Official hearing page

24 April 2024 – Susan Crichton and Christopher Aujard

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(9.45 am)

Susan Crichton


Questioning by MR BLAKE (continued)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. This morning we’re going to continue to hear from Mrs Crichton and we hope to finish by the first break of the day. Thank you.

Mrs Crichton, I said yesterday that I’m going to deal today with some miscellaneous topics. The first relates to corporate governance and the overall structure of the business. You joined as Head of Legal in January 2010. Were your responsibilities set out somewhere in a document?

Susan Crichton: That’s a good question, they should have been. I can’t – I certainly haven’t got a copy of the job description that I had then but, funnily enough, I can’t remember.

Mr Blake: On joining, prior to the separation of the business, what did you see your role as being in respect of prosecutions?

Susan Crichton: I don’t think I had a role at that point. I think it was made clear to me by the then General Counsel that things that were in Royal Mail, Royal Mail Group, should stay in Royal Mail until separation. At that stage, we didn’t even know whether separation would go ahead or not, so I think it was felt important to keep that structure in place.

Mr Blake: Did you consider, for example, that you had a role in ensuring that the Post Office fully investigated the root cause of issues relating to the experience of subpostmasters that led to them being prosecuted?

Susan Crichton: No, I don’t think I did. I don’t think – interestingly, I’m not sure – I suppose it would have been Mike Young because the Security Team at that stage reported to him but it was a strange arrangement because there was some Security in Royal Mail Group: Tony Marsh, I think. So that’s my recollection and the Legal Team, the Criminal Legal Team, I think, reported in to the GC of Royal Mail.

Mr Blake: So, in respect of criminal investigations being carried out by the Post Office, as Head of Legal, you didn’t see yourself as having any role in overseeing that?

Susan Crichton: I didn’t, no.

Mr Blake: On separation from the Royal Mail, you became Legal and Compliance Director and became responsible for the matters that had previously been managed by the Royal Mail Group. You’ve said in your witness statement that, in early 2012, you had discussions with Rob Wilson and Jarnail Singh. I think you met up with them; is that correct?

Susan Crichton: So my recollection is that I went to see them in Queen Victoria Street, which is where they were based, I think it was very early in 2012, and I think – I certainly remember going there and having a conversation with Rob Wilson and Mr Singh.

Mr Blake: It was just those two individuals?

Susan Crichton: As far as I recollect, yes.

Mr Blake: Was there any formal handover process or was that the extent of it?

Susan Crichton: Again, from memory, that was the extent of it. Then, when we separated, Mr Singh came across, if you like, with his portfolio of work and we – as many separations go, we didn’t get any choice as to which lawyers came over. People TUPE transferred, effectively. So POL people, people who were working solely for POL, transferred over and Mr Singh transferred over in the same way.

Mr Blake: Taking each of those individuals separately, so Rob Wilson and Jarnail Singh, can you assist us with your views as to their competence and their abilities?

Susan Crichton: I can’t comment on Mr Wilson, I’d only – I’m not sure I had a view about competence per se but I had a view about, if I might call it attitude, and their view of subpostmasters and their view generally, and I think some of the correspondence indicates a rather unhealthy view of subpostmasters and what they felt their responsibilities to the business were.

Mr Blake: Can you expand on that, please?

Susan Crichton: A little, yes. So – I’m trying to remember exactly how I formed this conclusion. I think what I’d seen was a – it was encapsulated in the “This is public money, we have to protect it, that’s our job”, and there didn’t seemed to be a step in the process – well, I didn’t see one, there probably was – a step in the process which said, “Hang on a minute, you know, should we be doing this? As a business, should we be doing this? Is it the right thing to do in this context?” It seemed to be too much of a straight-through process.

Mr Blake: In that respect, are you talking about individual cases or the overall prosecution scheme?

Susan Crichton: Some of the – I think both, probably. But you’re going to ask me which each cases now and I don’t –

Mr Blake: No, we don’t need to deal with individual cases but is your concern one of a step within the prosecution process that didn’t consider the public interest sufficiently, for example?

Susan Crichton: I think that’s right. I think – so in – again, in early 2012, I recollect having a conversation with Paula Vennells about the fact we prosecuted and that the Board needed to be involved to understand that and, you know, I remember looking – I think I remember discussing it with her but then, because of the Second Sight intervention, it got put on the backburner.

Mr Blake: Who put it on the backburner?

Susan Crichton: Probably me because I was waiting for the outcome of the investigation. I should have pushed it through regardless, you know. I should have just tried to go ahead.

Mr Blake: Sticking with Rob Wilson and Jarnail Singh, prior to the Second Sight Report, did either of them have a conversation with you relating to bugs, errors or defects in the Horizon system?

Susan Crichton: I can’t recollect having that conversation with either of them.

Mr Blake: I mean, we know, for example, that Mr Singh was involved in the Misra case?

Susan Crichton: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Did you have a conversation with him about his knowledge of bugs, errors or defects arising from the Misra case?

Susan Crichton: I can’t recollect doing that.

Mr Blake: Do you think it’s likely or unlikely?

Susan Crichton: I would have thought it would be likely but I can’t remember.

Mr Blake: Moving on to Board meetings, we spoke yesterday about your exclusion from a particular board meeting. But you’ve also said in your witness statement that Board meetings were, in general, by invitation only to you as General Counsel. Did you find that unusual at all?

Susan Crichton: Yes, previously where I’d worked, as part of the sort of senior advisory team, if you will, to the business, you would be invited to the Board meeting, whether or not you had a particular matter to present, just so that you could give advice to the Board and you were – and often you’d do that by being Company Secretary but, actually, Company Secretary is a job on its own, really and so, therefore, when I wasn’t Company Secretary, I didn’t necessarily go to the Board meeting.

Mr Blake: Had the logic of not inviting the General Counsel to the Board been explained to you at all?

Susan Crichton: So not specifically but I was aware that the Chair at that time wanted to try to reduce the number of people at the Board meetings. Again, my recollection is she was trying to ensure there was better discussion and – whilst the Board was developing, so she didn’t have too many people in the room because there was a lot of discussion about what the right number is to have on a Board.

Mr Blake: Did it suggest to you in any way an attitude or a culture relating to legal issues?

Susan Crichton: I suppose I felt – bearing in mind I’d really worked for two American companies for most of my working life, the American companies had a very different view of what the role of a General Counsel was and I felt that, coming to Post Office, it didn’t share that understanding of that broader role and, therefore – and because I was excluded from the Board – not excluded – not invited, not a regular attendee – I wasn’t able to develop that role at Post Office.

Mr Blake: I’d just like to ask you some questions about certain things that were or weren’t mentioned at Board level. Yesterday I took you to Board minutes from 12 January 2012. It was minuted that you had told the Board that the business had won every criminal prosecution in which it had used evidence based on Horizon integrity. Are you able to assist us where you got that information from?

Susan Crichton: So I think that would have come from either Rob Wilson or Jarnail Singh.

Mr Blake: Are you aware that that information was not right?

Susan Crichton: I am now, yes.

Mr Blake: When did you become aware of that?

Susan Crichton: Probably reviewing the documents for this Inquiry, I think –

Mr Blake: Two –

Susan Crichton: – in that absolute sense, you know, because it’s a very absolute statement.

Mr Blake: Did you think at the time this is a very strongly worded statement?

Susan Crichton: I should have been more suspicious, yes.

Mr Blake: You say you should have been; that’s probably in hindsight. At the time, did that across your mind at all?

Susan Crichton: No, I don’t think so. Partly because, you know, if people are making that very absolute statement and they’re lawyers and, again, this is with hindsight, you tend to think “Well, actually, they’ve been in the business a long time, they must know what they’re talking about”.

Mr Blake: Two items that weren’t necessarily discussed at Board level: the first, Simon Clarke’s advice on Gareth Jenkins, which also mentions bugs, errors and defects in Horizon. Can we just please bring up on screen POL00039999. This is just a covering email. If we scroll down, please, we can see at the bottom Martin Smith sending you Simon Clarke’s advice on Gareth Jenkins on 17 July 2013.

We also have, separately, Simon Clarke’s advice on document retention, the shredding issue, and that’s an advice that I took you to yesterday. That can come down. Thank you.

Are those matters which, in your view, should or shouldn’t be raised with a board?

Susan Crichton: They should have been raised with the Board, yes.

Mr Blake: Were they?

Susan Crichton: I’m not sure they were raised in those terms. So I think the outcome of those were raised, in the sense of we then had to review the prosecutions, look for new expert evidence, but I’m not sure, I can’t fully remember and, again, it would have been something I might have discussed rather than written down, about the fact that Gareth Williams (sic) was an expert we could no longer use, and to explain why that was so important to the Board.

Mr Blake: Does that fit in with a culture that we described yesterday of not writing things down and instead communicating them?

Susan Crichton: No, not for me because I generally wasn’t at the Board meeting. So if I’d really wanted – if I absolutely knew – I think I discussed it with Paula, I can’t remember now, there was a lot going on at the time which – so …

Mr Blake: So taking each one of those, both of those separately, when did you think you discussed them with Paula Vennells?

Susan Crichton: I think pretty soon after I got the advice, certainly with regard to Gareth Jenkins. In fact, I think there’s a note somewhere in one of the briefing papers about us having to, you know, (a) do the criminal – as I say, it’s the outcome of that, as opposed to the process.

Mr Blake: But would you have gone into some detail about the advice that was received in respect of reliance on Gareth Jenkins? Would you have, for example, told Ms Vennells that there had been an expert whose evidence was unreliable and which was used in criminal prosecutions?

Susan Crichton: I can’t remember but it’s likely that I would have done.

Mr Blake: Document retention, the shredding advice. That’s obviously a very serious allegation. Would you have discussed that matter with the CEO?

Susan Crichton: Again, I can’t remember but, yes, I would have – think it’s likely I should have done – would have done.

Mr Blake: Should have done or would have done?

Susan Crichton: Should have done.

Mr Blake: Do you think you didn’t?

Susan Crichton: I can’t remember. I really can’t remember.

Mr Blake: Do you think that that is such a significant issue that that should have been raised at Board level?

Susan Crichton: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can you assist us with why it wasn’t?

Susan Crichton: I just don’t think there was the opportunity.

(Pause for fire alarm test)

Mr Blake: You’ve said in relation to the shredding advice that you didn’t think that there was the opportunity to raise that at board level. Can you assist us with what you mean by that?

Susan Crichton: I’m trying to remember what the sequence was and we’ve looked at a number of – there are number of briefing papers in the pack, both old evidence and the new that’s come true. I would need to go back through those to find out, track it through but, as far as I can recollect, there wasn’t a Board meeting – there were – but there were Board update calls.

So I would have put it in the brief – if the briefing had come to me, I think I would have put it in the briefing note but I don’t think we’ve seen it in that.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m sorry, I’m not quite following this. You, I think, very fairly have accepted that the purport of the advice about Gareth Jenkins and what we’re calling the shredding advice should have gone to the Board?

Susan Crichton: I am, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes. So the question of timing, which is what I regard as being the opportunity point, surely is secondary to putting in place a process which ensured that, at some time, it got to the Board?

Susan Crichton: I agree.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Now, you weren’t attending the Board, so you couldn’t personally just turn up at a Board meeting and raise it, so what should have happened to ensure that it got to the Board at some point?

Susan Crichton: What would normally happen is that you would talk to the CEO, or the Chair or the Company Secretary but, really, in POL it would have been one of those two, and said, “This needs to come to the Board or I need to bring a Board paper. These are the things it needs to cover, it’s urgent and it needs to be done more quickly”, and to schedule either a Board call or an ad hoc Board meeting. That’s what would happen in other companies.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. So are you accepting – and I’m putting this neutrally for the moment – that you personally should have alerted either Paula Vennells or Alice Perkins to the fact of those advices and suggested to them that it should be raised at Board level?

Susan Crichton: So I think what I did was to raise the outcome of those, so, in other words, the review of the criminal cases. I think that was raised as part of the Board paper and as part of the update. I cannot remember whether the whole piece was raised as part of the Board updates. So, in terms of our expert witness being discredited, as opposed to the Second Sight Report, which disclosed the bugs that Gareth Jenkins raised and the Helen Rose report needing to be disclosed to – in respect of past cases, past criminal cases.

Sir Wyn Williams: I appreciate that you have told me you can’t remember precisely or even in general terms, perhaps, what happened, but my question was about what should have happened, all right?

Susan Crichton: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Are you accepting, either with the benefit of hindsight or, for that matter, with foresight, that it was your responsibility, as the senior lawyer to receive these advices, to put in place a process which ensured that the Board became aware of both of them?

Susan Crichton: Yes, I do accept that. But what I would say is that it wouldn’t be my general practice to send Board members advice from counsel. It would be my general practice to send them a summary of that advice as it related to the Board if you will or the business.

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I follow and I’m not, in terms of my questioning, asking you, you know, should you have sent the advices but I am, I think, getting from you the answer “I, Ms Crichton, should have put in place a process whereby the substance of those advices should have gone to the board”.

Susan Crichton: That’s correct.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, okay. Thank you.

Mr Blake: Moving on to a different topic, remote access, can we please bring on to screen FUJ00081584, please. This is a document from October 2010. I’ll make very clear, you’re not an attendee at this meeting, there’s no evidence that you ever received this document. But did you work with Ian Trundell or Andrew Winn?

Susan Crichton: Not as far as I can recollect, no.

Mr Blake: This relates to the receipts and payments mismatch issue and if we turn over, please, to page 3, there are proposed solutions to the problem. The Inquiry has seen this a number of times. “Solution One”, it says:

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

“Impact – When the branch comes to complete next trading period they would have a discrepancy, which they would have to bring to account.

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

Now, prior to the allegation made by Mr Rudkin during Second Sight’s investigation, were you aware of the ability to alter the Horizon branch figure?

Susan Crichton: I think the only – the way I would have been aware that it was probably as part of the Second Sight review, is about the transaction corrections.

Mr Blake: Mr Rudkin, during that process said that he had visited the Fujitsu headquarters and was shown how to access and amend the live Horizon system.

Susan Crichton: Yes.

Mr Blake: Do you recall that allegation?

Susan Crichton: I do.

Mr Blake: Prior to that allegation, did you have any awareness of the possibility of doing something like that?

Susan Crichton: Not as far as I can recollect, no.

Mr Blake: Can we please look at a transcript that has been recorded from a conference call with Second Sight. It’s INQ00002021, please. The Inquiry has obtained transcripts of a conference call with yourself, Alwen Lyons and Ian Henderson of Second Sight. This one is dated 22 May 2013. I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the issue, it was recently reported on Channel 4 News, albeit not obtained from this Inquiry.

You’ve had a chance to look at this transcript and I think your lawyers have fed back on various corrections to the transcript.

Susan Crichton: Yes, we’ve run the transcript against the recording.

Mr Blake: Can we turn to page 57, please, and this is where the issue of remote access is addressed. I think, if you scroll down we can see some wording is in green, some is in red. The green has been agreed between both yourself and also Alwen Lyons as to who is speaking, for example. The red is not agreed but I don’t think it actually makes any difference for the purpose of the question that I’m going to be asking.

I’ll just read to you a brief section from this transcript. It starts from Ron Warmington and he says:

“If James says something like ‘and where are you on this assertion about the Bracknell Covert Operations Team’ as it was referred to by Rudkin and, remember, he’s got a direct line to Shoosmiths. They’re chummy apparently. So they will have told him about this, for sure. So, you know, if he challenges her on it –”

You reply:

“– (unclear) say, well, that’s a specific case –”

Then we go over the page please, it’s unclear. You say:

“Come back to – when we’ve finished the investigation.”

Ron Warmington says:

“Yeah, as long as she doesn’t come back and say, ‘Well, he mentioned this Bracknell issue. What is he talking about?’

“‘Oh, we’ve known about that for, you know, two months’.”

You say:

“No, she knows about the allegation.”

Ron Warmington says:

“Oh okay.”

You say:

“She knows we’re working on it.”

Ron Warmington then says:

“That’s all right then. Okay. Good, good, good.”

Then you say:

“So we mentioned it to her.”

He says:


You say:

“We’ve all been going, well that is all very odd.”

He says:

“But I think she needs to be prepared for the … journalist-type question, you know.”

You say:

“When did you last beat your wife [type question]?”

He says:

“Yes, and in relation to, sort of Bracknell, can you assure me that there is not, you know, backdoor, some remote capability, you know, at Bracknell or elsewhere, you know, that had been used to the detriment of [subpostmasters].”

You say:

“She won’t. I mean –”

Alwen Lyons says:

“I don’t think James will ask her – you know, if he did, I think she could quite rightly say, ‘My understanding is that that’s one of the things in the Spot Reviews and that’s what we’re looking at; so, you know, we’ll get to it when we’ve gone and looked at the evidence James’. I think, you know, that’s where I would push her in that.”

He says:


Alwen Lyons says:

“I don’t think she’s going to start talking about cases, to be honest.”

Did you speak to Paula Vennells about the remote access issue prior to this recording, this meeting?

Susan Crichton: As far as I can recollect, yes. That’s what I say.

Mr Blake: What can you recollect from that conversation?

Susan Crichton: I think it probably was part of – so I don’t remember the actual conversation but it would have been, it is likely that it was, some update around the Rudkin allegation, the fact that we were investigating it, the fact that that went back to 2008, that I’d asked the – Simon Baker who was the project manager to assist. We’d looked – started looking for the emails, so I think Ian had just got a dump of the emails, and we’re trying to understand what was going on in the building.

So my process was to investigate, to try to prove or disprove that this was correct.

Mr Blake: This meeting was on 22 May 2013. When, approximately, do you think you had a conversation with Paula Vennells about that issue?

Susan Crichton: I think it would have been – so it would have been before that.

Mr Blake: Long before that, shortly before that?

Susan Crichton: Well, the Rudkin case came in, I think, according to the papers I’ve got, from around about February and so I think it would have been – sorry I can’t be more specific but it would have been between then and May but I think it would be rather towards the beginning of that because I think we’d have said “One of the Spot Reviews we’re working on is this and this what the allegation is and this is how we’re working on it”.

Mr Blake: At that stage, did you or Ms Vennells, or anybody else that you were working with, have a view as to whether there was or wasn’t substance in that allegation?

Susan Crichton: I didn’t have a view. I was trying to find out what the facts were.

Mr Blake: How about others?

Susan Crichton: I don’t know what other people thought. I mean, I think we were concerned, it felt like a – it was obviously a very concerning allegation and we had to investigate it.

Mr Blake: You were going to say “it felt like a”?

Susan Crichton: It was a strange allegation and it was very specific, which is why I felt we really had to investigate it and find out what had happened but it was very different because it was, I don’t know, five years ago.

Mr Blake: Paragraph 164 of your witness statement, you’ve pointed to an email exchange as confirmation that Fujitsu didn’t have means of accessing the system or at least confirmation that you had been told that they didn’t have such means. Could we bring that email on to the screen, please. That’s POL00029605. It’s an email from 16 June 2013, so the next month, from Steve Allchorn. Who was Steve Allchorn?

Susan Crichton: My recollection is that he worked for Lesley in the IT Team.

Mr Blake: To Lesley Sewell, copied to you. He forwards on an email. If we could scroll down, please, to the email on page 2, the top of page 2, it’s an email from somebody called James Brett, who is a senior test manager at Fujitsu. The email begins by identifying that, in 2008, they were in test preparation mode for – I think that’s Horizon Online and:

“… in parallel, supporting testing of the existing Horizon estate. In the basement at that time there would have been 4 separate test environments”, and he identifies the environments.

Then he says:

“Along with these environments, preparations activities were underway in the basement to build a volume and release indictment for [Horizon Online], but these environment would not have been in a working state at the time of the statement.

“[The Post Office] had access to the functional test environment, and I’ve asked people in my team around the time, and no one can recall any external visits, or Mr Rudkin specifically.”

So the suggestion at the top there is that, in terms of the basement, there is a testing environment that wouldn’t have had access to live data but, if we scroll down in this email, he has another paragraph there and it’s an important paragraph. It says:

“For perspective, there is live access available at Bracknell, and there would have been in Horizon days too.”

I think that’s Legacy Horizon, prior to Horizon Online.

“However, this access is available only to Fujitsu’s SSC (System Support Centre) team who provide expert support to Helpdesk staff. They are based on the 6th floor, which is the most secure floor in Bracknell. Visitors are by appointment only and are not allowed to be unattended. The SSC team follow strict protocols relating to access and interrogation of live data, and their access is logged and auditable. There is no access to SSC systems from the basement.”

So do you accept that, looking at this and reading this now, an email that was copied to you, you were, in June 2013, in receipt of an email that confirmed there was live access available but it was on sixth floor of the building?

Susan Crichton: I think in my witness statement I say that, yes, I obviously received that, my attention wasn’t drawn to it and I’m afraid I probably just looked at the first couple of emails from Steve Allchorn and Lesley.

Mr Blake: So if we scroll up, please, to the first page, there’s no mention of that paragraph in the covering email that was sent to you.

By the time you left the business, were you aware that Fujitsu could have live access of some sort?

Susan Crichton: I can’t remember being aware. So I don’t know whether I was or not. I don’t think I was.

Mr Blake: Do you recall, for example, discussing the matter with Lesley Sewell?

Susan Crichton: I might have done. I can’t recollect that.

Mr Blake: I’m going to move on to a different topic and that is external legal advisers, starting with Bond Dickinson and Cartwright King. Can we please have a look at POL00186725. It’s just a very quick matter of clarification.

This is during the period of the Spot Reviews and we’re in May 2013. There’s an email there from Rodric Williams to Simon Baker, referring to Bond Dickinson settling a response to a spot review and signing off by Alwen/Susan. What exactly was Bond Dickinson’s role in formulating or settling the Post Office’s response to the Spot Reviews?

Susan Crichton: My recollection is that we collected response to the Spot Reviews that Second Sight had done and Simon would have pulled those together from number of parties and then, because we didn’t have many people on the ground in terms of Legal team, that we asked Andrew Parsons from Bond Dickinson to review these to make sure they made sense hung together and just as a review process.

Mr Blake: Was it just a review or were they input substantively?

Susan Crichton: I can’t remember that. I can’t remember that.

Mr Blake: Moving on to Cartwright King, what was your view as to the service that was provided by Cartwright King?

Susan Crichton: So I – I think there are two points there. One is we looked into the – we reviewed them but, actually, none of us were really qualified to review their processes because we weren’t criminal law experts, so I should have got somebody – with hindsight, again – as say in my witness statement, to review that process more carefully. I recollect that they told me that they were responsible for the prosecutorial compliance, if you will, but, obviously, I understand that one can’t outsource that, just as in Financial Services you can’t outsource your compliance responsibility. But I think that I should have done more around that more quickly, after separation.

Mr Blake: So you inherited Cartwright King as a firm that was already used by the business; is that correct?

Susan Crichton: Yes, that’s correct. It came over with – on separation.

Mr Blake: Upon separation, did you take any steps to satisfy yourself that they were competent to take the role that they were undertaking?

Susan Crichton: So we did some due diligence, in the sense that my Head of Legal went up to Nottingham, I think, to meet with them. I think he went with Mr Singh. So they would have explained how they operated. Then they came to see me, and we had a conversation about, again, how they operated, what their lines of communications were into the business, how they got their information, and how they managed that. I’m afraid what I didn’t do is really do a drains up on their processes, to say – to see that they were compliant.

Mr Blake: If you had, what do you think you would have found? What are your concerns now?

Susan Crichton: Well, I suppose having listened to some of the evidence, particularly with regard to the Misra case – well, that would be Mr Singh, sorry. Having listened and having read what I’ve read, my concern was that they weren’t taking their obligations seriously, that it had just sort of rolled over from being Royal Mail Legal and they were acting in the same way as Royal Mail Legal had acted. But I’m not a criminal law expert but that’s certainly how it seems to me.

Mr Blake: Can we look at POL00006541, please, and can we start at page 2. Thank you. If we could scroll down on page 2 to the bottom email. We have Hugh Flemington emailing number of people, but emailing, in particular, Simon Clarke and Martin Smith of Cartwright King, what is called a first rough draft from Second Sight of one half of the interim report. I can tell you, having looked at this as a standalone document, that it attaches what’s called version 18A of the Second Sight Report. Were you sent a number of different versions of the interim report? I know you mentioned two yesterday but were there multiple drafts sent –

Susan Crichton: There must have been because I think the final one was version 24, from memory.

Mr Blake: The final draft or the final version?

Susan Crichton: I think that was the final version.

Mr Blake: Did you input into those drafts?

Susan Crichton: Certainly one of them was the document that we had a discussion around on 1 July. I couldn’t say which draft that was now.

Mr Blake: You input substantively, though. Were these typo corrections? Were they crossings out? Were they adding words?

Susan Crichton: No, they were really discussions about whether the statements were backed by the evidence that they had found. So I wasn’t seeking to wordsmith it necessarily, because it was obviously Second Sight’s report, but I was seeking to verify that it was evidentially based.

Mr Blake: Did you do that by comment boxes, track changes or something else?

Susan Crichton: No, we had a conversation. I think they came in, again on 1 July, we walked through, we had a discussion about it, and we tried to agree the way forward, and then, as far as I can recollect, Ian Henderson took it away and produced another draft or another version.

Mr Blake: Turning to the first page and the bottom email, please. Martin Smith has now received this draft report, or half of a draft – first half of the interim report – and he says as follows, he says:

“Our advice overall with regard to disclosure has not changed. The disclosure of a partial report would not meet with our duties or help the current situation. I think the disclosure of a partial report would provide partial information and give rise to adverse publicity and speculation. It would be far better to advise once we have seen the entire report. Having said that the Second Sight Report would not need to be disclosed in every case – that decision would be taken on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, it will not be disclosable.”

Did you have any concerns about that advice?

Susan Crichton: At the time I don’t think I did, no. I was relying on Cartwright King as criminal lawyers to advise me on disclosure.

Mr Blake: If we scroll up, please, we have a response from Rodric Williams. He says:

“How could the Interim Report be used by those who had been prosecuted, whether found guilty or not (ie those who complain about being selected to the stress etc of prosecution)?”

Do you recall anyone raising any concerns about the advice that had been received in respect of disclosure of that draft report?

Susan Crichton: No, but it was the reason, I think, in order to verify the process that Cartwright King had suggested and were undertaking, that was why I had asked Bond Dickinson to instruct Mr Altman to review the process and to review the disclosure process, and to advise whether we should go further, so, after the sifting process and the disclosure process, in order to ensure that we were meeting our obligations.

Mr Blake: We had Simon Clarke advise of the need to conduct a review on 8 July 2013. Moving on from there, I’m going to take you to an email of 16 July. It’s POL00192214. Can we please look at the third page, the bottom of the third page. You say at the bottom of the third page:

“Andy – we received a letter from the CCRC yesterday which I have asked Cartwright King to review … their advice feels odd to me as if given on a take it or leave it basis and I am not comfortable that’s particularly useful in this context. Could we discuss, I am happy to go to another firm that specialises in criminal law or a barrister, somehow it feels as if there is a conflict here which I am not sure I understand.”

Can you recall this conversation?

Susan Crichton: I can recall the response coming in, and I can recall looking at it and thinking – and also more generally thinking – that I wanted to make sure that the process we were doing was correct, so that’s why I really wanted to get somebody to take another look at it, because I didn’t feel I was competent to say whether the sifting process and whether the disclosure process was credible in the context of what we were looking at.

Mr Blake: Were you concerned about a potential conflict of interest at Cartwright King and can you explain that to us?

Susan Crichton: So it was, you know, as we say, marking your own homework and, whilst I wanted to get the process started, and I think they started in July, I felt getting it started was the right thing to do, so that things got moving quickly, particularly in relation to prosecutions that were ongoing or due to come to trial. I also felt that we needed to be sure that the process that they were undertaking was credible and the best that could be done in the circumstances.

Mr Blake: Brian Altman was instructed to provide his observations. Can we please turn to his interim review that’s POL00006583, please. Was the purpose of this instruction for the reasons that you have just set out, that you were concerned about a conflict of interest, or was it something else?

Susan Crichton: I think it was that general “Is this a credible response to the position we find ourselves in?”

Mr Blake: Thank you. So this is his interim review. Can we please turn to page 6 of that, which sets out some conclusions. He says as follows:

“I can conclude on the available information that the approach of [Cartwright King] and counsel appears to be fundamentally sound, but the followed issues need addressing by [the Post Office] and/or [Cartwright King] …”

The first being the geographical limit; the second being the temporal limit of the review. On “Conflict of interest”, he says as follows. He says:

“I can foresee circumstances where a conflict of interest might arise where Horizon and/or [I think that’s Gareth Jenkins] are the focus of complaint. A hypothetical example may suffice: in a given case it may be alleged that Dr Jenkins did not properly fulfil his role as an expert witness because he failed to disclose something that Second Sight’s Interim Report has now revealed. If Dr Jenkins were to claim, when confronted by such an allegation, that he had in fact informed counsel and/or a representative of [Cartwright King] of the very thing he is now said not to have disclosed, that would give rise [to] a clear conflict, and, if there were a conflict of recollection about it, then that might lead to real difficulty in [Cartwright King’s] further involvement in reviewing the case.”

But then he goes on, if we scroll down. Paragraph 18, he says as follows:

“There is, I believe, benefit in [Cartwright King] and its internal counsel identifying and engaging in the review of impacted cases, as they are familiar with their case files and intimate with the process. But it seems to me it will be wise for me to dip sample some of their work in due course, and I may have to devise criteria of my own for those cases I feel I should review personally.”

What was your view about this advice?

Susan Crichton: That I thought it was sensible.

Mr Blake: Did it lead you then to continue with Cartwright King? Were you ever thinking of not continuing with the Cartwright King process?

Susan Crichton: Not at this time, no. I think what it did do is sort of assure me that, at least as a first step, it was credible but it was sort of caveatted with these other points, so, in relation to the geographical, the temporal and the possible conflict.

Mr Blake: If we could turn to POL00298123 and page 3., it appears that the advice was sent by Mr Altman to Bond Dickinson. Can you assist us with what Bond Dickinson’s role was in the review of Cartwright King’s work?

Susan Crichton: I’m not sure they had one, particularly. I think they – I was probably just using them as a convenient way of instructing counsel. I think I did ask, sort of from a common sense point of view, because, again, they’re not specialist criminal lawyers either, for their views.

Mr Blake: Was there any tension between the various sets of lawyers and law firms, be it Cartwright King, Mr Altman or Bond Dickinson?

Susan Crichton: I didn’t feel so at the time.

Mr Blake: Looking back at it now?

Susan Crichton: I think there could have been a level of defensiveness from Cartwright King, which I probably didn’t appreciate.

Mr Blake: Can we please look at POL00337138. Moving now to September 2013 – actually, sorry, yes, we’re still in August. If we scroll down to the second page, please, there’s reference there, just below that, to a response by Harry Bowyer of Cartwright King to Mr Altman’s advice. If we scroll down, sorry.

Then, in the email above, you send Andrew Parsons an email saying:

“Thought you might be interested to see what started that particular ‘hare’ running!”

Can you recall this discussion at all?

Susan Crichton: I really can’t. I can recall – because I think the Harry Bowyer response was in response to Mr Altman’s questions in his interim report and that was then sent to Brian Altman.

Mr Blake: If we could scroll up please to the very first email. We see you there say:

“… we had a call with [Cartwright King] this morning and we definitely need a [conference] with Brian when he gets back – we may need this in two parts one with [Cartwright King] and one just with [the Post Office] … need to work on tactics. Could you see when he is available?”

Can you assist us with what you meant there in terms of tactics?

Susan Crichton: So it sounds to me like I was aware that there was a conflict of interest and there was some possibly friction between Cartwright King and us, and possibly they were annoyed with – I’m speculating now but it clearly looks like that’s what I thought at the time.

Mr Blake: When you say conflict of interest, in what respect?

Susan Crichton: It was my point about marking your own homework.

Mr Blake: Can we now, please, turn to POL00006485. We are now in September, 9 September 2013. This is a conference with Mr Altman. You are there in attendance. Slightly confusing because there are two SCs in the minutes so, on occasion where there’s a reference to “SC”, it’s actually Simon Clarke.

We see there “GM”, Gavin Matthews, from Bond Dickinson. He stated that the conference had been set up for three reasons: (a) first of all – sorry, if we could scroll down – allow Brian Altman to get a fuller understanding of the review process; discuss the issues raised in his interim review and Mr Bowyer’s response; and to address the issue of the Post Office’s continuing duty of disclosure.

It’s the continuing duty of disclosure that I’d like to ask you about. Could we please turn to page 3 and, halfway down, we have the advice from Mr Altman. It says:

“[Mr Altman] advised considerable caution in relation to mediation cases involving previously convicted individuals (Seema Misra has already indicated an intention to be within the scheme). The concern is that lawyers acting for those individuals may be using the scheme to obtain information which they would not normally be entitled to in order to pursue an appeal.

“[Mr Altman] said that it was important that [the Post Office/Cartwright King] took control over all the information disclosed to these individuals by [Second Sight] so that [the Post Office/Cartwright King] were not ‘blindsided’ by evidence that they are not aware of. The information being sent out to the individuals must be audited by [Cartwright King].”

Do you recall anyone querying that advice at all?

Susan Crichton: No, I don’t.

Mr Blake: As General Counsel at that time, did that raise any concerns with you?

Susan Crichton: Yes, it did because I wanted the – I wanted the Mediation Scheme to be able to go ahead but there was this tension between the cases that had had criminal prosecutions or, I guess, any cases taken against them, and the fact of entering into the Mediation Scheme.

Mr Blake: Did you, at the time, think that it was proper to withhold disclosure from somebody in a Mediation Scheme because it might give them an opportunity to pursue an appeal?

Susan Crichton: No, I didn’t. I thought they should have the information.

Mr Blake: Did you say so at that meeting?

Susan Crichton: I can’t recall saying so.

Mr Blake: So did anybody say so at that meeting?

Susan Crichton: It’s not documented that they did.

Mr Blake: Looking back at it now, what do you think went wrong there?

Susan Crichton: My view is that they would – my view was that they would be able to be part of the Mediation Scheme and that we should give them the documentation.

Mr Blake: Can we please look at POL00116136. This is a note of a meeting with Sir Anthony Hooper with Paula Vennells, Alasdair Marnoch and Martin Edwards. You weren’t present at this meeting. It’s a document that I took Sir Anthony to and it’s the second page, please, point (e) that I’d like to ask you about.

Sir Anthony advised as follows, he said that:

“… ‘sorry was a good word!’ – we should be prepared to apologise to subpostmasters where appropriate”, during that Mediation Scheme.

Were you aware of that advice?

Susan Crichton: No. Oh, hang on, so the 24th, I think Martin – I might have been copied on to the – I apologise. I have definitely seen the “sorry was a good word!” attributed to –

Mr Blake: It may be of assistance if I take you to one more document before you answer that. Could we please look at POL00066817, please. It’s an email from Martin Smith to you on 26 September. He says:

“Thank you for your email. I have had look at the note of the meeting with Sir Anthony Hooper …”

I’ll read you two passages, if we could scroll down. He said:

“Brian expressed a concern that the slightest apology to a convicted person or the payment of compensation could indeed give rise to an appeal. He was concerned that Misra would use the Mediation Scheme to obtain some sort of concession to allow her to appeal.

“I note from paragraph 4(e) Sir Anthony Hooper observed that ‘sorry was a good word’. If he intends to use it in relation to any convicted person allowed into the Mediation Scheme, the possibility of a successful appeal may well be increased.”

Do you have concerns about that advice at all?

Susan Crichton: So I don’t remember getting this and I was probably on my way out of the business. I remember the advice from Mr Altman about, you know, not – because I think in one of the shorter form notes he makes a point that – I think somebody asked the question “Should we apologise?”, and he said no, and it’s a similar – and it’s the opposing view here.

I felt that if we were going to go through with the Mediation Scheme then that had to be part of it. In other words, that we needed to disclose the information and that, if that was disclosed and that gave rise to the ability to appeal, then that’s what should happen.

Mr Blake: Did you express that to anybody?

Susan Crichton: I think so but I really can’t remember now.

Mr Blake: In terms of the corporate approach to the Mediation Scheme, did that accord with the views that you’ve just set out or were they different?

Susan Crichton: I think when it started, as far as I was aware, it did, because we shouldn’t have – well, I think it did. I think it did because, if you go back again to the chairman’s note about the conversations she and I had, you know, then some time before this, you know, she was at that point anyway, which was being mid-2012, that was part of her rationale for saying that it needed to be looked at and opened up.

Mr Blake: Having received this advice, did the approach change?

Susan Crichton: I really don’t know. I was on holiday from 27 September and I really didn’t go back into the business.

Mr Blake: Looking at it now, is it advice that you think was sensible or unhelpful?

Susan Crichton: So, to me, it doesn’t work together with the Mediation Scheme but I think I was coming at that from a very different place.

Mr Blake: Thank you. The very final topic, and I’ll be very brief, is the devolved administrations. You qualified in England. Did you have any knowledge of Scots Law, for example?

Susan Crichton: No.

Mr Blake: Did anyone in your team have such knowledge?

Susan Crichton: Not as far as I’m aware.

Mr Blake: Do you recall looking into Scottish cases or Northern Irish cases as part of the reviews that we’ve been talking about?

Susan Crichton: I asked Cartwright King to manage that process as part of their review process and I think they updated Mr Altman with what they were doing in that respect. Whether that – and I think they’d appointed local firms, again from memory, both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, to take part in that process with them, and it’s in one of the documents. It might be the Harry Bowyer advice.

Mr Blake: You spoke yesterday about a decision not to continue with prosecutions where Horizon played a significant part or some similar kind of test. Was that in any way communicated to, for example, the Scottish or the Northern Irish authorities?

Susan Crichton: Not as far as I know, because it was with the Investigation Team, so the – I presumed it would be the Investigation Team who would need to make that – you know, they would be the gatekeepers of that.

Mr Blake: Are you aware of the Investigation Team having informed the devolved authorities that there was this concern about continuing prosecutions?

Susan Crichton: No, I’m not aware of that.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, those are all the questions I ask.

We have some very brief questions from Mr Stein, Ms Page and Ms Dobbin. They’ve assured me that they’re only going to be five minutes each.

Sir Wyn Williams: Before they ask their questions, there’s just one thing I’d like to go back to. Could we have the note of the conference with Mr Altman of 9 September 2013.

Mr Blake: Yes, that’s POL00006485.

Sir Wyn Williams: Through you and Ms Crichton, Mr Blake, is there any indication in that consultation – I should say – note, that the advice relating to Mr Gareth Jenkins was discussed?

Mr Blake: I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. I’m sure we can find an answer to that, though, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. If you would, please. Then – and I’m sorry I’m having to do this from memory – but in the email chains which preceded that conference, my recollection is that I think it was a solicitor from Cartwright King asked that the advice by Mr Clarke, about Gareth Jenkins, be sent to Mr Altman.

Mr Blake: Yes, so that’s POL00337138.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Mr Blake: It is the bottom email. Well, this may be a wrong reference from me or we may be talking about the same document but it’s not necessarily the same advice. If we look at the bottom email, there’s an email from Mr Parsons that says, “I’ll forward Cartwright King’s note on to Brian”. But that, I think, is Mr Bowyer’s note, rather than –

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I think Mr Bowyer wrote an email suggesting that Mr Clarke’s advice be sent, and I wanted to check I was right about that, before asking the question that want to ask Ms Crichton. I tell you what, let the –

Well, let me ask you the direct question, Ms Crichton. Can you remember whether or not the advice written by Mr Clarke about Mr Gareth Jenkins was sent to Mr Altman as part of his instructions for that consultation?

Susan Crichton: I think it was and, in his interim note of early September, I think he refers to Gareth Jenkins’ expert evidence, the need for disclosure, which then tees up a discussion around the conflict of interest point.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right.

Mr Blake: Sir, if I could bring on to screen POL00006583.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: It’s paragraph 1(2) and Mr Altman’s note. This advice is –

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you very much.

Mr Blake: – 2 August 2013.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you. I have traced down what I wanted to know. Thank you very much.

Right, over to those who are asking their five minutes worth of questions.

Mr Blake: I think we’ll start with Ms Dobbin.

Questioned by Ms Dobbin

Ms Dobbin: Ms Crichton, I ask questions on behalf of Gareth Jenkins.

The Inquiry has seen a note dated 2 September 2013 – I won’t bring it up on screen – but it records a – well, it’s notes of a conversation between Mr Rodric Williams and Mr Smith of Cartwright King. The handwritten notes indicate that it was said at that point in time that it wasn’t thought that Mr Jenkins had been advised of his expert duties and the question was asked “What were we doing to instruct GJ?”

Can I ask whether you were made aware in September 2013 that either Mr Jenkins hadn’t been instructed about expert duties or that there was a serious question as to that?

Susan Crichton: I don’t think I was.

Ms Dobbin: Would you have regarded that as significant information and information that you ought to have been provided with?

Susan Crichton: Yes, I think that’s correct.

Ms Dobbin: Why is that?

Susan Crichton: Because it would obviously be part of our responsibility as a prosecutor and then, going forward, in terms of Cartwright King, it would have been part of their responsibility, as well, to ensure that that was done.

Ms Dobbin: So, in other words, you would have understood that it would have gone to much broader questions about the competency of POL prosecutors and those who were conducting prosecutions on behalf of Post Office?

Susan Crichton: I’m not sure I would have done at that stage, no.

Ms Dobbin: Do you think that you would have needed further advice in order to understand that?

Susan Crichton: It’s hard to put myself back in that position now. Probably, yes.

Ms Dobbin: This was the position in September 2013, can we take it that you were never apprised of that information?

Susan Crichton: That’s my recollection.

Ms Dobbin: Can we also take it that Mr Altman wasn’t provided with that information either, when he came to provide advice to Post Office, as we’ve seen?

Susan Crichton: I’m afraid I can’t help you there because he – I can’t help you. I don’t know the answer to that question.

Ms Dobbin: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Ms Dobbin.

Questioned by Mr Stein

Mr Stein: Ms Crichton, my name is Sam Stein, I represent a large number of subpostmasters/mistresses and employees at branches.

I’ve got two topics I want to ask you about, the first one relates Second Sight and then the second one I want to ask you about is then your leaving the Post Office, okay? All right.

Now, you’ve been asked number of questions today by Sir Wyn, Chair of the Inquiry, about the Clarke advices and what happened in relation to them in terms of discussions with the Board. Can I then turn that around to discussions with Second Sight about the Clarke Advices. So the Jenkins advice, did you bring that to the attention of Ron Warmington at Second Sight or Ian Henderson at Second Sight?

Susan Crichton: So I can’t remember but, on one of the transcripts, they’re talking about how good Mr Jenkins is as an expert witness and I have a feeling – and it’s only a feeling – that I did mention it to Second Sight but whether it was in terms, I don’t know.

Mr Stein: Okay. Now, obviously, there’s going to be evidence given from I think Mr Warmington later in the Inquiry, so we can talk to him about that and his recollection. Can I just tease out a little bit more in relation to that.

One of the matters that is important about the Jenkins Clarke Advice, do you agree, is that Mr Gareth Jenkins is not just someone who was providing evidence under the label of “Expert” for Fujitsu but also someone who was a principal architect of the Horizon system; do you agree? So it’s two things about Mr Jenkins that’s important?

Susan Crichton: I hadn’t – yes, if you put it like that, I think that’s obviously correct.

Mr Stein: Because Mr Jenkins is someone that’s been embedded in the system, the Horizon system, from the word go and also dealt with bugs, errors and defects within the system; do you agree?

Susan Crichton: That’s certainly the evidence that I have seen. I wouldn’t have said it was my – I wouldn’t have characterised it in that way, probably, in 2013.

Mr Stein: But you agree with that now?

Susan Crichton: Yes, I think, again, with hindsight.

Mr Stein: All right. Now, can I then turn to the instruction of Mr Warmington at Second Sight. Now, if I’ve got this right, you worked at General Electric in increasingly senior positions for what, six/seven years?

Susan Crichton: Eight in the end, yeah.

Mr Stein: Eight years. During that time at General Electric, you worked with Mr Warmington; is that correct? He was a fraud specialist?

Susan Crichton: So Ron Warmington was a part of the Global Fraud Team, I think, and he – so he also provided, if you like, a service for us in EMEA and he worked on two cases with me.

Mr Stein: You knew him, in fact, from that background to be a thorough and deep digger in relation to matters in which he is engaged; is that fair?

Susan Crichton: That’s correct and, in addition, one of my colleagues at GE Consumer Finance was Chief Compliance Officer, Jane Wexton, and she’d worked with him at Citibank.

Mr Stein: So it came to the position in relation to the Post Office that the Post Office had instructed I think three out of probably the four big audit-type firms in the past; is that right? KPMG, that sort of firm?

Susan Crichton: I can’t remember but, yes, probably.

Mr Stein: There was a need to ensure that the team that was brought in to do the Second Sight job that it did, was going to be acceptable to MPs, Mr Arbuthnot, now Lord Arbuthnot, is that right, and others?

Susan Crichton: Those were the instructions given to me by the Chair at the time.

Mr Stein: Okay. Now, Mr Warmington is someone with the attributes that you’ve described, in other words thorough and deep diver, in terms of his expertise. Did you expect Mr Warmington to do an unexpectedly thorough job?

Susan Crichton: No, he did the job I expected him to do.

Mr Stein: Which is to be thorough?

Susan Crichton: Yes.

Mr Stein: Yes. So it went from your recommendation in relation to Mr Warmington. At that point, had he actually set up the firm Second Sight Limited, SSL?

Susan Crichton: So if I can actually take a step back, I actually rang Ron Warmington to ask him for suggestions because I thought he’d retired and I thought, you know, he might know somebody who could deliver on this brief because he’s much more knowledgeable in that area of forensic investigation than I was. And he said well he – I can’t remember whether he said he was going to but he said he had this firm called Second Sight with Ian Henderson.

Mr Stein: Right, and Ian Henderson, equally, is someone that turned out to be very good at the detail?

Susan Crichton: Yes, I think if you look at his CV, that’s what you would expect.

Mr Stein: So Ms Perkins and Ms Vennells, they hadn’t had this knowledge of Mr Warmington as being this sort of, you know, very thorough get to the detail type but they nevertheless interviewed him; is that right?

Susan Crichton: That’s correct and, although you have said and other people have said I recommended him, I don’t think I did. I think I was neutral and said “This is their presentation”, and – because I also knew Ron Warmington and Ian Henderson, and they made it clear to me they wouldn’t take on the role if Post Office wasn’t prepared to commit to giving them access to the information that they would need.

Mr Stein: Do you recognise now, Ms Crichton, that the instruction of Mr Warmington and bringing with him Mr Henderson was a turning point, in other words that they did their job, they got as deep as they could do? We know what happened. Eventually, their services were let go by Post Office. But they did what they could in the time that they had; do you accept that that was a turning point in these events?

Susan Crichton: Yes, I think that’s right.

Mr Stein: Without that, that stepping stone, we probably wouldn’t have had the information available for the High Court litigation, and so on?

Susan Crichton: Mm-hm.

Mr Stein: Do you agree with that?

Susan Crichton: Yes.

Mr Stein: Now, one last thing in relation to your resignation. You deal with that in your statement at page 100. Did it come to the point where doors were being closed to you so that your access was being increasingly limited within your role as General Counsel and that led to your resignation?

Susan Crichton: I think, as I said, and I think, you know, the quotes from the meetings yesterday, I felt I could no longer perform my job, and it’s partly because, when you lose confidence of the Chair, the Board, the CEO, you can’t stay as General Counsel. So it’s sort of more than doors closed; it’s you just don’t have a right of audience, if you will. You’re discredited and, once you’re discredited as a lawyer, an in-house lawyer, you can’t operate.

Mr Stein: From your point of view, the document that was a note of a meeting with you at coffee shop, it refers at one stage to you perhaps putting professional ethics above maybe the interests of the Post Office. Is that something that you recognise, that you’re someone that tried, with the mistakes that you’ve accepted, to put your professional duties properly at the front?

Susan Crichton: Yes, I did. I did try to do that, yes.

Mr Stein: Do you feel coerced? Is that too strong a word?

Susan Crichton: I just was put in a position where I couldn’t do my job. You know, I just couldn’t – I couldn’t – I just couldn’t continue to do my job because I couldn’t deliver on it.

Mr Stein: Because there was no other option and you resigned –

Susan Crichton: Yeah.

Mr Stein: – is that fair? When you resigned, did you sign an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement?

Susan Crichton: A settlement agreement, which included an NDA, yes.

Mr Stein: Have you been released from that now?

Susan Crichton: I hope so.

Mr Stein: Thank you, Ms Crichton.

Sir Wyn Williams: Can we fit in Ms Page before a break?

I’m conscious of the transcriber; how do you feel?

Mr Blake: Sir, I would very much like to because we do have to move on to the next witness.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mm-hm.

Questioned by Ms Page

Ms Page: Thank you, Flora Page.

Can I take you to the January 2012 Board, please. POL00021503 at page 6. Down to page 6, please, and if we scroll down a bit, we see that there’s reference to Susan Crichton, if we hold on there, please.

So “Significant Litigation Report”:

“Susan Crichton explained that the subpostmasters were challenging the integrity of the Horizon system. However the system had been audited by RMG Internal Audit with the reports reviewed by Deloittes. The audit report was very positive.”

Then, skipping over the claim about criminal prosecutions, you suggested that you clear the audit report with the external lawyers and, if possible, give the report privileged status and circulate it to the Board.

So thank you, that can come down. Ms Crichton, can you please take it from me, given our time constraints, that that internal audit report, reference POL00029114, was circulated to you and, in fact, it said this, amongst other things:

“It is difficult to detect and prevent inappropriate changes being made to master data.”

That was referring to Fujitsu and saying that there were problems with the controls around how you accessed master data. That had built on and responded to Ernst & Young reporting on the same issue in March 2011, and this internal audit report, as at January 2012, said that none of the problems around controls that had been highlighted by Ernst & Young the previous March had been resolved.

So March 2011, Ernst & Young say serious problems around controls and accessing master data at Fujitsu. Come January 2012, RMG Internal Audit say they’re still not resolved, none of them.

In the aftermath of your January 2012 Board, you’ve, according to emails, made sure that Alice Perkins received that RMG Internal Audit report. In the process, contrary to what your remarks to the Board suggested, it’s discovered that Deloitte’s involvement is not something separate, there is no separate report from Deloittes. In fact, there is just a Deloitte’s secondee who’s worked on the RMG report, all right? So no Deloittes external report; Ernst & Young, nothing resolved; RMG Internal Audit, still some serious flags and question marks.

That internal audit report is then put into the April Board papers, just after your Significant Litigation Report for April Board, but you don’t correct anything of what you said in January. Now, do you have any recollection of this, as to why it would be that you didn’t correct a board, any of these issues that, in fact, were very live and very problematic?

Susan Crichton: No, I’m afraid I don’t.

Ms Page: Well, then just lastly this, and see if this helps to jog your memory at all: in May 2012, there was a briefing prepared and, if we bring that up, please, it’s POL00033825, and I believe that you’ve had a look at this because this was part of your papers and you deal with it in your statement. This is a pack for James Arbuthnot and Oliver Letwin and, elsewhere in this pack, we can see that it was a meeting at which Paula Vennells, Alice Perkins, who we know from the email I just referred to, had received the RMG Internal Audit report and, indeed, the whole board had received it by now in the April papers, and also Lesley Sewell, were all involved with this. On page 12, if we go down to page 12, we see “External Scrutiny”:

“Horizon and Post Office systems environment have always been subject to external scrutiny for both assurance and accreditation purposes. Ernst & Young carry out an annual financial systems audit; an independent auditor also carries out a yearly audit …”

We’ll skip a bit down, please, and then the last bit:

“In addition to these rejected already audits [final sentence on the page], ad hoc independent audits of the system are initiated by Royal Mail Group and supported by Post Office Limited.”

So this is one after the internal audit report had been put into the board pack, in which it was clear that the Ernst & Young issues raised in the previous year had not been resolved and there were still some serious concerns around Fujitsu’s control of master data. Why were the MPs being told that all was hunky-dory and external scrutiny was fine?

Susan Crichton: So I think what this paragraph says is that there are number of audit processes which are carried out in relation to the Horizon and other financial systems in the Post Office. The reference presumably – so there’s the PCI audit, there’s the VocaLink, and there are number of other independent audits, but the issue really is that those audits look at different things. So I’m not trying to excuse it, but I think it’s like trying to compare apples and pears, so those audits wouldn’t necessarily be general – wouldn’t necessarily look at your point around master data.

So I’m not saying that that’s necessarily wrong, for instance Ernst & Young carrying out an annual financial systems audit, and that’s what drives the issues flagged in the management letter.

I think also, with regard to the management letter, there was an element of progressing towards getting things done, as well as things that hadn’t been done.

Ms Page: But wouldn’t you accept that putting it in this format, and this being a sort of a briefing which is trying to give the MPs a sense that everything is okay, the suggestion is that these external checks are telling the world, Post Office, RMG and these MPs “You don’t have anything to worry about”?

Susan Crichton: I think it says what it is. You know, it’s audits are done by people like PCI, VocaLink, Worldpay, HSBC Payment Systems, and they give that accreditation. So – and also we’d had – I’m not sure we’d have had it by then, but the SAS70, or it might be – it’s not ISO. So there are various ways of looking at the financial systems and I think what this does is list what is done but I suppose what I would say is that you need to be quite in the detail to understand what it’s really telling you.

Ms Page: What do you think James Arbuthnot and Oliver Letwin would have felt differently, at that time, if they’d been told that, in fact, Ernst & Young and the RMG Internal Audit were raising serious question marks over Fujitsu’s controls of master data? Do you think they would have been as happy with the way things were going or not?

Susan Crichton: I can’t speculate on that. I don’t know.

Ms Page: Thank you. Those are my questions.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Ms Page.

So that’s it, is it, Mr Blake?

Mr Blake: It is, sir. Unless you have any questions?

Sir Wyn Williams: No.

Well, thank you very much, Ms Crichton, for your detailed witness statement and for giving evidence to me for longer than one day. I’m grateful to you for participating in the Inquiry in this way.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, sir, if we could take our ten-minute break now and return at 11.25, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

(11.13 am)

(A short break)

(11.25 am)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I can.

Mr Stevens: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Before you start, I was wondering whether, because we’ve proceeded as we have this morning, in order to achieve a reasonable break, rather than trying to fit ten minutes in between now and 1.00, we could carry on until, say, about 12.35, 12.40 and then just take lunch then?

Mr Stevens: I’m content with that. I’m just looking at the transcriber.

Yes, we’ll proceed on that basis, thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. Thank you.

Mr Stevens: If I may call Mr Aujard.

Christopher Aujard


Questioned by Mr Stevens

Mr Stevens: Please can you state your full name?

Christopher Aujard: Christopher Charles Aujard.

Mr Stevens: Thank you for giving your evidence to the Inquiry today. You should have a bundle of documents and a witness statement in front of you. Can I ask you to turn that up, please. Do you have a witness statement dated 15 March 2024?

Christopher Aujard: I do.

Mr Stevens: And that witness statement runs to 398 paragraphs; is that the one you have?

Christopher Aujard: It does.

Mr Stevens: For the record, that is document reference WITN00030100. Before moving to ask you to confirm the contents of that statement, I understand there are four changes you wish to make to it, three of which are typographical and one is more substantive. We’ll go through the typographical ones first.

If we could have the statement on the screen, please, page 150, paragraph 272 – I’m sorry, actually, I’ve taken that out of order.

Page 65 first and if we could have paragraph 120 yes, thank you. About six lines down in brackets it says “usually me, our civil litigation lawyer, Rod Williams, Ms van den Bogerd and Ms Crowe”. I understand you wish to strike out “our civil litigation lawyer Rod Williams”, and then add, at the end of “Ms Crowe”, “and more occasionally Rod Williams, our civil litigation lawyer”; is that correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Could we then turn, please, to page 166, paragraph 298.

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: Just over halfway down, the word “management” appears at the start of the line in quotation marks. The start of that sentence is “Normally I would understand ‘management’ to include the Board”, and I understand you want to insert a “not” so it reads “Normally I would understand ‘management’ not to include the Board”?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: The final typographical one – sorry, again, I’ve gone out of order – is page 150, paragraph 272. I think we can all see what it is already: “In other words, as at 3 June 2024”, that should be “2014”; is that correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: I think that concludes the typographical changes. If we could now turn, please, to page 42, paragraph 87. This sets out that:

“To the best of my recollection, I did not authorise any prosecutions during my time at [Post Office Limited] and, as it would have been an unusual course of action for me professionally, I believe it would have been something I would remember had I done so.”

I understand you want to make a clarification to that, following receipt of further documents from the Inquiry, which you did not have when you drafted the statement?

Christopher Aujard: I do.

Mr Stevens: Could. Make that clarification please?

Christopher Aujard: The full sentence should now read:

“To the best of my recollection, I did not authorise any prosecutions during my time at POL that was based on evidence derived from the Horizon system and any references in this statement to a moratorium on prosecutions is confined to Horizon based prosecutions, unless stated otherwise. I am aware that, towards the end of my time at POL, November 2014, I gave approval to Jarnail Singh to instruct Cartwright King to proceed in the case of Singh and Kaur, a case of theft that did not involve Horizon issues. This case was heard in the Rotherham Magistrates’ Court on 22 January 2015 and should not be confused with a similarly named case brought in the Midlands in 2009.”

Mr Stevens: Thank you. So with those changes in mind could I ask you, please, to turn to page 217 of your statement.

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: Is that your signature?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed.

Mr Stevens: Bearing in mind the changes you just made, are of the contents of your statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed.

Mr Stevens: That stands as your evidence in the Inquiry. It will be published on the website shortly. I am going to ask you some questions about it now. Before I do, I understand you’d like to say a few words?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, I want to say – so I’ll start by saying how deeply sorry I am to the subpostmasters, subpostmistresses and Post Office employees for the anguish and suffering that you and your families have had to endure. I know that, for many people, many people here and for many of you, this has come far too late but I hope that the evidence that I can give today will help get to the heart of what has happened and, in so doing, I hope that that will stop something like this from ever happening again. Thank you.

Mr Stevens: Thank you, Mr Aujard.

I’ll start briefly with your background. You were admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria in Australia?

Christopher Aujard: That’s correct.

Mr Stevens: You were admitted to the roll of solicitors in 1992 – the roll of solicitors in England and Wales?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: You practised as a solicitor for eight years before transferring to become an in-house lawyer?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Before joining the Post Office, your principal areas of practice were Financial Services law and regulation and mergers and acquisitions?

Christopher Aujard: That’s correct.

Mr Stevens: You joined the Post Office Limited as Interim General Counsel on 14 October 2013?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: You held a series of fixed-term contracts with the Post Office until you left in March 2015?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: I want to start with your role as General Counsel. You say it was Interim General Counsel but, while you were in that position, you effectively had the role of General Counsel at Post Office Limited?

Christopher Aujard: I had carriage of that role for the period I was there, on the basis I would be replaced by a permanent successor.

Mr Stevens: We don’t need to turn it up, in your witness statement, for the record, paragraph 32, you say that, necessarily, an Interim General Counsel’s role differs somewhat from that of a permanent General Counsel, particularly in regard to executive matters. You describe it somewhat of a caretaker role, I think it’s fair to put it?

Christopher Aujard: That’s correct.

Mr Stevens: What was your understanding of your responsibilities as General Counsel?

Christopher Aujard: As I say in my statement, the understanding was primarily to ensure that the Board and the officers and employees of POL were informed of legal matters to the extent that they needed to be or it was necessary for them to fulfil their roles, and that I also, at the same time, was responsible for managing a department of lawyers who were, likewise, providing legal advice to POL.

Mr Stevens: If I could ask you just to raise your voice and maybe come closer to the microphone.

Christopher Aujard: I’m sorry.

Mr Stevens: No need to apologise. In advising on legal matters and legal risk, would you accept that a General Counsel should be proactive in identifying areas of legal risk?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yes.

Mr Stevens: Do you accept that the following areas fell within your area of oversight: firstly, the Security and Investigations Teams at Post Office Limited?

Christopher Aujard: Not as a legal matter but, as an executive matter, the Head of the security team reported to me, yes.

Mr Stevens: Why was it not a legal matter?

Christopher Aujard: He was not a lawyer and the activities he undertook were concerned mainly with the safekeeping of physical assets of the Post Office, which I wouldn’t describe as a legal matter.

Mr Stevens: Were you responsible for the Post Office’s review of past convictions of subpostmasters for theft, fraud and false accounting?

Christopher Aujard: So the answer to that question is that the review had been initiated prior to my joining the Post Office and I received, I believe, from recollection, updates as to how that was progressing. It was subject to oversight by Brian Altman KC and I took steps to assure myself that the review was going appropriately.

Mr Stevens: Brian Altman KC was a member of the independent bar, yes?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Not a member of Post Office Limited?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: In terms of the Executive Team, who had oversight within Post Office Limited, did that fall within your remit?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, it would have done, yes.

Mr Stevens: In your statement, you distinguish between risks to Post Office Limited arising from allegations made about the Horizon IT System and the risk of any underlying issues with the robustness of the system. Would you accept that they are connected?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed. From my perspective, the – an allegation relating to the Horizon system could arise in circumstance where there was an underlying fault with that system.

Mr Stevens: Would you accept that you had to have an understanding of whether or not Horizon was robust in order to perform your role as General Counsel?

Christopher Aujard: The answer to that question is somewhat because the system itself an IT finance accounting system and I’m not qualified, clearly, to opine on accounting issues, finance issues, or IT issues. However, as part of the process, I believe I needed to understand, in a general sense, the types of concerns – areas in which concerns might be raised but not have an understanding at any level of detail as to the fundamental operation of that system.

Mr Stevens: But if there was, say, an issue identified by a technical specialist, an issue with the Horizon IT System, you would agree that it would be important for you to know about that?

Christopher Aujard: As I think I say in my witness statement, in circumstances where that gave rise to an allegation and that allegation was one which was – had some degree of legal implication, ie not simply an allegation relating to the font or colour of a particular statement but something which had a legal connection, in investigating or in considering the legal component allegation, I would, believe, have to turn to and seek advice from the IT and Finance Teams as to the issues that were being complained about.

Mr Stevens: So when, for example, you may have been dealing with claims by subpostmasters for compensation on the basis that the Horizon IT System was not reliable, when you were dealing with those, it would be important to know if an IT expert within the business had identified an issue with the underlying system?

Christopher Aujard: The claims handling process was dealt with as part of the Mediation Scheme whilst I was at the Post Office, as part of the process that that scheme operated. Those complaints were investigated, to some extent. Those investigations, if they revealed issues relating to the system, then those issues would have been referred to technical specialists familiar with those, either in the IT Department, the Finance Team or, in a number of cases, those that dealt with Network matters. If, as a result of that, there was an underlying issue, it would have been considered as part of the scheme mediation process.

Mr Stevens: Well, we’ll come on to that and look at it in more detail in due course when we look at your role in the Mediation Scheme. You’ve referred to external advisers, namely Brian Altman KC, already and you say that you relied on the a variety of sources of advice from external legal advisers. Of course, you, being General Counsel, were put in a position to provide the company with legal advice yourself, correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: So, if you received legal advice from an external source, it would be your responsibility to read it; correct?

Christopher Aujard: If it’s a legal advice that relates to a matter that I’ve commissioned, yes. The Department as a whole received legal advice on a daily basis from many different sources and that advice I would not normally read. So, for example, advice in relation to the procurement of the IT system was being dealt with by others in the team; that would not be advice I would review or be involved with.

Mr Stevens: Yes, but if the advice came to you, you would be expected to read it?

Christopher Aujard: In – that is correct. Yes, that is correct.

Mr Stevens: Whilst you may defer to an external lawyer or specialism, would you accept that you would try to critically analyse it and come to your own view on the advice itself?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Stevens: Can we bring up a document, please, POL00138077. So this is a presentation given on 17 January 2014 regarding the Mediation Scheme. Can we please turn to page 4. In the top right, it says, “Core Membership”; what is that describing?

Christopher Aujard: I believe, but can’t be sure, that that is describing the membership of the internal team that was responsible for providing support to the mediation process. However, I can see from that core membership list that that appears to be a point in time description of who was involved then. My recollection is that that subsequently changed after this document was prepared.

Mr Stevens: One of the attendees listed is Andy Parsons and that’s Andrew Parsons of, the name of the firm has changed, but now Womble Bond Dickinson, correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: In your statement – we don’t need to turn it up, but it’s paragraph 37.1, for the record – you say Bond Dickinson was so embedded within POL that, in many ways, they acted as an extension of the in-house Legal Team. Can I ask here, what was Andy Parsons’ role in respect of this scheme at this point?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t think there was a formal or a written document describing his role. He was, from the best of my recollection, involved in many, many important meetings relating to the operation of the scheme and also, as I said in my statement, he was a source of institutional knowledge about what had happened to the Post Office in order for the scheme to be established. So he was both a legal expert and provided legal support and advice, often written advice, institutional knowledge about matters that had occurred in the past, and attended many, many internal meetings.

Mr Stevens: So when you said Womble Bond Dickinson were an extension of the in-house Legal Team, would that include Andy Parsons?

Christopher Aujard: Principally Andy Parsons, I think so.

Mr Stevens: Did his role, in your experience, go beyond that of an arm’s length third party legal adviser?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, he did provide advice on Bond Dickinson, I think now Womble Bond Dickinson, letterhead, unlike a secondee who was part of the team and has formal reporting lines into a company, his formal reporting line was and remained into Womble Bond Dickinson, and he was subject, I believe, to supervision and appraisals, performance reviews, by the appropriate partner at Womble Bond Dickinson, who’s name, I’m afraid, I can’t remember.

Mr Stevens: The advice you received from Womble Bond Dickinson and Andy Parsons, was that limited to formal legal advice or did it include strategic and commercial advice?

Christopher Aujard: It included legal advice, particularly in relation to the establishment of the scheme and the liability of subpostmasters – sorry, the liability that the Post Office should bear under the scheme. It included advice that was strategic about how to approach matters and, to some extent, it also included advice based on his general knowledge of what had happened in the past.

Mr Stevens: I want to start looking at the past convictions and start with your knowledge of criminal law. You say in your statement that you weren’t well versed in the criminal law of England and Wales?

Christopher Aujard: That’s correct.

Mr Stevens: You refer to Jarnail Singh; did you understand him to be well versed in matters of criminal law?

Christopher Aujard: I believe I did when I joined. I thought that he had the technical expertise necessary to advise on matters of criminal law, yes.

Mr Stevens: What did you think of his competence as a lawyer; were you satisfied or dissatisfied?

Christopher Aujard: As I say in my statement, I believe I was satisfied at his core technical competence. My recollection is that he was not – he was not someone I would go to for higher order matters, to do with complex criminal issues. My recollection is also that he was rather underoccupied for much of my time at POL because there were no prosecutions taking place, bar the one that I’ve referenced.

Mr Stevens: When you say a “higher order matter”, what do you mean?

Christopher Aujard: So matters to do with the review of past cases and review of matters coming out of the Mediation Scheme was something that I referred to Cartwright King for.

Mr Stevens: You’ve referred to Mr Singh being underoccupied. You were aware of his history as a prosecutor with Royal Mail Group and Post Office Limited?

Christopher Aujard: Correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: Did you ever discuss with Mr Singh whether he was aware of bugs, errors or defects in the Horizon IT System?

Christopher Aujard: I’ve no recollection of any specific discussion with Mr Singh about that. However, it was a very small, open-plan office space. The matters that were being considered as part of the Mediation Scheme were well known within the Legal team, so I can’t recall whether, at any particular time, I had a specific conversation with him or he had a specific conversation with me about bugs, errors or defects in the scheme – in Horizon.

Mr Stevens: Given his past history involving Horizon cases, do you think you would have asked him directly about bugs, errors or defects in the Horizon IT System and whether he was aware of them?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that, as part of the general induction into the Post Office, I would have met every member of the team and talked to them about matters which were of relevance to them and I cannot recall, I’m afraid, whether there was any specific discussion with him about bugs, errors or defects.

Mr Stevens: Can you recall anyone in the Legal team telling you of their own personal knowledge of bugs, errors or defects in the Horizon IT System?

Christopher Aujard: No, indeed the opposite. I believe that when I joined the Post Office the message that I received, not just from the Legal Team but from other part of POL, were that there were no bugs, errors or defects, apart from the ones identified in the Second Sight Report.

Mr Stevens: When you say “other parts of Post Office”, what other parts?

Christopher Aujard: So that would be principally from those involved in the Network, fellow members of the Executive Committee, and –

Mr Stevens: Can you name names, please?

Christopher Aujard: So the names – I can’t, I’m afraid, recall the names of everybody there. Kevin Gilliland would have been one, Angela van den Bogerd would have been another and they’re probably the two principal ones, I think.

Mr Stevens: Going back to your knowledge of criminal law, you’ve said that you were aware that – I’m just going to say Post Office, even though there was a split.

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: You were aware that Post Office had brought private prosecutions in the past?

Christopher Aujard: I was aware, in a general sense, of the prosecutions being brought. Again, as I say in my witness statement, I was very surprised – very, very surprised – when I discovered it was done as part of a general power for any corporation or individual to bring private prosecutions.

Mr Stevens: We’ll come to that. Just taking it in stages: you were aware that the Post Office prosecuted subpostmasters –

Christopher Aujard: That’s correct.

Mr Stevens: – for theft, fraud offences or false accounting?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Presumably, you were aware of the criminal standard of proof, namely that the jury had to be sure of guilt to convict?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: You understood that Post Office owed duties of disclosure when it prosecuted cases?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: You understood that the Post Office was required to disclose documents it possessed or had access to that might reasonably be considered capable of undermining the case for the prosecution or of assisting the case for the accused?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: You were aware that the Post Office owed a duty of disclosure following conviction?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: You were aware that Post Office relied on data generated by Horizon to prove its case in those prosecutions –

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: – and, as such, it was essential that the data generated by Horizon was reliable in those prosecutions?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Did you know that, in some cases, Post Office Limited had relied on expert evidence to demonstrate the integrity of the Horizon IT System?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, when I joined the Post Office, I was provided a briefing, I believe, on my second day by Cartwright King, outlining the matters you’ve just discussed and the history of prosecutions and the issues that had been raised in relation to Gareth Jenkins.

Mr Stevens: So you were aware of Gareth Jenkins and you’re aware that the Post Office had served written statements from Gareth Jenkins in some prosecutions relevant to the integrity of the Horizon IT System?

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure I was aware that they were written statements but I was aware that he’d been used as an expert witness.

Mr Stevens: Let’s look at POL00108136. That’s POL00108136, page 2, please. If we could start on the first page. Is this the briefing note you were referring to earlier, produced by Cartwright King?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed.

Mr Stevens: If we could now go to page 2, thank you, and to paragraph 3. It says:

“To this end prosecutors have relied upon the statements of both [Post Office Limited] Investigators and, where expert evidence is required, that of Fujitsu Services Limited. In each case a formal statement (and testimony, if required) explaining [Horizon Online] and those functions of [Horizon Online] relevant to the particular prosecution is provided by the Lead Investigator. Where it is necessary to provide evidence and testimony dealing with the integrity of [Horizon Online] and/or to explain technical aspects of the system and data, we have relied upon [it says Dr Gareth Jenkins], an expert witness provided by Fujitsu.”

Looking back now, do you think at the time you were aware that written statements had been produced by Gareth Jenkins?

Christopher Aujard: It’s quite possible I was aware of the written statements at the time but I have no recollection now as to whether it was written or oral expert evidence or witness evidence that he was providing.

Mr Stevens: You were aware, weren’t you, that an expert witness in a criminal trial owed a positive duty of disclosure?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: And that duty consisted of or included a duty to inform the prosecutor of any material that cast doubt on his or her opinion or arguably assist the defence?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Thank you.

What, if any, knowledge do you have of the criminal law of Scotland?

Christopher Aujard: No knowledge of the criminal law of Scotland.

Mr Stevens: What about Northern Ireland?

Christopher Aujard: No knowledge of Northern Ireland.

Mr Stevens: What was your understanding of Post Office’s prosecutorial policy in Scotland?

Christopher Aujard: My understanding was that the prosecutions in Scotland were brought by the Procurator Fiscal and that, in Northern Ireland, a similar arrangement was in place where the Post Office was not bringing its own private prosecutions.

Mr Stevens: How did you satisfy yourself that Post Office Limited was acting in a compliant manner with the relevant laws of Scotland in relation to criminal law and past convictions?

Christopher Aujard: I believe at the time I joined, I had a meeting with – or shortly after joining – a meeting with both Cartwright King and Sir Brian Altman KC, and my recollection of those meetings is that they satisfied me that there were no ongoing matters that required positive attention by me or, indeed, by Post Office to deal with jurisdictions outside of the ones that were being dealt with. In other words, I would have had a question and answer session with them and expected and encouraged them, as the incoming new General Counsel, with no knowledge of what had happened previously, to identify any outstanding matters, recommendations or actions that I should take, having newly arrived in that post.

Mr Stevens: So, in summary, is it fair to say, in respect of Scotland and Northern Ireland, your understanding of Post Office Limited’s compliance with the laws of those jurisdictions was entirely reliant on Cartwright King and Brian Altman KC?

Christopher Aujard: And, indeed – I wouldn’t say entirely reliant – and, indeed, on internal briefings I would have received from others at the Post Office when I joined, to identify issues that were currently live. There was no – to the best of my recollection, no such live issues were identified as and when I joined.

Mr Stevens: Please can we bring up POL00006357. This is an advice well known to the Inquiry, that of Simon Clarke, on 15 July 2013 concerning Gareth Jenkins. This advice was provided to you with the Cartwright King briefing; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so, yes.

Mr Stevens: Did you read it when you received it?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that I would have read – I believe this is an annex, one of six annexes, to a briefing note. I’m sure that I would have reviewed the briefing note, looked into the annexes for relevant issues and, to the extent that they had been flagged, I would have followed those up at the time. I cannot now recall whether I read this in detail or simply by way of a “This is a piece of background information you should be aware of and, therefore, read it in that light”.

I suspect, but don’t know, it was more the latter than the former, “Here is some background information that you should be aware of but which does not contain live issues”.

Mr Stevens: Let’s go back to the briefing note, actually, if that’s what you read first. It’s POL00108136, please. If we could turn to page 10, please – I’m sorry, I’ve given the incorrect reference. Page 5, please, if we could go to paragraph 10, sorry. Thank you. It says:

“Dr Jenkins’ failure to mention the [Horizon Online] defects in his expert witness statements or to [Post Office Limited] and [Post Office Limited] prosecutors rendered his written statements inaccurate and misleading. That failure amounted to a breach of Dr Jenkins’ duty to inform the defence and the court (and [Post Office Limited]) of those matters – see paragraph 6 above. This was an important and far-reaching failure the consequences of which are only now beginning to crystallise. Of primary importance was the fact that, had [Post Office Limited] been possessed of this material during the currency of any particular prosecution, it would have undoubtedly been disclosable to the defence pursuant to [Post Office Limited’s] duty of disclosure.”

It’s quite a startling paragraph, isn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, it is.

Mr Stevens: What were your views when you read it on the seriousness of this issue?

Christopher Aujard: I believe my views would have been informed by the general briefing, which was that this was an historic issue – recently discovered but nonetheless historic issue and that was being dealt with as part of the overall process that had been put in place to review cases by Cartwright King with – under the supervision of Brian Altman KC.

Mr Stevens: You said it was “historic”. The middle sentence says, “This was an important and far-reaching failure, the consequences of which are only now beginning to crystallise”.

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: Do you think that can sensibly be described as “historic”?

Christopher Aujard: The issue, the failure, I believe, is historic and that’s, I believe, how it was described to me at the time: a recent historic failure, which will continue to have implications for the Post Office in the future.

Mr Stevens: Given the significance of this issue, do you think the actual advice on which it was based, the Simon Clarke Advice, is a background document or should you have read it in close detail?

Christopher Aujard: This the 16 July document.

Mr Stevens: 15 July?

Christopher Aujard: The 15 July document. I believed that, at the time, when I received this briefing, that I was given assurances that these issues, identified in this briefing note, were now all being addressed.

Mr Stevens: Who gave those you those assurances?

Christopher Aujard: Well, my belief, which may of course be based on an incorrect understanding, would have been at the meeting I had in – when I first joined the Post Office with Cartwright King, and I’m afraid I don’t know the date of that meeting. Perhaps another way of expressing that is to say, when I joined the Post Office, with no knowledge of criminal law, there were no flags raised to me saying that there are ongoing matters that need to be addressed, other than the ones that are already being addressed as part of the review process being undertaken by Cartwright King and Brian Altman.

Mr Stevens: So let’s just break that down. Is what you’re saying that there were issues in the past related to Mr Jenkins giving evidence, of which you were made aware?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: That’s what you’re describing as historic?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, correct, yes, yes.

Mr Stevens: But the review remained ongoing?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Do you think the fact that Mr Jenkins was alleged to be in breach of his duty as an expert was something that ought to have been disclosed in itself?

Christopher Aujard: At the time, I don’t think I turned my mind to whether that needs to be disclosed.

Mr Stevens: Why not?

Christopher Aujard: The reason I believe that to be the case is that I was – received oral briefings from Cartwright King, from others in the Post Office, discussions with Jarnail Singh and in none of those discussions was it ever put to me that the fact that he was in breach of his duty was itself a disclosable matter or, if I had turned my mind to that issue, I believe that I would have thought that the review process that was being undertaken by Cartwright King, which was described to me as extensive, would be dealing with this type of disclosure matter.

Mr Stevens: Let’s start on whether or not you did turn your mind to it. I think your evidence was you didn’t?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Do you accept that this matter fell squarely within your responsibilities as General Counsel –

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yes.

Mr Stevens: – and the advice you received you ought to have approached critically and come to your own view on?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe that I would have been able to come to a view on the extent of disclosure obligations beyond that which was presented to me by Cartwright King.

Mr Stevens: Would you accept that it was a mistake not to have turned your mind to this issue?

Christopher Aujard: With the benefit of hindsight and knowing how events have developed since then, I accept that it is something that I could have pressed Cartwright King harder on and obtained more detailed answers.

At the time it seemed to me that I was being given a full and frank information briefing about matters that I, as a General Counsel – incoming General Counsel needed to be alerted to and actions I needed to take.

Mr Stevens: Why with hindsight? I mean, this was a matter of a review about past criminal convictions, wasn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: It was of the utmost importance?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: This was, I think you accepted, a startling allegation that had been made?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Why did it require hindsight for you to say it was something you needed to turn your mind to?

Christopher Aujard: The “with hindsight”, I think, references the fact that, from the line of questioning, a discern that there was no such disclosure made and, if that’s the case, then I’m very sorry that it’s something that has turned out that way. At the time, however, I was firmly of the opinion that I had been told about all matters that I needed to take actions about.

So it was not something that was firmly or, to the best of my recollection, even indicated to me in a vague way that was an ongoing issue that needed addressing.

Mr Stevens: Can we bring back up POL00108136, please. Back to page 5, please. Paragraph 8 describes the Helen Rose Report and it says, at the end – it refers to an issue we don’t need to concern ourselves with. The second point is:

“That issue was resolved: the importance of the report, however, was this: it was rather suggestive of the proposition that Dr Jenkins then knew of other Horizon issues related to events which occurred in January and February of 2013. The effect (if not the substance) of the report was to cast a further shadow over about the [Horizon Online] and those who had asserted its reliability in court documents and in court.”

So one of the issues that’s said to arise from the Helen Rose report is it further cast doubt on Gareth Jenkins; do you accept that?

Christopher Aujard: Yes. Yes, indeed.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn to paragraph 14, please. It describes the review process and it says:

“The purpose of the Review process was defined as being to identify those cases where, had we been possessed of the Second Sight and Helen Rose reports during the currency of the prosecution, would we have then been required to disclose some or all of that material to the defence.”

Why did you think it was sufficient simply to disclose those two documents and not to go further and refer to the allegations made against Gareth Jenkins?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe that I did turn my mind to that. At the time, this was given in the context of a briefing to me as of current matters and, to the extent that there were additional issues that needed to be raised, I would very much have expected that Cartwright King bring that out to me in a briefing in very clear terms.

Mr Stevens: We’ll move on to Mr Altman’s advice starting with POL00006581, please. So this is Brian Altman’s advice, general review of the review Cartwright King were carrying out on 15 October 2013. That’s the date of the advice. Do you recall reading this?

Christopher Aujard: Sorry, what was the date again?

Mr Stevens: 15 October 2013.

Christopher Aujard: So this would have been on my second day at the Post Office. I do recall receiving the document on that day, yes.

Mr Stevens: If we go to page 5, please. We see there’s an executive summary and then, over the page at (x), Brian Altman says:

“I agree that Gareth Jenkins is tainted and his position as an expert witness is untenable. Thus, a new expert should be identified as soon as is practicable.”

So Mr Altman had been asked to advise, effectively provide a second opinion, on what Cartwright King had said, yes?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, as I understand it, yes, that’s correct. That was before my time, but yes.

Mr Stevens: His advice was consistent or in agreement with Cartwright King?

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn, please, to page 45, and paragraph 141 onwards. We see Mr Altman is talking about failures of an expert, with their obligations. You would have read this section, presumably?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so, yes.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn over the page, please, to paragraph 144. Again, this says, on the Helen Rose report:

“In isolation, this may not mean much, but coupled with the fact that it was Mr Jenkins who furnished the information about the two defects to [Second Sight], it lends itself to the reasonable interpretation that his true level of knowledge about the integrity of the system in general, and two defects in particular, was far greater than he was prepared to reduce to writing in his several witness statements during the material period of time.”

So you knew that piece of advice from Brian Altman?

Christopher Aujard: Yes and, in general terms, I knew that Mr Jenkins was tainted as a witness. That was made clear to me on joining the Post Office.

Mr Stevens: Can we go over the page, please, to paragraph 149. This goes on to say that:

“As yet no new expert has been identified, far less appointed, to replace Mr Jenkins, who is and was uniquely placed to give evidence about Horizon, which is an unhappy state of affairs about which little can be done. The Jenkins problem, even when a new witness is found, may not be at an end, because he will doubtless still remain employed by [Fujitsu Services Limited], yet not be asked to report on, or be called by [Post Office Limited] as a witness to speak to, Horizon’s integrity.”

What did you understand of that advice at the time?

Christopher Aujard: I understood it to say that he could not be relied upon or used in the future. I’m not sure what I understood by the reference to “he will remain employed by Fujitsu” and I’m not sure what was meant by the reference “yet not be asked to report on or called by POL as a witness”. However, I should stress, that’s from reading the document now. I have no clear recollection of what I thought at the time when I read those words.

Mr Stevens: Can you see that there may have been a concern that a new witness or a new expert may be reliant on Gareth Jenkins to provide their own evidence?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed. I can see that. Yes.

Mr Stevens: Can you see how that could cause difficulties for a prosecution going forward?

Christopher Aujard: For future prosecution cases, that’s correct, yes?

Mr Stevens: Yes?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, I can see that, for future prosecutions relating on – that were based on evidence derived from the Horizon system, that would be an issue.

Mr Stevens: And potentially derived from Gareth Jenkins?

Christopher Aujard: And potentially derived from Gareth Jenkins, yes.

Mr Stevens: Do you think that would have been your understanding of this paragraph at the time?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I have no clear recollection of that paragraph.

Mr Stevens: Thank you. Can we please bring up POL00027150, and if we could go to page 2., this is a paper for the Post Office Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee, titled “Prosecutions Policy”. We can see, just to orientate yourself, it’s page 6 of the document. At the bottom, please. Thank you. This was a report you prepared on 9 November 2013?

Christopher Aujard: It would have been prepared by a number of people but my name would have been put to it.

Mr Stevens: You would have had to satisfy yourself that it was accurate?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Did you say “correct”, sorry?

Christopher Aujard: Correct, yeah, sorry.

Mr Stevens: Was this one of the first reports you would have drafted for a Board subcommittee?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so. This is 8 November. I’d been in post for about three weeks.

Mr Stevens: Could we go, please, to page 2, paragraph 2.1, it says:

“In the last (October) CEO report to the Board, an update was given on Project Sparrow in which it was noted that ‘… a paper [will be submitted] to the November ARC reviewing our overall policy for investigating and prosecuting future cases’. For convenience, a copy of the relevant section of that report is set out at Appendix 1.”

This is the update you were providing.

Can we go, please, to appendix 1 which is at page 7. It says, “Project Sparrow” and the third bullet point down refers to Cartwright King and the review of past prosecutions. It says:

“Our external firm of criminal solicitors, Cartwright King (CK), has now completed a review of 301 cases subject to past prosecution to identify whether we have a duty to disclose the findings of the Second Sight Report and associated issues.”

What were the associated issues?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I’ve no clear recollection of what that phrase referred to.

Mr Stevens: Do you think it referred to Gareth Jenkins and the allegations that he was in breach of his expert duties?

Christopher Aujard: It may well have done. I believe, from my understanding at the time when I joined the Post Office, that Cartwright King were dealing with disclosure of all, of all relevant matters to those that had previously been convicted.

Mr Stevens: If “associated issues” is referring to a matter such as Gareth Jenkins and the allegation he breached his expert duties, do you think the phrase “associated issues” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there?

Christopher Aujard: No, I don’t think so. I think that is a reflection of my general understanding of matters at that time. It was – I was dealing with all matters relating to the disclosures and criminal cases.

Mr Stevens: But as a report from the CEO, would you expect a matter such as an allegation that an expert Post Office had been relying on was in breach of their duties, matters such as that, would you expect that to be described as “associated issues” or said expressly?

Christopher Aujard: I would have thought that the paragraph has been written in such a way to say – to reflect my then understanding that Cartwright King were dealing with all manner of matters relating to past disclosures. Now, that understanding may well have been incorrect but I don’t think that the wording there in any way indicates to the contrary.

Mr Stevens: Well, let me put it another way. When you came to draft this report in November 2013, did you know whether the Board or a subcommittee of the Board had been told of the allegation that Gareth Jenkins was in breach of his expert duties?

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure that I was aware at that time, no. I don’t think I was aware of what the Board had and had not been told.

Mr Stevens: Do you think you would have found that out when you were preparing a report for a Board subcommittee?

Christopher Aujard: I think that somebody – I would have expected that to have been brought to my attention, if it was the case and if it was relevant to this paper.

Mr Stevens: So you would have expected what to be brought –

Christopher Aujard: I would have expected someone to say the board is or is not aware of something and this is material, and they should know. If they didn’t know already.

Mr Stevens: Was it not incumbent on you to find out what the Board is or isn’t aware of before you update them?

Christopher Aujard: My understanding of being three weeks into the job was I was heavily reliant on others to tell me what had gone on previously. I don’t believe that that issue was, to the best of my recollection, ever drawn to my attention in that stark manner.

Mr Stevens: So you can’t assist at this time with whether the Board knew of, say, the 15 July Simon Clarke Advice?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I just don’t know. I just don’t know.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn back, please, to page 2 and, if we go down to paragraph 2.3 – sorry, it should start at 2.2. It says:

“Since that update, Brian Altman [KC] has prepared two separate reports, one commenting on ‘[Post Office Limited’s] strategy and process for referencing past and current criminal prosecutions in light of Second Sight’s Interim Report’, [and it says] (the ‘backward looking report’) …”

That was the advice of Brian Altman we just went to, wasn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: Paragraph 2.3, it says:

“The headline conclusion of the backward looking report is that the ‘… review [of the cases that have been prosecuted over the last few years] is fundamentally sound’ and that no ‘systemic or fundamental flaws in the review process’ were detected. In addition, a number of relatively small procedural recommendations were made regarding matters such as document retention etc.”

Do you think that’s a full and fair account of the Brian Altman Advice, dated 15 October 2013?

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure that I’m – without comparing – looking fully at the context in which this was prepared, I’m not sure that I was able to comment on that.

Mr Stevens: Well, let me put something particularly to you, then. Why didn’t you refer to the allegation against Mr Jenkins when summarising this advice?

Christopher Aujard: As I said before, my understanding, upon joining the Post Office, was that all matters that had pre-dated my joining, were currently being dealt with as part of a review process undertaken by Cartwright King, with the oversight of Brian Altman.

Mr Stevens: But that’s what was happening on the review, that’s a different matter to what the Board knew.

Christopher Aujard: And I’m afraid I had no knowledge at that stage – well, I don’t know whether I did or did not – I had no recollection of the Board’s state of mind as to what it had been told and what it hadn’t been told upon joining the Post Office nor, indeed, I would have thought, at that stage, which is about three weeks into the job.

Mr Stevens: Do you think you should have referred to Brian Altman’s views on Gareth Jenkins or the Simon Clarke Advice in this report?

Christopher Aujard: I believe but can’t be sure that my recollection there is that – let’s put this another way. My working understanding at the time was that these matters had been all dealt with prior to my joining the Post Office and that there had been a number of issues raised that they’d gone through appropriate governance, appropriate people informed and that steps were taken to deal with them.

Mr Stevens: But the review was ongoing?

Christopher Aujard: Correct. The steps were taken to deal with them. Correct.

Mr Stevens: So was your position in respect of the review that it had been set up and it was just to take its course?

Christopher Aujard: That was my understanding when I joined.

Mr Stevens: You weren’t to look at that review critically and decide whether or not it was satisfactory?

Christopher Aujard: My understanding from those in the Post Office was that it had been critically assessed and that it was adequate and appropriate for the purpose it was trying to perform.

Mr Stevens: That’s notwithstanding the fact that you received – well, I think you said the first day of your job or second day, the Brian Altman Advice commenting on the adequacy of the review?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, and I believe the overarching take away from that report is that the – it is adequate.

Mr Stevens: Just before we break, page 3, please, paragraph 2.7 and 2.8. I don’t need to read it out but this refers to the considerations about recovery when determining whether or not to prosecute.

Christopher Aujard: Mm.

Mr Stevens: Were you aware, within the business, of discussions about whether or not recovery of assets was a relevant factor to take into account in whether or not to continue Post Office’s prosecutorial role?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe at that stage I was aware of discussions within the business about the use of the Proceeds of Crime Act to expedite recovery of assets but I was concerned to make it clear to the – I think this was a committee paper – the committee – that that was not something that should be taken into account.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn the page, please. If you go to “Options Considered”, at the bottom, 4.3, please – thank you – there’s four options set out for consideration there, the last being “Ceasing all prosecutorial activity”. If we go over the page to page 5, paragraph 5.1, that’s the proposal you recommended?

Christopher Aujard: Correct. Option (d), which was to cease prosecutorial activity but coupled with a Business Improvement Programme.

Mr Stevens: Why did you make that recommend?

Christopher Aujard: So this is partly informed by both a personal view and a professional view. As regards to professional view, I did not believe that prosecuting was the appropriate way for commercial organisations to deal with their agents, their – or their employees, for that matter. My background context to that comment is I had come from a Financial Services background where these types of matters are usually dealt with in a civil court, or dealt with by other means, certainly for lesser issues, may be dealt with by means of an HR sort of process. That’s the professional view.

And the personal view, I felt that the criminal prosecutions cause great distress and anxiety and didn’t have a place in a business such as the Post Office.

Mr Stevens: To what extent did the difficulties faced by the position of Gareth Jenkins as an expert influence your recommend to cease prosecutorial activities?

Christopher Aujard: Not at all. Not at all. I don’t believe they influenced by position at all. I think I would have written the same words, had I not known about Gareth Jenkins.

Mr Stevens: Before we break, you said earlier and in your witness statement, you saw your role as one of caretaker, insofar as executive decisions were carried out?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: One of your first papers, I think, to a subcommittee, was to advocate for the Post Office ending –

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: – a centuries-old role in prosecutions; is it fair to say you didn’t shy away from making suggestions to change executive policy?

Christopher Aujard: In certain areas, I think that’s correct. In general terms, no. In general terms, it was to have carriage of the direction of travel or take – issue the direction of travel the Post Office course was set upon. On this particular issue, however, I felt very strongly and that’s why I put the words I did in that paper.

Mr Stevens: Thank you, sir. That’s probably a good time to take the lunch break, according to your indication.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, certainly. So we’ll start again at 1.40.

Mr Stevens: Yes, sir. Thank you.

(12.37 pm)

(The Short Adjournment)

(1.40 pm)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you.

Mr Stevens: Thank you, I will carry on.

Please can we bring up page 201 of the witness statement and the bottom, please, 363. Mr Aujard, just before the break, you were discussing your paper to the ARC Committee and your statement says:

“My note of 8 November 2013 was then discussed at a meeting of the ARC on 19 November 2013.”

You refer to there being concerns about a change in policy of prosecutions:

“… ‘raising questions on previous prosecutions’, and … an obvious reluctance to cease prosecutions as ‘in their view this acted as a deterrent’.”

You say:

“I do have some (very limited) recollection of this meeting, and of Paula Vennells resiling from what I recall [Executive Committee’s] view to have been in the face of ARC’s views, saying that the proposal was not that [Post Office Limited] would ‘never bring prosecutions, but that [Post Office Limited] would be more circumspect in the cases it chose to take’ …”

Could you just summarise what the difference of opinion was between the ExCo and Paula Vennells?

Christopher Aujard: So my recollection is that the ExCo were in favour of ceasing prosecutions entirely but, when the matter was discussed – when that proposition was discussed at the committee, Paula interjected or made the comment that proposal (d), proposition (d), to cease everything entirely, should not be taken as what I’d intended it to be, “never bring prosecutions”, but rather there should be limited – a limited prosecutorial activity, in that Post Office should continue to take some prosecutions.

Mr Stevens: Did that include prosecutions relying on Horizon data?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe it was specific at the time.

Mr Stevens: Did she say what her basis was for that difference?

Christopher Aujard: No, I’m afraid I’ve got no recollection of that meeting, other than the limited recollection of that comment.

Mr Stevens: Do you know if Paula Vennells was aware of the 15 July 2015 Simon Clarke Advice or the issues in it?

Christopher Aujard: No, I’m afraid I don’t know.

Mr Stevens: Following this meeting did you inform anyone on the board about the Simon Clarke advice of 15 July 2013?

Christopher Aujard: No, I’m afraid that I had assumed that this advice had been – or at least the contents of it had been communicated to the Board prior to my arrival.

Mr Stevens: Is it the same for this Helen Rose report?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yes.

Mr Stevens: Thank you. I want to now look at the review itself. Can we go to POL00006581, please. It’s back to Brian Altman KC’s advice, which we went to at the start. Can we turn to page 26, please, paragraph 71. We see that Brian Altman advised that the proposed start date for the review, 1 January 2010, was both a logical and practicable approach to take. Do you remember reading that?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t have a specific recollection of reading that but I’ve reacquainted myself with it as part of this process.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn to page 42, please, and paragraph 130. It refers to an earlier telephone conference, and says:

“… a question had been floated about the Falkirk issue, as one example, as potentially bearing on the Mediation Scheme. The Falkirk event was raised in the Misra case. In the course of Gareth Jenkins’ evidence in Misra, Mr Jenkins gave evidence about a Horizon event, which had occurred at Callendar Square post office in Falkirk in 2005, whereby information recorded on one terminal was not being correctly passed to another within the branch, creating a receipts and payments mismatch. A software fix of the problem was distributed into the system in March 2006 as part of a fairly major functional change and, therefore, post-March 2006, the Falkirk defect was no longer an issue.”

So, based on this paragraph, can we take the following from it: firstly, that an event or issue called the Falkirk event arose at the Callendar Square post office in 2005?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: But we’re not sure when in 2005?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Was that correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Thank you. A software fix was distributed in March 2006?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: So post-March 2006 it was thought that the Falkirk event couldn’t arise. Do you accept there was no indication as to when the bug that referred to, or the Falkirk event, when that first arose?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: So, assuming favourably that it arose in 2005, it was live between 2005 and March 2006?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Why, then, did the review have a start date of 1 January 2010?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid that I don’t – I can’t answer that question. I don’t know – it pre-dates my joining the Post Office. I don’t know why that date of 2010 was chosen, other than it probably coincided with the introduction of Horizon Online but, beyond that, I’m afraid wouldn’t know.

Mr Stevens: But, again, this lands on your desk in the first few days. Did you not think it was incumbent to review it and consider whether the advice therein was appropriate?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, I did at the time and I believe I did review this advice. I also believe that I talked to Cartwright King and others in the office who were aware of historic issues to ascertain from them what, if any, further actions needed to be taken and, I think I said before the break, in none of those discussions was it raised that there were currently live issues or issues that needed to be dealt with. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that, now you’ve pointed out that paragraph, that that should have been a line of inquiry I could have gone down but, at the time, in those first few days, when I had no formal handover from my predecessor and was relying very heavily, in fact, almost – well, very heavily on external advisers and internal members of staff to tell me what was a current and live issue, I’m afraid that just wasn’t something that was flagged to me.

Mr Stevens: We’ve heard about Cartwright King there, the external advisers?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: When you say “internal” –

Christopher Aujard: Internal.

Mr Stevens: – who are you referring to?

Christopher Aujard: Internal, so that would have been Jarnail Singh, as the criminal lawyer. I would have thought he – this is supposition because I wasn’t there, obviously, prior to my joining but, matters such as these, I would fully have expected him to bring them to my very firm attention, very clearly, upon joining.

Mr Stevens: Did you talk to Lesley Sewell in the IT Department?

Christopher Aujard: Not immediately in my first short period, no. I think I probably met her, by way of introduction, in the first few weeks but I couldn’t say exactly when.

Mr Stevens: Did you discuss with her this Falkirk issue?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe I did at the time, no.

Mr Stevens: Why not?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that during the first few meetings, as with any entry to any organisation, I would be focused on understanding what they do, understanding the scope of the person’s capability and what their areas of responsibility were, what the current live issues were for her. I have no recollection during that meeting of this issue being discussed.

Mr Stevens: Do you have any recollection of it being discussed with her in any future meeting?

Christopher Aujard: I can’t think of anything where this issue came up in a discussion with her.

Mr Stevens: We have here the Falkirk issue, known as the Callendar Square bug. The Second Sight Interim Report referred to two bugs in Horizon Online.

Christopher Aujard: Mm.

Mr Stevens: Did you think that Post Office would have had access to documents relevant to any of those three bugs?

Christopher Aujard: Turning my mind to that question now, I don’t think I turned my mind to that question at the time but I would have assumed that the Second Sight Report was based on an internal – an investigation of matters and that some of those matters were documented, yes. But I must say I never expressly turned my mind to what informed Second Sight in their investigations.

Mr Stevens: Do you think it was incumbent on you to turn your mind to that, as General Counsel with oversight for a review into past disclosure failings?

Christopher Aujard: I think in the context in which it was at the time and then in the way which things were put to me at the time, which were very much along the lines of, “There have been issues in the past, they have been dealt with, there are no further matters that you, as General Counsel, need to be aware of”, I don’t believe that I would have, in those circumstances, turned my mind, or at least anyone else in my shoes, at that stage, would have turned their minds to enquire further, having been given those assurances.

Mr Stevens: So is your evidence to the Inquiry that, at the time, you thought you were satisfied that the only disclosable documents were the Second Sight Interim Report and the Helen Rose Report?

Christopher Aujard: And any other matter which was as ascertained as part of the review work that was being undertaken. So, for example, Cartwright King were, to the best of my knowledge, reviewing 300-odd cases, if something came up as part of that process, for example a matter in one case that wasn’t disclosed in another, I would have thought that if there was anything in there, that that would have come up, I would have been informed of that, yes.

Mr Stevens: So that had to be flagged to you by Cartwright King?

Christopher Aujard: Cartwright King. I think, as I said before the break, my understanding, which is clearly incorrect, my own understanding at the time I joined, was historic issues had arisen, Cartwright King had put in place a process to sift all the cases to ensure appropriate slower was made, and none of these additional issues were raised to me by them at the time.

Mr Stevens: Would you accept it is a failing not to have searched for further documents that may have been relevant to those bugs, to which Post Office had access?

Christopher Aujard: So I accept there was a duty on the Post Office, as the prosecutor, to ensure that all relevant material was disclosed to those that had been convicted. I also accept that the – as part of that process, it would have fallen within, at that stage, the remit of the Legal Team. It would have fallen in the remit of the so-called Wednesday morning hub meetings, which were, to the best of my knowledge, being undertaken at the time, and it also would have fallen in the remit of those in the Security Team who had also had knowledge of these matters.

So, to answer your question directly, I believe there was a shared responsibility to ensure that historic matters were disclosed. However, I think, as I’ve said before, my working assumption on joining the Post Office was that appropriate processes had been in place and were now in place to deal with those issues.

Mr Stevens: When you say it’s a shared responsibility, do you take a share of that responsibility?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, I do. Yes, of course.

Mr Stevens: Do you accept that you were the person with oversight of the teams you referred to?

Christopher Aujard: Sorry, of?

Mr Stevens: You were the person with the oversight or accountability for the teams you referred to: the Security Team and the Legal Team?

Christopher Aujard: I didn’t have oversight. I had reporting line, as I said, from John Scott in the Security Team. I would have felt that he should have reported to me, if there were any issues of this nature. Similarly, Jarnail in the Legal Team, I felt he should have reported to me if there were issues of this nature that needed to be reporting. And, in that sense, I did have oversight, yes.

Mr Stevens: At this time, were you focused on other matters more within your area of expertise, like Financial Services rather than this review?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, I perhaps haven’t made it clear but in – upon joining the Post Office, this was one of a very large number of matters, pressing matters which needed to be dealt with and it didn’t, therefore, occupy much of my time for those – well, it wasn’t the main focus of my activities because there were other pressing matters to deal with.

Mr Stevens: Should it have been the main focus?

Christopher Aujard: It wasn’t put to me as such, no, not at the time.

Mr Stevens: But in your view, as a legal professional, dealing with a review of past convictions, do you think it should have been your main focus?

Christopher Aujard: I believe at the time I gave it the focus which I thought it needed to do the job properly and, if I failed in that regard, then, you know, that is something for which I apologise. But, at the time, in the circumstances, I believed I was dealing with matters in an appropriate matter, as informed by the information that I’d received from those that had more background and more detail than I did.

Mr Stevens: I want to move on. I’m going to go slightly out of chronological order and look at something called Project Zebra. This, for background, was in April/May time 2014, so the Mediation Scheme was up and running. I want to start by looking at some advice from Linklaters. It’s POL00107317, please. This was advice from Linklaters to Post Office Limited to assist with legal matters relating to the recoverability or the ability of subpostmasters to recover in the Mediation Scheme; is that correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn to page 3, please, paragraph 2.3. At the end, it says:

“We note that there is, so far as we understand it, no objective report which describes and addresses the use and reliability of Horizon. We do think that such a report would be helpful, though there is a decision to be made about how broad and/or thorough it needs to be.”

Effectively, this is the source of the recommendation to get a report, which became known as Project Zebra; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Could we please turn to page 10, thank you, down to paragraph 5.34. It says:

“Even without the baseline report which Second Sight should have produced …”

Just pausing there, Linklaters criticised the reports produced by Second Sight, and that’s the context of that comment, isn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: It suggested there should have been a baseline report on Horizon. It goes on to say:

“… it seems to be accepted generally that there are no systemic weaknesses in the Horizon system. This much has been made plain by …”

Then it lists three matters. The second we see – sorry, the first point we see, it says:

“We understand that a Dr Gareth Jenkins of Fujitsu provided expert reports for the Post Office in several criminal cases. These reports dealt with the Horizon system. He gave oral evidence in only one case (that of Seema Misra). That case resulted in a conviction. In all other cases the fact that he was not required to give oral evidence strongly suggests to us that there was no substantive challenge to his evidence.”

Do you think, if someone was reading that paragraph, they would take less reassurance from it if they were aware of the matters raised in the Simon Clarke Advice of 15 July 2013?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed.

Mr Stevens: That document can come down for the moment. Thank you.

The advice as was subsequently presented to the board, wasn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: The –

Mr Stevens: I’m so sorry, that was an imprecise question.

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: The Linklaters advice –

Christopher Aujard: Yes, it was indeed, yes.

Mr Stevens: – and you presented it?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, with Christa Band, who I think attended from Linklaters.

Mr Stevens: When you presented it to the Board, did you say that “We have legal advice from Mr Simon Clarke that alleges that Mr Gareth Jenkins breached his duty as an expert”?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe I did, no.

Mr Stevens: Do you think you should have done, to put some context on to the paragraph we just went to?

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure that I turned my mind to that, at the time. The focus of this report was on other matters.

Mr Stevens: The Board subsequently requested or authorised Project Zebra to go ahead and that was with Deloitte.

Christopher Aujard: Mm.

Mr Stevens: You were involved, I believe, in putting together the retainer for Deloitte; is that correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct, yes, at the Board’s instructions and in accordance with the brief that they had set, yes.

Mr Stevens: Could we please go to POL00108395, and can we go to page 2, please. Further down the page, please. It’s an email from Rodric Williams to Gareth James at Deloitte. I should say, sorry, you are in copy.

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: It says:


“As discussed earlier today …”

Were you involved in that conversation between –

Christopher Aujard: I may or may not have been. I’m afraid have no recollection of that conversation. If it says I –

Mr Stevens: It goes on to say:

“In order to respond to these allegations (which have been, and will in all likelihood continue to be, advanced in the courts), the Post Office wants to demonstrate that the Horizon system is robust, fit for purpose and/or operates within an appropriate control framework.”

Is it fair to say that doesn’t read as if Mr Williams is requesting an independent investigation into the integrity of Horizon but more a document to respond to allegations about the Horizon IT System and demonstrate that it is robust?

Christopher Aujard: I can’t speak for what was going through Mr Williams’ mind at the time but I would say it was – it would be standard – and I should also say that, at the time and now, in fact, this doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable way to preface a short email to set out the proposition that is to be tested.

Mr Stevens: Well, let’s look at the terms of engagement, please. It’s POL00108462. Thank you. This is dated 9 April, so a few days after that email. Presumably there’d been some discussions or correspondence between Deloitte and Post Office regarding the retainer and this was what was settled on following those discussions.

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: Was that yes?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, sorry, yes.

Mr Stevens: If we could go down, please, it says under “Scope and objectives”:

“You want to demonstrate that the Horizon HNG-X system robust and operates with integrity, within an appropriate control framework.”

It goes on in the next paragraph to define “Part 1 work”, saying:

“[Deloitte] is to provide, based upon information made available to us by You, an independently produced summary of the assurance and other work undertaken, over your current day Horizon HNG-X system, for presentation to and discussion with the [Post Office Limited] Board …”

Go to page 3, there’s a bit more substance put on that. You see at the bottom – I’m so sorry, page 2., further down, please. Thank you. It says, “Services”:

“Part 1 of our Services will provide the following …”

Then at page 3, at the top, it says:

“Review, understand and consolidate the corresponding investigations, assurance activities and remediation actions which You or third parties have undertaken (see Appendix 1 for the ‘Sources of Information’ …”

It goes on to state the focus of the areas.

So this was looking at assurance work that had already been done; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: Correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: It wasn’t carrying out independent assurance work in itself? It wasn’t a new –

Christopher Aujard: As I understand the Part 1 work, it was a review of the assurance activities that had historically been undertaken in respect to the Horizon Online system.

Mr Stevens: At that point, Post Office Limited wasn’t aware of any assurance – so, sorry.

At that point, had you yourself been briefed on what assurance work was already available to Post Office Limited?

Christopher Aujard: I wouldn’t have thought I was briefed on any detail as to the assurance work that had previously been undertaken.

Mr Stevens: If you could go down, please, on page 3, I want to look at some of the assumptions and limitations. It says:

“You do not require Deloitte to comment on or test the quality of the assurance work performed, nor opine on its adequacy, sufficiency or conclusions, or the integrity of the Horizon HNG-X processing environment (nor the Legacy Horizon system).”

Turn to page 4, please. It says:

“You agree that other than as set out in the Services section above, we will not audit or otherwise test or verify the information given to us in the course of the Services.”

It goes on to say:

“… we will not perform or re-perform any assurance work that has tested and concluded on the design, implementation and operational effectiveness of any internal controls over the Horizon processing environment.”

Then if we could go to page 7, “Assumptions”. If you could go further down the page, please, about midway there:

“Unless otherwise instructed, the Deloitte staff will have no direct contact with any third parties other than the named Fujitsu contacts that You provide to us.”

The next but one on:

“Deloitte will not verify or test any information provided directly by You, or indirectly by third parties via You.”

So it’s a paper-based assurance review, yes?

Christopher Aujard: I believe the expression that was used at the time was a desktop based assurance review –

Mr Stevens: Desktop.

Christopher Aujard: – which I had understood to be, from my IT colleagues, to be standard practice for this type of assurance activity.

Mr Stevens: It’s not testing the adequacy of the assurance work already taken out –

Christopher Aujard: No, it appears, from this description, to be looking at the universe of assurance activities that were undertaken and providing a desktop commentary as to whether those activities were – that universe was complete.

Mr Stevens: Deloitte would speak to people at Fujitsu and Post Office but accept what they’re saying without challenging the accuracy of it?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that’s the nature of the desktop activity, yes.

Mr Stevens: If we could go to page 1, please, to the bottom, please. With the Part 1 work, you see the penultimate paragraph refers to the Part 2 work. It says:

“We understand that the input provided by Deloitte will inform Your decisions relating to potential areas of additional work that You may choose to commission to respond better to the Allegations, and that we may be involved in the delivery of such additional work (‘Part 2 work’) under either a Change order or separate Engagement.”

So is it envisaged that, once Post Office had reviewed the Part 1 work, it may commission something beyond a desktop review, which Deloitte may carry out, and that was Part 2 work?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that’s the case. In practice, it didn’t quite work out like that, from memory.

Mr Stevens: In your witness statement – and we can bring this up, please, page 114, paragraph 214 – you referred here to the Linklaters Project Zebra work. You say in the middle:

“… in broad terms it was directed at trying to establish whether or not Horizon was designed and functioning as intended.”

Is it fair to say that the Part 1 work wouldn’t be able to establish whether it was functioning as intended?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that’s correct. Part 1 work – and, again, I would have to defer to those with greater IT expertise than I have – was designed to look at the assurance activities that were undertaken in respect of Horizon, with a view to informing further work. I also believe that was in pursuance to the sort of Board direction given at a Board meeting earlier that year.

Mr Stevens: Please could we look at POL00006565. These are minutes of a meeting of the Project Sparrow subcommittee on 9 April 2014, so the same day, I think, as the engagement terms were signed – sorry not signed, sent, I should say, the same day they were sent.

Could we look, please, at page 4, and to the bottom you see there’s an update on Horizon Online HNG-X Horizon assurance work. At (c), it says:

“Although no system could be absolutely ‘bulletproof’, no issues had yet been identified through the cases being investigated or any other route that has called into question the integrity of Horizon. Nor have any widespread systemic faults been identified since Horizon Online was implemented. These two points, along with the Part 1 work …”

Presumably referring to the Deloitte Part 1 work; yes?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, correct.

Mr Stevens: “… (depending on the results) should be sufficient to assure Post Office that Horizon is fit for purpose.”

Who is saying this, at the meeting, can you remember?

Christopher Aujard: My recollection is that the work was commissioned by me in order to ensure legal professional privilege attached to the work product. The content and structure of the work would have been very much informed by the IT Team, the CIO, I imagine that’s Lesley Sewell. I can’t recall the extent to which the Finance function was involved in this. After all, Horizon is an online accounting system, essentially.

The words here, I think, would have been a combination of inputs from various people, including very much Lesley Sewell in her capacity as CIO.

Mr Stevens: Why would the Part 1 work be sufficient assurance to assure Post Office that Horizon was fit for purpose?

Christopher Aujard: Sorry, I didn’t get that.

Mr Stevens: Sorry, if the Part 1 work had come out as Post Office hoped it would do, positively, why would that desktop review in itself be sufficient to assure Post Office that Horizon was fit for purpose?

Christopher Aujard: In the event, I think, that the Part 1 work was subsequently superseded or augmented by a further piece of work, which arose out of that Part 1 work. My understanding is that Part 1 was a scoping exercise, in part, as well as an assurance-gathering exercise – assurance information-gathering exercise.

It was as part of the information-gathering exercise that informed what I believe was a subsequent piece of work, asked of Deloitte that was more specific, and focused on the questions that the Board felt it needed to answer.

Mr Stevens: Well, we’ll come to that shortly but, as I understand it in April, Part 2 was never enacted; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so, yes, that’s correct.

Mr Stevens: It says here at (d):

“Part 2 not an essential piece of work at this stage …”

Christopher Aujard: I believe that’s correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: So why – again I asked when you said earlier Part 1 wouldn’t be able to assist with whether Horizon was functioning properly – why was it considered that it was only Part 1 work that was essential at this time?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I don’t know why that conclusion was drawn. I can’t recall why that conclusion was drawn.

Mr Stevens: Did you not have any doubts yourself?

Christopher Aujard: As to the –

Mr Stevens: As to whether Part 1 would be enough?

Christopher Aujard: My recollection is that the Part 1 work was – raised some further questions and that they were addressed in a subsequent piece of work but the Part 1 work in itself only gave the Board comfort as regards existing assurance activities that had been undertaken but no more than that.

Mr Stevens: So you can’t assist further with why it was saying Part 2 work wasn’t essential –

Christopher Aujard: No, I’m afraid it’s outside my sphere of expertise.

Mr Stevens: I want to come back to something you said earlier about this work in your instruction. You referred to it being you instructing Deloitte to maintain legal professional privilege.

Christopher Aujard: Mm.

Mr Stevens: Why was that seen to be an important matter?

Christopher Aujard: I believe at that time, possibly we’re talking April 2014, that, by that time, the JFSA had made it clear, or at least made it clear to Second Sight, who, in turn, had made it clear to us, that litigation was likely as a consequence of the Mediation Scheme, and that information was being gathered as part of that scheme for the purposes of pursuing litigation against the Post Office.

And I think it was in that context that a decision was made to try to preserve legal professional privilege where appropriate. And it was, I think, on advice – I’m not sure if it was advice from Linklaters or advice from Bond Dickinson – that this was commissioned by me as General Counsel for that purpose: to ensure that there was legal professional privilege.

Mr Stevens: Two points arising from that. The first is assuming – in hypothetical, at that point, when Deloitte had been instructed by you to maintain professional privilege – if the report had come back very negatively and it was adverse to Post Office, can we infer that the intention was to rely on legal professional privilege to try to stop that being disclosed outside of the Post Office?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t know if we can infer that at all. It would depend entirely on the outcome. My view would be that – or my recollection of the Post Office at the time is as follows: if it was of a matter that pertained solely to civil litigation, then consideration would have to be given as to how that would be dealt with. Clearly, there were mediation cases going on at that point. My – and this is conjecture – my view would be, therefore, it would be disclosed as part of those mediation cases.

If it pertained to matters which had a criminal disclosure component to them, it would be disclosed under the normal rules relating to disclosure of material relating to past criminal convictions. But I’m afraid they’re both conjecture because it’s hypothesising as to what may have happened in a certain circumstance.

Mr Stevens: So why was privilege being maintained then?

Christopher Aujard: I think out of an abundance of caution.

Mr Stevens: Caution for what?

Christopher Aujard: Caution to ensure that, if the report arose in such a manner as to – that where privilege could be asserted, that opportunity wasn’t foregone.

Mr Stevens: You said it was obtained on advice. Just so I can be clear, that advice, either from Linklaters or from Womble Bond Dickinson, is that your recollection?

Christopher Aujard: I would have thought so. I would have thought so. But, again, I have no specific recollection of where the advice came from.

Mr Stevens: Please could we look at POL00021524. It’s a meeting of the Post Office Board. If we can go down to the attendance list, please. We see that you are in attendance for items 14/48-49, and 14/55. Could we turn to page 6, please.

So 14/55, we see that you’re introduced there with Gareth James, who was a partner at Deloitte responsible for the work, who refers to a draft report, which we don’t need to go to at this stage. I want to look at the minutes at (d) and (e), please. It says:

“Gareth James reported that all the work to date showed that the system had strong areas of control and that its testing and implementation were in line with the best practice. Work was still needed to ensure the controls and access at the Finance Service Centre.”

Do you know what that refers to, the Finance Service Centre?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that was part of the accounting function.

Mr Stevens: The next paragraph:

“Chris Aujard explained that several of the subpostmasters who were challenging Horizon had made allegations about ‘phantom’ transactions which were non-traceable. Assurance from Deloitte about the integrity of the system records logs would be very valuable.”

“Phantom transactions” is used in numerous ways. Can you explain how you were using the term “phantom transactions” here?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe I have any real recollection of what was meant by “phantom transactions” in this context, other than the description which was given, which was non-traceable transactions that subpostmasters were concerned or were appearing in their accounts.

Mr Stevens: So would this include the allegation that a third party, such as Fujitsu could add, edit or delete transactions in branch accounts; what we can now call remote access?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, yes, I would say that was …

Mr Stevens: So remote access at this point is firmly on the Board’s mind and on your mind, it seems?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, I’d say that’s true.

Mr Stevens: Can we look please at POL00006566, please. It’s a meeting on 30 April of the Project Sparrow subcommittee of the Board. You’re there being present. Can we turn to page 2, please. At (b) it says:

“Chris Aujard reported on a conversation he had had with Gareth James, Deloitte Partner, after Board meeting in which he explained the visibility of ‘transaction corrections’ …”

So that’s after the meeting, the minutes of which we’ve just been to, correct?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: So you had this conversation with him:

“Chris Aujard further explained that Gareth Jones [should be James] thought the fact that [transaction corrections] were visible would enable his assurance work to be completed more quickly. Chris Aujard was asked to liaise with Deloitte to ascertain what level of assurance could be achieved in 1, 2 or 3 weeks and at what cost.”

So, again, you’d had a discussion with Gareth James after the meeting and you were reporting on it to this meeting. Why was remote access and issues such as transaction corrections at the front of your mind at this time?

Christopher Aujard: I would imagine but only a – it’s conjecture – that, following the Board meeting, there was a discussion regarding the so-called phantom transactions – discussion or email exchange, I don’t know which – and that the – as part of that discussion – and somewhere in here it references the fact that those transactions were visible – Gareth James gave assurance that it could be reviewed and a view formed on it relatively quickly.

Mr Stevens: But you’re aware that transaction corrections are a particular type of insertion into branch accounts which a subpostmaster would have seen. Were you aware of that at the time, presumably?

Christopher Aujard: I believe the expression transaction corrections covers a multitude of different transactions being entered into the subpostmaster’s system. I don’t know whether this refers solely to transaction corrections that were “phantom” corrections or other transaction corrections, which I believe are entirely visible and are seen by the subpostmaster.

Mr Stevens: I’m not going to cover that point now because we’ll come to some documents that I think shed some light on it shortly but, before we get to that one, can I go to POL00029728, please. If we could go to page 3, please. It’s an email from Rodric Williams on 20 May 2014 to Gareth James and Mark Westbrook, both of Deloitte, copied to you, and he asks for an update on something that Mr James had identified, saying:

“… you identified an example where ‘a [Horizon] control was not implemented as understood’, namely that the audit store Centera pox is configured only to ‘Basic’ settings, not the more secure ‘CE+’ setting as we seemingly understood.”

Do you have any recollection of this issue now?

Christopher Aujard: I have some recollection of this issue but not a detailed recollection of the issue.

Mr Stevens: Can you remember why Rodric Williams was raising this as a particular point of concern at this time?

Christopher Aujard: So the timing of this is 20 May, prior to the receipt of the Deloitte –

Mr Stevens: The 72-page report, yes?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, so I imagine this is being sent in order to understand and inform the detail of that report but that’s a slightly reconstructed memory, I’m afraid.

Mr Stevens: So these are matters that are going through – or you think reconstructed – going through your mind and Rodric Williams’ mind, which you want to be – more information on now and, presumably, these are matters that you would then look out for in the future report?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yes.

Mr Stevens: Could we turn to page 2, please, and go down. You’ve seen this email, I don’t need to take you to all of it. It’s a description of what the issue was. In the middle it says:

“There remains a small risk (that can only really be discounted by detailed testing) that someone with the requisite access rights to the ‘digital keys’ used in the sealing process and admin access on the Audit Store could theoretically:

“Delete an audit store record …

“Recreate the transactional data that was originally within that Audit Store file to suit whatever purpose they might have …

“Seal it using the correct key to generate a valid seal value.

“Reinsert it into the database …”

What were your views on that when you saw this? Can you recall?

Christopher Aujard: I think my view was informed by the last or penultimate paragraph, which raises a question about who has the requisite access rights and is key management able to exploit this, which to my mind was an issue which needed, therefore, to be investigated further by Deloitte before they could opine on it.

Mr Stevens: So, as a principle, is it fair to say it’s a worrying proposition that this type of access and edit rights is possible but you thought there was a sort of in practice thing to investigate of whether or not it could actually be used in practice?

Christopher Aujard: I think that’s probably a fairer summary of my state of mind at the time.

Mr Stevens: You referred to a 72-page report. I want to turn to that now. It’s POL00028062. So this is the draft dated 23 May 2014. A report of some significance, would you agree?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed.

Mr Stevens: So presumably you read it carefully?

Christopher Aujard: On this report, in particular, I think that the concern I had at the time was to answer the Board’s request for a readily digestible, simple report that they could read. I think that when this was received, it was a very apparent from its size that it wasn’t such a report. It was detailed and technical. My recollection is that Rod reviewed that report, I discussed it with Linklaters, and that we agreed that this was not the type of report that could go to the Board and, as a consequence of that, we asked Deloitte to do a further Board briefing summary.

In light of that activity, I’m not sure that I could say now that I read the report in its entirely. I think what I could say is I reviewed the report, certainly the front end of the report to see whether a Board would find that acceptable.

Mr Stevens: Two separate things there, really, aren’t there: one is this is a detailed report, and it may contain information that’s very important to the business on a technical level?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: On a separate point, there’s an issue of presentation, as to whether that’s in –

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: – a form to be presented to the board?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: The fact this is very technical and detailed shouldn’t stop the someone in the business from reviewing it in detail?

Christopher Aujard: Indeed, and I believe that, with this report in particular, it was reviewed by numerous people in the business, a short time after it was received, though I couldn’t say exactly when.

Mr Stevens: Can we look at page 56, please. This is “Appendix 3: Inventory of Documentation Reviewed”, and we see we have a “Horizon Core Audit PowerPoint”; further down, 6 and 7, “Report on Local Suspense (14 Branch) Issue”, “Report on Receipts Payments (62 Branch) issue”.

Did anyone in the Legal Department go through this list to determine whether these are documents that should be disclosed pursuant to the Post Office’s post-conviction duty of disclosure.

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure that they did. As I said, I believe Rod Williams, who had carriage of sort of the detail of this report, did review this report. I’m not sure that, as a consequence of that, he or anybody, indeed, reviewing it, would have picked up on items 1, 6 and 7, to delve further into whether or not they related to matters that concerned disclosure in relation to past convictions.

So the answer is I just don’t know but I don’t believe so.

Mr Stevens: Should someone have reviewed these documents to determine whether they should have been disclosed?

Christopher Aujard: So, at the time that the report was properly considered, which I believe was a number of days or weeks later, yes. I agree that someone should have looked through this report and asked the question: is there – does this trigger any duties of disclosure? I can’t, at the moment, for sure say that that happened. I think I say in my witness statement that I did – I’m not sure whether I took steps to disclose this report to Cartwright King, which would have obviously been the most appropriate next step in these circumstances.

If I haven’t done, that’s a matter of absolute deep regret because it’s something that, had I known what I now know about the system and had I the technical expertise to understand these points, I believe that that is something that should have happened.

Mr Stevens: So your evidence is you can’t remember if it was given to Cartwright King but that’s how, in terms of how the review worked, how you would have gone about the disclosure review: by providing the report to Cartwright King for them to then provide advice to –

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yeah, or at least to give – if they didn’t provide advice, at least to give guidance as to what the next steps should be.

Mr Stevens: Could we turn, please, to page 60. It says here:

“With the prior permission of [Post Office Limited], the following individuals were interviewed or consulted during the course of our review …”

We see towards two-thirds of the way down Gareth Jenkins is there. Are you aware if Deloitte had been informed of the contents of Simon Clarke’s Advice of 15 July 2013?

Christopher Aujard: No, I’m not aware of whether they had or they hadn’t but I believe that they would have been well aware of the fact that he was tainted as a witness for the advice he’d given or evidence he’d given in a number of cases.

Mr Stevens: Why did you have that belief?

Christopher Aujard: Because, at the time within the Post Office, that was very much common knowledge. They had been briefed by Rod as part of their onboarding process and I would have been very surprised if, you know, a salient fact like that hadn’t been disclosed to them. But I had no independent – sorry, I should make it clear, I have no independent recollection or evidence that that happened.

Mr Stevens: Thank you. Could we look, please, at page 30. If we could go to the bottom of that page, please, these are findings. You see “(4) System Usage” and “Partial Documentation” on the right. Under “Audit Store”, it says:

“We observed the following:

“It is not clear from the documentation we have been provided whether [Post Office Limited] has agreed that the current capturing of certain key system events is complete and appropriate for potential governance and investigation needs.”

Would you have read this part of the report at the time?

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure would have read this report at that time, I think it’s highly likely that I read the report at a later date in full when it was considered by a wider audience internally.

Mr Stevens: When do you think that would have been?

Christopher Aujard: I believe there were some meetings held at the beginning of June, but I’m afraid I can’t give the exact dates, to consider this. Certainly, it’s referred to –

Mr Stevens: Risk and Compliance Committee meeting?

Christopher Aujard: Risk and Compliance.

Mr Stevens: We’ll come to that in due course. Do you think that might have been later on?

Christopher Aujard: I think that was later on, yeah.

Mr Stevens: So we don’t have to come up back to it. What was your understanding here of potential governance and investigation needs? What investigation needs were being referred to?

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure, I’m afraid, investigation needs. It could refer to a number of matters. It could refer to the criminal investigations or it could refer to investigations necessary to satisfy the Finance function that certain things were operating in the right way. I’m afraid I don’t know.

Mr Stevens: So:

“We have not identified controls which formally report, review and consider the impact and resolution of any exceptions identified during the Audit Store extraction process, nor reconcile the data from other reporting systems in the business to those datasets contained within the Audit Store.”

What did that mean to you?

Christopher Aujard: I believe, as in the nature of these reports, what it meant was exactly the words used: that they have not identified controls, they’re not saying there are no controls and nor do I read that to say that there are – sorry. I’d finished, yes.

Mr Stevens: Data in the audit store is quite important for Post Office Limited, isn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: So not being able to identify controls that review, report and consider the impact of exceptions identified during extraction of that data is quite significant, isn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, significant, however, this is on page 30 of a very long report and I believe it talks to a headline comment in the summary section, which indicates that things are working as they should. So, to my mind, having re-read this report recently, this seems to be identified as a relatively low level issue that departs from a high level – as an exception to a high level assurance that they’ve given. Having said that, that doesn’t in any way detract from the importance of it. It’s just somewhat surprising that it appears on page 30 of a document where it clearly it is of some significance.

Mr Stevens: Yes, reading that, do you accept that once you read that –

Christopher Aujard: Once –

Mr Stevens: – the significance is clear?

Christopher Aujard: Once that is read, it would put – and I think it did put people on inquiry as to what further steps or actions need to be taken.

Mr Stevens: Did you just say “further steps need to be taken”?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yes. What other steps people – I read that to say what – this implies that further actions of some sort need to be taken, either to receive comfort that there are such controls or to satisfy themselves – or to undertaken a further report of some such thing.

Mr Stevens: Over the page, please, (f), I don’t need to cover it again but it’s, effectively, the Centera EMC point, which we referred to in the email before. So this is something you were presumably looking out for, given you’d had an email on it?

Christopher Aujard: At a subsequent time. As I said, I don’t believe, when this report was received on 23/24, whenever it was, May, that I would have gone into that level of detail at that stage. It would be also something that I would have relied very heavily upon my IT colleagues to tell me what the significance of this is, as it appears to be drafted in such a way to say, if A and B then C, and I’m not sure what the references are in there to the various technical boxes, et cetera, so –

Mr Stevens: Do you think, as a non-technical person, you can read from this that what they’re saying is that it’s possible for someone to change the data in the audit store?

Christopher Aujard: Actually, if you give me a moment, I’ll read it now, if that’s okay.

Mr Stevens: Please do.

Christopher Aujard: What I read that to say is, if there are no alternative controls and if management are not – is not adequately segregated, then – and I’m not sure of the technical description of these solutions – the seals would potentially allow privileged users like Fujitsu to delete sealed files. So I read that to say, if two things occur, then sealed files can be deleted. Sorry, that’s my reading of it now, rather than –

Mr Stevens: And replaced with fake file in an undetectable manner?

Christopher Aujard: Correct. Correct, correct.

Mr Stevens: So, again, is this something being raised as a possibility, further work needs to be done to see if it does occur in practice?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yeah.

Mr Stevens: If we can look at branch database at (g), please. We see:

“A method for posting ‘Balancing Transactions’ was observed from technical documentation which allows for posting of additional transactions centrally without the requirement for these transactions to be accepted by subpostmasters, (as ‘Transaction Acknowledgements’ and ‘Transaction corrections’ require).”

So we earlier talked about transaction corrections, this now talking about balancing transactions:

“Whilst an audit trail is asserted to be in place over these functions, evidence of these features is not available.”

Presumably that was of some significance – you would have seen that to be of some significance?

Christopher Aujard: I would have thought so, yes.

Mr Stevens: Third bullet point:

“For ‘Balancing Transactions’, ‘Transaction Acknowledgements’ and ‘Transaction Corrections’ we did not identify controls to routinely monitor all centrally initiated transactions to verify that they are all initiated and actioned through known and governed processes, or controls to reconcile and check data sources which underpin current period transactional reporting for Subpostmasters to the Audit Store record of such activity.”

So again, with balancing transactions, is this another area of work highlighted which requires further investigation?

Christopher Aujard: Indeed.

Mr Stevens: The point you entered the contract, that was what was envisaged to be the Part 2 work, potentially, if Post Office chose to do that work?

Christopher Aujard: Potentially. I’m not entirely sure what would have been covered by the Part 2 work but, potentially, yes.

Mr Stevens: Well, it was up to Post Office to determine what was covered by Part 2, wasn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Yes. Yes, indeed, yeah.

Mr Stevens: Now, there’s a lot of correspondence between this report and the June board update. Let’s go just to the update. It’s POL00028069. So this is a shorter document, 4 June 2014, which was prepared for the Board.

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: My understanding of your evidence is this was sent by email to the Board?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, that’s what the documents show.

Mr Stevens: It’s a much shorter document. If we could please turn to page 7. I should have asked – we’re here now, but would you have read this in detail before sending it on to the Board?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, yes, I would have done, yes.

Mr Stevens: So page 7, “Matter 3”:

“Baskets of transactions recorded to the Audit Store are complete and ‘digitally sealed’, to protect their integrity and make it evident if they have been tampered with.”

The third bullet point, towards the end, says:

“The configuration of the physical hardware does however permit administrators to delete data from the Audit Store during the seven year period, which was a matter found to be possible and contrary to [Post Office Limited’s] understanding of this physical protection feature. This could allow suitably authorised privileged staff in Fujitsu to delete a sealed set of baskets and replace them with properly sealed baskets, although they would have to fake the digital signatures.”

It goes on to say:

“We have not identified any documented controls designed to:

“Prevent a person with authorised privileged access from deleting a digitally sealed group of data and replacing it with a ‘fake’ group within the Audit Store.”

It goes on. That’s the Centera EMC issue, is it?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yes.

Mr Stevens: Is it fair to say that you described the last report as technical. This was put in terms that were – it was capable and clear for you and the Board to understand?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Stevens: Please could we turn to page 8, down to “Balancing Transaction”, please. It says:

“… this is an emergency process, accessible only to restricted individuals in Fujitsu, which can create transactions directly in Branch ledgers. This process creates an identifiable transaction in the ledger, verbally asserted by [Post Office Limited] staff to be visible to subpostmasters in their branch reporting tool, but does not require positive acceptance or approval by the subpostmaster. The use of the process has a full audit trail, monitored by Fujitsu. It is asserted by them that the process has only been used once (in 2010) between 2008 and the time of their assertion in this area … As our work did not involve testing, we cannot comment on the circumstances [of] this event.”

Then over the page, please.

“All processes, with the exception of Balancing Transactions, operate on the principle of full subpostmaster disclosure and acceptance.”

At the bottom:

“Subpostmasters have access to view all transactional records underpinning their current accounting period’s ledgers. This information is used to support their daily branch cash declarations and reconciliation, their weekly balance of cash and stock and reconciliation and their monthly trading period rollover activities.”

Again, this is written in clear language as to what balancing transactions are, yes?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: From this, could you have any assurance that a subpostmaster would be able to identify when a balancing transaction had been performed by Fujitsu, namely that it was visible to the subpostmaster that – well, the transaction was visible, and that it was visible that it was performed by Fujitsu?

Christopher Aujard: My recollection, but I’m not sure that it’s in these words, is that the subpostmasters can view all transactions entered, whether created or accepted by them or not.

So, on the first part of your point, which is to do with visibility, my understanding is that it would be visible; on the second part, to do with the acceptance, I believe that that makes it clear that a transaction such as this, this exceptional transaction, would not need to be accepted by the subpostmaster.

Mr Stevens: I asked a slightly different question. The transaction may be visible to the subpostmaster. My question is: could you get assurance that the subpostmaster could tell that the transaction had been inserted by Fujitsu, rather than in branch?

Christopher Aujard: Did I get assurance that could be inserted by Fujitsu? No. No, this doesn’t make it clearer one way or the other.

Mr Stevens: Sir, that might be a good time to have the afternoon break.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, that’s fine. How are we doing, generally, Mr Stevens?

Mr Stevens: We’ll be okay, I’ll say, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s – yes, I won’t make a comment.

Mr Stevens: There are questions from Core Participants and I’ll build in time for them. I’ve got a bit to finish on this topic and another one but we should be finishing today, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Good.

Mr Stevens: I think the transcriber has said one 15-minute works for her, rather than two 10-minute breaks, given we’re having a longer afternoon.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right, then, let’s do that. So we’re going to resume at 3.10.

Mr Stevens: Yes, sir, thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Then we’ll proceed accordingly. Thanks.

Mr Stevens: Thank you, sir.

(2.54 pm)

(A short break)

(3.10 pm)

Mr Stevens: Sir, can you see and hear us?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you, yes.

Mr Stevens: Thank you. I can carry on.

Please can we go to POL00029733. Actually, we should say, for context, the top email is a forwarding email from Alwen Lyons to Rodric Williams saying:

“Sorry should have cc’d you in as you did all the work!”

If we can carry on down to the body of the email, please – thank you – it’s from Alwen Lyons to – sorry, if we could just look at the distribution list, thank you. Those are members of the Board of Post Office Limited at the time; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so, yes.

Mr Stevens: It says:

“Please find below a message from Chris Aujard and Lesley Sewell, and attached the Deloitte’s Briefing.”

Would that have been the Board briefing, which we’ve just referred to?

Christopher Aujard: I would have thought so, given the date.

Mr Stevens: If we look further down, please. It says that the Board briefing is attached. Then, over the page, it says:

“In the briefing, Deloitte expressly identify a number of limitations and assumptions which underpin their findings … The briefing must be read in this context. That said, its key findings are …”

Then if we could just show the key findings on the screen, if you could just review them and let me know when you’ve reviewed them.

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed.

Mr Stevens: Do you think that’s a fair and accurate representation of what is in the Board briefing?

Christopher Aujard: On reflection, I think this is far too abridged. I think that there are, as we’ve discussed, issues within the Board briefing pack that would or could have been brought out more clearly in this note. The context, I suppose, is there was enormous pressure to get something out very quickly and, in those circumstances, the note, which I believe was prepared by Rod, at either my initiation or Lesley’s initiation, was – did not bring out fully those concerns.

I suppose the context, again, is that the Board briefing, nonetheless, was meant to be read by the Board. It was a very, very intensive exercise to reduce what was a very long document to a very short document.

Mr Stevens: We saw in minutes before that the Board and, certainly, Sparrow subcommittee was concerned with remote access. In that context, can you explain why the issues on remote access that we referred to weren’t included in this, or is it simply a matter of time, you say?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I can’t, and I believe it was simply a matter of time. This process, towards the very end, if I recall, was absolutely racing against the clock to get something out and, also from recollection, I was under intense pressure from Paula, in particular, to get something to the Board. So, to that extent, then, if it’s an oversight. With hindsight, I regret that this was not as full a briefing as it should have been.

Mr Stevens: When you had more time, did you provide a fuller update to the Board?

Christopher Aujard: I have no documents that show what happened after that briefing was sent and the board meeting. I do know, however, that there was detailed management discussion internally as to the actions that should be taken on the back of that board briefing and on the longer Deloitte report.

Mr Stevens: We’ll come to that in a moment. Can I ask, do you recall – you don’t have documents?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t have any documents.

Mr Stevens: Do you recall discussing the Broad briefing with anyone, any Board members, after sending it?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t have any recollection. I think it highly likely that I discussed it with Paula and Alice but – sorry, that’s Paula Vennells and Alice Perkins. But I’m afraid I have no recollection.

Mr Stevens: You say you think it’s highly likely you discussed it with Paula Vennells and Alice Perkins?

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: Is that –

Christopher Aujard: More highly Paula, less highly Alice, yes.

Mr Stevens: Is that a positive recollection or –

Christopher Aujard: No, I’m afraid it’s not a positive recollection, no.

Mr Stevens: Can we please turn to POL00031410. This is one of two similar reports on Project Zebra, which I don’t think there is a material difference between, which you identified in your statement, so I’m just going to this one. Do you remember who was responsible for drafting this report?

Christopher Aujard: I believe but can’t be sure it would have been done by David Mason, who was the Head of Operational Risk or Head of Risk, I think, within the Post Office. I would have thought it was dealt with – that input from very – a wide range of people, who I believe are identified on the next page.

Mr Stevens: It is your name on the end?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: So you accept it’s your –

Christopher Aujard: Correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: – responsibility. Sorry, just to make sure that has been put to you; you accept it’s your responsibility for this report?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, the process within POL was that all documents submitted to committees had to go in the name of an ExCo member, as Dave Mason reported to me, it would have gone in my name and I would have reviewed its contents I believe at the time and received comfort from him that it was appropriate and accurate.

Mr Stevens: Could we look at page 3, please, and if we go down to the bottom, I understand this report was submitted to the Risk and Compliance Committee on 21 July 2014; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t have the date, I don’t believe, from the – that could be right from the metadata but I don’t have the exact date.

Mr Stevens: But do you accept it was discussed at the Risk and Compliance –

Christopher Aujard: It was discussed, yes.

Mr Stevens: Do you remember who was in attendance at the Risk and Compliance Committee, who would have discussed it?

Christopher Aujard: No, I’m afraid I don’t.

Mr Stevens: We see A1, Summary of recommendation “Perform a detailed review of Balancing Transactions use and controls; Yes”. So that was to look at remote access, effectively.

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: The business view was that that should be carried out?

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: What was done?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I don’t know. That would have been taken forward by the appropriate internal subject matter experts and I would have thought, but don’t know, that would be the IT function, potentially also the finance function. I’m afraid I have no details, so I don’t know the answer to that question.

Mr Stevens: This was in the middle of the Mediation Scheme, wasn’t it –

Christopher Aujard: Indeed.

Mr Stevens: – and remote access was an issue that was being dealt with?

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: So was it not something you needed to keep on top of?

Christopher Aujard: I would have thought that the Mediation Scheme – this is a report in draft that’s been considered by management. I would have thought it would be appropriate for management to conduct its review and for the output of that review to be disclosed to the Mediation Scheme. It’s very common, I think, in large companies to receive reports and then undertake an internal assessment of that report and come up with management actions or clarify with the author of that report what the issues are, and then, once that’s been done, to communicate that externally; and I would have thought that would have been the approach adopted here.

Mr Stevens: The remote access, would you accept, is both relevant, we said, to the Mediation Scheme but also, potentially, to past criminal convictions?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: Was it not something you felt you should – because it was relevant to those areas for you, it was something you needed to stay up to date with and ensure that this recommendation was being fulfilled or –

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, and I believe – sorry, I have no papers to show what happened in terms of activities that followed this meeting. I would have thought, in the ordinary course of events, I would have been brought up to date as to what assurance activities had been undertaken internally and what activities were undertaken for the organisation to satisfy itself that Deloitte’s findings were correct.

Mr Stevens: To the best of your recollection, can you recollect –

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I have no recollection of – I have no papers that deal with the period immediately after it going to this Committee. Thereafter, actually, it’s the papers I’ve been provided with stop, literally, at this point.

Mr Stevens: If we look at this “Analytical Testing of Historic Transactions”, and then at page 5 that’s defined. It refers to the audit store documentation asserting that:

“… the system holds seven years of branch transactions and system event activities. In addition, assertions over data integrity, record and field structure and key controls, such as JSN sequencing. Not validated by parties outside of Fujitsu.”

It refers to techniques that:

“… could allow POL to conduct a detailed risk analytics of Audit Store data …”

Back to page 3, the business view was not to go ahead with that. It was considered to be a large exercise for which the benefit is questionable; can you recall why that was?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I can’t and I believe that that would have been a business view very much informed by IT and Finance as to what was practicable or, indeed, possible at the time. But I’m afraid I have no recollection of the reasoning or the discussions that took place in that regard.

Mr Stevens: Thank you. I want to move on to a different topic, it’s Mediation Scheme. I’m going to jump about a bit in the chronology. I want to start, please, in your witness statement, if we can, page 75, paragraph 137.

You refer to a series of delays, which we’ll come to:

“… which was a cause of great frustration to all those involved. Because of these difficulties an issue arose as to whether [Post Office Limited] should explore options for ensuring that the [Working Group] was able to do its job more effectively, whilst at the same time ensuring that the right balance was struck between the cost of running the scheme and making sure that those cases which had a realistic prospect of being successfully mediated were put through to mediation.”

You are referring there, are you, to various discussions in Post Office to modify the scheme once it was in action?

If we could go to page 74, please, and if you could just put the table into view. In this table, what you’re doing is, at various dates, showing Post Office Limited reports that it had conducted and sent to Second Sight, and the process was Second Sight would then review those and produce its report in response in broad terms, yes.

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: This table, you’re saying, shows on the – in the middle – well, the left-hand column, under “Number of [Post Office Limited] reports”, how many were sent by Post Office and the response on the right.

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: We see by 27 March 2014, you say that six had been sent since the last Working Group, so at least ten –

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: – and there’d been no reports in response; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, that’s correct. I should give a slight health warning on this table. It was difficult to put together because of the way the minutes work, so it wasn’t always clear to me when I did this table exactly how many were outstanding at any given date. But it’s broadly – it’s broadly correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: Well, let’s have a look at the minutes on 27 March, if we can go to POL00026644, please. What happens with some of these Working Group minutes is we have here the attendance list and the fact that it was a meeting of the Working Group, and it’s only over the page that we get the date of the meeting. So if we could go to page 2, please, we see it’s 27 March, so the Working Group you were referring to where you said there were six sent since the last Working Group meeting.

Can we look down to number 4, please. We see there it says:

“Cases passed to Second Sight by Post Office.”

There are six listed there. Are those the cases to which you were referring?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so but – yes, I believe so, that’s correct.

Mr Stevens: On five of those it says, “To be uploaded to Huddle by close of business 28 March”?

Christopher Aujard: That is correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: Huddle was the document system which Post Office used to send its reports to Second Sight; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, yes.

Mr Stevens: So is it actually the case that, by this meeting, since the last, only one has been uploaded to Huddle for Second Sight to review?

Christopher Aujard: I think that’s correct, yes, and, as I said when doing the table, it was a bit difficult to figure out exactly what happened on what date but the date of this meeting, I believe, was 27 March.

Mr Stevens: 27 March?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, so I’m a day out, I’m afraid.

Mr Stevens: So if we can go back to your statement, please, at page 74. By March, should that then be one had been sent since the last Working Group, so at least five?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, on that date, yes.

Mr Stevens: By that point, Second Sight had been asked to revise two of their reports. They produced two and had been asked to revise them. At that stage, it hadn’t produced it but it was also working on the Part 1 briefing report, as well, a more generic report; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, I believe so.

Mr Stevens: So is it fair to say, at this stage, Second Sight weren’t significantly behind on report writing –

Christopher Aujard: No, I don’t believe that is fair to say. I believe it is fair to say that the date is clearly incorrect because, as we saw from the minutes, clearly indicated that the Huddle – was to be uploaded to Huddle I believe it said the next day, so – I’m afraid I don’t have the minutes in front of me. So, directionally, at the end of March, there was certainly a clear view from recollection, within POL, that Second Sight were significantly behind in the – in their review of reports.

Mr Stevens: Because they had responded on – responded on two and asked for revisions out of a total of five?

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm, mm-hm, and progress was slow.

Mr Stevens: Could we please look to POL00105528, and page 7, please – oh, sorry, page 4 first, so we can orientate ourselves. We see this is a submission for the Sparrow subcommittee on 9 April, so shortly after the 27th March where we just were.

If we go to page 7, please. It says, “Broad options for consideration”, and sets out five, number 3 being:

“Significantly amend the scheme as published whilst undertaking mitigating activities.”


Christopher Aujard: Sorry, which bullet point are you referring to?

Mr Stevens: Sorry, I’m looking at my bundle and not the screen. Can we go to page 7, please. Do you see that now, the “Significantly amend the scheme?”

Christopher Aujard: Yes, I do.

Mr Stevens: Could we please turn to page 9. You see in the middle:

“Subject to a satisfactory outcome from the Deloitte assurance assessment, it is recommended that:

“The subcommittee authorises in principle (and in principle only, at this stage) Option 3 – ie significant amendment to the Scheme as published, whilst undertaking mitigating activities. The actions necessary to take this forward are set out in appendix A.”

Now, can you recall what Option 3 entailed? We can go to the Appendix if you require.

Christopher Aujard: Yes, please.

Mr Stevens: It is page 12, please. You see it says:

“The scheme is closed down as quickly as possible.”

It goes on to say:

“The Working Group is disbanded and Second Sight’s role is terminated. All work underway to investigate claims by Post Office continues, but use of external advisers is minimised.”

Presumably that’s not referring to Post Office Limited’s external advisers?

Christopher Aujard: I’m not sure what that’s referring to, “All work … of external advisers is minimised”. I wouldn’t know, at today’s date, what that reference is.

Mr Stevens: It says:

“Mitigating activities may compromise the production and publication reports into any improvements identified as a result of the scheme, discussing conclusions with each applicant, offices of payment of inconvenience fees.”

At the end, it says:

“The Working Group Chairman is retained to provide independent oversight of investigation process.”

Was this, in effect, saying that Second Sight’s role would be finished, it wouldn’t be involved in the investigation, and the investigation would be done in-house by Post Office.

Christopher Aujard: Well, the – I believe that this is suggesting that, at least, Second Sight’s role be reduced. I’m not sure, with the question that you’ve just asked about their investigatory activities. It was clearly a headline option for further consideration. So some of the detail, I would have thought, needed to be worked out at a later date.

Mr Stevens: So where it says in that box, “The Working Group is disbanded and Second Sight’s role is terminated”.

Christopher Aujard: Yes. Sorry, yes – sorry, I’m confusing myself. Second Sight’s role was terminated as part of the Working Group, yes.

Mr Stevens: So it wouldn’t be involved in investigating –

Christopher Aujard: I don’t – I’m not sure when this thing was subsequently worked up, there would have been a further consideration as to what role they had, if any, going forward. But I believe this option was fundamentally one which involved not having Second Sight continuing the activities that they were currently engaged in.

Mr Stevens: Which was to investigate the –

Christopher Aujard: I don’t – I think the role of Second Sight, as it finally became to be documented in their engagement letter, was not one of, quotes, “investigation”, it was to look at the points of difference between the POL’s assessment of a case, the subpostmasters’ assessment of the case, identify the points of difference between the two, and investigate those points of difference. I think that’s quite different, to my mind anyway, from a broad-based investigation from a zero base of any case. That’s quite a focused investigation –

Mr Stevens: But it’s an independent third party who is looking at the party’s positions and investigating the points of dispute between them?

Christopher Aujard: Points of difference, correct.

Mr Stevens: This is suggesting that –

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: – second Sight aren’t involved?

Christopher Aujard: They don’t undertake that activity. That’s correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: Would you accept that that proposal lacks both fairness and transparency?

Christopher Aujard: I believe that it should be informed by the context of this paper, which was an options analysis, and it was there to put a whole range of different options on the table for consideration by the committee.

Mr Stevens: But this option was being proposed, as the option to go ahead with.

Christopher Aujard: And that, I believe, was in response to a Board, either a Board request or a subcommittee request, to have an all options paper prepared.

Mr Stevens: Well, my question was: does this option lack fairness and transparency?

Christopher Aujard: It does lack fairness as regards, or public perception of fairness, as regards those in the scheme. I’m not sure that transparency is an issue that I – I don’t really understand that component of your question but I would have thought that it does –

Mr Stevens: Did you prepare this document?

Christopher Aujard: No, this document was prepared by a team of people involved in the mediation support group, the team that was responsible for the mediation.

Mr Stevens: So if you look here at 3, at the pros, you see quick and simple, limits operating costs. I don’t need to read them all.

In the cons, the penultimate one is:

“Could lead to accusations of a Post Office whitewash.”

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: If we go to the next page, please. This is the option for modifying the scheme to streamline the process, adopting changes to governance. We see at the top that Second Sight to act as an expert adviser to Working Group.

In the pros it says fairness and transparency.

Christopher Aujard: Mm.

Mr Stevens: Is it fair to say that, you and others at Post Office, were well aware that terminating Second Sight’s involvement at this stage would lack fairness and transparency?

Christopher Aujard: At that point in time, which is dated – are we in April? I believe we’re in April, are we, with this one? That’s correct, yes. Certainly, fairness.

Mr Stevens: That document can come down. Thank you.

Please could we turn to POL00006571. If we scroll down, please, at (c):

“The Committee reviewed the status of the Mediation Scheme and the urgency of any decision if it meant moving away from the current position (Option 1). The Committee agreed that Option 3 would be its preferred option subject to the Minister’s support and there being a low probability of a successful application for a Judicial Review.”

Could you just provide some background there as to what the perceived risk of judicial review was?

Christopher Aujard: Sorry, can you please scroll back to the date of that meeting?

Mr Stevens: Yes, of course. If you go to the top of the document, please.

Christopher Aujard: Right. So my understanding or recollection is that this, say, these are minutes of a meeting which was held to discuss various options relating to the scheme. I’m not sure whether this relates to the previous document that you’ve just displayed on the screen or whether it relates to a subsequent document, which is a much more detailed document setting out different options. I suspect it’s the subsequent document it relates to.

Mr Stevens: Can you recall at this point what was the view of the Project Sparrow subcommittee; was it to terminate Second Sight’s involvement or to minimise it?

Christopher Aujard: So, if I recall, and I’m afraid I don’t have the document reference in front of me, there was a document subsequent to the one that you’ve previously displayed on the screen showing various options for the subcommittee in a more formal sense. I believe that’s the one – and I’m afraid I could be wrong because I’m doing this is from memory – that talks about some very challenging calls potentially needing to be made.

If it relates to that document, that’s a more formal document that sets out several different options. It explains that each one is suboptimal and goes on to explain that there are two semi-preferred options. One is to bring it – assert control over the scheme within it’s terms of reference; and another one is an option to effectively bring the scheme to some sort of conclusion.

Mr Stevens: Well, let’s bring up that document, it’s –

Christopher Aujard: I’m sorry I may be confusing documents, I’m terribly sorry.

Mr Stevens: No, I’ll take you to it. It’s POL00022128?

Christopher Aujard: So, to be clear, my recollection is these minutes don’t relate to the document that you’ve just shown.

Mr Stevens: Understand. If we look at page 3, please. You see Option 1 is continuing with the scheme as currently configured and managed.

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: “2. Continuing with the Scheme but to refine its work within the existing Terms of Reference …

“3. Completing Post Office investigation in each case and a moving the governance and management of the Scheme in-house (ending Second Sight’s engagement and dissolving the Working Group).”

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed, yes. That’s the document. I think this is the document that makes clear that it’s a challenging call and all options are suboptimal.

Mr Stevens: So if we could go back, please, to the minutes of the meeting, that’s POL00006571, and to the second page, please. It says:

“Subject to further legal advice on risk of Judicial Review, the Chairman would explored [I think it should be ‘explore’] with the Minister the extent to which she would be prepared to support Option 3 and explain the alternative approach of Option 2 as a fallback …”

So at this point is it Post Office Limited’s position that it wanted to terminate Second Sight’s involvement?

Christopher Aujard: I think that’s overstating what’s set out in the minutes. So I’m talking here from – only on the basis of what’s set out in the minutes but it seems to me that those minutes are saying there are two options. One is dependent on ministerial support or both the minutes are dependent on ministerial support but one, in particular, is dependent on the receipt of JR advice.

Mr Stevens: But, reading these minutes, if the judicial review advice had come back and said, there’s low risk of a judicial review if you terminate Second Sight’s involvement, would Post Office’s position have been that the preferable option would have been to terminate Second Sight’s involvement?

Christopher Aujard: I believe the paper contained further process steps that needed to be taken should that occur. There was, I think, a deeper request for a deeper analysis of the PR implications, which would have been Mark Davies, and there were some other procedural steps in there which I’m afraid I can’t recall, but the subject – subject to those procedural steps and subject to the Minister being supportive and subject to the risk of judicial review being considered acceptable, I suppose, ultimately, subject to the Board agreeing this, that was the proposal on the table at that time, yes.

Mr Stevens: Again, would you accept at this point that decision lacked fairness and transparency, by removing Second Sight?

Christopher Aujard: So should that course of action have gone ahead and should everybody have considered that’s right, yes, I would consider that the – certainly, the fairness element could be challenged; definitely, could be challenged. It would be perceived – and I think that is stated in the paper itself, this could be perceived to be considered unfair.

Mr Stevens: Was it the case that Post Office Limited wanted to terminate Second Sight’s involvement because it was investigating the points of dispute between it and subpostmasters?

Christopher Aujard: No, I believe, at that stage, there were – from recollection, at that stage, there were numerous issues on the table with the engagement with Second Sight. So I suppose the first of those issues was that there was no agreed engagement letter with Second Sight, and there was a tension between what was the Post Office’s position and what was explained to me upon joining, as being the Post Office’s position, which is that Second Sight were to focus solely on cases within the scheme, and Second Sight’s position that their remit extended beyond that.

It was colloquially sometimes referred to as Job 1 and Job 2. I think, at the stage this paper was written, there was a very strong sense by Second Sight that they had a brief to continue to explore everything, the entirety of matters that were referenced in their first report.

Mr Stevens: The Interim Report?

Christopher Aujard: Correct, yes, the interim report, sorry – and that did not necessarily, as explained to me, the Post Office’s position – explained in very, very clear terms to me that the Post Office saw Second Sight solely, at this point in time anyway, as being responsible for being involved with matters and reviewing cases within the scheme. So I think that’s the first point of difference.

I think the second point of difference was that there was a strong sense within the Post Office at that point that Second Sight were not providing value for money and that was a matter which, rightly or wrongly, was seen to be very significant in the Board’s mind.

The third point, I think, is perhaps one around balance or impartiality, or whatever one wants to call it, but let’s call it balance, that the strong sense that, certainly, I was imparted – was imparted to me by Post Office was that Second Sight were not approaching the work that they were undertaking in relation to the scheme in a balanced manner but more in a campaigning manner. Whether that’s correct or not, you know, is for others to judge, but that was certainly the sense that was imparted to me.

Mr Stevens: Was it that Second Sight were disagreeing with what the Post Office said?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t believe it was a matter of disagreement. I believe it was more a matter – and this was – sorry, I’m getting my timelines confused – at a later date certainly, informed by the Linklaters advice, that Second Sight were not approaching their conclusions in an evidence-based manner, that they were commenting on matters (a) that were outside their field of expertise and (b) which were not supported by sufficient evidence.

So I think that feeling within the Post Office more generally had emerged by the time of this meeting. So there were, I suppose the point I’m trying to convey in response to your question is that there are a number of separate factors – I’m hypothesising slightly – crossing the minds of the board members that were making the decisions at the meeting.

Mr Stevens: I just want to pick up on one of those briefly before moving on and this is the point you referred to as to Job 1?

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: That’s the Interim Report, and you’re saying that Second Sight were suggesting that they needed to continue that work?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, and I believe that was based on an honestly-held belief that they were mandated by the MPs to continue with their investigation work and I think, as I’ve referenced in my statement, there was a strong concern (a) that that work was not documented and (b) the scope of that was not clear. But, most importantly, I think, as was conveyed to me by Paula Vennells, that was not the agreed position and it was not the position that she had agreed with now Lord Arbuthnot, James Arbuthnot MP at the time.

Mr Stevens: They produced an interim report. Do you think it was fair for them to assume they may go on to produce a final report?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t – it may have been something within their contemplation it may have been within contemplation at the time they did the interim report. That was not something that was conveyed to me as being – something that they were doing for that year, during 2014. In 2014 their focus was on – and I’ve very clear instructions on this – their focus was to be on working on matters relating to the scheme and the scheme only.

Mr Stevens: Well, let’s have look at that, POL00099977, please. It says:

“At the meeting on 27th November …”

I will come to show this note attributed to you and Belinda Crowe. There’s no year on it but, given it’s covering costs of Project Sparrow and a note on the Second Sight contract and protection for business, an NDA provision, that’s likely to be 27 November 2013; would you agree?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, I agree. That looks like 2013.

Mr Stevens: Can we turn the page please, page 2, down to “Second Sight”. It says:

“The contractual arrangements with Second Sight are set out in the terms of reference for the independent review …”

Pausing there, that’s the review that had been commissioned that led to the interim report.

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: So, at this stage, in November 2013, the contractual arrangements with Second Sight are still in accordance with the terms of reference for that interim review?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so, yes.

Mr Stevens: It says:

“As the role of Second Sight and the nature of their work in relation to the Mediation Scheme has now changed has become more clearly defined, we will, in the very near future, be putting in place new contractual arrangements.”

Had anyone said to Second Sight at this point that the terms of reference that had been assigned to them for the independent review had now come to an end and been superseded by the Mediation Scheme?

Christopher Aujard: I’m afraid I don’t know. Belinda and I were five weeks into the job at that point and I believe that we would have been told at that point that the nature of their work had changed and that they were now to focus on the scheme. That would be consistent with what’s been written there.

Mr Stevens: Who told you that?

Christopher Aujard: It would have been a combination of Paula and/or Alice – sorry, Paula Vennells and Alice Perkins.

Mr Stevens: So, in essence, you took it from Paula Vennells or Alice or both that Second Sight’s involvement with the original terms of reference, namely looking at whether there are systematic issues, had come to a close?

Christopher Aujard: Had either come to a close or had been paused for the duration of the scheme.

Mr Stevens: That document can come down. Thank you.

Just one more document on this topical very quickly, please. It’s POL00021526. It’s a meeting of the Board on 10 June 2014. If we could go down, please – sorry, I should say we see you’re in attendance as well.

Christopher Aujard: Yes, by telephone, by the looks of it.

Mr Stevens: If we go down further, please. So we’re back to the options we had before:

“Option 1 (continuing as is) was untenable …”

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: Option 3, this was the one where Second Sight were to be terminated, I think, or subject to various caveats, you said.

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: So that was discounted because of the risk of a challenge and possible judicial review.

So option 2, amending the scheme, was, I think if we turn over, the one that the Board decided to go ahead with.

Based on your recollection of the conversation at that time, if, say, the Post Office had received advice that the risk of challenge of a judicial review wasn’t material, would the Board have gone ahead with Option 3?

Christopher Aujard: I think I say in my witness statement – and this is speculation because, clearly, I don’t know the state of the Board’s mind – that Option 3 represented very significant – and this is outside my area of competence, I should say, very significant PR risks for the Post Office. I think, ultimately, once they had been properly considered, I think the Board would have found it very challenging to move down the route of option 3, not to discount it entirely, but it would – it would have been a very challenging decision for them to make, to move down to Option 3. Sorry, that’s a personal view and it’s not based on a fact or any specific information.

Mr Stevens: That document can come down. Thank you.

Final topic, which I will deal with very briefly, also on the Mediation Scheme. Please could we bring up POL00199361. So this is a draft settlement policy, version 1.4. Was this policy, although it’s in draft, what was used in practice in the Mediation Scheme?

Christopher Aujard: I don’t know whether this policy was used or a subsequent draft. Certainly, the principles upon which this policy was based were set prior to my joining the Post Office, and they were ones based on liability – contractual liability for loss.

Mr Stevens: Can we please turn to page 16. Sorry, that’s it. Thank you. On “Settlement Thresholds”, nature of complaint:

“Horizon inaccurately records data/transactions.”

It says:

“Second Sight’s Interim Report found that there were no systemic errors in Horizon.

“As such, very clear proof will be required of a technical defect in Horizon along with evidence that a technical defect caused a quantifiable financial loss in the applicant’s branch accounts and had a material adverse effect on an applicant.”

Why was the threshold set so high – “very clear proof required of a technical defect” – in order for Post Office to make an offer of settlement?

Christopher Aujard: So my recollection is that the principles underlying this were set prior to my arrival at the Post Office.

Mr Stevens: You were the General Counsel overseeing the legal work on the Mediation Scheme?

Christopher Aujard: Mm-hm.

Mr Stevens: This was a policy over which you had oversight, yes?

Christopher Aujard: And in conjunction with the – Chris Day, who was the Finance –

Mr Stevens: Yes, I’m sure other people, but you had oversight of this?

Christopher Aujard: Yes.

Mr Stevens: So you could have changed it if you wanted?

Christopher Aujard: No, I don’t believe I could have changed this if I wanted to. This was a policy which was adopted generally by, I think, the ExCo, so this was a matter of suggesting changes that would be adopted elsewhere or approved elsewhere. Perhaps “adopted” is the wrong word.

Mr Stevens: Well, help with this, please. The interim report set out preliminary conclusions, didn’t it?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: It said that Second Sight had found no systemic errors within Horizon but that it hadn’t completed its investigations, effectively?

Christopher Aujard: Correct.

Mr Stevens: You said earlier in your evidence that Post Office’s position was that Second Sight should now be focusing on matters within the scheme, so the disputes between individual –

Christopher Aujard: Correct, yes.

Mr Stevens: Post Office took an active role in trying to stop Second Sight from producing a public report, akin to a final report of Second Sight – of the interim report; is that fair?

Christopher Aujard: Sorry, I’m not sure –

Mr Stevens: I’ll rephrase that. When you were negotiating the terms of engagement for Second Sight in the Mediation Scheme, you were seeking to avoid a public report akin to a final report?

Christopher Aujard: No, I don’t think that’s fair at all. My – for the purposes of the scheme, my very clear directions were to ensure – and this, I think, was from the Board – ensure that there were terms of engagement for Second Sight on the scheme, and that – and also to build in certain confidentiality provisions. And the direction certainly from Alice and Paula was that they should focus on the scheme. I don’t think that went to say that they shouldn’t do a subsequent report after the scheme had finished, or that a further report shouldn’t be produced at some point.

Mr Stevens: Yes, sorry, but the point being that report would come after –

Christopher Aujard: Yes, indeed –

Mr Stevens: – the claims had been resolved?

That point being that, after the claims being resolved, the new report would – sorry, I’ll start that again.

Second Sight would focus on, I think your evidence is, individual applicants in the scheme and, at a later stage, may produce a public final report?

Christopher Aujard: Yes, that was a possibility and I don’t know whether a decision – at what point a decision was made, if indeed one was ever made, as to whether they should produce a final report or not.

Mr Stevens: So can you explain why the threshold for whether a settlement would be offered in the scheme was based on an interim report, which didn’t come to final conclusions?

Christopher Aujard: Other than the fact that that was the only evidence available at the time that these were prepared, no, I can’t. I can’t say why it was based on an interim report. As there was no – I suppose the answer is there was no subsequent report to base this on.

I perhaps should also say that the – my understanding of this is it reflected the general policy direction that the settlement sums were never intended to be – sorry, this is not my intention, it’s the intention or direction given by others when I joined – settlement sums were never intended to be large. They were intended to be small sums of money, more of the nature of an apology, something of that nature. So that perhaps policy direction informed the setting of the thresholds.

Mr Stevens: Well – and this will be the final topic for me – can we bring up POL00116285, please.

We see you send an email to Paula Vennells in February, 23 February 2014 and it’s saying you’re going to comment below and, if we go down, we see there there is Paula Vennells’ original email and I understand your comments are in red; is that right?

Christopher Aujard: I believe so, yes.

Mr Stevens: If we could turn the page, please, go to 3.6. So this is commenting on, I think, paragraph 3.6. It says:

“Potential cost £10 million+ serious. When we went into this …”

“This”, is that the Mediation Scheme?

Christopher Aujard: Sorry, I’m not with you. Which paragraph?

Mr Stevens: Sorry, again, I’m looking at – it’s the top there, 3.6, “Potential cost 10 million+ serious”. It says:

“When we went into this, the motivation (Alice and me) was to find out what was really going on to create so much noise and to put in place processes that we felt were closer to the way we wanted [the Post Office] to be run (more supportive) going forwards. The system that was in place at the time was when we were a division of [Royal Mail] and accountable to their Legal and Security [Divisions].”

It goes on to say:

“We did not intend it to result in major compensation for policies that were followed and applied to thousands of others who did not have problems, and which were operating in a different corporate context. We seem to have lost this focus and I am looking for advice on how we regain it.”

So you earlier referred to a message about compensation, I think. Is this the message you were referring to?

Christopher Aujard: I think it’s one of a number of messages, that – this is the only one that’s in – there may be more in my bundle but this is the key one in my bundle. It’s the –

Mr Stevens: Please –

Christopher Aujard: Sorry –

Mr Stevens: No, please?

Christopher Aujard: – I believe that, subsequently, the figures were extrapolated upwards from £10 million plus to, on one occasion there was one figure of £50 million, there was an early estimate or estimate after this but later than others that was up to £100 million of compensation. So there were some very, very large numbers, which, clearly, caused the Board, I imagine, a great deal of concern.

Mr Stevens: What was the message coming from Paula Vennells and Alice Perkins to you about the level of compensation they envisaged being paid to subpostmasters at this stage?

Christopher Aujard: That it would be small sums of money. It would be less than three months of a subpostmaster’s contractual entitlement, though if there were exceptional circumstances, that could be increased. At a later date, I believe there were additional heads of compensation added, which included an apology and – sorry, there was another one which I can’t quite remember. So they were small sums of money.

Mr Stevens: Thank you, sir. That concludes my questions. We have questions from Core Participants, which hopefully we can hear now.

If I could just take a look around the room. Four sets of Core Participants, sir, wish to ask questions.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I’m dubious about whether we’d can hear them all. So it would involve each of them being strictly confined to five minutes, which my experience tells me is very unlikely.

So how are we going to deal with this? My preferred solution – and this is addressing you, Mr Aujard – we have Ms or Mrs van den Bogerd scheduled for two days, and we may well run up against a problem of time, even with two days. So I would not ask you to come back tomorrow but I would ask you to come back at some convenient time when it’s clear that we can fit you in with some other witness but I don’t want to make life too intolerable for you, but how does that sound?

The Witness: Sir, if you’re asking for an honest view, my honest view would be, yes, I would rather do as much as I possibly can today but I appreciate that the Inquiry’s needs come first, so I would accommodate whatever the Inquiry wants in this regard.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, first of all thank you for your honesty. I’ve got no doubt that everyone would prefer to get it over with and I accept that but I have to balance being fair to you with being fair to those who wish to question you –

The Witness: Yes, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – and also fair to the person transcribing and, lastly, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, when I start at 9.45 or 10.00, by 4.30 my powers of concentration are waning, to say the least. So I need to balance it all. So what I propose to do, as I say, is not to ask for any more questions but to find a mutually convenient date when you can be brought back for up to about an hour, maximum, when all those who wish to ask you questions will have the opportunity to do so.

So thank you for coming today and I’m sorry it’s not over. Because there is some delay, probably, between when you come back and today, I’m not going to say to you please don’t talk to anyone about your evidence. I haven’t embargoed people in your position like that previously. So I’m not going to do it with you and, as I say, I’ll see you when we can fit you in conveniently for everyone.

The Witness: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, Mr Stevens. So we start again tomorrow at 9.45 with Ms van den Bogerd. I’m sorry if I mispronounced her name. That probably demonstrates my powers of concentration are waning.

Mr Stevens: Sir, yes. 9.45 tomorrow.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, see you then.

Mr Stevens: Thank you.

(4.12 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 9.45 am the following day)