Official hearing page

2 February 2024

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(10.00 am)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can, thank you very much. Further evidence read into the record by MR BEER

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

Before we proceed to hear submissions from Core Participants, I would like, if I may, please, to address you in relation to the status of written statements that have been obtained for the purposes of Phase 4 of the Inquiry, from individuals who have not appeared before you to give oral evidence.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Beer: To ensure that the Inquiry has obtained as full a picture of Phase 4 issues as possible, Rule 9 requests were sent to a wide pool of individuals, a wider pool than those who have ultimately been called to give oral evidence before you. This was the case for each category of Phase 4 witness we’ve heard from, namely Post Office Policy and Practice witnesses, Criminal Prosecution Case Study witnesses and Civil Recovery Case Study witnesses.

Where the Inquiry has decided that it’s not necessary to hear oral evidence from individuals who have provided written statements, their statements will be admitted into evidence and treated as having been read into the record and the witness statements will shortly be disclosed on the Inquiry’s website.

I should say that the fact that the statements are to be read into the record does not mean that the accounts given within them is agreed by each of the Core Participants. It’s necessarily untested evidence.

Could we have on the screen, please, INQ00002020. This is a PowerPoint presentation with a series of slides which the Inquiry Team has prepared listing the written statements that are to be read into the record set out by category of witness. Can we go to slide 2, please.

On this slide, we have a list of witness statements relating to “Post Office Policy and Practice”. You can see the names of each of the witnesses there and the unique reference numbers of their witness statements. As I’ve said, they will be uploaded to the Inquiry’s website.

The individuals listed here were all sent Rule 9 requests based on the description of their roles held at the Post Office at the relevant time. They’ve not been called to give oral evidence because there were other witnesses who were better placed to speak to the given areas of policy and practice.

Can we go to slide 3, please. The witnesses listed on this page were each sent Rule 9 requests because they were Auditors involved in one or more of the criminal investigation and prosecution case studies that you selected for Phase 4. Their written evidence is informative as to the practices of Auditors, insofar as it’s relevant to Phase 4 issues, but their oral evidence would not have added materially to the evidential picture.

Can we go to the next slide, please.

The witnesses listed here held other roles in relation to Phase 4 criminal investigation and prosecution case studies, namely financial investigation and Contracts Adviser roles. Again, it was considered that these witnesses attending to give evidence would not add materially to the evidential picture.

Slide 5, please.

All of these witnesses have provided witness statements relating to the Cleveleys Post Office civil recovery case study. The first listed witness is Julie Kay, previously Wolstenholme, the subpostmistress at the branch. The second individual only had fleeting involvement in the case and was unable to take your enquiries further in his statement. The third individual provided a corporate disclosure statement on behalf of Royal Mail in relation to the disclosure of documents relevant to the Cleveleys case.

Slide 6, please.

The individuals listed here provided witness statements in relation to their knowledge of relevant events at the Marine Drive Post Office, a further civil recovery case study: a lawyer from Bond Pearce, two temporary subpostmasters, a member of staff at the branch and an employee of Fujitsu.

Can we go to the last slide, please, slide 7.

Finally, sir, there are some written statements relating to Phase 2 and 3 of the Inquiry which have been received by the Inquiry since I addressed you at the end of Phase 3 in relation to written records to be read into the record, in the same way as I’m reading them in now.

Thank you, that PowerPoint presentation can come down.

Those are the statements the Inquiry Team wish to be read into the record at this stage. I should pause to say that the Inquiry has received a significant volume of disclosure in the course of Phase 4 and the Phase 4 hearings and it expects to receive more disclosure that is relevant or may be relevant to Phase 4 in the near future. We will keep, of course, those documents under review and will disclose them to Core Participants as soon as reasonably practicable after their receipt.

I should say, as we’ve said before, the Inquiry Team will not seek to hesitate to re-call any witnesses, where it considers it’s necessary to do so, to put questions to them on new documents that have come to light. The appropriate time to do that will be determined in due course but will likely be during the Phase 5 and 6 hearings, should that be necessary.

That’s all I wish to say at the moment, sir, in terms of reading documents into the record and we move now to the closing submissions from the Core Participants in an order which you have directed, starting, I think, with Mr Moloney.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, Mr Beer.

Before Mr Moloney addresses me, can I reiterate that those who have been following the Inquiry will realise that not all witness statements result in witnesses giving live oral evidence. Inevitably, there is an exercise of judgement as to who should be called to give oral evidence and I am completely satisfied that very careful consideration has been given as to which witnesses should be called and which witnesses should simply stand as witnesses with their witness statement read into the record.

So I am ready for Mr Moloney now.

Mr Beer: Thank you sir.

Closing statement by Mr Moloney

Mr Moloney: Thank you, sir.

We represent 76 former postmasters, all of whom were prosecuted and convicted and all of whom have since had their convictions quashed but only after having their lives destroyed by the scandal at the heart of this Inquiry. Those former postmasters include Jo Hamilton, Noel Thomas, Michael and Susan Rudkin, whose stories, together with many others featured in the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which has inspired the powerful groundswell of public and political interest in this scandal.

That drama sees Jo Hamilton surrounded by paperwork, distraught and seeking assistance from the helpline. She didn’t know what was going on nor what to do. The help offered was no help at all, doubling a discrepancy before her eyes. Those scenes, which have had such impact, were real life for Jo, as detailed in her first witness statement to this Inquiry back in 2021.

Our clients’ stories repeatedly echo that awful fear and the impossible questioning of themselves and Horizon. Time and again, they asked for help. For many, because none came, the time came when they stopped asking for help. Time and again, faced with investigation and the threat of prosecution, they told the Post Office that there were unexplained discrepancies, unexplained problems with the system, that they did not take any money and that they were not dishonest. Time and again, they were prosecuted and convicted. Time and again, their lives were ruined.

It’s only as a result of the dedication of many hundreds of brave men and women postmasters and their supporters working together that some justice has finally been found in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the modern UK legal history.

Now people are listening. Our clients are now finally being heard. They are not guilty and they always were not guilty. This phase has been critically important at getting at the real truth for them about what they went through.

As our client, Tim Brentnall, told the Inquiry as long ago as 1 March 2022 in Phase 1:

“Horizon merely provided the data that showed a shortfall but it was people who chose to believe that data over myself or hundreds of other subpostmasters. It wasn’t Horizon that prosecuted us. It was the Post Office. It wasn’t Horizon that encouraged us to pay back money under threat of theft charges. That was people at the Post Office.”

In this phase, the Inquiry has begun, as Mr Brentnall urged, to consider responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of postmasters. The evidence of the postmasters heard in Phase 1 is now confirmed by hours and hours of witness evidence and tens of thousands of pages of evidence which illustrate the corporate and individual failures which came to see so many people of previous good character criminalised, the evidences of individual actions, which were, in some cases, at best, shameful. At worst, those actions now, as perhaps just a starting point, lay some witnesses open to rigorous criminal investigation.

We represent 16 of the 22 case study Core Participants in England and Wales and Mr Alan McLaughlin in Northern Ireland. For them, this phase has been both challenging and informative. We obviously don’t propose to go through much of the evidence that’s been heard, such has been the scale of this phase, there just isn’t time. But, instead, in our address today, we focus on three primary submissions based on the evidence heard in Phase 4.

First, the approach of Post Office, supported by Fujitsu to investigation and recovery of losses, as well as prosecution of alleged offences, was deeply and fundamentally flawed.

Second, the management and oversight of investigations and prosecutions by the Post Office, as supported by Fujitsu, was wilfully blind to, or disregarding of, the proper lawful administration of justice.

Thirdly and finally, an overarching focus on the commercial interests of both the Post Office and Fujitsu, including in protecting the brand reputation of both companies, contributed significantly and detrimentally to the prosecution of individuals in the face of faults in Horizon, of which the Post Office were or ought to have been aware.

We now develop each of those in turn, sir. First, the approach of the Post Office supported by Fujitsu to investigation and recovery of losses, as well as prosecution of alleged offences, was deeply and fundamentally flawed. This is by far the longest section of our submissions; the other submissions are much shorter.

Until this scandal is uncovered, the Post Office remain proud of its centuries old heritage in law enforcement. A History of Royal Mail Investigations, Prosecutions and Security was produced in 2010 and the reference is LCAS0000124.

We can now see that that pride was severely misplaced long before 2010. It’s said that it’s only when the tide goes out that you can see who has been swimming without a costume and, now that the tide has gone out on Post Office and they’ve been forced to open up their books, we’ve been able to see just how wrong things were in Post Office law enforcement, that there was nothing to be proud of once Horizon came to blight the lives of a great many people.

But before setting out just how the Post Office, supported by Fujitsu, failed in its duties as a prosecutor, it’s important to briefly look back to the evidence which emerged in Phases 2 and 3 of this Inquiry, in order to identify a number of factors which are critical to informing the analysis of where Post Office went wrong and why in investigation and prosecution, factors that created the conditions in which this miscarriage of justice occurred.

These factors contain, first, bugs, errors and defects from the outset and the institutional amnesia around them, the inadequacy of audit data and audits and the policies develop around investigation and prosecution. The existence of bugs, errors and defects in Horizon, impacting on the integrity of accounts, and thus the integrity of investigations and prosecutions by the Post Office, of necessity, were known or ought to have been known to both the Post Office and to Fujitsu throughout the life of both Legacy Horizon and Horizon online but they were ignored in apparent acts of institutional amnesia.

We include the following very few examples which evidence that proposition. First, on behalf of Fujitsu, Paul Patterson accepted on 19 January, at page 16 of the transcript:

“All the bugs and errors had been known at one level or not for many, many years. Right from the very start of deployment of this system, there were bugs, errors and defects which were well known to all parties, actually.”

It was his evidence that the vast majority of bugs, errors and defects was shared contemporaneously with the Post Office. He accepted that this information ought to have been included in evidence provided by Fujitsu in support of Post Office litigation.

Everything that was known about the troubled birth of Horizon, the Acceptance Incidents and including, of course, the third supplementary agreement, would warrant real care in investigating any challenge to the integrity of Horizon. Indeed, that process fixes senior management in both organisations with the knowledge of problems in Horizon and fallibility as concerns the integrity of accounts which would affect prosecutions from the start, yet there is no evidence of any such caution in the approach of either Post Office or Fujitsu.

On the contrary, as highlighted in our opening for this Inquiry and in our closing submissions for Phase 2, the priorities for both businesses appear to have moved swiftly in 1999/2000 from concern over integrity to the further commercial exploitation of Horizon.

Further, when, in 2001, the audit data loss occurred, it ought to have been clear that the audit trail was in secure. In 2003, Post Office was put on notice of admissions in evidence relied upon in evidence as a result of operator error and, again, in January 2009, when Post Office was belatedly notified that bugs, errors and defects had impacted the critical audit trail for Horizon, this ought to have been an even greater reason for caution on the parts of Post Office.

Yet, in summer 2010, facing further revelations of bugs connected to duplicates in audit data, which impacted upon or potentially impacted upon evidence provided to the court, the Post Office was again willing to rely on Fujitsu assurances without independent testing.

Mr Patterson accepted that the information disclosed to relevant subpostmasters about the 2010 bug was not the “whole truth about audit data problems”, yet business as usual was resumed. Prosecutions continued undeterred.

Indeed, this work ran in parallel with public relations efforts by the Post Office in response to growing concerns for injustice expressed in 2009 reporting from Computer Weekly, the BBC and The Grocer. By February 2010, the Post Office had adopted a stock line that the system was robust in response to such reporting.

This was seen in an email from Hayley Fowell to David X Smith, Michele Graves – who managed executive correspondence – and others on 2 February 2010. It’s POL00002268 and it’s at page 2, when she says:

“I am providing our stock line which states the system is robust.”

It will be for the Inquiry to address precisely who knew what and when at what level, and whether and to what extent Fujitsu held information back about the precise extent and nature of bugs, errors and defects to serve its own business interests.

We note, for example, the initial approach taken to the summer 2010 audit data, the duplicate transactions bug. That initial approach appeared first to consider the impact of acceptance of Horizon Online. It was said in FUJ00097046, “Please do not make any communication on this with Post Office for the moment”. When information was provided to the Post Office, the Inquiry may consider whether it was delayed, underplayed or misrepresented on more than one occasion.

Secondly, Post Office and Fujitsu both knew from the outset that the data held in the audit trail, and not only that held on the counter or provided as part of a standard ARQ request, would be crucial to any investigation based on the integrity of accounting data. But that was not acted on and prosecutions continued without ensuring that the right data was accessible by Investigators.

The 2002 Network Banking Prosecution Support Policy, which Ms Patrick asked Mr Ward about yesterday afternoon and its later 2007 iteration, makes clear that the data held by Fujitsu, as part of the audit trail and for the purposes of prosecution support, goes well beyond that covered in an ARQ statement.

It makes clear that the work to be done by Fujitsu was to go beyond production of the material in an ARQ statement and a simple statement of fact. It refers to events data, which the Inquiry has covered with Gerald Barnes and Mr Simpkins and with Mrs Chambers at some length. Yet this appears to have had little or no impact on the training offered to Investigators, Auditors or the Casework Management Team for Post Office.

Evidence was consistent that no training was provided on what sat in the audit trail or its purpose. Indeed, a standard ARQ would never be enough to understand or interrogate the integrity of Horizon data and that was expressly accepted by Paul Patterson on 19 January at page 57 of the transcript. That was known or ought to have been known to both Fujitsu and Post Office by 2002. As just said, the 2002 prosecution support policy demonstrated that to be the case. Mr Patterson confirmed that the data held by Fujitsu would include event logs but that the routine checking of event logs by the Litigation Support Unit did not begin until after 2008, and that’s page 55 of the transcript.

So Fujitsu would have been aware that the Post Office was litigating on the basis of incomplete information from pretty much the start of the process and, in any event, from 2007, when Mrs Chambers said expressly in her Afterthoughts document she sent to management that Tivoli events were not being disclosed, and that’s FUJ00152299. She wrote:

“This suggested that the disclosure of the message store itself was an afterthought, though it is fundamental to the system.”


“Surely the full message store has to be disclosed in all cases”, and yet that was not acted on.

Critically and in any event, it’s admitted that the audit trail held by Fujitsu lacked the integrity required by the contractual arrangements agreed with the Post Office. That’s at page 39 of the transcript of Mr Patterson’s evidence.

So the data that was available and used for prosecutions was never really adequate nor sufficient. Moreover, the Post Office, NBSC, and Fujitsu’s HSH and higher levels of support appeared to operate on an unjustifiable default presumption that, without further evidence, the cause of any discrepancy would be user error.

This created an implicit bias against the effective investigation of system problems and substantially disadvantaged postmasters.

Having heard evidence in Phase 4, the Inquiry may reach the conclusion that this default presumption found its way through to the attitude of Investigators in interview, something which we consider shortly.

Importantly, in that context of a default presumption that the user was to blame, any Post Office audit that did happen was a simple stock check against the figures produced by Horizon. Auditors were there not to help an SPM in trouble, a subpostmaster in trouble, they were there to do a stock check.

Auditors held no particular IT skills nor were they professionally qualified auditors or accountants. Mr Ferlinc confirmed that on the 4 July.

The identification of any apparent shortfall resulted in near automatic consequences for a postmaster: suspension, a contractual inquiry and a possible criminal investigation followed.

As Helen Rose confirmed, it was only in the case of a discrepancy due to a known error that a postmaster would be authorised to place the sum in a suspense account. In all other circumstances it appears that a formal disciplinary and/or criminal investigation would follow. Auditors could print reports from the counter for use in any later investigation but they had no access to the underlying Fujitsu audit trail.

To confound that obvious problem, any system audit data was considered a matter for others to investigate at a later stage, only after the instigation of an investigation by management or the Security Team.

Moving on from audit, another factor which created the conditions for this miscarriage of justice was that the Horizon contract and policy requirements agreed by the Post Office and Fujitsu treated the prosecutorial function of the Post Office as an afterthought. Policies and practices across both companies for the role which they each were to play in the criminalisation of hundreds of men and women of previously good character were neglected, ill conceived or disrespectful of the law.

There was evidence of cutting and pasting, including possibly from pre-Horizon material, without thought being given to any known bugs, errors and defects. Prosecution support had to begin work under a without-prejudice agreement, pending further negotiation. The first written prosecution support policy appears only in November 2002.

We do not dwell on the appalling racist language in the now notorious Identification Codes document. This was most recently circulated in 2013 when many agreed it would have been read. There was no evidence of any challenge to its substance at any point in its use by Post Office.

Last but not least, among the conditions which create the conditions for this miscarriage of justice is that contractual arrangements and policies were consistently read, rightly or wrongly, to promote the business interests of Post Office and/or Fujitsu and to the detriment of postmasters.

Echoing arguments before Mr Justice Fraser, the Inquiry heard evidence on corporate misreading of the contractual obligations owed by postmasters for losses, equating them to strict liability for anything that and everything that went wrong. Witnesses repeatedly adopted the essential position that postmasters were “responsible for all losses”, and seemingly required to make good any discrepancy, whether attributable to negligence, error, or fraud.

This dangerous misreading of the legal terms on which the Post Office Network operated, alongside the default perception amongst Post Office staff that any discrepancy was a user problem, as we’ve already referred to, sir, perhaps reinforced the erroneous impression that any flaw in the system must be human.

The Post Office, without foundation, routinely reversed the burden of proof in requiring postmasters to disprove their responsibility for discrepancies. As Mr Ferlinc said on 4 July:

“So the auditor must find the discrepancy if there was one and then there could be number of reasons why there was a discrepancy. The subpostmaster would be expected to make good, unless they could identify the reason why.”

The onus in this policy was upon subpostmasters to prove something that they could not prove or probably could not prove, it was conceded.

Witnesses repeatedly accepted that proof of a fault in Horizon would be an unfair and even impossible task to set for postmasters with limited access to the data behind the counter held by Post Office and Fujitsu.

This approach was inconsistent with any ordinary contractual construction and an obscene reversal of the presumption of innocence.

Then, looking at Post Office policies on investigation and prosecution, they repeatedly stressed the significance of the interests of the business and the recovery of losses, to which we return later.

Just one example, which was from the Security Operations Team’s Compliance Guide to the Preparation and Layout of Investigation Red Label Case Files, POL00038452, and page 13 of that document. It read:

“Significant failures that may affect the successful likelihood of any criminal action and/or cause significant damage to the business must be confined solely to the confidential offender report. Care must be exercised when including failures within the disciplinary reports as obviously this is disclosed to the suspect and may have ramifications on both the criminal elements of the Inquiry as well as being potentially damaging to the reputation or security of the business.”

Some witnesses appeared to accept that this was antithetical to the disclosure duties in prosecution. A document ought to be disclosed precisely because it is considered to impact upon either the prosecution or defence case.

Another example is found in the Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Investigation reached between the Royal Mail Group and Post Office post-separation, and this was agreed in January 2012. At paragraph 2.4 of POL00105098, it reads under “Prosecution Decision”, 2.4:

“Cases leading to an interview under caution will ordinarily be reported to the Criminal Law Team acting on behalf of the organisation which has suffered the loss and against which the offences have been committed, for advice on the sufficiency of evidence and the usual public and business interest considerations. There may be exceptions to this where the lead business is the more appropriate choice and this will normally be at the discretion of the appropriate Legal Team and the Royal Mail Head of Investigations and Post Office Limited Senior Security Manager Security Operations.”

The issue of business interest in prosecution decision making was addressed squarely by Duncan Atkinson king’s Counsel in his evidence. He said, perhaps with a degree of understatement:

“There was also, in the material I saw, references to a series of factors that it was considered were relevant to a prosecution, which included the best interests of the business and the integrity of the mail, as opposed to the much more nuanced and detailed set of criteria that would or should be applied to a prosecution decision by reference, for example, to the Code.”

That was on 5 October 2003 at page 56.

The Inquiry may consider whether this focus on business interests reflected or fostered a culture which degraded the administration of justice, objectified and diminished the subject of the investigation and encouraged instead a focus, first, on the bottom line. We return to this in our third and final main submission.

Any proposition that problematic policies were ironed out in training or practice notes and judged in the light of the evidence on the case studies identified by the Inquiry is simply unsustainable. At each stage, there were clear flaws which, whether by design or practice, substantially disadvantaged the postmaster.

The Inquiry also has the evidence of Mr Atkinson that, in policy and in practice, the Post Office skipped over core steps and ignored legal obligations fundamental to the duties of a responsible prosecutor.

We do not revisit his detailed conclusions but highlight particular faults in investigation and prosecution on which the Inquiry may wish to draw and we hope these may, in fact, echo the conclusions of Mr Atkinson and the experience of many subpostmasters in evidence.

Just going to those faults now, with investigations and the Investigators.

Subpostmasters told Post Office Investigators, Security Managers, that there were unexplained discrepancies or they blamed the system outright. The Post Office did not listen or refused to hear. We make a number of points about their approach.

The Inquiry might conclude that Post Office Investigators, Security Managers, were underqualified, ill trained and undersupervised. The Inquiry heard of the short weeks of training completed in-house, followed by mentoring in-house, which it might conclude perpetuated a particular brand of Post Office practice.

Interviews with suspects, which were fundamental to the Post Office prosecutorial approach, were handled unprofessionally, both in their conduct and their presentation, for the purposes of prosecutorial decision making and for trial.

Following the theme of the default position in the contract that the postmaster was responsible for all losses, there was an apparent default assumption of fault and dishonesty in the face of any Horizon discrepancy.

The Inquiry saw it in the interviews of David Blakey, inexplicably asked about whether he had been in an adulterous relationship and faced with the suggestion that his ill wife would be investigated; and Alison Hall, whose position that Horizon was not 100 per cent was not reflected in her suspect offender report, to name just two examples; and even saw the Investigators asking Lynette Hutchings why it was that she did not have a solicitor based locally to her but, instead, had retained the services of Issy Hogg, who had represented Jo Hamilton, Seema Misra and others.

Time and again, postmasters were aggressively accused of lying, simply because they could not explain where the money had gone. The interviewer would typically ask “Where has the money gone?” The postmaster would reply, “I don’t know”, to which the interviewer would respond, “You’re lying”.

Investigators faced with challenges to Horizon repeatedly failed to explore reasonable lines of inquiry and the failure to explore reasonable lines of inquiry went beyond challenges to Horizon data.

Investigators were not trained in the operation of Horizon nor in the role of the audit trail. They were not technically qualified. When Horizon issues were explored, the Post Office was completely reliant on Fujitsu for the answer. Fujitsu was relied on to explain away any questions; it marked its own homework.

The handling of expert evidence by Post Office Investigators, supported by Fujitsu, was fundamentally and irretrievably flawed, and inconsistent with the requirements of fairness and proper criminal procedure: no expert declaration, for example. Moreover, there’s no question that the Security Team were aware of repeated challenges to Horizon integrity. Any suggestion that cases were never discussed or that the team was unaware of the challenges in the press ought to be treated with contempt, we say. There will be no need to remind the Inquiry that we had the truly extraordinary evidence of Mr Ward yesterday as to his involvement in the proposed expert evidence of Gareth Jenkins in the case of Noel Thomas.

Investigators’ handling of ordinary witness evidence was often fundamentally and irretrievably flawed as well and inconsistent with the requirements of fairness and proper criminal procedure. We have in mind, for example, that Stephen Bradshaw allowed Cartwright King to write and serve his statements for him, even though he did not agree with the contents. The Inquiry will remember the evidence of Cath Oglesby, who appeared almost astonished that anybody would even think that she would have been responsible for what was in her own signed statement.

Investigators’ handling of disclosure, including requests from the defence, was also irretrievably flawed and inconsistent with the requirements of fairness, justice and proper criminal procedure. Investigators actively helped shape the prosecution approach to particular cases in order to protect the interests of the business to the detriment of the defendant.

The Inquiry heard numerous examples of Investigators attending conferences with counsel and involved in discussions on plea, including at the door of the court. Stephen Bradshaw’s self-appraisal in respect of Jacqueline McDonald’s prosecution was a case in point. In what he said was flamboyant language, he claimed to have persuaded counsel for the Post Office to have insisted on a trial of theft allegations, rather than be content with Mrs McDonald’s pleas to false accounting, and he did so in order to counter the postmasters’ campaign.

If her pleas to false accounting had been accepted, even though she was guilty of nothing, she might have avoided prison. As it was, a 47-year-old mother of two, of previous good character, she was sent into custody away from her children and family and had to endure all the indignities, which we won’t elaborate upon here, that go with being confined to a closed prison.

Mr Bradshaw had no reason to be proud of himself.

Financial investigation and the recovery of losses also played a significant, if not guiding role in the conduct of criminal investigations and subsequent prosecutions.

Yesterday, Mr Ward was taken to POL00121975, the post-pub email, which speaks to the priority with which Investigators were treating recovery. In the same thread, he talks up the benefits of POCA over a post-conviction compensation order because compensation orders have no teeth. Ged Harbinson, another Financial Investigator, asked by Juliet McFarlane for a view on a possible plea for Jo Hamilton said:

“I’m never confident with false accounting charges in relation to recovery under POCA 2002 and the theft charge makes life so much easier.”

I will return to this later.

Finally, the Post Office Security Team and individual Investigators operated free from professional obligation and regulatory oversight. There was and is no Independent Office for Police Complaints for the Post Office police, the Investigators. These policemen were accountable only to the company to which they were so loyal.

There were thus numerous highly significant problems in the process of investigation and the actions of Investigators, which this Inquiry has heard evidence of, and we are only able to briefly touch upon them today. But there were similar problems with prosecution and prosecutors, and we turn to those now, sir, as the final part of this aspect of our first submission.

Subpostmasters defended their innocence, denied dishonesty and produced defence statements and disclosure requests which put unexplained discrepancies front and centre as issues in the case. They produced independent expert reports.

Alan McLaughlin did all of that in the clearest ways possible but still the Post Office did not hear or refuse to hear.

So far as the difficulties, the problems, the clear faults in prosecutions and prosecutors, we include the following for the reference of the Inquiry. First, the Inquiry might conclude that some members of the Legal Team at Post Office were underqualified, undertrained and ill supervised. Jarnail Singh ascended to Head of Criminal Law, seemingly because he was the only one left, whilst simultaneously practising in a completely different area of law in his spare time.

Prosecutors, including internal and external lawyers acting for Post Office said they were given limited or no training on the audit trail operated by Fujitsu on behalf of the Post Office.

The internal and external lawyers, acting as prosecutors at times, appeared to put the interests of the business before their professional obligations and failed to take obvious steps to meet the requirements of fairness, justice and proper criminal procedure.

There was evidence that they failed to conduct adequate scrutiny and supervision of investigations, including their failure to identify reasonable lines of inquiry and their mismanagement of disclosure.

They also failed in their instruction of expert evidence and served and relied upon expert evidence which was obviously not compliant with the standards required in both civil and criminal litigation.

These were trained lawyers.

See, for example the evidence yesterday on the changes made Mr Jenkins’ statement in Noel Thomas’ case and the failings apparent in the evidence of Jarnail Singh and Warwick Tatford. They failed in respect of disclosure duties, including in the handling of third-party disclosure from Fujitsu and in the direct response to defence requests and, importantly, they have failed to exercise the independence expected of a legal professional in the exercise of the discharge of their duties to the court.

For example, in January 2010 Mr Singh called disclosure requests by Mrs Misra’s Legal Team “unreasonably and unnecessarily raised”, and sought counsel’s advice thinking, “This may have a wider implication for the business”.

Mr Singh wrote or dictated the well-known “bandwagon” email, which we won’t repeat here, sir – but is at POL00093686 and at page 5 – but was essentially concluded with:

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

Decisions on charging were unsupported by evidence and appeared to have departed from the guidance of the Court of Appeal in Eden and the Inquiry is now well familiar in the review of Graham Brander in his suspect offender report prepared for Jo Hamilton, saying that:

“Having analysed the Horizon printouts and accounting documentation, I was unable to find any evidence of theft or that the cash figures had been deliberately inflated.”

Decisions on plea were inappropriately circumscribed by conditions related to the defence of Horizon and the recovery of funds. The acceptance of pleas, as you well know, sir, was sometimes conditional on an agreement not to criticise Horizon – for example, the cases of Allison Henderson and Alison Hall – and Mrs Hamilton was required to pay the illusory debt she owed before sentence or she would have been proceeded against on the theft allegation.

These were all actions, whether in the civil or criminal teams, under the supervision of General Counsel, we understand a board level appointment reporting to the Company Secretary. Many questions arise in relation to the advice being provided to the Post Office by its Legal Team, which we anticipate will be explored in Phases 5 and 6, touched on in this phase.

We anticipate that the Inquiry will continue to consider the legal strategy in response to the first civil claims pursued in 2011, including in the guidance offered as to document destruction and the operation of privilege, which was heard in this phase in the evidence of John Breeden and others.

We note the evidence of Mr Scott and Mr Singh on the shredding advice and the involvement of Ms Crichton in the aftermath of the Simon Clarke Advices.

We note the circumstances in which Ms Crichton departed from the Post Office remain as yet unclear and we anticipate she’ll be called in Phase 5 and so reserve comment on these matters until then.

Having dealt with the Post Office roles in the investigations and prosecutions, we ought to briefly touch on the role of Fujitsu in supporting Post Office. Mr Patterson accepted that information about bugs, errors and defects ought to have been included in Fujitsu evidence and expressed surprise that it was not. He noted the editing of statements. He called this state of affairs “shameful” and indeed it was. These omissions and edits were part of a process that led to wrecked lives.

Our observations on Fujitsu are necessarily provisional, pending the evidence of Mr Jenkins and the anticipated further evidence of Mr Dunks, but we suggest, firstly, that Fujitsu benefited from contractual terms which impacted upon the cost of audit data obtained by the Post Office in litigation support. They made Post Office pay to prove the integrity of their own system.

The Inquiry has heard much evidence on the caps on standard ARQ requests. Enhanced data was chargeable outside the ordinary ARQ allocation. Expert evidence was chargeable. These were costs which were not incurred lightly by the Post Office and which were apparently resented by some. On 19 March 2012, John Scott asked, “Why should we pay for Fujitsu to defend their own IT system?”

The answer is found, perhaps in the contemporary documents disclosed because it appears the Post Office agreed it would do so in the November 2002 Network Banking Prosecution Support Policy canvassed with Mr Ward yesterday.

Fujitsu provided provide any or adequate training to any of the team involved in prosecution support as to the role which they were playing, including on the provision of expert evidence in civil and criminal cases. Mrs Chambers and other witnesses spoke powerfully about the impact of giving evidence. The Inquiry has heard Fujitsu were aware or ought to have been aware of reluctance by members of their Litigation Support Unit to provide the evidence they were routinely being asked to sign off, such as Rajbinder Sangha, Donna Munro and Peter Sewell.

The inadequate steps taken by Legal Team for the Post Office in respect of witness statements and the instruction of expert evidence was addressed at length in evidence, but the same allegation of inaction could also be levelled at Fujitsu.

Diane Matthews provided a wholly inappropriate assurance to Mr Jenkins that giving evidence would be just like it was on TV.

A template or boilerplate statement agreed by Fujitsu and Post Office provided assurances which were inconsistent with practices at Fujitsu. Those related to statements on matters designed directly to provide assurances on the integrity of Horizon data. It missed points and was misleading, said Mr Patterson for Fujitsu, on 19 January at page 59.

Fujitsu must have or should have known, at the time that these statements were made, that they were inadequate representations of the state of its corporate knowledge.

Consecutive members of the Prosecution Support Unit appeared to have signed statements of truth concerning evidence which was outwith their knowledge, which was partial and misleading and which neglected to address the bugs, errors and defects known to Fujitsu.

Where amendments were made, the Inquiry might consider where it was that witnesses conceded to such an amendment. The Inquiry heard numerous examples of statements given, and we don’t address each of them or any of them in detail.

As a consequence, members of the Prosecution Support Unit may have tendered statements to court and appeared at trial on evidence which was outwith their knowledge and which was partial and misleading and/or which was incomplete. As mentioned earlier, feedback from Anne Chambers on the need for change in the approach taken by Post Office and Fujitsu to litigation support was seemingly shelved by management.

It appears that the Legal Team and corporate legal counsel for Fujitsu were or ought to have been aware of the significance of the role of the Prosecution Support Unit on ARQ data integrity problems, for example an email notifying periodic of a possible integrity problem in an ARQ, on the preparation of statements for court, and the proposed amendment of template statements prepared by the Post Office. They were involved in questions of integrity arising in the development of Horizon Online, where the Post Office sought an express undertaking to support Post Office in litigation to prove the integrity of Horizon, which was raised with Mr D’Alvarez in Phase 3.

So problems occurred, sir, of a really serious nature in investigations and prosecutions by Post Office and the support of Fujitsu.

Our second main submission – and, as I said earlier, this and our final submission are much shorter – is that the management and oversight of investigations and prosecutions by the Post Office, as supported by Fujitsu, was wilfully blind to, or disregarding of, the proper lawful administration of justice.

The challenges to the integrity of Horizon bought by subpostmasters were brought to the attention of management in the Post Office in individual prosecutions, in civil claims and, eventually, in the press. Still the Post Office did not hear those warnings, and/or refused to hear them. We advance eight propositions about Phase 4 evidence on the involvement of management in investigation and prosecution.

First, as the evidence of Mandy Talbot confirms, the existence of challenges to the integrity of Horizon were dawn to the attention of management, including Rod Ismay and David X Smith at the Post Office, as early as 2005, and there is POL00107426, the briefing on Castleton and other cases on 23 November 2005 to confirm that.

Second, at the very time that Noel Thomas was being investigated, suggestions made by Mandy Talbot in 2005, in the course of the Castleton case included a clear recommendation of the involvement of independent expertise beyond Fujitsu and a more consistent joined-up approach by the Post Office. Her recommendations appear to have been discussed and then largely stalled.

Third, proposals for an independent external review in March 2010 were shut down following contact between several Senior Managers, including the Head of Criminal Law, the Head of Security and the head of Product and Branch Accounting.

Fourth, the reason for this shutdown was plainly directly linked to duties of disclosure which would arise and the impact on challenges to Horizon.

Fifth, the subsequent Ismay report was a whitewash – and there’s no other term for it – reflecting the stock line that Horizon was robust, agreed before February 2010, for which now no one in Post Office Management appears willing to own responsibility.

Sixth, despite repeated recommendations for a coordinated approach to Horizon challenges, it appears there was no substantial effort to collate a record of challenges until 2012, when Helen Rose was said to have prepared a spreadsheet of approximately 20 cases, after she produced a short report. Regrettably, this report of 30 August 2012 painted an incomplete and misleading picture.

Seventh, this critical information relating to internal concerns around Horizon, which had gone on for so long, was not disclosed to defendants in criminal prosecutions, including where there were specific requests for disclosure of other challenges by defendants raising questions of Horizon integrity.

Eighth, steps taken in Post Office Management after 2005 served to substantially delay the process of independent scrutiny, which began only with Second Sight and continues to this day with this Inquiry.

There are substantial questions to be asked over the role of management in both the Post Office and Fujitsu in shaping this scandal. Phases 3 and 4 together make clear that senior management were involved in decision making designed to protect Horizon, to deflect challenges to Horizon and to manage publicity around Horizon.

These included members of more senior management with reporting lines into the board or roles in reporting to board level, for example: Rod Ismay, through the Risk and Compliance Committee; John Scott; and Susan Crichton. Mr Ward was yesterday shown a document suggesting that access to ARQ data and contract caps were discussed at Executive Committee level in 2003, and that was POL00114566 at 37.

The role and responsibility of General Counsel, both at Fujitsu and the Post Office, remains to be fully explored but it’s anticipated that the Inquiry will return to these themes further in Phases 5 and 6.

Our third and final submission is that there was an overarching focus on the commercial interests of both the Post Office and Fujitsu, including in protecting the brand reputation of both companies, which contributed significantly and detrimentally to the fair prosecution of individuals in the face of faults in Horizon, of which the Post Office were or ought to have been aware.

The evidence in this phase has been informative as to why these failings might have been able to continue for so long. These are matters which the Inquiry will continue to consider in Phases 5 and 6 and we will return to the significance of any learning for the Inquiry’s recommendations at the close of the Inquiry, but we have three main points to consider under this submission, at this stage.

First, culture and attitude.

Emails and correspondence unearthed by this Inquiry provide illustrative flashes of an arrogantly dismissive attitude adopted both by the Post Office and by Fujitsu staff, when it came to Horizon challenges.

The Inquiry may conclude that where professional curiosity perhaps ought to have sparked enquiry, instead assumptions were made based upon a prevailing institutional attitude, which started with postmasters wrongly deemed responsible for all loss and ended with the assumption that all postmasters were crooks, in absence of evidence to the contrary.

This was not just a coalface problem, which could be explained away as workplace banter, never intended to see the light of day. It was a thoroughly defensive attitude, designed to protect the interests of the business and which impacted decision making.

In POL00169170 on 22 October 2010, Rod Ismay forwarded on the Jarnail Singh bandwagon email to others in very senior board level positions at the Post Office, including Dave Smith, Susan Crichton, who was General Counsel, Mike Young and others. He said:

“Dave and the Executive Team have been aware of the significance of these challenges and have been supportive of the excellent work going on in so many teams to justify the confidence that we have in Horizon and in our supportive processes.”

That much demonstrates how widespread this attitude was and how high up it went. Far from reprimanding Mr Singh for his emotive, gloating response to the conviction of a postmaster, the Executive Team were associated with the thanks offered by management to him for his efforts. This was, of course, over a year since the Computer Weekly article in 2009, at least six months since Post Office rolled out its stock line that Horizon was robust, and very shortly after Mr Ismay had completed his Horizon Integrity Report in August 2010.

Over at Fujitsu, years earlier, for Jan Holmes, Jason Coyne, the independent expert instructed in the Cleveleys case, was dismissed as a “git”. Peter Sewell later, of course, called Mr Castleton “a nasty chap”. Asked about his role in the 2007 bug reported to Post Office in 2009, he said, “We all protect our own companies”, and that’s at INQ00001116 at pages 111-112.

The Inquiry might ask what, if anything, was ever done by Post Office and/or Fujitsu senior management and board to dispel or to discourage this kind of “us and them”, blinkered, “win at all costs” culture. Was it rather, at the very least, tacitly encouraged?

Secondly, recoveries, performance and reward.

In Phases 3 and 4, the Inquiry heard evidence of the keen focus placed on recovery of perceived losses, both in policy and in practice to the Post Office business. This is consistent with the entire Security team being, for several years, where documents were available, subject to performance targets requiring first 40 per cent recovery to losses, with a later increase in the target to 65 per cent.

Whilst some witnesses denied this figure was connected to any performance-related bonus, others accepted that performance was marked against targets, and performance informed both team and individual bonuses. Recovery was one aspect of that performance.

The Inquiry may consider that the enthusiasm with which individual Investigators self-assessed their over-target recoveries speaks for itself.

Look at the evidence of Steve Bradshaw and Robert Daily, for example, if required to see where that evidence was. His target was a measure of the importance with which these recoveries were treated by the business, despite growing attention on the repeated challenge to the integrity of Horizon following reports in the press and in the broadcast media in 2009.

Third and finally under this, protecting the brand.

Post Office policy and the actions of individuals were openly driven by an interest in protecting the reputation of the business and in protecting the brand. There was evidence too of similar action by Fujitsu employees.

At its nadir of this public relations driven approach to justice, the Inquiry has uncovered the company line written by the Communications Team, distributed by Jarnail Singh, to be adopted by “agents and counsel”, in response to any defence based on Horizon integrity and which was adopted wholesale in witness statements for court.

The duty to investigate, to truly ask whether there were any problems in the integrity of Horizon accounts, was to be deflected by a generic statement first appearing as the stock line that Horizon was robust, then again in 2012 as Our Story, on Second Sight to be released to legal agents and counsel, and the final agreed draft being prepared by the Head of Public Relations and Media in an exchange copied to the Company Secretary and General Counsel.

The Inquiry heard, of course, about the PR input on Our Story prepared on appointment of Second Sight, which again said Horizon was robust and it was distributed to agents and counsel and made its way into witness evidence for court through the evidence of the witness statement of Stephen Bradshaw.

For centuries, the Post Office was a cornerstone of public service in this country. It’s been said many times but it really was one of the United Kingdom’s most trusted institutions, integrated close to the heart of every community, in our cities, our towns and our villages. It was trusted with our mail, trusted with our savings, our pensions and, for many, our livelihoods. But those images are now long gone.

The future of both Post Office and Fujitsu was intrinsically linked to the success of Horizon; horizon simply could not and would not be allowed to fail. We saw that in Phase 2 and we see it in Phase 4. Postmasters were easy targets to point to, to persecute, to prosecute, and to pursue for apparent losses and, by contrast, Horizon could not and would not fail.

This false narrative hid, for too many years, a disastrous reality that allowed the Post Office to prosecute a large number of its own people and to bankrupt many more, and to pursue hundreds of thousands of pounds in false recoveries in reliance on false data. Yet, the false narrative, in some places, continues to run. In their evidence to this Inquiry, some Post Office witnesses have continued to assert their enduring belief that postmasters are guilty, second-guessing the Court of Appeal – for example, Andrew Wise and Gary Thomas – and to question if Horizon lacked integrity – Susan Harding.

“Where had the money gone?” asked postmasters, with ever-increasing desperation. This was an obvious question that it appears the Post Office could not or would not ask, let alone answer.

In none of the detailed case studies explored by the Inquiry was there any concrete evidence of serious investigative effort on the part of the Post Office to prove a loss beyond Horizon. There was no money found secreted away in postmasters’ bank accounts or in stuffed mattresses, yet the Post Office and Fujitsu did not and/or would not hear any suggestion that Horizon was at fault.

The Inquiry has heard that the volume and value of these recoveries were closely monitored by the Post Office each year. Where did that money go? Did it simply appear on the Post Office’s bottom line? So the Inquiry must consider whether staff, executives and senior managers at the Post Office and Fujitsu were motivated by commercial interest to the detriment of justice.

The Inquiry must consider whether those responsible for this scandal, in the Post Office, at Fujitsu, and in Government, did not, could not or would not hear any warning that Horizon lacked integrity because their ears were stuffed with cash.

Were they too busy thinking about wealth in purely monetary terms that they ignored or disregard the wealth of community? Those communities, such as South Warnborough, where Jo Hamilton had her Post Office, Gaerwen, where Noel Thomas had his, Dukinfield, where Della Robinson had her Post Office, those communities relied on the Post Office. Jo Hamilton kept the pension cards and PIN numbers of the elderly residents in a drawer at her branch so that she could look after them. All of that was something you couldn’t put a price on but which was incredibly valuable. Post Office didn’t and/or wouldn’t see the wealth in that.

They ignored or disregard the wealth of reputation. They not only trashed the reputations of postmasters whom they dragged through the courts and imprisoned and bankrupted, by doing so, through this massive miscarriage of justice, they trashed the reputation of the Post Office as well: something you couldn’t put a price on but which was incredibly valuable. They saw wealth as just monetary wealth and, as the old phrase goes, they knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It can take centuries to build something valuable, it only takes a relatively short time to seriously undermine it.

So to move to our conclusions, we are, sir, as ever, grateful for the opportunity to make these submissions today on behalf of each of the subpostmasters we represent while many of their stories have become part of the national narrative, many of them and their families remain intensely private people, irreparably damaged by their experiences at the hands of the Post Office. For a great many postmasters, it has taken a lot for them to be able to watch these proceedings and to see themselves in the spotlight.

The loss and the stigma that postmasters have lived with for decades does not disappear easily. They remain grateful for the work of the Inquiry so far, not only in further unearthing the dirty, difficult truth behind this scandal, but in pressing the Post Office and Government on their commitment to provide prompt, full and fair compensation, to try to ensure that offers that are made to them are not, in the very recent words of Alan Bates, “derisory, offensive and after all this time, yes, cruel”.

This phase highlights that the individual decision makers who failed in their responsibilities as prosecutors must be under a different but similarly bright spotlight, as must the shared failures of governance which lie behind this scandal. Anything less would neglect to ensure that lessons are learned for the future about the dangers which lie in the confluence of commercial interest, individual ambition and criminal injustice.

The cost of this scandal includes what may be irreparable damage to the Post Office in our community consciousness. The next stages of this Inquiry will focus further on the shared financial responsibility for redress, owed not only by Post Office and the public purse, but by Fujitsu. Those we represent do not wish to see any constructive steps to compensate all postmasters await any such attribution of responsible as may follow the evidence in this Inquiry.

Tragically, postmasters continued to die before any offer of full, fine and proper compensation. Others continue to grapple with delays in administration which is continuing their trauma and delaying yet further their capacity to move on and enjoy the rest of their lives.

Fujitsu accepts a moral responsibility to share the load but it is vague about precisely what this means, and we suggest that as it goes forward, the Inquiry might consider the extent of any agreement reached between Government, Post Office, and Fujitsu, as to any legal course of action arising, their timing and whether any such arrangements may have informed the approach to the GLO and any strategic steps since, including decisions on compensation.

While Fujitsu has voluntarily committed, with seeming fanfare, to refrain from bids for public work while the Inquiry continues, the Inquiry may wish to examine the increasing commercial value and the corresponding cost to the public purse of the relationship between Fujitsu and Government over the life of Horizon. There are lessons to be learned in the relationship between Government and Fujitsu developed on the back of Horizon. This may not only help explain why Horizon was defended for so long but may inform the Inquiry’s recommendations for the future conduct of public private contracting.

Moreover, those we represent expect to see criminal prosecution pursued where the evidence warrants it. We welcome the decision of the chair to provide careful, appropriate warnings against self-incrimination to a number of witnesses.

The Phase 4 transcripts provide evidence which, at the very least, justifies rigorous investigation of possible offending in a number of cases. We note that The Metropolitan Police Service is a Core Participant and we understand they are monitoring these proceedings. The integrity of any possible prosecution ought to be closely guarded. It would be a devastating result for those we represent and for the public interest should any person liable to investigation, prosecution and conviction escape or unnecessarily delay trial for procedural reasons, no matter how spurious.

The evidence in Phase 4 provides a flavour of what is to come in Phases 5 and 6. We ask that it includes, firstly, why, if not for profit and commercial interest, did the Post Office continue to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the growing evidence of Horizon’s flaws? Just how was it allowed to do so in the face of the involvement of Parliament and of independent reviews conducted by Second Sight, Deloittes and individual legal experts?

Why did Fujitsu continue, as it appears they did, to support the stock line that Horizon was robust? What role was played by Government, including the Government representation on the Post Office Board?

Additionally, the treatment of Second Sight will be a significant issue for Phase 5. There is now concrete evidence that Post Office Management rejected any question of closer scrutiny and independent interrogation of Horizon as early as 2005. Each ignored opportunity to interrogate Horizon represents years lost to many of our clients. For others, an opportunity missed could have prevented their loss and their pain entirely. Justice delayed in this case truly was justice denied.

Just as no rational person could believe that Government and Parliament were in the dark about the Post Office scandal before the airing of Mr Bates by ITV, the board and the Post Office were not and cannot have been uninformed of concerns about the flaws in Horizon and the shortcomings of their own prosecutorial conduct until the conclusion of the GLO.

Exploring and determining the extent of responsibility for the continued seemingly determined failure to acknowledge the devastating flaws both in Horizon and in the Post Office’s approach to prosecution is critical for this Inquiry, central to our clients’ true understanding of what happened to them and essential before lessons can truly be learned for the future.

As ever, sir, we and those we represent will do all we can to assist the Inquiry in finding out those things.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Moloney, thank you very much for your submissions. Those of you who follow the Inquiry will know that occasionally I congratulate Mr Moloney for the accuracy of his predictions as to the length of his submissions. On this occasion, he was within two or three minutes of his prediction and that is a mark of excellent advocacy, if I may say so.

We will take a break for 15 minutes and then I will hear from Mr Stein, I take it.

Yes, so 11.30.

Mr Beer: Yes, thank you very much, sir.

(11.15 am)

(A short break)

(11.30 am)

Mr Beer: Sir, I think it’s Mr Stein next.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes. Has there been a problem with me being on screen there, Mr Beer?

Mr Beer: No, not that I’m aware of.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Thank you.

Closing statement by Mr Stein

Mr Stein: Sir, Phase 4 has pulled back the curtain on the decades of the Great Post Office Cook-Up and Cover-Up. That has been made up of these four key ingredients: The disdain and dislike of subpostmasters by the Post Office and their employees because, and I quote from a Post Office Investigator, they are “all crooks”; secondly, an appalling lack of professionalism of lawyers combined with bullying Investigators; thirdly, a refusal to investigate the Horizon system because of what that would reveal; and lastly and finally, fourthly, the Post Office cult – the almighty Post Office must be protected at all costs.

Sir, what an awful cocktail, a Molotov cocktail, that they consistently over these decades threw at subpostmasters, their families, their managers and their staff, in doing so risking mental physical and economic health.

Sir, we suggest that the least we can expect of a publicly and taxpayer-funded organisations is that they will do right when no one is watching, not do what is unconscionable because they think nobody will find out.

Let me deal with the consistency of attitude towards subpostmasters. Phase 4 started in Phase 3. You will recall the statement – and, sir, we will provide a copy next week of my speaking notes, which will contain all references and, otherwise, I won’t therefore refer in this speech to references today.

Sir, you will recall the statement of Susan Harding the designer of the IMPACT Programme in 2003 to 2006. The programme that largely removed the suspense account, meaning that, to balance, subpostmasters had to pay up and not dispute a shortfall.

At paragraph 31, page 7 of her statement, it says this:

“It was agreed during the design of IMPACT that the suspense account would be removed as, historically, it was used by subpostmasters to hide discrepancies in their accounts rather than resolve them.”

In the questions asked of Ms Harding by Mr Beer King’s Counsel on 22 February 2003, Ms Harding confirmed that she worked on the principle that, prior to Horizon, subpostmasters did have losses and hid those losses. We have seen through the evidence in Phase 4 that this has been the mindset that informed the actions taken by the Post Office against subpostmasters since the introduction of Horizon, essentially a mindset that was echoed through to Mr Thomas’ slanderous email to Mr Graham Ward, who gave evidence yesterday, in 2015.

No investigation of the Horizon system could be allowed. Mr Pardoe said in his evidence to the Inquiry on 29 November last year:

“There was a persistent sentiment that the system was fit for purpose. I was never in a meeting when it was discussed with me, the concept of putting the brakes on prosecution activity. It’s clear that there was a fear that to do that would immediately cast doubt on prosecutions that had been completed, that had gone before.”

Mr Wilson, the Head of Criminal Law at the Post Office, sent an email on 3 March 2010, in which he told his colleagues:

“An investigation will be disclosable as undermining evidence on the defence in the cases proceeding through the criminal courts.”

Going on to say:

“The potential impact, however, is much wider for POL, in that every office in the country will be seen to be operating a compromised system with untold damage to the business. To continue prosecuting alleged offenders, knowing that there is an ongoing investigation to determine the veracity of Horizon, could also be detrimental to the reputation of my team.”

Anne Chambers told the Inquiry in her Phase 4 evidence on 27 September 2023 that the Post Office’s priority in 2007, she was referring to, was not to assist subpostmasters. She said it was fairly clear that the Post Office were keen on defending the integrity of their system rather than trying to get of the bottom of issues, whether system problems or business problems, affecting individual branches.

Ms Chambers said that she’d expressed these views in a disregarded Afterthoughts document which she produced following Mr Castleton’s case.

We mustn’t forget the 2010 Receipts/Payments Mismatch Bug Meeting Notes document that we’ve looked at many times, the document described as dynamite by Debbie Stapel, which shows Post Office and Fujitsu joining forces to concoct unacceptable and disingenuous solutions in relation to one of the many bugs that plagued the system, leaving you, sir, to ask the question of witnesses: which one of those solutions were ever used?

Mr Ismay, Post Office’s head of Product and Branch Accounting, set out his views in his whitewash report on 2 August 2010, where he repeats, in essence, Mr Wilson’s concern: adverse publicity and reputation and nothing about “Do the right thing”.

He concluded that there should be no independent review of Horizon because this could lead to a perception that the Post Office cast doubts on its own system.

In his evidence earlier in 2023, Mr Ismay stated that, although his name was on the report, he hardly accepted that these were his own words, stating:

“That narrative would have come from speaking to somebody in the Criminal Law Team. I imagine it probably came from a conversation with Mr Rob Wilson.”

Mr Beer asked Mr Wilson about these matters in October ‘23. Mr Beer’s first question in relation to this:

“Was it your view that the Post Office should just grit its teeth and get on with prosecuting people?”

Mr Wilson:

“I think so, yes.”

When Mr Pardoe was asked by ourselves on 29 November, at page 150 of the transcript, whether the persistent sentiment that the system was fit for purpose came from his boss, John Scott, he agreed that this was the case:

“The one I remember probably with greater clarity is the Paula Vennells communications”, he said.

“I’m sure that that preceded known media interest that was imminently about to go public.”

Essentially saying, “Look folks, this is likely to be out within the public domain and the approach we are taking is this, this, this and this”, to paraphrase.

Mr Jacobs took the point one further when he asked this:

“So the whole organisation was told there’s going to be something in the media about Horizon and it is to be disregarded because everything is robust?”

Mr Pardoe replied.

“I certainly recall reading a written rebuttal and position that the business were adopting, yes.”

For further insights into the Horizon cover-up we should look at what was said in Mr Coyne’s evidence in July ‘23. Mr Coyne was a jointly instructed expert in the Cleveleys case, so he is POL’s expert. He advised that the whole estate was suffering from problems. Mr Moloney has dealt with this already in his submissions today, recalling that Mr Coyne was called a “git” for his troubles.

The Inquiry will also recall the letter in February 2004 which adds to this, in which Mr Keith Baines of the Post Office wrote to Colin Lenton-Smith at Fujitsu and said:

“As I’m sure you will understand, the Post Office is concern by these findings, not only in relation to this particular case but also because of any precedent that this may set.”

Going on to say:

“And that may be used by Post Office’s agents to support claims that the Horizon system is causing errors in their branch accounts.”

So the Post Office knew that the Horizon system was defective but still sought to bring prosecutions of subpostmasters, bring civil actions against postmasters and refuse to investigate these issues because the subpostmasters might catch on to the truth.

In Phase 4 we have seen a parade of liars, bullies, amnesiacs and arrogant individuals give evidence before you. This has been a mixed experience or many of our clients.

Shazia Saddiq has said:

“I came to the inquiry to see my tormentor but he wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

Indeed, in a lot of cases, our clients have been appalled to see the extent to which Post Office staff members treated subpostmasters as subhumans. They hounded and harassed and, in some cases, drove decent and honest men and women to their graves.

It has been noteworthy, we say, that for every witness who has been brazen about their behaviour, there have been others who have chosen to plead amnesia. We have witnessed, sir, a chorus of cowards who deny any memory of involvement in this scandal.

Two stark examples of such amnesia are provided by the evidence of Suzanne Winter and Lisa Allen respectively. They claim to be unable to recall trials in 2004 and 2007 which they attended and gave evidence, notably those trials were where subpostmistresses were found not guilty.

We have also heard from witnesses that have sought to tell the Inquiry that the message from above was that any complaints from subpostmasters about the Horizon system was to be denied and that the system was robust: a dishonest message, sir, that shows that honour has been lost in the post at the Post Office.

We know, of course, that the Inquiry cannot make any findings as to civil or criminal liability but our clients take some small comfort in the fact that The Metropolitan Police and Solicitors Regulation Authority have followed the hearings closely.

The Post Office did not do all of this alone. Fujitsu were complicit from the outset. Mr Patterson told us on 19 January that Fujitsu knew about the bugs, errors and defects for many years and right from the very start of the deployment of the system.

Ms Munro acknowledged Fujitsu’s complicity when answering questions from ourselves on 18 January this year. She was asked whether she thought postmasters and mistresses were being prosecuted in circumstances where the Post Office, with Fujitsu’s assistance, was misrepresenting the robustness and integrity of the Horizon system. Her answer was:

“Based on what I’ve seen and read today, I would say yes.”

Now, I turn to the question of remote access. In doing so, I’m going to ask for the one document I’m going to ask to go on to the screen to go on to the screen, and that is FUJ00002023. Can we go, please, to page 13 of 18, using the internal pagination at the bottom and highlight, please, the paragraph at the top, which is Thank you.

Sir, in dealing, briefly, with the evidence that relates to remote access, it is helpful to remind ourselves of what was said in relation to the Horizon system about third line and fourth line, the support service. This document is dated, as we can see, 31 August 2006 and it sets out that:

“The Application Support Service (Fourth Line) and Third Line Support Service work closely together in the identification and resolution of Software Incidents requiring bug fixes.”

That’s what they did.

Let’s add to that remote access.

In Phase 4, the Inquiry heard the evidence of Anne Chambers in September, who accepted that there were occasions where the Fujitsu team would use a branch user ID when inserting transactions. In those circumstances, the insertion would not be detectable. Of course, Mr Roll told the Inquiry in March 2023 that the amount of access to terminals that Fujitsu had was pretty shocking. Furthermore, Mr Simpkins, a Fujitsu Team Leader, confirmed in his evidence on 17 January that there was unrestricted access to the live system and that access seems to have been unaudited.

It is more than clear that, if Fujitsu and the Post Office had come clear about the bugs, the purposes of the helplines, the interactions, the fact that the teams at 3 and 4 of the service line were fixing bugs in combination with remote access – if that had been revealed in relation to any matters taken against subpostmasters and mistresses in either civil or criminal actions, any judge, having that brought to their attention, would have required further and deeper information.

This scandal could have been avoided if either the Post Office or Fujitsu had done the right thing. Fujitsu, we say, chose to hide behind its contract, actively supporting its contractual partner and financial benefactor and getting a few more years of public contracts adding to its £1 billion global empire.

The document can come down from the screen with my thanks.

Let me turn to my clients’ views. Scott Darlington has summed up the experience of subpostmasters who have followed Phase 4 perfectly. He said in an interview that he gave to the BBC on 18 January:

“Once they knew that things were going wrong and the system wasn’t right, POL doubled down in their behaviour against postmasters with Fujitsu acting in conjunction with them. You know it wasn’t you, you know it wasn’t your fault and when things start to come out in the Inquiry, and we’ve realised that they did know, Post Office’s doubling down is like kick in the teeth and they’ve done it time and time again.”

Clients’ views in relation to some of the evidence that has been given.

Sarah Osolinski, who was a subpostmaster at Gaer Park Post Office in Newport says:

“Gary Thomas is not a victim. He is a bully who thoroughly enjoyed his role in bringing us down.”

Of john Scott:

“Don’t write anything down and shred documents? How dare they? This was people’s lives they were messing with. How could they?”

Sally Stringer, a subpostmistress at Beckford Stores and Post Office in Beckford in Gloucestershire, her comments echoed by every single one of our 157 clients was this:

“To say I’m incandescent with anger about corporate amnesia is an understatement.”

Terence Seeney said this:

“They were all underqualified bully boys. It’s surprising what people will do for money: sign false statements, threaten people and ruin their lives and that of their families, only promoted because they did as they were instructed.”

Let’s put those comments into perspective. I’m going to refer to some particularly bad witnesses, for special mention, a rogues’ gallery.

Gary Thomas, an Investigator who told our client, Tracey Merritt, that she was the only one who had complained about the system and, of course, his notorious email to Graham Ward, his old Gunners Matt, describing all subpostmasters and mistresses as “thieving” and “crooks”.

Mr Singh, who gave evidence on 30 November, referred to his email, already mentioned by Mr Moloney, a second email he drafted in December 2013, carried the same theme. This was some months after Mr Clarke had written his advices, the lawyer at Cartwright King, and advising then Post Office in writing that prosecutions that POL had conducted had been obtained with misleading expert evidence. Mr Singh wrote this:

“Any case begun now will attract some type of Horizon issue because this is the passing bandwagon people are jumping on. When we have a few more wins under our belt the Horizon challenges will melt away like midnight snow.”

John Scott.

John Scott, as you will recall, sir, was the Head of Security at the Post Office. He gave evidence on 11 October and what he said in his internal communications was consideration of the Post Office staff looking at Horizon integrity issues to shred documents.

I pause there for one moment. In this matter, the interface between subpostmasters, mistresses and their staff and the Horizon system was largely conducted through the helplines, of which there were two: the Fujitsu helpline and the Post Office helpline. We have sought to obtain disclosure of scripts now for the many years that we have been engaged on this particular matter, the scripts of what was said at that interface, otherwise known as “knowledge articles”. That seems to be the internal description of scripts.

Have those scripts gone into Mr Scott’s corporate shredder? Where are they? Maybe with Mr Jackson at the helm of the latest set of Post Office lawyers, maybe those scripts, knowledge articles, can be found.

But what was Mr Scott about? He didn’t want notes of minutes of meetings that discussed Horizon and we suggest that, throughout this module, it has become clear that the Security Department at the Post Office worked as the Post Office’s own Stasi, dedicated reputational protection of the Post Office at all and any cost.

Mandy Talbot.

She gave evidence on 28 September. She is a former Post Office Legal Case Manager who was responsible for civil actions but who deliberately inserted herself in the wider dealings with Horizon cases, the Post Office’s very own “evil robot”. She was aware that subpostmasters were making allegations since 2001 but chose to disregard Mr Coyne’s expert evidence to the effect that the system was not robust.

Stephen Bradshaw.

Mr Bradshaw is a current Post Office Investigator at POL. His behaviour towards subpostmasters and mistresses was bullying, we say, and oppressive. Shazia Saddiq was called a “bitch” by Mr Bradshaw on the phone. He made Ms Rita Threlfall, who has mobility issues, use a small parcel lift. He expressed no regret or remorse for his behaviour in his evidence before the Inquiry when he gave evidence on 11 January. Our clients would like to know what action is being taken by the Post Office in relation to Mr Bradshaw.

Mr Dilley, Stephen Dilley.

He was the Post Office’s solicitor in the Castleton case. He gave evidence on 21 September ‘23. He accepted that the Post Office’s priority in the Castleton case was to send a message that Post Office was willing to defend the Fujitsu Horizon system.

Then, of course, there’s Mr Daily, who was the Post Office Investigator who advised that Mr Holmes should be prosecuted, conducting a very intrusive search of the Holmes family home, looking for evidence of a Horizon generated loss which the Post Office could never prove.

Mr Daily gave evidence on 23 January and confirmed in response to questions from you, sir, that the investigations that the Post Office conducted were very extensive but revealed nothing. Yet this did not prompt him to follow the line of inquiry raised by Mr Holmes, in other words that the Horizon system had been the cause of the alleged shortfalls.

The case studies. We acknowledge that it has not been easy for our clients, whose lives were directly affected by the Phase 4 witnesses, to have to relive what were highly traumatic experiences.

By way of example, Suzanne Palmer, who is here with us today in this room, has described that the experience of facing the witnesses who dealt with her was quite traumatic. She says that part of her felt like she was back in a dock with a policeman standing behind her.

Two of the case studies concerned acquittals. Our acquitted clients are Maureen McKelvey and Suzanne Palmer. It is notable that in both of these cases the investigations were inadequate and the juries at trial roundly rejected the Post Office’s position as to the robustness of the Horizon system.

Mrs McKelvey was the subpostmistress at Clanabogan, a post office in Omagh, Northern Ireland. She was prosecuted by the Post Office for theft and acquitted on all counts by a jury in 2004. She raised Horizon issues at her interviews with Ms Winter and Mr Thorpe in 2002 but those matters did not find their way into the Investigator’s report, which was submitted to the Police Service in Northern Ireland.

Furthermore, the investigation report, written by Ms Winter, failed to inform the police service that one of the alleged acts of theft was a balance that had been carried out by Mrs McKelvey’s Area Manager in her absence. Mrs McKelvey recalls that the trial judge was scathing towards the Post Office after the jury returned their acquittal and she recalls that the trial judge told the Post Office that the prosecution had been a sham.

Sir, notwithstanding her acquittal and vindication, Mrs McKelvey became bankrupt as a result of what the Post Office did. She remains struggling to access compensation due to that very bankruptcy. Even though our client was acquitted so long ago, she continues to suffer today.

Suzanne Palmer was a subpostmistress at The Grange Post Office in Rayleigh in Essex, acquitted of all counts of false accounting. In her interview she gave a detailed account of the technical problems she was experiencing with the Horizon system. However, these matters were not considered as relevant to the investigation that the Post Office conducted. Yet those points, raised by Mrs Palmer, were not lost on the jury.

In her trial in 2007, the jury asked a highly pertinent question:

“What was Mrs Palmer supposed to do if she didn’t agree with the Horizon generated figures?”

The Post Office Legal team were unable to answer that question. Mrs Palmer was acquitted approximately half an hour after the jury retired.

Mr Atkinson King’s Counsel has addressed Mrs Palmer’s case at paragraphs 220 to 237 of volume 2 of his report. He confirmed a number of important lines of inquiry, which had a particular tendency to exonerate rather than implicate Ms Palmer, were not pursued. None of these errors were identified by the reviewing lawyer, Mr Singh, who in fact advised that no further evidence was required. Mr Atkinson additionally advised that there was no review of the evidence when the decision to charge by Mr Singh was taken, neither was there any reference to the public interest test. Questions also arose, as Mr Atkinson examined, as to whether the disclosure process was adequately conducted.

Notwithstanding her acquittal and exoneration by the jury, Mrs Palmer’s life was still ruined by the Post Office. She too remains bankrupt to this day.

There was a lack of review, as the Inquiry is aware, after the acquittals. When Rob Wilson, Head of Criminal Law Team at the Post Office, gave evidence in this phase on 12 December ‘23, he told the Inquiry that there would usually be a review undertaken by the Post Office when an acquittal was reported in a case that it had prosecuted.

No review was conducted by the Post Office when Mrs McKelvey was acquitted in 2004 and when Suzanne Palmer was acquitted in 2007. We have seen that the Post Office was more than happy to crow about Mrs Misra’s conviction in 2010, as evidenced by Mr Jarnail Singh’s emails. But had it reviewed Mrs McKelvey and Mrs Palmer’s acquittals, three and six years earlier, then maybe – maybe – the truth would have come out within the organisation.

It was striking that when Mr Daily gave evidence on 23 January in relation to the prosecution of Peter Holmes in 2010, he said he was unaware of any other case where a subpostmaster has alleged that Horizon was responsible for shortfalls.

Ms Price, Counsel to the Inquiry, specifically asked Mr Daily whether he’d been made aware of Suzanne Palmer’s acquittal and he denied any knowledge of the matter.

We suggest that the evidence shows a deliberate corporate decision to not review acquittals – acquittals such as those of Maureen McKelvey and Suzanne Palmer – for the simple reason that POL never wanted the truth to get out.

I turn to now of the matter that related to Joan Bailey. Joan Bailey was the assistant to her husband, who was the subpostmaster for Howey in Wales. She received a caution after a shortfall was identified at an audit in January 2011. Mrs Bailey was particularly unfortunate because her case was handled under the Bradshaw-Singh axis. Her case is covered in Mr Atkinson’s second report, paragraphs 444 to 458, saying there that Mrs Bailey and her solicitor raised the Horizon system at interview but Stephen Bradshaw, the Post Office Investigator, said:

“Well, I can assure you that whatever glitches if there are any at the beginning with Horizon Next Generation has been solved. Right.”

Mr Bradshaw submitted an investigation report to Mr Singh but there was no proposal in that report that any enquiry should be made into the operation of the Horizon system at that branch.

Mr Singh reviewed the case and followed Mr Bradshaw’s suggestion that there should be a caution, but dependent on there being an undertaking from a solicitor that the Post Office would recoup the identified loss from a sale of Mrs Bailey’s home.

The evidence in her case shows that there was no consideration of any of the issues with the Horizon system that Mrs Bailey had identified. Mr Atkinson correctly notes that this is pertinent because it would have been appropriate to consider whether there was sufficient evidence to prove the offence and whether it was in the public interest even to caution Mrs Bailey, as opposed to taking no criminal action against her at all.

The decision to issue a caution without any investigation into the accuracy of Horizon data upon which reliance was placed, the lack of any financial inquiry and the obvious financial motivation behind the giving of a caution are all strong indicators that there was a miscarriage of justice in Mrs Bailey’s case.

However, unlike those who are convicted at the hands of the Post Office, cautions cannot be overturned. A caution may be challenged, by way of judicial review, and therefore will be subject, because of JR time limits, to the timeliness of a challenge. There are procedures in Magistrates Courts to review the administration of cautions, however these procedures are unlikely to assist the victims of the Post Office, such as Joan Bailey and Susan Hazzleton, many years after the event.

Mrs Bailey’s caution, in fact, conflicted, we say, with the Post Office’s own policies because the flawed investigation did not establish evidence of guilt sufficient to give a realistic prospect of conviction. We say that the administration of a caution to Mrs Bailey was every bit as much of an abuse of process as a conviction would have been.

In the absence of any obvious remedy, we invite the Chair, you, sir, to make a robust finding in the final Inquiry report that, if you were called upon to decide this issue in a court, that the administration of cautions to Mrs Bailey and others were an abuse of process. This may enable, insomuch as it is possible, for our clients’ names to be cleared in at least a public manner.

Move on to Mr Holmes.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m not trying to be difficult, Mr Stein, but can I actually do that?

Mr Stein: Well, sir, yes, you can only make the comment. You cannot make a determination. We ask that the comment is –

Sir Wyn Williams: I can stretch my powers in the Terms of Reference to or beyond breaking point, yes?

Mr Stein: We ask you so to do, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right.

Mr Stein: Mr Holmes. Peter Holmes is a classic case of a subpostmaster or assistant raising the issue of Horizon from the very outset but Post Office Investigators failing to follow up on a basic line of inquiry. Mr Holmes was an assistant, actually the de facto subpostmaster at Jesmond Post Office branch, and pleaded guilty to four counts of false accounting in December 2009.

Tragically, Peter, a former policeman of four years and a man of impeccable character, died in the years before the Court of Appeal finally cleared his name. His prosecution was always an affront of justice, as the Court of Appeal rightly found. Peter has been more than ably represented by his widow, Marion. It must be a great source of shame to the Post Office that its employee, Mr Daily, was unable to provide any apology for the part that he played in Peter’s conviction and the loss of his reputation.

It really beggars belief that Mr Daily didn’t consider having conducted an investigation into Mr Holmes and, having uncovered absolutely nothing, whether Mr Holmes was right when he blamed the “bloody awful” Horizon system.

You will remember, sir, the long silence that followed when you put this very point to Mr Daily on 23 January.

Mr Atkinson dealt with Mr Holmes’ case at paragraph 309 to 335 of his report. He noted that there was no evidence of any Horizon checks, which is consistent with the material that was in the evidence schedules in the criminal proceedings and also with the evidence that is before this Inquiry.

Mr Daily’s protestations that such checks would have been conducted are without any credibility. Once again, the decision to charge was made without reference to any public interest and did not set out how dishonesty was said to be established. Mr Daily was a singularly unimpressive witness.

What would Mr Holmes think himself? Peter would have been horrified at the absence of proper lines of inquiry, as an ex-police officer. He would have been devastated to learn about the complete failure to pursue lines of inquiry that pointed to the innocence of the person under investigation.

Let me turn to the use of the subpostmaster contract. It is important to remember that Phase 4, and this Inquiry, is not solely concerned with prosecutions. Hundreds, if not thousands, of subpostmasters were hounded under the Post Office tyranny into paying alleged shortfalls which had been generated by the Horizon system. The Post Office seems to have believed that its contract with subpostmasters entitled it to embezzle without proper investigation or even actual losses. Have we got to the bottom of where the subpostmasters’ money went when they paid for shortfalls, as a result of the Horizon bugs, errors and defects in the system? Was it put into a separate and accountable account or simply stuffed back into the business?

John Breeden summarised the position from the contractual side in his evidence on 17 October ‘23. He accepted that the Post Office’s protection of the brand image may have come at the expense of doing the right thing by subpostmasters. He described the Post Office’s overwhelming desire was to protect the brand at all cost and that was part of the DNA of the business and, going on to say, that was dictated from the top, ie management.

The cultural sickness at the Post Office was embedded, we suggest, in its policies. Mr Lusher, another former Contracts Advisor, gave evidence on 18 October to the effect that Post Office policy regarding losses wrongly assumed that all losses were the responsibility of the subpostmaster.

Subpostmasters were attacked from all sides. They were ruined by the contracts, which were incorrectly interpreted by the Post Office and which many subpostmasters never actually saw. They were unable to properly investigate the cause of the discrepancies or losses, due to their limited access to back office and accounting data within Horizon. It was, of course, always impossible for a subpostmaster to produce evidence that Horizon was the cause of an alleged loss and many Post Office Investigators appeared to think the subpostmasters were required to do just that.

We ask you to make the following findings in relation to this phase of the Inquiry:

Investigators systematically failed to pursue important lines of inquiry that appointed away from the guilt of subpostmasters. This was particularly apparent in cases where postmasters had experienced problems with the computer system or had raised those problems in interview or through legal representatives.

Secondly, there were failures of prosecutorial supervision as to the identification and pursuit of reasonable lines of inquiry.

Thirdly, there were failures to refer to the public interest in decisions to prosecute.

Fourth, in a substantial majority of cases, the shortfall concerned was Horizon generated and Post Office could not prove any loss.

Fifth, there were systematic failings in the disclosure process at all levels.

Sixth, Post Office frequently imposed a requirement that pleas were accepted conditional upon an undertaking that no criticism would be made of the Horizon system.

Seventh, that the entire process was procedurally unfair. Where a company or organisation is the alleged victim, investigator and prosecutor, there will always be a tendency for a lack of balance and objectivity. Post Office had skin in the game in every case and there were no effective independent checks in place.

Eighth, the Post Office was driven by improper considerations. They wanted results in criminal prosecution and civil actions to bolster the failing Horizon system and to deter subpostmasters. They crowed when they won cases but failed to review cases where a defendant had been acquitted.

Finally, we ask you to look at all these matters altogether. We ask that you make what 10 years ago have been an astonishing and incredible finding, that these findings add up to a system that was biased against subpostmasters, a system that failed to investigate, a system that avoided self-analysis, a system which sought above all else to protect the holy Post Office and regarded subpostmasters as, at best, an expendable cash resource.

What does all this mean? It remains the case that perhaps 80 per cent of the wrongfully convicted of the Post Office’s victims have not come forward and there will be hundreds more of subpostmasters, mistresses, managers and staff, whose lives have been blighted by the threats of criminal actions, civil actions and employment issues whose cases remain untouched.

This scandal cannot be over until every Post Office victim is identified, every Post Office victim vindicated and every Post Office victim fully and properly compensated.

As to compensation, it needs to be paid and paid now. To those of you who are watching and who are thinking of coming forward, we urge you to do so. Seek assistance with overturning your conviction, unpicking your bankruptcy or IVA and access the compensation to which you are entitled. We suggest that you have nothing to fear any more from the Post Office. They have been discredited, they have been beaten, and they cannot hurt you any more.

Two weeks ago, we asked of Mr Patterson, the UK and European Director of Fujitsu, whether Fujitsu will commit to compensation of subpostmasters and he agreed that the establishment of a fund to support subpostmasters and their families in future education and entrepreneurial endeavours would be a good idea.

We asked that question openly, on record, under the public gaze, as our clients have learnt that no one in this sorry saga can be trusted, so we must get commitments on the record.

Now, given that Fujitsu, it appears, has only just woken up to its own responsibility to subpostmasters, the working out of the details of such a scheme will take time, but we ask Fujitsu to turn this good idea into a good reality. We need to acknowledge the importance of the Inquiry, and our independent press and, indeed, the general public in continuing to hold the Post Office, Fujitsu and the Government to account.

Marion Holmes told me last week that, unless this tragedy is kept in the public eye, it would die again, as it appeared to have done before her husband’s conviction was overturned.

Lastly, sir, our brave and remarkable clients would wish to thank you, sir, and the excellent Inquiry Team for their invaluable work in this Inquiry. Phase 5 will draw back the corporate veil yet further and reveal greater details of the scandal and the extent of the cover-up.

Sir, as ever, we look forward to assisting the Inquiry in that phase.

Sir, I don’t know whether I achieved the accolade of excellence regarding timing but those are our submissions.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, in terms of your prediction of length, certainly, Mr Stein: a model, if I may say so.

Thank you very much for your submissions.

Mr Stein: Sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: So next is Ms Watt, I gather, Mr Beer?

Mr Beer: Yes, that’s right, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Can I ask her whether she would like to go now or whether she would like a few minutes’ break?

Ms Watt: Sir, I’m in your hands, if it suits you to have a few minutes –

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m sorry, you’re going to have to repeat that. I didn’t catch it.

Ms Watt: Can you hear me now?

Sir Wyn Williams: Only just.

Ms Watt: How about that? Oh, I think that’s me now.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, definitely now.

Ms Watt: Thank you. I’m in your hands, sir, whichever would suit. It may be a few minutes would suit but I am happy to go.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, fine. All I’d say is that, given the exemplary way in which advocates are keeping to time limits, we’ve got about three-quarters of an hour left in total, so I’m very happy to have a few minutes’ break and then we will complete the next two submissions.

Ms Watt: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: So we will start again at 12.30. Fine.

(12.23 am)

(A short break)

(12.30 pm)

Closing statement by Ms Watt

Ms Watt: Good afternoon, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Good afternoon.

Ms Watt: Thank you, sir.

The National Federation of SubPostmasters is grateful for the Inquiry’s permission to make oral closing submissions on the evidence heard in Phase 4.

The NFSP of today once again takes this opportunity to confirm to this most important of public inquiries that it is committed to assisting the Inquiry in any way it can. It has watched carefully the Phase 4 throughout and submitted questions for witnesses for Counsel to the Inquiry throughout.

It wants the Inquiry to shine a light where there have been lies, deception and potential criminality and, of course, that is a reference to the actions of the Post Office and Fujitsu and not the hundreds of subpostmasters, assistants, Crown Office employees who the Post Office so wrongly, and knowingly wrongly, pursued through the courts with such great vigour.

It is no exaggeration to say that the evidence throughout Phase 4, taken either individually or collectively, has been nothing short of extraordinary, but not in a good way: extraordinary in its often deliberate obfuscation. I use that word advisedly: the action of making something obscure, unclear or unintelligible, and several, indeed many, candidates dates for that immediately confirm to mind.

Obfuscation, in that never have so many failed to remember so much about what was their daily job, or even their previous jobs, or about their employer, or even who was in their team, or even what their team was called, or who led it, or, crucially, who told them there was nothing wrong with Horizon, or anything at all about those whose lives they had ruined.

Apparently, it’s just one big collective memory failure: “I don’t remember, I can’t recall”, from one witness after another. Their evidence could be described as a collective “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. Unfortunately, the fourth element of that ancient saying was simply not present anywhere in the Post Office: do no evil.

Alongside that, ran the refrain “It wasn’t me” or “It wasn’t my job” or “It was someone else’s job but I can’t remember who”.

The colloquial version of the Scots criminal law defence of incrimination sums it up perfectly: It wisnae me, a big boy done it and ran away.

Extraordinary in that some – and some might say a lot – of what was heard simply defied belief: witness statements as evidence for court proceedings being signed as truthful by witnesses who didn’t even write those statements; so-called experts being instructed, without having the requisite expertise or, even if they did, without being given all the relevant information; witnesses who today think that those they investigated and whose convictions were quashed in the criminal appeal courts are actually still guilty.

So it was, on the basis of the way these people did their jobs, whether it was on the computer side of things, technical support, software, legal, auditing, investigating and prosecuting, that hundreds were wrongly convicted and had their lives ruined.

Over and above those convictions, there are all of those, including the convicted, who paid money to the Post Office for the alleged shortfalls. Again, pursued with a level of vigour that is almost indescribable. Where is that money? It must amount to tens of thousands, if not millions of pounds, apparently all in the pocket of the Post Office. Was it funding their bonus or just going into the bottom line of profits?

As a result of the way in which many of these witnesses gave their evidence and disclosure failures throughout, it is submitted there must be a concern as to how it is that the Inquiry and you, sir, can get to the bottom of all of this. However, the NFSP has faith in the clear, dogged and forensic way in which the Inquiry is working and is determined to assist it wherever it can.

While the NFSP was among those lied to on an industrial scale by the Post Office about Horizon for many years, the NFSP of today knows that its commitment to engagement in the forthcoming Phase 5 will shine a light of all of those involved in the response to the scandal as it emerged. It stands ready to acknowledge and accept where the organisation of yesterday failed. It welcomes the opportunity to deal with that alongside those of others involved, including the courts, unions and representative bodies and other organisational bodies.

The NFSP of today is committed to working with others and campaigning on the speeding up of the quashing of criminal convictions, compensation, the Horizon Shortfall Scheme, while also trying to ensure that Post Office branches up and down the land are supported by the public and not boycotted due to the damage that has been done to the words “Post Office” as a result of this scandal.

Whatever some have said about the past, the one thing the NFSP of today can say loud and clear is that it is prepared, wherever and whenever necessary, to publicly criticise the Post Office and it does so here today, loud and clear.

In terms of disclosure, it’s submitted that Phase 4 has highlighted, and indeed the Inquiry has been plagued by, the Post Office’s disclosure failures. There’s the original failure to fully and properly comply with their disclosure obligations under earlier Rule 9 requests, and the ongoing failure, for whatever reasons, to provide documents which are relevant not only to forthcoming phases but which may have been relevant to this and previous phases.

It appears from the Phase 4 evidence that there is a culture within the Post Office and those who work with them that understanding and ensuring that proper disclosure has occurred is always someone else’s responsibility, and then to blame others when it has not occurred.

Investigators, including the Head of Security, blame the Criminal Law Team, despite usually being Disclosure Officers themselves, see, for instance, the evidence of Stephen Bradshaw, on 11 January and also Tony Marsh on 5 July. The Post Office Criminal Law Team allegedly relied upon the Investigators, their reports and their disclosure schedule, despite having their own duties in relation to disclosure, see, for instance, the evidence of Rob Wilson on the 12 October.

The external Legal Team blamed the Post Office’s instructions regarding this, see the evidence of Andrew Bolc on 15 December, and expected to be told if there was a problem.

All of this, despite the duty to ensure that all disclosable documents were made available to the court, and, as a result of the failures by the Post Office either to obtain all of the relevant and necessary documents, which would, for instance, show transactions or to fully disclose what was known about Horizon, or both of those things, postmasters and others accused of theft, embezzlement, false accounting and other crimes and those representing them didn’t stand a chance of proving their innocence.

The NFSP believes the evidence shows that the Post Office and those instructed by them to pursue action against Horizon users failed to provide full disclosure to those subject to investigations and court actions. They’ve failed to provide full disclosure to those they investigated, especially if they were not represented, see the evidence of Tony Marsh on 5 July and more recently Robert Daily on 23 January.

The NFSP considers that this evidence shows the Post Office has a past and ongoing issue with disclosure. In respect of how they investigated and prosecuted subpostmasters and others, there was the failure to routinely recover ARQ data due to the annual limit imposed contractually, beyond which the Post Office would have to have made payment to Fujitsu, see, for instance, the evidence of Natasha Bernard on 10 November, Debbie Stapel on 14 November, Tony Utting on 17 November and Mike Wilcox on 7 December, and that was despite the knowledge that this vitally important data, if disclosed, would allow a cross-check with the transactions the postmaster said had taken place.

The NFSP submits that it is frankly unacceptable that the Post Office’s failures in disclosure have significantly and repeatedly delayed the hearing of key witnesses, such as Gareth Jenkins, and have allowed others witnesses to claim that policies and procedures were in place that were not available to the Inquiry for us to see.

Given that this Inquiry, with its statutory powers, threat of sanctions and public scrutiny, has struggled to get the Post Office to comply with disclosure obligations, the NFSP is concerned that, once this Inquiry has concluded, the Post Office will continue to fail to provide proper disclosure to those undergoing investigations or in other proceedings.

The NFSP is therefore concerned that this cultural attitude within the Post Office will prevail and will continue to adversely affect NFSP members, other postmasters, Crown Office employees, managers and assistants in the future and, without the ongoing scrutiny of a public Inquiry, there will be no person or organisation with enough power or resources to hold the Post Office to account on a daily and ongoing basis.

This is the experience of the NFSP today in its dealings with the Post Office, and it notes the Inquiry may address this in Phase 7 when considering recommendations about the future of the Post Office.

Looking at what we describe as incompetence, entrenchment, investigations and prosecutions, it is the submission of the NFSP that the level of decades of significant and continuing failures could only occur in an environment where there is widespread incompetence, potentially deliberately bought about by having the wrong people in the wrong jobs, as was seen in much of the evidence here.

Entrenchment, and possibly the Inquiry may find, even dishonesty, although the obfuscation referred to earlier is ensuring that, wherever dishonesty occurred, it will be difficult to bring it to light.

In relation to entrenchment, the NFSP considers the evidence shows there seems to have been a failure by all of those, externally as well as internally, involved in investigations and prosecutions against Horizon, to consider the immense power that the Post Office held as victim, judge, jury and, effectively, executioner.

The Post Office were the ones who gained when Horizon users were ordered to pay back the so-called shortfalls, which were not in fact owed. They were the ones who conducted audits and investigations and they were the ones who prosecuted individuals or made the referral and provided the material to those that did. Instead of always having in mind that this power came with responsibility, it is submitted that the evidence in this phase shows that the Post Office seems to have focused on ensuring the power – I’m sorry, sir, I just lost my place there – the power they had was retained and unchallengeable, through making examples of those who challenged Horizon to deter others from making allegations.

See, for example, the now infamous and often mentioned here Horizon bashing email from Jarnail Singh to Mandy Talbot and others regarding Seema Misra’s case on 21 October 2010, that’s POL00093686 at page 5; the email from Stephen Dilley to Mandy Talbot, regarding Lee Castleton, dated 5 May 2009, that’s POL00070237; the email from Jarnail Singh to David Oliver re current prosecution, POL00141653 at page 2; the Helen Rose report, dated 30 August 2012, that’s FUJ00156648 at page 5; and the email from Mandy Talbot to Marie Cockett and others “Re Castleton, Marine Drive”, dated 9 November 2006, POL00113909 at page 5.

Also suppressing knowledge of issues within Horizon, including disclosure failures, for example the Helen Rose report on Lepton SPSO; putting the onus on those accused of having shortfalls to identify errors and then removing their ability to substantiate or investigate their concerns by limiting the data available to them or locking them out of their branch; and circumventing obligations and duties that would expose knowledge of bugs, errors and defects.

The NFSP has found it extraordinary that, amongst the people involved in action against Horizon users, there seem to be a refusal to consider the Horizon users’ point of view or evidence pointing away from culpability. This is demonstrated through suspicion without proof, see the evidence of Elaine Cottam on 7 November, at pages 36 to 37 of the transcript, the fact that postmasters were suspended immediately upon audit, even if they had been asking for help and had requested the audit, and the refusal to disclose relevant material to the defence as discussed previously.

In addition, it is concerning that Andrew Bolc dismissed the obtaining of ARQ data and asking Gareth Jenkins to discount a possible explanation for losses, rather than seeking to pursue a reasonable line of inquiry and investigating a potential explanation, see the email from Andrew Bolc to Gareth Jenkins “Re Sefton and Nield”, dated 3 December 2012 at page 2, that’s POL00089394.

The NFSP has found it shocking to learn that Investigators received a bonus for individual performance and their performance objectives included a target for recovery of funds, which the NFSP considers must have been from the postmasters and others who were being investigated for alleged Horizon shortfalls.

Investigators were tasked with looking into all of the evidence supporting and against the existence of the shortfall, and the reason for that shortfall, and providing the information uncovered in their investigations to those pursuing actions against Horizon users. Yet they had a vested interest in concluding that the shortfall existed and in concluding that the shortfall was the Horizon user’s fault, and therefore recoverable.

It is, therefore, perhaps not entirely surprising that Investigators, such as Mr Daily, for instance, decided only to request ARQ data where he thought it would support the prosecution case.

The NFSP submits that the evidence in Phase 4 shows the words “investigations”, “audits” and “prosecutions” are misnomers. All of these, properly done, should be aimed the finding the truth and recovering all available evidence. Here, the evidence that supported the Post Office’s ability to prosecute and recover funds came from Horizon and, effectively, barriers were in place which prevented the recovery of evidence that could support those whose balances were showing shortfalls or who were accused of wrongdoing.

It is submitted that the evidence has shown an assumption of criminality or guilt pervaded investigated each process. The NFSP believes the evidence shows that the culture of the Post Office’s Auditors, Investigators and Prosecutors, of assuming Horizon guilt, was so entrenched, so pervasive, that some of those involved in prosecutions which have subsequently been overturned believe the Horizon users were still guilty today. That was the evidence of Raymond Grant on 25 January.

It’s submitted that the entrenchment of individuals involved in actions against Horizon users and a refusal to consider the other side is also demonstrated in the language they used, for example: Jarnail Singh’s email, “We were able to destroy the criminal standard of proof”, interview transcripts with assertions made to the postmaster “You’re lying to us again and again and you have told me a pack of lies”.

There was also the shocking statement that “Postmasters were getting support for the contention that Horizon is the cause of all evil and that they were the perfect postmasters”, which came from Mandy Talbot in an email to Michele Graves “re Eleanor Dixon” dated 6 January 2010, that’s POL00053778 at page 5. The NFSP believes this is also demonstrated through the language used within files and policies that assume guilt or are otherwise detrimental, such as policies having a section on prosecuting criminals, the compiling of offender reports and, of course, the despicable racist identification codes document.

Although such language was often dismissed by those responsible for it as “clumsy”, the purported position that this did not reflect the mindset of the organisation or those using the language must, in the NFSP’s you, be disingenuous at the least. Indeed, it is noted that the language about Horizon bashing was not uncommon at every level.

The NFSP believes that the consistent use of language assuming guilt and dismissing the Horizon user’s concerns reflects an institutional mindset that is detrimental to Horizon users.

It is submitted that there seems to be a pattern of the Post Office valuing business considerations and the ability to recover funds, whether or not actually owed to them, over the truth, their duties to the court and to justice.

The NFSP was concerned to hear that business considerations played a role in the decision whether or not to prosecute an individual and that their external solicitors do not remember challenging this when it was identified.

The NFSP has been shocked by the displays of incompetence by some of those giving evidence to the Inquiry. In particular, the evidence of Elaine Cottam and Jarnail Singh call into question the Post Office’s and their lawyers’ understanding of basic concepts, such as how to answer questions in a witness statement and whether information that is not written down is disclosable.

The NFSP was also appalled to hear the evidence of Helen Rose regarding her audit report and witness statements concerning Lee Castleton. It is unacceptable that Ms Rose told the court, on the basis of a blank template, that a number of failures applied in this matter, such as the safe being left open, when this was not the case. It is unacceptable that she went on to try and undermine Mr Castleton’s character by telling the court he smelt of alcohol when this was not recorded within the contemporaneous documentation and was not true. It is also unacceptable that, when asked by the Inquiry why she included these within her witness statement to the court, she just said she couldn’t remember why.

The NFSP submits that this demonstrates a fundamental disregard for ensuring that she was fulfilling her duty to the court and begs the question whether there was anything that those involved in actions against Horizon users weren’t willing to do in order to make an example of those challenging Horizon and ensure that prosecutions and the recovery of funds could continue.

It seemed that Ms Rose was unapologetic for her significant part in a case which had life altering consequences.

This also appeared to be the case for Mr Singh, who, despite being advised that Gareth Jenkins’ role as an expert witness had been discredited and that there were instances where the Post Office had breached their disclosure obligations, provided a quotation to the Post Office’s Public Affairs Manager, that it is submitted he knew must be untrue, to allow the Post Office to defend Horizon to the public.

He seemed equally unapologetic for his part in his role as Head of Criminal Law, or whatever the title may have been: Mr Singh seemed not to be able to remember. Instead, he compared himself as aggrieved, in the same way as victims of Horizon were, because he was in a position to do something and he didn’t. His evidence and that of Elaine Cottam was shocking in its incoherence and, whether deliberate or not, adds to the obfuscation created by so much of the witness evidence.

Touching on legal obligations, another key concern for the NFSP that has emerged from Phase 4 is that those involved in progressing investigations, prosecutions and other processes within and on behalf of the Post Office appear to have gone beyond failing to comply with their legal obligations by omission.

The NFSP submits that one example of this was an apparent attempt to minimise or destroy written information about issues with Horizon. This seemed to have been based on an idea that, if information was not written down, it did not have to be disclosed.

The NFSP is appalled to hear that not only were those who were dealing with taking action against Horizon users told to reduce electronic correspondence regarding Horizon issues, for instance the evidence of the witness John Scott, and not to take minutes in relevant meetings, but that people were also told that typed minutes should be scrapped and that it was implied that minutes should be shredded.

The NFSP considers that the Post Office must explain to the Inquiry and the victims of Horizon why they did not change practices in the light of the advice provided by Simon Clarke on 2 August 2013, see advice on disclosure and the duty to record and retain material by Simon Clarke, dated 2 August 2013, that’s POL00006799.

It’s also submitted that the apparent attempt to avoid disclosure of weaknesses in cases against Horizon can be seen in the difference between an offender report and a discipline report. For instance, significant failures in accurate, supervision, procedures and product integrity had to be kept in the offender report, which was then kept confidential as it was considered to be subject to legal privilege.

However, those failures were explicitly not contained within the discipline report, which was disclosed to the person being investigated and, therefore, could have an impact on the ability to prosecute and the reputation or security of the Post Office.

The NFSP was shocked to hear the evidence of Elaine Cottam and Stephen Bradshaw that witness statements signed by them and submitted as evidence in court proceedings were, in fact, drafted by others and were not their words.

Finally, in relation to legal duties, the NFSP was shocked to hear that there was quite a common practice by the Criminal Law Team that there would be a charge of theft and then also charges of false accounting, even when the Post Office’s own Investigators concluded that there was no evidence of theft in relation to a shortfall. There was evidence from David Pardoe on that, Diane Matthews and others.

It is the NFSP’s understanding that a prosecutor cannot and should not raise a charge where there is not sufficient evidence to support that charge. It is submitted that there is evidence before the Inquiry which appears to show that the threat of a conviction of theft was used as a threat to encourage those subject to prosecutions to make a guilty plea to the alternative charge of false accounting.

In relation to criminal proceedings in Scotland, the NFSP notes that, while it was for the Procurator Fiscal to take the decision on criminal proceedings, they were wholly reliant on the Post Office as a reporter and a Specialist Reporting Agency to provide all relevant evidence and to follow the guidance and training given to them by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

The continuation of legal proceedings despite known issues.

Therefore, it seems clear to the NFSP, on the evidence heard, that the attitude of the Post Office and those instructed by them in relation to action against Horizon users appears to have been to continue with legal proceedings despite known issues with Horizon. The NFSP submits that it is clear through the Helen Rose report, the associated correspondence with this and Simon Clarke’s related advice, that the Post Office were aware that there were concerns that the data relied upon in prosecutions would not be giving a true picture, and it appears from the evidence that the Post Office were aware Gareth Jenkins knew of Horizon issues at the time.

It seems to the NFSP that, at least partially as a result of the likely impact of an investigation on the ability of the Post Office to prosecute postmasters and others, the proposed independent review by an external organisation, such as Ernst & Young, did not occur. Instead, the Rod Ismay report, a supposedly independent report but which ended up looking only at evidence supporting the robustness of Horizon, was commissioned, see the evidence of Rod Ismay on 11 May.

On the basis of this, Mr Wilson’s position that the Post Office should “grit its teeth and get on with it shows” that the Post Office prioritised the ability to be able to prosecute above investigating known concerns.

In addition, the NFSP submits that it was unacceptable that those within the Post Office, who by then knew of Horizon integrity issues, did not have discussions about pausing prosecutions due to the fear this would immediately cast doubt on prosecutions that had been completed before, see the evidence of David Pardoe on 29 November.

It seems perverse to the NFSP that a prosecutor would not investigate the robustness of evidence it relied upon when it was aware of issues, simply in order to keep prosecuting and to ensure that previous possibly erroneous prosecutions were not reviewed or called into question.

In closing, sir, the NFSP believes that, as a result of the action and failures of the Post Office in effectively creating the Horizon scandal, the Post Office have tarnished this once most trusted of brands. The NFSP is therefore concerned about the impact of this on its members and other postmasters who have invested in this Network and also the relationship it must have with the Post Office to protect their members’ investment.

The NFSP considers the evidence so far demonstrates a pervading culture of cover-up, incompetence, knowingly doing wrong in relation to prosecutions and an entrenchment of placing corporate considerations above legal obligations and human decency.

The NFSP is concerned about how postmasters, their assistants and staff, Crown Office employees and their respective representative bodies are meant to have trust in their ongoing relationship with a huge and powerful organisation which has not, so far, on the evidence demonstrated the fundamental cultural and moral change which is necessary as a result of the miscarriages of justice.

In that regard, the NFSP looks forward to the Inquiry’s recommendations for the future in Phase 7.

I believe that concludes my submissions, just within 30 minutes, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, you too are to be warmly congratulated on the quality of your submissions and your predictive powers.

So that leaves Mr Munro.

Mr Munro: Thank you, sir. I wonder if I can be heard, sir?

Sir Wyn Williams: It’s not very loud at the moment it needs to be amplified.

Mr Munro: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: There we go.

Closing statement by Mr Munro

Mr Munro: Thank you.

Sir, thus far, there have only been a handful of successful appeals against Horizon convictions in Scotland. Our client, Susan Sinclair, was the first to see her conviction overturned. Following a POL investigation and report, Ms Sinclair was prosecuted by the Scottish Public Prosecutor, COPFS, on a charge of common law embezzlement in 2003. She was found guilty after trial in 2004. It appears, on the evidence that this Inquiry has heard, that COPFS only became institutionally aware of material concerns about the reliability of Horizon evidence in 2013 but it took a far-reaching investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, the SCCRC, before Ms Sinclair’s case was referred to the High Court of Justiciary in November 2002. Her appeal was finally allowed on 29 September last year.

Ms Sinclair sought and was granted Core Participant status on 17 November 2023, long after this Inquiry and, indeed, this phase began.

In light of that, those who have spoken powerfully before me are in a far better position to make submissions on the totality of the Phase 4 evidence, insofar as it concerns audits and investigations, preparation of cases for prosecution, failures in disclosure on the part of POL. Likewise, I recognise that this Inquiry has heard of the harrowing experiences of countless SPMs, whose lives were ruined by false accusations and the events which followed.

I do not seek to add anything to what others have already forcefully said. My focus, in the brief time I have available, sir, will be instead on matters specific to Ms Sinclair’s experience and to those of Scottish subpostmasters in general, and I propose to address four questions:

Firstly, did the involvement of COPFS, the independent public prosecutor, afford greater protection to those facing allegations and, if not, why not?

Secondly, did POL understand its duties as a Specialist Reporting Agency; did it discharge them, particularly in relation to revelation?

Thirdly, did COPFS comply with its duty of continuing disclosure?

Fourthly, to what extent did the corroboration requirement, that we have in Scottish Criminal Law, act as a safeguard against wrongful conviction?

So if I may turn to the first to the first of those questions: did the involvement of COPFS afford greater protection to those facing allegations?

As the Inquiry will be aware, in Scotland prosecutions are generally the responsibility of the Crown, COPFS. Private prosecutions are vanishingly uncommon. POL has never had any power to prosecute in the Scottish courts, and it is instead a Specialist Reporting Agency, taking on a role broadly analogous to that of the police.

Did, then, the involvement of the Public Prosecutor make any practical difference? I respectfully suggest that, on the face of it, the answer to that question is no. The failure of POL to reveal issues with Horizon meant, at least until 2013, that cases were prosecuted on the same evidential understanding as elsewhere. COPFS relied on investigation reports in making prosecutorial decisions. We heard that from the evidence of David Teale, INQ00001120 at page 7.

There has been no indication, as I understand it, on the evidence that was led before the Inquiry, of POL being actively interrogated it by COPFS on the basis for prosecutions or being directed to provide further evidence.

Now, one may have hoped that the involvement of a single independent prosecutor would have highlighted similar concerns across multiple cases but it would appear that cases were, in fact, dealt with in local offices without any real understanding of similar cases existing elsewhere, again, David Teale, same reference, at page 8.

Had all such cases been dealt with by a single team, had there been some recognition of parallels between individual cases, then it may have been that issues could have been highlighted at an earlier stage but that did not happen.

The second question I posed: did POL understand its duties as a Specialist Reporting Agency and did it discharge them?

COPFS publishes on its website a list of Specialist Reporting Agencies. There are well over 100, including bodies such as HMRC, local authorities, health boards and other public bodies. POL appears to be the only one which is a commercial enterprise. It’s also unusual in that it had a financial interest in the cases it reported, and I invite the Inquiry to consider the appropriateness of that when reaching conclusions about the conduct of POL generally.

COPFS has produced various documents relating to the standards expected from Specialist Reporting Agencies. The evidence before the Inquiry has not yet established the extent to which those standards were understood by POL, far less applied.

It’s worth noting, though, the position regarding obligations of revelation and disclosure in Scottish criminal law. Prior to the commencement of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Scotland Act 2010, disclosure in criminal proceedings was governed by the common law. The legislation that now applies in Sections 117 and 119, referring to summary and solemn cases respectively, now provides that, as soon as practicable, after first appearance in court, the investigating agency, in this case POL, must provide the prosecutor with details of all the information that may be relevant to the case for or against the accused that the agency is aware of, that was obtained, whether by the agency or otherwise, in the course of investigating the matter.

That duty of revelation plainly encompasses information which would be relevant to an assessment of the reliability of a computer system such as Horizon. Yet it is plain that no such information was provided to COPFS, certainly not at the outset. The first indications of concern came, it would appear, in 2013. At that time, POL instructed external solicitors in Scotland for the first time and sought to research COPFS about ongoing cases. It was only in October 2015 that POL finally intimated to COPFS that Horizon prosecutions were no longer considered to be sustainable.

I refer to the statement of Kenneth Donnelly, the Deputy Crown Agent, a very senior position in Crown Office, which is WITN10510100 at paragraphs 43 to 53.

I then ask: did COPFS comply with its duty of continuing disclosure?

Now, plainly, COPFS could not disclose to the defence information that it was unaware of. POL’s revelation of the Horizon problems came 10 years too late, so far as Ms Sinclair’s prosecution was concerned. But COPFS’s duty did not end at the point of conviction. Section 137 of the 2010 Act provides that:

“Where the prosecutor becomes aware of relevant information after conviction, that information must be disclosed to the convicted person as soon as practicable.”

This duty was acknowledged by Mr Donnelly at paragraphs 7 to 12 of this witness statement, and by David Teale in his oral evidence, that’s INQ00001120 at page 6, but wasn’t further addressed.

COPFS appears to accept that it knew of concerns about the reliability of Horizon in 2013, yet no attempt appears to have been made to consider the implications for convicted persons, such as Mrs Sinclair, and the Crown’s duties under Section 137. In his evidence, David Teale said that he was not asked to report back on any live cases to the Crown’s Head Office. That’s at page 10 of the same reference given.

As it was, it took a further ten years from that point of 2013, and the involvement and the sterling work of the SCCRC before any Scottish convictions were finally overturned.

The final question I would invite the Inquiry to consider is: to what extent did the corroboration requirement act as a safeguard against wrongful conviction?

In the Scottish system, nobody can be convicted of a crime based on a single source of evidence alone. Where there is a strong primary source of evidence, however, all that is required is something that provides an independent check, evidence that is at least capable of supporting that primary source.

Corroboration is often presented as a significant safeguard for accused people and yet here it appeared that the assumption that evidence from a computer system was inherently reliable meant that very little was then thought to be required to corroborate it and, in particular, to corroborate the fact that a crime had been committed, that money had disappeared.

In the case of William Quarm, which the Inquiry considered, corroboration apparently came from admissions that he made when confronted by Investigators, David Teale’s evidence, INQ00001120 at page 16.

In the case of my client, Ms Sinclair, the court relied on, essentially, her unwillingness to accept that any money had gone missing, her failure to make a report to the authorities, and so forth, and we see that from the report from the trial judge, which is at COPF0000052, page 12.

It would appear that the existence of what might be termed “technical corroboration” was seen as being good enough in the face of this inherent acceptance of the reliability of a computer system and that, as a result, there was no need for COPFS to look any further.

So in conclusion, these are my submission matters which are critical for those affected in Scotland, but they have a wider impact: those who think, for instance, that the mere removal of POL’s power to prosecute in England and Wales would have prevented this scandal need any look at our experience north of the border to see the fallacy in that belief.

To learn lessons for the future, we have to properly understand what happened in the past. Evidence on the issues which I have raised has been limited, I have to recognise, and I would invite the Inquiry to consider a closer examination of at least some of these issues in the phases which follow.

I’m obliged.

Sir Wyn Williams: And I’m obliged to you, Mr Munro, for reminding me of some very important features which have emerged as a consequence of looking at Scotland as well as England and Wales.

So, I think, Mr Beer, that concludes those who wish to make oral submissions; is that correct?

Mr Beer: It is correct, sir, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, all that is going to happen now, then, is that I propose to make a short statement, and then adjourn the Inquiry.

Mr Beer: Sir, thank you, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So unless you have any business, Mr Beer, I will make my statement and adjourn the Inquiry.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

Closing statement from Sir Wyn Williams

Sir Wyn Williams: Phases 1 to 4 of the Inquiry are now substantially complete. I use the word “substantially” quite deliberately. Oral evidence from a small number of witnesses, including Mr Gareth Jenkins, is yet to be heard and there remains a possibility that the continuing disclosure of documents to the Inquiry will reveal issues related to Phases 2, 3 and 4 which will require the Inquiry to make public additional documents or even adduce further oral evidence.

Now, however, it is time to look forward and for me to lay out how and when I propose to deal with the remaining phases of the Inquiry.

For some time now, I have been considering the possibility that Phases 5 and 6 should be run together as one phase. Having consulted with my legal and Secretariat teams, I have decided that this is the way forward. Those phases are concerned with so many issues which overlap, that to consider them separately would be artificial and probably excessively time consuming.

There is, however, one topic within Phase 5 which I do not consider can be appraised finally for some time yet. That is the topic of the three compensation schemes currently in being. I must reach conclusions about whether these schemes are operating and/or have operated fairly, and whether they have fulfilled their stated aim of providing full and fair compensation promptly to all those who are eligible to receive it.

I have decided that, to do justice to this topic, it will be heard as part of Phase 7. This will allow me to look at as full a picture as possible relating to compensation issues before I report to the Minister.

However, I am conscious that this topic attracts widespread attention for obvious and justified reasons. It is now virtually six months since I delivered an interim report relating to compensation issues to the Minister. I am alive to the possibility that it may be necessary to hold a further, discrete compensation hearing before the beginning of Phase 7.

I will keep that under review during the course of the coming weeks.

Phases 5 and 6 will begin on Tuesday, 9 April 2024 and I intend that they will end by Wednesday, 31 July 2024. There will be a break of one week during the week of Monday, 27 May. Save during that break, the Inquiry will sit four days per week as has been its practice to date. A written timetable will be published on the Inquiry website in due course.

Following consultation with my teams, I considered whether it would be possible to start Phases 5 and 6 earlier than 9 April 2024. I have concluded that this is not possible for the following principal reasons:

First, it is my current intention to adduce oral evidence from at least 68 witnesses in these phases. A great deal of preparatory work is and will be necessary if that number of witnesses is to be accommodated between 9 April and 31 July. A list of those 68 witnesses will be provided when this statement is published, as it will be later today.

Second, if Phases 5 and 6 were to be heard separately, there would need to be breaks before Phase 5 began and then before the start of Phase 6. Those breaks, together with the periods necessary for oral hearings, would probably mean that Phases 5 and 6 would not be completed by 31 July, thereby prolonging the life of this Inquiry.

Accordingly, the break before the start of Phases 5 and 6 will help to assist the process of completing the evidence gathering as quickly as is reasonably practicable.

Third, a substantial break now will maximise the chance that Post Office, UKGI and any other document providers, with whom the Inquiry has expressed concern, will be able to comply with their disclosure obligations in a timely way.

Fourth, I have now heard a great deal of evidence and I have heard a number of submissions on that evidence from representatives of Core Participants. I am satisfied that having the opportunity to take stock at this stage and perhaps formulate some preliminary views will minimise the time I will need to spend writing my report following the completion of evidence gathering.

Assuming that Phases 5 and 6 are complete by 31 July 2024, Phase 7 will commence on Tuesday, 3 September 2024. My current estimate is that this phase will be completed by the end of September 2024 but I make it clear that this is a provisional view.

Finally, my report will follow as soon as is reasonably practicable, following the completion of the evidence gathering. As I have said, that statement will be published later this afternoon with a list of the 68 persons who will be called to give evidence in Phases 5 and 6.

Experience over very many years has taught me that when judges or Chairs of inquiries try to make jokes, it usually falls very flat. I will, however, end this session by sharing with you my wry amusement at the efforts of my English brethren and sisters to pronounce the name of Mr Hughie Thomas’ branch in Anglesey. Various permutations have been tried. As a South Walian, I would call it Gaerwen.

Thank you all very much and I’ll see you in April, if not before.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

(1.23 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10.00 am on 9 April 2024)