Official hearing page

14 November 2023 – Debbie Stapel

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(10.00 am)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can I call Ms Stapel, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

Debbie Stapel

DEBBIE STAPEL (affirmed).

Questioned by Mr Blake

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

Debbie Stapel: Yes. My name is Debbie Stapel.

Mr Blake: Thank you, Ms Stapel. You should have in front of you a witness statement dated 15 October 2023 and it should be in the first of the bundles in front of you behind, I think, tab A.

Debbie Stapel: Yes, it is.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can I ask you to turn to page 38 of that statement, please.

Debbie Stapel: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Can you confirm that’s your signature?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, it is.

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

Debbie Stapel: Yes, it is, save that I omitted – simply because I’d forgotten – that, prior to joining the Criminal Law Team, I worked for the CPS for four months.

Mr Blake: That was at Maidstone?

Debbie Stapel: That was at Maidstone.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. That witness statement has the URN WITN08900100. That statement will go into evidence and it will be published on the Inquiry’s website. The questions I’m going to ask you will be supplementary to that and will aim to clarify a few matters and seek further information where appropriate.

You qualified as a barrister and were called to the Bar in 1987; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: That is correct.

Mr Blake: As you say, there was a brief period I think in private practice and then working for the CPS, but soon after, 1989, you joined the Post Office Criminal Law Team?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: I think we’ll see your name on a number of documents, in your maiden name; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: What was that?

Debbie Stapel: That was Debbie Helszajn.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. In 1997, I think you took maternity leave followed by a very short career break and returned in 2001; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: Between 2001 and 2006, you worked on what you’ve referred to in your statement as counter cases and letter cases, counter cases being cases that involve Crown Office employees, subpostmasters and their assistants, and letter cases involving postmen and postal packets and things like that; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: I think you’ve said that you largely stopped being involved in counter cases in 2006, except for the case of Carl Page, which is a case we’re going to come to today; is that right?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: Thank you. You left the Post Office in 2013?

Debbie Stapel: I did.

Mr Blake: I think you left to run a hotel which you still continue to run now; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: Having come back from maternity leave and a career break in 2001, so that was shortly after the rollout of Horizon, do you recall any significant changes in prosecutorial policies or training on your return?

Debbie Stapel: On my return, as I recall it, the cases that were being submitted for advice were still very much the old style cases involving, on the whole, pension allowance overclaims or inflation, but obviously, with the rollout, as things were going to radically change, or at least they were going to change once the pension allowances stopped, which I think was in 2003, so I know that I wasn’t involved in it, but I know that Mr Heath was obviously involved in looking into how prosecutions could continue.

Mr Blake: In terms of the policies that were followed within the Criminal Law Team and the training that was involved that was provided to lawyers within that team, did anything significantly change once Horizon had been rolled out?

Debbie Stapel: No, we had a day’s Horizon training but, other than that, no.

Mr Blake: Had you been told of any issues with Horizon?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely not. We were told that it was, effectively, this super system. There was certainly no indication that there were any problems with it.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Ms Stapel, your speed is perfect. Your volume could do with being raised slightly, if possible?

Debbie Stapel: I’m sorry.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. You may need to just speak slightly closer to the microphone.

Teresa Williamson has described a lack of collaboration within the Criminal Law Team, a lack of sharing of knowledge, for example. Was that your experience or did you have a different experience.

Debbie Stapel: It depends on what you mean by “sharing of knowledge”. If anyone had had a case that had involved a bug or a defect, then that would have been flagged up to – or it should have been flagged up to Mr Wilson, and we did have team meetings. I think they varied between once a fortnight, once a month, where any issues of concern would be raised.

And I think, on a day-to-day basis, lawyers would discuss cases, not every day but, if you had had something unusual or if you were considering the public interest test and wanted a second opinion, you’d discuss it with another lawyer.

Mr Blake: Obviously the words “would have” and “should have” are very different when you speak about bugs, errors and defects, and that they would have been raised or should have been raised. Which one is it, and why?

Debbie Stapel: Well, I would have hoped that they would have been raised. I think it was always clear that, if there were any issues in a case, that they should be flagged up to the team leader. Sorry, not the team leader, the head of criminal law, so Mike Heath to begin with and then Rob Wilson.

Mr Blake: Did you experience that knowledge being shared?

Debbie Stapel: Of?

Mr Blake: Of bugs, errors and defects?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely not.

Mr Blake: I want to ask you about the Code for Crown Prosecutors. Both yourself and Ms Williamson’s evidence has been that the Code was the primary policy that was consulted within your team and you said it was followed at all times. Do you know if there was monitoring or how can you be so certain that it was followed at all times, or were you just talking about yourself?

Debbie Stapel: I was talking about myself.

Mr Blake: How was the Code made available: was it on the intranet, on people’s desks?

Debbie Stapel: No, we all had a copy of the Code on our desk.

Mr Blake: When you say you “all” –

Debbie Stapel: All the lawyers.

Mr Blake: That was something you saw around the office, was it?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely, yes.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with what were the key prosecutorial guides or rules that were available outside of the Code for Crown Prosecutors?

Debbie Stapel: I’m not sure what you mean, sorry.

Mr Blake: Were there any other policies that were regularly consulted?

Debbie Stapel: No. Not that I can recall.

Mr Blake: Did you use the internal intranet to find policies or?

Debbie Stapel: So I don’t know at what point this happened but, by the “internal intranet”, I presume you’re referring to the corporate security database. So the corporate security database, in order to access it, you had to have a password. So, initially, that was very much – the intranet was very much for Security. So it wasn’t something that Legal Services could add a document to. It was theirs. So there came a point that I know I asked for access to it and we were all issued with passwords.

Mr Blake: Are you able to assist us with what period that was?

Debbie Stapel: I’m afraid I can’t.

Mr Blake: Did it contain useful documents for people in the Criminal Law Team or was it principally, as you said, a security?

Debbie Stapel: It was principally a Security thing. I wanted access on it, if there was an issue on a case in terms of something an Investigator had done, to refer to the guidance on there to see whether it was clear and whether, had they referred to it, they wouldn’t have done what they’d done.

Mr Blake: You talked about the Code for Crown Prosecutors. Was that on the intranet or was that just something that you had in hard copy?

Debbie Stapel: I just had it on hard copy.

Mr Blake: That Code, as we know, contains something called the Full Code Test, which has two parts: an evidential stage and a public interest stage. Were you aware of any specific guidance or factors that needed to be considered at the public interest stage that were specific to the Post Office?

Debbie Stapel: Specific to the Post Office?

Mr Blake: Well, was there any specific guidance that addressed that public interest stage?

Debbie Stapel: No.

Mr Blake: I think –

Debbie Stapel: Or not that I can recall, I should say.

Mr Blake: At paragraph 29 of your witness statement, you’ve said that usually health was a matter that was considered or I think false accounting under £5,000. Was that just something that was known within the office, was it something that was set out somewhere?

Debbie Stapel: No, it was something that was agreed, I presume, at an office meeting.

Mr Blake: Was that well known to all those who worked in the Criminal Law Team?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: Was it principally those two factors?

Debbie Stapel: Health and – one of the other – well, I suppose it’s ill health but, on occasion, a burglary – a – a burglary would have been committed at an office and that would be raised at interview, and those would be one of the circumstances in which I would send papers back to find out the impact it had had on the subpostmistress or master and also the circumstances, ie was violence used or …

Mr Blake: So is that a case where you may have been prosecuting the subpostmaster but they themselves were a victim –

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Mr Blake: – and that that may factor in to the public interest?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Mr Blake: Thank you. I’m going to bring up our first document today. It’s POL00030659. It’s a document that a witness has already been taken to quite recently. It’s called the “Post Office Internal Prosecution Policy – Dishonesty”. Your evidence in your statement is that this isn’t a policy that would have been used by Post Office lawyers; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely not.

Mr Blake: Is it something that you were aware of?

Debbie Stapel: I think I’d seen it – I was aware of it, yes, and I couldn’t understand it because it doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels, in terms of what was prosecuted and what wasn’t. I don’t know why Andrew Wilson wrote it, I don’t know who it was aimed at but it’s a muddle, and it certainly wasn’t taken into account in making prosecution decisions.

Mr Blake: I’ll just read a few extracts from it, and please do assist me if there’s anything in particular that you think is a muddle that I haven’t read out then please do say. Under 2 it says:

“There is no single statement of current policy but it can be summed up as normally to prosecute all breaches of the criminal law by employees which affect the Post Office and which involve dishonesty.”

If we go over the page to page 3, if we scroll down slightly, another passage I’m going to read out:

“In order to provide a deterrent and to serve the public interest, it is clearly necessary to prosecute offenders in the criminal category.”

Just pausing there, to what extent did deterrents come into play, in prosecutorial decision making?

Debbie Stapel: I think deterrents probably came more into play in – if I can call them letters cases. Obviously, if, for example, you had a greetings card thief, it was important that postmen understood that if they stole mail or they didn’t deal with mail correctly, then they risked prosecution and I think it was seen as a deterrent but, obviously, that wasn’t the sole criteria for prosecuting.

Mr Blake: If we look down at the bottom of page 3, it seems to attempt to formulate a prosecution policy as follows:

“The Post Office’s policy is normally to prosecute those of its employees or agents who commit acts of dishonesty against the Post Office for the purpose of illegally acquiring Post Office property or assets, or the property or assets of Post Office customers and clients while in Post Office custody, where this is deemed to serve the public interest. Other wrongdoings will normally be dealt with via the Discipline Code.”

Is it that kind of thing you’re referring to as a bit of a muddle?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, and also further up the document there’s reference to wilful delay and intentional detail – sorry, wilful delay, which later became intentional delay, and I think there’s mention of criminal damage. Obviously, neither those are offences of dishonesty but they were routinely prosecuted.

Mr Blake: Thank you. I’m going to move on to identifying who the prosecution decision makers were and I’d like to begin with your witness statement. Can we please bring up on screen WITN08900100. It’s page 9, paragraph 23 that I would like to look at.

Sir, I’m being told that there is a issue with live broadcast on YouTube. I am happy to proceed with the hearing and perhaps that can just be fixed while we’re proceeding, unless you’d prefer it to be paused.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, no. My normal practice to proceed unless there’s likely to be such a substantial delay that members of the public or whoever else was watching would really not get any idea of what’s occurring. So what I’d like to do is to proceed but, if there’s a real risk of a complete breakdown, so to speak, for me to be notified of that.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

So if we have a look at paragraph 23 you say there:

“Where the evidence was sufficient to afford a realistic prospect of success and it was in the public interest for a prosecution to ensure the lawyer would advise appropriate charges. The file would then be returned to the casework manager who would in turn forward it to the relevant person or authorisation.”

Now, that relevant person, was that person a lawyer or a policy specialist, or something else?

Debbie Stapel: No, they weren’t a lawyer. I can no longer recall what job they held.

Mr Blake: If you or a member of your team had taken the view that the Full Code Test wasn’t met, for example because of a suspect’s health or something along those lines, would it still go to the nominated decision maker or would that be a total bar to proceeding?

Debbie Stapel: No, it would go to the Casework Manager and the papers would be closed.

Mr Blake: So, in effect, was your assessment final, in terms of the decision to prosecute, despite the fact that –

Debbie Stapel: It was.

Mr Blake: Yes. If you had said that there was sufficient evidence and the Full Code Test was met, that ultimate decision maker, could they still take a different decision not to proceed?

Debbie Stapel: They could – they could put their reasons why they disagreed with the public interest part, which is what they were concerned with, and the papers would be returned to us and we would consider what they had said.

Mr Blake: Did you experience or hear of cases where the lawyer had said that something was not in the public interest but, nevertheless, the prosecution proceeded?

Debbie Stapel: Sorry, can you say that again?

Mr Blake: Did you hear of or experience any cases where the lawyer had said that something didn’t meet the full test because of the public interest aspect of that test but, nevertheless, the prosecution proceeded?

Debbie Stapel: No.

Mr Blake: No?

Debbie Stapel: No.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with what level of oversight external counsel provided? So was counsel routinely instructed or occasionally instructed to advise on the evidential test, on the public interest test?

Debbie Stapel: In rare cases. So in complex cases they were instructed from the very beginning.

Mr Blake: Would they advise on both aspects of the test or was the public interest test something that –

Debbie Stapel: They would advise on both aspects.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

I’d like to look at a second document. It’s POL00031012. You’ll have seen this document in your pack. If we turn over the page, it’s a March 2000 document. Thank you very much. If we go back to page 1, it’s something called an “Investigation and Prosecution Policy”. If we could look at paragraph 3.3 and 3.4, I’ll just read those. Paragraph 3.3 says:

“Where evidence of crimes committed by a Consignia employee against Consignia or its customer is established, the offending employee may also be dealt with in accordance with criminal law. The prosecution guidelines of the business will be used in making any decision to proceed under criminal law, in consultation with SIS …”

Just pausing there, do you know what SIS stood for?

Debbie Stapel: Do you know what, I did, but I can’t remember. I’ve been trying to work it out. Senior – Senior – I’m sorry, I just can’t recall. But I think it’s someone senior in the Investigations Team.

Mr Blake: “… and Legal Services Criminal Law Division where appropriate.”

Then it says:

“The main Consignia interface with other agencies, eg Police, Customs, Interpol, DSS, etc, is SIS. There are occasions where an SIS Investigator or an Investigator within the Business United will necessarily hand an offender into Police custody. In these cases the decision to instigate prosecution is made by SIS.”

Are we to understand from this, and perhaps your knowledge from subsequent policies, that the Legal Services Criminal Law Division was a division to be consulted but was not, in fact, the ultimate decision maker in respect of whether to proceed or not?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: I’m going to move on to your knowledge of the Horizon system. I think you said you had a day’s training, was it, on Horizon?

Debbie Stapel: We had a day’s training.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard about ARQ data and you’ve addressed it in your witness statement. How usual was it to obtain audit data in the form of ARQ data from Fujitsu?

Debbie Stapel: It’s actually quite difficult to answer because I really can’t recall. It was obtained but I really can’t recall now how many cases that I had where it relied on the Horizon deficiency. I think there were very, very few. As I said, up until 2003, the cases in the main still related to pension and allowances and, after I started the case of Page and Whitehouse, I was allocated very few POL cases.

Mr Blake: Are you able to assist us with whether it was rare, occasional, frequent for you to request ARQ data?

Debbie Stapel: I think it was frequent. But in very few cases. So …

Mr Blake: So you didn’t have many cases that required it because I think you said they were not relating to deficiencies in Horizon?

Debbie Stapel: I do know that, for example, in a pension allowance overclaim case where, for example, the defence would say there wasn’t a stop notice, under Horizon you would physically scan the book and Horizon would tell you that it should be confiscated and the payment shouldn’t be made. So I think ARQ was used to show whether the book had been manually processed or whether it had been scanned.

Mr Blake: In respect of accounting figures that related to deficiencies, for example, was that something that – discrepancies – was that something that you were involved in? We’re going to go on to talk about three cases that you had some involvement in but, outside of those three cases, was that something that you did have some involvement in or not?

Debbie Stapel: I can’t recall.

Mr Blake: What did you understand to be the limitations on obtaining that information from Fujitsu?

Debbie Stapel: So I understood that the contract hadn’t been drawn up particularly well and there was a limit on the amount of requests that could be made without additional costs being incurred but, as far as I’m aware, that was never ever a consideration in whether such evidence should be obtained.

Mr Blake: When you say it was never a consideration, do you mean it was never your consideration or were you aware of other people routinely requesting that kind of information from Fujitsu?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: Yes, you were aware of people routinely requesting it from Fujitsu?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I was.

Mr Blake: I’d like to look at paragraph 43 of your witness statement. It’s page 17 of WITN08900100. You say there:

“Where the integrity of the Horizon IT system was being challenged the Investigator would be asked to obtain any relevant data/information from Fujitsu. At the time I conducted POL cases I was unaware of any bugs or defects in the system and believed that Horizon was a robust and reliable system. Dr Jenkins …”

We’re going to come on to talk about Gareth Jenkins:

“… in his expert statement would have asserted that and as an expert would have been under a duty to disclose any information that undermined that position.”

So you’ve said there that, where the integrity of the Horizon IT system was being challenged, the Investigator could obtain the relevant data from Fujitsu. Do you think it was fair to put the burden on a defendant to challenge the integrity of the Horizon IT system, in order to trigger those –

Debbie Stapel: Well, we probably know now, clearly not. At the time, I genuinely believed – and I don’t think anyone in my department were aware that this wasn’t effectively the perfect operating system. I mean, my understanding was that the reason why – and I realise this is wrong now, but my understanding was the reason why there was a rollout was to ensure that (a) was a system that subpostmasters could operate and, secondly, that there weren’t any accounting problems as a result of it, in other words that it was technically sound.

Mr Blake: Can we also look at a slightly later paragraph in your witness statement. It’s paragraph 56 on page 20. You say there:

“I cannot recall what the contractual requirements on Fujitsu were. I am aware that there were limits on the number of ARQ requests which could be made without additional costs being occurred. I do not know how any requests above the limits were dealt with or charged but this would not have been a factor taken into consideration in deciding whether such documentation should be obtained.”

Now, the Inquiry has heard evidence to the contrary, in respect of a reluctance to seek ARQ data because of cost implications. Can you assist us with how it is you can be so definitive on costs not being a factor that’s taken into account.

Debbie Stapel: Well, it may simply have been that that it wasn’t raised in any cases that I dealt with but I would be surprised. If it was something that a lawyer asked for and thought was necessary, then that would be the end of it. If it wasn’t obtained, then the case would be withdrawn.

Mr Blake: Do you see any distinction between the lawyers and the Investigators in that respect?

Debbie Stapel: Sorry, in what sense?

Mr Blake: Would you be aware if, for example, Investigators were reluctant to obtain ARQ data?

Debbie Stapel: I wouldn’t be aware of that. I’d be surprised but I wouldn’t be aware of it.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

Moving on to the topic of bugs, errors and defects. You’ve said in several places that you were unaware that there were bugs, errors and defects in Horizon. Were you aware of any messaging to the contrary that there weren’t integrity concerns? You’ve talked about an absence of knowledge of bugs, errors or defects but were you aware of any messaging quite the opposite: that Horizon is a robust system and there are no integrity concerns.

Debbie Stapel: Not that I can recall.

Mr Blake: When did you first learn about bugs, errors and defects in Horizon?

Debbie Stapel: From the papers.

Mr Blake: When you say – newspapers?

Debbie Stapel: Newspapers.

Mr Blake: When was that? Was that from the Group Litigation, from the Court of Appeal or earlier, Computer Weekly?

Debbie Stapel: Earlier. Earlier.

Mr Blake: Can you give us –

Debbie Stapel: I can’t. I’m sorry.

Mr Blake: Did you see a Panorama programme?

Debbie Stapel: I did see a Panorama programme, yes.

Mr Blake: At the time it came out on television?

Debbie Stapel: At the time it came out.

Mr Blake: How about Computer Weekly in 2009?

Debbie Stapel: I can’t recall whether I read that at the time. I certainly saw it or read about it afterwards but I don’t know whether I read it in 2009.

Mr Blake: Am I right in understanding that 2006 and the Carl Page case was the final case that you were involved in that related to the Horizon system?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, it was.

Mr Blake: Thank you. I’m going to take you back to your witness statement. It’s paragraph 48 that I’d like to look at now, and that’s at page 18.

Thank you very much, page 18. You say:

“At no time that I dealt with [Post Office] cases was I aware of any potentially relevant known bugs, errors or defects in the Horizon IT system. Had I known that any such bugs, errors or defects existed then such an allegation in a Defence Case Statement or Defence Statement would clearly have triggered an obligation to disclose such information.”

I just want to look at a couple of words that you’ve used in that paragraph. First of all, “potentially relevant”, are we to read anything into your qualification there about “potentially relevant known bugs, errors or defects”?

Debbie Stapel: No, and I have to say I don’t think my response was complete in this. I think, had I been aware there were any potentially relevant known bugs, errors or defects in the Horizon IT system, then it’s something that should have been looked at before charges were brought. I don’t think it would have waited for a defence case statement, because it would be clearly something that could assist the defence.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. That was going to be my second question as to whether you really thought that the defence statement was the correct trigger for disclosure of that information.

Can we move on to paragraph 128 of your witness statement. That is on page 37. You come to some general conclusions or recommendations in your statement. You say at the bottom there:

“Had I been aware that there were bugs, errors or defects of any faults in Horizon then clearly a challenge to the integrity of Horizon in one case would be relevant to other ongoing or future cases. It is now clear that Horizon was not the robust system it was held out to be. In my view no proceedings should have been started unless the Post Office were able to prove that those bugs, defects or faults could not have impacted on the operation of Horizon, ie that the evidence being relied on was reliable.”

Are we to read that as essentially a recommendation for the burden to be placed on the Post Office to prove the reliability and the accuracy of the figures that they are relying on?

Debbie Stapel: Well, it clearly was.

Mr Blake: Yes. What difference do you think that would have made to the way you carried out your work for the Post Office?

Debbie Stapel: That’s a difficult question to answer because I was under the misapprehension, as it now turns out, that Horizon was operating correctly.

Mr Blake: Yes.

Debbie Stapel: I think it would have been very difficult in a Horizon shortage case to actually prove the case if there were bugs in the system. I think, as a member of a jury, if you were told that there were bugs that affected say, northern England offices but not southern England offices, I think a question would arise in anyone’s mind as to whether they could be certain that that was the case and that there wasn’t an unknown bug.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, that can come down.

I’m going to move on to the topic of expert evidence. The Inquiry has instructed its own expert, Duncan Atkinson, King’s Counsel. I don’t know if you saw his evidence –

Debbie Stapel: I didn’t, no.

Mr Blake: – but I’m going to take you through some of his evidence as to the rules relating to experts and just see if you agree or disagree with his conclusions in that respect.

Starting with instructing an expert, would you agree that the prosecutor must provide an expert with instructions as to the issue or issues upon which his or her opinion is sought?

Debbie Stapel: I do now. I didn’t know that at the time. The Investigators took all the statements. I think I said in my statement that my understanding was that, at the very beginning of this, Dr Jenkins – I don’t know whether he was volunteered or put forward as a witness, but advice was sought on what his evidence would have to cover and what he would be able to do.

Mr Blake: We’ll get to that. I’ll just take you through – I’ll try and do it as quickly as possible – all the various conclusions in respect of expert witnesses. Would you agree that a prosecutor must provide the expert with issues or questions which the expert is expect to address or answer?

Debbie Stapel: The – so, yes, but we didn’t. We provided – or the Investigator provided the evidence, effectively.

Mr Blake: Would you agree that a prosecutor must supply an expert with material upon which the prosecution relies and which may be relevant to the questions which the expert is expected to answer?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: Do you agree that, throughout the relevant period of Horizon-based prosecutions – that you were involved in – a prosecutor intending to rely on expert evidence in criminal proceedings was under a duty to, for example, satisfy themselves as to the expert’s relevant qualifications and expertise?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: And to satisfy themselves that the expert had been appropriately instructed, including the provision of written instructions?

Debbie Stapel: Yes. As I said, I thought that there had been a meeting where all of this had been gone through. I didn’t independently check that and I should have.

Mr Blake: Perhaps, in that case, I’ll really skip through all of those conclusions because I think you’re very reflective on the situation and your evidence is that, despite the fact that those did apply, you relied on the Investigator to satisfy themselves that the expert was appropriately informed and appropriately instructed?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: Would you agree with Mr Atkinson and also Rob Wilson to the effect that there was a lack of internal guidelines in respect of the various requirements that applied to the instruction of experts?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I would.

Mr Blake: I’m just going to read paragraph 49 of your witness statement, which addresses this, and that’s page 18, please. It’s the bottom of page 18. You say there:

“I do not know what information was provided to experts instructed by the prosecution as to their role, including, in particular, their duty to the court and the meaning and importance of the expert’s declaration. The statements were obtained by the investigators. Dr Jenkins’ …”

I think that’s a reference to Gareth Jenkins, is it?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, it is.

Mr Blake: Did you know him as Dr Jenkins?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I believed he was Dr Gareth Jenkins.

Mr Blake: “… Dr Jenkins’ statement included the words ‘I understand that my role is to assist the court rather than to represent the views of my employers or Post Office Ltd’.”

Just pausing there, that quote, is that taken from a particular document or is that just your recollection?

Debbie Stapel: I can’t recall.

Mr Blake: “The words are self-explanatory. My recollection is that when Horizon was rolled out the Head of the Criminal Law Team instructed Counsel to advise on the expert evidence that would be required and what the statement needed to cover. I believe Fujitsu were then asked who in their company would be able and willing to provide that expert evidence. I do not know what instructions were given. As far as I recall only Dr Jenkins provided an expert witness statement in cases I dealt with.”

I think you would accept that those don’t reflect the requirements as outlined by Mr Atkinson?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Mr Blake: If we scroll down, paragraph 50, you say:

“I cannot recall any policies or guidance in place regarding the provision of evidence by employees of Fujitsu whilst I worked in the Criminal Law Team.”

At 51 you say:

“At the time I believed that Dr Jenkins was the ultimate expert on Horizon. It did not occur to me that there could be a potential conflict of interest. I do not recall a challenge ever being made by the court or the Defence regarding the use of Dr Jenkins as an expert witness. His role was to provide objective, unbiased opinion on matters within his expertise to assist the court and not the prosecution.”

Knowing that he was an employee of Fujitsu, the company that was responsible for building and operating Horizon, did you see any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest in Mr Jenkins acting in that role.

Debbie Stapel: At the time, no, I didn’t.

Mr Blake: And now?

Debbie Stapel: Well, now, clearly I do because – there was clearly a conflict with Fujitsu generally because, as far as I’m concerned, the fact that there were bugs, et cetera, were hidden from us.

Mr Blake: If we could scroll down to paragraph 86, that’s page 30 and it’s the bottom of page 30. You say there:

“I believed that Dr Jenkins would have disclosed any material which cast doubt on his opinion.”

Looking back – and I haven’t taken you through the specific conclusions of Mr Atkinson – but would you agree that doesn’t really reflect the duties on the prosecution, effectively subcontracting the disclosure duties to –

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I do, yes.

Mr Blake: Was that because Mr Jenkins was assumed to know his duties because he’d been involved in other cases or was it for some other reason?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, it was assumed that Dr Jenkins knew his duties, which is clearly wrong, and I accept that, and it was also believed that he effectively knew everything there was to know about Horizon. So, in other words, he would be aware of any issue.

Mr Blake: You’ve mentioned Mr Jenkins a few times in your statement. We’re going to come to the case of Carl Page where you mention him but, if we put that particular case to one side, do you recall specific cases where you were involved with Mr Jenkins?

Debbie Stapel: The first time I met – it’s Mr Jenkins, is it?

Mr Blake: It is Mr Jenkins.

Debbie Stapel: Sorry. The first time I met Mr Jenkins was in the case of Page and Whitehouse, so I’d never had any dealings with him before, although I would assume that I would have seen witness statements from him in previous cases.

Mr Blake: When you say you assume you would have seen witness statements, is that because it was well known in the office that he provided those kinds of statements or was there some other source of that conclusion?

Debbie Stapel: Well, my understanding was he was the only person at that time who provided expert evidence on the operation of Horizon.

Mr Blake: If we look at paragraph 43 of your statement, perhaps – we don’t need to bring it onto screen because it’s a paragraph that we’ve already looked at – but I think you said that “Dr Jenkins, in his expert witness statement, would have asserted that there weren’t any bugs, errors or defects”. When you say “would have asserted”, was that something you recall? Was it speculation or was it something else?

Debbie Stapel: No, it would have been – the purpose of his statement would have been to enable the prosecution to prove that Horizon was operating properly and, therefore, could be relied on.

Mr Blake: Well, we’ll talk about the Page case. Were you involved in any communications, other than in that case, with Mr Jenkins?

Debbie Stapel: I wasn’t directly involved in communications with Mr Jenkins. They were all done via the Investigator.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Before we move on to the case studies, one other topic is identification codes. You’ve addressed those in your witness statement. You weren’t aware of the ID codes document that we know as Appendix 6?

Debbie Stapel: No, I wasn’t.

Mr Blake: Are you aware that, in the event – I think you’ve said in your witness statement that, in the event of a conviction, certain information was needed by the police that addressed ethnicity, for example; is that right?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Blake: Are you able to assist us, were those what are referred to as NPA forms? Is that something you remember at all?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I believe so.

Mr Blake: They were required for police intelligence databases and also for notification of convictions; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: Are you aware of the Post Office collecting race or ethnicity data for any other reasons other than for the police?

Debbie Stapel: No.

Mr Blake: Thank you. I’m going to move on, then, to the case of Carl Page. You’re the first witness who is going to address this case so I’m going to have to read a little bit from the Court of Appeal’s transcripts just to familiarise the chair and the Inquiry with the particular case. Can we look at POL00113278, please. This is the Court of Appeal judgment in Hamilton, Josephine Hamilton v the Post Office.

Can we look at page 58, please. It’s paragraph 277 onwards in the Court of Appeal. Thank you. So we have there “Carl Page” and the Court of Appeal says:

“On 15 November 2006, in the Crown Court at Stafford, Carl Page pleaded guilty to theft.”

It says:

“The indicted shortfall was £282,000. On 19 January 2007, he was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment following a basis of plea which accepted the theft of £94,000.”

Do you have a particular recollection of the ultimate accepted plea being significantly less than the indicted shortfall?

Debbie Stapel: I was aware of that, yes.

Mr Blake: We’ll probably come to it in due course but, very briefly, can you assist us with why that was accepted or why the figures are so dramatically different?

Debbie Stapel: I think my recollection is the basis of plea was that he accepted that he had stolen £94,000 and the remainder was either due to errors or theft by other members of staff.

Mr Blake: Yes, and we’ll come to that. That’s also mentioned in this judgment. It goes on, paragraph 278:

“Mr Page and a co-defendant, John Whitehouse, were jointly charged with conspiracy to defraud and theft.”

At a trial in the summer of 2005, they were acquitted of conspiracy to defraud but they were unable to reach a verdict on theft. Mr Page was retried on his own for theft.

Can you assist us, were you involved in that original trial?

Debbie Stapel: I was, yes.

Mr Blake: “[The Post Office’s] case at the first trial was that Mr Page had colluded to steal money with Mr Whitehouse, who was a customer. That case was not maintained at the second trial at which [the Post Office] alleged that Mr Page had physically stolen £282,000 from the branch and hidden the losses in the foreign exchange system.”

Then it refers to the defence statement for his second trial. I’m going to take you to that shortly. It says that:

“[He] denied that he had been dishonest saying that the Post Office could not prove how much money ought to have been in the accounts at the beginning or end of the indicted period, or when or how the money was taken.

“The amount of theft in the second trial was reduced to £94,000 following an accepted basis of plea.”

This is, I think, what you were referring to earlier. The basis of plea stated, as follows:

“The defendant stole £94,000 from the Post Office having begun to do so on return from holiday in August 2002. The remaining deficit of £188,000 may have been the result of incompetent accounting or possibly theft by other person(s). The underpinning rationale for that reduced figure is no longer clear.”

I think, really, my question from earlier is the underpinning rationale for that reduced figure isn’t clear. We’re going to hear from counsel in that particular case but do you have any recollection of the underpinning rationale for the reduced figure?

Debbie Stapel: I don’t, no.

Mr Blake: “The Post Office relied on Horizon data to evidence the missing £282,000. Two separate defence expert reports noted that the prosecution case was almost exclusively based on the missing money in Horizon but the Post Office argued it was also based on data from the Forde Moneychanger (which is separate from Horizon).”

We’re going to come briefly to look at those defence expert reports. Paragraph 283, the Court of Appeal says:

“The defence experts were critical of the Post Office audit and the conclusions to be drawn from it. One of the defence experts expressed the opinion that the shortfall could be attributable to unidentified errors in Horizon, and noted the high incidence of errors in the system. The expert disagreed with the prosecution assertion that the shortfall automatically amounted to theft without further evidence.”

It says there:

“There is nothing in the Post Office’s case papers to indicate that any ARQ data was obtained at the time of the criminal proceedings. There was no evidence to corroborate the Horizon evidence. There was no proof of an actual loss, as opposed to Horizon-generated shortage. We also regard it as unsatisfactory (to say the least) that Mr Page was subjected to cross-examination in the first trial on the basis which the [Post Office] felt unable to sustain thereafter.”

Then the Court of Appeal concludes that it was not only unfair but they also conclude that the prosecution was an affront to justice.

Thank you. That can come down, please.

Can we return to paragraph 65 of your witness statement, please, that’s page 25. WITN08900100. Thank you, page 25. There’s a reference at paragraph 65 to the first trial, and it says:

“Stephen John made the charging decision in this case. Mr Page and Mr Whitehouse were jointly charged with conspiracy to defraud and Mr Page was additionally charged with theft.”

We spoke earlier about who makes the charging decision. The suggestion in your statement there is that it is prosecuting counsel. Stephen John was prosecuting counsel, was he?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, he was.

Mr Blake: Did you mean that Stephen John made the charging decision in the case?

Debbie Stapel: Well, Stephen John advised that there was sufficient evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction and that it was in the public interest to prosecute.

Mr Blake: I think really my question is: was it sometimes unclear as to who ultimately made that charging decision?

Debbie Stapel: So my view, when we were – when I was involved in this case, was that Stephen John made the decision to charge.

Mr Blake: Was it sometimes effectively delegated from whoever was responsible at the non-legal level at the Post Office to, for example, counsel in the case?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: I think you say at paragraph 67 you can’t recall who authorised the prosecution of Mr Page?

Debbie Stapel: No, I can’t.

Mr Blake: Again, might it have been you or is this somebody who was not –

Debbie Stapel: No, no, I wouldn’t have authorised the prosecution. It would have – the papers would have gone to Case Worker, who would have forwarded them to the Authorisation Manager.

Mr Blake: Thank you. I’m now going to go through, as briefly as I can, the three expert reports in this case, two from the first trial and one from the second trial. Can we begin with POL00045867, please. This is the expert report from the first trial, 16 May 2005. This was obtained by the defendant, Mr Page. Is that your recollection?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: Yes?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Blake: Is this something you would have read at the time?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I would have.

Mr Blake: Can we please look at page 5. I’m just going to read a few paragraphs from this report, it’s the bottom of page 5, 2.6. The expert there says:

“On the matter of the theft charge, a key question is whether Mr Page could have built up a significant ‘AM’ stock of euros of around 456,000 euros which the prosecution allege that he stole. I have examined the evidence of the deliveries of euros to Rugeley Post Office throughout the indictment period and compared them to the payments by Mr Whitehouse for euros and a normal underlying level of euro sales, and the FM Command 10 printouts of all euro sales by Rugeley Post Office.”

Just pausing there, it is a very complicated case and I don’t expect you to recall all of the detail from this report. I’m going to ask you some very general questions about the report itself.

Paragraph 2.7:

“Both these analyses indicate that a surplus of euros of approximately 456,000 euros could not physically have been built up in the ‘AM’ stock or elsewhere. All the euros delivered to Rugeley Post Office were entered into FM and my analysis shows that sales of those euros match or exceed the deliveries. This contradicts the findings of Mr Manish Patel, which form the basis for the theft charge against Mr Page.”

Pausing there, did you know Mr Manish Patel.

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I did.

Mr Blake: Did you have any concerns about the work he carried out, in this case or more broadly?

Debbie Stapel: No, no, I didn’t, and the expert appears to have misunderstood the prosecution case. The prosecution case was precisely that: that these euros couldn’t have built up in the AM stock or elsewhere because all the euros could be proved by the prosecution to have been sold, and that, effectively, the euros had been inflated in order to cover the shortage that was in the accounts.

Mr Blake: Thank you. So this report goes on to say:

“I have also considered the possibility that timing differences account for the alleged shortfall of AM stock that is set out in Mr Patel’s schedule. I have identified the possibility that a delay between the date of sales of euros to Mr Whitehouse were entered on the FM and the date he physically [collated] the cash could explain the calculation of the alleged discrepancy.”

This is the final paragraph I’m going to read to you from this report. It says:

“The prosecution have relied on evidence of a difference between the amount of foreign currency recorded on the Horizon system and the amount shown on FM in support of their assertion that a surplus of £282,000 of euros built up and was stolen by Mr Page from Rugeley Post Office. It is my contention, based on my analysis of the deliveries and sales of euros, that no such surplus of euros existed.”

I’m now just going to take you to the second of the expert reports in the first trial. That’s POL00045868. It’s by the same expert, dated 17 June 2005, and it’s page 8 that I’d like to go to, “Auditing methods used by Royal Mail”. He says there:

“Reference is made throughout prosecution witness statements to audit work carried out at Rugeley sub post office by Royal Mail staff.

“I have serious reservations that the work carried out did not constitute an audit in the sense that data was not verified back to source documentation nor critically examined before conclusions were drawn.

“I have carried out only a limited review of the audit schedules disposed to me but I have identified two serious shortcomings that indicate the work carried by Royal Mail was more akin to a stocktake than an audit. As such, the findings of that work cannot be relied upon to the same extent as if they were derived from audited figures.”

Just pausing there, do you recognise the criticism that what the Post Office may have referred to as an audit was, in fact, more akin to a stocktake?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I would accept that. I think the witness statements made it clear that it was effectively a stocktake that was being done. I don’t think there was any suggestion in any witness statement that it was anything other than that.

Mr Blake: But more broadly, looking at other cases and more broadly the conduct of the Post Office, what they called an audit wasn’t what would generally be understood as an audit; do you agree with that?

Debbie Stapel: I accept that but I don’t think any witness statement would suggest it was anything other than effectively a stocktake. They would print out the Horizon, was it a snapshot that showed what should be present and then they would go through all the documentation and count the cash, et cetera.

Mr Blake: By the sound of it, this doesn’t sound like a case where ARQ data, for example, was audited?

Debbie Stapel: Sorry, can you say that again?

Mr Blake: By the sound of this expert report, it sounds as though something like ARQ data from Fujitsu wasn’t obtained and audited because that would constitute more of a formal audit. Do you agree with that?

Debbie Stapel: I agree. I can no longer recall whether ARQ data was obtained but I would accept that it wasn’t, as there’s no reference to it.

Mr Blake: If we look at 2.29, it says:

“I have seen no indication in the witness statements in this case that any audit or verification work was carried out on the balances at 8 January 2003. If that is the case, then the Royal Mail cannot be certain that those balances are correct and consequently cannot be certain of the amount of the overall ‘audit result’,” et cetera.

I don’t think I need to take you to much more of this because, obviously, Mr Page was acquitted in relation to this trial and it’s the second trial that I’ll focus on.

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely. Can I just say that because the judgment that we’ve just read – unless I’m misinterpreting it, but it suggests, if I’m reading it right, that Mr Whitehouse was also charged with theft and there was a link between that and the foreign currency trial, if I can call it that. Mr Whitehouse was never charged with theft and they were two totally distinct set of facts.

Mr Blake: Yes, but the second matter wasn’t proceeded with at the time of the first matter. The Post Office seems to have waited until he was acquitted of the first trial to then consider whether it proceeds with the second trial.

Debbie Stapel: Sorry, I don’t follow.

Mr Blake: Were the facts on which the second prosecution were based available to the Post Office at the time when the first trial took place?

Debbie Stapel: I haven’t seen the opening note in the second trial but my recollection is the facts that were put forward were the same, that the theft charge relied on the audit shortage, the £282,000 that couldn’t physically have been in the foreign currency, and that it had been hidden by inflating the foreign currency on hand.

That had been the case in the first trial and was the case in the second, although, in the second trial, one of the key differences was that we had found evidence to show that an earlier audit, where I think there was a shortage of something like £8,000, should have, in fact, been over £100,000 because a check that had been taken into account, actually shouldn’t have been.

Mr Blake: Let’s look at the defence statement in that case which clarifies some of the issues that were between the parties. Can we look at UKGI00012306. So this the defence statement from the second trial, April 2006, and can we turn to page 2. I’m going to read a couple of paragraphs from that defence statement and I’ll begin at paragraph 2. The defence here say:

“The Crown asserts that Mr Page has stolen £282,000 from the Post Office. Curiously the Post Office cannot say when the money was stolen, nor by what means, nor from what account or fund within the sub post office. From January 1993 until July 2005, when Mr Page and a Midlands’ businessman Mr Whitehouse were acquitted of conspiracy to defraud the Post Office of £600,000, the Crown’s case generally was that the money had come from the foreign exchange till. Having thought about it, and having accepted the verdict of the jury, the Post Office now suggest that a separate amount which is nothing to do with the £600,000 has been stolen by Mr Page from somewhere else in the office but hidden by some means in the foreign exchange account using the Post Office’s Horizon computer system. However for reasons identified by Mr Timothy Taylor FCA in his expert’s report [and that’s a report we’re going to come to] of April 2006 this is extremely unlikely because of what the Post Office itself found when it examined the accounts …”

I’ll just read paragraph 3. The defence statement says:

“It appears to be the case that the entire accounting system of the Post Office relies on the accurate inputting of information by the onsite staff who send the weekly returns off by post to various centres. Thus once an input error is made because of the way the system works there is a serious danger of it being carried forward forever. Although the indictment period runs from 1 March 2002 the Post Office does not know whether the opening balances our correct and has no way of knowing what the real as opposed to the [inputted] figures are or should have been. It is a significant feature of the case that in the middle of the indictment period a Post Office Audit Team went into Rugeley, closed the office and audited the entire operation. They concluded that the office was not well run but did not find evidence of theft or fraud.”

I’m going to now turn to that expert report that is relied on. That can be found at POL0006214, and this is an expert report that’s been obtained from KPMG: Mr Taylor, dated 7 April 2006.

Would you agree that there is, contained within this expert report an attack on the Horizon system?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Mr Blake: If we could look at page 21, please. We’ll just have a look at those conclusions:

“I note the following:

“I agree with Mr Patel that as from the week ended 28 August 2002 the Horizon ‘Foreign Currency Sterling Equivalent’ figure was inflated, initially by £138,000 …

“I agree with Mr Davies … that, on the basis of the accounting evidence available, the shortage in the audit of 27 June 2002 should have been increased [and it gives the amount] …

“The alleged deficiency of £282,000 in the ‘AM’ stock unit … does not necessarily indicate theft by Mr Page – any such shortfall could in practice be the result of other unidentified errors or differences in Horizon.

“It is implicit in the Prosecution’s case that, by simply stating that the £282,000 shortfall … equates to a theft of the same amount, all other figures in Horizon (except for the differences identified at the audit) were correct. I have seen no evidence that is the case and would also note the high incidence of ‘errors’ as set out in Section 5.7.

“The prosecution rely on the assumption that the figures in Horizon are those record by Rugeley Post Office staff themselves and that the Horizon system was working correctly throughout the indictment period.

“It is now not possible to establish whether the declared ‘ONCH’ figures were correctly record in Horizon as they were not independently checked at the time other than at the two audits.

“If it is alleged that by the week ended 31 July 2002 … the theft had reached £177,500, and that it was being concealed by either overstating the true foreign currency balance or the ‘ONCH’ figure, then, in my opinion, there is an unexplained inconsistency in the Prosecution’s case. This is because in the two weeks [and gives the two weeks] the inflation figures as stated by Mr Patel are nil and recorded ‘ONCH’ figures were only [£79,000] and [£91,000] respectively, and therefore they could not be overstated by £177,500.”

Looking back at this case, if you had known that Horizon was not as you thought at the time, would you have acted differently on receipt of this report?

Debbie Stapel: If – so if I had known that Horizon could contain bugs, errors, defects, then it wouldn’t be a question of acting differently on receiving this report; it would have been a case of looking at the evidence differently at the beginning of the first trial. Because, as I said, the evidence was based on the Horizon shortage at both trials. So it’s horrendous that we didn’t and it’s horrendous that Mr Page faced a second trial on the same evidence, and I can but apologise to him.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Can we just look back again at you witness statement. I’ve very nearly finished with this case study. Just returning to your witness statement at paragraph 70 and it’s page 26. It says in the middle of that paragraph:

“Glyn Burrows in his statement … outlines what he and his team did in conducting the audit. He explained that he would request an ‘office snapshot’ printout from Horizon which provided a summary of all the cash and stock which should have been present at the office at the time, together with a summary of all receipts and payments in relation to transactions conducted at the office since the beginning of business”, and gives the date.

Are you able to assist us with why it seems as though ARQ data did not form part of any analysis here and reliance is being placed on office snapshots?

Debbie Stapel: I’m sorry but I can’t. I know we had a witness statement from Mr Jenkins, which I haven’t had sight of, and whether he produces anything, I don’t know. But we clearly should have obtained it and I would accept, from what’s been put here, that someone has looked at all the unused material and that we didn’t. And I would have thought, had we, the expert would have referred to it, as in the defence expert.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Just finally in relation to this case study, you’ve mentioned Mr Jenkins, there’s mention of Mr Jenkins in your witness statement in relation to this case. We don’t have – or we haven’t been able to obtain – a report from Mr Jenkins, a statement from Mr Jenkins, in relation to this particular case. How confident are you that he did feature in this case?

Debbie Stapel: I’m 100 per cent sure.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with your recollection of the level of his involvement?

Debbie Stapel: So I can’t but I do recall him giving evidence at court. It was the first time I’d actually heard an expert witness give evidence on Horizon, so I do recall it.

Mr Blake: Is there anything –

Debbie Stapel: But I don’t recall the content but it was a long time ago.

Mr Blake: What was your understanding of his particular role in those proceedings?

Debbie Stapel: To prove that Horizon was operating correctly, and that the figures could be relied on.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

Sir, there are two other case studies that this witness was to some extent involved in, but very little. I don’t have very much more to ask, but we have plenty of time this morning. Perhaps that is an appropriate time to take a 15-minute break.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, we will do, but let me just ask one or two more questions about Mr Page’s case, just to ensure that I understand fully what Ms Stapel is saying to me.

So far as what happened procedurally, Ms Stapel, can I – is what I’m – the question I ask you is, have I got this right, all right?

Debbie Stapel: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: The first trial involved both Mr Whitehouse and Mr Page –

Debbie Stapel: Yes, it did.

Sir Wyn Williams: On Count 1 they were both charged with conspiracy but there was a second count, exclusive to Mr Page, and he was charged with theft.

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Sir Wyn Williams: So when we’ve been talking about a first and second trial, theft was always on the indictment in the first trial?

Debbie Stapel: It was, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: My understanding is: both men were acquitted of Count 1, but the jury couldn’t agree on the theft charge against Mr Page?

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s how the second trial came to take place, not because they were separated: it was a retrial?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Fine. So going to Mr Jenkins’ role, if, as you’re asserting, he gave evidence, it must have been in the first trial because the retrial didn’t take place?

Debbie Stapel: No, absolutely.

Sir Wyn Williams: So if there is a witness statement and if Mr Jenkins gave evidence, it’s the first trial that we need to focus on?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Sir Wyn Williams: But his role in the first trial would have been, as you said, to give evidence about the reliability of Horizon –

Debbie Stapel: (The witness nodded)

Sir Wyn Williams: – and that related to Count 2, the allegation of theft against Mr Page; is that right?

Debbie Stapel: Indeed, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: So it was directly relevant to whether or not Mr Page was guilty of theft?

Debbie Stapel: It was.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thanks. I’ve got all that clear. Thank you very much.

We’ll have our 15-minute break now.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, sir. If we come back at 11.35.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, thank you.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

(11.15 am)

(A short break)

(11.35 am)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, yes.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

Just two very brief topics. Two case studies: the first, Mrs Adedayo; and the second is Ms Rudkin.

Starting with Mrs Adedayo. We have heard about this case study from another witness so I’m not going to ask you very many questions at all about this case. She is in attendance today. I think you’ve said in your witness statement you have very little recollection of this particular case; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Mr Blake: The one document that I’m going to take you to is the charging advice and that’s at POL00044361. So this is an advice, I think, from you on the sufficiency of evidence, and I think you advised on the sufficiency of evidence and made the charging decision or are we in this –

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I did.

Mr Blake: Yes, thank you. Why was it sent to Ms Natasha Bernard?

Debbie Stapel: Sorry, can you repeat the question?

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with the recipient?

Debbie Stapel: Oh, I see. I’m sorry, yes. So, basically, files would be submitted via the Casework Management Team to us and our response would always be to the Investigator.

Mr Blake: Thank you. If we look down the page, it starts by saying:

“In my opinion, the evidence is sufficient to afford a realistic prospect of conviction of the above named on the charges set out on the attached Schedule.”

The third paragraph says:

“In view of the serious breach of trust involved in this case and the amount of money ‘borrowed’ by the Defendant, this Offender should be prosecuted.”

We’ve spoken about the Code for Crown Prosecutors, we’ve spoken about the Full Code Test and the difference between the evidential test and the public interest test. Is there anything here that addresses the public interest aspect?

Debbie Stapel: No, simply that, obviously in addressing the public interest, you have to look at whether there are factors – sorry, whether factors against prosecution outweighed those in favour and, basically, in this case, there weren’t. So I deemed it to be in the public interest because of the breach of the trust and the amount of money that had been borrowed.

Mr Blake: Is this typical of a charging decision relating to this kind of a case where you won’t see, for example, a separate paragraph addressing public interest?

Debbie Stapel: Yeah, this would be quite a typical advice.

Mr Blake: Thank you. Could we look at paragraph 109 of your witness statement, it’s WITN08900100. It’s page 35, paragraph 109. I’m just going to read part of that paragraph because, as I say, Mrs Adedayo is in attendance today. It says:

“I have considered the transcript of Mrs Adedayo’s evidence to the Inquiry … At the time I advised on evidence there would have been nothing in the papers to indicate that anything untoward had happened on the day of the audit and interview. I was not present on that day so do not know what occurred and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment save to say that on Mrs Adedayo’s evidence her interview would have been ruled inadmissible. Her account of the impact that the prosecution had on herself and her family are truly heartbreaking.”

That’s your evidence to the Inquiry in respect of this case.

Debbie Stapel: That is my evidence. I mean, her account was truly heartbreaking and I hope the Post Office have now paid the compensation to her.

Mr Blake: Thank you. The final case study is Susan Rudkin. We’re going to leave that for another witness because I don’t think you had any direct involvement in the prosecution. I think you’ve said you just followed up afterwards on notifying the relevant –

Debbie Stapel: Yeah, I just notified the result of one of the hearings but I wouldn’t have read the file in order to do that. It would have simply been responding to a memo.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

Sir, those are all of my questions. We do have questions from Ms Dobbin and Mr Stein. Can I propose that we take them in that order?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, by all means.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

Questioned by Ms Dobbin

Ms Dobbin: Sorry, Ms Stapel. I don’t know if you caught that. My name is Clare Dobbin and I represent Gareth Jenkins.

I just wanted to check some points with you, if I may. First, is this right: aside the three cases that you have been asked about in your witness statement, you can’t recall any case that you had conduct of which depended on or relied upon a discrepancy in the Horizon system; is that correct?

Debbie Stapel: I can’t recall any individual case, no.

Ms Dobbin: Is this also right: that, after 2006, you did not, in fact, have conduct of any of those types of cases, with the exception of Mr Page’s case –

Debbie Stapel: That’s correct.

Ms Dobbin: – is that also correct?

I think it’s right from what you’ve said today that, in fact, there was no case in which you instructed Mr Jenkins as an expert, save that you think he was instructed in the case of Mr Page; is that also right?

Debbie Stapel: There was no case where he gave evidence in court. I can’t recall whether he gave a witness statement in any other case I dealt with.

Ms Dobbin: Right. Well, let me see if I can explore that a bit further.

Can you in fact recall any other case at all by name, in which you obtained a witness statement from Mr Jenkins?

Debbie Stapel: I can’t recall, no.

Ms Dobbin: Can you recall anything about such a case?

Debbie Stapel: No, I can’t.

Ms Dobbin: Can you recall even the geographical location of a post office or any sort of detail like that in such a case?

Debbie Stapel: No, I can’t.

Ms Dobbin: So is this right: you can recall absolutely nothing about any case in which Mr Jenkins was involved, asides the case of Mr Page; is that right?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, if I had been asked to outline the facts of the case of Page and Whitehouse, without being given sight of these documents, I would have been unable to do so; it was a long time ago.

Ms Dobbin: I understand that but I’m asking you for any information whatsoever about any other case in which you were involved –

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I cannot recall.

Ms Dobbin: – that Mr Jenkins was involved?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, I cannot recall any other case where Mr Jenkins was involved.

Ms Dobbin: When I refer to Mr Jenkins having been instructed by you in the case of Mr Page, again, as I understand your evidence, what you’re saying is that, in fact, if he was instructed, it would have been by the Investigator rather than you; is that right?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely. I had no direct contact with him.

Ms Dobbin: In that regard, you had no concept whatsoever of the duties of a prosecutor in relation to an expert; is that right?

Debbie Stapel: I’ve already said, I failed in that duty, yes.

Ms Dobbin: The question was whether or not that means you had no concept of the duties that a prosecutor bears towards an expert?

Debbie Stapel: No, because otherwise I would have sent the letter of engagement and – yeah.

Ms Dobbin: Given that those duties were enshrined in common law and that duties were also set out in the Criminal Procedure Rules from around 2006, can you assist the Inquiry as to why you didn’t know you had such duties towards an expert witness?

Debbie Stapel: The 2006 rules would have been after I ceased doing the POL cases, and I don’t know what the earlier rules said.

Ms Dobbin: But does that mean, then, that you didn’t keep abreast of developments in common law or –

Debbie Stapel: No, but I didn’t –

Ms Dobbin: – criminal Procedure Rules?

Debbie Stapel: – use an expert in any case after that.

Ms Dobbin: Beforehand?

Debbie Stapel: Sorry, beforehand?

Ms Dobbin: I’m just trying to understand whether or not you would have kept abreast of developments in the Criminal Procedure Rules or in the common law?

Debbie Stapel: Yes, we would have. So I can’t explain why we dealt with experts wrongly.

Ms Dobbin: You refer throughout your witness statement to Mr Jenkins as “Dr Jenkins”. He’s obviously not referred to that in any witness statement because he’s not a doctor. Can you explain why you think he’s called Dr Jenkins?

Debbie Stapel: No, I can’t. As I think I said earlier, a copy of his witness statement wasn’t in the bundles and I just thought he was called Dr Gareth Jenkins. I can’t explain that. Clearly, I made a mistake.

Ms Dobbin: Can I ask you, please, about paragraph 49 of your witness statement. I wonder if it would help, please, if we could bring that up.

Do you have that in front of you, Ms Stapel?

Debbie Stapel: I haven’t got paragraph 49. I can look it up in here, if you’d like.

Ms Dobbin: Please, if you would.

Debbie Stapel: But it hasn’t come up on my screen.

Ms Dobbin: It’s page 19 of your witness statement.

Debbie Stapel: Oh, it has now.

Ms Dobbin: Just looking at the top of that page, Ms Stapel, you say, and this is the second sentence:

“Dr Jenkins’s statement included the words [and we can see that these are in inverted commas] ‘I understand that my role is to assist the court rather than represent the views of my employers or Post Office Ltd’.”

So it does look as though you were quoting from a document. Can you assist me, please, as to what document you were quoting from?

Debbie Stapel: I can’t, no, I’m afraid.

Ms Dobbin: You signed this witness statement relatively recently.

Debbie Stapel: I did and I looked at a lot of documents.

Ms Dobbin: Did you see any statement from Mr Jenkins as part of the –

Debbie Stapel: No, I didn’t see any statement from Dr Jenkins.

Ms Dobbin: Can I ask whether or not you have seen a document called the Clarke Advice?

Debbie Stapel: I have, yes.

Ms Dobbin: Is it from the Clarke Advice that you’re getting information –

Debbie Stapel: It –

Ms Dobbin: – like this?

Debbie Stapel: It may be.

Ms Dobbin: That makes absolute sense, doesn’t it, Ms Stapel?

Debbie Stapel: Sorry, what makes absolute sense?

Ms Dobbin: It makes sense that this is where you’re getting information about Mr Jenkins being referred to as “Dr Jenkins” and where you’re getting information about what he said in his witness statements?

Debbie Stapel: It may be.

Ms Dobbin: I’m going to turn, please, if I may to the case of Mr Page. Can you tell me, please, if you agree with me about this: in all of the material that’s been provided to you by the Inquiry, you’ve seen no report by Mr Jenkins in that case?

Debbie Stapel: I haven’t, no. I’ve only been provided with part of the evidence.

Ms Dobbin: You’ve seen no witness statement from him?

Debbie Stapel: I haven’t, no.

Ms Dobbin: He’s not mentioned in any opening note, is he, as featuring in the trial?

Debbie Stapel: I don’t believe so.

Ms Dobbin: He’s not mentioned in the defence case statement as featuring in the trial or in the case, is he?

Debbie Stapel: I don’t believe so.

Ms Dobbin: He’s not mentioned in any expert report, is he?

Debbie Stapel: I don’t believe so.

Ms Dobbin: He doesn’t feature in the 109-page bundle of witness statements that were provided to you by the Inquiry at all, does he?

Debbie Stapel: No, but the witness statements that I’ve been provided with are incomplete.

Ms Dobbin: Incomplete in that only Mr Jenkins’ witness statement is missing from it?

Debbie Stapel: No, the bundles were vast. As I said, I can only remember that Mr Jenkins gave a witness statement because I can recall him being in court.

Ms Dobbin: Well, can we turn to that, please. Please may I ask that the document POL00067102 is brought up. Can you see that Ms Stapel?

Debbie Stapel: I can, yes.

Ms Dobbin: Can you see that it is a letter from you?

Debbie Stapel: I can, yes.

Ms Dobbin: Can you see it’s a letter from you asking the defence to confirm all of the witnesses –

Debbie Stapel: I can, yes.

Ms Dobbin: – that they wanted to give evidence at the trial?

Debbie Stapel: I can, yes.

Ms Dobbin: It’s a long list of witnesses, isn’t it?

Debbie Stapel: It is, yes.

Ms Dobbin: Is Mr Jenkins’ name on that list of witness statements?

Debbie Stapel: No, it’s not.

Ms Dobbin: No. Thank you, Ms Stapel. Those are my questions, sir. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Ms Dobbin.

Mr Stein?

Questioned by Mr Stein

Mr Stein: Is it Mrs Stapel or Ms Stapel?

Debbie Stapel: It’s Mrs.

Mr Stein: Mrs Stapel, my name is Sam Stein. I represent a large number of subpostmasters and mistresses. I’ve just got a few questions for you.

Touching upon one matter that you spoke about today, when speaking to Mr Blake, earlier on, you discussed with him the fact that you learnt about possible errors and defects in the Horizon system and you were discussing with Mr Blake the Computer Weekly magazine, yes?

Debbie Stapel: Yes.

Mr Stein: He then said the Computer Weekly magazine article started around 2009. So would it have been around 2009 that you started to learn about these issues being discussed in the press?

Debbie Stapel: I believe so. I couldn’t be certain of the date but I believe so.

Mr Stein: Okay.

Now, when we think back, Mrs Stapel, to your time at the Post Office, you left, unless I’ve got this wrong, in 2013?

Debbie Stapel: I did yes.

Mr Stein: By the time you’d left in 2013, what was your role? What were your duties at that time?

Debbie Stapel: I was solely advising on Royal Mail cases. So cases dealing with postmen.

Mr Stein: Right, okay. The issue, which is problems with the Horizon system, being brought to your attention in 2009 must have been of some interest to you; do you agree?

Debbie Stapel: I would agree.

Mr Stein: Because you’ve come across today as being somewhat – if I call it somewhat annoyed, you might put it slightly higher than that, that you weren’t told that there were issues with the Horizon system; is that fair?

Debbie Stapel: That’s fair.

Mr Stein: How annoyed are you: between a bit, you know, of concern, right the way through to livid?

Debbie Stapel: I think it defies belief what happened. I think it’s unbelievable that, even at the rollout stage, people were aware that there were technical issues and they were kept hidden. I just think it’s outrageous, the suffering that’s been caused by that.

Mr Stein: From your point of view, as a lawyer working within the system, how do you feel about being denied this information?

Debbie Stapel: How do I feel? I feel that I thought I was advising fairly and competently, and I wasn’t, in the POL cases, and I think it’s quite devastating.

Mr Stein: In terms of the team that you work within, who was your line manager or line managers?

Debbie Stapel: So to begin with, in – when Horizon was rolled out?

Mr Stein: Yes.

Debbie Stapel: So to begin with, it Mike Heath and after that it was Rob Wilson. Can I just say – I mean it may be relevant or not – but in terms of the line of questioning, that when I changed to doing cases involving postmen, I was working at home, so I only came into the office once or twice a fortnight. So I don’t know what discussions were going on with the lawyers that we’re dealing with POL cases during that period. I wasn’t party to them.

Mr Stein: Right, well that does help, Mrs Stapel.

My last question on that section was going to be that, once you learnt in the press around 2009 that there were suggestions being made there, pretty clear suggestions, that there were problems with the Horizon system, who did you discuss that with?

Debbie Stapel: Well, it was – I discussed it certainly with Mr Wilson.

Mr Stein: What did he say?

Debbie Stapel: He was of the view still that there were no problems with the integrity of Horizon.

Mr Stein: Can you help us a little bit more with that, because this is a Computer Weekly magazine. It’s not – forgive me for putting it this way, it’s not The Sun. It’s a magazine that’s concerned with computers, setting itself out to explain that there was a problem with the Horizon system, referring to the Post Office. These are quite serious issues being raised against a public –

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Mr Stein: – company like the Post Office. Did you say in your discussions with Mr Wilson that, you know, well –

Debbie Stapel: I know that he held me – or was involved in meetings with different people across the business but I’m not sure what the contents of those meetings were.

Mr Stein: Now, I’m going to refer you to a document that hopefully we’ve put forward to the Inquiry in terms of the questions I’m about to ask you, so hopefully you’ve had an opportunity to see it. The document reference is FUJ00081584.

Right, Mrs Stapel it’s come up on your screen. You’ll see at the top of this page that there’s a reference to “Receipts/Payments Mismatch issue notes”, okay?

Now, the date of this document is certainly 2010. We’re not entirely certain which part. We think it’s around August 2010. There are various reasons why we say that that we’ve looked at in relation to this document before. Now, can we just have a look, please, at the attendees of this particular meeting, okay. Attendees going down from the top, we’ve got Antonio Jamasb, Emma Langfield, Alan Simpson, Julia Marwood Ian Trundell and Andrew Winn. Did you know any of those?

Debbie Stapel: Did I know any of those people? No, so Alan Simpson’s name is familiar but I can no longer recall what part of Security he worked in. But none of the other names – obviously I recognised Gareth Jenkins’ name but none of the others.

Mr Stein: I was going to move down into the next section which are all Fujitsu individuals: Mike Stewart, John Simpkins, Gareth Jenkins and Mark Wright. Okay?

Now, you’ve been asked number of questions about Mr Jenkins. How frequently – sorry, that’s a bad question. Let’s start it again.

Mrs Stapel, how often had you met Mr Jenkins?

Debbie Stapel: I believe I met him for the first and only time at court, in the case of Page and Whitehouse.

Mr Stein: Right. In your dealings with him, in discussions with him about that case, did he ever say to you, “Look, you know, there are bugs, there are difficulties with the system”? Something like that? Just to indicate to you –

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely not, and I don’t believe I had any discussion with him.

Mr Stein: Shall we just roll back on that one, then. Did he indicate to you whether there were problems with the system? The answer is no. Did you ask him about any issues with the system?

Debbie Stapel: No, that was the purpose of any witness statement to cover that.

Mr Stein: Right. Okay. Now, we’re just going to have a look at this document. Can we go to the bottom of page 2, please. Then if we can highlight where it says “Impact”, the five bullet points, that you can see.

Mrs Stapel, I hope you can see this document okay. This, essentially, is a document that is concerned with a bug within the system and this is the impact of the bug. So if we just go through that, I want to ask you then a couple of questions.

So the impact of the bug in the Horizon system is that:

“The branch has appeared to have balanced, whereas in fact they could have a loss or a gain.

“Our accounting systems will be out of sync with what is recorded at the branch

“If widely known could cause a loss of confidence in the Horizon System by branches.

“Potential impact upon ongoing legal cases where branches are disputing the integrity of Horizon …

“It could provide branches ammunition to blame Horizon for future discrepancies.”

Now, I’ve gone through that but it’s quite important information.

Debbie Stapel: It’s dynamite, yeah.

Mr Stein: Rather than me asking the obvious question: why is it dynamite, in your view?

Debbie Stapel: Firstly, clearly no one from Legal Services was involved in this. I don’t know whether they found out about it afterwards, but it’s just extraordinary that any problem with Horizon will be kept from any subpostmaster or any branch, and the suggestion it might have a potential impact on ongoing legal cases suggests that the people who are involved in this knew that the information should have been relayed both to the Criminal Law Team and Civil, and it would look as if this was being hidden.

But, clearly, the whole basis on which the Post Office operated was that the accounting system could be relied on. It’s just extraordinary and it makes one wonder how many other meetings with similar problems took place over how many years. But, I mean, this is clearly something that should have been disclosed to both the Criminal Law Team and, indeed, the defence.

Mr Stein: Earlier in your evidence today, when you’re discussing matters with the first barrister that asked you questions, Mr Blake, you were talking about being told that the system was a “super system”.

Debbie Stapel: I think those were my words. I was told that it was – yeah.

Mr Stein: Yeah. That was your interpretation of what was being told?

Debbie Stapel: That was my interpretation of what I was being told.

Mr Stein: I understand. And that, as you’ve confirmed with me, that the question of bugs, errors or defects was not shared: “Absolutely not”, was your words.

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely not.

Mr Stein: All right. You also explained that, in relation to a jury or a court, if hearing about these problems, it would undermine such cases, yes?

Debbie Stapel: Certainly if I was a juror and heard there were bugs anywhere in the system, I’m not sure I would convict on the basis of a Horizon deficiency.

Mr Stein: Were you aware that it was possible to amend the accounts in a branch, in other words remotely amend?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely not, no.

Mr Stein: Did you learn at any stage later on, through any of the news about it or perhaps reading the judgments in the High Court, did you learn later on that it was possible to amend the counter branch’s accounts?

Debbie Stapel: I did read that but I’m not sure where, but that was something that we were assured couldn’t happen.

Mr Stein: Who assured you it couldn’t happen?

Debbie Stapel: So, my understanding was that Mr Heath and Mr Wilson indicated that that was kind of something that was in stone, that no one would be able to access a subpostmaster’s accounts, or rather the Horizon information in the accounts.

Mr Stein: Now, can we go to page 3 of this document, please. You’ll see there, Mrs Stapel, that under the heading “Proposal for affected Branches”, if we can highlight that – “Proposal for affected Branches”, very grateful – and then thereafter, you can see there’s discussion within this meeting:

“There are three potential solutions to apply to the impacted branches, the group’s recommendation is in that solution two should be progressed.”

I’m just going to go through “Solution One” with you because I want to ask you a couple of questions about this issue of remote access:

“SOLUTION ONE – Alter the Horizon Branch figure at the counter to show the discrepancy. Fujitsu would have to manually write an entry value to the local branch account.

“IMPACT – When the branch comes to complete next Trading Period they would have a discrepancy, which they would have to bring to account.

“RISK – this has significant data integrity concerns and could lead to questions of ‘tampering’ for the branch system and could generate questions around how the discrepancy was caused. This solution could have moral implications of Post Office changing branch data without informing the branch.”


Debbie Stapel: Yeah.

Mr Stein: Now, just reminding ourselves as we looked at in relation to the attendees, we’ve got people from the Post Office attending this meeting and Fujitsu attending the meeting. So it’s a mixture of those two companies, if you like, okay – and reminding ourselves that the date that this particular document is being circulated is in 2010, okay? So what, three years before you left the company?

Debbie Stapel: But I was no longer doing that case – this type of work, then.

Mr Stein: You’ve reflected on the question of a jury learning about bugs, errors and defects, and the like, and the fact that, if you were on a jury, you wouldn’t convict in such circumstances. The situation whereby the accounts can be altered remotely without branch accounts, what’s your concern, if any, about that?

Debbie Stapel: Well, that clearly would also have a huge – well, it would undermine the case for the prosecution. I mean, this document is just extraordinary. I mean, the only correct thing to do would have been to inform all the branches involved about the bug and deal with it that way. So it’s another sad example of how things were concealed.

Mr Stein: In the criminal justice system, there’s a process that’s used called abuse of process; you’re aware of that?

Debbie Stapel: I am aware of that.

Mr Stein: I’m sure you’ll recall – I know you do other work now – but it’s got two limbs to it, which I loosely call – that where something has happened that’s so bad that no case should be prosecuted; and the second limb, whereby it’s unfair to prosecute a case. Okay?

Debbie Stapel: Absolutely.

Mr Stein: In relation to prosecutions that were ongoing around this time, do you think this sort of material should have been disclosed so that matters such as that had to be considered?

Debbie Stapel: Of course it should.

Mr Stein: Excuse me one moment, Mrs Stapel.

Thank you, Mrs Stapel.

Sir, no further questions.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mr Stein.

Are there any other questions from anyone?

Mr Blake: No, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, thank you very much for coming to give evidence. Firstly – well, sequentially, thank you for making a detailed witness statement in response to the questions you were asked and thank you for coming to give evidence today. I’m obliged to you.

So Mr Blake, we carry on tomorrow with Mr Tatford; is that correct?

Mr Blake: Yes, that’s correct, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. 10.00 tomorrow morning, then.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

(12.08 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10.00 am the following day)