set out a summary of the facts below. I have taken some of this information from the letters prepared by Shoosmiths, but have not yet had an opportunity to verify it.”

The first case there is the case of Scott Darlington and it says, for example:

“Letter before action sent by Shoosmiths on 16 August 2011. It is alleged by the [subpostmaster] that he was compelled to make the false declarations by virtue of economic duress and that the offences resulted from the unfairness of the system devised for use by the [subpostmasters] and/or as a result of errors generated by the Horizon system itself. As a result, the [subpostmaster] claims that [the Post Office] was not entitled to terminate his appointment and consequently [the Post Office] is liable for the wrongful termination of his contract.”

It says below that:

“It is alleged that (a) the training provided was inadequate, (b) the helpline provided by [the Post Office] was unfairly difficult to access due to both its hours of operation and the insufficiency of operators to deal with the level of demand placed on the service, (c) the Horizon system suffers with inherent defects and/or an unfair system of operation and (d) the standard operating procedures used by [the Post Office] make it impossible to properly reconcile errors.”

If we go over the page, to page 1, and the second of those emails, we have yourself emailing Angela van den Bogerd about the Scott Darlington case, and you say:

“This is one of our top 5 cases that I have recommended that we proceed on but I am awaiting a risk analysis and cost estimate from Bond Pearce on the top 5 cases …”

Can you assist us, when you refer to “top 5 cases”, what did you mean by that?

Alison Bolsover: I think potentially in value of debt, I don’t know.

Mr Blake: You were awaiting risk analysis. Can you recall who was carrying out the risk analysis and what kind of a process that was?

Alison Bolsover: I think that was the Emily Springford page that you had up previously.

Mr Blake: So the pros and the cons?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, Susan Crichton had asked for a risk analysis to be done.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with why on 7 June 2012 you would be in contact by Angela van den Bogerd discussing these issues?

Alison Bolsover: She would have asked me for some information on the cases, I would imagine.

Mr Blake: What do you recall of her involvement with these kinds of issues?

Alison Bolsover: She was majorly involved in – you know, in the MP cases, the mediation and with our internal solicitors.

Mr Blake: At this time, what did you understand her views to be on the Horizon system and its integrity or its robustness?

Alison Bolsover: I believe she conveyed that it was a robust system.

Mr Blake: So where we have those pros and cons that we were looking at before lunch and there were some risks identified, including risk of systemic problems coming to light, such as training or support failures, those were things that both you and she was aware of at this time, because that document was dated 20 December 2011.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Blake: The allegations being raised by Mr Darlington, for example, include allegations about training being inadequate. Do you remember any conversation about Mr Darlington’s case, about how some of those factors might actually chime with the risks that have been identified?

Alison Bolsover: No, I can’t remember the – unfortunately, I can’t remember of the specifics around that or in seeing the document you had up previously. Did I see that? I don’t know.

Mr Blake: If we scroll up, we have it forwarded – or an email from Angela van den Bogerd to Alwen Lyons, can you remind us who Alwen Lyons was?

Alison Bolsover: Company Secretary, I think.

Mr Blake: Do you recall from this period what his views on the integrity of Horizon was?

Alison Bolsover: It’s a her.

Mr Blake: Her, sorry.

Alison Bolsover: Both Susan Crichton and Alwen Lyons came to visit Chesterfield to discuss debt recovery and see the operation in FSC. So I don’t know what her involvement was within the MP’s visit so I can’t answer that but she saw the cases that we’d got and we discussed them, just on the basis that we’ve got a level of debt.

Can we look at POL00107907, please, and starting on the second page. It’s the bottom of page 1, sorry, top of page 2. In fact, actually, we can start at the bottom of the page.

The bottom email there – sorry, if we could scroll down, from Michelle Stevens, you’re copied in:

“Dear all

“Please see details from a Former Agent who has already pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to 12 months community order but is now claiming Horizon.

“I intend to [follow] my debt recovery process and proceed with chasing our debt unless otherwise instructed.”

That’s April 2013. We have an answer there above from Roderic Williams that you’re copied into and he says:

“We need to consider how this impacts on the investigation into the Horizon system and what we said we would do about pursuing recoveries while that investigation is ongoing.”

So am I right in saying that in April or by April 2013, there was a pause in certain cases on recoveries?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, I think as instructed by either Rodric Williams or other parts of the business, the mediation cases, I think they were pre-this, but if any challenges had come in, then we were asked to put – if we – who are holding debt, to put it on hold.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00086707, please. Where it refers to “investigation” in that document we’ve just seen, is that the Second Sight investigation?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, and wherever a claim had been raised, the Shoosmiths, the JFSA, if the debt was flagged as blocked due to Horizon Issues raised, so if anybody told us to block the debt because of X, then that’s what we would do.

Mr Blake: If we scroll down on this page we have an email from yourself to Roderic Williams, Simon Baker, Andrew Winn, Rod Ismay:

“I have been reviewing the cases that we have that state Horizon issues/pending the Second Sight review but there appears to be gaps on what we have and what cases have been progressed.

“I am assuming we need to keep these cases on hold but could you please advise.”

Then you receive a response from Roderick above that says:

“… I suspect there will be number of subpostmasters (current or former) who have raised Horizon Issues directly with the JFSA/Second Sight and who would not necessarily be known to us.

“Simon – can we please ask Second Sight for a list of everyone who submitted an issue to them under ‘Raising Concerns with Horizon’ agreement we signed with them and the JFSA? We need to ensure we comply with our obligations under that agreement, specifically that we don’t start taking action against an individual who has raised a concern until the investigation has been completed.”

If we scroll down the page and over to the next, we have there the list of cases that you had. But I think, to summarise this chain, it’s that you didn’t necessarily have the comprehensive list because it may be that some people complained to Second Sight rather than to the Post Office.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, and I think that was our biggest concern: that we may be chasing debt where concerns had been raised but we had not been made aware of it in FSC, so we couldn’t block a debt – or we didn’t block a debt being chased if we didn’t know there was issues being raised.

Mr Blake: At this stage, so we have people who are making proactive complaints about the Horizon system that are notified on this spreadsheet or ones that have complained to Second Sight. What happens in a new case? So where a subpostmaster complains they’re being pursued for recovery and they say, “I simply don’t know why the figures say that they say what they say, I can’t explain it”; did you feel any duty on yourselves to notify them that there were these cases that were raising issues with Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: If they told us that they thought I was an Horizon issue then we flagged it back into Legal.

Mr Blake: So where somebody said to you “I have a problem, I know it’s caused by a some issue”, that would be entered on to this spreadsheet?

Alison Bolsover: If they said it was an Horizon issue, yes.

Mr Blake: If they couldn’t explain what the issue was but knew that they hadn’t been the cause, did you see any duty on the Post Office to alert them to this mounting body of complaints about the Horizon system?

Alison Bolsover: I didn’t at the time, no.

Mr Blake: Later that year, October 2013, there was something called the Detica report. Is that a report that you were aware of at all?

Alison Bolsover: No, because I believe it was around the work undertaken by what used to be the Fraud and Conformance Team and they moved out of my area into Security in 2012. So I think the report was commissioned by Sally Smith in the Security team but I’d not seen it until you sent it to me.

Mr Blake: It’s not something that was ever summarised to you or brought to your attention?

Alison Bolsover: No.

Mr Blake: No. Can we please turn to POL00022296. We’re here in January 2015 now, so quite a significant time has passed. This is a meeting at Bond Dickinson or with Bond Dickinson and the matter is “Horizon Challenges General”. You are listed there as one of the attendees, if we could scroll down, so we have there Second Sight, some senior members of the Post Office, including Angela van den Bogerd, for example, and General Counsel, Chris Aujard. Why were you attending that meeting, do you remember?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know – no, I don’t know why I was. I think probably to brief us on where they were with Second Sight or what was happening.

Mr Blake: It’s a relatively small list of attendees. Does that indicate that you were seen as particularly significant in respect of Horizon issues or are we to read something else into that?

Alison Bolsover: I think possibly it was just around the debt that I was holding and knowing what we were – you know, how we were commencing. If there were anything out of this that said “We’re not going to chase subpostmasters”, then I attended, but I can’t remember – I can’t remember attending it but I can, you know, vaguely remember the meeting but I don’t know. It’s only from the notes that you’ve sent me.

Mr Blake: So, in that case, I’ll go through it quite quickly and I’ll only read the first two bullet points:

“[Chris Aujard] explained that this was a working meeting and that the Scheme was designed to resolve the complaints of [subpostmasters]. [Second Sight] have a role in reviewing the complaints in the Scheme. The role of [Second Sight] is well defined and constrained as their terms of reference. Due to the wide range of questions raised by [Second Sight], [Chris] sent his recent letter. The concern is that the wide-ranging questions asked by [Second Sight] would put [the Post Office] in the position of dealing with information in a non-compliant way and also that they did not relate to any specific cases. [The Post Office] expected focused questions relevant to specific cases from [Second Sight] to be able to assist with the mediation process and to be able to finalise the Part 2 report. The applicants’ concerns would be with their specific cases and not how something is generally handled across the whole network.”

Then IH is Ian Henderson of Second Sight:

“[He] disagreed with the characterisation of [Second Sight’s] role and based on the introduction … did not see the point of the meeting going ahead. [Second Sight] is an independent reviewer and it was clear that [the Post Office] was treating this as if it was litigation.”

Is this a meeting that you recall at all? I mean, they’re quite strong words used there, is it not something that sticks in your memory at all?

Alison Bolsover: It doesn’t, no, I’m sorry.

Mr Blake: Do you recall at all the relationship between the Post Office and Second Sight?

Alison Bolsover: No, I can remember answering questions to Second Sight but I think, at that stage, I was part of a team of five Senior Managers within FSC, so dealing from the debt point of view, I could answer questions on that, but not necessarily on every part of the work undertaken in the Finance Service Centre.

Mr Blake: Some of the topics that we’ve dealt with already today – and we’ve started with Castleton; Misra; we’ve looked at various spreadsheets of complaints that people raised about the Horizon system; we’ve seen references to the Post Office not wanting publicity about Horizon; we’ve seen that you were aware of the receipts and payments mismatch – do you have any views or did you have any views, as at 2015, about the way Second Sight were being treated at this meeting or during this period, or is that something you simply don’t remember?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t because I didn’t have a lot of input with Second Sight. I think it was more Rod that was fronting up some of the responses that were happening to Second Sight rather than myself.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00117439, please. 26 June 2015, there is a message that’s communicated to a large number of people by Mark Davies, the Communications and Corporate Affairs Director at the Post Office. You are listed there, I mean it may just – I think it’s just because your name begins with an “A” that you’re near the top but you are one of the first recipients named there in this communication. If we could scroll down, please. Thank you. If we could go over the page. Mark Davies says:

“Thanks for taking part in the conference call on Horizon this week. This note went out yesterday and I wanted to make sure you received it …”

If we look down at the note, there was a note from the Communications Team, it seems to be a global communication of some sort within the company. I’ll just read you a few extracts from it. He says:


“As I think most colleagues are aware, we are facing further media and Parliamentary scrutiny about the Horizon system and allegations about how we have handled a small number of cases where losses have been identified in branches.”

If we scroll down he says there, for example:

“I have held teleconferences over the last couple of days to update colleagues across the business on this new activity in relation to this issue. I am really grateful to all those who took part and asked questions.”

By the look of the distribution list, you did take part in some sort of teleconference; is that right? Do you recall a teleconference?

Alison Bolsover: I think it was to all Senior Managers within the business, by the looks of it.

Mr Blake: “A key request” –

Alison Bolsover: So it was business-wide.

Mr Blake: Pardon?

Alison Bolsover: It was business-wide that this communication came out and the teleconference happened.

Mr Blake: “A key request was for a short script for use in response to questions from customers, postmasters, potential new operators, stakeholders and others.”

Do you know who that request came from?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know, no.

Mr Blake: Were you looking for answers at this stage to give to people?

Alison Bolsover: I think we raised it on how do we respond if there’s things happening in the press or on TV and postmasters raised it with us? So we did ask that – I can remember asking that question and I think particularly I asked it to our Legal team, to Roderic Williams, to say, “Well, how do we respond if a postmaster says it’s Horizon?”

Mr Blake: If we continue down the page, there are some bullet points and he gives the key points to make. He says:

“extremely serious, untrue allegations about the Post Office and the Horizon system have continued to be repeated over the past few years by a small number of mainly former postmasters.

“the clear evidence we have in these cases does not support the allegations being made.”

We see there the other answers, the other proposed key points. If we scroll down, there’s another one that I will read out and that’s the third one down. It says:

“if there were systemic problems with branch accounting, it is reasonable to expect them to have been more widely experienced across the Post Office Network than the 136 individual [complainants] spanning more than 10 years, during which there have been 500,000 Horizon users.”

Were these points ones that were generally accepted by you and your colleagues?

Alison Bolsover: I think they were, yes. I think this came through to be briefed out to our teams.

Mr Blake: If I can take you back to your discussion even later, 2018, with Womble Bond Dickinson, if we can go to POL00006650, page 34, about halfway down. There’s comment there about entrusting postmasters with a lot of the Post Office’s cash and stock and your answer there is:

“Yep and there’s nothing more tempting, you know, you can see a new pair of shoes or a bill needs paying.”

Was that the kind of attitude that was taken at the Post Office at that time, that it wasn’t Horizon, it was people who wanted new pairs of shoes or who had bills that needed paying?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, I think that was a very unfortunate comment that I made, if I’m quite honest, reading it myself now. There were defendants or there were cases where people admitted that they’d not got the children’s dinner money or they’d not got, you know – financially, they were in a dire situation and, yes, they had taken the money.

So not all around Horizon where other losses were there. Likewise, there were some branches that we lost some large amounts from for the processes that they were able to get around with Horizon.

Mr Blake: This Inquiry is looking at the culture within the Post Office at the relevant times and here we are, 2018, with those kinds of comments being made. We have those lines to take in 2015. Where do you place responsibility for that culture having developed?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially, yes, it – on the comments that were made there, then it come from me, you know. I take responsibility for that. I think, from a business point of view, the opinion was that Horizon was correct. I appreciate that any system can have flaws or issues with it and I don’t think we ever saw it as bugs and defects, but I think there’s an accountability on Fujitsu to have reported it through to us, to have understood what the issues were that were being raised.

And I think that’s where my concern is or my concern was. So you’re continuing totally naive that there are issues because you don’t hear about them.

Mr Blake: I’m going to ask you a few miscellaneous topics, it won’t be very long, no more than ten minutes on just a few different topics.

The first is the NBSC and script. And I’d like to return back to the Womble Bond Dickinson meeting so POL00006650, and it’s page 8. Thank you, so the bottom of page 8 and over the page to page 9. You say there:

“… if they were. We work with the NBSC so if things like scripting, we are checking or teams will check on what scriptings they’ve got on their products to try to ensure we are giving right advice out.

“VB – Sorry, if somebody rang NBSC and it was something that related to your area, you would have had a role in checking the answers were …

“AB – We try to, so since we’ve come to work in Chesterfield I think we’ve tried to marry up a lot more than probably when they were at Dearne. So, we have done some exercises on looking at different scripts, you know, are we giving right advice out, and equally they will come to us for advice if they’ve got a customer on and they want a refund or something or can we see anything. So we can look at different systems to see transactions that have gone through.”

Were you aware of any policy or specific script that concerned issues with Horizon?

Alison Bolsover: No, because it – it’s not a product. The scripts that we were talking about were the NBSC helpline scripts that were specific to, say, the Lottery or the ATMs, or personal banking items. It was around a product.

Mr Blake: To the best of your recollection, did any of those scripts address situations where postmasters raised issues with software issues?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know, I think you’d have to direct that at Kendra in the NBSC –

Mr Blake: Thank you.

Alison Bolsover: – to say what was on Knowledge Base.

Mr Blake: The next topic – we can stay with this document, it’s a different page that I’m going to take you to – it’s page 18. This is the issue, we’ve discussed Credence but I also want to ask you about ARQ data. At page 18, at the top, you say:

“So we have also got access to like your Credence information so we can see it by transaction but what they are wanting to know is are we going to give them some money back. You know if they have panicked all night because they do not balance. As long as we have interface, the client file might be full we could see whether they are open … on their account.”

Then you’re asked:

“… What is Credence?”

You said:

“This gives us where [POLSAP] gives a summary so that day you have done that many transactions you could basically, in Credence, you could see all, every customer’s session. So you could see what they have done within that session.”

Were you aware that Credence didn’t show the full picture of everything tracked that, for example, the Horizon trail might, that’s held with Fujitsu?

Alison Bolsover: I subsequently have from watching this but I didn’t know before.

Mr Blake: Were you aware that there were different types of audit trails that might be obtainable from Fujitsu, that could give more information than Credence?

Alison Bolsover: Only from the Inquiry, no. I wasn’t aware.

Mr Blake: Thank you. One final topic and that is the ability to settle centrally. Can we look again at paragraph 31 of your witness statement, please, WITN06120100. It’s page 15, paragraph 31. You say there:

“The change in 2005 by the IMPACT Programme was that the local suspense needs to be cleared at branch trading, creating a branch discrepancy with the option to the branch to declare the shortage/surplus as a branch discrepancy and settle centrally (if over £150) or to make good by cash or cheque (for shortages) or remove cash (for surpluses). Local suspense does feed into the POLSAP accounts.”

I just want to take you to one final document while we have that in mind and that’s POL00026854. This is a “[Transaction Correction]/Debt Recovery Review”. Is this something you recall seeing or being involved in?

Alison Bolsover: I can remember seeing it in the bundle.

Mr Blake: But not before then?

Alison Bolsover: I think I can vaguely remember this.

Mr Blake: Under the section that’s headed “Legal”, it says:

“‘Settle Centrally’ signifies an acceptance of debt liability.”

Is that something that you were aware of? That, actually, if you settled centrally it was considered to be an acceptance of debt liability?

Alison Bolsover: I wasn’t aware until Legal raised it here and, what we did from this, we asked all our teams not to issue transaction corrections on a Tuesday prior to the branch trading. So they would have at least a full day to get them. So we didn’t force acceptance, as such, on the same day as received.

Mr Blake: So the answer to the problem caused by settling centrally creating a debt liability is to give people an extra day?

Alison Bolsover: In some cases, yeah. I mean, that’s not in all cases but some of them may have received on the same day as branch trading, so we put steps in to ensure that they didn’t receive TCs a day before branch trading.

Mr Blake: Do you think that that was sufficient for people who were experiencing, for example, discrepancies that they couldn’t get to the bottom of?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t think the majority of TCs were issued on a Tuesday prior to branch trading. We used to get a daily report to show what TCs we had issued and sometimes branches would ask for them to be issued. So if they’d rung us up and it was a Tuesday, which normally we wouldn’t issue on, then they’d ask us to issue them so they’d got them for branch trading dates.

But the numbers going out on a Tuesday were not as high as on other days of the week. A lot of time the bulk TCs were issued on a Thursday/Friday.

Mr Blake: So am I right to understand that the answer to that problem was not to change the system so that it didn’t create debt liability but was to change the process by giving people an extra day in which to work out whether they needed to settle centrally or not.

Alison Bolsover: At least another day, yeah. It wasn’t that every – because the branches do their branch trading over four weeks, so in four different segments. So there’s only so many doing – completing a branch trading on week 1. Then on week 2, week 3 and week 4. So there was different number of offices, branches, completing branch trading on different weeks.

Mr Blake: Looking back at everything you know now and issues, for example, with bugs, errors and defects and the difficulty in getting to the bottom of all of that, do you think that the creation of a debt liability by settling centrally was appropriate?

Alison Bolsover: I think in the majority of cases, yes, because I don’t think that all the debt that we had was caused by bugs and defects.

Mr Blake: So I’ll rephrase that. In the case where a subpostmaster was concerned that they were suffering from a software problem caused by a bug, error or defect, do you think it was fair to those individuals to create debt liability when they settled centrally?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t think, even just settling centrally, that it was a debt liability until we sent out the information to branches. So it was –

Mr Blake: Do you accept the words written there that it signified an acceptance of debt liability?

Alison Bolsover: I took the – what Legal had said to us, yes, that it was signifying a debt liability.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

Sir, I don’t have any questions. I believe Mr Stein has some questions and then Ms Page.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes. Fine, Mr Stein.

Questioned by Mr Stein

Mr Stein: Thank you.

Ms Bolsover, I appear on behalf of a very large number of subpostmasters and mistresses, instructed by a solicitors firm called Howe+Co.

You’ve been asked a few questions about what’s called the receipts and payments mismatch issue.

Your evidence earlier on today was that you thought that you may have become aware of that at around 2013. Just help us with a little bit more detail, please. Now, first of all, your line manager within the FSC, was that Rod Ismay?

Alison Bolsover: It was, yeah.

Mr Stein: Right. Andrew Winn, who’s described in your statement, paragraph 49, was the FSC Relationship Manager. What was he in terms of management responsibilities to you?

Alison Bolsover: He was my – I was his line manager.

Mr Stein: Right. So these two individuals, one of them is essentially your managerial boss and the other one you manage; is that right?

Alison Bolsover: That’s correct, yeah.

Mr Stein: Okay. Now, the Inquiry has heard evidence from both Mr Winn and Mr Ismay. Mr Winn was involved, in the latter part of 2010, in dealing with the receipts and payments mismatch bug, okay? We know that from evidence that has been provided to the Inquiry this year and we know that from the documents.

Now, Mr Ismay gave evidence earlier this year on 12 May 2023 that he thought he became aware of that at the latest in early 2011. All right.

So let’s piece this all together. You’ve got these two individuals, one of them essentially working for you, the other one you report to, who are in the know about the receipts and payments mismatch issue. Can we assume that you would have learnt about it at roughly the same time they did, in other words latter part of 2010/early 2011?

Alison Bolsover: Potentially, yes, and I think I may have got the date wrong because I wasn’t wholly involved in it.

Mr Stein: Yes. Right. Now, let’s move on to step 2 in relation to the receipts and payments mismatch issue. Now, this particular bug that affected the Horizon system meant to a Post Office branch that they could not see that there was, from their accounts, an issue; but to the Post Office, the Post Office could see a shortfall, all right?

So I’ve described this before as being effectively a submarine bug, under the water for the branch but affecting, actually, their accounts.

Now, can we assume from, therefore, your evidence that you were aware that this was a devastating Horizon bug?

Alison Bolsover: I think, yes, it was.

Mr Stein: So from that point onwards, it must have shaken your faith, indeed Mr Ismay’s and Mr Winn’s faith in the Horizon system; do you agree?

Alison Bolsover: I think it’s questioned why we weren’t finding out about these issues.

Mr Stein: Yes. The reason why it would question about you finding out about these issues was because it meant that the Horizon system was completely capable of actually inventing a shortfall; do you agree?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Stein: Now, you’ve just been asked a few questions by Mr Blake, the barrister that was asking you questions this morning, and he was identifying with you the question of settling centrally. You looked at with him, at the last part of his questions to you, a document where it was referred to, in other words settling centrally means acceptance of debt liability. Okay?

So let’s add these two things together. You’re aware that the mismatch bug can cause real problem with branch accounts. After that time, did the Post Office carry on using the settling centrally system to –

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Stein: – effectively make subpostmasters and mistresses accept their debt liability?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, they did continue using it.

Mr Stein: Didn’t that give you any qualms, any concerns, Ms Bolsover, that what was going on here was a Horizon system that could create bugs, was nevertheless being applied by the Post Office, you included, to centrally settle with branch managers, that means that they accepted the debt? Didn’t that give you any, you know, concerns, sleepless nights, worries?

Alison Bolsover: At the time, no, it didn’t because it was also a mechanism to enable postmasters to settle centrally and then pay off at the end of the month. So, if they’d not got the cash to put into the till, then they had an ability to defer their payment until the end of the month.

So for a pluralist or somebody that had got somebody else managing the branch, those offices were settling centrally on everything, all transaction corrections, all branch discrepancies and then paying the bill at the end of the month.

Mr Stein: Subpostmasters, Ms Bolsover, that have been through the hell visited upon them by the Post Office may be rather concerned that you and other people within the FSC carried on blithely applying systems that penalised them in the knowledge that the Horizon system was not okay. Do you want to say anything to them?

Alison Bolsover: I am sorry for how they’ve suffered and I didn’t know any of this prior or wasn’t fully aware of all the issues that were raised.

Mr Stein: I’m going to refer you to a document it’s POL00073012. That’s POL00073012. If we can have that on screen, please.

Now, if we can highlight – thank you very much – the top part of the document and just look at the date, this from Emily Springford, dated 21 September 2011. So this is after the period of time that we’ve identified that you became aware of the mismatch bug. Then we look through the bottom part of this – sorry, in the middle there it says:

“Thank you for the update [et cetera]. My preliminary view is that we should seek a confidential settlement”, et cetera.

Let’s go a little bit further down. Now, that’s the top email. Right, thank you very much.

So this is the email, just before the top email, same date, 21 September 2011, 9.35:

“Dear Alison and Emily

“Please see below update from Joe Napier regarding a former agent of Leitrim Post Office.

“Lietrim is on our Horizon integrity list.”

Now, could you help the Inquiry understand what the Horizon integrity list means?

Alison Bolsover: It was whatever had been raised, either the Justice for Subpostmasters or Shoosmiths cases. I think it came on to that list after this date, is my understanding.

Mr Stein: Right. Now –

Alison Bolsover: So I think it referred to the solicitors, prior to us being updated that later it was one that was claiming Horizon integrity.

Mr Stein: Let’s go a little bit further down the page and we’ll deal with a matter that you’d answered a question about with Mr Blake earlier on, okay? So we’re seeing the starting point email to this. That’s fine, if you leave it there please.

So again, same email chain, 21 September 2011, the start time is 07.27. Now, if we look at what’s being said on this particular page, we go to – I think it’s the fifth paragraph, where it says, “She pleads that she had problems with her Horizon system”, okay?

Do you see that?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Stein: Next to the yellow highlight.

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Stein: All right. So we know that this is a case whereby Ms McAlerney was saying, in relation to her dealings with the Post Office, that this was a problem that she was having with the Horizon system. It goes on to say:

“The records support her contention that she did call the helpline from time to time.”

All right. So let’s go back to the top, let’s go back to the top of where we’ve got these emails. Let’s add things up together again. We’ve got a system that, by now, in 2011, you know could have a very grave fault to it. You’ve got this particular subpostmaster or mistress, in fact, dealing with a problem that she’s been wrestling with: contacting the confidential helpline saying that there’s difficulties with the system. Right.

What is going on here, as far as we can see, is that the drive by the Post Office is still to pursue her.

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Stein: Why not investigate this more deeply? Why not say to her “Look, we’ve got some deep-rooted problems with the system, we just want to check to make sure yours is not one of them”? Why is that not the reach from the Post Office?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know, I can’t explain that. I think if you read further down the email, my understanding is, from the audit report, there was different questions raised as well about how the branch was being managed and the “chaotic state of the branch”, I think it quoted, in the audit report.

So was it being managed correctly and, with all due respect to the lady, I don’t know but that was the comments made within the audit report.

Mr Stein: You’re suggesting that that might be a reasonable way of covering the problem when you’ve got direct knowledge that there are real problems with the Post Office Horizon system. You’re saying –

Alison Bolsover: No, I’m not –

Mr Stein: It could be that –

Alison Bolsover: I’m not saying –

Mr Stein: It could be that this particular subpostmistress is making the odd mistake and that’s fine, let’s pursue her anyway?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, but I think further down the email, there’s a £4,100 cheque that went missing, as well, so the cash was never there, so which would create a discrepancy.

Mr Stein: Let’s go to that. Let’s go to the bottom of that page, please. That email.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Stein: Very grateful. Further down, please, a little bit further. One more, that’s it.

Right. So this is the bottom paragraph there, where it says “It has been suggested that there had been no actual loss”, okay? If we can just highlight that particular paragraph, starting with “It has been suggested”, thank you very much.

It goes on to say:

“That cannot be correct in respect of the final audit – there being a real physical deficit on inspection. The 22/11/2006 loss of [£1,628] has been identified as a cheque logged to the system which never arrived in the Cash Centre. Again, the loss accrual can be seen; the defendant having been credited for the value of the cheque but POL prevented from benefiting from it by being unable to cash it.”

It goes on to say in brackets:

“It has been suggested that POL will have had the details of the payer/payee and could have been followed up once the cheque was noted to be missing.”

Let’s piece that together. This appears to be saying that the subpostmistress, Ms McAlerney, had logged a cheque onto the system that had never arrived at the Post Office Cash Centre; do you agree?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Stein: Why would she log a cheque onto the system that didn’t exist?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know (audio disruption) but that did happen.

Mr Stein: What’s the point of doing that?

Alison Bolsover: Because there’s no cash there.

Mr Stein: What, she’s actually taking in a cheque, is she, and putting it onto a system, for what reason?

Alison Bolsover: Because it’s either cash or cheque as a method of payment or debit card.

Mr Stein: This is a cheque being logged on to the system?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, but they don’t always exist.

Mr Stein: I’m sorry? They don’t always exist?

Alison Bolsover: No.

Mr Stein: So you’re –

Alison Bolsover: Not in every case –

Mr Stein: – suggesting that she made this up?

Alison Bolsover: I’m not, but I’m saying not in all cases that a cheque does exist.

Mr Stein: Well, she –

Alison Bolsover: A postmaster may make his losses good by cheque but never send the cheque off to the processing centre and, in which case, we can’t find, as well, transactions that relate to a cheque being taken for products.

Mr Stein: So you’re suggesting that one explanation for this is that Mrs McAlerney had, in fact, put a cheque in herself for £1,628.56, in order to try to balance the system; is that what you’re trying to say?

Alison Bolsover: No, I’m saying that’s what could have happened and does happen sometimes. I’m not saying in this case it’s what happened but it may have happened.

Mr Stein: Then you’re also suggesting that that cheque never –

Alison Bolsover: But I’ve got no –

Mr Stein: Sorry, forgive me, you’re talking and I’m talking. I shouldn’t let that happen. You go ahead.

Alison Bolsover: So a cheque is dispatched with – if they’ve taken a bundle of cheques that day, week, or whatever, they are dispatched daily into processing. They are all imaged and the funds are then electronically transferred to POL. So if a cheque has been classified as dispatched on Horizon and doesn’t arrive, then it’s understanding what transactions that cheque has been taken for.

Mr Stein: Right.

Alison Bolsover: So the comment that we’d got information on that cheque, it’s not captured on Horizon, the cheque, only the value.

Mr Stein: Right. So are you explaining that that is the reason why, in these circumstances, that the Post Office would go after the subpostmistress in relation to the sum claimed on the cheque?

Alison Bolsover: Not only that, no. And I don’t know why it wasn’t put on hold as a potential Horizon case and it was passed to Joe Leitrim – Joe Napier, sorry. I don’t know why.

Mr Stein: Let’s remind ourselves what, in fact, did happen, was that instead she was pursued for the debt?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Stein: Let’s turn to an email chain that relates to Mr Scott Darlington, POL00057991. Thank you. Now, you’ve again looked at this briefly with the barrister that asked you questions earlier. This was emails to Angela van den Bogerd who was at that time Head of Network Services; all right?

Let’s go down to the next part of at page, please. Thank you. This is from you to Ms van den Bogerd:


“Scott Darlington – Alderley Edge, Debt outstanding £44,193.

“This is one of our top 5 cases …”

Again, you’ve been asked some questions about that, so let’s scroll down a little bit more and we’ll see a discussion of the types of cases we’re talking about. Again, further down. Stop there, please.

So the information that’s being passed onwards within this email chain is that, from Chris Darvill – who is Chris Darvill, can you help?

Alison Bolsover: He was an internal solicitor, I believe.

Mr Stein: Okay. Sent in May 2012 to Ms van den Bogerd:


“I have compared the list of branches against the known cases being fronted by Shoosmiths. 3 of the 5 cases formally notified to POL fall within the constituencies of one of the 37 MPs due to attend the meeting …”

Okay. Let’s deal with the Shoosmiths part. Why does it matter that it’s part of a group of cases being fronted by Shoosmiths?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know, because Chris wrote that. I don’t know.

Mr Stein: All right. Why does it matter that three out of the five cases formally notified to POL fall within the constituencies of one of the 37 MPs due to attend the meeting? The particular constituency MP we’re concerned with here for Mr Darlington was George Osborne.

Alison Bolsover: I can’t answer that. I wasn’t involved in the MPs raising issues.

Mr Stein: But there appears –

Alison Bolsover: I was –

Mr Stein: Sorry, you go ahead.

Alison Bolsover: We were the recipients of information to say “Put this case on hold”, not on the background of what was happening with various MPs or anything else. As such, it’s a – you know, we’re processing information. We weren’t dealing with the MPs’ visits.

Mr Stein: Let’s scroll further down the page and see what else would have been on the email chain that you were part of. Scott Darlington, first of all.

Now, various bullet points there and you’ll see there that, on to the sixth bullet point in relation to Mr Darlington:

“It is alleged that training provided was inadequate, the helpline provided by POL was unfairly difficult to access due to … hours of operation … insufficiency of operators to deal with the level of demand … the Horizon system suffers with inherent defects and/or an unfair system of operation … the standard operating procedures used by POL make it impossible to properly reconcile errors.”

So that’s what’s being said there in relation to a summary of Mr Darlington’s issues.

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Mr Stein: Just go further down, we’ll see Julian Wilson. You’ll see there the fifth bullet point:

“Letter before action sent by Shoosmiths on 23 August 2011. The issues raised in that letter are more or less identical to those set out in Darlington.”

Then further down, where we have in the little dotted line box “GRO”?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Mr Stein: We’ll see the GRO has been substituted for an individual’s name. Again, can you scroll down a little bit further, please. Thank you very much.

We see the second to last bullet point, reference to court proceedings being commenced in June 2011, and then the final sentence there:

“The allegations made are in almost identical terms to the claims made in both the Darlington and Wilson cases.”

So can we again pull this all together. These are all cases where identical concerns are being raised about the system having many problems, defects in training, access to helplines, defects in the system, et cetera. Why were these three cases being picked on by the Post Office?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t necessarily think they were being picked on. I think, reading this again now, both of the two that you’ve said, excluding this one that was a spent debt at that point anyway, they were both Legal – they were both Security cases, that were criminal prosecutions, that wouldn’t have necessarily gone through my teams, these two. So we wouldn’t have proceeded with civil requests until the Security had ended their prosecution, as such.

Mr Stein: Ms Bolsover, by this time in 2012, what was going on was that considerable concerns had been raised about Horizon, MPs are being involved, Shoosmiths are bringing their cases together, the JFSA is involved in the background, Computer Weekly is publishing issues that relate to it, these cases needed to be stamped out, didn’t they? You needed to make good on these claims and pursue them; do you agree?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t think we did pursue them. But they were initially not just debts that were put on to the customer account; they were sent to the Security teams. But I don’t disagree with you.

Mr Stein: Ms Bolsover, the individuals I’ve been asking you some questions about, Ms McAlerney, Mr Darlington, their families are in this room where I sit at the Inquiry centre for the Post Office Inquiry. Is there anything you would like to say to them?

Alison Bolsover: I’m just very sorry for what they’ve been through. Potentially, I didn’t believe that there was a problem with Horizon. Subsequently, I’m shocked about how things were not identified or not investigated properly, and that I can only say sorry.

Mr Stein: Sir, no further questions.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Blake, did you say that there was another –

Mr Blake: Ms Page.

Sir Wyn Williams: Ah yes, right.

Questioned by Ms Page

Ms Page: Ms Bolsover, I’m asking questions also on behalf of a group of subpostmasters and the short first area of questioning I want to ask you about is the non-commercial pursuit of debts and there’s a document that I’ll show to you that deals with that.

So if we could have POL00121191, please. If we zoom in at the top there the heading says, “Proposal for transfer of Write off authority for Former Subpostmaster Accounts cases”, and then it sets out the years that we’re talk about, so we’re talking about 2002 going into 2003, and it says “from Commercial and Community Finance Managers to Transaction Processing”.

So this seems to be a change of process about write-off; is that right?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, because I believe the Former Agents Accounts were out. Before 2005 they sat out in the Network. But they were transferred in when the IMPACT Programme happened.

Ms Page: Yes, and in that first paragraph, what we see is:

“The current process means that cases over £500 are documented and sent to the commercial and community finance managers …”

So that means out in the Network, yes?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Ms Page: “This is a fairly simple process but recently we have received a number of queries regarding the cases insisting that we continue investigations even though we have been advised by Legal Services that it would not be cost effective to do so.”

So what we see there is a suggestion that it is out in the Network that there was a desire sometimes to pursue cases when it wasn’t economically sensible to do so on Legal Services viewpoint?

Alison Bolsover: That’s what I understand. I receive this last night.

Ms Page: It does say in the third paragraph that you attended a meeting but perhaps you don’t remember that. It says you attended a meeting with Tony Marsh and Phil Gerrish to discuss accountabilities?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah, and I am imagining this was probably when I’d just taken over the debt recovery role.

Ms Page: But you have no particular memory of it?

Alison Bolsover: Not really, no.

Ms Page: Well, you may not be able to answer the question I was going to ask, then, which is really why do you think it was that Finance Managers out in the Network wanted legal action to take place even when it wasn’t economical to do so?

Alison Bolsover: And I can’t answer that, I’m sorry. I think they didn’t accept that we couldn’t collect the debt that was sat within the – originally within their accounts and, if we couldn’t trace a former subpostmaster, then we couldn’t take any further steps and I think it was pointing that out to Tony that, you know, we were being asked to do the impossible, because we couldn’t – just couldn’t pursue them. But I don’t know why commercial and community Finance Managers believed we could.

Ms Page: All right, well, that can come down. Thank you.

I’ll move on, then, to a bigger issue for you. You’ve described how your teams had to match and reconcile data from Horizon branch accounts with POL’s clients, yes, like the banks and National Lottery, and so forth?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Ms Page: What I’d like to go to is the findings of Detica about these processes in 2013. So that’s document POL00029677, please. So we see from this front page what they were asked to look at, “Fraud and Non-conformance in the Post Office”, and if you’ve watched previous hearings, you might have seen this document before. What I’d like to do, please, is go to page 20 and scroll down to paragraph 4.3.2.

This is dealing particularly with the reconciliation of ATM data and then I’ll go over the page where it talks about reconciling cash data. So this says:

“ATM withdrawal data is collected by Wincor, manually manipulated and provided to the Post Office where it is emerged in POLSAP to chess-check submitted 16.30.”

Just pausing there, does that mean that the cross-check is that the postmasters had to submit information from the cashpoint at 4.30 each day; is that right?

Alison Bolsover: I believe so. Back in 2013, I didn’t manage the ATM data but I subsequently did and they pulled a report out of the system, is my understanding, out of the ATM, that gave their 16.30 withdrawal figures.

Ms Page: It goes on:

“This information should be supplied as an automated feed and made available beyond just the Financial Services Centre, whose responsibility is to account for ATM payments and settle with Bank of Ireland rather than detect error.”

It goes on at the bottom there to say:

“Additionally a direct data feed would negate the need to cross-check data, and for branch staff to manually obtain and input this data on a daily basis.”

If we go over to 4.3.3, similar points are made with regard to cash. It says:

“Currently declared figures, ended by branch staff are used as the basis for cash dispatch. This information has to be extracted daily from Horizon as it only stores the last entry. Currently the process relies on manual intervention, given the value to the Post Office in identifying discrepancies within branches it should be automatically stored as an historical record and made more widely available.”

There’s conclusions from this which I’ll just go to, as well, before we have some thoughts and questions about this.

So if we go down to page 21, 4.3.3 – sorry, page 37, 7.2.2. Scroll down a little. The heading there “Complex and fragmented systems”:

“Post Office stammers not fit for purpose in a modern retail and financial environment. Our primary concern here relates to difficulty in reconciling information from multiple transaction systems both in terms of timeliness, structure and access.”

It deals with various examples and, if we go over to the top of page 38, the conclusion is this:

“Failure on this scale indicates that there is a fundamental issue with the process or controls in place around cash balancing. As if to underline the point, a Key Risk Indicator recognised by both the Fraud Analysis team and the Pilot, is that of a branch that is too good at matching these numbers; rather than branches that balance perfectly every time being seen as ‘good’, this is seen as an indicator of branches that are ‘bad’, with several cases of perfectly balancing branches found to be fraudulent.”

So there’s some pretty strong words there. That document can come down.

In essence, what Detica was saying in 2013 was that the way that POLSAP reconciled data from Horizon and from the various other systems was not fit for purpose and that it was causing significant difficulties. Were those findings shared with you when you took on the role that you said you took on subsequent to this?

Alison Bolsover: No, the Fraud and Non-Conformance team moved from Product and Branch Accounting or Transaction Processing into Security. So I believe the Detica report was sent to Security –

Ms Page: Not to you?

Alison Bolsover: – in 2013 – no, I’d not seen that report.

Ms Page: So –

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know what the outcomes from that or what improvements were offered after that report. I can vaguely remember we started using a system called HORice where you could see more detailed transaction levels but there was only limited licence to that, by – only a few across the business, maybe 50 licences.

Ms Page: Was there ever –

Alison Bolsover: But I –

Ms Page: Sorry.

Alison Bolsover: I don’t know what Sally did with the Detica report or if anything – a product came out of that. I don’t know.

Ms Page: On your side of things, though, was there ever any attempt to automate so that there was no longer the need for these manual reconciliations?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, so –

Ms Page: Was that the PING project?

Alison Bolsover: The PING Project for Lottery, PING for pay station, prior to me leaving, there was talk of ATMs, the data being PINGed, as such, but then another project being run, as I left, in 2021, the changes to ATM reporting and how branches would report. And I think it was always a concern, when branches had kit that wasn’t attached to Horizon, it was then down to manual input, which, in every scenario, human error can happen. So I think we were trying to tie the kit up for various products.

Ms Page: All right. Well, prior to the tying up, as it were, can you just help with a bit of process around what Detica called these complex and fragmented systems. Was your department carrying out daily reconciliation of what was going on with the Horizon feeds and what was going on with the client feeds?

Alison Bolsover: Yes, for certain products. So some – selling a stamp would not be a matched product but it would need to be fed and it would go into another area, not my area, to be paid to Royal Mail. Bill Payments went straight through to pay BT, or whatever bill provider. So the information from Horizon went straight into vendors to pay our clients but there was no matching, so no matching routines taking place from anywhere else, so there was no client data. It all fed from Horizon.

Ms Page: Did the clients, like BT or whatever, not provide you with a data stream, then?

Alison Bolsover: No. Not for Bill Payments, no.

Ms Page: What about banks?

Alison Bolsover: No.

Ms Page: No?

Alison Bolsover: We supplied it to them.

Ms Page: Right.

Alison Bolsover: So we took the payment, and it was paid to which bank, A, B or C, whichever bank it was paid to – or withdrawal. You know, it was either a deposit or a withdrawal from a bank. But the information went directly into SAP, into a vendor, to either pay or receive money from the clients.

Ms Page: So, unless the branch raised an issue it was always assumed, was it, that that data going to the client was correct –

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Ms Page: – or presumably if a client raised an issue?

Alison Bolsover: Yes. A client could raise an issue back to us, so a customer could say, “This is not correct”. So when we were – when we take bill payments in a branch for whatever bill, the record is there in branch. That sends a value information into POLSAP to pay the client, but the client also gets a data file to update their records to say “This bill has been paid”, or “This bill’s credited through the banking system”.

Ms Page: Right. So if a client said that there was something wrong about that, they would raise it?

Alison Bolsover: Yes.

Ms Page: If –

Alison Bolsover: So (audio disruption) bank enquiries, yes.

Ms Page: If there was a query raised by a client, was it assumed that they were correct, or what?

Alison Bolsover: We would investigate it with the branch. So we would ask them about the transaction or what the customer claimed. So although there was bank inward enquiries coming in, we were pushing a lot out to banks where postmasters had keyed the wrong amount. So if they’d keyed – if they’d had a deposit for £200 and keyed 2,000, we had – they raised it with the NBSC and we contacted the banks. But it had to be the customer giving authority to the banks to deduct that amount. And a lot of the time the customers come back and say, “No, I did put £2,000 in”.

Ms Page: All right. So you’ve got information sources coming from the branch, from the customer and from the client, yes?

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Ms Page: If there was a dispute, though, and the client refused – let’s say in the case of a shortfall, if the client refused to accept that they had something wrong and that any money was owing from them, then it would fall to the postmaster, wouldn’t it?

Alison Bolsover: It would, yeah.

Ms Page: All right, because –

Alison Bolsover: I think there were changes really late – in the last year or so that I was there, there were changes made to that and the processes around it to allow – as such, allow the credits to be given –

Ms Page: All right, but for most of the period we are dealing with, unless the client agreed they had got it wrong or the customer agreed they had got it wrong, there would be no credit transaction correction issued, would there?

Alison Bolsover: No, because we’d got no money to pay them back with.

Ms Page: All right. Well, just focusing on that for a moment, because we now know that sometimes Horizon created fictitious shortfalls. So you would have potential for the situation to develop where Horizon had got it wrong, the client was right in saying, “No, we don’t owe you any money”, and, nevertheless, it would fall to the subpostmaster to pay this fictitious shortfall, yes?

Alison Bolsover: Can you just put that to me again? I’m sorry.

Ms Page: All right, let’s imagine a situation where the Horizon data is wrong; it’s created a fictitious shortfall –

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Ms Page: – yeah? So, when there’s then the investigation, and you’ve spoken to the client and the client says, “No, no, we don’t owe you anything”, and the customer likewise, if they’ve been able to be got hold of, they say, “We don’t owe you anything”, that fictitious shortfall is still going to be paid by the subpostmaster, yeah?

Alison Bolsover: I think I would agree in some respects but, on the other, if it was a transaction that was put in to Horizon as a Bill Payment, then that’s what the client’s receiving. The information that it – I think it’s –

Ms Page: Okay, but let’s say it’s a bank situation where there’s a deposit and Horizon has, in fact, created a deposit sum which really didn’t exist.

Alison Bolsover: Then it wouldn’t have a customer number to attach any – and give to the client.

Ms Page: Well –

Sir Wyn Williams: Ms Page, I, as you know, have been very tolerant of hypothetical situations and scenarios but I think we’re going a bit too far now.

Ms Page: What I’d like to get to, if I may, sir, is what went on with clients’ suspense accounts because there were sometimes millions held in clients’ suspense accounts, weren’t there?

Alison Bolsover: No. I don’t know if you can broaden out on what a client’s suspense account was.

Ms Page: Well, as I understand it, each Post Office client had a suspense account where there was sums held if there were disputes over those. You say that didn’t exist?

Alison Bolsover: (Unclear)

Ms Page: Well, maybe that’s not something you can answer questions about, then.

Alison Bolsover: Not to my knowledge, no, there wasn’t client suspense accounts. Sorry, I’ll disagree. I’ll disagree with myself. There was an account, if we had a cheque processed with a credit, so we knew that I had paid – or a cheque had been cleared in my name but the postmaster had not stamped the back of the cheque or done anything to identify it was their branch, then we put it into a suspense account awaiting a customer to come back to us to marry that position up. But we wouldn’t hold – we only held them if we couldn’t allocate them to branch or to a client, or whatever.

Ms Page: Were you –

Alison Bolsover: But –

Ms Page: – anything to do with what happened at the end of whatever period they were managed under? Were you anything to do with what happened to sums held in clients’ suspense accounts?

Alison Bolsover: No, but there’s still suspense accounts now.

Ms Page: For sure. But my question is, did you have anything to do with the process or management of what happened with sums held in client suspense accounts?

Alison Bolsover: Not particularly, no.

Ms Page: No.

Alison Bolsover: I think it – I’d have to really home in on what we meant by – I think your definition of a client suspense might be different to mine.

Ms Page: Well, it rather sounds like I’m not going to be able to get any further with what I was going to ask about.

Alison Bolsover: Yeah.

Ms Page: All right. Because you’re saying that you’re not aware of large sums being held in those accounts?

Alison Bolsover: I don’t believe so, no.

Ms Page: All right. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Ms Page.

Is that it, Mr Blake?

Mr Blake: Yes, it is, sir. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, thank you, Ms Bolsover, for coming to give evidence and, before that, for making a detailed witness statement. I’m grateful to you.

I think we have one witness tomorrow, Mr Blake?

Mr Blake: Yes, 10.00 tomorrow. Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Can I just say to the Core Participants who made a special effort to come to the hearing today that, notwithstanding that the evidence was given remotely, I hope they have found the session informative and constructive. Thank you.

(3.20 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10.00 the following day)