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PO Inquiry Phase 5/6 Week 1 and 2: What would Truman think?

Updated: Apr 21

Harry Truman, who served as US President from 1945 to 1953, famously had a sign on his desk that said “The buck stops here”.

The long-running UK Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry into prosecutions of innocent subpostmasters (franchisees) that arose from faulty retail software generating fictitious shortfalls, and various cover-ups of unsafe prosecutions, has concluded its second week (of approximately 15 weeks) of Phases 5 and 6.  Next week it’s likely to get uglier.

The witnesses and their job titles at the relevant time were:

Tue 9 April: ALAN BATES, former subpostmaster and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance

Wed 10 April: The Rt. Hon. LORD ARBUTHNOT of Edrom, Member of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board; The Rt. Hon. SIR ANTHONY COOPER, former Lord Justice of Appeal

Thu 11 April: DAVID SMITH, former managing Director of Post Office Ltd; SIR MICHAEL HODGKINSON, former Chair of Post Office Ltd

Fri 12 April: ALAN COOK, former Managing Director of Post Office Ltd; ADAM CROZIER, former CEO of Royal Mail Group

Tue 16 April: DAVID MILLER, former COO of Post Office Ltd and DAVID MILLS, former CEO of Post Office Ltd

Wed 17 April: JON LONGMAN, former Post Office Investigator; ALLAN LEIGHTON, former chair of Royal Mail Holdings plc

Thu 18 and Fri 19 April: RODRIC WILLIAMS, current Head of Legal (Dispute Resolution & Brand)

A common theme from the April 11 to 17 period was a claimed lack of knowledge of the way in which the investigations and subsequent prosecutions were being conducted, the disclosure violations within those prosecutions, and the way reports of problems with the Horizon retail/POS system not only by subpostmasters but also by IT experts and forensic accountants, were handled.   

For example, Paula Vennells, the then Chief Executive of Post Office Limited, was told in 2013 that staff at Fujitsu’s Bracknell office had remote access to branch accounts, and had been changing figures, usually overnight, in a misconceived effort to “correct” reported discrepancies at individual Post Office branches.   And evidence has emerged that in December 2010, former People Services Director Angela van den Bogerd was told about the remote access. 

Despite this knowledge, prosecutions of subpostmasters continued until 2015 as executives scrambled to protect Post Office’s reputation in relation to past prosecutions, exposing themselves to criminal liability in the process. 

Another flagrant example was a trumped-up £44,000 shortfall at a branch operated by the wife of a potential whistleblower, Mike Rudkin, “discovered” the day after his 19 August 2008 visit to Fujitsu’s Bracknell site.

It goes without saying that legally represented witnesses will have been coached and advised to avoid self-incrimination. However, voluminous files including emails and minutes of meetings indicating who knew what and when they knew it, are being submitted to the public Inquiry and in some cases are contradicting witnesses’ claims of ignorance.   It is simply implausible that so many executives knew so little.

That brings us to Harry Truman with whom the buck stopped during his two terms as President of the United States of America, as the sign on his desk indicated.  If just one of Messrs. Crozier, Smith, Cook, Mills, Miller or Angela van den Bogerd or Paula Vennells had anywhere near a similar mindset around accountability during their time at Post Office Limited, there still would have been a scandal in relation to earlier prosecutions, but it would have been less catastrophic and out of the news five to ten years ago.

But they didn’t.

Evidence of malpractice by lawyers that emerges over the coming weeks will be in a separate article.   In the meantime the fact that the lawyer who gave evidence on April 18 and 19 is from the same country as Leighton Associates has not escaped our attention.  That performance is an example of why we do what we do.

Tristam Price, Leighton Associates.

"Oh well, thank you very much New Zealand, sending your rubbish overseas like this..." Watch this hilarious 8 minute YouTube video: Post Office Horizon Inquiry INTRO of Rodric Williams PLUS HOW TO COMPLAIN FOR FREE - YouTube

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