Official hearing page

7 May 2024 – Belinda Cortes-Martin

Hide video Show video

(9.45 am)

Ms Price: Good morning, sir, can you see and hear us?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you very much.

Ms Price: May we please call Ms Cortes-Martin.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Belinda Cortes-Martin


Questioned by Ms Price

Ms Price: Can you confirm your full name, please, Ms Cortes-Martin?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It’s Belinda Jane Cortes-Martin.

Ms Price: Thank you for coming to the Inquiry to assist it with its work and for providing the statement that you have. As you know, my name is Emma Price and I will be asking you questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You should have a hard copy of your witness statement in front of you; do you have that?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I do.

Ms Price: It is dated 8 April 2024. If you could turn to page 53 of that, please; do you have a copy with a visible signature?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I do.

Ms Price: Is that your signature?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It is.

Ms Price: I understand that, in light of documents recently disclosed to you, you have some corrections which you would like to make to your statement; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, it is.

Ms Price: Would you like to tell us what those are?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: In paragraph 9, line 1, change “full time” to “fixed term”; likewise, in paragraph 12, line 1, change “full time” to “fixed term”; and likewise in paragraph 42, line 2, change “full time “to “fixed term”.

In paragraph 24, after the final sentence, add in a new sentence, which says:

“Having reviewed the documents provided in the second bundle, specifically E42, which is POL00349472”, I can see I had previously raised what seems to be a similar point in October 2014 but I cannot recall whether or how this matter was addressed.

And in paragraph 85, line 15, that’s at the top of page 42, after “understanding”, add in “I see from POL00022240 that I disagreed with the approach suggested by lawyers in the introduction and sought the views of General Counsel”.

And, finally, in paragraph 60, line 4, after the word “attending” insert “one of” and add an “s” to “meeting”, so the sentence should then read:

“I believe that this was the impression I came away with when attending one of my first steering group meetings for Project Sparrow.”

Ms Price: Thank you. With those corrections made, are the contents of your statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: That statement, for which the reference is WITN09910100 is now in evidence and will be published on the Inquiry’s website in due course. I will not be asking you about every aspect of the statement but, instead, taking you to some specific points which are addressed in it.

I would like to start, please, with your professional background and the roles which you held with the Post Office?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: I understand from your statement that you no longer have access to your CV but can you help, please, with what qualifications you hold, including any degree.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I have an NVQ Level 6 in strategic management and two A-levels, and some O-levels. I can’t quite remember how many.

Ms Price: You say at paragraph 4 of your statement that you were a civil servant for the majority of your working life?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I was.

Ms Price: So from 1979 to mid-2011; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Price: For the final two to three years, you were the Information Director for the Ministry of Justice. Can you help, please, with the type of roles you carried out as a civil servant prior to this?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I – a number of roles. I was manager, a manager in the Disability Living Allowance centre in Bristol, managing the throughput of Disability Living Allowance claims. I think that was my last operational role, or strictly operational role in the Civil Service and I then moved into policy, and I worked on tribunals policy, reform of the tax appeals process, I was the bill manager for the Gender Recognition Bill in – I don’t remember the date but sometime in 2006/7/8.

Before I became Information Director I was Head of Information Policy in the Ministry of Justice. There would be other roles in that but I can’t quite recall and I certainly can’t recall the order of them.

Ms Price: Of course. What did your role as Information Director at the Ministry of Justice entail?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So it was anything to do with information policy and practice. So I was responsible for libraries, records management, Data Protection policy, Freedom of Information policy, Freedom of Information operations within the Ministry of Justice, sponsorship of the National Archive, sponsorship of the Office of the Information Commissioner. There may have been one or two other things that came within that but I don’t now recall.

Ms Price: After leaving the Civil Service, you became an independent consultant; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: The majority of this work related to information security?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You recall that it was in early 2012 when you were first asked to carry out work for the Post Office; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: This followed an approach by the Chair of the Post Office in late 2011?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Was the Chair at the time Alice Perkins?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It was, yes.

Ms Price: You say you were asked to do work related to the Government’s proposals to mutualise the Post Office; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You then had a meeting with Susan Crichton, General Counsel at the time, and Alwen Lyons, Company Secretary; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You submitted a proposal for supporting the project, which was accepted?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: What did your role supporting the mutualisation project entail?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It began with helping to – Post Office formulate its response to the Government’s proposals for mutualisation. I can’t now recall whether or not – I think the Government had issued its consultation document relating to proposals to mutualise Post Office. I don’t think the Government had responded to the – or issued a report into its consultation. I think I was helping but Post Office had to respond to it. So I helped formulate that response, taking views from across Post Office, and then, when Government published its intentions on the back of its consultation or the findings of its consultation, to work with the Post Office to look at how mutualisation could be given effect within the Post Office, specifically to run a – I think we called it a stakeholder forum, which was chaired by Paula Vennells, looking at the public purpose of the Post Office.

Ms Price: What were you told in 2012, when you were in that first Post Office role, about the issues facing the Post Office at the time?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Do you mean specifically in relation to Horizon or more generally?

Ms Price: Were you given a briefing as to the priority issues for the Post Office at the time?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Not to the best of my recollection. The challenge that I recall facing the Post Office at the time was what I think was called its Transformation Programme. I don’t remember the details of it but I think I needed to be aware of that in the context of a mutualised Post Office.

Ms Price: Were you told anything at that time about challenges to the Horizon system?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Not as far as I recall.

Ms Price: Can we have on screen, please, paragraph 7 of Ms Cortes-Martin’s statement, that’s page 3, please. You say in the first sentence here:

“In or around October 2013 I was asked to move and work within POL’s Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Scheme’).”

Who was it who asked you to move and work within the scheme; can you recall?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t recall specifically. I have assumed that Paula or somebody on Paula’s behalf would have spoken to me about it but I don’t have a recollection of specifically being asked.

Ms Price: Were you interviewed for the role?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Ms Price: You refer in this paragraph of your statement to an email from Paula Vennells, summarising the role that you took up in October 2013.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Could we have that on screen, please, it’s POL00116179. We can see here this is from Sarah Paddison but, scrolling down, we can see it is, in fact, an email from Paula Vennells, so sent on Paula Vennells’s behalf. A little up, please, just so we can see the date, 8 October 2013 and the subject is “Project Sparrow steering group”.

We can see here that you had been asked to provide support to Project Sparrow in three ways. First, you had a Secretariat role for the Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme Working Group; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Second, you had a role being the main channel of communication between the Chair of the Scheme Working Group, so that was Sir Anthony Hooper – is that right –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Price: – and the business?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: (No audible answer)

Ms Price: Third, and the third bullet point here, you had a distinct role providing strategic support and advice to Paula Vennells in her role as the Chair of the Project Sparrow steering group and it’s said to be across all of the Project Sparrow workstreams; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: What did you understand Project Sparrow’s role and objectives to be when you first took up these roles?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t sure. I would also say that, looking at this email, I think it was a general “This is what I think the role will be”, because the scheme had just started but, to the best of my recollection, the only paperwork I received was any paperwork that would have been sent out in advance of the steering group meeting and I picked things up as I went along.

Ms Price: Did you understand, at the time you took up these roles, that your Secretariat to the Scheme Working Group role, in that role the support you provided was to be provided independently of any other role you carried out for the Post Office?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: In so far – just to make sure that I’m clear about the question, it was definitely made clear to me that I should do what the Chair asked of me and what the Working Group asked of me and should not, in any way, diverge from that in order to serve a different purpose for the Post Office.

Ms Price: When you became involved in the scheme, did you see any difficulty at all with holding both the roles that you did, so with the Scheme Working Group, on the one hand, and the Project Sparrow advisory role?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: At the time I didn’t.

Ms Price: Is your answer different today?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Having reviewed the documents and understanding what I now understand of what has arisen subsequently, I feel some discomfort because I can see how it looks different but, at the time, I didn’t feel any real tension and I was never under any pressure from Post Office to, in any way, to the best of my recollection, favour Post Office in terms of my support for the Working Group and the scheme.

I would go further, perhaps, and say that that would have been actively discouraged and that, although most of the papers that I have been provided with and, indeed, most of the questions I have been asked relate to issues to do with the closure of the scheme and other things, actually, the way that I spent – I wouldn’t want to put a percentage on it right now, after all this time – but I would say between 50 and 80 per cent of my time was just spent running the scheme, supporting the Chair and the Working Group.

Ms Price: Underneath the three bullet points in this email we have this:

“separately, Belinda will also be helping to coordinate a short internal ‘lessons learned’ exercise on the process leading up to the publication of the Second Sight Report. We will discuss the approach to this in future steering groups but in brief the aim of the exercise will be to discuss collectively what insights the business can take from the experience.”

This is the Interim Second Sight Report, dated 8 July 2013, being referred to here, is it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I assume so, yes.

Ms Price: What were you told at this stage about the process leading up to the publication of the Second Sight Report, the Interim Report?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Very little. In fact, it was a source of some confusion to me as to what I should be covering in the lessons learned. It became clear that there had been some tensions within Post Office about – around this time. Those tensions, I think, had included a tension which included Susan Crichton, who left at the time I was becoming involved in this. So I do recall being very clear, because this wasn’t something that I had understood at all, that I was not prepared to do an exercise in who was to blame for whatever problem Post Office seemed to want to address through the lessons learned.

In terms of the information I was given and, I think, when my report came out, it was more to do with Post Office’s ability to set up a scheme at short notice or to set up a project at short notice and – rather than anything to do with Second Sight’s report itself.

Ms Price: What were you told about the reason for the Post Office’s original instruction of Second Sight to conduct a review in relation to the Horizon IT system?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That a number of MPs had approached either Paula or Alice, or both, expressing concerns about Horizon. I believe that, particularly, Alice, as a new Chair, was keen to engage in this at an early stage of her chairship and, as a result of her discussions with MPs, agreed to undertake an investigation into Horizon.

Ms Price: That document can come down now. Thank you.

You say in your statement at paragraph 15 that you imagine you would have read the Second Sight Interim Report at some point after starting your work on the scheme.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Given that you were being asked to conduct a lessons learned exercise on the process leading to the report, would it be right to assume that you would have read the report quite soon after taking up your role on the scheme?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I see from the documents that have been provided to me, that I actually officially started on the scheme on 25 November but I was also provided with a document exchange which Paula had copied me into, talking about some cases that had been raised by Second Sight and, on the email exchange, I think I say “I don’t think I’ve seen the report” or “Could somebody sent me the report please”, and I think this was early-ish in October. The documents are in the bundle, I just don’t recall the detail.

Ms Price: Yes, we will be going to that bundle, in fact. The date on that document is October 2013.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Right.

Ms Price: So, at October 2013, you don’t think you had had it but, presumably, if you requested it, you would have been provided with it –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m sure.

Ms Price: – but do you recall being provided with it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m sure that’s the case.

Ms Price: By November 2013, you had been given the title of “Programme Director of Project Sparrow”; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00137758. This is a note of “Actions and Decisions from the Project Sparrow Steering Group meeting [on] 12 November 2013”. At the meeting were Paula Vennells, Chris Aujard, Mark Davies and Angela van den Bogerd, among others, and you. Under point 4, please, we see this under “Roles and responsibilities”:

“Project Sparrow should be split to separate the Mediation Scheme from Business Improvements. AVDB …”

Is that Angela van den Bogerd?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: “… to be Programme Director for the Business Improvements Programme, BC …”

Is that you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: “… to be Programme Director for Sparrow.”

There’s an action there:

“AVDB and BC to agree how the slipped will work with CA.”

Is that Chris Aujard?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: How did the split between you and Angela van den Bogerd work?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So the Business Improvement Programme was given to Angela for – to be Programme Director and everything else – at the time I don’t know whether I fully understood what everything else was – but everything else would come to me. The caveat around that was the investigations into the specific complaints in the scheme would be conducted by a team, actually, two teams that were established by Angela. So, although the investigations were relevant to the scheme itself, as opposed to almost being tangential to it, Angela had responsibility for the investigations and the cases and I did not.

Ms Price: That document can come down now, thank you. You say at paragraph 8 of your statement that you completed your outstanding work on mutualisation between October and December 2013. Was that alongside your work on the scheme and Project Sparrow?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. So I think, to the best of my recollection, Sir Anthony Hooper was appointed and was keen to have a Working Group meeting. So my Secretariat responsibilities started relatively quickly. In terms of everything else, I would say, as the process continued, it wasn’t a straight cut-off point of 25 November; the mutualisation work ran down and the mediation work ramped up.

Ms Price: What became of the proposal for mutualisation?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So, at that stage in the process, it was split between the Communications Directorate, looking at the public purpose of the Post Office, which would have been an underlying statement of what the Post Office stood for, and then the strategy to mutualise the Post Office stayed with strategy group, where it had sat when I was working on it.

Ms Price: You then started a fixed-term contract, which made you an employee of the Post Office; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Price: That was on 1 January 2014?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You’ve corrected in your statement the reference to “full time” to “fixed term”?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Were you working full-time hours?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You say at paragraph 11 of your statement that you also provided a support function for the new Post Office General Counsel, Chris Aujard; what did this role entail?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So this was specifically to assist him in meeting any requests from either the Working Group or the Board in the general area of work which fell into – not necessarily a direct result of the Mediation Scheme, but any issues that the – particularly the Post Office Board wanted to address in order to inform any decisions they wanted to make to the scheme. It was a pulling together of anything that he needed pulling together that was in any way related to matters relating to the scheme.

Ms Price: Is it right that your fixed-term contract with the Post Office ran until 31 March 2015 –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Price: – at which point you retired?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: I’d like to turn, please, to your knowledge of bugs, errors and defects and your understanding of their significance, not now but at the time that you were at the Post Office.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: At paragraph 15 of your statement, you say that you were not aware of the abbreviation for bugs, errors and defects, that is “BEDs”, during your time within Post Office. You do recall, though, being aware of the matters raised in the Interim Second Sight Report of July 2013; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You also say at that paragraph that you became aware of such issues being raised by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, as well as applicants in the scheme?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. Not specifically related to bugs but just concerns about the Horizon system.

Ms Price: Looking, please, to the Interim Second Sight Report itself, could we have that on screen, please. It’s POL00099063. We can see the title there “Interim Report into alleged problems with the Horizon system”. Then going, please, to page 8. Towards the bottom we have the date, 8 July 2013, and the redacted signatures of Mr Henderson and Mr Warmington.

The preliminary conclusions are set out above at 8.2, and these were as follows:

“(a) We have so far found no evidence of system wide (systemic) problems with the Horizon software;

“(b) We are aware of 2 incidents where defects or ‘bugs’ in the Horizon software gave rise to 76 branches being affected by incorrect balances or transactions, which took some time to identify and correct;

“(c) Occasionally an unusual combination of events, such as a power or communications failure during the processing of a transaction, can give rise to a situation where timely, accurate and complete information about the status of a transaction is not immediately available to a [subpostmaster];

“(d) When individual [subpostmasters] experience or report problems, POL’s response can appear to be unhelpful, unsympathetic, or simply fail to solve the underlying problem. The lack of a ‘user forum’ or similar facility means that subpostmasters have little opportunity to raise issues of concern at an appropriate level within [Post Office Limited];

“(e) The lack of an effective ‘outreach’ investigations function within POL, results in POL failing to identify the root cause of problems and missing opportunities for process improvements;

“(f) The end of Trading Period processes can be problematic for individual [subpostmasters], particularly if they are dealing with unresolved Transaction Corrections. The lack of ‘suspense account’ option means that it is difficult for disputed [transaction corrections] to be dealt with in a neutral manner.”

Then going back, please, to paragraph 6.4 on page 5. This is under the section on whether defects in Horizon caused some of the losses for which subpostmasters or their staff were blamed. It says at 6.4:

“In the course of our extensive discussions with [Post Office Limited] over the last 12 months, [Post Office Limited] has disclosed to Second Sight that, in 2011 and 2012, it had discovered ‘defects’ in Horizon Online that had impacted 76 branches.”

Over the page, please:

“The first defect, referred to as the ‘Receipts and Payments Mismatch Problem’ impacted 62 branches. It was discovered in September 2010 as a result of Fujitsu’s monitoring of system events (although there were subsequent calls from branches). The aggregate of the discrepancies arising from this system defect was £9,029, the largest shortfall being £777 and the largest surplus £7,044. [Post Office Limited] has informed us that all shortages were addressed at no loss to any [subpostmaster].”

Then the second defect is addressed at the next paragraph, the “Local Suspense Account Problem”, affecting:

“… 14 branches, and [generating] discrepancies totalling £4,486, including a temporary shortfall of £9,800 at one branch and a surplus of £3,200 at another (the remaining 12 branches were all impacted by amounts of less than £161).”

It goes on to say that:

“[The Post Office] was unaware of this second defect until, a year after its first occurrence in 2011, it reoccurred and an unexplained shortfall was reporting by a [subpostmaster].

“[The initial investigations by the Post Office] in 2012 failed to reveal the system defect and, because the cause could not be identified, the amount was written off. Fujitsu looked into the matter in early 2013 and discovered, and then corrected, the defect.

“It seems however, that the shortfalls (and surplus) that occurred at the first occurrence (in 2011) resulted in branches being asked to make good incorrect amounts.

“[The Post Office] has informed us that it has disclosed, in Witness Statements to English courts, information about one other subsequently-corrected defect or ‘bug’ in the Horizon software.”

Forgive me for taking you through that at some length but I’d just like to be clear about the issues that were being raised in the Interim Second Sight Report.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: The report was, in fact, making reference to three defects, or bugs, in total, which Second Sight had been told about by the Post Office; would you agree?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: You say at paragraph 15 of your statement that you were not aware of concerns being raised within the Post Office about bugs, errors or defects, or a lack of integrity in the system but aren’t these three defects, or bugs, identified by the Post Office to Second Sight an example of that: concerns being raised by the Post Office?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Sorry, could you repeat the question?

Ms Price: Forgive me. That was a long question. In your statement, you say – and if you’d like to go to it we can, it’s paragraph 15 of the statement, which is page 6.

I referred earlier to the sentence before this of becoming aware of such issues being raised by Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and applicants in the scheme, and you say:

“I was not aware of concerns being raised within [Post Office Limited] about BEDs [bugs, errors or defects] or a lack of integrity in the Horizon system.”

What I’m asking is those defects or bugs, which were referred to in the Second Sight Interim Report, having been raised by the Post Office, were they not an example or examples of concerns being raised within Post Office about bugs, errors or defects?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I see. So, at the time I became involved in this, it was my understanding that Post Office believed that it had addressed the issues raised in the Second Sight Report satisfactorily and, therefore, beyond that, it continued to have confidence that Horizon was working as it should. Therefore – and because these issues – these particular BEDs had been highlighted, publicised and addressed, my understanding within the Post Office was that almost there was a line drawn under that but, moving forward, there was a considerable level of confidence in the fact that Horizon was working as it should.

Ms Price: One of the preliminary conclusions that we’ve just been to was Second Sight raising concern about the Post Office failing to identify the root causes of problems. In light of that, did you not have any concern that there might be other defects or bugs – using Second Sight’s terminology – that had not been discovered?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: At the time, no.

Ms Price: That document can come down now. Thank you.

When you took up your role with the scheme and Project Sparrow in 2013, were you aware that the Post Office had brought prosecutions against subpostmasters and others privately, based on Horizon data?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I was aware that Post Office brought prosecutions. The detail of that or more detail of how that worked – for example, that Post Office was not a prosecuting authority, it was private prosecutions – was something I became aware of a bit later. The actual evidence used in the prosecutions was not something that I was particularly aware of or particularly concerned myself with. It became the subject of discussions later, during the lifetime of the scheme between Post Office and Second Sight.

Ms Price: Were you aware when you took up the roles in 2013 that action was being taken against subpostmasters by the Post Office, including by way of civil claims and debt recovery actions, to recover shortfalls in agency branches?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I certainly became aware of that during the first couple of months, I would say.

Ms Price: When you read the Interim Second Sight Report, did you recognise the significance of it for individuals against whom the Post Office had taken action?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No. I read it by way of background, in terms of what had gone before, as opposed to particularly engaging in the detail. The only detail I engaged in was subsequently in relation to, I think, was Spot Review 5. But, beyond that, it was more by way of context for the work that I was involved in, as opposed to me being involved in any sort of investigation of the issues.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00302417. This is an email from, if we can scroll down a little, Angela Tanner, Stakeholder Correspondence Team. Can you help us with that team; what was that team’s role?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think that was just the team that dealt with any lessons – sorry, any correspondence that came into Post Office generally.

Ms Price: This was sent to you, copied to Angela van den Bogerd, along with one other. It is dated 27 February 2014 and it reads:

“Hi Belinda

“Please find attached a letter sent to Paula regarding Horizon integrity concern. I have spoken to Gayle today, and she has advised me that you are the person to help me. The letter is from Oliver Heald QC MP on behalf of Mrs Jasvinder Barang, who was a subpostmaster until her contract was terminated due to fraud. [She] believes that there was [an] issue with the Horizon system and would like her case to be considered under the Mediation Scheme. Both Oliver Head MP [sic] and [the subpostmistress] are aware the closing date was November.

“Not sure if this case can be looked into? Can you please advise what we can do?”

Do you recall this case being referred to you at all, given it was referred via an MP?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Ms Price: Can you help with why you would have been the person to help?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Because it related to a potential late application to the scheme and I was the Secretariat to the scheme. By – at that point the scheme had closed to new applicants and I can’t recall the point at which there might have been a change of process but, initially, we did have some late applicants – applications to the scheme and they came sometimes through correspondence to the Post Office, sometimes through correspondence to Second Sight, and my job as Secretariat to the Working Group would be to put them on the agenda for the Working Group, for the Working Group to make a decision as to whether or not the cases should be admitted.

As the – after a period of time, I think the – that the working group had decided that late applications should not be accepted but the cases would be passed to Angela van den Bogerd to investigate as part of her ‘business as usual’ processes. So the reason I explained that is I can’t recall this case and I don’t know whether or not I would have put it as an agenda item for the Working Group or, by that time, the Working Group would have decided that it would be passed immediately to Angela.

Ms Price: Should we understand from that that you were not involved in any investigation of the facts of this case or –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Ms Price: That document can come down now. Thank you.

You have addressed the Helen Rose Report in your statement at paragraphs 80 to 83. If you wish to refer to those paragraphs, do. In particular, you have referred to email correspondence from April and June 2014, in which the report was addressed. Your evidence at paragraph 80 is that you believe you became aware of the Helen Rose Report in 2014 but you do not think you appreciated at the time the extent to which the contents of it may have been important to subpostmasters who had been convicted of relevant offences, on the basis of Horizon data; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m sorry, could you take me to the paragraph again?

Ms Price: Of course. It’s paragraph 80.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: 80, 8-0? I apologise.

Ms Price: Yes, it’s page 39.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, yes.

Ms Price: So you say:

“I believe that I became aware of the Helen Rose Report at some point in 2014, although I do not recall exactly when. Following my review of the report and the email correspondence around the matter, I do not think I appreciated at the time the extent to which the contents of it may have been important to those subpostmasters who had been convicted of theft, a fraud offence or false accounting, on the basis of data generated by the Horizon IT System.”

Could we have on screen, please, POL00148049, and page 3 of this document, please. About halfway down the page there’s an email from Steve Darlington of Howe+Co, to Ron Warmington, dated 8 April 2014. The first two paragraphs of his email read as follows:

“As Priti has stated in her last sentence we are seeking a stay on the time limits on all cases under review due to the implications of [Post Office Limited’s] non-disclosure of system-generated transactions and Horizon’s integrity issues.

“The ‘Helen Rose Report’ is of critical significance to all cases. The information contained within it is a compelling case for such a stay in its own right. When combined with the Andy Winn/Alan Lusher email in the case of Ward which explicitly states that Fujitsu can remotely change the figures in the branches without the [subpostmasters’] knowledge or authority, the case for a general stay is overwhelming.”

We will come back to the second point being raised here, and that being the point of the case of Ward and the email referred to, but sticking now with the Helen Rose Report, scrolling up to the email above, please, we can see here Mr Warmington forwarding Mr Darlington’s email to you, proposing this for that week’s Working Group call; do you see that?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Then scrolling up again, we see that you forward the email from Mr Warmington on to Angela van den Bogerd, Andrew Parsons, Andy Holt and Rodric Williams, also on 8 April 2014, and that email was copied to Chris Aujard and David Oliver. You say this:

“Please see below. Not yet decided about whether to postpone this week’s WG call but does anyone know anything about the email being quoted below about remote alteration of the figures in branch? I think this one is new on me.”

As I say, we’ll come back to that:

“Andy P, can we please chase CK …”

Cartwright King, was that?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: “… for a response on the Rose report point.”

Do you recall this coming to your attention in this way, the Rose Report reference, looking at these documents?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: From reading these documents, I assume that the issue of the Rose Report had arisen previously and I had asked Andy Parsons for, presumably, some briefing to ensure that Chris Aujard and Angela had what they would require for any discussion at the Working Group.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00029707. This is an email later on 8 April 2014, from Andrew Parsons to you, among others, providing some information, having spoken to Cartwright King, and he addresses an issue in his email relating to redactions applied to the report before providing some background information in his penultimate paragraph on the Helen Rose Report. He says this:

“Just for background information, the material part of the Helen Rose Report has nothing to do with her comments about reversal data. SS …”

Is that Second Sight?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: “… and Howe [being Howe+Co] are taking this point as evidence of a problem with the integrity of Horizon. In fact, Helen’s issue was that the Credence data, although accurate, did not on its face distinguish between automated reversals and user generated reversals. This information is available but in a different report. The concern was not with the data’s accuracy but that the presentation of the data could be misleading if its limitation were not fully understood. Putting this issue aside, the real (and confidential) reason that the report was disclosed was because Helen’s comment at the bottom of page 3 suggests that it was widely known that there were problems with Horizon. This statement (regardless of whether it is correct) could have been used to attack Gareth Jenkins’ credibility as [Post Office Limited’s] Horizon expert as he had previously stated that there were no problems with Horizon.”

So Mr Parsons is flagging up, is he not, that the Helen Rose Report had implications for the credibility of Gareth Jenkins?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: He is and I can now see that. At the time, that is not the way that I would have read this email, to the extent with which I would have engaged with the detail.

Ms Price: At the time, did it concern you at all, that particular aspect in relation to Gareth Jenkins’ evidence?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00202810. This is an email from Andrew Parsons to you, dated 9 April 2014, so the next day.

I appreciate this is a document which has only been provided to you very recently. Have you had a chance to read through it or do you want to take a moment to just read through now?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, that’s fine.

Ms Price: It reads as follows, Andrew Parsons to you, copied to David Oliver:


“FYI below and attached – this is the original Helen Rose Report and the original email chain. I can’t find anything after this in our records as I think that Rodric took over from this point. Clearly at some point this document went to [Cartwright King] and [Cartwright King] produced the attached advice in July 2013 that triggered the disclosures of the report to some convicted [subpostmasters].”

There are two attachments to the email that we see. Just under the subject there, we can see “Attachments: Horizon data Lepton SPSO … CONFIDENTIAL.docx”, and then the second one, “GARETH JENKINS ADVICE”, 15 July 2013.

The second one is the Simon Clarke Advice, Simon Clarke of Cartwright King, on the use of expert evidence relating to the integrity of the Fujitsu Services Limited Horizon system. Did you read the Rose Report itself when it was sent to you by Mr Parsons?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t recall whether or not that was the point I read the Rose Report but, from the previous or from a previous email, I can see that I did read it because I queried some things in it and suggested that Chris needed briefing on it. But whether or not it was the – in response to the attachment to this, I don’t know.

Ms Price: Did you read the Simon Clarke Advice of 15 July 2013 when it was sent to you in this email?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I have absolutely no recollection of that advice. I am quite surprised to see that here because, up until this point, I would have said I had no knowledge of it whatsoever.

Ms Price: You say you have no recollection of the advice. Would you have read the attachments to emails sent to you as a general practice?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I think it depends on the – I think it depends on the context. So the – my – I would have considered my role to make sure that anybody that needed to know about anything in order to ensure that the work of the Working Group went smoothly and that they were properly briefed, so I commissioned briefing. I did not read everything that was sent to me. I suspect, because I have now read the Clarke Advice, because it’s been published in various formats, I suspect I might have opened it and started to read it but not all of it, I think it’s quite long, and I certainly would not have understood the significance of it, particularly in view of the fact that I believed that Post Office had done everything it needed to assure itself had that its prosecutions were safe.

So this is something about which I would not have concerned myself and I would have assumed that it was being dealt with by the criminal lawyers who were experts in the area. But I don’t think I read it.

Ms Price: Did you ask anyone about the Advice at all, at the time, what it was about?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I had no recollection at all.

Ms Price: Mr Aujard’s evidence was that he was aware of the Clarke Advice; did he ever raise it with you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, to the best of my knowledge, no.

Ms Price: Could we have the Clarke Advice on screen, please. It’s POL00006357. Going, please, to the last page, page 14, at the bottom we can see the date and the author. You say that you have now seen the Advice. Have you read it from start to finish now?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Pretty much, yes.

Ms Price: I’d like to take you, please, to paragraph 36, that’s page 12, and, without reading it all out, if you can just cast your eye down there. We see there at (e) the reference to Helen Rose’s comment in her report, and so this is Simon Clarke explaining the significance of the comment –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: – reinforcing the point “I know you are aware of all the Horizon integrity issues”.

Then at (g):

“No mention is made of any of these Horizon issues [those issues you set out above] in Dr Jennings’ expert witness statements considered in this review … Rather the statements attest to the robustness and integrity of Horizon.”

Then at (h), at the top there:

“Had the existence of the bugs been disclosed by Dr Jennings in his expert witness statements then, in relation to any defendant who had raised Horizon issues as part of his/her defence case, that material ‘… might reasonably be considered capable of undermining the case for the prosecution … or of assisting the case for the accused …’ and would undoubtedly have required disclosure to such a defendant.”

Then at paragraph 38 – at 37 above, Mr Clarke makes clear that:

“… Dr Jennings’ has not complied with his duties to the court, prosecution or the defence.

At 38:

“The reasons as to why [he] failed to comply with this duty are beyond the scope of this review. The effects of that failure however must be considered”, and he advised the following to be the position:

“Dr Jenkins failed to disclose material known to him but which undermines his expert opinion. This failure is in plain breach of his duty as an expert witness.

“Accordingly, Dr Jenkins Jenkins’ credibility as an expert witness is fatally undermined; he should not be asked to provide expert evidence in any current or future prosecution.

“Similarly, in those current and ongoing cases where Dr Jenkins has provided an expert witness statement, he should not be called upon to give that evidence. Rather, we should seek a different, independent expert to fulfil that role.

“Notwithstanding that the failure is that of Dr Jenkins and, arguably, of Fujitsu Services Limited, being his employer, this failure has a profound effect upon [Post Office Limited] and [Post Office Limited] prosecutions, not least because by reason of Dr Jenkins’ failure, material which should have been disclosed to defendants was not disclosed, thereby placing [Post Office Limited] in breach of their duty as a prosecutor.

“By reason of that failure to disclose, there are a number of now convicted defendants to whom the existence of bugs should have been disclosed but was not. Those defendants remain entitled to have disclosure of that material notwithstanding their now convicted status.”

He goes on to explain he has:

“… (… already advised on the need to conduct review of all [Post Office] prosecutions, so as to identify those who ought to have had the material disclosed to them. That review is presently under way).

“Further, there are also a number of cases where there has been no disclosure where there ought to have been. Here we must disclose the existence of the bugs to those defendants where the test for disclosure is met.

“Where a convicted defendant or his lawyers consider that the failure to disclose the material reveals an arguable ground of appeal, he may seek the leave of the Court of Appeal to challenge his conviction.”

At 39:

“In an appropriate case the Court of Appeal will consider whether or not any conviction is unsafe. In doing so they may well enquire into the reasons for Dr Jenkins’ failure to refer to the existence of bugs in his expert witness statements and evidence.”

Were you aware of the issues, set out in the paragraphs that we’ve just been to, at the time?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No. I have to assume that I did not read it because – and, again, having looked at it with you here, even my lack of legal knowledge or lack of knowledge of criminal law would not have stopped me, I think, from at least asking what has happened in relation to this. So I must assume I didn’t read it.

I would – and I struggle to understand why Andy would have sent it to me because disclosures and matters relating to disclosures was totally outside of my – outside of my brief.

Ms Price: Had you read it at the time, what would your reaction have been?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Now?

Ms Price: Had you read it at the time.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Oh, had it – um – so I would have questioned, I’m sure, of Andy, Jarnail certainly, and I also would have asked the question of Chris, that what had happened as a result of this? I would say that I took most things that were not within my direct line of responsibility at face value, in terms of what I was told. The reason I make that point is that, particularly not having any familiarity with the subject matter and in a big organisation, doing the job I was doing and also others, I was incredibly reliant on the completeness, the accuracy and veracity of the information I was given.

The reason I don’t believe that I saw this is that I did continue to insert into briefing comments about Post Office’s confidence in the safety of its convictions – sorry, its prosecutions, and I can’t imagine that I would have done so, had I read this, at least without having asked a question about it.

Ms Price: Going back to the email traffic on the subject of the Helen Rose Report, please, and how it was to be referred into investigation reports for the scheme, could we have on screen, please, POL00129392. Towards the bottom of page 2, please, this is an email from Andrew Parsons, dated 17 June 2014. It is to Chris Aujard, Rodric Williams, Jarnail Singh, Angela van den Bogerd and you, among others. He says:

“I have just spoken with [Cartwright King] about a new CQR …”

Can you help with CQR? Is that one of the cases in the scheme?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Sorry, I was trying to think of the – I think it was the initial setting out of the complaint by an applicant in the scheme. I can’t remember what CQR stood for but I think that’s what it was.

Ms Price: “… from Howe+Co that references the Helen Rose Report.

“You’ll recall that the [Helen Rose] report was retrospectively disclosed in a number of prosecution cases as it drew into question some of the statements made by [Post Office Limited’s] expert witness, Gareth Jenkins. A copy of the [Helen Rose] Report has made its way to Howe who are now referencing it generally in their CQRs. For example, the CQR on M060 refers to the [Helen Rose] Report however the [Helen Rose] Report was not sent to this applicant.

“The point of concern is that the M060 CQR is starting to make the link between (1) the fact that the [Helen Rose] Report makes clear that [Gareth Jenkins] knew of issues with Horizon and (2) the fact that [Gareth Jenkins] never mentioned these issues in his prosecution evidence (see paragraph 53 in the attached). This line of enquiry draws into question the credibility of [Gareth Jenkins’] evidence.

“The sharing of the [Helen Rose] Report between applicants is potentially a breach of solicitors ethics/contempt of court. However, [Cartwright King] and I don’t believe attacking the solicitors on this point would be of benefit – if anything it may draw more attention to the [Helen Rose] Report.

“Instead, our preferred approach is to try to downplay the importance of the [Helen Rose] Report in any [Post Office Limited] Investigation Reports. We recommend minimalising or ignoring entirely the [Helen Rose] Report when responding to CQRs.

“If the Investigation Team need guidance on how to address any [Helen Rose] Report related questions, I suggest that they (or the lawyer here at BD) addresses these directly to [Cartwright King] on a case-by-case basis.”

Then he asks:

“Please let me know if you are happy with this proposed approach?”

So, regardless of the Simon Clarke Advice, would you agree that Mr Parsons was joining the dots in quite clear terms, in relation to the implications of the Helen Rose Report for the credibility of Gareth Jenkins?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: In light of that, did you think his preferred and recommended approach for cases in the scheme was appropriate?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So, looking at the two things separately, because I have considered and reflected on this email, the linking of the Helen Rose Report with the credibility of Gareth Jenkins’ evidence, I did not – now, as with the previous email, now I read it again, I understand, knowing what I now know, that the statement about starting the point of concern is that M060 CQR, that is far more significant than I realised at the time. I suspect I would have skimmed over that.

The issue that is, I think, a matter of regret for me is, among many, if I may say so – but regardless of my knowledge, regardless of my expertise or otherwise in law or criminal law, I don’t think an approach to try to play down the importance of the Helen Rose Report is satisfactory advice, and the reason for that and, particularly, in terms of the spirit of the scheme, is that, if it were not important – and my assumption throughout the whole of this time was that it was not as important as it was being made to be – and I accept that that assumption is now proved to be incorrect – that if it was not important, then that should have been clearly stated in response to any reference to it in a CQR, and the reasons why.

I wish and, indeed, on reflection, I should have challenged that. Sorry, I can’t say exactly why I didn’t do that but we very much, if you like, segregated the matters with – which we were dealing with. So, insofar as I read this and engaged with it, it would have been – this was in advice to the Investigation Team and I wasn’t involved in the putting together the investigation reports and I would not have read a lot of the associated documentation.

Ms Price: In August 2013, Simon Clarke had cause to write an advice which advised the Post Office on its duties to record and retain material. In that advice, he referred to having been provided with information to suggest that there had been instruction by someone within the Post Office that minutes of a conference call about Horizon integrity should be shredded. Did anyone ever raise that advice with you or that issue with you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: To the best of my knowledge, no.

Ms Price: Sir, I wonder if that might be an appropriate moment for the first morning break.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

But before we do, can I just ask you this: when Ms Price was asking you questions upon the assumption that you had read what I’ll call the Clarke Advice, you said that you thought, if you had read it, you would have questioned Mr Parsons, Jarnail and Mr Aujard in some way to understand its significance. All right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s what you thought you would have done.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: They are obviously all internal, if I can put it in that way, to the Post Office?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Would you have thought about what your duty might have been, as the Secretary of the Scheme to inform Sir Anthony Hooper as the Chair of the Working Party about that document?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So all of the issues that arose in relation to Horizon or, indeed, prosecutions, had a much wider application than just those cases in the scheme. So I think I would have wanted to understand the situation before I did anything – before I did anything wider. If I might take your point slightly further, if I had read this and add asked questions about it and was not satisfied with the response I got, then I think Sir Anthony Hooper would – Sir Anthony Hooper, as opposed to going to the Working Group, would have been the person that I would have discussed this with.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Thank you very much.

Yes, what time shall we start again, Ms Price?

Mr Beer: 11.15 past, sir, I think is ten minutes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. Okay. Thank you.

Ms Price: Thank you.

(11.04 am)

(A short break)

(11.15 am)

Ms Price: Hello, sir, can you still see and hear us?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you.

Ms Price: Turning, please, to the issue of remote access to the Horizon system. You define remote access as “The ability of Fujitsu employees to alter transaction data or data in the branch accounts without the consent or knowledge of subpostmasters”, and you address that at paragraphs 18 to 25 of your statement, that’s page 7, if you want to have those paragraphs to hand.

We have already looked at an email in which the issue of remote access was raised in April 2014 and that was the email from Steve Darlington, dated 8 April. Could we have that back on screen, please it’s POL00148049.

You’ll recall because we read the email out earlier but, if we can scroll down, please, to the bottom email in this chain, so we can have it there – that’s it, the “Dear Ron” 8 April 2014 email – this was the email which raised an email between Andy Winn and Alan Lusher in a case called Ward, which was said to explicitly state that Fujitsu could remotely change the figures in branch without a subpostmaster’s knowledge or authority. This prompted Mr Warmington to propose this email, which also addressed the Helen Rose Report, for discussion at the Working Group weekly meeting.

The bottom of page 2 of this document, please. We see your email, and it’s the first sentence or paragraph here. You ask if anyone knows anything about the email being quoted below about remote alteration of figures in branch, and you say:

“I think that this is a new one on me.”

Was that new to you at this point, then, the issue of remote access or was the thing that was new this particular email?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think the thing that was new was this particular email. My previous knowledge of the issues relating to remote access, as far as I recall, were specifically in relation to Spot Review 5, concerning a team at Bracknell which, allegedly, were altering transaction data without the knowledge of subpostmasters – I think I’m paraphrasing there – and this was an issue which cropped up on a number of occasions during my involvement with the scheme, and that was the lens through which I think I viewed everything relating to remote access.

Ms Price: Going to the top of page 1, please. This is your email of 14 April 2014. Three lines in, you say:

“There are a few questions we need to answer, I think …”

This is in the context of the email, “Andy Parsons [was] going to speak to Andy Winn about it”, in the sentence above. You say:

“There are a few questions we need to answer, I think:

“1. What is the explanation?

“2. Has this statement been used publicly (in court or otherwise)?

“3. Have the contents of this email been disclosed? Either:

“a. Through the ‘criminal’ disclosure process, or

“b. To Second Sight through response to Spot Reviews, or

“c. As part of one of our investigations, or

“d. To Second Sight in other [miscellaneous] material we have been provided in the past.

“4. If this email has not been disclosed publicly, regardless of what our response is we need to consider how it came into Howe+Co’s possession.”

Can you help, having posed these questions, with what further involvement in this particular issue you had, if any?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So, looking at the documents that have been provided to me, on a couple of occasions between then and me leaving the Post Office, issues relating to this arose, and I am not able to see from the documents, and I have no recollection, of any continuing process. But in relation – but to try to address it through the lens of how things worked at the time, this would have been me having been sent something and trying to do some sort of analysis of what the key issues might be, so that Andy Parsons could create a brief for Chris Aujard, so that he could have a conversation at the Working Group.

And however unsatisfactory that might now feel to me and also seem now, a lot of my role was trying to pull things together to make sure that people could answer the questions they needed to. So I engaged, I’m afraid, more with the process than the detail.

I don’t remember checking the brief. I don’t remember seeing the brief that Andy would have done and I don’t remember any other activity specifically relating to this.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00091394. The first email in the chain starts towards the bottom of the page and is Jessica Barker, dated 13 October 2014. She forwards on to you, among a number of others, “revised draft CRR” in a case that was being looked at by the scheme. The timings of this email chain are a little confusing because your email above Jessica Barker’s – Jessica Barker’s is 11.46 and your email above of the same date is 10.59, so I’m not sure what’s going on with the date stamps there but your email above appears to be a reply to Jessica Barker’s email. Does that look right to you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I imagine so.

Ms Price: If we look at Jessica Barker’s email scrolling down, we have:

“Dear all

“Second Sight have released a revised version of their draft CRR for case M053.

“Some background to this: you will remember that [Second Sight] originally uploaded a draft CRR some weeks ago [They have] produced a new draft CRR.”

Then just explains what’s attached to the email and what the deadline for responses is.

Going further up, please, to your email above, which would appear, would you agree, to be a reply to Jessica Barker’s email, it says:

“Is this the first which references remote access?”

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: “I think we need to pick this up very robustly in our response as this could become public and Second Sight seem to be asking for proof that something didn’t happen.”

You say:

“Mel, could we dust off our lines on this as this will be with the applicable and advisor tomorrow.”

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: So you seem to have been aware of there being lines to take on remote access before this; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: The lines to take that you had in mind, where had they originated from?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t recall.

Ms Price: Melanie Corfield responds above, the same day, as follows:

“Our current line if we are asked about remote access potentially being used to change branch data/transactions is simply: ‘This is not and never has been possible’.

“This line holds but if we are pressed regarding [Second Sight’s] points about ‘admitting’ there is remote access etc, we can say: ‘There is no remote access for individual branch transactions’.

“We might get pushed further on it and get asked by media to confirm whether or not there is any remote access. We will need to make the distinction re access as straightforward as we can so suggest: ‘There is no remote access for individual branch transactions. Fujitsu has support access to the “back-end” of the system used for software updates and maintenance. This is of course strictly controlled with security processes in place, but could not, in any event, be used for individual branch transactions – there is no facility at all within the system for this’.”

Then Melanie Corfield says:

“I’ll get a view from Fujitsu comms but let me have any comments.”

Did the existing line, being “This is not and has not ever been possible”, trouble you at all, on reading this email, given that what follows seems to be alternative, more fulsome lines?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I think it depends on the question being asked. If I could address that by way of what I picked up in the – I think it was the second bundle of documents that were sent to me by the Inquiry. In October, I think I was starting to get a little bit confused and maybe concerned about the way that the issue of remote access was being defined and, therefore, being answered and, in fact, that was one of the amendments to my statement, that I thought a wider piece of work needed to be done – I can’t now remember the exact terminology – but to identify what the specific questions were and then what the answers were because I think many of us had in our mind something different when we were answering the questions.

And I wasn’t sure that we were turning our minds specifically to what the point that needed to be addressed was and, therefore, giving the correct answer.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00149276. Going, please, to the first email in this chain, which is towards the bottom of page 1. The email from Melanie Corfield to Andrew Parsons and Jessica Barker, dated 17 October 2014. The subject is “Remote access – reactive statement – in strictest confidence”, and it reads:

“Hi both

“A quick update because Fujitsu comms have come back with revised wording – I think they have made our statement stronger so that is good, but I suspect because there is (of course) some remote access so that the system can be maintained etc Second Sight will continue to pursue.”

Then there are some lines underneath that:

“If we are asked about remote access potentially being used to change branch transactions it is simply: ‘The system is designed to prevent any access, either remote or direct, that would allow individual branch transactions to be altered’.

“If pressed further: ‘The system has been designed to prevent any access, either remote or direct, that would allow individual branch transactions to be altered. Fujitsu has controlled access to the Horizon system for software updates and maintenance purposes. This is of course strictly controlled with security processes in place, but could not, in any event, be used to alter individual branch transactions – there is no facility within the system for this’.”

As far as you can remember, was this email prompted by the particular case discussed in the 13 October email chain that we’ve just looked at?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know.

Ms Price: Going, then, to the reply from Andrew Parsons above, dated 19 October 2014, Mr Parsons says:


“I’m just about comfortable with this. I understand that although [Fujitsu] cannot alter individual branch transactions, they can inject a transaction into a branch’s accounts (though use of this facility is very, very rare) so we just need to keep being careful with any changes to the wording below until we get to the bottom of this.”

This email is then forwarded to you, Patrick Bourke and one other, by Melanie Corfield – so this is the first point at which you enter the email chain, at the top – and it simply says, “As discussed”.

Can you recall discussions around this at the time?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Ms Price: This reactive statement, can you recall whether it was for use for a particular case, whether the M053 case or another, or more widely?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can’t recall and I don’t remember the case, and I probably didn’t read the case. I think it would have been for wider use, and I think it might have been, if the – if a question was asked in relation to remote access on the back of the release of a case report to an applicant, the applicant or anybody associated with that applicant might have spoken to the press about it, if they thought it was significant, therefore having a position in relation to wider application.

Ms Price: It seems that, after this email, you were then sent further information from Fujitsu. Could we have on screen, please, POL00349472. In the middle of the first page, we have an email from you, dated 20 October 2014, and you are responding to James Davidson’s email of the same date, which starts at the bottom of this page?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: If we can go over the page, please, we have this:


“I found the response to Rod’s note. Happy to discuss further, let me know.”

Then there are some answers in the email below, just scrolling slowly down, please, which appear to have been provided in response to questions put by Rodric Williams in April of that year; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: A summary is provided of Fujitsu’s response and the summary is:

“There is no ability to delete or change records a branch creates in either old Horizon or Horizon Online. Transactions in both systems are created in a secure and auditable way to assure integrity, and have either a checksum (old Horizon) or a digital signature (Horizon Online), are time stamped, have a unique sequential number and are securely stored via the core audit process in the audit vault.”

Second point:

“Whilst a facility exists to ‘inject’ additional transactions in the event of a system error, these transactions would have a signature that is unique, subpostmaster IDs are not used and the audit log would house a record of these. As above, this does not delete or amend original transactions but creates a new and additional transactions.”

Third point:

“This facility is built into the system to enable correction to be made if a system error/bug is identified and the master database needs updating as a result, this is not a unique feature of Horizon.”


“Approvals to ‘inject’ new transactions are governed by the change process, 2 factor authentications and a ‘four eyes’ process. A unique identifier is created and can be audited for this type of transaction within HNG-X, Horizon would require more extensive work to investigate, as explained below.”

Going back, then, to your comments on this on the first page, and it’s about halfway down there –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: – and this may be the email you were referring to earlier –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think it is.

Ms Price: – when you said, “For information”, sending this on to Melanie Corfield, Patrick Bourke, Angela van den Bogerd and Tom Wechsler:

“This is [Fujitsu’s] response to a series of questions about what we are now, in my view, incorrectly badging ‘remote access’.

“As we have discussed today, we need to set out in more detail what the position is and is not in relation to what can and cannot be done to Horizon data, by whom and under what circumstances.

“I will set something up to this effect with [Fujitsu] and others.”

Were you aware at the time you were writing this email, so in October 2014, that Deloitte had produced a draft report for discussion in May of that year, addressing, among other things, remote access, and that’s the report dated 23 May 2014, which I think you were provided a copy of when you made your statement?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, that would be under the heading of Project Zebra, is that the –

Ms Price: Yes, that’s correct.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I was aware of Deloitte being commissioned to provide a report for the CIO at the request of the Board, as I recall. I have no recollection of it specifically addressing remote access or Deloitte being instructed to consider the matter of remote access, so I didn’t make the link between this and that report.

Ms Price: Moving to November 2014, please. Could we have on screen POL00142406, starting, please, with the top of page 2 of this document. There is an email from James Davidson to you, dated 12 November 2014, and it’s copied to two others. The subject is “March 2010 – Incident Details”, and Mr Davidson provides details about an incident from that date. This was a document which was sent to you by the Inquiry at the time you were asked for a statement.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Have you had a chance to read through it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: I’ll take it relatively quickly, therefore, but please do say if you want me to slow down or go back to anything.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: The problem experienced by a subpostmaster was a duplicate transaction being generated when the system went offline unexpectedly, and that’s the first paragraph there under “Background”. The subpostmaster spotted it and called the helpline for assistance.

We can see in the timeline the accounts were repaired by the insertion of auditable records into the branch database to negate the duplicate transaction. The fix was approved by the Post Office and, in this instance, the subpostmaster was also told, so we can see underneath there:

“Approved by [Post Office Limited] – subpostmaster informed.”

But would you agree, having read this summary of events, that this insertion could have been conducted without the subpostmaster knowing about it or approving it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That wasn’t the way that I had subsequently read it. So I don’t recall it from the time, although I do now recall that one incident had arisen. But I hadn’t interpreted the way – I hadn’t interpreted it the way that you are describing it. Reviewing it now, what I have taken from it is that this was a system or a change to a system that was being piloted in a small number of offices and a subpostmaster had noticed an issue, therefore the subpostmaster was aware, and the subpostmaster’s accounts were corrected with the agreement and with the visibility of the subpostmaster and, as it was a pilot, there were arrangements in place to fix the issue, which I have assumed meant that, before the system was rolled out, that the matter was resolved and, indeed, the pilot had successfully identified possibly more issues but successfully identified and rectified this issue.

Ms Price: It is fortunate, isn’t it, that the subpostmaster spotted the duplicate transaction in the first place because, if it he hadn’t and he’d had problems balancing, might this not just have been another unexplained shortfall case?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can see, theoretically, that might have been the case. I didn’t think of it in that way but I accept that it could have been the case. What I’m not clear about, because I’ve not – in fact, I’ve never even seen a Horizon screen – I’m – I don’t know how obvious such an issue would have been. So I accept that, if the subpostmaster is part of a pilot, they would probably be more alert and more diligent in terms of spotting things because that would be part of the reason for a pilot but I hadn’t viewed it in the way that you describe.

Ms Price: Looking, then, to your response to this email at the bottom of page 1, please. So you forward this on, on 12 November 2014, to Patrick Bourke and Mark Underwood, copied to Andrew Parsons, and you say:

“Details of the transaction inserted by [Fujitsu]

“Mark, could you please check the branch against applications in the Scheme.”

Then, going to the top of the page, please, still 12 November 2014, Mark Underwood replies and says this:

“Hi all,

“I am extremely pleased to say it does not relate to any of the branches in the scheme.

“For information, below is the affected branch …”

Why did you understand Mark Underwood to be extremely pleased that this was not a scheme case?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can’t say that I understood it at all. I can understand why I would have asked him or somebody to look to see if it was a case in the scheme and, in view of the fact that this issue had been identified, then I think we would have wanted to assure ourselves that it was properly explained in the – in any Post Office response to the scheme and I would imagine that was my reason. I don’t want to assume what Mark might have thought by trying to second-guess what was in his mind when he wrote that.

Ms Price: Did you feel any relief that the incident did not relate to any of the branches in the scheme at the time?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m not sure that I had any feeling about it whatsoever, insofar as I had been reassured, I think, having – bearing in mind the previous emails, which talked about the possibility of transactions being inserted, which was something I had not turned my mind to, the fact that it appears to have happened once and that was during a pilot exercise, and the issue had been identified and rectified, I think I was reassured, rather than anything. But I would have wanted to – I would have been concerned, had this case been in the scheme, and the – this issue had not been correctly articulated. So, in that respect, I was – I suppose I would have been pleased.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, paragraph 20 of Ms Cortes-Martin’s statement, please, that’s page 7. Towards the bottom of that page, you say here at paragraph 20:

“The issue of ‘remote access’ was raised by Second Sight on a number of occasions during my time on the Scheme, but my understanding was that [Post Office Limited] considered that the matter had been addressed in its response to Spot Review 5 and, as far as I was aware, [Post Office Limited] and Fujitsu maintained the position that transaction data could not be changed remotely without the knowledge of a [subpostmaster].”

Is that an accurate description of your understanding at the time, notwithstanding that November 2014 email?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, I think, I think it is. For me, it’s rather like a number of the other issues. I was reassured by people I spoke to that this issue arose as a result of Mr Rudkin’s visit to Bracknell – and, again, I understand now, with the benefit of hindsight and knowing what I now know, that this was a far more significant and broader issue – and I viewed everything through that lens. The issue was whether or not transaction data could be changed remotely without the knowledge of a subpostmaster and, on the face of it, that was my understanding and that continued to be my understanding.

Ms Price: I’d like to move, please, to Second Sight’s role and how this was managed by those involved in Project Sparrow. The statement can come – actually, if we can keep the statement on screen, please, and go to page 4 of it, at paragraph 10, you say:

“Although my job title was ‘Programme Director’, it became clear early on that I did not have any strategic responsibility or any final authority to make decisions in relation to the Scheme, and whilst I managed a small team of colleagues carrying out work in relation to the Scheme, I did not supervise or manage any other persons in managerial positions. Myself and my team were very much coordinators (as opposed to decision makers), carrying out the instructions and requirements of the Scheme Working Group (in my capacity as Secretariat), the Board, its subcommittee, and [Post Office Limited] General Counsel.”

Should we take it from this that you consider your role as Programme Director of Project Sparrow was mistitled?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. Sorry, can I clarify? I think in the first instance we established a programme board and I think that the title, at that stage, was correct. Some of the documentation that I have seen and from my recollection, I would have said a Programme Director or maybe a Programme Manager or Project Manager, but I think that would have been – I think that would have been more accurate. Subsequently, the governance for not the scheme but the entirety of the work that would have fallen within the programme changed, specifically when the Board set up a subcommittee and I think, by that time, the steering group had ceased to meet, I think, and but trying to run a programme board – with a very small team to support a programme board – a subcommittee of the board, the board and the Working Group was far too much governance and so the programme board ceased to exist. As far as I can see it didn’t meet after April.

So I think somewhere between maybe February and April it had become clear to me that this wasn’t a Programme Director role in the normal scheme of things. So I – in that respect, I think that is correct.

Ms Price: You say at paragraph 31 of your statement that Paula Vennells chaired a steering group which oversaw the work of Project Sparrow. Did you ever raise your lack of strategic responsibility or final authority to make decisions with Paula Vennells at all? Was it something you were dissatisfied with?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, it wasn’t something that I was dissatisfied with. My – actually, my recollection is that Paula had – or somebody had asked me to provide the Secretariat to the Working Group, so that was the email of 8 October, then – and you’ve referred me to it during this session – in November there was a meeting of the steering board and, actually, Paula announced at that meeting that I would be the Programme Director for Sparrow. I do not recall having had any conversation with anybody about that, prior to that meeting.

I don’t want to – or I’m reluctant to attribute anything to anybody else but I think Angela might have been as surprised as I was by that announcement. I did not challenge that announcement but I wasn’t disappointed or concerned when later it transpired that I would have been doing primarily what I had anticipated in the first place, and that is running the scheme and supporting the scheme.

Ms Price: Moving, please, to paragraph 30 of the statement, that’s page 17, you say:

“In terms of Project Sparrow, I am not aware of the background to its set up, as this was before my involvement in the Scheme. I do not recall if I was ever told its original remit.”

Once you became Programme Director for Project Sparrow, did you seek to further understand the project’s genesis at all?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, I can’t say I did. What I was more concerned about was trying to define what it might be going forward because – and I think this, if you like, summarises where I started on this, and that was that Second Sight’s report had published in August. I –

Ms Price: July, I think.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Sorry, July, and the scheme and Post Office’s response to that had published in August and, therefore, my understanding was a line had been drawn under pretty much what went before and, therefore, I didn’t concern myself too much with what had happened in the past. I was just looking at how things might be managed going forward.

Ms Price: On that, could we have on screen, please, POL00030694. This is a document entitled “Project Sparrow” and, going to the second page, please, we can see, about halfway down the page, the initials “BC”; are they your initials?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: They are, yes.

Ms Price: The date, 13 November 2013 –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: – so relatively shortly after you started in the roles but before the fixed-term contract started in January?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: And before I took over the role officially.

Ms Price: Is this a document which you authored?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think so, yes.

Ms Price: Going back to page 1, please, we can see there the first heading is “Scope”. You mentioned before your concern being what Project Sparrow would be going forwards. Was this you setting out your idea of what it would be or what it was?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, I think so. Yes.

Ms Price: There are said to be four workstreams falling within the scope of the project. There are, in fact, six main bullet points but, just looking to just the headings under there for the workstreams, the “Mediation Process and Working Group”; the “Review of criminal cases, (completed)”; “Disclosure”; “Development and implementation of intervention/prosecutions policy, including potential permanent ‘complaints handling’ arrangements”; “Final report for closure of the Project and the issue to enable return to BAU”. Is that business as usual?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Then, finally:

“Targeted business improvement, strictly limited to those parts of the processes which are specifically linked to the scheme.”

Just picking up on the review of criminal cases, what was your understanding of what the review referred to here was?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That Post Office had an enduring responsibility in relation to its prosecutions and enduring responsibility of disclosure, I think was the terminology, as I understood it and, therefore, any issues that arose as a result of investigation into complaints on the scheme had to be considered in terms of whether or not any disclosure was required. There were a team of people or there was some people doing that in Cartwright King and that was an ongoing piece of work.

Ms Price: You’ve put in brackets here “completed”, so was that your understanding, that the review of criminal cases was complete?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Oh, so the review of criminal cases, yes.

Ms Price: Going, then, to “Success criteria”, further down the page, please, at the fourth bullet point – and I should say directly under the “Success criteria”, we have a “By end April” as a goal. The fourth bullet point:

“Second Sight involvement will have ended with:

“[The Post Office] re-established as credible investigators of complaints (endorsed by [Second Sight])

“Political support for completion of [Second Sight] involvement

“JFSA neutral position on SS involvement.”

Did this reflect a view of the Post Office that Second Sight’s involvement after the Interim Report should be limited to involvement in concluding the scheme, rather than any further investigation or reporting on Horizon, the Horizon system itself?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. If I’m understanding your question correctly, my understanding was that the view within Post Office was that Second Sight’s role changed following the publication of its report into one of reviewing investigation reports on complaints in the scheme.

Ms Price: Where did your understanding on that come from?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I really couldn’t say. I think, looking to timing of this document, I must have spoken to a number of people that had been involved to inform what it might look like and, therefore, that is something I would have picked up.

I see from the bundle of documents that I have been provided with that there was a reference, I think made by Andy Parsons, about a decision had already been made to remove Second Sight from the process but I don’t think I ever found out where that originated. It seemed to have come from a conversation between Susan Crichton of Second Sight but, by this time, Susan Crichton, if she hadn’t actually left, she was not in the office very much, so I never – I don’t think I ever got to the bottom of that. But I think, looking at the timescale here, this was, as it turns out, a hugely optimistic timescale that, by the end of April the scheme would have completed.

And, therefore, with the completion of the scheme, future investigations would be carried out by Post Office and Second Sight wouldn’t be required to review them. So we would be into business as usual.

Ms Price: The last bullet point on this page, says:

“New investigation/intervention/enforcement/ prosecutions arrangements in place, announced (possibly in the ‘final report’) and operating fully. Potentially includes:

“Investigation arrangements

“Intervention arrangements

“Prosecutions policy

“Permanent appeals/Mediation Scheme.”

Did you understand it to be a Post Office priority to re-establish prosecutions of subpostmasters and others working in branch?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, no, I didn’t. I think – my understanding is that prosecutions had ceased before I became involved in the scheme and, certainly, from the point of view of General Counsel, there didn’t seem to be any rush to start them again, until this whole process had been completed. But that was just a perception. I couldn’t tell you where that came from but, certainly, I didn’t – if there were any pressure to restart them, it would not have been exerted on me and I was not aware of it.

Ms Price: We saw in Paula Vennells’ email announcing the roles you would be taking on – and that was in October 2013 – that you had been asked to coordinate a short internal lessons learned exercise –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: – on the process leading up to the publication of the Interim Second Sight Report. It appears from the documents that you reported to the Audit, Risk and Compliance Subcommittee on this on 15 May 2014. Could we have those minutes on screen, please. The reference is POL00021426. We see here the minutes, 15 May 2014, and in attendance your name is there, “Programme Director Project Sparrow (Minute POLARC 14/23 only”.

Then going to page 4, please, about two-thirds of the way down the page we see a heading “Project Sparrow” with that reference on the left there, and “Belinda Crowe joined the meeting”. So you were joining the meeting just for this specific item; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Then this at (b):

“The Committee received a report on lessons learned from the handling of the commissioning of the Second Sight investigation into Horizon and subsequent events.”

Do you recall delivering this report now?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Casting your mind back, what were you told about why you were looking into lessons learned from this?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I think I alluded to this earlier. It was quite tricky because I had felt that I was being asked to – I felt in the first instance I was being asked to look at whether or not someone was to blame for the fact that there was some confusion about the establishment of the scheme. The reason that I’m vague about it is because, at the heart of this – and I’m choosing my words carefully because I don’t know the circumstances, which is actually relevant here – the heart of this was the departure of Susan Crichton and what I was keen not to get involved in is to get involved in any sort of apportionment of blame in relation to what might have led to her departure, not only because I wouldn’t have been prepared to do that but because I didn’t know what led to her departure.

My working assumption was that the decision to appoint Second Sight and undertake an investigation and then, at the end of the report, the decision to announce the establishment of a Mediation Scheme, and the involvement of JFSA and Second Sight, was felt to be decisions made by Paula and Alice with MPs, as opposed to necessarily engaging the wider business. That was what I understood to be at the heart of this and then, subsequently – and this is the issue that I think I focused on, which I think is explained in the minutes here, subsequently, almost having made an announcement, because it was expedient to make an announcement, the Post Office then wasn’t geared up to actually accommodating that announcement.

Therefore, to establish – to announce the establishment of a scheme, without the people in place to support that scheme or having worked through the detail of that scheme, seemed to be creating a problem in the business. So, insofar as I can recall – and I hadn’t been provided with my paper but I think it was a very short paper – avoiding any attribution of blame, because I didn’t consider that was my role but to talk about the importance of engaging the business in business decisions and the importance of the business being able to respond in a way that was fleet of foot to anything that it wanted to do quickly.

Ms Price: Is that what we see here at (c) in the summary, given in the minutes:

“It was noted that there was a need for a formal protocol for enterprise wide response to enable the Business to respond quickly and effectively to any crisis, high risk or high profile issue. The Committee also discussed whether there was a need for an identified in-house team ready to deal with such issues.”

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That was at the heart of it and I think that was the only thing I could sensibly recommend.

Ms Price: At (d) we see “It was agreed” – is that it was agreed by the Committee:

“It was agreed that establishing such a team (or teams) would be sensible action, and that appropriate oversight by the CEO and/or the Board was important. The Committee also suggested that scenario planning should be considered, and a virtual crisis management team and support (lawyers, accountants, internal and external resources), be put together.”

So was that, at subparagraph (d), recording the discussions that were had at the meeting, as opposed to your report?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Um, that was.

Ms Price: Or was it –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That was recording the discussions at the meeting flowing from, I think, a discussion of my report because I think that was – insofar as I can remember, I think that was a key feature, the ability to respond to issues quickly.

Ms Price: Why was it that an in-house team seemed to be sensible to those in the discussion, as opposed to an external team?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think, looking – so if it had been – the ability to pull together a small team, such as the small team that I worked with, to deal with these issues, that would have been primarily in-house. I don’t really – I don’t recall the discussion. I don’t know that anything significant arose in the course of the discussion which said it had to be in-house. What I would say: that Post Office relied heavily on externals.

Ms Price: That document can come down now.

Sir, I wonder if that’s a convenient moment for the second morning break.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Ms Price: Thank you. It is 12.15 by my clock, which would take us to 12.25.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Fine.

Ms Price: Thank you, sir.

(12.12 pm)

(A short break)

(12.25 pm)

Ms Price: Hello, sir, is the connection working as it should still?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, it is, thank you.

Ms Price: Ms Cortes-Martin you have already referred to your understanding of the Post Office’s position that Second Sight’s role changed after the publication of its Interim Report. Would you agree that there should have been an engagement letter clearly setting out Second Sight’s role and responsibilities in relation to the scheme from the very get-go?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I would.

Ms Price: It may be that you’ve already given your answer to the Chair on this, in response to different questions, but what is your understanding as to why this wasn’t done? I appreciate it was before you started properly in the role.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Well, I think it was because – and maybe this links to the lessons learned piece, and that was that the – there was a desire to follow up Second Sight’s Report with an announcement very quickly and, again, I’m speculating and going on what my perception is, rather than any hard facts. And therefore, it was my view that not enough thought had gone into how this whole thing might work, going forward, which meant that I felt we were almost, if you’ll forgive the terminology, retrofitting some stuff, and this was one such issue.

I have no idea whether or not anyone had a conversation with Second Sight about this and the engagement letter was not seen as necessary, or whether or not Second Sight’s view changed. I have no idea of the reason but – why there were differing views but I think there was a haste in announcing the scheme and some components of it, which meant that some of the basics weren’t done.

Ms Price: As Programme Director of Project Sparrow, what was your understanding of Second Sight’s mandate throughout the period you held the role?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It was to produce – and the terminology might have changed as – following Sir Anthony Hooper’s arrival and the scheme developing, which it did, but it was primarily to review Post Office’s investigations into the complaints, and support the Working Group in whichever way the Working Group wanted support from Second Sight. So I think those were the two facets of Second Sight’s engagement.

Ms Price: You say at the start of paragraph 58 of your statement – and we can go to it if that would help –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Thank you.

Ms Price: – that’s page 28 of the statement, please. At the start of paragraph 58:

“I have been asked if I at all considered there to be a difference between what [Post Office Limited] stated publicly about the Mediation Scheme compared to what was discussed internally. I do not recall thinking that there was a difference, however, I do think that it became clear once the Scheme got underway that [Post Office Limited’s] view of Second Sight’s role and how the Scheme would work differed from others’ views, such as JFSA and second Sight.”

So, on this point about you not recalling a difference between what was being stated publicly about the scheme and what was discussed internally, could we have on screen, please, POL00116285. This top email is from Chris Aujard dated 23 February 2014 and is providing comments in red on an email originally sent by Paula Vennells to you, Chris Aujard and Angela van den Bogerd, among others, on 21 February 2014.

So if we can just scroll up a little, please. We can see there the 21 February email from Paula Vennells to you and those others, that I’ve just mentioned.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Mm-hm.

Ms Price: Going, please, to page 2 and 3.6, so the text in red is that applied by Chris Aujard, the text in black is from Paula Vennells, and at 3.6 it reads:

“Potential cost [and this is of the scheme] £10m+ serious. 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 Directors. Sparrow was our opportunity to reset the dial for [the Post Office] as a standalone business. 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. It should be part of the [Second Sight]/TH pre-met in Monday. And will be a question from the Board (Chris, Mark, Belinda).”

What did you understand the message to be, coming from Paula Vennells in this email, about the level of compensation that she and Alice Perkins envisaged being paid to subpostmasters at the outset?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That it was much lower than Post Office – I think informed by, I think, some Bond Dickinson or, if not, some PA Consulting analysis – were suggesting on the basis of having looked at on some of the early allegations and case questionnaires.

Ms Price: What did you understand Paula Vennells to be seeking from you and others in terms of a steer on what to do about her concerns? What was she asking for advice on?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I’m not overly clear on this but a couple of things spring to mind and one is – and this cropped up on a number of occasions and, indeed, I think was a comment made by CEDR that – sorry, that was the mediation company that were assisting us with mediations – that the – this was established to be a mediation scheme and not a compensation scheme and, yet, I think already Paula and the Board were concerned that this was viewed as a compensation scheme. So that was one point.

And the other, I think what she was trying to do was to ask how we could get what seemed to her to be a system that was getting out of control back in control. Sorry, that’s a rather vague answer but that’s the way it’s reading to me.

Ms Price: Did you give any advice in response to that paragraph in particular?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t recall. I may have done, I don’t recall.

Ms Price: Does sight of that paragraph change the paragraph in your statement we’ve just looked to in any way, as to the difference between discussions internally and what was being said publicly about the scheme, or not?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t think it does because I think – and I think this is what Paula’s saying, is: the original intention of the scheme, as she envisaged it, or she and Alice envisaged it, therefore presumably as announced, is changing. So, actually, maybe the opposite is true, that she is saying that what is happening in reality is slightly different to what the original intention was, which I think is why I did not feel that there was a difference between what was being said internally or externally.

Ms Price: That document can come down now. Thank you. Going back to Second Sight’s role and attempts to put in place a letter of engagement in 2014, could we have on screen, please, POL00147169. Starting, please, with page 2, towards the bottom. We’re looking for the 10 January 2014 email from Ian Henderson to Chris Aujard, copied to Ron Warmington and to you, and the subject is “Proposed Engagement Letter”. This is an email forwarding another email discussing the terms of Second Sight’s engagement letter. The original email is on page 3, please, about halfway down. It is from Ian Henderson and it is 6 January 2013, originally to Chris Aujard and copied to Ron Warmington. Going to page 4, please, under point 7, Mr Henderson wrote:

“The proposed Scope of Services Schedule raises a number of issues that are at variance with assurances previously provided by [Post Office Limited] to both Second Sight and to the [Right Honourable] James Arbuthnot, MP. In particular, the Scope of Services Schedule attacks the fundamental principle that Second Sight operates completely independently of [Post Office Limited] and conducts its investigations and prepares reports as it sees fit.”

So just stopping there, if we can go back to page 2, please, and to your email of 10 January 2014, and you request a meeting, you say:


“Chris has discussed this with me, and I understand you and he have spoken. Would it be possible for us to meet on Wednesday morning next week to discuss the engagement letter? We think possibly face to face is better if that works for you and Ron.”

Then going, please, to the top of this page – of page 1, forgive me – so you forwarded this email thread to Andrew Parsons on 12 January 2014, and you say:

“I have made some comments in CAPS to the points SS have made.”

So points in capital letters, and can we go to one of the comments, please, on page 4. So the comments made by Mr Henderson, that aren’t in capitals, are we right to see the capital letters there as being your response to what he’s saying?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think so, yes.

Ms Price: You write:

“We need to consider carefully what and how we seek to fetter. SAH …”


Belinda Cortes-Martin: Sir Anthony Hooper.

Ms Price: “… has made it clear that [Second Sight] can include what it wants so we need to treated carefully.”

What did you mean when you said “We need to consider carefully what and how we seek to fetter”?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I – so, first of all, I’ve been sent several copies of the draft engagement letter and I can’t guarantee I’ve related the exact one to the exact email. So I’m speaking in the abstract here. First of all, I would say that the – commenting in this way, one doesn’t necessarily expect that, some 10 years later, you’re going to be asking questions about it. So I acknowledge that, in this and other emails, I have not chosen my words as I might have done, had I known this. But I think what I’m saying here is there must be something that Second Sight has objected to that makes it looks as though Post Office is trying to fetter it, and what I’m saying is we need to think carefully about the extent to which we do that. And, actually, it’s nothing more than that, so don’t try to fetter Second Sight in a way that’s not appropriate, particularly in light of what Sir Anthony Hooper has said.

I realise, looking at it now, it’s not worded particularly well but I think that was all I was trying to do. I think what Post Office were trying to do was to tread a line between trying to do what clearly Paula and the Board wanted, and that was to keep the focus without any scheme without any difficulty without making it look as though Second Sight’s independence was being fettered in any way.

Ms Price: Can we have on screen, please, POL00199572. This is an email chain dated 13 January 2014, involving Alan Bates, Paula Vennells, you and others, regarding the scope of Second Sight’s engagement. The initial email in the chain is on page 2, please, and this is from Mr Bates, and he wrote as follows, to Paula Vennells, 13 January 2014, subject “Concerns”:

“Hello Paula,

“I am quite concerned about what I have been hearing recently about [Post Office Limited] trying to change the scope of the Scheme in order to restrict the terms of the investigation and stop certain matters being discussed. I should make it clear that JFSA signed up to the details as were discussed, and documented last July/August and alterations to what was agreed will result in JFSA withdrawing from the Working Group and the Scheme. I do not know if you are aware of what is being proposed by the new [Post Office Limited] members of the Working Group, but from what I can glean it seems as if [Post Office Limited] are trying to hijack the process which is something your Minister assured me would not happen in her letter to me last September.

“I would be grateful if you would look into what is happening at present. The impression I am getting seems very different to the discussions we had last year.”

Going, please, to the top of the chain, page 1. It is an email sent by Sophie Bialaszewski –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m sorry, I never get it right myself.

Ms Price: – dated, again, 13 January 2014, and we can see her role at the bottom of the email was Public Affairs Manager for the Post Office. So this sent to Mark Davies and Nina Arnott. She says:

“Thanks Mark. Had a quick chat with Belinda who has picked up with Second Sight. Let’s all keep each other up to date with any news.”

This email came through the day after the email we just looked at, your email to Mr Parsons with the reference to the fettering and the concern about that. Was there anything in what Mr Bates was saying that the Post Office was trying to hijack the Post Office, from your perspective?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I hadn’t made the link. I don’t know if I made the link at the time. I didn’t make the link when reading these documents – but could we just scroll down to Alan’s comments, please?

Ms Price: Of course. That’s page 2.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Right. So when I first read this, I thought this related to something that had been discussed at a Working Group meeting but that’s not actually what Alan is saying.

Ms Price: What was the issue that was discussed at the Working Group?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can’t recall, sorry. What I meant was that I thought Alan – because Alan did, on a couple of occasions, write about concerns about the Working Group and discussions at the Working Group but, looking at it again, that’s not exactly what he was saying. The reality is I don’t know but, in view of the fact that I spoke to Second Sight, there is a distinct possibility that Second Sight had spoken to JFSA and said that the terms of engagement seemed to be limiting and, therefore, I spoke to Second Sight about it. But I’m speculating here. I just can’t recall.

Ms Price: As far as you’re aware, was the Post Office restricting the terms of the investigation?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So, because my understanding also – always has been that the role of Second Sight was to focus on the cases in the scheme, then the answer to that is no, and I think I say in my statement that there is clearly – and it became apparent throughout the process – that there were differing views on the role of Second Sight, but I can’t recall that Post Office’s view ever changed and I’m not sure that any of the original documentation suggested that Second Sight’s role was wider than the cases in the scheme itself.

I haven’t subsequently gone back and checked, so I could be wrong in that.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00029813. This is an email dated 1 February 2015 from Rodric Williams to you and other Post Office employees. He explains that he is providing his comments on the “Difficult Questions (Boxes)” document and the subject line in the email is “Narrative boxes – RW comments on the ‘Difficult Questions) Boxes’ document”.

Can you help, first of all, with what the “Difficult Questions (Boxes)” document was?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know but, looking at the timing, this may have been to do with the questions and answers that were being drafted for Paula for her appearance before the Select Committee. But that is just from looking at the timing, that’s the only thing I could think it might be.

Ms Price: On page 2 of this document, point 8, there is a section on Second Sight and, at the third bullet point here, there is this:

“Re ‘fettering’ SS independence/’challenging’ SS’s findings – this demonstrates their independence. [Second Sight] make findings and recommendations, NOT decisions. [Post Office] has always retained that power.”

Did you agree with Mr Williams’ comments in relation to this, that Post Office has always had the power of decision?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So it’s difficult to answer in the abstract because I don’t know the contents of the boxes. But I don’t know that Second Sight had any decision-making power in relation to the Working Group or the cases. Does that answer your question?

Ms Price: It does and, in relation to the reference to “fettering”, which is in quote marks then, can you help it all with where that comes from? It may be that you can’t, if you don’t have the underlying –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can’t, apart from to say that I think it was a term – so I don’t think I introduced the term but I think it’s like many of the terms that we use, it was sort of shorthand for “Is Post Office trying to control Second Sight”. But, again, I’m trying to answer in the abstract here and I don’t think I can do that helpfully.

Ms Price: I’d like to turn, please, to your involvement in the substance of complaints in the scheme, or absence of involvement.

Apologies, that document can come down before we turn to the new topic.

You say at paragraph 33 of your statement – and would you like to look at that? That’s –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Please, yes.

Ms Price: – page 17 of the statement, please, paragraph 33. You say here:

“Nevertheless, whilst investigations into complaints contained in Scheme applications technically fell within the Scheme, I was not responsible for the substance of those investigations. Angela was responsible for this work because of her particular expertise and experience in Horizon and the way the system worked, and she managed the Investigation Team. My involvement in investigations was limited to chasing the progress of those investigations, along with progress of Second Sight’s reviews of the investigations in order to effectively manage the progress of applications within the Scheme.”

Could we have on screen, please, with that in mind, POL00099694. This is an email chain from October 2013, so very early on, and the original email in this chain is from Ron Warmington to Paula Vennells, and it starts at the bottom of page 1. We can see the subject is “Example Applications” there, to Paula Vennells, copied to Angela van den Bogerd. He’s sending, there, eight examples of the incoming applications, presumably incoming applications for the scheme?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I assume so.

Ms Price: Going, then, to the middle of page 1, we can see Paula Vennells forwards Mr Warmington’s email on to Martin Edwards, you and Mark Davies and she says this, in her covering email, so this is Wednesday, 2 October:

“Dear all, I am not sure who else I want to read these yet. But certainly the three of you.

“They make disturbing reading (I couldn’t make sense of spreadsheet but the individual submissions are sufficient to get a steer on what we are dealing with).

“We have to keep it in perspective of course. But even in perspective they are challenging from all sorts of angles (Belinda these are examples of Sparrow cases that have been submitted for consideration for mediation).

“I’m with Angela tomorrow am. She and her team are hopefully going to talk me through where we have made improvements and where we still need to do more. I am glad I’ve decided to make the trip – we need to show we are taking this v seriously.”

Was Ms Vennells seeking your views on the substance of these complaints by this email?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can’t imagine that she would have been, so looking at the timing of this, I think my involvement in the scheme had not been announced. I’m certain it wouldn’t have been – sorry, I’m as certain as I can be because I think that was the following week, 8 October. But I think she was just giving me some information in relation to the scheme that I was going to be involved in. I don’t think she had any expectation that I would be either commenting on or involved in the detail.

What I would say is, I think this is the email I referred to earlier where I asked to see a copy of the report.

Ms Price: We can go up and have a look at that now. So your response is at the top and this is 3 October, from you to Paula Vennells –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: – Martin Edwards, Mark Davies:

“Thanks Paula.

“Not easy to read on BlackBerry but I see your point from what I can see.

“I have not seen the Second Sight Report. Would someone be able to send me a copy?

“I hope to catch up with Angela after you have seen her today.”

So this is, as you say, at an early stage but can you recall why you saw her point that the information sent had made for disturbing reading?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No. I’m afraid I can’t.

Ms Price: Did you get a sense at this stage of what it was that Post Office Limited was dealing with?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t think so and I don’t remember what I discussed with Angela subsequently. So I’m afraid no, I can’t answer that question.

Ms Price: Sir, it is nearly 1.00. I wonder if that’s a convenient moment to break for lunch.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, can you give me some idea of the timescale after lunch?

Ms Price: Yes, I probably have another 20 minutes at most and then there will be some questions from Core Participants.

I will get an indication over the lunch period as to how long they will be, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much. So 2.00?

Ms Price: Yes, please, sir.

(12.58 pm)

(The Short Adjournment)

(1.59 pm)

Ms Price: Good afternoon, sir, can you see and hear us?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you.

Ms Price: Good afternoon, Ms Cortes-Martin. I’d like to continue, please, with questions relating to Second Sight. Could we have on screen, please, POL00101978. These are the minutes of a Project Sparrow Subcommittee meeting on 12 January 2014. The minutes list you as having been in attendance at that meeting.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, excuse me, I don’t think that that date is correct.

Ms Price: Ah. I was going to ask you about that.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Oh, okay, sorry.

Ms Price: Because my understanding was that it was April 2014 that the inaugural meeting of the subcommittee happened?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t think it’s then either. Just looking at the attendee list …

Ms Price: I’m not suggesting that this document should be dated April; I’m asking whether it seems odd that there was already in January 2014 a formal subcommittee meeting of Project Sparrow, as a subcommittee.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It is and I wondered whether or not it was actually 2014 – sorry, 2015, but I could be wrong but it definitely wasn’t January 2014.

Ms Price: I’m grateful. Going, please, to page 2 of this document and (f) here – and perhaps just going back to the previous page to put this in context – there is here a section on the Initial Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme and the committee had received a paper on the current position.

Just casting your eye down (a) to (e) there, does that help you at all with dating it and whether you’re correct that it is, in fact, 12 January 2015?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think so. I wasn’t involved in the – that advice at all. But my recollection is it was either the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015, from other documents that I’ve been provided with.

Ms Price: Thank you. Going over the page, please, to (f) we have here:

“Post Office and an individual applicant – thus reducing the likelihood of a successful JR.

“The Committee discussed Second Sight and their ‘Part Two’ due to be finalised in April. The Committee agreed that the Business was unlikely to be able to stop this report from being produced.”

Can you help with why the subcommittee reached the conclusion that the business was unlikely to be able to stop this report from being produced?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think because it was a report that had been – I think it had been at least agreed with the Working Group, therefore the business would have no ability to stop it being produced.

Ms Price: Why was there, if we can read this in this way, a desire to stop the report from being produced?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know. I can’t explain that sentence in the minutes, I can’t imagine that the committee would have – why the committee might have thought that it was possible.

Ms Price: Did this wording cause you any concern at the time?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know whether or not I would have seen the minutes.

Ms Price: But do you recall that sentiment being expressed during discussion?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, I don’t. The only – no, I don’t.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00116535. This is an email chain from May 2014, which you are a part of. The subject of the emails is “JA handling plan”. Who is the “JA” being referred to here?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I would imagine that’s James Arbuthnot, now Lord Arbuthnot.

Ms Price: Take your time. If you need us to scroll down the email. Perhaps if we can scroll down?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Could you just scroll down a bit.

Ms Price: And a bit further, and if we can keep scrolling down, please, just to give the context of the email below. You see there:

“What we need to factor into the above is:

“JA meeting with Paula …”

Does that help?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It doesn’t particularly but the only “JA” I can think of is James Arbuthnot, I’m afraid.

Ms Price: Can you help with why he would need handling?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Not a specific issue but Lord Arbuthnot, as he is now, was considered to be a very important stakeholder and anything that Post Office did in relation to Second Sight or the scheme was considered in the context of what and how to communicate that with James Arbuthnot. So I think it was very important, particularly to Paula and Alice, to – for particularly the Comms Team to advise on how to keep him on side – or, put another way, to endeavour not to do anything which might potentially cause damage to the relationship with the key stakeholder.

Ms Price: Going, please, to one of the emails you wrote in the chain on page 2, this is 5 May 2014, and remember you’re writing to David Oliver, copied to Mark Davies and Sophie Bialaszewski, and you say:

“Sorry for long email but I’ve cut and paste the Word doc into email as it’s easier to edit on iPad.”

A little further down:

“Re JA handling plan, cut and paste from Sophie/David’s word doc.

“I have just added a bit about positioning re SS [Second Sight].”

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: “It’s aimed at trying to get JA to understand that whilst they may have been the right people to do the first bit, they seem to be out of their depth on the Scheme because of volume and also expectations. They are a small firm and appear to be struggling. I think overall the positioning should be that we need to keep the situation under review.

“With apologies for having messed up the structure below, it doesn’t quite work now but I think you will get the drift. Chris will need to agree what goes in the script but I think Paula needs to have the plan on Tuesday and agree it so we can stop JA issuing Paula’s letter at least until she has had a chance to speak to him.”

So does that help with – we see reference to a script; who was the script for?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So the script would have been for Paula to use in a conversation with James Arbuthnot, I think.

Ms Price: If we scroll down a little, please, underneath your sign-off there, we have a number of headings “Current Situation”, “Tactics”, “Key messages”. Then going down, a little further, please, we have “Script” there, and there are a number of bullet points there and, over the page, and under “Script” there’s quite a lot dealing with Second Sight?

Can you help at all with what in this was added by you and what you’d taken from this other Word document? It may be difficult at this remove.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m afraid I can’t – is there any way to highlight it?

Ms Price: How about if I take you to the section I’d like to ask you about and you can see if it rings a bell with you as something you would have input. So about halfway down this page here, and if we can just skim over a little of the points under “However”:

“We now have real concerns about the pace of progress and, in particular Second Sight’s capacity …

POL has now received 77 detailed applications and completed investigations in a total of 22 cases with 42 currently under investigation at various stages.

“POL sent their first investigation report to [Second Sight] on 29 November. Since then Second Sight have produced four reports, the first three were discussed by the Working Group on 7 March and were sent back for restructuring and rewriting as they had not addressed key issues.

“They have now produced one report and a mediators fact brief about Horizon which [Post Office Limited] wrote for them. On the fact brief, apart from a bit of reordering, the only bit [Second Sight] added where assertions and non-evidence based opinion which the [Working Group] agreed should be removed.

“[Second Sight] seem to be struggling. There is only three of them. Expectations are high among JFSA, SPMRs, MPs, etc that they will find something significant and they haven’t. But if they produce a report which is critical of POL without evidence, [Post Office Limited] will, rightly, make that point.

“They are looking well beyond Horizon to find something wrong – POL cannot allow the scheme to stray into areas beyond Horizon.

“Their stance is that they will keep investigating until they get to the truth. That seems to be something wrong with what [Post Office] has done.”

Just looking at those points that I’ve been through, do you think these were your additions?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can’t recall. I think it’s possibly more likely – more than likely that I would have endeavoured to change some of the wording, rather than add too much of substance but I’m afraid I can’t recall.

Ms Price: Okay. Just focusing in on the comment, “Their stance is they’ll keep investigating until they get to the truth”, where did that perspective or observation come from; can you help with that, regardless of who actually wrote the words in this document?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I think there had been a couple of conversations with Second Sight where they talked about getting to the truth more generally and, indeed, in a meeting at the beginning of – some time in the beginning of 2015, there was a discussion with Second Sight about exactly what they were looking for, so looking at Post Office’s business across the piece.

So what I’d take from this is there is the sentiments that there is a concern that Second Sight would keep looking until they find something wrong, regardless of whether or not it’s something wrong with Horizon, just something wrong in terms of the way that Post Office is managing its business more generally. That’s not quite what is said here but I think that might be the essence of it.

Ms Price: Just looking further down the page, please, about two-thirds of the way down. We have this:

“We are confident that there are no systemic issues with the Horizon system and indeed no evidence has been found by [Second Sight] or any other party.”

Can you help with whether this was your wording?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No. I can’t recall. What I can say was that that was the general view within Post Office.

Ms Price: What was the basis for this quite confident view that there were no systemic issues with Horizon?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Because this was the conclusion that Second Sight had reached, not that they were confident but Second Sight had said they found no systemic – I think these were their words – yes, they’d have found no system wide or systemic issues with the Horizon system and, as far as the Post Office was concerned, that was the case in 2013 and continued to be the case at this stage in the process.

Ms Price: So that is your understanding of the systemic issues referenced: that it is used in the same way that Second Sight had in their Interim Report, notwithstanding them having found bugs and defects?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think so, yes.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, SSL0000120. This is a transcript of an audio recording of a conversation that you had with Mr Henderson and Mr Warmington on 11 August 2022. I understand you have been provided with this document but relatively recently; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Price: There’s only one section I want to take you to. Just going to page 24, please, and scrolling down the page, please. The last entry here, Ron Warmington, who says:

“Okay. Belinda, I tell you what – how we can characterise this discussion. It is the antithesis of what I was assured by the Chief Exec and Chairman, which is – our work, we pledge to you – because I said I wouldn’t take on the job unless they agreed to this – is to seek the truth as to what has happened. All right? The characteristics of the conversations we are having are one of litigants, one against the other, trying to defend their case. It’s perfectly acceptable and perfectly normal. But a search for the truth would have been far less an effort to protect the organisation from an attack but more a sort of volunteering of what the entire background was.”

Do you recognise any truth in this, that the Post Office’s stance in this stage of the mediation was that of a litigant trying to defend its case?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think that, as the focus of the scheme, in the view of the Post Office, was around particular cases, as opposed to Horizon across the piece or, indeed, the business of the Post Office as a whole, I think that could perhaps characterise, in some part, the position of Post Office.

If – I make it clear at the beginning of this conversation that I am only having the conversation with Second Sight because this all arose in August and pretty much everybody was on holiday. So I think I make the – I say at the outset I’m speaking on behalf of Post Office and I think I was having the conversation in the absence of Chris, who was away. Therefore, I was – that – that doesn’t mean to say that I’m not owning the statements I made but I was putting Post Office’s view across and I would say that, to some extent, Ron is correct.

Ms Price: Whose view were you putting across? I understand it’s the Post Office position but who had made you understand that to be the way Post Office was approaching this?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I can’t say that it was, as with many of these things, I can’t say necessarily that it was anybody’s particular view, ie I can’t name somebody who said this is the way that we’re going to approach it. What I would say is that this is the way that the approach was developing, not as – I don’t think quite as noticeably as Ron was saying but that was certainly how they felt about it. So – and I think, looking at the documents and what happened subsequently, I think probably in part, this was informed by the Linklaters advice.

Ms Price: Turning, please, to the disclosure of material to Second Sight. That document can come down now. Thank you.

At paragraphs 49 and 50 of your statement – and I don’t think we need to go to them unless you wish me to – but you refer there to believing Chris Aujard, and later Jane MacLeod, as General Counsel, were responsible for deciding the documents or information to be provided to Second Sight; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: But you do say you would offer assistance and opinion on such matters, if you felt it was necessary?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00210527. This is an email from Mr Aujard to Mr Warmington, dated 10 October 2014 but I think we need to just scroll down a little, please. Yes. It’s sent on his behalf, from a different email account. You were copied in to this email, where Mr Aujard explained why the Post Office would not grant Second Sight access to prosecution files.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Have you had a chance to read this email, when it was provided to you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: He notes in the last paragraph of his email, scrolling down a little, please:

“In any event, with our investigation reports, we have already provided you with any relevant source material found in any Post Office prosecution files (ie transcripts of interviews, witness statements, etc). This material is of course used by Post Office’s security and prosecution teams to consider, and if appropriate, conduct prosecutions however the resulting internal documents are legally privileged. It is outside your scope of work to review Post Office’s prosecution practices and decisions and so I see no need to disclose this documentation (which, just to be clear, has also not been released to Tony). Nevertheless, the underlying source material provides you with the factual information arising from any previous Post Office investigation and so you should have what you need to undertake your review.”

Did Mr Aujard discuss the reasons behind withholding these documents from Second Sight for privilege reasons with you at all?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, I knew this was his view but he didn’t seek my opinion or advice on it, particularly because these were legal documents and matters of legal privilege were broader than, I think, my knowledge or understanding.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, POL00214354. This is an email from December 2014 and, on 10 December 2014 you email Mr Aujard, forwarding an email from Mr Parsons, regarding Second Sight’s questions for Post Office to form Part Two report.

Just scrolling down, so you’ve got the context for that. We see in that bottom email, Mr Parsons refers to “some sensible questions”:

“… there is also a massive fishing expedition for information that does not address issues raised by the applicants.”

Scrolling back up, please, to your email, and you say:


“You need to have a look at this. It’s Second Sight’s list of questions to inform Part Two. You will see that this is a pretty considerable fishing expedition which includes a lot of general requests. We will need to do a formal response setting out where we are not providing information – for example, the contract, investigation procedures. But grateful for your view on approach before I start this.”

Can you recall now why you considered the requests to be a fishing expedition? I appreciate we’re not looking to the detail of those but does this ring a bell with you at all as an issue?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It does, insofar as there had already been, I think, a number of exchanges and conversations within Post Office about the extent to which Second Sight might ask for either raw or base data, or a lot of general information that didn’t relate specifically to an application. So it was already, I think, the view that had been set out to Second Sight – I think probably in relation to the 2008 emails – and so that was the context in which I sent this email.

Ms Price: Could we have on screen, please, the last document I want to go to on disclosure. It’s POL00102245. This is an email from Mr Aujard to you, dated 27 February 2015, regarding the requests made by Second Sight for further access to files. Mr Aujard says this in his second paragraph:

“Access to files was originally granted (before my time) in relation to an entirely different assignment, the broad terms of which were agreed with [Second Sight] in June 2012. From what I can see, the background to that review was that we wanted ‘to conduct an independent review of a number of closed, and possibly some open fraud and theft cases’. That review, or a variation on it, was undertaken before the Working Group was formally established, and although it is hard to pinpoint the precise end date, it would seem to me that it did not survive beyond the publication of the so-called ‘spot reviews’. It also seems to me that it was conducted for our benefit, although it was expressed to be an ‘independent review’. For this reason, more liberal access was granted to our internal records etc than is fitting current circumstance – Rod is doing a more detailed technical note explaining the reasons why.”

What was your understanding or do you recognise at all this reference to Second Sight’s initial involvement being conducted for Post Office’s benefit?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Ms Price: Was this something that you noted with any surprise at the time, on reading this email?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, no. Could you show me the date of it, again, please?

Ms Price: Of course. Scrolling up, please, it’s 27 February 2015 and it’s in the context of a request from Second Sight for further access to files. So it’s on the question of disclosure.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Right.

Ms Price: What this second paragraph does is to refer back to disclosure that was previously given for – on the basis of the author’s view – a different purpose and that purpose being, although it was to expressed to be an independent review, it seems to me it was conducted for our benefit. The suggestion here is that, because it was for Post Office’s benefit, more liberal access was granted to internal records than in the circumstances of the scheme and this date in time.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I don’t recall this. The reason I’m hesitating slightly is, until I watched an evidence session last week, I don’t think I’d have had any idea what this was referring to but I think I do now. I think it was a report Second Sight did for Susan Crichton, just simply because that’s how it reads to me now. But I wasn’t aware of it at the time. This was primarily an email from Chris to assist Jane MacLeod, as the incoming General Counsel and, looking at the timing of it, this was about four weeks before I was due to leave, and I have to say, by this time, I was starting to – I was tidying up things, so that I could leave and things would have been handed over.

So I probably wouldn’t have paid too much close attention to this because this was no longer an issue that I would have been involved in going forward. So I don’t remember seeing it, I don’t remember seizing on it or questioning it at the time, but I do now think I understand what it relates.

Ms Price: Okay. Just one more point on this document before we move on, please. It’s the bottom of page 2. So this is your email and, to give context, if we can just scroll up to show the top of the email. With a subject “Catch-up call with Second Sight”?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Price: Towards the bottom, the penultimate paragraph gives a note and you refer to:

“Colleagues who are due to meet with them may also wished to note a marked change in note and behaviour in recent weeks notably from Ian …”

Is that Ian Henderson?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: (No audible answer)

Ms Price: “He is much more aggressive, accusatory, defensive in tone than our previous experience. I would speculate that this is frustration because they are still struggling to find a smoking gun and feel the weight of expectation from others to do so, especially after the Select Committee. The change is marked and it is worth keeping in mind ahead of next week’s meetings.”

What was the reason that you came to this view on the cause of Mr Henderson’s frustration, that they couldn’t find a smoking gun?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It was speculation, nothing more than that. So I had felt on numerous occasions that the expectations on Second Sight were great. I do realise, in view of what’s subsequently come out and what’s subsequently known, that this – what I’m saying now may sound rather odd but, at the time, in Post Office, I still detected a level of confidence in the Horizon system and – but Second Sight were under pressure to find something that hadn’t previously been – hadn’t previously been found, and that was the reason for my speculation.

Ms Price: Turning briefly to the closure of the Mediation Scheme, you deal with this at paragraph 96 of your statement. That’s page 47, if we could have that on screen, please.

You say here:

“I was clearly involved in some, but not all discussions on amending/closing the scheme. Ultimately, it was the Subcommittee, presumably endorsed by the Board, that decided. As far as I recall my view is that it was a matter for [Post Office Limited] to decide what it wanted to do. I think I felt that if the original idea of some of the Scheme was aimed at hearing [subpostmaster] complaints with a view to resolving complaints and drawing a line under the matter, then it had not worked. If anything, some [subpostmasters] and JFSA seemed less happy than when the Scheme started, Second Sight was publicly critical of [Post Office Limited] and there was, as far as I recall, a notification of legal action by a group of [subpostmasters] in the future. As such, I agreed that there was little point in carrying on with the Scheme in the same format, as long as those applicants remaining in the Scheme were able to have their complaints investigated and mediated as they had been expecting I was also leaving shortly, so whatever decision was made I was unlikely to be involved in next steps.”

At 97 you add:

“In terms of what [Post Office Limited] wanted out of the scheme and the Working Group, from the documents provided to me I cannot see that the outcomes [Post Office Limited] desired were achieved. This may be the reason why a decision was taken to close down the Working Group and Scheme. I think (and hope) that at least a small number of applicants in the scheme who submitted a complaint which was resolved were satisfied.”

Picking up on the question of what the Post Office wanted out of the screen, could we have on screen, please, POL00027506. This is the Executive Committee agenda for its meeting on 19 November 2013. You do not appear to have been present at this meeting but I’d like to ask you about one part of a paper, which appears to have been presented by Chris Aujard. We can see the first item on the agenda is the update on Horizon and especially the draft settlement policy for the Mediation Scheme. The paper starts on page 2. We can see there the title. Going, please, to page 3 to paragraph 4., the title is “Ensuring the success of the scheme”, and at 4.1 it says this:

“Post Office has invested time and money in creating the Scheme, and positioned it with the media, MPs and JFSA as the response to the Second Sight Report. It is therefore important that the scheme achieves its objectives and is generally acknowledged as being successful in answering the concerns of subpostmasters.

“From the Post Office’s perspective, the Scheme will have been a success if, when it has completed:

“the media, MPs and JFSA consider that the Scheme fairly investigated and, where appropriate, addressed the subpostmaster concerns identified in the Second Sight Report, even if there is disagreement over the outcome of the individual cases …”

Then this, at the second bullet point:

“Post Office can more robustly defend its use of the Horizon system against criticism by a minority of subpostmasters who, despite best efforts, remain entrenched in their dissatisfaction with Post Office …”

Were you aware that one of the Post Office’s desired outcomes for the scheme was to robustly defend its use of the Horizon system against criticism?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No. Not as such. But I was aware that Post Office hoped that, at the conclusion of the scheme, there would be a higher level of understanding and satisfaction with – no, maybe that’s – so, definitely, I did not know that this was to allow Post Office to more robustly defend the Horizon system, in those terms, but I did think that Post Office would feel that they had undertaken a thorough investigation of the complaints that had been raised and, if nothing had come out in relation to Horizon, then there would be less dissatisfaction with Horizon.

I’m really sorry, I haven’t answered that very well, but that – that as a stark outcome is not my understanding but probably something more nuanced was my understanding.

Ms Price: Was the Post Office’s stance to defend Horizon throughout the Mediation Scheme?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, not at the expense of anything else. That was not my understanding. But I think the Post Office’s stance was definitely to defend Horizon in the absence of finding anything that suggested to Post Office that it was not working as it should.

Ms Price: Looking at it in these stark terms, do you think that this objective or this desired outcome hindered the Mediation Scheme from having a positive outcome?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m not sure that I can answer that question. I certainly felt that, during my time in the scheme – and as I think I say in my statement, I didn’t see – I didn’t often have cause, by virtue of my role, to look at the investigations but my understanding was that Post Office had an answer for everything, and so, whether or not having that answer actually stopped a more open-minded approach to Horizon and its faults, I don’t know. Like I said, I struggle to answer that.

What I did feel, from my position inside the scheme, and that’s the processing of the scheme, was that a huge amount of effort went into making the scheme as good as it could be. But that might be more a process point than anything else.

Ms Price: That can come down now. Thank you. Just one final matter from me: in answer to one of my questions this morning, you said that it was a matter of regret that you didn’t challenge Andrew Parsons’ suggestion that the importance of the Rose advice be downplayed. You suggested, and I hope that I’m right in characterising it as such, that this was among many regrets. What are the other regrets you are referring to?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I suppose sitting here now, I regret not digging down deeper into some of the issues that clearly passed my desk because, had I done so, I might have asked more questions. I can’t guarantee – because there’s – this whole issue continued well after I left – that it would have made any difference but, looking at the documents this far after the event, I’ve looked at a few and thought, “I could have done something differently with that and maybe that would have made a difference”.

What the perspective I don’t get on this is, looking at what my inbox would have looked like, and other things that I would have been doing, particularly preparation for a Working Group at any given time, like many people, I’m just selective about the issues that I pursue with any depth but – so I don’t know that I could be specific. I could probably come up with a list if you needed it, and I would say, regret being involved in it in any way at all, is my biggest regret, if I’m honest.

Ms Price: Sir, those are all the questions I have. Do you have any questions before I turn to Core Participants?

Sir Wyn Williams: No thank you. No.

Ms Price: We have some questions from Mr Jacobs first and then from Ms Page, and I think that is it.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Thank you.

Questioned by Mr Jacobs

Mr Jacobs: Good afternoon, Ms Cortes-Martin. I hope you can hear me well enough.

I represent a large number of subpostmasters who are Core Participants in this Inquiry. I want to ask you about Project Sparrow and the disbanding of the Working Group. Could we go to a document, please, POL00021908. While we’re waiting for this to come up, I’ll tell you that this is an email that Andrew Parsons of Bond Dickinson wrote to you, copying in Mr Williams and Mr Matthews, on 9 February 2015.

We’ll see it starts:


“A few thoughts below on the Sparrow paper.”

Now, we know, of course, that you’re the Programme Director of Sparrow and we also understand that around about the February ‘15 time, there was a Sparrow meeting and there were suggested amendments to the Mediation Scheme raised at that meeting; is that is right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: That’s right. So what Mr Parsons says in the first paragraph is:

“In general, I agree with the idea of disbanding the [Working Group] as (i) it offices no real value and (ii) it is the source of much of the criticism of POL.”

Then he says he can see some challenges with other suggestions. So just looking at that, Sparrow had proposed that the Working Group be disbanded; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know that Sparrow had proposed. I think that the proposal came from a meeting of the Executive Committee, from ExCo.

Mr Jacobs: Right.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know that Sparrow by that stage, insofar as it existed other than a name, actually proposed anything.

Mr Jacobs: Quite clearly you knew about the proposal because Mr Parsons is writing to you about it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: You said earlier on in your evidence this morning that you didn’t, at the time, perceive any particular conflict between your role as Programme Director of Project Sparrow –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: – and the Secretariat function that you had with the Working Group.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: There was, we understand, a meeting of the Working Group on 13 February 2015, so shortly after this.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Mm-hm.

Mr Jacobs: The agenda, which I think you prepared, shows that this issue didn’t come up. Did you feel at this point, here you are, you’re assisting Sir Anthony Hooper, assisting the work of the Working Group. You are involved in discussions that are surrounding the disbanding of that group. Why didn’t you think you should say anything at that time – or perhaps I’ll rephrase that. Did you think you should have said anything at that time?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So, again, my – from the outside, a long time afterwards, looking in, I see things differently.

Mr Jacobs: Of course.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So discussions within Post Office, both at Executive level and Board level, about altering the scheme or closing the scheme, had been continuing, by this time probably for about a year. I think there was a Post Office Board meeting February 2014 and, although the matter of the Working Group and the scheme was under review, and my team were asked to offer a number of proposals for altering it, nothing ever happened. So it was – I think that it was too difficult to make those decisions and so, because I saw my role as largely just running the scheme, I just continued to do that to the best of my ability, and I don’t think I ever really thought that there was any real prospect of the scheme closing, was one point.

The other point is, I didn’t see my responsibilities in relation to the Working Group going so far as to say to the Working Group what was being discussed in Post Office.

Mr Jacobs: Well, I’ll move on.

Sir Wyn Williams: Hang on. That’s the point, really, isn’t it? That you were learning things by virtue of your role as Director of Project Sparrow –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – ie an internal Post Office group of people, which, on occasions, might have put you in conflict with your role as secretary to the Working Group and Sir Anthony.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I –

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m not saying they did, in your case, but I’m talking about what might have happened.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: And I see that, which is why I think I say, looking now and looking in, I can see where that might have been the case but it didn’t feel like that at the time.

The point at which it felt like it, was the point at which actually the subcommittee made a positive decision to close the Working Group or to – yes, yes, to disband the Working Group and to alter the scheme, and I think that was the point that, although I wasn’t going to be at the subsequent Working Group meeting, I raised the question with Jane MacLeod who was the new Post Office General Counsel, to say I think the programme team need guidance on how to manage the next Working Group meeting in light of the decision that has now been made because, prior to that, I don’t think any decision had been made.

Mr Jacobs: Thank you, so what you’re talking about is around about the time of this email, isn’t it, when they’ve decided to close it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, I think it was subsequent to that.

Mr Jacobs: Right, if we can go to the next paragraph then, so where Mr Parsons talks about Second Sight’s role. He says:

“If [Second Sight] are independently contracted by applicants …”

That was one of the suggestions that was floating around. He goes on to say:

“… I cannot see how POL can dictate [Second Sight’s] scope of work.”

In what way did Post Office seek or want to dictate the work of Second Sight? “Dictate” is a very strong word to use, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: It is. I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. So Post Office wanted to set the scope of Second Sight’s work and I think that previous documents will show that, insofar as that Post Office felt that Second Sight should not be looking at prosecutions and should not be looking at matters of contract, so I think that’s the point in relation to dictating the scope. I think “dictating” a strong word.

Mr Jacobs: Well, Mr Bates gave evidence on 9 April and he said that at all stages until the Group Litigation, Post Office were very, very anxious to control the narrative, to control the process, and that’s what Post Office were doing here, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: In terms of –

Mr Jacobs: Dictating what Second Sight were doing, controlling them?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Well, I can’t speak for Andrew and I wouldn’t have put it in those – I wouldn’t have put it in those terms. So I’m afraid, sorry, I can’t help you more than that particular point.

Mr Jacobs: No, it’s all right. I’ll move on to the next paragraph, where Mr Parsons says:

“Similarly, without direct control over [Second Sight’s] scope of work, it will be very difficult for POL to stop applicants aggregating their funding to pay [Second Sight] to produce a ‘Part 2 Report’.”

So what Mr Parsons is telling you here is Post Office need to control the process, control Second Sight, because we don’t want Second Sight to produce their final report because Post Office will not like what Second Sight are going to say. That’s the point, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think so, yes.

Mr Jacobs: So this is an attempt to control the process, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Well, I think it’s Andrew’s view of what Post Office might do to control the Post Office if that’s – sorry, to control Second Sight. I don’t know that that can be said to be Post Office’s view because I’m not aware of that and I’m also not entirely sure why Andrew felt the need to send it to me, rather than to send it to the authors of the report, and I would imagine I would have sent it to the authors of the report.

Mr Jacobs: Well, moving on – yes, moving on to the bottom of page 1. The paragraph that begins “I wonder”. It’s just before the section “Mediating all non-criminal cases”. So Mr Parsons also then says to you:

“I wonder whether POL would be better keeping [Second Sight] under direct contract and then, without the [Working Group], POL could more easily dictate [Second Sight’s] work (ie stopping Part 2 and focus on cases). This has the advantage of narrowing [Second Sight’s] role whilst maintaining more direct control.”

Now, my question to you is Mr Parsons isn’t an outlier here, these aren’t sort of wild suggestions. This is part of the discussion that’s going on and you were part of it. Can you comment on that and what Mr Parsons says, please?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I’m not sure – as Mr Parsons has only sent it to me, I’m not – it seems to me as though he’s hazarding a view but he’s not entirely sure whether or not – how that will sit within the Post Office, therefore he’s only sending it to me. So Andrew was involved in anything to do with the scheme and other issues throughout the whole of my time on the scheme. So he was very much involved. I don’t know that his views always prevailed or always represented the views of Post Office. I read this as him saying, “This is what Post Office could do.”

I didn’t feel that – this seems to me to be quite extreme in terms of what Post Office might have wanted to do.

Mr Jacobs: Let’s move on, then, to the last part, “Mediating all non-criminal cases”. So Mr Parsons goes on to say:

“Mediating all non-criminal cases of course means mediating lots of hopeless cases. Mediating unmeritorious cases raises applicants’ expectations unfairly and may in fact create greater animosity and complaints (certainly that was my experience [and he names one of the cases]). My recommendation would be for POL to take a tougher line and only mediate meritorious cases (even if the bar for this is set low).”

Now, that’s what he suggests but the real reason is the next paragraph:

“This would also be consistent with the principle of not mediating criminal cases.”

Now, you know that the Post Office didn’t want to mediate criminal cases; that’s right, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. They were taking it on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Jacobs: He goes on to say what the primary reason for that is and this is what he’s saying to you:

“Although the primary reasons for not mediating the criminal cases is the criminal risk, another way of seeing them as simply cases which lack any merit because the Applicants have committed criminal offences.”

The criminal risk, of course, is that, if those that have been convicted get more information from the Mediation Scheme, then they could go to the Court of Appeal and seek to have their convictions overturned.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I can’t account for Andrew’s views and I don’t really want to try. I think – but in terms of your last point, the cases that had been subject to a criminal prosecution were entered into the scheme, those that applied, and they were investigated and they were provided with information. I’m not sure that the mediation, as such, would have made any difference to the information that was given.

Mr Jacobs: Very well. Well, finally, then, last two points on this letter, Mr Parsons says:

“Taking a stance that POL will not mediate unmeritorious cases has the advantage of carving out more cases as well as avoiding the criminal cases without having to base this on unattractive ‘legal risk’ argument.”

So Post Office didn’t want to have to say, “We don’t want to mediate criminal cases because it might transpire that there were miscarriages of justice”; they wanted to be able to say, “Well, it’s because they’re not meritorious”.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I think I have to refer to my previous answer and that is I can’t speak for Andrew but also I think he’s making it clear that this is his view or a recommendation and, particularly on matters of criminal prosecutions and what could and couldn’t be achieved, that is an area that I would try to avoid in any event because I’m not a criminal lawyer and I don’t understand enough to be able to speak with any sort of competence on it.

Mr Jacobs: Well, Mr Parsons ends his message with “Happy to discuss”.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Mm-hm.

Mr Jacobs: Now, presumably, what you said was you might have been surprised, you might have been shocked or you might have expected it, but did you discuss this with him, as he would seem to be suggesting?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think it’s highly unlikely.

Mr Jacobs: Why is that?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Because the – this particular discussion about the scheme came out of a conversation at ExCo, I think, and it was based on the drafting of a paper for the Board – sorry the subcommittee, and the paper was drafted by Jane MacLeod and Mark Davies. So, if anybody wanted to discuss this with Andrew, it would have been for them. I would imagine if I did anything with it I would have sent it to them.

Mr Jacobs: This was 9 February 2015. Now, I know that left and you retired on 31 March 2015, so this would have been right at the end of your career –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: – with the Post Office. Do you remember this? It was at the end –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Mr Jacobs: – it was quite a significant letter to you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, I don’t. So there have been one or two emails that I’ve seen in the bundle that Andrew has sent to me and I’ve not been entirely sure why he has sent them to me or just sent them to me. This is in that category but, definitely by this stage, these were issues for ExCo and the subcommittee, and I wouldn’t have engaged with Andrew – I mean, I can’t guarantee but I can’t imagine picking up the phone and discussing this with him. Insofar as I might have had the conversation with him, I might have said “Do you want me to just send this to Jane and Mark?”

Mr Jacobs: Sir, I have some more questions on the question of suspense accounts where Ms Cortes-Martin was involved. I note the time, I don’t know if you would wish to take a break now or continue.

Sir Wyn Williams: Let’s hear you out, Mr Jacobs. I’m sure you can do it reasonably swiftly and then we may take the break.

Mr Jacobs: Indeed.

Could we go to POL00040805. Could we go, please, to page 3 of 4 in this document. It is an email that you sent to Ruth Phillips, dated 15 January 2015 at 16.59. Scrolling down, please. You send it to Tracy and you ask for this to be passed on to Alisdair. Is that Alisdair Cameron?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: You say:

“Dear Alisdair

“I understand that Chris Aujard has spoken to you about the discussion at yesterday’s Working Group meeting of the Complaint and Mediation Scheme. For some months, Second Sight and the independent chair of the Working Group – Sir Anthony Hooper – have been asking for information on the operation of the Post Office’s Suspense Account. Put simply, this amounts to …”


“How much of is absorbed to Post Office P&L [that’s profit and loss] from the suspense account each year; and

“How much of that [is connected] to money which is/may be properly due to subpostmasters.”

They go on to say:

“The nub of the issue is whether it is possible for a subpostmaster/subpostmasters to have made good a loss in branch or held accountable for a loss where it later transpires that the money was not owed therefore Post Office gains.”

So the point that Sir Anthony was raising is that subpostmasters may have paid money into the Post Office on account of Horizon shortfalls that may or may not have been real and the suspense accounts would assist on showing whether the shortfalls were real or not.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Mm-hm.

Mr Jacobs: Is that your understanding of what Sir Anthony was asking?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, I think it is.

Mr Jacobs: He’d asked it on many occasions, hadn’t he?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: In various forms, yes.

Mr Jacobs: Sir Anthony gave evidence on 10 April and he said he asked quite a few times, repeatedly, and he said “I got absolutely nowhere and nor did Second Sight”, and never got the answer.

If we could go scrolling down to Chris Aujard, page 3 of 4. He writes an email, here we go, 16 January 2015, 8.28 on the same issue. He is saying:

“As you will see, I really need someone from your team who is technically switched on re suspense accounts and can handle themselves in front of an adversarial audience.

“As you can imagine, I am concerned that we give Second Sight no more information than is necessary to address the narrow proposition that money that is ‘missing’ from an SPMR account is somehow taken into our suspense account and then appropriated to our P&L [profit and loss].”

So Mr Aujard was very resistant to giving information to Sir Anthony and to Second Sight; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s not my understanding or the way that I read this.

Mr Jacobs: Okay.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think, if I understood the situation correctly, he is saying he doesn’t want to give Second Sight any more information than necessary to address that narrow proposition, which I think was Sir Anthony Hooper’s proposition.

Mr Jacobs: Okay. If we then go to page 2 of 4, we’ll see that there was a suggestion that Rod Ismay addresses this point. Do you see, you wrote an email on 16 January –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yeah.

Mr Jacobs: – 2015 and you said:

“I understand that you are both speaking with Rod today about suspense accounts.”

So the proposal was that Rod Ismay would discuss this with the Working Group?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Well, I’m not sure whether if discuss it with the Working Group or Second Sight.

Mr Jacobs: Right.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Can I say something about the suspense account issue?

Mr Jacobs: Yes, indeed.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So the suspense account issue and – as with some other issues, were issues that I was involved in coordinating. So there were conversations, some of which I wouldn’t have been involved in, in terms of how to get the information required. So my interest in this was that this information needed to be provided, it was a matter for Post Office to determine what information it provided. If Post Office didn’t provide all the information that Second Sight needed or Sir Anthony Hooper wanted, then that needed to be a matter of record and Post Office would have to deal with that.

But my involvement in this was trying to coordinate activity, so that, by the time of the Working Group, if that was the deadline, this information had been provided.

Mr Jacobs: Well, one last document to show you is POL00021762 and, while we’re waiting for it to come up on the screen, I can say that you were involved in this issue prior to this, back in July or August 2014, weren’t you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: From the very first instance it arose, yes.

Mr Jacobs: So if we go to page 3 of 5, we have an email from Andrew Parsons to you and Angela van den Bogerd and this after Ian Henderson had asked for all the suspense accounts, and Mr Parsons says:

“Belinda, Angela

“As discussed briefly yesterday, I suspect that the information requested by Ian below is highly commercial [‘commercially’, presumably] sensitive.

“It might also be that the figures in question are quite high and this may then be portrayed as if there are significant sums each month which can’t be reconciled with POL’s accounts. The inference from this is that POL’s processes/accounting systems are flawed given the volumes of discrepancies. Whether or not this is correct, it is an easy leap to make.

“Assuming that POL Finance say that this … cannot be closed, I’ve penned a short response to Ian below.”

Then he just says it’s, you know, commercially sensitive.

So, again, we’ve got Andrew Parsons also saying to you, “The Post Office doesn’t want to give this information to Second Sight, let alone Sir Anthony Hooper”; would you agree?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: Then we have Chris Aujard making the same point at page 1 of 5, the 1 August 2014, 7.38 pm. He’s writing to you as well. He says:

“Belinda. I agree with Andy – I’d like to avoid giving anything if at all possible (less is more), but if we do, rather than give them the data they’ve asked for, we should provide …”

I think “MI” is management information:

“… which gives context …”

Then he says:

“… something along these lines: ‘The amount held in suspense accounts across the Post Office Network averages £XX per trading period or approximately Y% of the total value of the transactions processed each trading period. Of the sums held in suspense accounts, approximately Z% is cleared within 30 days, and all but F% is cleared within 90 days.”

So really my question for you is this was a recurring scheme from Second Sight and from Sir Anthony. You were directly involved in this and you knew, because so many people were telling you, that Post Office were absolutely determined never to give this information out; that’s right, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Again, I don’t necessarily read it that way.

Mr Jacobs: How would you read it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Well, I – it’s not “not give anything out” but, clearly, what Post Office were – was inclined to do was to only give out whatever information it felt was appropriate. I think it was ultimately a matter for Alisdair Cameron and Chris to decide what information went out. So, as far as I’m concerned, Andrew and Rod were telling the wrong people, and I would just have passed their advice on to the people that were making the decision.

Mr Jacobs: Well, I can see that you’re saying that you were effectively the messenger, the conduit?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Mr Jacobs: But I do have to ask you this question because it seems that you did have significant input in this matter: do you accept that these accounts, if Post Office had disclosed them, could have demonstrated that the shortfalls were not real and that this could lead to a presumption that the Horizon system that was generating these figures was actually to blame and not the subpostmaster? That’s why the Post Office didn’t want that material to come out, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I see exactly what you’re saying. It is not something that – it’s not something that I concerned myself with. I understand that it’s one of those – what Ms Price was saying, do I have any regrets, but this is an issue that I did not get into the detail of. I didn’t understand it, in terms of the detail of the suspense accounts and, as far as I was concerned, it was a matter for Post Office to determine what information it gave and to who, and Post Office would stand or fall by its decisions.

But they weren’t my decisions. So I understand what you’re saying and I realise it sounds as though I’m saying “nothing to do with me” but, in reality, I wasn’t in a position to make those decisions; I wasn’t in a position to influence them and I did not attempt to do so.

Mr Jacobs: My final question for you is in relation to what you told Ms Price: you said you regretted not digging down deeper. You were in a position to have dug down deeper on this issue; do you regret not doing so?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: This and many others. What I don’t understand – so subsequently many things have come to light, some of which clearly crossed my desk, many of which I think did not. It would be difficult for me to single out one particular thing but what I don’t want to do is give the impression that it was my role to do this and, therefore, I was not doing it, simply because that’s not what the case. But what I regret is that there were things that crossed my desk and, had I drilled down into them, I might have been able to highlight more. There are many things that I could have done differently but I didn’t. This isn’t a stand-out issue.

Mr Jacobs: I just want to ask if I have any more questions for you.

Thank you, I don’t have any more questions. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right.

Ms Page, how long do you expect to be?

Ms Page: About 15 to 20 minutes, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, we’d better take a break, then: ten minutes. So what time shall we start?

Ms Price: 3.20, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: 3.20, right. Fine.

Ms Price: Thank you.

(3.11 pm)

(A short break)

(3.19 pm)

Ms Price: Hello, sir, it’s over to Ms Page.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, fine.

Questioned by Ms Page

Ms Page: Where did your loyalties lie during your period working for the Post Office?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m not sure that – I mean, when I was doing work for the Working Group and the Chair, then my loyalties lay there, and when I was doing work for Post Office, my loyalties lay there.

Ms Page: Once you were working for the Secretariat, as you’ve described it, did you feel that you owed any obligation to Second Sight?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No.

Ms Page: Can we look, please, at POL00300442. If we look, please, at the bottom half of the page, when it comes up – the bottom half of the first page – so on 27 October 2013, that’s not long after you began –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Page: – you say to Angela van den Bogerd:


“I said I would do a note about how to move to a place where Second Sight are able to leave the Working Group and allow Post Office take over sole responsibility for the investigations?”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: In terms of the note that I was going to do, yes.

Ms Page: So you were asked to look into moving Second Sight out of the Working Group altogether and allowing Post Office to take over sole responsibility, yes?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think so. There was an email that we referred to earlier, I think, which was an email from Andy Parsons which had said – had suggested that a decision or plans were already in place to move Second Sight out. I assume that this followed on from that. So I assume that those were plans that were already considered by Post Office and I was asked to do a note.

Ms Page: Exactly. So you were well aware of the Post Office’s plans at this point in time. If we could have a look at your witness statement, please, where you deal with the Parsons email, and it’s at page 28, paragraph 59.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Page: We’ll just wait for it to come up on the screen. Now, you say there:

“I am unable to explain the background to Andrew Parsons’ suggestion within [the email you were just referring to] …”

Then quoting from it:

“… ‘Work is continuing on managing SS out of the Scheme. In general, SS’s role is gradually being reduced until they can be removed entirely. This work has already begun’.”

So there you say you’re unable to explain the background. That’s fair enough but the fact is you were then commissioned to do a note on your subject and you don’t mention that in your statement? Did you forget about it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t remember being asked to do it but I had seen – the email that you referred to earlier was in my documents, in my document pack.

Ms Page: Well, the email I took you to was, in fact, in the second document pack, so you didn’t have it when you made your statement. Had you forgotten about it when you made your statement?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Well, I definitely didn’t recall it.

Ms Page: Well, in any event, the combination of these emails makes it plain that you knew from the outset that Post Office wanted to get rid of Second Sight, didn’t you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I knew that Post Office wanted to reduce the involvement of Second Sight, so –

Ms Page: Well, that’s not what they say, is it, these emails? They say that they are to be removed completely from the scheme and Post Office is to take over the role completely, exclusively. They didn’t want to reduce it, did they, and they made it perfectly plain to you because you wrote a note about it? They wanted to get rid of them, didn’t they?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I hadn’t seen the note that I wrote, or indeed whether I did, but certainly the plan was to remove Second Sight. What I’m not clear on, because I can’t tell from the documentation and I don’t believe I ever guilty to the bottom of it, because I think as I said previously, I don’t know that I ever managed to speak to Susan Crichton about it, is exactly whether that related to immediately or when the work of that – when the Mediation Scheme, as set up, which was clearly envisaged to last for a very short period of time, whether or not the plan was for Second Sight to disappear after that.

Ms Page: Ms Cortes-Martin, this set the tone, didn’t it? This was the first thing that you were asked to do, more or less, and it made it plain that your loyalties were with Post Office, and, if there was a disagreement between Post Office and Second Sight, your loyalties would be with Post Office, wouldn’t they, because you were asked to find a way to get rid of Second Sight?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I don’t know that I had loyalties to anybody but, if – but Post Office were responsible for the scheme and, if Post Office wanted to run the scheme in a particular way, as far as I was concerned, that was a matter for – matter for Post Office. I didn’t have any particular loyalties to Post Office or Second Sight. And in relation to loyalties to Post Office, I had not had a career with Post Office and I was leaving Post Office. I didn’t feel that I had a particular obligation to do anything in defence of Post Office but, if Post Office asked me to explore options for Second Sight leaving the scheme, then that’s what I would do.

Ms Page: Well, let’s have a look at what else you were asked to do. If we could bring up POL00164253, please. This email chain is from December 2013 and if we scroll all the way down to page 5, when it comes up, please. So if we just go down a little bit further, it begins with Rodric Williams to Jarnail Singh, copying you in, 3 December 2013, it says:

“Jarnail – senior management has asked for the ‘current position on prosecutions – when paused/what do we have in train’.”

So these two lawyers had both received the Clarke Advice and, indeed, both of them were instrumental in managing the aftermath of the Clarke Advice and I’m talking about the July Clarke Advice that Ms Price took you to earlier on.

Here, they’re discussing current prosecutions, and the question is, when were they paused? Now, the fact is that the Clarke Advice required a pause because it discredited the expert witness that was in use and there was no one to testify to the integrity of Horizon records. So this looks like an email chain dealing with the response to the Clarke Advice; does that make sense?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: If it was, I wasn’t aware of it. I think it was – I think it was an email chain to get information to inform a Board paper.

Ms Page: Indeed, we’ll come to that. If we go up first, please, to page 3. I think we just go, I think, a little further down. Yes. It changes slightly, Mr Williams says:


“I have another question – do you know who was responsible for prosecuting cases before separation, ie:

“in whose name were the prosecutions brought;

“who was the prosecuting authority; and

“who would ultimately be responsible if a prosecution was found to have been improperly conducted?”

Again, you’re copied in, yes?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Ms Page: So we’re now moving to past prosecutions. Having talked about current prosecutions and when they were paused, it’s now looking at past prosecutions. As you say, if we then go up to the top of this chain, we can see that on the same day, you take over this line of query and you do so, as you said, because you’ve been asked to deal with an action and you tell them:

“I now have the actual action from the Board.”

You give a deadline and then you say:

“The action is:

“The Board asked for a note from the General Counsel explaining who was named in the past prosecutions and the liability for the Business and individual Board members. The note should also include information on both PI and D&O insurance cover.”

“D&O” was Directors and Officers insurance cover, wasn’t it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I think so, yes.

Ms Page: So the Board were concerned about their personal liability for past prosecutions, yes?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So I was asked to address this in my statement. The Board asked for advice from General Counsel on it. I probably take the question quite literally but I don’t know whether or not they were concerned or they just wanted advice on it.

Ms Page: Is that really your answer? Are you suggesting that the directors wouldn’t be concerned if they were seeking advice on their personal liability for wrongful past prosecutions?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, I’m not saying – as I said, I think I’m taking the question quite literally. I’m not aware of any particular – that they were worried about it but that they were asking advice on it. Now, that could be driven by concern but what I don’t know is what caused the request for information.

Ms Page: Surely you would have found this out from Mr Singh or Mr Williams, the two lawyers who had begun this email chain and who could have given you the answer?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know.

Ms Page: You weren’t curious, I see. You’ve then gone on to deal with the personal liabilities but, before you do that, you say, under the heading, just a little further down:

“Prosecutions already in process before we ‘paused’.

“I will insert the information provided by Jarnail earlier today.”

So no curiosity at all there about why they’d been paused, no?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So my understanding was that prosecutions had been paused because of the scheme.

Ms Page: Sorry? Explain that.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: My understanding was that Post Office had decided to – not to continue with prosecutions while the scheme was in process.

Ms Page: I see. You then go on to deal with the liability for individual Board members in a little detail, I won’t take you through that, but what happens next is, on 6 December there’s a further email chain and it’s POL00198765. If we go down to the crossover between page 2 and page 3, please, it begins with David Oliver sending to you, Chris Aujard, Rodric Williams, Jarnail Singh, under the heading “Board Paper”, no doubt the board paper that you were putting together, it just has an attachment, “Civil Claims Risk – Response.pdf”.

Then we can go up we can make a bit of sense of that because Mr Singh – if we pause there, there’s a line starting on 13 December 2013, Jarnail Singh wrote. We can then see what he writes, he says:

“Having read the Bond Dickinson note …”

That’s evidently the one that was attached to the below email:

“… I was concerned that the [likelihood] of action being brought had not been assessed.

“Accordingly I asked Cartwright King to review Bond Dickinson note. I attach senior counsel Simon Clarke’s response which [clarifies] the issues.”

So, evidently, he has attached a further advice. Now, first of all, that tells us that the Bond Dickinson note was one which, as far as Mr Singh was concerned, didn’t cover the likelihood of action having been brought against Board members, yes? So both of these advices are dealing with actions potentially being brought against board members. Yes?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m not entirely sure. I’m sorry but the – at an early stage in the process, I was asked to pull together a Board paper, the outline of which – or the action I was given and the outline of which I would have discussed with Chris. I – well, David and I attempted to pull together the Board paper. I didn’t analyse the various facets of it; I was just interested in populating a board paper for Chris to sign off.

Ms Page: Well, let’s see about that because, if we go up, please, to the bottom of page 1, this is your email, 14 December.

“Thanks Jarnail

“This is very helpful and does, I think, clarify the position very helpfully.

“Just one question of further clarification from me:

“In para 4(iii) the note says?”

Then you quote from it:

“That protection would not be available to an organisation which conducted its prosecutions ‘in-house’, that is, in POL’s case, using lawyers directly employed by POL.”

You say:

“Am I right in interpreting this as meaning that as Post Office does not conduct its prosecutions in-house – that is, it uses Cartwright King rather than directly replied lawyers – any claim for malicious prosecution would properly stand against Cartwright King and not POL, provided we follow our normal processes as described in the advice.”

Now, you have managed to get to the nub of it, haven’t you, Ms Cortes-Martin, in this email. You are clearly analysing the lawyers’ advices and you are using their advices and seeking further clarification so that you can write a detailed and careful Board paper about whether there is going to be any action taken against them, Board members, yes?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, I think so. I’m trying to put together the position and clarify the position so that, if I – so that I can put in the board paper, yes.

Ms Page: Yes. So your earlier answer, in which you tried to suggest that you hadn’t really dug into this and you didn’t really know much about it, is not true, is it? You had looked into it carefully enough to be able to analyse this proposition that claims for malicious prosecution would stand against Cartwright King and not POL, yes?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’ve looked at it enough to try to make sure that the Board paper answers the questions that I think Chris wants it to answer, yes.

Ms Page: You obviously read the advice very carefully?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m sure, in terms of picking out the bit that I needed, yes.

Ms Page: Are you sure you didn’t know about the content of Mr Clarke’s other advice from July 2013?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So, to the best of my recollection, I was not aware of it. As I explained this morning – so it’s clear that it passed my desk but, at that point, again, I’m as sure as I can be that I wasn’t aware of it.

Ms Page: Even though that was the advice which generated the Board’s concerns about past prosecution and the potential for their personal liability for malicious prosecution?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I don’t know that that was the case because I don’t know what the Board were told about the Clarke Advice.

Ms Page: Is that an answer that you’ve felt you had to make because you don’t want to put the Board in it, in some way?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Absolutely not. I am as keen as many other people to understand who knew what and when. I have seen nothing that suggests either way whether the Board knew about it or not but I certainly would not say anything to this Inquiry to protect anybody.

Ms Page: Could we have a look, please, at your statement, page 25, paragraph 53. Thank you:

“I do not know if any Senior Managers and/or Directors of POL were concerned about personal liability for malicious prosecution. If it were ever discussed in my presence, I have no recollection of it.”

Now, we’ve just discovered, haven’t we, Ms Cortes-Martin, that you were deeply involved in advising the Board on that very subject, weren’t you?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I was –

Ms Page: Something you forgot about when you made your statement?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: No, as I said earlier, I took that question very literally and I didn’t know that they were particularly worried about it or if they just asked advice on it.

Ms Page: Really?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Really. At this stage, I had never attended a Board meeting, to the best of my recollection, on anything at all to do with this subject. It was an entirely new subject to me. This subject matter was an entirely new subject to me. So, if the action arose out of a worry about it then I wasn’t aware of it. If I take it in a more general sense, then if they – if the underlying reason for requesting this advice was concern, then perhaps my answer’s – perhaps my answer’s incorrect.

Ms Page: You didn’t think you’d mention this work that you did? Even though the question was about concern, you didn’t think you’d mention this Board paper?

No, evidently not. Thank you. Those are my questions, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you Ms Page. Is that it, Ms Price?

Ms Price: Yes, it is, sir.

Questioned by Sir Wyn Williams

Sir Wyn Williams: Just to prolong it for two minutes, can you just talk me through how your recollection of how an individual application to the scheme actually got from the beginning to the end, so that I can be clear that I understand it, all right?

Let me simplify it by letting you know what I think happened and then you can correct me if I’m wrong. All right?

So it would start with Mr X or Ms Y making an application on a questionnaire, as I understand it. Is that Step 1?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. Yes, I –

Sir Wyn Williams: Something would have to instigate it. So a subpostmaster would fill in a questionnaire and send it off to you, as the head, so to speak, of administering the scheme. So that would instigate their desire to engage in mediation with the Post Office, yes?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, I think so. The reason I’m hesitating is I can’t remember the point at which the detailed questionnaire was filled in but there was certainly an initial “I want to be in the scheme”.

Sir Wyn Williams: Anyway, yeah, if you like, “I want to be part of the scheme”, and then, shortly thereafter or at the same time, they fill in a detailed questionnaire?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes, that’s correct.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. The questionnaire goes to Second Sight and it goes to the Post Office –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – or is it sequential? Does it go to both at the same time or does it go to the Post Office first to investigate?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: To be absolutely accurate on this, I would need to go back to the scheme documentation but I think it would have been available to both. It would have been available to both but the action would be with Second Sight.

Sir Wyn Williams: But the way I’ve understood it is that the Post Office would then produce its response to the application and then Second Sight would investigate that response; is that right?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. Second Sight would review the Post Office’s Investigation Report and the evidence provided by the applicant and Post Office.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Now, if they both said, “This is fit for mediation”, that’s fine and that’s easy. If Post Office said, “It’s not fit for mediation” but Second Sight, on review, said that it was, what would happen then?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: There would be a discussion at the Working Group, and a – I think there were a couple of changes during the lifetime of the scheme but a decision would be made. If there was no agreement, I think Sir Anthony Hooper would adjudicate, insofar as he would say it should be mediated. It would then be passed to –

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, not so fast.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Sorry.

Sir Wyn Williams: They haven’t agreed, so it’s discussed in Working Group. At the end of the discussion, they might still not agree –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – in which case, Sir Anthony would say, “Well, actually, I think I’m with the Post Office, so it won’t go any further”, or, “I think it should be mediated”, and they would abide by his decision; is that fair?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Not exactly. So Sir Anthony –

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s what I thought. So you tell me what would happen then.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So Sir Anthony Hooper would decide whether or not he thinks it was appropriate for mediation and, therefore, it would be a matter for Post Office to decide whether or not it wanted to mediate.

Sir Wyn Williams: Exactly. Because we are talking about a mediation, not an arbitration.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. So let’s assume that, against its “better judgement”, in inverted commas, Post Office accepts Sir Anthony’s recommendation and says, “Okay, we’ll mediate”, even though they don’t really want to. The next step is to provide information to the mediator, I guess?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: That would be the detailed questionnaire, the Post Office’s response to it and Second Sight’s review of it?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Anything else?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes. As the scheme progressed, a fact file was produced, which was available to the mediator and, after Second Sight’s part – so anything that Second Sight had produced as a generic report would also be passed to the mediator.

Sir Wyn Williams: Would also be part of that?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. So the mediator gets all of that information?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Then, on the appointed day, the applicant, either represented or unrepresented, as the case may be, appears; the Post Office appear, by lawyers, no doubt; and the mediator is present; and a mediation occurs?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: The mediator tries to nudge parties into an agreement and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: But, ultimately, it only works if both agree. Nobody forces people to do anything. Unless the applicant and the Post Office agree on the result, it fails, the mediation fails?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: That’s correct.

Sir Wyn Williams: So when people talk about having the power to decide, the reality is that the applicant could say, for the sake of argument, “I want £10,000”, and the Post Office could say, “We will only give you £2,500”, and it could fail or they could agree on £5,000?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s the way it went?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Just like many other mediation, in fact –

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – once it got to that stage?

Belinda Cortes-Martin: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So, in your experience, of the 150 cases – I’ll ask the Post Office to give me precise figures but, just so I can get a feel for it now. We know that there was approximately 150 cases; in your experience, approximately how many of them succeeded in the sense there was an agreement? I’m not asking for a precise figure, just a feel, at the moment.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: So up until the time I left – and I really can’t give you a figure but what I can tell you is that I think CEDR, the mediation organisation, did a report for the Working Group, or it may have been the Select Committee, but the figures are set out in that and it’s actually in my evidence pack.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, there’s a document which will give me the precise figures.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: But they said that the number of fully settled or fully agreed cases was slightly below the average.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay, don’t worry. If you can’t, you can’t.

Belinda Cortes-Martin: I’m afraid I can’t.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’ll get it from another source.

Well, I’m glad, at least, I understood the process of the mediation, so thank you very much. So those are my questions.

Thank you for making your detailed witness statement and thank you for giving evidence to the Inquiry today.

The Witness: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: So that brings us to an end of today’s proceedings, Ms Price, and it’s Mr Altman tomorrow, is it?

Ms Price: Yes, sir. That’s correct. 9.45 tomorrow.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Thank you very much.

Ms Price: Thank you, sir.

(3.50 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 9.45 am the following day)