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9/9/13: Nine lawyers scrum down

The long-running (UK) Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry heard that on 9 September 2013, nine lawyers met to discuss the reliability of evidence used to prosecute subpostmasters for theft or false accounting.  The meeting was minuted.

The Post Office Scandal is considered to be the worst miscarriage of justice in Britain’s history.  From 1999 to 2014, nearly 1,000 subpostmasters (Post Office franchisees) were prosecuted for accounting shortfalls in their branches that were actually created by faulty POS/retail software that was supplied by Fujitsu.  Bugs, errors and defects had been covered up, as were key managers’ knowledge of Post Office Ltd’s (POL) failure to disclose these bugs, errors and defects to the subpostmasters and their lawyers as required by law.  That lack of disclosure caused hundreds of false convictions.  While some of those convictions have since been overturned, only a small amount of compensation has been paid to those wrongly convicted.

Emails provided to the Inquiry, chaired Sir Wyn Williams, indicated that in the second half of 2010 there was discussion about Fujitsu’s ability to remotely access Post Office branch accounts and make changes, ostensibly to correct errors (but in some cases made the errors worse).    

Two such prosecutions were considered by POL to be “test cases” where POL sought to make an example of its targets.

“Midnight snow” gloat

The first, Lee Castleton (Bridlington), was pursued for an accounting shortfall of £26,000 which he had refused to pay, claiming that the shortfall had been caused by the faulty Horizon software.  Castleton counter-claimed for a breach of his contract with POL.  In 2007, POL, represented by solicitor Stephen Dilley, succeeded in both the claim and cross claim, and also a costs claim of more than £300,000 which led to Castleton’s bankruptcy.  In 2023 Dilley was brought before the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry and confirmed that Castleton was a subpostmaster POL had wanted to make an example of, in order to defend the software.

The second, Seema Misra (West Byfleet) was pursued criminally.  An accounting shortfall of over £70,000 was indicated by the Horizon software.  Misra’s trial began in October 2010.  A Fujitsu IT engineer, Gareth Jenkins, gave evidence.  Jenkins is now being investigated for perjury and is due to appear at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry in July.  A few days before Misra’s trial started, lawyers Juliet McFarlane, Jarnail Singh and Rob Wilson became aware of defects in the Horizon software that were highly relevant to the case, but they failed to disclose this to Misra’s defence team.  Misra was falsely convicted and sent to jail while two months pregnant with her second child.  A grotesque relic of that period was Singh’s celebratory “midnight snow” email suggesting that subpostmasters would now be deterred from “jumping on the Horizon-bashing bandwagon”.  Misra was released after “serving” 4.5 months and gave birth while wearing an electronic tag.

CK Sift Review

During 2013 the problems with Horizon were being discussed in terms of prosecutions that were suspected to be unsafe because of their overreliance on Horizon data.  A mediation scheme was set up, ostensibly to compensate subpostmasters who had been pursued civilly and criminally for accounting shortfalls - however that mediation scheme, suggested by the now disgraced CEO Paula Vennells, was quietly abandoned.  There was also a revelation that, contrary to POL’s assertion that remote access to branch accounts was impossible, Fujitsu had been accessing branch accounts at POL’s behest and had been deleting transactions and inserting new ones in order to correct faults, with mixed results.

In other words, in mid-to late 2013, Horizon issues were coming to a head.

On 9 September 2013, nine lawyers met.  They were:

  • Brian Altman QC (now KC)

  • Susan Crichton, Jarnail Singh, Rodric Williams (POL)

  • Harry Bowyer, Simon Clarke, Martin Smith (Cartright King)

  • Gavin Matthews, Andy Parsons (Bond Dickinson)

It is a basic legal requirement for a prosecuting authority to disclose evidence to the defence that might undermine its position – failure to do so could lead to charges of perverting the course of justice.  This disclosure rule also applies to past convictions where potentially exonerating evidence later emerges.  The lawyers agreed that prosecutions brought from 2010 onwards would be reviewed.  This was referred to as the “CK Sift Review”.  Pre-2010 prosecutions would be considered for review “on a case by case basis”, but only if convicted subpostmasters “crawled out of the woodwork”.


While Seema Misra was convicted in October 2010 (in reliance of what the lawyers then knew was perjured evidence from Gareth Jenkins), the prosecution had been initiated in 2009 and therefore fell outside the CK Sift Review criteria.  Given that the Misra case was a potentially explosive situation, the agreement of the cut-off date is now seen for what it was - a cynical attempt to exclude it, to avoid opening the floodgates for other eligible claimants.  This caused a known false conviction to stand until it was overturned in 2021.


On 9 September 2013 nine lawyers scrummed down, and the evidence suggests that collectively, they may have conspired to pervert the course of justice (some more than others).

It didn’t work, and most of them have already been brought before the Inquiry where their evidence has been livestreamed with a three-minute delay, and analysed extensively by media, the public, and more than likely the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Metropolitan Police.


Tristam Price, Leighton Associates

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And now we learn that one senior POL lawyer, having previously declined to answer questions from reporters on the grounds that she was waiting to give her answers to the Inquiry, has done a bunk to NZ, telling the Inquiry that she is no longer ready to be cross-examined by the Inquiry's lawyers. Can the long arm of the law reach out to NZ to drag her back in the likely event of there being criminal trials?

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