Official hearing page

17 May 2024 – Alisdair Cameron

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(9.45 am)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you very much.

Mr Beer: May I call Alisdair Cameron, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Alisdair Cameron


Questioned by Mr Beer

Mr Beer: Good morning, Mr Cameron. As you know, my name is Jason Beer and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Can you give us your full name, please?

Alisdair Cameron: Alisdair Charles John Cameron.

Mr Beer: Thank you for providing a long and detailed witness statement to the Inquiry, it’s dated 18 April 2024. It’s 115 pages long. Can we look at that, please. It’s WITN09840100. You should have a hard copy.

Alisdair Cameron: I do.

Mr Beer: I think there are five corrections that you wish to make to it. Can we go through each of those in turn, please.

Alisdair Cameron: There are six. There was one I put forward to the Inquiry a couple of days ago.

Mr Beer: Yes, I’ve left one out because it was just a grammar or syntax one about a full stop.

Alisdair Cameron: Right.

Mr Beer: So I’ve cut that one. Page 42, please. If we look at paragraph 177 towards the bottom of the page, in the second line, there’s a line which says:

“… according to my diary took place on 4 March 2014 …”

Should that be 4 March 2015?

Alisdair Cameron: It should.

Mr Beer: So “4 March 2015”, please.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Page 67 is the second correction. It’s paragraph 279, again at the foot of the page.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: In the second line, there’s a document referred to, POL00021446, which is dated as 28 June 2016, whereas it should be 28 June 2018?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Then, over the page, please. The last line reads –

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry, Mr Beer. That last one, a reference to 2018 in the second line, does that have any effect on the 2016 in the first line?

Mr Beer: Yes.

The Witness: Ooh, I think it does, sorry. It should all be 2018 in this paragraph. I apologise.

Sir Wyn Williams: No, that’s fine, thank you.

Mr Beer: Then, over the page to the last sentence:

“This was subsequently accepted by Ernst & Young in July 2017 …”

That should read “July 2018”?

Alisdair Cameron: Absolutely.

Mr Beer: Thirdly, page 71. In the last line, there’s a reference to a document, FUJ00171778 and that’s said to be 15 February 2019; that should be 15 March 2019 –

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: – and I think that is actually correctly dated in the first line of para 292?

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: It is.

Mr Beer: At page 86, please, at the top of the page, which is paragraph 338, the date of the document, three lines in, should be 13 May 2019, not 23 May 2019.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. I think the sixth amendment was just typo, so we needn’t correct that.

Can we go to page 115, please, in the hard copy. Is that your signature?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: With those corrections brought into account, are the contents of that witness statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, they are.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Mr Cameron, I know that in your witness statement you make an apology in paragraph 6 – there’s no need to turn it up – but I think there’s something additional you wish to say now, so please do say that which you wish to say.

Alisdair Cameron: Thank you. I’m sorry that when I joined Post Office in 2015 I accepted, without challenging the evidence, that there had been no miscarriages of justice in the earlier prosecutions which caused so much devastation to postmasters and their families. As a member of the GLO subcommittee, I am sorry I did not push against the lack of challenge and testing of Post Office’s legal case. Had I done better in these things, we might have started the process of getting justice for postmasters earlier.

I hope that my statement and evidence today assists the Inquiry in its investigations and in getting to the truth, which is the least that those affected deserve. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, Mr Cameron.

You give evidence in your witness statements about issues that the Inquiry call Phase 5 and 6 issues –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and also some Phase 7 issues –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – which are bringing us up to date?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: I’m not going to ask you about those Phase 7 issues today.

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: If and to the extent that it’s ever necessary to ask you about those issues, that will happen after the summer.

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: Can I start with your background, please. You joined the Post Office in January 2015 –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – as a CFO?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Chief Finance Officer?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Between 2017 and 2019 you were jointly the CFO and COO –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – Chief Operating Officer; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Between April 2019 and September 2019, you were the Interim CEO –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – chief Executive Officer?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: And from September 2019 until the present day, you have been the Chief Finance Officer –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – albeit you’ve been on medical leave since May 2023?

Alisdair Cameron: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Prior to the Post Office, is this right, you were a trainee accountant at Binder Hamlyn from September 1987, you became a partner in Arthur Andersen in 1999 – is that right –

Alisdair Cameron: That’s right.

Mr Beer: – then Deloitte and Touche in 2002 –

Alisdair Cameron: Correct.

Mr Beer: – again as a partner?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: That was in the Audit and Risk Management Department; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: You subsequently became the Head of Internal Audit and Risk Management for Centrica Plc?

Alisdair Cameron: Correct.

Mr Beer: Then from 2006 onwards you held various senior roles at British Gas, including Finance Director?

Alisdair Cameron: Correct.

Mr Beer: Thank you. I’m going to start towards the end by looking at a document called “What Went Wrong? A Draft for Discussion”. Can we look at it, please. POL00175235. So you’ll see, at the foot of the page, please, a little bit more, this is your document –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, absolutely.

Mr Beer: It’s dated 19 November 2020?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: That appears on all of the pages. It’s seven pages long, and I’m going to spend some time on this document this morning, if I may.

Alisdair Cameron: Of course.

Mr Beer: Because, essentially, it’s a narrative account and your reflections, is this right, as at 19 November 2020 –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – on what went wrong in relation to Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: So, just to work out where we are in the narrative, the chronology: at this time, Paula Vennells had ceased to be the CEO for about 18 months; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: She, I think, announced or disclosed her intention to leave in about November ‘18 –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and left in about March ‘19?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: You had ceased to be the Interim CEO –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – at the time that you wrote this document?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: You finished in September 2019, so about 13 months before this?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: At the time you were writing this, Nick Read was the CEO; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Absolutely.

Mr Beer: Thank you. If we just go to the top of the page, please. The purpose of, I think, the document is explained in the first paragraph, and you say:

“We need to explain, internally and externally, what has gone wrong around the historical Postmaster litigation.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: So by this time, November 2020, the Common Issues judgment had been issued –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – the Horizon Issues judgment had been published –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and the Group Litigation had reached a settlement?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Standing back, what was the intention behind writing the document?

Alisdair Cameron: And I think it does say it in here, it seemed to me – and I had this conversation with Nick, for whom I really wrote the document – was that if we were going to say this can never happen again, which we were starting to say, of course there’s a sense of that literally being true, because we’d never have prosecuted anyone again, but, for that to be true, I think we had to have a proper explanation that satisfied us as to what had gone wrong. And the purpose of this document – because I had been there for a few years at this point, five years – was to write down what I had thought was gone wrong, not as a definitive answer, but as a first contribution to what I hoped would be a wider debate, so that out of collective experiences, you know, we would get something more definitive.

Mr Beer: In its second line under the title, it’s said to be “A Draft for Discussion”?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Who did you intend to discuss the draft with?

Alisdair Cameron: I did discuss it with Nick Read and Richard Taylor and Ben Foat.

Mr Beer: Was that after it had been written?

Alisdair Cameron: I wrote an initial draft, which I discussed, I think, with Richard Taylor and Nick Read and they made some comments and this was, I believe, the revised draft after that and the final draft.

Mr Beer: Can we just turn up paragraph 387 of your witness statement, please, which is on page 101. You say, “The paper” and you’re talking about this document we are looking at:

“… was discussed [as you’ve just said] with Nick Read, Richard Taylor (then Communications Director) and Ben Foat and I believed helped prompt some cultural [change] for the leadership team in 2021.”

Then you say this:

“I had intended the paper to be a first draft to be built on by to others create a shared narrative for the [Post Office] to test against the future. I am not aware that that ever happened.”

Alisdair Cameron: That’s right.

Mr Beer: Do you know why that never happened, to your knowledge?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I don’t remember us discussing it again. What I did see was some, you know, good cultural challenge and debate in sort of January/February 2021, which I thought was helpful and which I hoped this had helped prompt, it might not have done, but I don’t remember discussing this document again after that.

Mr Beer: You said that it was your intention to create a shared narrative. By that, do you mean that other people would –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – add to and contribute to your document –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and then, essentially, it would be settled as an agreed account?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes. Although, listening to this Inquiry, I suspect we would have kept changing it.

Mr Beer: Why do you think that?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I’ve been absolutely staggered by some of the testimony you’ve got, particularly about things that happened earlier, and so I suspect whatever narrative I created then would have been very incomplete.

Mr Beer: I understand. Do you know why the shared narrative, no matter how much it moved over time, never got beyond the draft that we see?

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Beer: Did any of the three people that you mention, Mr Read, Mr Taylor or Mr Foat, explain why it wasn’t added to or agreed?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I don’t remembering it being a definitive conversation. We just moved on.

Mr Beer: Was there an acceptance by the three of them of what you said in the document?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, I believe that – I mean, obviously, having been there longer, there were things that I thought I’d seen or knew that they wouldn’t have done but, essentially, I don’t think they disagreed with it.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we go back to the document then, please?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: POL00175235. In the first paragraph, continuing where we left off, you say:

“Explaining the past is essential to restoring trust with third parties, many of whom are understandably concerned and critical. It is important for Postmasters who are working well with us and should be reassured that they are in safe hands. It is important for longer serving colleagues who have worked with Postmasters, sometimes suspending, terminating and prosecuting. How should such colleagues interpret what [the Post Office] leadership asked of them and their own actions? It is also important to us as leaders: we must be clear what went wrong to prove to ourselves and others that it cannot happen again.”

That’s essentially what you said in summary earlier on?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: You said:

“Firstly, there can be no doubt that things have gone materially wrong:

“We expect the total cost of managing and settling claims to be between [£1 billion and £1.5 billion].”

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that a calculation that you undertook?

Alisdair Cameron: No, it was my sense of where it was likely to go at the time and I can’t remember exactly where we were in terms of the numbers for overturned historical convictions but we were certainly starting with a much bigger number than is currently provided, I think. So it was a view of where it might go.

Mr Beer: “[Secondly] We have been publicly criticised by Mr Justice Fraser. Nick and I have apologised in public.

“[Thirdly] We have not defended appeals against criminal convictions that we prosecuted.

“The purpose of this paper is to document my personal view about what has gone wrong. It relies on my memory. That will be wrong or incomplete in places: a lot of public studies show that memories are not reliable. I joined in 2015, so many of the critical happenings took place before I joined. I am sure this narrative will also suffer from my unconscious bias to justify myself.

“These issues need to be overcome so a single, core narrative can emerge. More voices need to be heard with different perspectives, including postmasters and critics. We must be brave in getting it right without too much concern for consequences. We must be confident of our facts. A core narrative can then be distilled, enabling credible, consistent and durable answers for stakeholders.”

Then you set out under the executive summary the four main lines of criticism that the Post Office had faced:

“1. We have maintained an unacceptable relationship with postmasters that was self-serving, based on an imbalance of power and information and a skewed contract.

“2. We were over-reliant on Horizon when we knew its weaknesses.

“3. The original prosecutions were a deliberate miscarriage of justice.

“4. We should have settled the claims, apologised and moved on years ago. We have defended ourselves to avoid the consequences. A waste of public money and a postponement of justice.”

In relation to those four criticisms, what was your view at the time as to the extent to which they were accurate and had force?

Alisdair Cameron: So I believe through the two trials that this was a reasonable view of what we knew at the time. Clearly, a lot has emerged since which I think reinforces 2 and 3, particularly, even in the last couple of weeks at this Inquiry.

Mr Beer: So, at the time, you thought that some of them, 1 to 4, had some substance but your view has hardened –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – in the light of evidence that you’ve heard –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – to the extent that you think they are made out?

Alisdair Cameron: Sorry, I’m not sure I understood the question.

Mr Beer: That 1 to 4 are, in your view now, established?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, I think so.

Mr Beer: Let’s look, then, at the view that you took at the time in November 2020. You say:

“At the heart of everything, the original sin of Post Office – and this may go back a very long time – is that:

“1. Our culture, self-absorbed and defensive, stopped us from dealing with Postmasters in a straightforward and acceptable way.”

Just stopping there, to understand what you are saying and the status of what you’re saying there, that is a conclusion which you reached at the time –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – whereas the 1 to 4 above were the criticisms that you faced?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Okay, so 1, at the bottom of the page, is essentially your established view as at November 2020?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. You describe it as an “original sin”?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Why did you use that language?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know and it sounds a little bit overblown, reading it again. But I think the point was that I think I was thinking about the management of shortfalls in branches and the view that, you know, I accepted when I joined, which was the postmasters were accountable for what happened in branches because Post Office couldn’t know what happened in branches and, whilst there was a logic to that, I think it gave us too big an excuse not to really investigate what was happening and simply to accept that post offices were accountable.

And, you know, then you had the prosecutions, and then – and I think it’s a point that Second Sight bring out, postmasters weren’t necessarily being as open when they had problems because they feared the consequences, and so we weren’t having the relationship we should have had, where they could flag concerns, we would help them sort them properly and we would work together to run a proper business, and so that was what I was I think, trying to get at.

Mr Beer: I see. You describe there the Post Office’s culture as being “self-absorbed and defensive”?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did you form a view as to where that culture emanated from?

Alisdair Cameron: I think with all of this, I felt it had probably been there for quite a long time but I think, you know, I’d seen it and had tried to argue with it in places, you know, around the response to Second Sight, around some of the media responses and, you know, I did believe and do believe that organisations should embrace challenge and criticism and have dialogues with people, which is why I was, you know, so keen to talk to Tim McCormack in 2019, against advice, because I thought we were better being open.

Mr Beer: By this time you had been in the Post Office for nearly six years, January 2015 to November 2020?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Had that culture that you describe there, of self-absorbed and defensive, persisted in that period of time?

Alisdair Cameron: It was certainly true, through, I think, the litigations. I think it was, you know, much less true, by November 2020.

Mr Beer: So certainly until early 2020?

Alisdair Cameron: I think that’s probably about right, yes.

Mr Beer: Can we go over the page, please. You say:

“Everything else flows from that attitude and the lack of balance it created. It skewed the judgements made about the prosecutions and the subsequent management of the case.

“The issues that followed are fundamentally for the Board, Executive and Legal teams. In particular …”

Then you set out six other conclusions between 2 to 7. I’ve just described them as conclusions. Am I right to do so? These are, again –

Alisdair Cameron: That was what I understood at the time but, recognising that some of this – number 2, for example – was just, you know, I hadn’t been there when that was happening but that was what seemed to have happen.

Mr Beer: So this is essentially what you believed had been established on the facts that you had seen in your six years?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. So, again, these aren’t the allegations that we saw on the first page; these are your views?

Alisdair Cameron: Correct and particularly views from seeing the Common Issues judgment and the Horizon Issues judgment, which had – and, you know, the really shocking discovery that there had been real miscarriages of justice because, you know, Brian Altman’s work. And so, you know, this was where my views had shifted really significantly.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Then if we scroll down, please. Under the heading of “The Report”, that’s essentially your report, so you’ve moved on from the executive summary –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – you’ve then set out in bold some headings?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: The first one:

“We have maintained an unacceptable relationship with postmasters that was self-serving, based on an imbalance of power and information.”

That’s back to the first point of criticism, the first line of criticism?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, it’s explaining more information below those headlines.

Mr Beer: Thank you. In the second paragraph under that heading, you say:

“The fundamental belief that guided [the Post Office] when I joined [remembering that was January 2015] and which had guided it for many years, was that Postmasters were and had to be … responsible for whatever happened in their shops. Once the systems, training and cash were handed over (and however well they were handed over) the Postmaster was accountable: ‘we cannot know what happens in a [post office] day to day. When money is missing it may have been lost, stolen by someone else or stolen by the Postmaster. Whatever happened, the Postmaster still owes us the money’.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did that state of mind persist throughout the period at least up until the Horizon Issues judgment?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, even the Common Issues judgment, I think.

Mr Beer: The Common Issues judgment.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: I see. What you’ve put in quotation marks there, is that actually somebody speaking or is that sort of a synthesis of the views that you would expect senior Post Office management, essentially, to express?

Alisdair Cameron: It’s a synthesis.

Mr Beer: Right. Over the page, please. Foot of the page. Thank you, three paragraphs from the bottom, you say:

“Often, defensiveness stopped us listening to our critics. When I became Interim CEO, Tim McCormack reached out to me. Paula had refused to talk to him for some time. The advice of Mark Davies, Communications Director, was never to talk to him because he couldn’t be trusted. I did speak to him on 2-3 occasions and found him to be honest, concerned and trustworthy – he help me understand and fix an issue and then praised us for it when he could have made a public fuss.”

You referred to that earlier.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: We’ll came later on this morning or early this afternoon to that exchange with Mr McCormack.

Why did you decide to speak with Mr McCormack?

Alisdair Cameron: I thought we should listen to the people who were criticising us, just as a matter of principle. But I was told that, you know, he was sort of an enemy of the Post Office and he couldn’t be trusted and he was just going to – you know, anything we said to him would be used against us in public, and I was advised to read his blog, I think, which I did. And then I said, look, you know, this is someone who cares about post offices, not just the past, although he cared about that very much, but what was happening in post offices, he cared about post offices and I would always have a dialogue with anyone who cares about post offices.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“Second Sight, discussed elsewhere, challenged us on the principle that because disputes were not fully and transparently resolved, Postmasters had little option but to hide them. This is clearly debatable. But I recall no debate: their report was drafted a few weeks after I joined. This idea conflicted so hard with the fundamental belief that it was not really considered.”

Where you say it was not really considered, to whom are you referring?

Alisdair Cameron: The leadership of Post Office.

Mr Beer: So can you date that?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, their report was drafted, I think, in April 2015 and published in the summer of 2015, or around that time. So, you know, I would date it to that, I think.

Mr Beer: Was that amongst the General Executive, generally?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, and the Board. I mean, I don’t think we debated that point, that I recall.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“The judge’s views …”

That’s Mr Justice Fraser?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “… made a difference to me. In summer 2019, a Post Office came to me because they had a £4,000 shortage. I asked the Network Operations Team to investigate. The real source of the issue was resolved. But it took months because there had been systematic misposting of stamps, which made it very hard to see what had been going on. We didn’t chase errors in stamps because the Postmaster would probably fix them and it didn’t cost us.”

Are you referring there to contact you had from the subpostmaster at the Little Milton post office.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Again, we’ll come to that later today. Over the page, please. You say:

“Following the judge’s verdict, I raised my concerns with the General Counsel …”

Is that Jane MacLeod?

Alisdair Cameron: No, that was Ben Foat.

Mr Beer: That was Ben Foat by then?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “… because I was now thinking about the Postmaster’s experience, not ours. The Network Operations Team now proactively encourages postmasters to get stamps right, counts are checked in Swindon and we do not convert shortfalls to cash …”

Then there’s a passage in italics. Is that, essentially, your conclusion?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, it’s my summary, yeah.

Mr Beer: When you say “summary”, it’s –

Alisdair Cameron: Summary of that section.

Mr Beer: – a summary of that section –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – and you, we’ll see, arrive at a “series of wrongs”, as you describe them?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Post Office wrongs?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: This is essentially your assessment?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: “The first and fundamental wrong is that ‘Our culture, self-absorbed and defensive, stopped us from dealing with Postmasters in a straightforward and acceptable way …’”

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: That correlates to number 1 of 7 on the executive summary?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: “We did not engage with Postmasters with an open mind or listen properly to their concerns. We prioritised issues according to their materiality to us and not to a single Postmaster. We did not serve and assist Postmasters. Training was not good enough. Support was hard to access and of limited duration and insight. We lacked transparency with Postmasters. We did not resolve underlying issues, allowing them to recur continuously as we prioritised other change and our journey to profit.

“By forcing Postmasters to be responsible for branch outcomes, they were more likely to pay for a shortfall or even accept a minor charge to avoid a major one. There was never a clear, transparent and objective process to resolve issues – and arguably still isn’t.

“We did not engage with critics. We were convinced we were a good thing for the UK and anyone criticising was attacking. We defended or stayed silent.”

There’s quite a lot there in those conclusions.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: But you were satisfied that, on the basis of your six years’ experience, working at a high level within the Post Office, which and every one of those facts is established?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we turn to the second criticism that’s put, one of four, in bold:

“We were over-reliant on Horizon when we knew its weaknesses.”

You go on to address that. You say:

“In 2014, Post Office stopped prosecuting Postmasters if the prosecution would place material reliance on evidence from Horizon. I do not think this decision included a full review of the implications for earlier prosecutions. It clearly should have done and it is important to know whether that question was badly addressed or not addressed at all.”

The first sentence is certainly accurate. The second sentence, where you say, “I do not think this decision included a full review of the implications for earlier prosecutions”, what did you know about what work had been done in the year and a half before you joined to review earlier prosecutions?

Alisdair Cameron: Nothing. I wasn’t aware of any but, as I say at the beginning of this document, this is just me writing down, without research, what I understood at that time, to then work with others to get a complete narrative. So I wouldn’t have made this statement in a more formal document because I hadn’t actually gone and researched it. That was just my understanding at the time.

Mr Beer: You say:

“In my time, I do not recall until this year – but may have forgotten – any discussion of the ongoing duties of prosecutors. Nor do I recall any review of historic issues with Horizon.

“Having reviewed the appeal cases in 2020, the Board has concluded that disclosure of historical Horizon issues should have been made. The Board chose not to oppose appeals where the evidence relied on Horizon.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: We know about that decision and we know the Board minutes of it.

Were you a party to that decision making?

Alisdair Cameron: Can you be a tiny bit more precise?

Mr Beer: Yes, in mid-2020 –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – mid-to late 2020. You were?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah. No, I joined Board meetings on that.

Mr Beer: You say that:

“… the Board has concluded that disclosures of historical Horizon issues should have been made.”

Can you be more precise as to what those disclosures were that you’re talking about there?

Alisdair Cameron: No. I mean, I can’t remember what I was referring to, specifically.

Mr Beer: But your view was that the Board had accepted that the Post Office ought to have disclosed, much earlier than it did, historical Horizon issues?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, they should have been disclosed at the time of the initial trials, I think.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“The media interpretation that the shortfalls were entirely caused by system issues – and never theft or lack of management – does not ring true. Many certainly hid issues and lied. Some will have stolen money or failed to manage it. However, that is now irrelevant. The convictions were and are unsafe. The convictions must be overturned. No good can be served from seeking retrials. The Postmasters are therefore innocent.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Why were you making that point? Was there still a view within the Post Office that the subpostmasters may still be guilty?

Alisdair Cameron: It may have been partly that, although I think Post Office was not having a view on that, so much as, you know, lawyers having a view of that, as they were working through the schemes. But I think, you know – and this may just display my real ignorance of legal processes, it did seem to me that, if you hadn’t had a fair trial, you can’t be have been found properly guilty, therefore you must be innocent because you’re innocent until proven guilty, whereas all the language around this, is around convictions being unsafe and I thought, well, if they haven’t had a fair trial, they’re innocent.

Mr Beer: I see. That’s what that means, essentially?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Got it. You say:

“Our legal advice [in the next paragraph] seems to have been wholly inadequate on the ongoing duties of prosecutors. Had we reviewed the prosecutions much earlier, we would presumably have known they were unsafe earlier and everything else would have been different.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Was that a view held by anyone else in the General Executive?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t remember ever discussing it. I mean, I think it was, for me – I mean, we reached the settlement – Nick reached the settlement with the postmasters in December ‘19 and, as part of that settlement, a review of the prosecutions was agreed and, you know, I can’t remember the exact date when Brian Altman concluded that there that been, you know, risk of miscarriage of justice and informed the CCRC. But it was – I think it was about February. You know, so I mean it’s a really short space of time, with Christmas in between and, therefore, when he got into it, it must have been really obvious that there was a problem, was my take.

Now, all of that may be inaccurate speculation on my part. But that was my sense of it: that if we had really tested the evidence properly, we would have found the problem quicker.

Mr Beer: You say:

“The second wrong is ‘We did not disclose Horizon issues to the defence when we prosecuted Postmasters, especially between [2008], when evidence of concerns was emerging, and 2014’”, which is the date when you stopped prosecuting.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: The date of 2008, which you put in square brackets, which you say is “when evidence of concerns was emerging”, can you recall where you got (a) the date and (b) the information that that’s when evidence of concerns was emerging from?

Alisdair Cameron: No, but it must have been. I can’t remember exactly where we were in a sort of media narratives or what had come out of the trials but, you know, I obviously had a sense, which has come out more in this Inquiry, that, you know, information was available which people should have shared with the defence at the time and didn’t and, therefore – and I was guessing it was about 2000 and since, I think, I’ve read somewhere that between that sort of 2007, 2010, more information had emerged which should have been shared.

Mr Beer: So your doubt about the date is reflected by the use of the square brackets; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Continuing:

“The third wrong …”

I should have said, that second wrong corresponds to paragraph 2 in the executive summary.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “The third wrong is that ‘We should never have conducted our own prosecutions’. There is an important duality in the state’s approach, where the police investigate and the CPS prosecute. By undertaking both functions within [the Post Office], we set up a process that lacked challenge and independence. In addition, ‘Some of the behaviours during the prosecutions, where we seemed to be using bullying tactics to get Postmasters to admit fault and take responsibility were unacceptable’.”

Can you help us, where did you get the information about the use of bullying tactics to get postmasters to admit fault from?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t remember exactly when different stories and narratives emerged but what I’m talking about is evidence that, you know, people were pushed to accept a false accounting plea, rather than another sort of plea and that, you know, postmasters were told that no one else had ever seen this problem, and, you know, my sense of the narratives was that people had, you know, been pushed very, very hard to declare themselves guilty in a way that doesn’t feel right.

Mr Beer: In your view, that was established on the information that you had seen in your six years in the Post Office?

Alisdair Cameron: Not from anything I had seen in the Post Office, so this is stories about the past that had emerged –

Mr Beer: Yes, stories about the past?

Alisdair Cameron: – because, obviously, we hadn’t been doing prosecutions in that period.

Mr Beer: Over the page, please, to the fourth wrong.

“The fourth wrong is ‘We did not reassess our behaviour as prosecutors between 2014 and 2020’.”

So you’re talking about a sort of a lost six or seven years there, are you?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “Instead, we went forward confident that the [Post Office] was fundamentally reliable. We debated several times in 2016-18 whether we insured restart prosecutions. Our Legal Team were, rightly, firm that we should not restart but the reason given was that it might look as though we were being disrespectful of the courts. No one suggested that Horizon was or had been inherently inaccurate.”

Then I’m going to skip over those bullet points and scroll down, please. You add:

“Fujitsu did have remote access, which was identified in 2015 (?) and then again later. There are, of course, contractual limitations with Fujitsu that are important to us but are not of interest to anyone else.”

The date on which you say remote access was identified as query 2015; do you know where that information came from?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I think the question mark meant I couldn’t remember. It was identified to me in 2016 and forms part of my witness statement.

Mr Beer: Yes. You say, moving on:

“The fifth wrong is that ‘We relied on anecdotal evidence that things were working properly without fully investigating on a proactive basis. There were limited and partial investigations around Horizon and related issues like suspense accounts before and after 2012 but they were never thorough or complete. We did not seriously test what Fujitsu told us. When we did investigate, we looked “big picture” and not at the level of materiality relevant to an individual party. I am afraid that this is still true’.”

So, breaking that down, you say that we, the Post Office, relied on anecdotal evidence. What are you referring to as “anecdotal evidence”, I think, about the reliable of Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: So I’ve been a business that – whose main income system wasn’t working properly and it’s absolute chaos. This isn’t something you can choose. You know, there are millions of stopped transactions, customers are screaming at you, you can’t answer the phones you can’t pull any financial information together, and Post Office, in my time, didn’t look like that at all. So that was part of the sort of anecdotal evidence for me, and the DMBs worked. So the DMBs used the same system to process the same transactions and they just weren’t getting, as I understand it, the shortfalls that we were seeing in some agency branches, and that led me, you know, to believe that the problem wasn’t the way the software operated – I mean, it might have been in 2005 or 2007 but, in the time I was in Post Office, it wasn’t the software that wasn’t operating properly.

It was, you know – and these are things that may have been absolutely contributed to by lack of support, lack of training and clear instructions but it wasn’t – you know, the post offices maybe weren’t being managed as tightly as they were in the directly managed branches, which had much more experienced staff. So I assumed it was more a process and a control point, rather than a software point. So it’s things like that.

Mr Beer: So there you’re referring to anecdotal evidence as meaning sort of macro-level points –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – which you extrapolate to mean –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – the integrity of the system is sufficient for everyone –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – without drilling down to what you describe as the materiality of any faults for an individual subpostmaster?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, and I think the materiality point is a really intractable one, which is why I make a reference to it still being true, because, you know, Post Office, you know, is a medium-sized business and you are operating at a level of materiality which is, you know, sort of hundreds of thousands to worry about an issue and, you know, our accounts are done in millions, and businesses of that size run in a certain way.

But if you’re a local postmaster – if you’re a postmaster, 100 quid might make all the difference to good week/bad week, whether you’re making a profit, whether you’re not, and I genuinely don’t know how you maintain both levels of materiality at once. I think it’s a really tricky question for the Post Office.

Mr Beer: Are you saying, amongst the fifth wrong that you write about there, was that there had not been an independent and impartial investigation into the integrity of Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: I think there had been some, before my time, I think KPMG had been involved in one, but, clearly, there hadn’t been a really comprehensive one. And it’s very difficult to prove negatives. I know a lot of work has been done since but it is tricky to prove something is working perfectly.

Mr Beer: Can we move on to, I think, what was the third allegation, in bold:

“The original prosecutions were therefore a deliberate miscarriage of justice.”

You say:

“I cannot comment on the motivations of the original prosecutors. I joined at the tail end of the Mediation Scheme. I never heard anything which suggested that the Board had been anything other than straightforward in its desire to resolve issues and move on. I suspect but cannot prove that [the Post Office] people were in fact so convinced of their own positions that they interpreted every victory as being justice. If I am right, this was less a deliberate miscarriage of justice as a blindness towards the possibility of a miscarriage.”

Then over the page, please. You say:

“People underestimate the chaos and lack of control in [Post Office] in its early years as an independent business.”

What are you referring to there, please?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I think it goes on to explain, and I set this out as well in my 2019 speech to the NFSP conference, which is that I think everyone assumes that because Post Office was a much bigger business, you know, it had a degree of control and understanding that actually wasn’t there. So it had been ripped out of Royal Mail at quite short notice and its systems were incredibly old and underinvestigated. At one point I was challenging the idea that Post Office could have a problem with Oracle software that Oracle had never seen before, because it seemed absurd to me, and they just said, well, you know, no other client has ever tried to upgrade eight versions of the system in one go. So it had been hugely neglected. It was old and vulnerable and it took four years of effort to actually pull them out of Royal Mail and set them up on separate support because the people who built, it had never occurred to them that that might be something they would need to do.

Nothing was documented and you always assume with an older business that everyone knows how it works but, actually, no one knew how it worked. It had either got lost in Royal Mail or people had retired and, often, systems projects were tricky because no one knew how they worked anyway and, you know, they were trying to rediscover that as they were changing them.

Mr Beer: Sorry, did that extend to Horizon, the Horizon system? You took the view that nobody in the Post Office truly knew how Horizon worked?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, it was an assumption that Fujitsu did. And, yeah, so – and, generally – and I know it is absolutely absurd to talk about victims within the Post Office now because we know who the real victims are, and they’re postmasters, but there was a sort of victim mentality in the Post Office, which was that, you know, everything was better 20 years ago, it’s all someone else’s fault and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Mr Beer: Did that include at the Group Executive level?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I think the Group Executive were trying to sort of challenge that. This was at more junior levels of the organisation, where just people doing tasks in a slightly hopeless way and, when I got more involved in operations in 2017, we started at a really basic level of asking all the teams in places like Chesterfield to debate what were the tasks they were doing, who they were doing them for, and what the difference between success and failure was, because we had so many people who were simply doing a task, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday and going home and they had no idea why they were doing it and why it mattered, and so we were starting at a really basic level.

Mr Beer: Moving on, you say “The sixth wrong”, and again, I think this falls in the category of things that you believed were established by this date, is that quote:

“… ‘We did not – do not – always balance the tactical battles with other priorities’.”

You continue by setting out the allegation:

“We should have settled the claims, apologised and moved on years ago. We have defended ourselves inappropriately to avoid the consequences of our actions. This has been a waste of public money and a postponement of justice.”

I think, essentially, you think that is established?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes. I think I then go through, in a separate paragraph, to show why I thought that retrospectively –

Mr Beer: Yes.

Alisdair Cameron: – and didn’t think it at the time, and what the narratives were.

Mr Beer: Let’s just look at those, then. You say:

“On the creation of [Post Office] as an independent business, the Board set up a mediation scheme. This was coming to an end as I joined. Everything I heard suggested the new Board in 2012 had set out to reach a real settlement so the business could move forward. This clearly hadn’t happened …”

Then you say:

“… and the narrative when I joined was:

“[1] We tried to reach a fair settlement.

“[2] We should not try and settle with people with criminal convictions. By definition, they had been found guilty by an independent legal process. Many had also admitted guilt.

“[3] The amounts some people were claiming were disproportionate – school fees for years. This was opportunistic and unreasonable.

“Second Sight were the wrong choice. We should have got a proper accounting or law firm to do a professional piece of work and move on.”


“This was not the right use of public money.”

So you say this was the narrative when you joined in January 2015; who was pushing that narrative?

Alisdair Cameron: So I think that was probably a collection of things but this was the narrative as I recalled it when the decisions were being made, in first half of 2015, to deal with the Mediation Scheme differently, shut it down, move on from Second Sight.

Mr Beer: Who was pushing or peddling that narrative?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I think probably sort of Chris Aujard, Mark Davies, Paula agreeing with it. I mean, I think it’s in those conversations.

Mr Beer: So pushed by Chris Aujard and Mark Davies but with Paula Vennells agreeing to it?

Alisdair Cameron: That was my understanding.

Mr Beer: What was the relationship between Mark Davies and Chris Aujard, on the one hand, and Paula Vennells, on the other?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know what the relationship between Mark Davies was with Chris Aujard. Chris Aujard wasn’t there for very long and I’m not sure I ever saw them together particularly. Mark appeared to have a strong positive relationship with Paula, and vice versa.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“Paula [Paula Vennells], Jane [Jane MacLeod] …”

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “… and I discussed informally settling rather than closing the mediation scheme in 2015.”

Just stopping there, do you remember when that was in 2015?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I think – I mean, it was an informal conversation, I don’t remember it being a –

Mr Beer: What was the reason for the discussion about, “Well, let’s settle rather than shut the thing down”?

Alisdair Cameron: One of us, and it might have been me, just asked the question, I think, which was “Well, could we settle this?”, because clearly, you know, it was a big part of the business and, you know, we wanted to reach a resolution and focus on, you know, the commercial business. And I think – so the question was: can we settle this? And the feeling I recall Jane expressing was that we could, and I obviously remember the figure of 20 million, but it would never – and this feeling grew, so I’m slightly worried about remembering later conversations, but the very strong view, I think, Jane held, which I agreed with, during the development of the GLO and afterwards, was that there was just too big a gap between the parties for us to reach a settlement that was sustainable.

And therefore, we had to test it in court, in a kind of win or lose way, not just kick it down the road, because then everyone would know where they are and we could reach some resolution.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“Jane’s strong and unwavering view was that the issue could not be settled because any settlement would trigger a second wave of claims. Later, she also expressed concerns that it might trigger a change in the CCRC view.”

Can you tell us what you’re referring to there, Jane MacLeod saying, “If we settle in the mediation this might trigger a change in the CCRC view”?

Alisdair Cameron: I really don’t, actually. I was reading this again, you know, a few years later. I didn’t remember that particularly, and I was – yeah, I noticed it when I read it. Because I remember the arguments being much more about is a settlement sustainable, but I may be conflating 2018 arguments with 2015. So I don’t remember it, I’m sorry.

Mr Beer: On its face, that may look to be logic, that we can’t settle, essentially, civil claims because it may affect the view that the regulator of miscarriages of justice, the investigator of miscarriages of justice, takes of us, and it might prompt the CCRC to think that there may be more substance in the complaints of miscarriages of justice?

Alisdair Cameron: I agree. At this time, I don’t remember Jane saying that but I obviously remembered it in 2020.

Mr Beer: “The logic was [you continue] – we have not done anything wrong – we could justify settling for £10 to £20 million but not for hundreds of millions of pounds. Jane’s view never wavered and she was right on one aspect – the settlement of the GLO precipitated, exactly the challenges and costs she was concerned about.

“This conversation recurred at different points. Jane’s view was strengthened by the advice from our legal teams: we were going to win in court and our contract with Postmasters was lawful.”

Then over the page:

“This legal advice became increasingly fixed in place. In my view the Legal team of Jane, [Womble Bond Dickinson] and David Cavender (QC on the Common Issues Trial) became an increasingly tight group that constantly reinforced each others’s views: an extreme example of groupthink. We did challenge – I have always held the view and articulated it that you only end up in court when both sides have lawyers telling them that they have a 70% chance of winning.”

Just stopping there, you say that the legal advice became increasingly fixed and you attribute that to Jane, Womble Bond Dickinson and David Cavender QC, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, and I think it’s hugely influenced by the reaction to the Common Issues judgment because, to me, that was a seismic moment, because we had lost on basically everything, and the judge was extremely critical, and I thought that was a real moment to stand back and reflect, and the legal advice was “No, no, no, it’s the judge that’s the problem, crack on. You know, we’re not changing our position at all”.

Mr Beer: We’ll see in a moment that you say the effect was essentially to double down?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“Paula also questioned whether [Womble Bond Dickinson] were good enough but Jane held the line very firmly, from a belief that a more assertive firm might make us look like bullies. With hindsight, a more assertive firm would have seen the pitfalls and kept us out of court in the first place.”

Can you tell us what you’re referring to in that paragraph, please?

Alisdair Cameron: I think I remember Paula questioning Jane about whether Bond Dickinson were right, probably in 2018, and I think, you know, it did feel to me – and I think I make a reference to it in one of the emails – that the postmasters just had better lawyers than us, was my sort of emotional reaction to it, bearing in mind I’m spectacularly ignorant of the legal processes.

So I think my recollection was that Paula did question Jane to say, “Look, you know, are Bond Dickinson the right people for us?”, and Jane said, “Well, they’ve done an awful lot of work over the years and so they know a lot of information and that’s important”, which I completely accept. But she thought this was about the optics, whereas, if we had employed a really big, aggressive City firm with that sort of reputation, we would have looked like corporate bullies.

But my feeling is, actually, we looked like corporate bullies anyway because of the size of Post Office compared to the size of an individual post office, and we didn’t get very good advice; so it was the worst of both worlds but some of that is retrospective.

Mr Beer: I see. So this question of whether Womble Bond Dickinson were good enough versus a more assertive firm, are you talking there about the substance of the advice you were being given or, essentially, the nature of the firm, one Womble Bond Dickinson, I don’t know, a Second Division provincial firm versus a Magic Circle firm?

Alisdair Cameron: I’ve got no view on legal firms in that sense at all, so this was about, you know, were we seeing enough challenge and debate in the arguments and, you know, I increasingly felt that we just weren’t and that became painfully true after the Common Issues judgment.

Mr Beer: I see. So it’s about the substance of the advice?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: I see. You continue:

“Mr Justice Fraser was very critical of us from the off. When we pushed [David Cavender QC] on this, he said that he had caught the judge’s eye and they were as one. Fraser was just posturing so it didn’t look like he was against the claimants.”

So just understanding what you’ve written there, you were saying that you’d challenged David Cavender on this and he was telling you that, in fact, he, David Cavender, had caught the judge’s eye and they were as one on the merits of the case –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and that Mr Justice Fraser’s outward behaviour was posturing for the benefit of showing that he wasn’t against the claimants?

Alisdair Cameron: That was my understanding, yes.

Mr Beer: That’s what David Cavender was telling you?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, and I think this played to a whole – I mean, fundamental – I mean, it felt all the way through the Common Issues Trial that we were fighting two completely different trials. So ours was entirely focused on the legal interpretation of the contract, was the contract between the Post Office and postmasters legal, and the claimants were focusing on whether it was fair, and that was presented to us, I think, by David Cavender as evidence that the claimants had a really bad legal case, so they were having to resort to fairness because they didn’t have a good legal contractual case, whereas, in fact, you know, utterly the opposite was true.

Mr Beer: You say:

“When we asked [Mr] Cavender if he might be wrong, he said that was his advice and he had been successful in a long career.

“When the Common Issues judgment came out, the Board asked for a second firm to provide independent advice, challenging our team’s position. This was done with eminent QCs but it was not explained to the Board at the point of choosing this advice (again, from my memory) that they were all from the same chambers.”

We have seen quite a lot of contemporaneous documents that this concerned you.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: What was your concern that the advice being received was from barristers all within the same chambers; what are you getting at?

Alisdair Cameron: So what I’m getting at is that we had pursued a legal strategy that had proved to be, in the Common Issues Trial, entirely wrong and failed, and what I was expecting had been a re-examination of our position and that isn’t what happened, there was a sort of doubling down. So I wanted someone new to come in and start with a clear mind, and not be trying to defend what had happened in the previous year. And so I was worried when, very quickly, Lords Neuberger and Grabiner came in – and look, you know, in Jane’s testimony she may say she told me this and I’m sure she’s right that she did – but I hadn’t clocked that they were all from the same chambers, and so my question were they going to be as independent and starting from scratch, you know, or were they going to be sort of briefed by David Cavender as a trusted colleague and, you know, start from a different position?

Mr Beer: You carry on:

“We were pushed very hard to appeal. Cavender constantly laded his comments with ‘this awful judge’ until I had to ask him to stop.”

Does that refer to you actually telling the barrister to stop saying something?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes. This was in internal conversations, and it’s referenced in email, in my thing, I think, when I give a general business update to Tim Parker on email around this time. I made a reference to this, so this is at the time and so, you know, it was “This awful judge, this terrible judge, this awful verdict”, and I was saying, you know, this isn’t helpful, you know, we need to face the facts as they are.

Mr Beer: “The advice simply doubled down. Eventually and really too late, we changed [General Counsel], added [Herbert Smith Freehills] and changed QC – instantly the advice changed and we moved on a path to settlement.”

Then in the penultimate paragraph on this page:

“We accepted very bad legal advice. The Board should have had the downside explored and the advice challenged much earlier, as well of course as assessing the earlier prosecutions. This has indeed been a waste of money and a postponement of justice.”

So, essentially, you were finding the allegation that the claim should have been settled earlier, there should have been an apology earlier and that the Post Office should have moved on years ago, established?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, and we should have – you know, I do believe and it was in my apology earlier, that, you know, this was the first time I’ve been through a process like this but if we did this again now, and Post Office has learnt some of these lessons, you know, there would have been vastly more broad challenge and debate, probably a completely independent KC going through from a sort of claimant’s perspective, and a real debate about the evidence on which we were relying.

And I think we accepted the position that that was being done by legal teams and we just didn’t do it and, had we done so, given what we’ve heard since and even what we’d heard in 2020, then I think the weakness of the evidence would have had emerged before we went to court. But that is a retrospective supposition.

Mr Beer: You say, in conclusion:

“The seventh wrong is that ‘We did not sufficiently challenge and test our legal advice until it was too late’.”

Alisdair Cameron: Correct.

Mr Beer: Thank you. That can come down, thank you.

Speaking generally, how did Nick Read receive this communication?

Alisdair Cameron: He and I and Richard, my memory is, debated it once, and Richard made some helpful comments, actually pushing me to the sort of sense that it was – before it was a contractual problem, it was a cultural problem, and I thought that was right and helpful and adjusted it for that. And, you know, we discussed it again and my sense was that, you know, they’d found it helpful and sort of broadly agreed with it, recognising they hadn’t been here in those earlier periods and had less personal experience, and –

Mr Beer: Was there any sense you got from the then Chief Executive Officer of the Post Office, Nick Read, that anything you had written here, was heretical or –

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Beer: – or fundamentally wrong?

Alisdair Cameron: No. Not at all.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

Sir, I wonder whether we could take the morning break now, the first of them, until 11.10, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, of course.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, Mr Cameron.

(10.56 am)

(A short break)

( 11.10 am)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you.

Mr Beer: Mr Cameron, can we just pick up two last points in your “What Went Wrong?” document, please, which I rather skipped over. POL00175235, page 7, please, four paragraphs from the bottom, starting:

“We should have been tackling these issues 10 years ago.”

Thank you, do you see that paragraph?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Then four lines in, if it can be highlighted, please, you say:

“Paula did not believe there had been a miscarriage and could have not got there emotionally. We believed that there were material financial consequences that had to be justified: there was consciousness that this was public money that could not be spent unnecessarily …”

What did you base your view on, that Paula Vennells did not believe that there had been a miscarriage of justice?

Alisdair Cameron: I mean, everything she sort of said at the time. She seemed clear in her conviction from the day I joined that nothing had gone wrong, and it’s very clearly stated in my very first Board meeting, and she never, in my observations, sort of deviated from that or seemed to particularly doubt that.

Mr Beer: So she was unwavering in her conviction that there had been no miscarriages of justice?

Alisdair Cameron: As far as I was concerned, yes.

Mr Beer: Did that persist right up until you wrote this document in November 2020?

Alisdair Cameron: As far as I know, obviously I wasn’t, you know – she’d left the business in 2019.

Mr Beer: Yes. Then in the paragraph below, please:

“In conclusion, because the deficiencies in the prosecutions had not been identified, [Post Office] did not believe there had been a miscarriage of justice. It was therefore impossible for Paula [Vennells] and Jane [MacLeod] to recommend a settlement that would have cost a great deal of money, an apology and would probably trigger new claims and even change the CCRC mindset.”

Again, you’re referring to a change of the CCRC mindset. To what extent, to your knowledge, was that a relevant consideration in not settling the claims?

Alisdair Cameron: My memory of it was not. I mean, my memory of it was that the real issue, which we debated quite a lot in 2018 and debated with the Government into October 2018, was that a settlement wouldn’t stick. And so the choice was, do you fight a case, win or lose – of course, we expected to win – but do you fight a case, win or lose, and then you can reach a settlement later that’s in line with expectations and, obviously, we’d have had to have asked permission from the Government for this money, because there a kick-the-can down the road strategy which we chose not to take, which was to settle.

We thought we could settle purely financially in 2018 before the trials, and we could have done that, we thought, but the view was it wouldn’t stick, because what we had already seen was people, I was told, had signed full and fair settlements, postmasters, in the Mediation Scheme, and then joined the GLO. So the feeling was you couldn’t genuinely reach a full and final settlement for, you know, 20 million quid. You might reach a settlement but it wouldn’t stick and you’d have another case two to three years later and we did want, you know, to reach a genuine permanent settlement.

But if we had settled then, then it would probably have been years before another case could get funding and work through and emerge, and that would have been the cynical strategy which, actually, we choose not to take.

Mr Beer: I’m interested in this, and it’s the second time we’ve seen it in the document –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – that that a factor brought into the calculus on whether to settle or not was that it might affect the CCRC’s views.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did anyone express that?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t remember them doing so but they must have said something or I wouldn’t have written it in 2020 but, I must admit, I’ve forgotten it at this stage. And I haven’t seen – I’ve, you know, thanks to disclosure, read an awful lot of documents over the last couple of months and I haven’t seen any reference to it.

Mr Beer: Thank you. That can come down.

Now, in a number of places in the document, is this right, you are either indirectly critical or directly critical of Ms Vennells.

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know, actually – I can’t remember what I particularly thought then. I don’t know what I think now and, obviously, I haven’t heard Paula’s evidence to this, that the mindset I’ve been thinking about – it’s very easy to sort of go through and say “Wow, yes, I was told that so I didn’t do that and I didn’t know that”, and the question I’ve been asking myself a bit is, “Well, if I was magically transported back to January 2015 and I was joining the Post Office, what would I do differently?”, because clearly, it’s gone horribly wrong.

So I would have to do something differently, whether I was wrong at the time or not. It’s what would you do differently? And I think it is testing and challenging that evidence and, clearly, that hadn’t happened, and – but what exactly, you know, whether people knew and chose to disregard or were just glib in ignoring or didn’t know, I don’t know, and I think you’ll be the judge.

Mr Beer: Do you accept that the document in places indirectly or directly critical of Paula Vennells?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, yeah.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at PVEN00000445. It may be this is only available in the pdf format.

Maybe there’s a bug or even an anomaly!

Alisdair Cameron: Here we go.

Mr Beer: Ah, here we are. Good. Now, this is a new document for the Inquiry. We got it at 11.17 last night from Paula Vennells –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – and I think you have been shown it in hard copy just before you gave evidence this morning?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: It’s been put on the tables of the Core Participants this morning.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Beer, can you tell me the reference again, please, so I’ve got a clear note of it?

Mr Beer: PVEN00000445.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Mr Beer: We’ve been told by Ms Vennells’ legal representatives that she has conducted some further searches and has found some 50 additional documents that we’re to get today, ahead of her giving evidence next week, and this is one of them.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right.

Mr Beer: Can we see the date of it is 28 November ‘18 and, if we look at the second page, we can see that it is signed off by you.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: If we look down a little further, yes, and this is your writing and your letter?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Let’s just read through it. So November ‘18, I think this is when Ms Vennells would have told you internally – is that right –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes –

Mr Beer: People internally, that she was going to leave?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is this letter written in response to that internal announcement?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: “Dear Paula,

“Before we get into a world of announcements, reactions and plans, I wanted to share what I’m feeling.

“Overwhelmingly, it’s gratitude.

“I have loved the last 4 years. It has been a privilege to serve the Post Office and that has been made possible by you …”

Does that say “bringing me in”?

Alisdair Cameron: I think it does.

Mr Beer: Okay:

“… bringing me in, treating me like a valued partner and supporting me so well. For all of your generosity, thank you. Because your values are so strong, I have learnt so much from you and often asked myself: ‘What would Paula do?’ and I especially admire your self control, your restraint, your constant desire to listen first and your endless ability to make tough decisions and have honest conversations without ever forgetting the individual you are dealing with.

“You have a different and a better impact than any [Managing Director] or CEO I have worked for – the joy of our culture is how unpolitical it is, how collegiate we can be and how shared our sense of urgency is. None of that would have been created without you.

“However you are treated (I hope well and fittingly), I know and I hope you understand what a difference you’ve made to people’s lives across the [United Kingdom].

“I really can’t imagine doing this without you …

“Thank you so much,


Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: The sentiments that you express in this document which, as I say, has recently emerged, appear rather different from the November 2020 document?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: So what changed?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, Common Issues judgment, Horizon Issues judgment and a recognition – and the discovery that the earlier trials were miscarriages of justice and that innocent people had been sent to prison are the things that changed. And so, you know, in the November 2020 document I’m trying to give, you know, a sense of how it could have gone so appallingly wrong and, obviously, Paula had been running the business for a long time, whereas, in this, I didn’t think any of that happened.

I didn’t know that had happened and what I was responding to was, you know, a personal sense of gratitude. So the mission of helping the Post Office business work better to help post offices stay open is one that emotionally engaged me from the first day I heard about it in 2014, as a possible job, and has never stopped engaging me since. I think it’s desperately important and it’s an absolute privilege to be able to work on that and that feeling has never changed.

And I was grateful to her for giving me the job and working with me and giving me the opportunity, and I had found her, you know, straightforward to deal with.

I think – I mean, the only caveat I would add is I wasn’t trying to give her a performance appraisal here. I was trying to say thank you and that was the nature of the letter.

Mr Beer: You referred to information, facts and evidence emerging –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – between November ‘18 and November ‘20?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Did that, in fact, cause you to change your view of Ms Vennells and her conduct?

Alisdair Cameron: It causes me to be, you know, far less, sort of, simple-minded about it, I had a sort of single view and clearly it’s much more complicated than that but, as I think I said earlier, I’m trying really hard not to form a final view of Paula until at least I’ve heard her testimony next week and probably until I’ve heard the Inquiry’s verdict in due course, because I don’t know what to think.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can I turn to the second topic, please, then, the Post Office’s knowledge of issues with the Horizon system and, in particular, your knowledge from January 2015 onwards.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at your witness statement to start with. It’ll come up on the screen, page 2, paragraph 6, please.

I should say, Mr Cameron, if it helps, I’m going to address some of these issues with a relatively light touch because of the answers that you’ve given in relation to the document that you wrote.

Alisdair Cameron: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Can we look at page 2 of the witness statement, paragraph 6, please. I think we’re switching systems. We had a system crash because we had to switch systems in order to display of the new document.

I wonder if we could remain in the room for five minutes with you switched off the screen, and we’ll call you when we’re ready?

Sir Wyn Williams: I suppose prior to this Inquiry, I might have been surprised about what are called “system crashes”, but perhaps not as surprised now as I would have been then!

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

So five minutes, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

(11.26 am)

(A short break)

(11.31 am)

Mr Beer: Thank you. Sorry about that, Mr Cameron. We were looking at paragraph 6 on page 2 of your witness statement, please. You say that, if we just scroll down, when you joined the Post Office, remembering that’s January 2015:

“… the business was confidently communicating that it had found no evidence of faults with the Horizon IT System, or that convictions of postmasters had been unsafe.”

Then the last four lines:

“It became clear to me in 2019 that postmasters needed far greater support, and this demanded a culture shift. In 2020, I understood that there had been miscarriages of justice which should never have been allowed to happen …”

Then if we go forwards, please, to page 23 of your witness statement, paragraphs 94 and 95. In 94, you say:

“By the time I joined in 2015, the [Post Office] Board had concluded that its IT was old, underinvested and vulnerable. The [Post Office’s] IT had always been provided by [Royal Mail Group] but following independence new, separate third party support structures had to be put in place by March 2016.”

“95. There are a number of concerns regarding Horizon, the ‘Front office’ IT system. It was dependent on physical data centres which were old and needed continuous investment. It was time consuming and expensive to change. The contract with the system’s provider, Fujitsu, was very expensive. It was slow and expensive to extract data from it … it was still understood to be operating effectively …”

Then, lastly, page 105, paragraph 404:

“In my executive roles I rarely got involved with issues faced by individual [subpostmasters], as the primary stakeholder relationship with [the Post Office] was through the Network or Retail teams. The teams I was responsible for provided operational support and I tended to see that through the lens of collective statistics, control measures, efficiency, and cost effectiveness.”

At the end:

“However, there were a few individual scenarios that I was made aware of during my tenure which I set out below.”

Then you start in paragraph 405 with one in July 2016, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: So I just want to look, they’re the paragraphs where you speak about your understanding of the IT system, the Post Office’s view of its IT system, particularly Horizon, and the extent to which you got involved in individual cases?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: I just want to look at some individual cases, if I may.

Alisdair Cameron: Of course.

Mr Beer: Can we start, please, by looking at POL00102249. You’ll see, at the bottom half of the page, please, an email of 1 March 2015, in which Paula Vennells copied you, amongst others, into an email chain of a complaint made by a subpostmaster called Michael Crocker, regarding discrepancies with Horizon, and she says, Ms Vennells:

“I would really appreciate your help. This complaint simply shouldn’t have reached me …”

Then she says, in her third paragraph:

“You will see that I have already asked for Angela to look into the complaint personally.

“This needs to be the priority.

“However, I am as concerned about the helpline answers and why this wasn’t immediately flagged and escalated? We know that scratchcards have caused problems in the past; and as I say above, I’d like confirmation that any of the Sparrow/Second Sight themes are flagged so that colleagues know what to do if they are unable to resolve them at the first line.”

Go back to the previous page and scroll up, thank you. Ms van den Bogerd replies:

“Hi Paula,

“I have already actioned your … request and have dropped a brief email to Michael at the branch”, and then some other information.

Do you know why you were added to this email chain, what had it got to do with you?

Alisdair Cameron: At this stage, I don’t think directly – so I got more involved in operations later, so my memory is that I wouldn’t have been directly involved. Paula copied me in on a lot of stuff but I don’t know, specifically.

Mr Beer: This would appear, on the documents that we’ve got, to be the first occasion, you having joined in January ‘15 – this is now March ‘15 – in which you had drawn to your attention an issue that, in broad terms, concerned Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: Before you joined, had you read any articles or press coverage regarding issues with the Horizon system?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t remember specifically. I would have certainly, as part of a recruitment process, you know, looked at press coverage and I’m sure I would have asked, you know, a question of Paula and Neil Hayward at the time of my recruitment to what their view of that was. But I don’t remember it specifically.

Mr Beer: When you had joined, there had been the Computer Weekly article in May 2009, there had been a series of BBC programmes, there had been the Second Sight investigation –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – the Mediation Scheme, the Second Sight report in 2014; when you joined were you aware of any of that?

Alisdair Cameron: Specifically, I don’t think I had read them. So I was aware of the general tenor and noise and, obviously, you know, in my first Board meeting, Paula, in her CEO report, gave a very, very strong view to the Board, who’d been around for a bit and didn’t question it, that a lot of work had been done on these things and there was just nothing to see here.

Mr Beer: And that the Board should move along?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, certainly, I felt, my job – the reason I’d been hired was to focus on the business as it was in 2015, and so I accepted that as, you know, I could focus on the current business and what had happened before was, you know, other people were dealing with – been dealing with it for years and were satisfied there were no issues, having done a lot of work. Clearly that was, you know, as I said in my apology earlier, the wrong conclusion to draw but it’s absolutely the conclusion I did draw.

Mr Beer: So when something like this came, in –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – you’re a copyee, amongst quite a group of senior people, what do you make of it?

Alisdair Cameron: I’m not sure I made anything of this particular one. It wasn’t my area of accountability, it was one email and I was probably getting 50 emails a day. And I don’t think – no one was saying there can’t be any problems, or that branches can’t be in the wrong position and, you know, in the second batch of documents I got after my witness statement, there are a lot of these over the next – you know, there’s a dozen of these or so over the next three years.

Mr Beer: I’m going to go through –

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: – not all of the dozen but some of them –

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: – some examples of this kind of thing?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, okay.

Mr Beer: It may be helpful if you just describe your generic reaction to getting, say, a dozen emails raising problems with the reliability or the integrity of Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, so that wouldn’t – so, generally, the pattern of these, having read them again over the last few days, is it’s a dozen emails over three years, four years – so – three years – so I wasn’t necessarily seeing them as a huge pattern. The general way this worked is they were triggered because Paula had personally got a complaint. She had then distributed it for people to look at. Every single time, it’s Angela who is asked to investigate it and when there are a response back, that I can see in the documents, and there are on some and not on others, it’s generally quite a reassuring response in the sense of “Yes, we’ve explained that, that postmaster is happy”, “That postmaster isn’t happy, but I’m clear that this is what has happened”.

And so what I took from it, you know, rightly or wrongly, was that there was a sort of escalation because we hadn’t resolved the issue properly the first time, and that is a good thing to have dealt with and recognised it and that, you know, generally, we had found an explanation that satisfied ourselves. And I don’t remember any of them going “Yeah, you know what? There’s a problem with Horizon here”.

Mr Beer: Okay, let’s look at a few more with some variations on the theme.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: POL00233291. Look at the foot of the page first, please. This is an email from you of 1 October 2015.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: The way the email is displayed doesn’t show who you sent it to but I think we can see, at the top of the page, it was at least to Alwen Lyons, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Then if we scroll down back down to your email, then – also to Gill, which I think must be Gill Tait?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “Gill,

“My understanding – Alwen may be able to confirm – is that the Board asked, a long time ago, for us to ensure that there was a fully independent review of the new IBM software to ensure that it works accurately before we complete/undertake (?) the rollout.

“At the same time, we need to work out who is going to give an expert assurance to the courts that we can rely on the system to prosecute people for theft. Fujitsu used to do this but weren’t considered independent enough.

“Could you please give some thought to how we do whatever you do to two birds with one stone?”

So, firstly, the new IBM software, can you explain, please, what that was?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, so when I joined, the Board had been going through a series of IT procurements to put in new support structures for the whole of POL’s IT landscape and the assumption, as I understood it, had been that Fujitsu would be most likely to win the front office procurement the sort of Horizon system procurement because – I mean, they owned it and ran it and no one else understood it – but they had withdrawn from the process, I think just before I joined and –

Mr Beer: Just to stop there.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: That part of what you were later to refer to in email exchanges as sort of a bluff exercise by Fujitsu, as you saw it?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I didn’t know, obviously, but it seemed – I at least asked myself the question as to whether they were authentically withdrawing or merely putting ourselves in a position where we had to go back and ask them for more help.

Mr Beer: Okay. Sorry, I #interrupted what you were saying. So you thought that Fujitsu would be the preferred supplier for the front office and you were then going to talk about IBM.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, so when Fujitsu withdrew or – you know, what Lesley Sewell and others were doing was to continue the procurement and it is – you know, with Government procurements you really do have to be careful about varying them at all. So we continued the procurement, and IBM won, and what they were being asked to do was to build a new version of Horizon.

Mr Beer: Yes.

Alisdair Cameron: So it would be more modern, it would be better digitally connected but it would basically do exactly the same thing, and that was going to cost 100 million or so, and they won that procurement, IBM, and started working on it in 2015. And this got us into difficulty relatively quickly because no one – I mean, this was a difficult thing to do and it proved more difficult than we realised because, actually, no one knew how Horizon worked and, therefore, recreating it without the help of Fujitsu was phenomenally difficult anyway and, actually, it’s a slightly maybe odd thing to do, with the benefit of hindsight.

But anyway, that’s what the business was doing. And so we were really in doubt that it could be properly finished and rolled out by the date when Fujitsu’s contract ended, so we extended the support contract with Fujitsu to give us more time. But by, I think, summer probably of 2015, early autumn, I was getting really anxious that the business just wouldn’t be able to do the IBM work, so I asked Chris Broe, who was the Interim CIO because Lesley had resigned and left, to reach out to Fujitsu very quietly and say, “Look, if we don’t do the IBM project, would you help and, you know, sort of come back”, as it were.

Mr Beer: Just to cut to the issue there, you foresaw the need for the supplier to be able to give an expert assurance to the court that the system could be relied on in criminal prosecutions?

Alisdair Cameron: So, yes, and, you know, I’m sure we’ll talk about prosecutions. So, you know, Post Office does give a lot of cash to a lot of people, and it has to be mindful that it gets properly looked after and that someone might steal it or lose it or not control it, and so – and that was part of, you know, our expectation at the time, that we would go back to –

Mr Beer: So here you’re referring to the proposed IBM system, not Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. You say:

“Fujitsu used to do this [ie supply expert assurance to the courts that we can rely on the system] but weren’t considered independent enough.”

Who told you that Fujitsu weren’t considered independent enough?

Alisdair Cameron: I can’t remember, I’m sorry.

Mr Beer: Had it ever been explained to you by this time, October ‘15, that the principal witness for Fujitsu, a man called Gareth Jenkins, had been regarded by the Post Office as being an unreliable witness who had breached his duties to the court in the evidence that he had given?

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Beer: By this time, had you been shown or been told about or even had summarised to you the contents of legal advice written by a man called Simon Clarke in mid-2013 to the effect that Mr Jenkins had breached his duties to the court, was a tainted witness and couldn’t be relied on by the Post Office again?

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Beer: Instead, it seems that you had been told by somebody that Fujitsu weren’t considered independent enough –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and that’s why they weren’t giving evidence?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, all through, you know, as I set out in my witness statement, the time, I had a bee in my bonnet about making decisions properly at the time and I was saying, well look – and the view, as I understood it from Jane and the Legal Team was, “Look, we haven’t done anything wrong and so the reason we’re not prosecuting is to give the court cases time to work through and not to rile people, but we’ll probably come back to it later”.

Mr Beer: When you say the legal people, can you be more specific as to –

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I mean, Jane MacLeod specifically. And so that was my understanding, and so what I was trying to say was, you know, “Well, under what circumstances, when? What would you need to do to believe that?” And we did make another quite formal decision, I forget exactly when, but Paula takes it to the Board or the GE, I can’t remember, and said, “Well, we’re not doing it now and, you know, for us to do this again, you would need a really reliable expert witness”. And I think that’s what – I’m not sure this was particularly obvious to me at the time but that was clearly what Jane was working on with Deloittes at one point.

Mr Beer: Thank you. So your view in late 2015 was that the reason that the Post Office wasn’t prosecuting wasn’t because of an acknowledgement that it had done anything wrong in the past; it was simply a matter of choice?

Alisdair Cameron: That’s right.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we move on, please, to 2016. POL00030012. This is an email, if we look at the middle of the page, please, from Rodric Williams, who I think you will have known as a member of the Legal Team –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – to Rob Houghton?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Do you remember him?

Alisdair Cameron: Oh, yes.

Mr Beer: What function did he perform?

Alisdair Cameron: He was the CIO who joined in – who I recruited, who joined from Aviva in March/April 2016.

Mr Beer: He, Rod Williams says – I’m not going to take you to the whole of the chain because this summarises it:

“… Paula’s [Ms Vennells] just had another email from Mr McCormack. It’s typically intemperate so I’m not inclined to respond, but he does say ‘the very same error (ie the ‘Dalmellington error’) has just reoccurred in another branch in far more serious circumstances’.

“Have you got anyone who can check this with Fujitsu?”

Now, I’m not going to take you to your witness statement but you say in your witness statement, it’s page 105, paragraph 406, in relation to the Dalmellington error, that, when you joined, you understood that the problem had been resolved; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Sorry, which paragraph is it?

Mr Beer: Yes. Page 105, paragraph 406. Let’s look at it.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, so this is precisely dealing with this correspondence. So I saw the earlier emails, up to the point, I think, at which Jane responds and says, you know, that “We’re on top of this”.

Mr Beer: Yes.

Alisdair Cameron: I wasn’t copied in on the later emails, as you can see from the chain, but what I see in those emails, reading them now, is that Fujitsu came back and said, “We understood this, we’ve already fixed the problem, 100 plus postmasters were affected and we’ve made sure that they’re in good shape”. And then you get the exchange, which I didn’t see, with Tim McCormack saying, “It’s happening again”, which obviously would call that into question but I didn’t see that at the time.

Mr Beer: I see. So it’s the fact that you weren’t copied in to the chain –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – at the point that I have just displayed –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – that meant that you didn’t have the knowledge that there was evidence that the Dalmellington bug continued to have effect?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

Can we move on, please. POL00244301, and start at page 5, please. This is an email from a subpostmaster Kirsten Fernforth in Horam to Paula Vennells of 26 July 2016, and we will see that later on, I think, you’re included in the chain. The subpostmaster says:

“I am writing with an issue I have been having in branch and I wonder if you can help. I seem to have hit a dead end with every other avenue available. I have been running our Local Plus branch since September 2014. In August 2015, we had a pouch of euros delivered to our branch, which was not input properly onto the system, so didn’t show in the stock. It was picked up in a subsequent balance. I called Chesterfield and Bristol to try to locate the pouch number, which would have rectified the problem, but no one was able to give me this information.”

There’s quite a lot of detail. If we go over the page, please, and scroll down, the subpostmaster says:

“In summary:

“We made a mistake.

“We asked for help.

“That help didn’t come.

“It’s going to cost me £1,400 that I really don’t have spare.

“I’m not sure what you can do to resolve a potential system problem. It could take months. What I am asking is that this sum be written off in recognition that we are doing our best, and have been failed by the system in getting a resolution. I am exhausted with dealing with this. My integrity is bashed from it being implied that I took the money.

“I didn’t. That is all.”

Then if we go to page 4, please. At the foot of the page. Ms Vennells replies:

“Dear Kirsten,

“Thank you for flagging this – I hope I can help. This has clearly taken too long to resolve and I would be as frustrated as you are.

“We are usually very good at resolving issues, with 6 million transactions a day we have to be!

“I have copied [you] and Angela van den Bogerd … I know they will do their best to get to the right outcome.”

That’s on 26 July. Then if we scroll up, on 4 August, you email Angela van den Bogerd saying:

“There are we on this? Thanks, Al.”

Just stopping there. Why were you being copied in on this or being sent the complaint to deal with?

Alisdair Cameron: I can’t remember, to be honest. I mean, the people who reported to me and what I was accountable for changed so frequently over this period, I can’t remember. I can’t remember if Angela was reporting to me at the time but she may have just been. Obviously, I didn’t come to the CFO role until 2017 so I’m not sure, but that may have been it.

Mr Beer: Then to page 3, please, bottom of the page, the same day, 4 August. Ms van den Bogerd replies saying Wendy is dealing with it:

“I’ve requested the latest position and will revert as soon as I have it.”

Then further up the page, please, 5 August, the next day:

“The latest is we have had all the details we need from Kirsten … but due to the incident happening last year we need archived data. This typically takes a fortnight to receive from Fujitsu … Kirsten is happy that this is being investigated properly.”

Then, at the foot of page 2, Joe Connor, the Head of Shared Services is emailing you saying:

“Thanks. Update, please.”

Then page 1, at the foot of the page, from Shirley Hailstones. Then if we scroll up:

“We have now received and analysed the archived data.

“Wendy is writing up the full case report …”

Then there’s some details, which I’m not going to read. Go over the page, scroll down, “Conclusion”:

“The surplus is showing present at the branch on the 14th … it is not in the branch by the time the [Overnight Cash Holding] was declared on the 15th. We can assume that during this time, there must have been a corresponding error carried out in branch or user error (whether it be true or deliberate) must have occurred.”

So what was the outcome, as you read it there?

Alisdair Cameron: The outcome, as I read it there, is that the team aren’t seeing a system problem; they’re seeing human error, and they’re going to be talking to Kirsten to sort of take it to the next stage.

Mr Beer: Which will be for Kirsten to pay up, presumably?

Alisdair Cameron: Presumably.

Mr Beer: Can we go on, please, to POL00174666, a letter of 22 June 2017. If we just look at the foot of page 2, please – scroll down a bit further – you’ll see it’s from Nisha Kaur, a subpostmistress, and it’s copied or said to have been copied to you; can you see that?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: If we go back to page 1, Ms Kaur says:

“I am writing to you out of a sense of desperation regarding present difficulties within my employment with the Post Office.

“I would be grateful if you could spend some time reading this letter and helping to resolve issues in a speedy and timely manner.”

Then there’s some detail, if we look at the foot of the page, please:

“I did not have any feedback from this until 6 June when he [the Auditor] visited again to tell me to close the Post Office business down for 4 hours whilst he and his colleague performed a full audit. I was told that both this audit and the January audit were faultless. He told me I could open the business and that there were no concerns. I spoke to him about the purported computer losses of [£93,000] he [the Auditor] said he had no answer. He phoned the Contracts Manager … whom I have never met … who told him that [Ms Kaur] was not allowed to open. No reason was given, the Auditor was surprised at this.”

So, again, this not Post Office copying you in; this is the postmistress copying you in. What responsibility did you have for resolving issues such as the one raised in this correspondence?

Alisdair Cameron: So this was 2017, I think.

Mr Beer: It is, yes.

Alisdair Cameron: It is. Then I would have –

Mr Beer: June 2017?

Alisdair Cameron: – had responsibility for the sort of Chesterfield team, certainly, and so I don’t remember seeing this letter or seeing additional email correspondence but it’s, you know, horrible, and it should certainly have been properly looked into and I can’t recall whether it was or not.

Mr Beer: Did these kind of things tend to get referred to Ms van den Bogerd?

Alisdair Cameron: I never felt I was the right person to investigate individual issues, for a variety of reasons. You know, I’m not trained to do that, I’ve never run a Post Office, I’ve never worked behind a counter or used Horizon. You know, I’ve got no legal background. So I felt I was the wrong person to do the investigations. My job was generally just to make sure that they were being done and it is – was notable to me, looking over, you know, extra documents I was asked to look at over the last few days, as I said, there was sort of a dozen of these, they generally start with a complaint to Paula and it is always Angela van den Bogerd who is asked to investigate it.

Mr Beer: Do you know why that was?

Alisdair Cameron: My sense, at the time, was that – and I appreciate this may seem counterintuitive – that very few Post Office people in the Home Office teams had ever actually worked properly in a post office. There were some, of course, but, generally, you know, people in Chesterfield have been recruited to work in the Support Services, people in the field teams. And so the number of people who were actually experienced in running a post office and using Horizon were very few, and it was a – you know, an issue and, therefore, I suspect it always defaulted to Angela because she had, I think, worked in and run a post office and done years of investigations, and was prepared to go out and talk to postmasters and visit post offices and, therefore, she was probably the best equipped to do that.

Mr Beer: From memory, I think she told us she left school at 16 and became a counter clerk?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: Can we move on. POL00163587. Look at page 4, please. Scroll down, please. We can see an email – you later get copied into this chain – but it starts with an email from Councillor Geoffrey Hipperson to Liz Truss MP:

“Good morning Elizabeth, Help! Our post office is closing (Shouldham).

“The reason is disturbing. Apparently there are problems with operating system of the post office computers resulting in accounting anomalies. The amounts in our case bear no relation to the amounts that the subpostmistress handles. I am as sure as one can be that the lady is honest and having run the post office for 29 years has not suddenly started making mistakes.

“Unfortunately the situation cannot be endured so the post office is closing.

“In fairness I have spoken to representatives of the Post Office who are trying to get an interim person to run the office.

“What is concerned however, is that this may not be confined to this one office. One ex-postmaster has told me that ‘there are hundreds of ex-post office keepers who have been under suspicion or worse because of this problem’.

“I have no proof of anything and was only told about this yesterday.

“This subject, and the possible implications of it are too much for me to handle.”

Then Councillor Hipperson signs it off. If we scroll up, please, and a little bit further, we see an email from Liz Truss MP to Ken Penton, and if we scroll down, she says – it’s her case worker in fact:

“[Ms Truss] has been contacted by … Councillor Hipperson”, can you look into this, please?

Scroll up, please. That then gets forwarded, if we scroll a little bit further, to Paula Vennells on 20 May saying:

“I have been contacted again by [Mr Hipperson] … the Post Office is now closed”, please look into the issues.

Then scroll up still further, a bit further, please, 20 May, it gets sent to you directly:

“Dear Interim Chief Executive,

“… I have been contacted again by my constituent …”

Scroll down.

“… post office is now closed”, please could you look into the issues.

Then scroll up to the top of page 2:

“Thank you very much for contacting me and we will revert as soon as possible.”

Then bottom of page 1:

“See below. Can we have chapter and verse tomorrow please.”

Scroll up. This is from Jane Hill. What function did she perform?

Alisdair Cameron: She was in Mark Davies’s team, I think, with a particular responsible for dealing with MPs, I think, but, I mean, again, her role probably changed over time so I could be wrong.

Mr Beer: So was she a media and communications person?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Why would the media and communications person be the right person to investigate and provide a response?

Alisdair Cameron: Only if the underlying issues had already been investigated and the business had reached a conclusion and, therefore, it was about managing the communication, rather than the underlying issues.

Mr Beer: So when communication like this came in from an MP, that didn’t trigger an investigation of the substance of matters?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, it might have done and it might have done at some point but it wouldn’t – if people felt it had already been investigated, then it might not have done. It might have been, well, we think we know the answer to this, and I can’t remember on this specific which it was.

Mr Beer: Just scroll back down, please. The people you forwarded to it, Ken Penton, Mark Davies, Amanda Jones and Julie Thomas, were any of them Network people or Operational people –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and if so, which?

Alisdair Cameron: Amanda Jones was are running the Network with Debbie Smith and Julie Thomas was running the Operational teams.

Mr Beer: The response, in fact, came back from a media person.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: If we just look what they say, so there’s a note attached, but:

“In summary:

“The closure was due to our suspending the postmaster after an audit.

“The postmaster reported having regular balancing shortages after new Horizon kit was installed last July.

“The [post office] was operated from the postmaster’s house, so difficult to put in a [temporary] operator.

“We are looking at the cost of a mobile [post office] …

“The Contracts team are trying to fix a meeting with the postmaster …

“Ken has updated Liz Truss’ office by phone today, and is drafting a note for her.”

That doesn’t really engage with the complaint made, does it –

Alisdair Cameron: It doesn’t.

Mr Beer: – which was from a councillor, saying that his constituent had been a trusted postmaster for 29 years and had run the branch without problems.

Alisdair Cameron: (The witness nodded)

Mr Beer: It seems new Horizon kit had been brought in and then there were losses. Why was it dealt with in this way, as a media issue?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know, and I haven’t seen the attached note but, reading it cold, you know, I think I dropped the ball on this one. I think we should have gone back and said, “Well, your answer is all about how we’re changing postmaster and opening an office, it’s not about the underlying issue”, and I am not aware of any evidence that I did that and I should have done.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we move on, POL00280270. This is an email from you to Ben Foat headed “Confidential and privileged”, of 2 August 2019.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: You say:

“… I have been made very uncomfortable by an issue at Little Milton post office.”

That was the post office you referred to in your November 2020 note saying in mid-‘19.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “They approached me recently because they had been asked to pay a significant amount (£3,000-£4,000) to us. Kim Abbots got involved but could not explain what had happened remotely. At my suggestion an audit was held and the belief now seems to be that there was no loss, just misbooking of stock and misremming of cash. However, Kim has not yet been able to explain things to my satisfaction.

“Could you please work with Kim while I am away to understand what has happened and answer two questions.

“1. Is our understanding of what is happening in branch sufficient for us to be able to ask for money or suspend postmasters – it doesn’t feel like it.

“2. Secondly, should there be any implications for our defence of the [Group Litigation].

“Given our shareholder’s focus on a rapid settlement, I would rather you looked at these questions without it being clear I am asking – I haven’t used the whistleblowing process to protect privilege but I am asking for that confidentiality and protection. You do not therefore have my permission to discuss this elsewhere, other than talking to Kim about the specifics.

“Is that okay?”

So I think at this time, 2 August 2019, you were the Interim CEO; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, but it was, I think, (a) before I was about to go on holiday but (b) it was just after I was told that I wouldn’t be the CEO and that Nick Read had been appointed and, therefore, I didn’t know how long I would be at Post Office.

Mr Beer: You say:

“Our understanding of what is happening in branch doesn’t feel as if it’s sufficient for us to be able to ask for money or to suspend postmasters.”

Alisdair Cameron: That was my question, yeah.

Mr Beer: On what basis were you saying that?

Alisdair Cameron: Well – and I think, as we’ve seen from the evidence – I think I absolutely approached this differently because of the Common Issues judgment. I’m not sure I would have taken the same response the year before. But my understanding of what had happened is that Post Office had – you know, it’s a single-till community branch so £3,000 or £4,000 is just a huge amount of money for them and were asking for help, and so I gave it to good people in the Operations Team and I was expecting them to be able to explain it relatively quickly, and I sort of nagged them over that summer.

And my understanding was that the problem is that people had been ill, there had been temporary postmasters in and out and that the stamps had been systematically misbooked in. So unlike cash, and this does need to change, stamps have to be – when they are delivered or picked up, manually keyed in and out, whereas cash, it’s an automated process and you’re barcoded and scanned, and that had never happened for stamp.

So there had been, I think, over quite a long period of time, lots of noise around the stamps and so you couldn’t see – or the Operations Team couldn’t easily see what the underlying problem was because there was so much noise on the stamps accounting. And my memory is that, once that got cleared away, the branch was able to resolve the issue itself. I don’t think I ever was told what had happened by them, they took it away –

Mr Beer: But you’re seeing this as an issue not just about the Little Milton Post Office?

Alisdair Cameron: Not at all about the Little Milton post office, really. This is a –

Mr Beer: You’re drawing a broader –

Alisdair Cameron: I’m drawing a broader conclusion, which is, if that can create so much noise, which was news to me, in a single post office, then how does that affect the way we’re dealing with all the other post offices who might also have got into a muddle on stamps? And so, you know, and that – hence the two questions, is, you know, if there’s noise on stamps, does that change how we approach other branch issues and should we be disclosing this, you know, in terms of the litigation?

Mr Beer: You were essentially raising this as a whistleblowing complaint –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – but outside the formal process; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, and it’s a bit odd and it probably felt a bit odd at the time. I probably made Ben’s life a bit harder. It was perfectly possible I – I didn’t know Nick at this point – it was perfectly possible he was going to come in and say, “Look, I’ve got my own finance guy, I want to start again, you know, you’re done, move on”. So I didn’t know if I was going to be there for very long and what I didn’t want to happen was for this to be another sort of these corridor conversations where, you know, I flag a concern and then there’s new people and everyone moves on and it’s lost because I thought it might be important.

So my point about formally telling Ben and in writing, before I went on holiday, was so that he had to have a look at it and it had to be dealt with properly. I didn’t use any sense – I think my recollection is that I told Nick about this in our very first meeting, before he even started work, so I wasn’t trying to hide it but I didn’t know what – I didn’t know how the broader business and the shareholder and everyone was going to react to, you know, we’d had the CIJ not the HIJ and, therefore, was there going to be a closing down and moving on or were we going to be throwing everything open, and I just wanted it there formally so it had to be dealt with.

Mr Beer: Thank you. We’ll pick up what happened after the second break of the morning, please.

Sir, can we break until 12.30, please?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, of course.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

(12.18 pm)

Mr Beer: (A short break). I

(12.30 pm)

Mr Beer: Sir, good afternoon.

Sir Wyn Williams: Good afternoon.

Mr Beer: Mr Cameron, can we pick up where we left off, which was dealing with the Little Milton Post Office’s complaint, and we saw your email to Mr Foat.

Can we then turn to see what Mr Foat did with it by looking at POL00327569. That’s the first page, that’s Mr Foat’s email. If we look at the second page. We can see your email we’ve just looked at and so he forwards it on, yes?

Then if we go back to page 1, please, he sends your email under the heading “Strictly Confidential and Privileged – Highly Sensitive – Not for further forwarding” to Glenn Hall, who I think was a lawyer at Norton Rose –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and to Catrina Smith, also a lawyer at Norton Rose; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know.

Mr Beer: And Patrick Bourke, the Director of Public and Government Affairs?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: What was Norton Rose’s role at this time, can you remember?

Alisdair Cameron: I wasn’t aware that they particularly had one. So we brought them in after the Common Issues judgment, when we were looking for more independent legal counsel, and they did do a bit of work for us, but the decision was to bring Herbert Smith, so I wasn’t particularly aware that they were working for us at the time, but that might have been the appeal.

Mr Beer: Okay. Anyway, Mr Foat towards it on to those three people, he doesn’t copy you in but he says:

“Thank you for your time. I understand that Norton Rose cannot act in respect of the previous matter given a conflict which is understood.

“Unfortunately I have received what I think is potentially another different whistleblowing event. This one is acutely sensitive and is only relevant to [the Post Office] so hopefully there should be no conflict.

“You will see from the email below that the current Interim CEO [that’s you] is potentially whistleblowing an issue in respect of our Group Litigation issue. In effect, that our procedures around loss recovery isn’t right and that we are incorrectly seeking repayment from subpostmasters (which is an allegation in respect of the Group Litigation which your firm has some awareness [‘of’, I think]).

“I should point out that the Interim CEO was recently unsuccessful in his application to become the permanent CEO. He will revert back to his CFO role once the new CEO starts on 16 September. From today the Interim CEO is on leave for about a month. Moreover, all of the [General Executive] have been informed that the shareholder intends to penalise their bonuses as a result of the GLO. He [that’s you] has sent me the email below. On the one hand he says that he hasn’t used the whistleblowing process but in effect seeks to do so and seeks the confidentiality and ‘protections’.

“This is not the unusual scenario given that its the current CEO of the company that is making the qualified disclosure. I have not managed previously an issue where it is the CEO that makes the whistleblowing. Under the [Post Office] whistleblowing policy it can be made to a line manager or through a variety of channels which is subsequent reported to me as General Counsel. I currently report into the interim CEO who is making the apparent protected disclosure.

“I suspect that should there be further reorganising of the General Executive Committee subsequent to the new CEO, the Interim CEO/CFO will seek to rely on the protections under this disclosure.”

Just stopping here, there seems to be quite a lot of mention here about the fact that you were unsuccessful in your application to be CEO. Was the making of the disclosure connected to that in any way?

Alisdair Cameron: I didn’t think I was talking about any of that and I think, you know, reading it – because obviously I don’t think I saw any of this at the time –

Mr Beer: No.

Alisdair Cameron: – reading it now, I just want to kind of give Ben a hug because I’d, obviously, made his life really complicated and he was really anxious about it and I didn’t mean to do that at all, and I think, by using the word “whistleblowing” in a pretty vague and ignorant way, I think I just really complicated his life for a bit and I hadn’t meant to do that.

So I just wanted it formally recorded, so that we were definitely going to have a look at it and understand a view before we blew it up if it needed blowing up and that was all I was trying to do.

Mr Beer: I’m going to skip the next paragraph and read the following one:

“I should say I greatly respect the interim CEO who I think has done an excellent job and nothing above is to be taken to suggest otherwise but it does seem to me that this is an unusual situation which gives rise to some conflicts and potential risks for the business (down the track). Hence my seeking further advice.

“Could you advise me of what steps I should take including what investigation I should undertake; what initial response should be back to Al; whether I can disclose to any other person including the new CEO or shareholder (my understanding is not at least). I suspect that if I am instructed by my line manager that I can only speak to Kim that I will not be in a position to come to any conclusions in respect of the questions that he is seeking.

“Look forward to hearing from you.”

What in the event happened, as a result of your protected disclosure or your disclosure?

Alisdair Cameron: I told Nick about it and, I think – and then Ben and I, I think, did have a conversation where he explained some of his challenges. I think I said, “Look, don’t worry about any of that”. So work was done on it. I don’t know what happened in terms of – of the two questions, there was definitely more work done on stamps but I’m getting into an area where Post Office hasn’t waived its privilege and I don’t think I can talk about that without them doing so, my understanding –

Mr Beer: Just to test your understanding of why you can’t speak, you think the answer to my question might involve disclosing legally privileged information –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – after February 2020?

Alisdair Cameron: Um, yeah, and information specifically Post Office still has –

Mr Beer: Retained privilege –

Alisdair Cameron: – retained privilege over.

Mr Beer: Okay, were you aware whether this issue was raised with Herbert Smith Freehills?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t think I know that. I’d probably assume so but I don’t know. And I don’t know, you know, what was done in terms of disclosure to the claimants.

Mr Beer: Okay. Just for the transcript, for later references and not for you at the moment, the answer to my question about disclosure to Herbert Smiths, is found in POL00280603, POL00284503 and POL00327575.

So you don’t know whether disclosure was made in the Group Litigation of the issue that you had raised?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t remember either way.

Mr Beer: You don’t remember or don’t know the answer to your first question, ie what investigation was carried out?

Alisdair Cameron: I do know some of the outcomes of the work that was done.

Mr Beer: Which aren’t protected by privilege?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I think they are protected by privilege, really quite specifically.

Mr Beer: Okay. Can I therefore move – if that’s an area that we cannot further explore – to the suspense account.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Can we start with paragraph 159 of your witness statement, please, which is on page 38, and you say, in paragraph 159:

“On 15 January, very soon after I joined [the Post Office] I was asked by Chris Aujard, Interim General Counsel and others for urgent help to answer questions from Second Sight on the operation of [the Post Office’s] suspense account.”

So this is, I mean, literally the week or so of joining; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: A couple of weeks after, yeah.

Mr Beer: Then at paragraph 162, which is over the page, you refer to:

“Rod Ismay, who led the FSC, was the right person to handle queries from Second Sight.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Why was Rod Ismay the right person to handle queries about the suspense account from Second Sight?

Alisdair Cameron: Because I asked the Finance Team and they told me he was, you know, the person who knew most about it.

Mr Beer: Then at paragraph 165, which is at the foot of the page, you say that you saw a draft response to Second Sight, which you weren’t dealing with directly, and on 27 January you wrote to Chris Aujard and Jane MacLeod that the response needed to be more comprehensive and data driven. Okay?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Can we look at some of the underlying documents, please, and start with POL00218942. If we scroll down, please, and keep going, please, an email from Chris Aujard to you on 16 January, so I think a day after you were asked to address the issue of Second Sight’s queries over the suspense accounts. Mr Aujard says to you:

“Al – [for your information] – just in case the well-oiled PA machine fails to ensure that this gets to you promptly.

“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 a [subpostmaster] account is somehow taken into our suspense account and then appropriated to our [profit and loss].”

So Second Sight had asked for information, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Mr Aujard was saying to you that Second Sight should be given no more information than is necessary to address the narrow proposition made by them, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that generally the approach that Mr Aujard took, ie to be as restrictive as possible in the disclosure of information?

Alisdair Cameron: With Second Sight, yes.

Mr Beer: Was that a theme of his engagement, so far as you saw it, with Second Sight?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes. Yeah, my understanding was that there was a disagreement about the scope of Second Sight’s work, and I’m not sure I understood it very precisely, but what I took from that was that Second Sight had been employed to look at individual cases in the Mediation Scheme and to follow them where they went, whereas what they were doing on suspense accounts was exploring a hypothesis that money was being held there and released to the P&L, which should have belonged to postmasters, but which hadn’t come from, as I was being told, the underlying cases.

I have to say, I thought this was a pretty silly point on which to pause and, quite frankly, if there was a problem with the suspense accounts, you know, as the brand new CFO, I wanted to know about it.

So, you know, I think I generally sort of pushed back at this very narrow approach at this point.

Mr Beer: Do you know why Mr Aujard took a restrictive approach to the disclosure of information generally to Second Sight?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I did ask him. We came out of one – I mean, I never found Second Sight at all adversarial. The meetings were all extremely sensible and, you know, open. And I did – I do remember asking Chris in the corridor after one of those meetings where he had been – I don’t know quite what the right word is – sort of chippy, with Second Sight, why, and he said, “Oh they just annoy me”.

Mr Beer: “They just annoy me”?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: If we go up to see what your response was to page 1. You say:

“Rod Ismay is the right person to do this.”

Second paragraph:

“As ever, I may be more inclined to be open, while recognising the desire not to set more hares running.”

The line, “As ever I may be more inclined to be open”, did that reflect your general approach –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – to Second Sight?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Why did you adopt that approach?

Alisdair Cameron: If there was a problem in the suspense account or anywhere else, I thought we were better knowing that and then we could deal with it. So fine, we could close it down and push for time, or whatever, but, actually, I wanted to know if there was a problem and I thought Second Sight had been employed by Post Office to do a job; you know, their view of this job was that they wanted to look at suspense accounts, we should let them look at suspense accounts. I couldn’t see the point of saying no.

Mr Beer: You say, “whilst recognising the desire not to set more hares running”; what were you concerned about there?

Alisdair Cameron: So I think the concern I was hearing, you know, bearing in mind it was the second day I had heard about this issue, was that I think – and I’m sort of slightly sort of trying to remember here, that there was a feeling that Second Sight would just go on forever asking questions that hadn’t been sourced from individual cases and, therefore, we didn’t just want to be on a treadmill of forever asking questions. I think that’s what I was referring to.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we move on, please, a separate topic. Can we look at paragraph 111 of your statement on page 128, please. You say:

“With hindsight I would now conclude that insufficient exclude of Horizon was undertaken before finding postmasters to be at fault for unresolved shortfalls.”

I think that’s something we’ve seen reflected in an email that we looked at earlier, and in your “What Went Wrong” document.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: “I also acknowledge that even as we sought to answer questions on the safe working of Horizon as it operated at that point, this does not mean that it operated effectively in earlier periods. I also question the conclusion that postmaster training was fundamentally sound. In 2017, when I was more involved in operations, I attended a 2 day training course for new postmasters and did not consider it to be a strong basis to support [subpostmasters]. I later chased for improvements as a result of this.”

I just want to examine what material you had at the time on these issues and whether hindsight was necessary to reach the conclusion that you did there.

Alisdair Cameron: So taking the points in turn, I think the insufficient scrutiny for unresolved shortfalls was a conclusion I reached later and that was with hindsight. I think I was clear – I think I’ve seen emails as part of preparing for this – that I was making the point pretty consistently throughout, that, just as I was saying this appears to be working okay in 2015, I think I acknowledged at the time that that didn’t mean it was working in 2005 or 2010 because – and no one was asking me to say that. I mean, the Second Sight questions, for example, were all about what was happening in 2015. So I think I was very clear on that at the time.

Postmaster training operated in three stages in 2017: there was some online training, which I did; there was then a two-day classroom session, which I attended and thought – and there’s an email setting this out somewhere – that it was really poor as a two-day training course; and the third piece was, you know, someone spending time with the new postmaster in branch for a couple of days doing the cash transfers and the balancing, and that sort of thing in real life, and that bit I didn’t do.

So I wasn’t making a particular conclusion on the whole of postmaster training but I was really clear that, you know, the two-day course was poor.

Mr Beer: Thank you, can we look at some of the underlying documents then, please.

Alisdair Cameron: Sure.

Mr Beer: Start with POL00027728. Look at page 3, please, at the foot of the page, “Dear Paula Vennells”, this is an email from a man called Martin Barfoot, who I think is a member of the public not a subpostmaster. This is a chain that eventually finds its way to you:

“Dear Paula Vennells

“I need to contact you directly to bring a matter to your attention.

“I paid my income tax bill via the Post Office on 23 December 2014. The cheque was made payable to the Post Office and the money (£3,885) left my account on 30 December 2014. Since the 31 January deadline for payment HMRC has been sending me many demands for payment, including fines, as they have not received payment. I have had to make several lengthy phone calls and write 2 letters including scans of my receipt and bank statement.

“I revisited the post office branch … on 28 March and was told that the payment had been held up in a holding account, but was being directed to the correct account. I did not completely understand these details but was assured the money would go to the correct place.

“Still the demands and fines were sent to me, and HMRC have been phoning me. So I revisited the post office again and was told I needed to raise a complaint. After the lengthy phone call I did so … I have sent a copy of the scanned receipt as requested, 3 weeks has passed and no response has been forthcoming.

“I am a Homephone customer. I am amazed that the Post Office would a) not pay the bill, b) not return the cheque uncashed to the bank, or to me, c) not tell me my bill is unpaid, d) cash the cheque and keep my money for over 5 months now. It is virtually theft.”

If we see what happens to that, please, back to page 3. Scroll down, please, and again. Keep scrolling, page 3, thank you.

Reply by Ms Vennells on the same day:

“… thank you, first of all for taking the time to let me know. This is the first time I have heard anything like this happening – I am very sorry. And would be as frustrated as you rightly are.

“Please leave this with me – I will get on to it today and either I or one of my senior managers will respond to you personally.”

If we go further up the page and look up the foot of page 2, Gavin, that’s Gavin Lambert, on an email chain that you’re copied in on:

“… can you personally handle this please. Although I expect it is a one-off, as I genuinely haven’t heard of anything like this before, we have been inept in handling it and I would like to learn the lessons, once it is resolved.

“More immediately and importantly, it will be unhelpful if any Sparrow connection is made, as reference to money held in holding accounts has also been voiced by the JFSA. My understanding is that this is not the case. Can I have this reconfirmed as well please.”

So do you understand what happened Ms Vennells is referring to there, where she is saying it would be unhelpful if any Sparrow connection is made?

Alisdair Cameron: I assume she’s referring to the suggestion that money is being held in suspense accounts.

Mr Beer: Ie this money might be held in a suspense account, a Post Office suspense account, we don’t want a connection made with the allegation that JFSA is making that subpostmaster money or disputed amounts of money is being held in suspense accounts?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, I think so.

Mr Beer: Okay:

“I would like it resolved today. Certainly senior contact made with Mr Barfoot.

“… I have copied a number of colleagues in as I’m not … sure who is best placed to help. Could each person copied please read and get in touch with Gavin if you can help, or know where to point him.

“Al is away, so Colin and Rod copied in his absence.”

Just a little further on the Project Sparrow, why would there be a connection made to Project Sparrow?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know why Paula made that connection but, I mean, I assume it is because Second Sight were questioning whether we were holding money in suspense accounts.

Mr Beer: So any – would this be right – additional evidence of holding money in suspense accounts would be unhelpful?

Alisdair Cameron: If it’s postmaster money, yes, but, as I understood it and understand it, it wasn’t.

Mr Beer: No, this is a member of the public –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – paying or trying to pay their tax bill?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, absolutely.

Mr Beer: So how could a connection be made with Sparrow?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know what Paula was specifically meaning and I didn’t interpret, I don’t think, as anything other than suspense accounts is one of those phrases that people, you know, recognise.

Mr Beer: Was the Post Office at this time very sensitive as to its brand image and reputation and how that might be damaged by the allegations being investigated by Second Sight about the holding of subpostmaster money in suspense accounts?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t recall there being a specific concern about suspense accounts in terms of brand image. It was just one item on Second Sight’s list. Was Post Office sensitive to its brand reputation as the whole of the Mediation Scheme played out, was closed, postmasters continued to, you know, say they thought things were wrong? Yes, absolutely.

Mr Beer: Thank you. That can come down.

Were you aware of any attempts made politically, or with politicians, in order to seek to ensure that politicians did not raise issues or focus on issues concerning the reliability of Horizon at this time?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t remember anything. I’ve certainly seen, you know, a document in this pack where Mark Davies talks about it, although I’m not sure I saw it at – maybe I did see it at the time. I don’t remember it being a big conversation, certainly.

Mr Beer: Let’s look at the document I think you’re referring to. POL00152283. If we scroll down to the middle of the page, please, there’s an email from Mr Davies to Paula Vennells, to you and to Neil Hayward. What did Mr Hayward do at this time?

Alisdair Cameron: He was the People or HR Director, I forget his title.

Mr Beer: Headed “[Business, Innovation and Skills] committee”, so that’s a Parliamentary Select Committee:


“Some good news. The new chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills committee is Iain Wright, a very good Labour MP who both Jane …”

Presumably that’s Jane MacLeod?

Alisdair Cameron: Might be Jane Hill.

Mr Beer: Which is more likely?

Alisdair Cameron: I would have thought Jane Hill, personally, because she worked with politicians and worked in Mark’s team but I could be wrong.

Mr Beer: Okay:

“… who both Jane and I know. Can’t promise he won’t look at Horizon but much better chance of avoiding it. I have dropped him a line. You will remember he was mentioned by the minister last week.”

Was there an effort made by the Post Office, to your knowledge, to steer Parliament away from looking too closely at Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know. I don’t remember there being a considered effort. Were those arguments made in individual conversations? Well, reading this, yeah, it looks like it but I don’t know. I mean, I think probably – and I didn’t remember this one – I just thought it was “Look, aren’t I doing a good job”, sort of “Don’t I know everyone”, sort of comms bullshit, really? I didn’t take it terribly seriously and I didn’t think a Select Committee Chair would have been put off an important subject by an old mate.

Mr Beer: You didn’t get to see the line that Mark Davies said that he had dropped the chairman of a select committee?

Alisdair Cameron: Not as far as I’m aware or that I’ve seen since.

Mr Beer: If the Post Office was confident in the robustness of Horizon, which I think it says that it was at this time –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – why would the Post Office not want a select committee looking at it?

Alisdair Cameron: I guess because preparing for select committees – and I have done one – is a very serious and time-consuming business. You know, you don’t just turn up and answer questions. You really, really prepare for them and it takes a lot of a CEO’s time, and so I imagine, you know, that the reason would be that.

Mr Beer: So are you saying you didn’t take seriously the suggestion that the Head of Communications and Corporate Affairs was making, that he might make an attempt to steer a select committee’s sight away from Horizon?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I don’t think I did, otherwise – I mean, if I’d been worried about it, I’d probably have remembered it.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

Sir, it’s 1.00. I wonder whether we might break until 1.50, please?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, all right.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

(1.00 pm)

(The Short Adjournment)

(1.50 pm)

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

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thank you.

Mr Beer: Good afternoon, Mr Cameron.

Can we turn to some cultural or big picture issues, please, and, in particular, the attitude of the Post Office towards its subpostmasters. Can we start by looking at POL00354059. Can you see that this is a draft “Management Information Review” produced for the Post Office Group Executive. Can you tell us what the purpose of a Management Information Review of this kind was?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t have a great recollection of this specific piece of work, but – and it’s not an uncommon business problem, I’ve come across it before but you do want to get your management information in the best shape you can, so that you have one version of the truth and you’re measuring the right things and you’re doing it in the right way, and that it’s easily accessible to the people who need it. So it’s often a matter of making sure that you’ve got some discipline about where you get the information from, and you’re presenting it in a consistent, decided way. And I think this was probably a sort of first go at trying to understand the landscape, from my point of view.

Mr Beer: Were these kind of documents produced with any regularity?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I don’t think so.

Mr Beer: You’ll see the purpose is described as to:

“… update the Group Executive on the recent Management Information Review and to recommend next steps and a longer term route map to improve the [management information] which is available to steer Post Office to meet its strategic objectives.”

Under paragraph 2.1, it says that:

“A review has been carried out at the request of the Group Executive … over a 7 week period under the sponsorship of Alisdair Cameron.”

Is that right –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – that this was under your sponsorship?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, completely so.

Mr Beer: So was this to introduce a system by which management information was regularly and uniformly provided to the Group Executive or to review the way in which that information was provided and to potentially change it?

Alisdair Cameron: I think more the latter, from memory.

Mr Beer: You’ll see from the foot of the page – and it’s on the foot of every page, if we just scroll down, please, underneath the helpful triangle is Mr Goodman’s name –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – and a date of May 2015. Who was Peter Goodman?

Alisdair Cameron: So he was a member of the Finance Team that was in place when I joined Post Office Limited and he worked for us for another – I can’t remember but 18 months or so?

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can we just look at a couple of things that the review, or at least this draft of the review, says. Look at page 2, please. Scroll down to the blue box, under “Findings”, the first finding, “Content”:

“Too much focus on sales volume/value and income.”

Does that mean that the Post Office was too focused on “sales volume/value and income”, or that the information that was provided to the Group Executive was too focused on “sales volume/value and income”?

Alisdair Cameron: I think it probably means both.

Mr Beer: Right. Was it correct that the Post Office, in March ‘15, was too focused on its sales volumes/value and income, in your view?

Alisdair Cameron: So I think – and it’s probably a fairly standard CFO complaint – is a lot of commercial teams get very excited by sales volume, and the question that the CFO always asks is, “Well, yeah, but are we making a profit from it”.

Mr Beer: Yes.

Alisdair Cameron: And so I think it was – that that was, as I remember it, the focus of that first line.

Mr Beer: Then, if we look at the third page, please, second blue box down, first bullet point:

“Too many versions of the truth (Credence, Finance, local spreadsheets, client information – eg Supply Chain and Royal Mail maintain own branch databases in addition to Network owned database).”

Firstly, can you explain in either the corporate world, or in information technology, or in management speak, what a “version of the truth” means?

Alisdair Cameron: So you can look at a particular area and, depending – and I’m struggling to think of an example off the top of my head but, depending on how you’ve chosen to manage it and what information you’re disclosing – I don’t know.

If you look at customer complaints, if you – there are many different ways you can look at customer complaints and it could be on average how long they take to answer, whether they are ever repeated, what’s the longest answer, you know, there’s lots of different ways you can look at it. And what you want, in a perfect world is a single view of all those things measured from the right information. And so you might focus on one area but you’ve got the others there, measured in the same way.

And when you’ve got too many versions of the truth, you’ve got a person who keeps their own spreadsheet that tells you, “Well, this is that”, and then you’ve got a system over there that tells you how many and they’re not really properly aligned or consistent and, therefore, someone can say – so, I mean, I can give you a real example on the profit because I remember, you know, a particular instance of this. So Credence produced volumes, sales volumes, but it wasn’t very good at the values. So it was a reliable system for the volumes, so I never used it for values because it had a limited ability to work out the value per product.

So if you used Credence, you could say “Oh, we’ve had a good week”, but you might not have done in terms of value, it was only useful for branch volumes, whereas the finance system would tell you the rest. Sorry, does that help?

Mr Beer: Yes, thank you. Going back to page 2, please “Too much focus on sales volume/value and income”, just scroll down, please, you tell us in your witness statement that:

“At the heart of the issues experienced by Post Office was a culture which stopped us from dealing with postmasters in a straightforward and acceptable way.”

Did a focus on sales volume/value and income contribute to that failure?

Alisdair Cameron: As I say, I think the sales volume versus profit was the point I was trying to get to. So, in that specific instance, really not, but I think throughout this – and I made comments in my witness statement about the Audit Committee – we were consistently treating postmasters as someone else, rather than as a core part of Post Office.

Mr Beer: Why was that?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I think technically, of course, the vast majority of postmasters are independent third parties and so it was sort of technically true, and I think we were absolutely focused, and I was being absolutely focused on – well, the two big focuses of in my first few years in Post Office was getting the financial controls right and getting the profit to improve, the trading profit, and so, in both cases, you’re very much focused on what’s on your balance sheet and what’s in your P&L and not on other people. And I think there was a relentless focus on that.

Mr Beer: So you don’t draw a direct line between what’s recorded here and the way in which Post Office treated its subpostmasters?

Alisdair Cameron: Not on the specific comment about sales volume because, as I say, I think – but, I mean, it’s a long time ago now – but I think that specific reference was income versus profit, rather than Post Office versus postmasters, but the wider point still stands.

Mr Beer: Thank you. That can come down.

We’ve seen in your “What Went Wrong” paper, you set out your belief that, at the heart of the issues experienced by the Post Office, was a culture that stopped the Post Office from dealing with postmasters in a straightforward and acceptable way.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: You tell us in your witness statement – no need to turn it up – it’s paragraph 386:

“This skewed Post Office’s judgements about prosecutions and the subsequent management of the litigation.”

In what way did the Post Office culture stop the Post Office from dealing with postmasters in a straightforward and acceptable way?

Alisdair Cameron: I think, by setting out the belief we referred to earlier, that a postmaster was accountable for whatever happened in a post office, I think, yes, there was a logic to it but it gave Post Office an excuse, in a way, not to investigate it because the burden was on the postmaster, rather than Post Office and Post Office’s financials.

And I think one point where I saw that and, you know, it was genuine moment of being ashamed, is one of the areas I hadn’t really looked at, was suspensions, and the judge obviously told us that we couldn’t – that we had to pay people during a period of suspension and when, you know, he said that, we thought, “Yeah, well that must be right”, so we started doing that. And a few months later, one of the Operational people, you know, told me that, because this was now a cost to Post Office, the number of suspensions and the duration of the suspensions had fallen.

And I thought, oh, that is just awful, isn’t it? Because it wasn’t in our P&L, we just didn’t prioritise it and the second it’s in our P&L, we do a better job and a fairer job, and I was really ashamed of that.

Mr Beer: The culture about which you speak in the paper and in your witness statement, which prevented or stopped Post Office from dealing with postmasters in an acceptable way, who drove that culture?

Alisdair Cameron: I think, you know, we all did, in a way, because it was the focus on – so the absolute – from shareholder to Board to Executive Team and, absolutely, to me – I was absolutely part of this – the focus was on improving trading profit in the belief that we could provide the investment in the business, and that Government subsidy would reduce over time, and it did. I think its peak was 415 million and it was down to sort of 50 million at one point, although not sustainably so.

And, you know, that felt like an important component of making the business sustainable.

Mr Beer: Just stopping there –

Alisdair Cameron: Please.

Mr Beer: – do I understand you to say that the Government encouraged the drive for profit?

Alisdair Cameron: Oh, yes.

Mr Beer: Did it demand the drive for profit?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t think “demand” is – so, in setting its priorities and the priorities of the shareholder representative, improving commercial performance, making it more commercially sustainable was a priority for everyone, absolutely.

Mr Beer: Were members of the General Executive incentivised to contribute to that drive for profit by their own personal remuneration?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, absolutely.

Mr Beer: Would you agree that, up until the time you that speak about, of the two judgments, the 2019 judgments, the drive for profit was central to the Post Office’s strategy?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: To the detriment of subpostmasters?

Alisdair Cameron: I didn’t think so at the time because one of the engines of improving the profit was to very assertively reduce the costs of Post Office Limited, its staff costs and its non-staff costs, and I’ve always believed that doing that was very pro-postmaster and, when I’ve spoken to postmasters, you know, they would all say, “In my experience, the Post Office was too expensive, too bureaucratic, sucking up too much of the income in its own stuff”.

So I thought taking 100 million a year out of those costs was good for everybody because, in any given year, there was more money available for postmasters and more money to invest in the business and make it run better and be more resilient.

That said, we could have absolutely taken a different view of how we invested that money and where we invested that money and done far more, which we started to do much more in 2019/20 to make the business simpler and better for postmasters.

Mr Beer: You tell us in your witness statement – there’s no need to turn it up, it’s paragraph 6 – that:

“It became clear to me in 2019 that postmasters needed far greater support and this demanded a culture shift in the Post Office.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: What was it about 2019 that made it clear to you that postmasters needed far greater support?

Alisdair Cameron: So it had been developing over 2018, so Debbie Smith was Retail Director in 2018, and she had worked at Boots for a long time, and she was making the point, you know, really quite clearly that, in her experience, as, you know, a proper retailer, we didn’t treat postmasters with as such support and – well, as much support as retailers like Boots would treat their own shops.

And she wanted more people in the field, more support and she and I and Rob Houghton spent a few days in Chesterfield in the summer of 2018 trying to bring all these themes together, and she convinced me she was right and so, as I got more into that sort of Interim Chief Executive space in 2019, that was the priority: it’s the priority I set out to the Board, it’s the priority I set out in my speech to the NFSP.

Mr Beer: We heard from Mark Davies that, similarly in 2019, it was necessary to tackle a culture in some quarters which wrongly placed subpostmasters in a subordinate role, as he called it. Do you agree that, at least until 2019, subpostmasters were seen by the Post Office as being in a subordinate role?

Alisdair Cameron: I never really thought about that phrase and I don’t know precisely what Mark was alluding to but they were seen as, sort of, someone else, a third party, like a client, to some extent, and just didn’t get, you know – as Debbie got more into it, there were people who just hadn’t had a visit – postmasters who hadn’t had a visit from Post Office for years, and –

Mr Beer: How about that they weren’t seen as de facto business partners of the Post Office, which they were, given their financial investment in their post offices?

Alisdair Cameron: Oh, they hugely were and the one that really sort of took me aback was when I was doing that NFSP conference and I said, you know, postmasters are the heart and the blood, or something, of Post Office – which, of course, they are because, I mean, the DMBs were a red herring, you know, there are 11,500 post offices and, whatever there were, 150, at the time, Directly Managed Branches. And so, you know, without postmasters there is no Post Office and Post Office Limited only exists, you know, to keep postmasters in post offices.

And so I’m –

Mr Beer: Sorry to interrupt, were they seen as a different kind of species, essentially, from –

Alisdair Cameron: I think they were –

Mr Beer: – centrally managed, directly managed branches?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: And as a lesser form?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I don’t think that’s right because we were furiously shutting directly managed branches at the time, but the bit – sorry to complete the too long anecdote – I did that speech in ten minutes and a postmaster stopped me as I came out in the break and said, “You know, you said that, did you really mean it?” And I said, “Well, yes of course I did. I mean, it’s obvious Post Office doesn’t function without postmasters”, and he said, “No one has ever said that to us before”, and I thought “Oh, my goodness, it’s worse than I thought”.

Mr Beer: You tell us in your witness statement – perhaps you’d better turn it up – it’s page 13, paragraph 56, you say paragraph 56, foot of the page:

“… with hindsight I feel that the ARC …”

That’s the Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – which is a committee of the Board?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: “… did not tackle the evidence underpinning the performance of Horizon nor meaningfully consider the potential outcomes for postmasters if there were issues with shortfalls and balancing. Postmasters are rarely mentioned in the documents and are treated as a third party rather than an integral part of the business.”

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is it implicit in that paragraph there that responsibility for tackling the evidence concerning the performance of Horizon fell to the Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee of the Board?

Alisdair Cameron: No, I wouldn’t say that but I think it should have been there in the risk registers, there should have been discussions about, well, how are we doing this? Are we doing enough? Are we doing the right things? Where’s the evidence? Which there were in other areas. And so –

Mr Beer: To your knowledge, was – sorry to speak over you, Mr Cameron – the integrity and reliability of the Horizon system ever on a risk register?

Alisdair Cameron: Looking back at the documents, I don’t think it was.

Mr Beer: Do you know why that was?

Alisdair Cameron: I’m speculating a bit. It didn’t strike me as peculiar until I went back and read the documents now but I assume that Horizon was seen as fundamentally a Fujitsu accountability. But, I mean, that isn’t an excuse. Reading it back again, it clearly feels wrong.

Mr Beer: Where, within the organisation, would responsibility rest for the drawing up of an appropriate risk register that would have included or should have included Horizon on it?

Alisdair Cameron: So I think those teams reported to Jane MacLeod from 2015 to 2019, and to me, after Nick arrived.

Mr Beer: So to you from – can you give us a date?

Alisdair Cameron: Oh, middle of 2019, after Jane left.

Mr Beer: Yes. How big were the teams that drew up the risk register?

Alisdair Cameron: I’m thinking half a dozen people because the view was that the risk registers should be drawn up across the business by different parts of the business, and the job of the risk team – although I’m sure it evolved at points – was to help them do that and then consolidate a view that the Audit Committee or the Board or the Executive could look at.

Mr Beer: The misfunctioning or non-functioning of Horizon was plainly a risk to the business?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, it was, and we were doing, obviously, work on income flowing through, and it wasn’t unusual to me. I’d seen in a previous experience of not being able to sort of audit through a system, so the external auditors did a lot of work with Fujitsu on the controls around Horizon and, if they didn’t think they were good enough in any particular year, they did additional substantive testing. We developed a whole financial control framework to go through all the income, follow it through to reconcile it to third party sources, to test it, do a lot of testing after the balance sheet date and, you know, slowed down the speed at which we signed the accounts to do more post-balance sheet testing.

So there was a lot of work being done.

Mr Beer: Again, can you assist as to why, to your knowledge, Horizon never made it onto a risk register of the Post Office?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know that I can. I’ve suggested that it is perhaps that it was considered something Fujitsu was doing but, in reading the documents again, for the purpose of this Inquiry, it struck me as – immediately as odd.

Mr Beer: We hear quite often how many transactions a day, how many transactions a week, how many transactions a year, the amount of money that was put through the Horizon system or processed by the Horizon system; isn’t it self-evidently obvious that the non-functioning or misfunctioning of the system was a risk that ought to be registered?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Control measures – I mean, the idea is not just to register a risk; it’s to introduce control or mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate the risk?

Alisdair Cameron: And I think a lot of that work was being done and the fact it wasn’t debated in the risk register doesn’t mean it wasn’t but, clearly, it would have been much more satisfactory if that had been openly and consistently debated through that period, and it wasn’t.

Mr Beer: Thank you. That document can come down.

Did there ever come a time when you believed that it would be necessary or desirable for the Post Office to recommence prosecuting?

Alisdair Cameron: I asked the question on a number of occasions, as in, “Are we making a deliberate decision here? Do we know what the factors are?” We never got to a point or anywhere close to it where we had a real conversation about under what circumstances would we, and we never got near a point where we thought about recommencing it, but it was definitely a part of the background conversation.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at POL00249527, and look at page 2, please, and just scroll down, please – sorry, page 3 not page 2. An email of yours of 27 June 2017 –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – under the heading “Ops Board and Losses & Crime Group”. Can you explain what that group was, please?

Alisdair Cameron: So Operations Board was, you know, me working with people to consistently, probably monthly, review performance efficiency costs of different operational teams and –

Mr Beer: That’s different from the Management Board, is it?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, and Losses and Crime Group, I think – and I must admit I don’t remember it particularly well – was, you know, trying to understand where we were losing money and what we could do to stop that happening.

Mr Beer: You say:

“The guidance yesterday was that we should not attempt to prosecute any cases where the losses had arisen from or were identified via trading and Horizon rather than a straight theft, until two things happen. Firstly we complete the Deloitte work on systems reliance. Secondly the CCRC opine. The former is fine and I gather we are close. The second I want to make us to make as a formal judgment with Paula engaged because it is a big deal, with an open timetable and a strong sense that this is now costing us blood.”

What did you mean by that sentence?

Alisdair Cameron: So, as I think I said earlier, so I think there’s three things in this. The first is this was going to be a big decision if we ever took it and we never got close to taking it and, therefore, I wanted us to do it thoughtfully and properly, and make it as a big decision, which is something I really strongly believe in on many fronts. Secondly, it was a big deal if we ever changed that and, therefore, Paula absolutely had to be engaged with this. This couldn’t be a, you know, lower level decision. It was a big decision, it had to go to the Board. We didn’t know what the timetable would be.

And “costing us blood”, which is clearly not a phrase which reads well now, was simply saying that the losses in the Network, which could be from a variety of causes, you know, one might be shortfalls that we didn’t recover, one might be theft and robbery by third parties but those losses were growing over time and could continue to grow if we didn’t do anything about it.

Mr Beer: What did you mean by “is now costing us blood”?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, that’s what I mean, is the costs were going up, and the fear is, you know, that they would keep on going up and, you know, as well as all the other accountabilities, we are accountable for managing a lot of public money. We have hundreds of millions pounds of cash at any moment in post offices and moving back and forward, you know, repatriating 80 million, 90 million a day now, because obviously the – you know, and we have to look after that money. It’s taxpayers money and we have to be alive to that.

Mr Beer: You continue:

“My preference would be to do the Deloitte work …”

I think that’s referring back to Deloitte work on systems reliance; is that right?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes, I think so.

Mr Beer: What did you understand Deloitte were doing? This is mid-2017.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, I got, at times, a little bit confused between the Deloitte work that never really happened on suspense accounts, the Deloitte work for, you know, the Chairman’s review, the Deloitte work for the GLO preparation and this Deloitte work. So I don’t think I was ever entirely clear what Deloitte was doing but, clearly, I understood that they were doing some work on the reliability of Horizon, as part of that package of concern, and I think there’s a document somewhere where they were doing work to see if they would be appropriate to be an expert witness.

Mr Beer: Okay. At least that was your understanding.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: You say your preference would be:

“… to do the Deloitte work and then seek a prosecution relying on Horizon in a single sympathetic case – admission, good evidence, not too sympathetic a postmaster, not part of the GLO … And then we will know.”

What did you mean, “And then we will know”?

Alisdair Cameron: Was the way the system was working capable of supporting a legal case if we were convinced that a postmaster had stolen money? So, if we were convinced of that and it was one of the cases where the evidence was relying on Horizon, would it stand up to legal scrutiny? And that was clearly important to all the future decisions. I didn’t know whether it would or not and that was the idea of saying, “Well, look, let’s just take a case, not a controversial case or political case, but let’s just take a case, a new case, where we really believe that someone has stolen and put it in a court, and see whether they agree or not”. Of course we never got anywhere near that.

Mr Beer: You say:

“In the meantime I have a specialist team setting up prosecutions that will never happen.”

What was that, the specialist team setting up prosecutions that weren’t going to happen?

Alisdair Cameron: So there was a smallish team which sometimes, I think, worked for me and sometimes for Jane, who were the people who would collect evidence under PACE and had done so in relation to earlier prosecutions and this was partly a sort of budget argument between myself and Jane, because I was sort of saying, well, you know, we need to keep cutting our costs. If we’re not going to be using these teams to do any prosecutions, then presumably we don’t need that level of skill –

Mr Beer: We can lay them off, as you say here?

Alisdair Cameron: Sorry?

Mr Beer: We can lay them off, as you say here?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, so if we didn’t need them and we could do investigations differently, then my question was “Do we need them?”

Mr Beer: To what extent were the proposals that you were making here connected to or separate from the product of the Chairman’s review conducted by Jonathan Swift?

Alisdair Cameron: As far as I was concerned, completely separate. I never saw the product of the Chairman’s review.

Mr Beer: You never saw it –

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Beer: – in your time at the Post Office?

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Beer: Did you know about it?

Alisdair Cameron: I knew it was happening but I never saw the output that I’d remember, or anything I’ve seen in documents. I don’t think I saw it.

Mr Beer: Can we look at your witness statement, please, at paragraph 37, please. If we read paragraph 37, you say:

“During 2016-2017, I understood that Tim …”

That’s Tim Parker.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: “– commissioned a Chairman’s Review at the request of Baroness Neville-Rolfe, to investigate matters related to postmaster complaints and the Mediation Scheme. I do not know how this work was reported, or how it was transitioned from the Chairman’s review into preparation for the [Group Litigation]. The work was legally privileged, and my recollection it was not shared, even with the Board.”

You were later included in work on suspense accounts:

“On reflection, the Board should have insisted on seeing and understanding this work as part of our preparation for the [Group Litigation].”

You say there the work was legally privileged. By mentioning that, are you giving that as a reason or a possible reason why it was not given or shared with you?

Alisdair Cameron: That was my understanding.

Mr Beer: Where did you get that understanding from?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I thought it was from Jane.

Mr Beer: So Jane MacLeod told you that the reason why Jonathan Swift’s review was not being shared with you was because of privilege?

Alisdair Cameron: That’s my recollection but, you know, when you hear from her, if she disagrees –

Mr Beer: We’re not going to hear from her.

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: She lives abroad –

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: – and won’t cooperate.

Alisdair Cameron: Wow.

Mr Beer: So that’s why I’m asking you –

Alisdair Cameron: Okay, so that is my recollection, was that Jane was holding this and, when you speak to Tim Parker, he can probably explain what he was told by Jane as to how this material had to be handled but my understanding was that this was legally privileged and couldn’t be shared, except with the Chairman, and that was it.

Mr Beer: Did that understanding that you got from Jane MacLeod extend to that being the reason that the Board didn’t get to see –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: – the report from Jonathan Swift too?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did the Board, to your knowledge, know about the existence of the Chairman’s review?

Alisdair Cameron: Oh, yes.

Mr Beer: Was there, to your knowledge, a summary or a synthesis of it given to the Board?

Alisdair Cameron: Not as far as I recall.

Mr Beer: So does it follow that the board knew of the existence of Jonathan Swift’s review but didn’t ask to see it, to your knowledge?

Alisdair Cameron: I think that’s right. I think I’d been told they weren’t going to see it and I don’t remember there being a particular argument or debate about that but my knowledge may be incomplete.

Mr Beer: Did you ever question the suggestion that it was a privileged document, ie had been prepared for the purposes of, in broad terms, litigation?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, I don’t –

Mr Beer: In contemplation of litigation?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t think I did, which, you know, was clearly wrong. Where I did push back was on things that were, you know, specific, like if there was work being done on the suspense accounts, I was saying “Look, I have to know that, as CFO”, but, more broadly, no, I didn’t.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

My last topic, then, please. The NFSP. Can we look, please, at paragraph 405 of your witness statement, please – I’m so sorry, it’s 411, on page 107, foot of the page. This is the chapter or section of your witness statement that deals with the NFSP and you say that:

“At the [General Executive] on 12 March and the board meeting on 18 June 2015 [the Post Office] approved a new agreement with the NFSP whereby [the Post Office] would provide most of the NFSP’s funding. The agreement also included a clause that the NFSP could not criticise [the Post Office] in public. It is clear to me that these facts undermined NFSP’s independence from [the Post Office] in its representation of [subpostmasters].”


Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: What was your understanding as to the extent to which the Post Office provided NFSP funding before March ‘15?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t remember, actually. So I think it had produced – provided some but nothing like as much as now was being proposed but I could be wrong. I don’t remember.

Mr Beer: What was your understanding before March 2015 as to whether any agreements between the Post Office and the NFSP included clauses forbidding the NFSP from criticising the Post Office in public?

Alisdair Cameron: I’m not sure until it came to the Group Executive that I’d thought about the NFSP much in my first couple of months but my memory is that those clauses were new.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at NFSP00001075. Can you see this is the Grant Framework Agreement between the Post Office and the Federation?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Beer: I think this is the agreement to which you’re referring, isn’t it?

Alisdair Cameron: I think so.

Mr Beer: Can we look, please, at page 10, and can you see under “General Conditions of the Grant”, at paragraphs – and we’re going to look at 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3. At 5.1:

“Both parties shall use reasonable endeavours to identify any issues which will or may create tension between the interests of [the Post Office] and those of Post Office Operators and use reasonable endeavours to resolve any such issues.

“For the avoidance of doubt, it is acknowledged that the NFSP may …

“1. Represent individual Post Office Operators;

“2. Discuss and comment on [the Post Office’s] initiatives, policies and strategies with its membership;

“3. Publicly comment on the same;

“4. State and explain its opinion on the same, even if not in support of [the Post Office]; and

“5. Lobby relevant stakeholders such as [Business, Innovation and Skills] and Royal Mail Group on behalf of its members.

“5.3. The NFSP shall not engage in any of the following activities or behaviours:

“1. Undertaking any public activity which may prevent [Post Office] from implementing any of its initiatives, policies or strategies;

“2. Undertaking or inducing a third party to undertake media or political campaigns against [the Post Office];

“3. Organising or inducing a third party to organise public demonstrations, protests or petitions against [the Post Office];

“4. Organising or inducing a third party to organise boycotts of [the Post Office’s] business.

“5. Funding or inducing any third party litigation against [the Post Office]; and

“6. Other activities or behaviours the effect of which may be materially detrimental to [the Post Office].”

The agreement does not, therefore, contain a clause – and this is the only relevant part of it I believe – that the NFSP should not criticise the Post Office in public, does it?

Alisdair Cameron: Reading it again, it doesn’t. I believed it did and I believed we sort of waived the clause in 2019, and I had always understood that that was the case, but I didn’t go back and read this. And I think there is a reference in one of the documents as to the clause we unpicked in 2019 and whether it’s 5.3 here, I’m –

Mr Beer: It is, there is indeed a variation –

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Beer: – prepared in 2019, which, at paragraph 2.1.8, proposes to delete some parts of clause 5 –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Beer: – including paragraph 5.3. Just for the record, the crossreference is NFSP00001082 but that variation in 2019 doesn’t affect the fact that, as originally drafted in 2015, there isn’t a clause which prohibits the NFSP from criticising the Post Office in public?

Alisdair Cameron: I thought there was. I apologise.

Mr Beer: Where did you get that understanding from?

Alisdair Cameron: I think it must have been from the conversations in 2015, I think there was a sense of, “Well, if we’re going to be paying all the money, they can’t, you know, call us out in public”, but, clearly, wiser heads prevailed and it was a more limited set of restrictions. I still think a lot of 5.3 is onerous and reducing it in 2019 was the right thing to do and that’s what we did.

Mr Beer: In fact, the deed of variation hasn’t been signed, I think, by the Post Office –

Alisdair Cameron: My goodness, I didn’t know that.

Mr Beer: – despite, as I understand it, the NFSP seeking to persuade the Post Office to do so.

Alisdair Cameron: I do find that peculiar because I think, as Interim CEO, I stood up and said that we would or had. So I’m astonished.

Mr Beer: Mr Cameron, thank you very much for answering my questions.

I believe there are some questions on behalf of one Core Participant, namely Mr Stein, on behalf of the Howe+Co group.

Oh, sorry, two Core Participants sir, five minutes on behalf of the HJA group.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m only hesitating because I’m wondering – it’s very nearly 2.40 – whether the questions are of such a length as we require some kind of break. If they’re literally ten minutes and five minutes, then, obviously, we’ll carry on but, otherwise, we might need to think about a break.

Mr Beer: Sir, I’m assured by nods and non-verbal communication of other types that they are 15 minutes at most so we will finish by 3.00 and, therefore, I don’t think we need a break.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine.

Questioned by Ms Page

Ms Page: Thank you, sir.

Just a very short number of questions about the Finance Team. In your witness statement – it’s at paragraph 191 – I don’t intend to call it up, you say this:

“My emerging view across my first year at POL was that the competence of the Finance Teams and the control environment were weaker than they should have been. There were people with operational capabilities undertaking financial roles.”

Am I right in thinking that’s Chesterfield that you’re talking about?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Ms Page: So, in effect, it’s Mr Rod Ismay’s team at Chesterfield?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Ms Page: When you started to worry about that, did you take it up with Mr Ismay?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know how much I did talk to Rod about it and how much I just got on with what I thought needed doing, which was to start to bring new people in and change the senior Finance Team and create a very formal and detailed financial controls framework that operated in a way I thought was appropriate from past experience, which took a couple of years to be fully embedded, and to progressively develop the Finance Team’s capability, which is vastly better than it was then.

Ms Page: What impact did that have on the extent to which you felt able to trust Mr Ismay?

Alisdair Cameron: I don’t know that it had much impact. I think I always assumed that Rod was, you know, telling me the truth, as he understood it at the time but – and I can’t remember when this happened, but I did feel that we needed stronger people. So very little of the senior Finance Team – I think any one member of the very senior Finance Team, which he wasn’t in at that point – survived more than a couple of years and, you know, we made progressive changes and Rod was one of those in 2017-ish, I’m not sure.

Ms Page: Thank you. Those are my questions.

The Witness: Thank you.

Questioned by Mr Stein

Mr Stein: Mr Cameron, as you may be aware I’m Mr Sam Stein. I represent a large number of postmasters/mistresses and other people that worked in branches.

Just on a matter you were dealing with, with Mr Beer, you were talking about the agreement with the NFSP and your thoughts that they had had an extra restriction on criticising the Post Office.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: The term that’s used which might be described as a catch-all is – I won’t bring up the document, I’ll just repeat it.

“The NFSP shall not engage in any of the following activities or behaviours.”

Then the sixth point for that is:

“Any other activities or behaviours the effect of which may be materially detrimental to [the Post Office].”

Do you think that that is where you drew the conclusion that it’s a bit wider than it seems?

Alisdair Cameron: It may have been. I don’t recall.

Mr Stein: In 2019, you encouraged, I think, in a speech, that the NFSP should be more active –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: – and, in fact, I think in your statement – again, I don’t need to take you to it – you think that they did become more active and that led to an increase in pay?

Alisdair Cameron: So I thought that the brilliant work the NFSP did was in the second quarter of 2019 because they did the survey of members and, whilst the corporate postmasters, or whatever it was, were going to throw the keys in wasn’t, I think, sort of literally true, I think it was a really impressive signal of intent and I thought they lobbied to get the select committee very effectively and really ramped it up.

I actually felt then when they turned up at the Select Committee they slightly lost their nerve and didn’t push the point as hard as they might have done. And I’ve always said the same things to the NFSP and they get irritated with me for doing so, which is that if this was working right, postmasters would voluntarily pay the subs to fund the NFSP because they would see value in it and then they wouldn’t need to be funded by Post Office Limited. They were only funded by Post Office Limited because postmasters won’t fund it. And, if postmasters funded it because they really felt they were standing up for them, then that would be better.

Mr Stein: Because they’d feel invested in the organisation –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: – and part of it?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, and postmasters would be comfortable that the NFSP was really standing up for them.

Mr Stein: Now, help us, going back now to 2015, why did the Post Office want to – I’m going to use the word “shackle” – why did the Post Office want to shackle the NFSP in this way? Now, you’ve explained why Post Office needed to pay –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: – but you’ve not explained why it is that you think there was this need to mute them at that time?

Alisdair Cameron: Um, I don’t really remember but I think there was a sense of “Well, if we’re paying for it, you know, they can’t just walk out and criticise us”, and, you know, it may even have been me that said that, I can’t remember, but I think it was that sense of “Well, if we’re paying for everything, you know”, and I have a – I mean, lots of people have different views on what’s independence but my view was very firmly sort of trained in from an external audit relationship, where I’d spent a lot of my career, and it’s really, really clear that, if you’re getting a lot of your income from one source, you’re not independent of that source.

It’s like, oh, I mean, I’m independent of the Post Office; well, of course I’m not because they pay my salary. And that was my sense of it.

Mr Stein: Obviously, this is the same time, 2015, whereby there’s the – well, the issues have exploded all over the Post Office already –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: – but they are continuing?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: All right. Now, I’m going to turn to a different matter and I’m going to drawing on your expertise and training as an accountant, and then your work in the Post Office. All right?

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Stein: Okay. Now, stop me when I go wrong with this because you may well understand this better than I do. First of all, the starting point is, is that the Horizon system is meant to be a double entry bookkeeping system, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Overall?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: All right, so what should happen is that money coming in should be accounted for against an item. So I’m going to use stamps as my example, all right?

Alisdair Cameron: Okay.

Mr Stein: So money coming in to a branch for 20 stamps, that should be capable of being accounted within the system, presumably using a date mark and some reference point to it being stamps; is that fair?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah, I think the transaction should be recorded, yes.

Mr Stein: Transactions should have an identification –

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: – otherwise you don’t know what on earth the money is for?

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah.

Mr Stein: Again, that’s right. All right. Now, we know from the evidence of subpostmasters and mistresses and their managers and their assistants that what would happen when trying to balance accounts on occasions would be that Horizon would say there’s a shortfall –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: – but it would not be referenced to a particular item like stamps or anything else. It would just say there is £5,000 that should be here and then subpostmasters, their helpers, their family members, would then try and find, wherever they could – it would take hours and hours, evening after evening, they were trying to find out what this £5,000 represented.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: You’ve heard that evidence?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Right. So help us a bit more with this. When the Post Office, through the Horizon system, theoretically identified a shortfall – I’m using £5,000 as an example – of £5,000 for a branch, that wasn’t referenced by the Post Office to a particular transaction. That’s not what the subpostmasters say. They don’t say they were told “Look, it’s the stamps” or something else, they were just told “It’s 5 grand”.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Help us try and understand how that could occur, how Post Office would just simply say it’s £5,000, and not reference to any particular transaction with identification?

Alisdair Cameron: Because I think what you had was a cash shortfall. So what the Post Office view was, you know, at this point, you said you had this much cash, last time you did a cash declaration or last time it was counted or whatever it was, and these are the transactions flowing in and out. But, you know, if this was a few days, that would be easy. If it was 18 months, you were getting downloads from Fujitsu, there were hundreds and hundreds of transactions. But if you follow through all those transactions, you should now have £20,000 in cash left, and we’ve counted it, and there’s 15.

Mr Stein: Yes, so by it being identified in that way as a cash shortfall, from the subpostmaster’s point of view, it wasn’t identified as being – again, I’ll go back to my stamps – it wasn’t identified as being £5,000 out of the stamps’, you know –

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Stein: – transaction till –

Alisdair Cameron: No, exactly.

Mr Stein: – from their point of view?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: It didn’t have an ID.

Alisdair Cameron: Or from Post Office’s point of view. So they didn’t – Post Office wouldn’t have known what had gone wrong, if you like, in order to make up that shortfall. The whole point was Post Office didn’t know what had happened.

Mr Stein: Yes. Okay. So let’s just take this one step further. Now, the subpostmaster had been confronted with this shortfall. We know that the systems within and discussed in the judgments of Mr Justice Fraser were that the subpostmasters were under pressure, putting it as neutrally as I can, to pay up for shortfalls.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Right. You’ve gone through, in your evidence with Mr Beer earlier today, about how you think that started because it was a way of “We didn’t know what happened in the branches”?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: All right, so let’s stay with my example: shortfall, 5 grand, subpostmasters trying to work out what on other is going on, it’s not identified to a transaction. Okay. So next step is, subpostmaster is under pressure to pay the £5,000 –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: – shortfall, and we’ve heard examples of people selling pensions and raiding piggy banks, and things, dreadful things?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: They pay the money in to balance that shortfall, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Now, going back to when suspense accounts occurred, that would be what was occurring, yes?

Alisdair Cameron: Um –

Mr Stein: So money would be disputed by putting it into suspense and then eventually paid off.

Alisdair Cameron: No, I think – well, I think this is where we have to be careful of terminology and I’m very careful on this in 2015. So, in 2015, the suspense accounts were accounting balance sheet accounts in which unresolved transactions were held and these were primarily customer issues. So they weren’t about the postmasters.

Mr Stein: Okay, that’s 2015?

Alisdair Cameron: So that’s 2015. I do say in one of the emails that’s in my evidence pack that my understanding in 2015, what I’d been told, is that local branch accounts had been called suspense accounts 10 years earlier and I specifically ask “Are we sure, with the Second Sight investigation, that they want to talk about suspense accounts today not the branch accounts?”, and they said yes or I was told they said yes.

Mr Stein: All right, let’s go back to my example, all right? 5 grand, postmaster pays it in. Now, when the postmaster pays in the £5,000, got through however, loan shark, or whatever: they’re paying it in.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: That then is being paid into the Post Office –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: – and there’s no transaction that’s identified for it. They are simply paying off the shortfall; do you agree?

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Right. So when that money is being paid in, identified shortfall, Horizon may be making it up, paid off by subpostmaster. Now, that doesn’t go back to any transaction, any purchase, anything that is bought or paid for at the branch at all. Where is that accounted for within the accounts? Do you understand what the problem is?

Alisdair Cameron: Um –

Mr Stein: My transaction –

Alisdair Cameron: – I’m happy to try to explain.

Mr Stein: Yes.

Alisdair Cameron: So when a shortfall is identified, there is a potential loss to the Post Office in the sense that it views that money as should be there, the system says it should be there and it’s not there, so there’s a debit and, at first, that debit was held as an amount owed by the postmaster. So we’re saying, until proved otherwise, this is the postmaster’s accountability and they owe us the money, was the way it was accounted for.

And then after 60 days, so quite a short space of time, if the postmaster hadn’t paid that amount back, what Post Office considered a debt, then it was written off to the profit and loss account. So it was a loss for Post Office, compared to what it believed the position was at that point, and then it –

Mr Stein: So if they did pay it though?

Alisdair Cameron: If they did pay it, then there wasn’t a loss to Post Office because the money was restored to where the system said it should have been.

Mr Stein: But it was never referred, ever in this situation that we’re describing, to an actual transaction?

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Stein: It was never referred to stamps or any other transaction that might take place?

Alisdair Cameron: Unless, you know, we’d found a specific explanation –

Mr Stein: Right.

Alisdair Cameron: – we didn’t know what had caused it.

Mr Stein: Right. So going back to my example, where you’ve got this £5,000 being identified, theoretical £5,000 by the Horizon system, subpostmaster paying it in.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Was there, at that stage, then someone designated to go find out what on earth this was meant to represent? Go find out what on earth this transaction was meant to have been all about?

Alisdair Cameron: So I think at times people did try but I don’t think they tried hard enough. I mean, let’s be clear and that’s part of what I was talking about in 2020, because it was just too convenient. You know, that the theory was only the postmaster knows what’s happened, therefore until proved otherwise, they owe us the money, and that will restore the system to where it was. And so I don’t think there was enough investigation on that and, indeed, I think, you know, Post Office General Counsel has said that no investigations before, you know, a certain date, would pass, you know, Mr Justice Fraser’s test of evidence to support.

Mr Stein: The other consequence of this, I think you’ll agree, Mr Cameron, is that, if you’re not looking into things that relate to the shortfall, subpostmaster stumping up the cash, getting it from wherever and trying to identify where on earth this came from, then that’s masking, again, potential problems in the Horizon system because nobody is looking into it properly?

Alisdair Cameron: It might be.

Mr Stein: Yeah, okay. Now, let’s go back, then, a bit further. Now, the branch suspense accounts. Now, these were held locally. So branch suspense accounts were where shortfall identified, there was an ability that was removed around 2006 to put monies into suspense, as a result of the IMPACT Programme; were you aware of that?

Alisdair Cameron: I think I’ve heard it. I don’t understand the detail of it because it was a long time before I joined.

Mr Stein: It may be a long time ago, Mr Cameron, but you have said in your evidence that you thought there were limited investigations and questions in relation to some matters and one of those was suspense accounts. You’ve also said, later on in your evidence, that when suspense account questions came up, you decided to look into this.

Alisdair Cameron: So –

Mr Stein: Why didn’t you go back and try to understand what on earth had happened in those earlier days?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, happy to answer that. So in terms of what I think of suspense accounts, the proper balance sheets suspense accounts that I referred to and which we discussed with the Second Sight in 2015, my understanding of the immediate task was to see if there was evidence of a problem in suspense accounts, based on Second Sight’s hypothesis, and I’m really clear in the emails that I didn’t think there was.

When Deloitte were asked to do work by the Legal Team, which included work on suspense accounts, I’m really clear in emails that I didn’t think there was a problem but, if they were going to do the work, then they should do a proper job and go into not just the formal suspense accounts but all the client creditor accounts that preceded them, which, again, we had looked at a couple of the big ones and there hadn’t been any evidence of a problem. But I thought “Well, if you’re going to do this, do a proper job, and then we can just settle everyone’s mind at rest”.

In the meantime, we were doing a huge amount of work on the Financial Controls Framework and so there were all sorts of investigations, checks, reconciliations, proof going on, and none of it suggested that there was a problem in suspense accounts.

And then later, at Lord Arbuthnot’s request to Nick, we got KPMG – and I very deliberately didn’t get involved in it, I just let it flow – to do another investigation into suspense accounts in 2020, which is in my witness statement, and Post Office have very kindly allowed us to put the papers reporting that, and we did.

In the summer of 2020 they did an investigation into the current operation of suspense accounts and then, in November 2020, they had done a backward-looking one. And what they said is, “There is no evidence of a problem in suspense accounts. There is not a problem in suspense accounts because, if what Second Sight were worried about was happening, then one of two things must follow: either there’s a huge build-up of credits in the suspense accounts, growing over time, or they were being released to the P&L, and they weren’t”. And we kept seeing this, and KPMG went through it with great care and it wasn’t happening.

Mr Stein: Okay. So you’ve mentioned that you were aware of the IMPACT Programme and your words were “I think I’ve heard of it”. All right. Were you aware the IMPACT Programme had an impact on –

Alisdair Cameron: No, I don’t –

Mr Stein: – on suspense accounts? Was that something you ever came across and looked into?

Alisdair Cameron: No.

Mr Stein: Okay. A couple of last questions. I’m very conscious of the time; we’re getting close to the 3.00 cut-off, okay? All right.

Help us understand a bit more to try to identify where the money went, all right. So let’s go back to the branch suspense accounts, the ones that you don’t know much about, that were abolished by the IMPACT Programme. How are we going to find out where that money went, from subpostmasters stumping up the cash from their family and friends, wherever they got it from, where that money went when the Horizon system was at least, they believe, on many occasions, at fault for it? Where did that money go? How do we find that out, Mr Cameron?

Alisdair Cameron: I genuinely don’t know. I was always asked questions by Second Sight and others about the operation at the time at which I was in the business.

Mr Stein: Well, who should we ask, Mr Cameron?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I think, I’d assumed – and this may have been false – that the reason no one was asking to go back to 2005 or 2007 was because there just wasn’t the data to do it because, otherwise, I mean, I’d have thought they would have done. So I don’t know if there is information to do that –

Mr Stein: Who do we ask, Mr Cameron? I’m aware, obviously, you’re on sick leave. But who should we ask, because I don’t think we can ask you to do this? Who should be able to give us that information?

Alisdair Cameron: Well, I think, you know, ask Nick Read. He’s the CEO. I mean, I’m not saying he is the one who is going to do the work but he’s the one that can marshal the resources and make it a priority and ascertain if it is possible, at this time of day, to go back as far as 2005.

Mr Stein: To get the records that would answer the questions for later suspense accounts – in other words, money being paid in the way we have discussed, to get those records going forward, around the time that you were looking at this, and the way that you’ve described, who do we go to for those?

Alisdair Cameron: Also Nick.

Mr Stein: Okay. You understand the concern –

Alisdair Cameron: Of course.

Mr Stein: – that this is people’s individual money –

Alisdair Cameron: Of course.

Mr Stein: – that they believe has literally been taken by the Post Office –

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: – and put into profit. Do you understand the problem?

Alisdair Cameron: I absolutely understand the problem. I’ve always been open to look at it. We’ve done a huge amount of controls work over the years. I think – and this is just a personal opinion – that the suspense accounts in terms of the formal client creditor and suspense accounts in the balance sheet are a red herring on this.

I think we’ve done a lot of work over the years and KPMG came in and checked it again in 2020, and they were pleased with the controls over it, they were pleased with the checks and no one has found – you know, if we were piling credits into suspense accounts, then either you could see them there or you could see them being released into the P&L account, and that has not happened. And so –

Mr Stein: Did you see the records?

Alisdair Cameron: – it’s not for me to decide what Post Office –

Mr Stein: Did you see the records for this, Mr Cameron?

Alisdair Cameron: Which records?

Mr Stein: The records we’ve just been talking about?

Alisdair Cameron: The KPMG work? Yes, of course.

Mr Stein: So you went through them yourself?

Alisdair Cameron: I read the reports and the underlying reports. I didn’t go through individual transactions.

Mr Stein: Okay, one last thing.

Alisdair Cameron: Yeah?

Mr Stein: Angela van den Bogerd mentioned the fact that she had a bonus the same year that she was shown by the High Court Judge, Mr Justice Fraser, as being someone that was less than truthful.

Alisdair Cameron: Yes.

Mr Stein: Is not being truthful to a High Court, is that not on the risk questions that relate to bonuses? Is it just something that the Post Office doesn’t pick up?

Alisdair Cameron: I think the mindset in 2019 – and you see that through the recusal and the appeals – was a belief that Mr Justice Fraser wasn’t treating Post Office witnesses and other witnesses fairly and on the same basis and so I think there was a feeling that that hadn’t been a reasonable judgment. And I think that was the reason why no one was taking it at face value, however, you know, wrong that seems now.

Mr Stein: Thank you, Mr Cameron.

The Witness: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Is that it, Mr Beer?

Mr Beer: Sir, it is.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right.

Well, Mr Cameron, I’m very grateful to you for your very detailed witness statement, and for answering many questions today.

Thank you very much for your participation in the Inquiry.

The Witness: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: So we’ll resume on Tuesday with Ms Lyons, yes?

Mr Beer: That’s it. Alwen Lyons, 9.45 on Tuesday, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. Thank you very much.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

(3.01 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 9.45 am on Tuesday, 21 May 2024)