When Nick Read took over the reins at the Post Office this week as the new CEO one of his first tasks must surely have been to enquire about the status of the ongoing litigation (www.postofficetrial.com)
As CEO he will have to sanction the ever increasing cost of defending Post Office Ltd against the claims of Alan Bates & Co and to do that he must ensure, in his own mind, that such expenditure is justified. To do that he will have to make himself conversant with the details exposed in court so far in the two completed trials as well as the judgements already handed down which have all been in the claimants favour and costs awarded against Post Office Ltd. Asking his legal team who are being paid millions of pounds for their involvement in this case for a quick summary might not paint the perfect picture.
One overriding consideration must be the fact that the version of truth that the Post Office has put forward in defence so far has been found to be inconsistent with the events that took place that led to this litigation. Paula Vennells, the former CEO, has already found out to her cost that the truth she sought and received from her staff fell far short of being what actually occurred. It remains possible that the Post Office employees who put together the story to tell the court actually believed what they were saying represented fact yet through disclosure and oral testimony this has been proven time and time again not to be the case.
It is now clear for all to see, notwithstanding the judgement still to be handed down in the Horizon trial, that the claimants know more about what happened than the Post Office themselves. Blind faith in the Horizon system has proven to be Post Office’s downfall and from a personal opinion, the same blind faith placed by POL in Fujitsu’s handling of Horizon errors has been found to be just as misplaced.
So to establish the truth with an open mind uncluttered by the knowledge of the dubious past practices of Post Office Ltd when dealing with unexplained discrepancies Nick must surely seek out those who can provide an unbiased opinion and look at the mound of evidence that supports the claimants’ affirmations.
I would personally point him towards the trial transcript of the Seema Misra case. In this document, supported by disclosure in the current litigation, he will find all the evidence of what actually transpired when POL sought to prosecute subpostmasters over unexplained discrepancies. He will find unscrupulous and most likely criminal behaviour by some of those concerned in the Post Office prosecution team in their overriding desire to win at all costs and by incriminating the postmistress to avail themselves of the Proceeds of Crime act in pursuing re-imbursement of unknown discrepancies at her branch.
As a new CEO he has the opportunity to bring out the broom, remove the deadwood from the organisation (the ones guilty of pursuing innocent subpostmasters) and create a fresh approach. That new approach has been started already by the former interim CEO Alisdair Cameron, and it will have to be continued through to whatever the final outcome of the trial may be. Nick Read has the power to bring the present litigation to swift completion by offering settlement. In doing so he will use the opportunity his appointment brings in the early stages to avoid personal implication in the tragedy of the past. Continuing the defence will only bring financial ruin to Post Office Ltd as well as further destroying the brand.
Nick has past experience of the convenience retail sector and he will be well aware that a sustainable network is only sustainable as long as there is a ready and willing supply of small business minded people wanting to take on a Post Office. The calamity of a media explosion against the past practices of Post Office Ltd when exposed in further judgements against them in this litigation will mean that that supply will dry up overnight.
His quest for the truth of the matter must begin now and the sooner he realises what has gone wrong in the past the more able he will be to make an early decision to settle the case with the claimants. One question that can provide more answers than any other is to ask why Second Sight were removed from their contract just as it appeared they were starting to find out exactly what had happened.
I wish you all the best Nick in your new job but in order to succeed you need to talk to the right people to hear the real truth and then ask your people why they didn’t tell you first.