Awarding the Truth?

In my last blog post I questioned whether or not Paula Vennells was really seeking the truth and as a conversation starter I gave her the benefit of doubt.  Since then I have been privy to some more ‘inside knowledge’ of not only what is about to be made public in the forthcoming trial in March but also what she must surely be aware of.   This places extreme doubt on the connotations I drew from my previous piece that she has been misled for some time by her subordinates.

There can be only two conclusions now to be drawn.  Either she is complicit in the deceit or is downright incompetent.  If she was complicit in the deceit then her acceptance of the CBE leaves many more questions to be answered because she surely knows that she will be ‘found out’ in due course.  If there is one man I would bet my life on at the moment to get to the real truth behind all of this it is Justice Fraser and surely she realises this.  But then again maybe she is not only deceitful but incompetent at the same time.

There are no excuses.  Ignorance of what has transpired proves incompetence and complicity proves criminal behaviour.  A reward for her behaviour is astounding but with the acknowledgement that those that offered it have no insight – yet – of what has transpired within the post office.  Perhaps the reward is some token gesture for her having returned the Post Office to profit after all these years?  Well close down the network and stick three billion in a savings account and you come up with a far greater return on your investment than she has achieved.   But the network has survived you say?  No it has not.  Cavender QC for Post Office Ltd has proved beyond all doubt that only incompetent and commercially naive business folk would have bought a Post Office in the last few years and only the same suitably qualified idiots would buy one in the future.  The brand has gone as has the quality of new entrants in to the network.  A brand that was once worth billions is now worthless.  Paula Vennels contribution to the demise of the High St is the only thing worthy of a reward.

But let me get back to ignorance for a bit.  Paula Vennels is not ignorant.  She just refuses to listen to those who have been trying to tell her the truth.  I am an atheist and I have no doubt that she would not enter into any discussion or argument if I put forward my notion that there is no God.   Neither of us could prove our points with evidence and we would dismiss each other’s point of view out of hand.  I accept that.

But I have personally advised her, with stunning evidence, that her version of the truth is at odds with reality.  She has even encouraged me to provide more evidence so not entirely discounting my arguments immediately yet in the long term reverts to the party line of there not being any faults in her company.  Surely some doubt has arisen over the years yet she has made no attempt to personally investigate and find the truth for herself which makes me question how she became so religious.  Did she just believe what she was told?  And now as a reverend she is telling others what to believe despite not being able to provide evidence to support her opinion.

The conundrum of my last post though, whether or not Paula was actually seeking the truth, is superceded by the one question that will answer nearly all our concerns, why were the very people who were employed by POL to seek out the truth, Second Sight, sacked when their job was only half done and the truth that they revealed was becoming more and more unpleasant?  Paula Vennells was surely involved in that decision to fire them.  If the truth hurts so much why on earth has Paula Vennells accepted an award that will only have to be returned in disgrace?

 

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Post Office Trial. What is the truth?

It is fair to say I think that the coverage of this trial in the mainstream press as well as social media has been a bit one sided.   Nick Wallis’s live coverage of the trial via a twitter feed plus the fact that the evidential documents he has obtained have been published for all to see, has allowed commentators like myself to establish and communicate opinions that are not entirely unbiased.  I make no bones about the fact that while I want the Post Office network to eventually flourish, that has to be under new management and a new ethos regarding the relationship between the company and the subpostmaster community.  I believe the outcome of this trial will be a catalyst for that change and I am hopeful of a just verdict in favour of the claimants.

Nick Wallis has endeavoured to maintain a neutral reporting stance and in that regard has repeatedly (I am led to believe) encouraged both Post Office Ltd (POL) and the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) who are broadly supportive of POL’s case in this trial, to respond with comments that he can publish alongside the commentary of others.   Both parties have issued short statements to the effect that they cannot comment while the trial is ongoing but stand by their position with regard to the claims made by the Appellants.

By restricting themselves in this way I believe that POL and the NFSP are doing themselves an injustice because in some instances the documents that have been published can be misconstrued and harm can be done to their side of the argument if these, perhaps misinterpreted, documents and/or published comments on them are not publicly refuted.

So in the interests of fair play can I for once take a contrarian opinion to my more well known stance of criticising the role Paula Vennells (CEO of POL) has played in all of this and provide what I consider a better interpretation of what has become a rather infamous email chain that has been published as evidence for the claimants.  https://www.scribd.com/document/393804483/Bates-v-Post-Office-Paula-Vennells-email-chain

This is the sequence of emails originating from an internal POL email Ms Vennells sent to Mark Davies (then head of marketing) and Lesley Sewell (then chief information officer) where she asked them for assistance with possible replies to potential questions that were likely to come up in a forthcoming Government Select Committee hearing https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-innovation-and-skills/news/oral-ev-post-office-mediation-01/

There appears to me, on social media at least, an interpretation of misdemeanour on Ms Vennells’ part in looking for an answer to be provided to her that would enable her to deflect questions from the Select Committee if asked whether or not POL could access Horizon remotely (I think it safe to assume that she was referring, in her email, to accusations made public that POL could remotely interfere with branch accounts and which POL had repeatedly denied).

I don’t think that interpretation is correct.  If anything I take some encouragement from what Ms Vennells actually asked because it serves to explain in a small way perhaps, her attitude to the persistent claims made by subpostmasters that there is definitely a problem with Horizon.

Ms Vennells is the CEO of POL.  She cannot be expected to delve into the minutiae of every complaint that is received by POL and in particular complaints levelled against such a sophisticated system such as Horizon.   She has to be reliant on her subordinates to establish the circumstances and the merits of the complaints and report back to her the significance of their findings.  Having said that, not only must she take ultimate responsibility should her support staff be unable to accurately determine the true circumstances, she is totally responsible for having employed them in to their positions in the first place.

Complaints about Horizon are not new.  Since it was first introduced in 2000 there are ongoing instances of problems with both the hardware and software components of the system.   Ms Vennells must have been aware from an early stage in her career at POL that this was a very important issue and any evidence to suggest Horizon is unreliable would cause an existential threat to the business model that POL currently and historically work under where much of the financial transaction risk is passed to the subpostmaster network.  Ms Vennells’ opinion on the reliability of the system must be significantly influential then on her determination to fight these allegations in court.  I think it is fair to say that she accepts what has been told to her as being the truth by her management colleagues.

My point then, about this chain of emails, starts with her opening question:

1) “Is it possible to access the system remotely? We are told it is”  (the possible question from the select committee)

And Ms Vennells then asks:  “What is the true answer?”

My interpretation of the email chain stops here.  She is asking her colleagues for the truth. Nothing more and nothing less.   What her colleagues did after that in reply is clearly open to interpretation but I leave that for others to do and speculate on.  However, considering the question she has put, surely there is some doubt now in her reliance on what has been told to her in the past.

Ms Vennells joined POL in a senior position, in 2007.  This email chain is from 2015 when she is now the CEO and she is now (8 years later) asking for the truth to be told.  I am sure if the answer she received had not been the one she was expecting she would have been angry, but I am just as certain she would have told the Select Committee the answer she received regardless of any potential personal humiliation she would have encountered.

For me, I think this question of hers “What is the true answer?” is crucial in understanding what has gone wrong inside POL.  The perception of truth is based on who you ask what the truth is.  As Socrates pointed out:

I went to the artisans, for I was conscious that I knew nothing at all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things of which I was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought they knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom

Perhaps Ms Vennells, albeit as long ago as 2015, is beginning to realize that while her ‘Artisans’ are supplying her with what they believe to be the truth, the actual truth belongs to the claimants and that she has been misled, not deliberately perhaps, but misled all the same for some considerable time.

 

Does the truth hurt?

When Seema Misra stood in the dock at the Crown Court in Guildford on Monday 11th October 2010, she was expecting justice to be seen, to be heard and to be done, and when that happened she would be found not guilty of theft.   Eleven days later, when the jury returned to deliver their verdict of Guilty, albeit after lengthy deliberations, it was abundantly clear to everyone surely other than the Jury that justice had not been served.   In a criminal case, it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt, that Seema had stolen the amount that was missing.   No evidence was put to the court that proved anything other than a shortage in the accounts of West Byfleet Post Office existed.

Even the Judge in his summing up commented on the fact that despite investigations, with freely provided access to her assets by Seema, there was no evidence of any inexplicable expenditure.  No evidence was provided to support the concept put forward by Post Office Ltd that the missing amount was physical cash.   Yes, it could be said, her defence was extremely weak, but she clearly had no idea where the missing amount was either.  If she could have proven that then she would have had no case to answer.

It is possible, even probable, that the amount that went missing was down to inexperience in running a Post Office and that under the terms of her contract she was liable to pay Post Office the amount of the discrepancy, but the point is that that is a DEBT not THEFT.  The discrepancy could also have been the result of an error in Horizon and the prosecution made a very distinct point to the jury which I am certain eliminated that possibility from their thinking.  They said that if there had been an error in Horizon Ms Misra would have certainly noticed it.   Totally and utterly absurd.   Under what circumstances could Post Office Ltd possibly bring a prosecution for a criminal offence against a subpostmaster whose defence questioned the efficacy of the computer system they were forced to use, when they knew perfectly well that errors had existed in the system from day one of its rollout that the majority of subpostmasters had failed to notice?

And that is the real question this trial needs to answer.

I have really struggled with coming up with possible reasons why this has happened, until recently.

A comment was made about one of the key witnesses in Seema’s trial.  A person who had met him, suggested he found him to be likeable and a man of great integrity.  No possibility then that this witness had deliberately set out to deceive the court, but on the other hand he could only answer the questions that were put to him.  I would add to that a personal opinion, that over the years I have had dealings with Post Office Ltd staff from top to bottom, and with only one exception (mentioned in a previous blog post) I have found them to be really nice people who clearly share the same love of the Post Office network that I do.

I would say that the majority of Post Office Ltd employees don’t just tow the party line; they believe the party line to be true.  I was there in that position too.  I really believed that there were no problems with Horizon and if and when errors occurred POL would fix them and make sure I didn’t lose out too.   The trouble with that scenario is that there is no-one, it seems, within Post Office Ltd that questions the now quite obvious problems with what they perceive to be the truth.

That premise though leads to a conundrum that I have only just remembered exists (I am a bit slow on the uptake sometimes) and it came to me after I inadvertently tweeted about it yesterday.  If everybody in POL, from Tim Parker down, really believes in the fallacy that Horizon and POL are perfect in every way, and 500+ claimants are guilty as sin then:

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR STOPPING THE SECOND SIGHT INVESTIGATION AND WHY DID THEY DO SO?

IN LIGHT OF EVIDENCE SUBMITTED TO COURT WHY HAVE SECOND SIGHT NOT BEEN ASKED TO CONTINUE WHERE THEY LEFT OFF?

Does the truth hurt?

Answers on a postcard for those questions, hopefully the Judge will wonder this too, but I am not sure if or how the answers could be revealed in court.  Perhaps now would be a very prudent time for at least one of these ‘really nice people’ to start questioning the truth as they perceive it and shed a little light on what is actually happening in the murky waters surrounding Horizon and the desperately  unfair treatment dished out to Subpostmasters.