Fixing the Problem

As is often quoted, the first step in finding a solution to a problem is acknowledging the problem exists in the first place.

This manifests itself as Post Office Ltd management continue down what is now a weary path, of expressing faith in the robustness of their Horizon computer system and all the internal systems and procedures that go along with it.   Lack of acknowledgement of the problem that only POL management it seems, dispute it exists, means that they (POL) have no reason to put in place the most reliable remedy to this interminable saga.

In another excellent article, ( Tony Collins highlights yet again a subpostmaster at odds with POL over disputed missing value[1].

The JFSA team will highlight all of the shortcomings of POL and the impact their failure to accept that there are intermittent and recurring errors in the Horizon system that lead to unexplained shortages at branches have had on innocent victims.  However one thing they could do would be to show the Judge what POL could have done to prevent this from ever becoming a problem in the first place.

In its simplest form the solution would be to ensure that POL, before a court of law, could prove what caused the discrepancy beyond ALL doubt – not reasonable doubt or balance of probabilities.   To do that they would have to be able to produce evidence of what caused the error or to be fair, the theft, to occur.

Look around you and in every place of business where high volumes of cash and/or value are transacted you will see (in all but Post Offices) visible signs of security in place.  A cashier in Tesco is monitored by CCTV which records not only the images but the transactions that are being entered on the screen at the same time.  Casinos have huge CCTV monitoring operations and even POL use them in their cash centres that distribute cash to the branches.   Although not a high cash business, London Transport has, I believe, over 100,000 CCTV cameras operating on its bus network.   CCTV imagery linked to the Horizon screens and safes would be a good place to start when thinking of a solution.

Secondly POL should and could employ forensic analysts that will investigate discrepancies thoroughly to the point where they discover what happened.

With these two items in place, consider what happens when a SPMR reports a discrepancy or a discrepancy is found after an audit of the branch.   Knowing full well that POL can prove without a doubt what has caused the discrepancy, including computer and/or internal procedural error it would be most unlikely that the guilty would continue to deny that they were responsible.   A further benefit to the SPMR would be that POL could actually help them to identify a culprit among their staff if that had caused the error – something that POL leave entirely to the SPMR at the moment.  The benefit to POL would be early identification of errors and therefore the ability to rectify leading to a more robust system for all of its users.

Finally though there is a particular underlying problem that has allowed this mess to occur and it is one that POL cannot address themselves.  The situation they find themselves in is of their own making.  It is an incredibly stupid one and senior POL management continue to believe that they are right and the overwhelming evidence against them is wrong.  The conclusion is obvious – the people in charge of POL are of fairly low intelligence and should not be in charge of such an organisation.  These people need to be replaced and until such time as they are then talk of a solution that will ensure this never happens again is a waste of time.


[1] Value – newspaper articles such as quoted in Tony’s piece never explain properly what it is that is missing.   It is NOT necessarily physical cash.   If the cause of the discrepancy is shown to be a computer error or even miskeying a transaction say taking a deposit as a withdrawal then the physical cash stock in the branch would not change but the subpostmaster would be in debt to POL for the missing value of the transaction.  That value could for instance be held in one of POL’s mysterious suspense accounts that allegedly hold millions of pounds worth of unreconciled transactions.  Note that these suspense accounts are not the sole domain of POL – many, if not all, County Councils have similar suspense accounts that also run into millions of pounds.  Difference is that county councils are auditable by the National Audit Office – not so POL who are unaccountable to anyone.


Wressling with May

Sorry this post is off my usual topic of the Post Office …

Wressling with May

In Parliament this week, Prime Minister May re-iterated her party’s and the Government’s commitment to Fracking.  Without going in to the pro’s and con’s of this particular form of mineral extraction it can be safely assumed that there is far less risk to the environment from conventional oil exploration than there is from fracking.  Yet all of the substantive economic benefits to the nation as stated by May in support of her stance on fracking can be applied to oil production.  It follows then that the government could and should encourage and permit onshore oil production.

Unfortunately, local councils and protestors see differently.   They see oil extraction for some reason as being tantamount to fracking which is just not the case.  Local councillors are pressurised into making ridiculous decisions based on the perceived electoral influence of these protestors in this emerging environmentally aware world we live in.   The government are aware of this and have issued guidelines to planning authorities to ensure they understand the importance of these local planning applications to the national scheme of things.  Yet still the local planning committees are making a nonsense of this.

Take what is currently happening in North Lincolnshire.  In July 2014, Egdon Resources and their partners in the project drilled an conventional oil exploration well near Wressle.  In order to do this they had obtained planning permission from all the relevant government agencies concerned including North Lincs Council.  They spend several million pounds in completing this project and successfully encountered both gas and oil which they subsequently flow tested.   As the way things stand at the moment , Egdon then had to re-apply to all the aforementioned agencies in order to move this exciting new discovery into production.  All but North Lincs council approved their submissions including the Environment Agency whose responsibility it is to ensure and oversee the safe extraction of the minerals found in an environmentally secure fashion.

So Egdon could drill, find AND extract oil and gas during the exploration phase with North Loncs permission but when it came to full production they were refused.   How on earth can this be?  Well they didn’t only refuse it once, Egdon re-submitted their production planning application and it was refused again despite increased information being provided to allay fears the councillors had expressed in their earlier committee meeting.     These councillors – all of whom as far as I know have no in depth knowledge of the geological and hydrological issues – sought fit to overrule the Environment Agency as well as their own planning officers who twice have recommended approval of Egdon’s application.

Egdon of course have appealed these decisions to the Planning Inspector and these will be heard next month.   So that is where we are at right now and what is just as absurd is that the 6 day hearing with the planning inspector will cost both parties 6 figure sums on top of the vast amount of expenditure to date.    But that is not the only cost here.   Some 500 barrels of oil per day could have been extracted in the meantime had permission been granted at the first application.  A cost to the national economy of nearly £8m in additional imports,  a delay in providing the jobs that this project will secure,  tax revenue to the government,  and for the environmentalists to consider, increased pollution to the atmosphere by importing replacement oil from overseas.

This has to stop.  If a conventional well can be delayed in this manner what chance do fracking wells have of avoiding this unnecessary intervention by local planning authorities.  Mrs May has spoken and she must now intervene to remove immediately the source of this problem – namely the inclusion of local planning authorities in the planning permission process as well as removing the unnecessary step of resubmitting planning permission for production after exploration success.

I would hope that the planning inspector hearing Egdon’s appeal next month will come to the same conclusion and offer recommendations to the government to ensure this idiotic sequence of events cannot re-occur.    I would also hope that UKOOG, the onshore oil and gas industry representative body will also increase pressure on the government to back up Mrs May’s stance with positive action and allow the industry they serve to get on with the job they are doing and which will benefit our economy for years to come.

The things they said…


I wasn’t going to write anymore about this and I don’t do a daily search of news relating to Post Office anymore.  It’s in the past, but occasionally, like today, an article inadvertently pops up and draws my attention back to the past.

Post Office Ltd have always acted as if they were accountable only to themselves.  The more they repeat inaccuracies the more they tend to believe them and as these go relatively unchallenged they accept them as the truth.   That accountability is set to be challenged though through the courts and there will be severe repercussions from what will be (and is) a national scandal.

The article I refer to was printed in the Computer Weekly in April 2015

It was reporting on the news that the Criminal Case Review Commission would be reviewing several criminal convictions of former subpostmasters.  (that was over two years ago and they still haven’t decided .. the delay being another scandal I fear that will emerge from this fiasco into why they have taken so long to clear innocent victims)

But I just want to pick up on one comment from Mark Davies, the Post Office Head of Communications at the time (I don’t really care if he still is or not).

“Like everyone, we want to know the facts, but we have to act on facts – not on unsubstantiated allegations. The position we have reached after three years of investigation is that there is absolutely no evidence at all that Horizon does not work as it should. Indeed it is robust and reliable.”

Three simple sentences that reveal so much about him and the company he works/worked for.

Like everyone, we want to know the facts:  that is so obviously false.  POL sacked the forensic accountants that were in the process of revealing the facts.    A major concern of all involved in exposing the scandal is the complete lack of investigation by POL into the possibility that Horizon and/or internal system procedures may have been responsible for the losses incurred by the subpostmasters.  That goes back to what I said earlier, if they believe that Horizon is robust and reliable then why would they check to see if it were not.   The hole they have dug for themselves is incredibly large.

Unsubstantiated allegations: really?  Seema Misra was convicted of theft based on TOTALLY UNSUBSTANTIATED EVIDENCE produced by POL – even the Judge more or less said so – no evidence was produced that proved she stole a penny.   Of course  Like everyone the defence wanted to know the facts    but POL denied them access to the incredibly named KNOWN ERROR LOG.  Why would they do this?  And of course it later emerged that the POL Legal team were deliberately hiding a current known Horizon error from Seema and her defence team.  What is absolutely incredible is that the CCRC know all about this and two years later haven’t seen fit to put Seema out of her misery – appalling behaviour.

The position we have reached after three years of investigation is that there is absolutely no evidence at all that Horizon does not work as it should:  This is almost laughable if the situation wasn’t so serious.  Either these people really do not have the intelligence and ability to identify mistakes in the system or they are telling complete porkies.  It is one or the other.  Stupid or Liars – perhaps both.  Which part of the title “KNOWN ERRORS LOG” don’t they understand?

Which leads me to this: Indeed it is robust and reliable

This is an extremely important sentence.  This is from a message Mark Davies sent to all subpostmasters.   He is telling them that there is absolutely no reason for you, as a subpostmaster, to query the reliability of Horizon.  No need at all to look for any errors in the system.

Two points:

  1. During the trial of Seema Misra the Post Office Prosecution team directly contradicted this statement in order to get Seema Misra convicted of theft. They produced evidence to suggest that Seema was computer literate enough to recognise an error generated by the computer.   They even stated that a computer error would be OBVIOUS to the user.  But please explain why she would bother to look for an error when Mr Davies and his boss, Paula Vennels repeatedly state that there are no errors and this after spending three years looking for ones.   Why spend three years looking for errors that you don’t believe exist?
  2. Warranty by representation. I have covered this before, but to re-emphasise, in the absence of limitation of liability and warranty clauses with regard to the use of Horizon in the subpostmasters’ contracts, the subpostmasters are reliant on the warranty implied by such representations made by Davies and Vennells.   These idiots state that there are no errors in the system yet acknowledge the existence of the Known Errors log.   Only a complete fool would then go and seemingly rely on the fact that Horizon handles billions of transactions correctly as evidence that the system has no faults.  Statistics prove otherwise and it is pointless to describe the nonsense of such any further.


Yes indeed – the things these fools said will come back and bite them hard.  They are public officers subject to the law regarding the holding of such office and as readers of my earlier blogs will know, a criminal investigation has been opened into their conduct, awaiting the outcome of the CCRC review.  Prison sentences are mandatory for those found guilty.

POL are not unaccountable.  They are accountable to the courts, to the government, to the public purse, but most of all to the hundreds of subpostmasters that have fallen victim to POL’s arrogant and dumb behaviour.   They are soon to learn just how accountable they truly are.





Last week in the House of Lords a debate was held on the Post Office.   In reply to various maudlin comments from peers, Baroness Buscombe for the Government opened her address with “I believe we have a really good story to tell”.

My interest in the remainder of her comments ended there for obvious reasons, but it has made me think more about the unwavering support that Government spokespeople have for the Post Office management team.   Every single one defends POL’s actions because they either believe the propaganda they are fed by POL or make no effort to find out for themselves.   By blindly supporting POL for purely political reasons they are in my opinion putting their own political career in jeopardy and I believe that by pointing this out in very clear and stark terms to them then their attitude may well change.   The good ship POLTANIC is on a collision course with an iceberg (the JFSA case) and it is about to sink.   The woman at the helm as well as her senior officers may well end up facing incarceration.   Those that choose now to ignore the course she is steering and actively support her choice deserve all they will eventually receive because the warnings are clear and as loud as a foghorn 6 inches from their ears.

Forget about Network Transformation and the £2 billion.  Forget about the size of the network and the sustainability of it.  Forget about whether or not POL will make a profit this year and forget about the future of the Crown post offices.   Concentrate on the JFSA case and the fact that Paula in her divine wisdom has elected to throw millions of taxpayer’s money at defending the indefensible.  There is no doubt in my mind that the very well worded group litigation against POL will succeed and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that at least one wrongful conviction, Seema Misra, will be overturned at the appeal court.   I would be prepared to put money on the fact that if it could be proved, the legal teams now representing POL now know for certain they haven’t a chance of success.

In the face of all the evidence now in the public domain it is in my opinion beyond comprehension that Paula Vennells, an ordained minister, seeks to prolong the suffering of so many former subpostmasters by continuing to believe that her staff were not guilty of the misdeeds that they stand accused of.  For goodness sake the evidence is in black and white, written by her own consultants Second Sight and supplemented by the extraordinary disclosure of the Seema Misra Trial transcript.    On top of that there are the events surrounding the error at Dalmellington which I have reported here that show just how Horizon can and does cause subpostmasters to lose significant amounts of value by erroneous computer generated transactions.

So if the evidence is so overwhelming the question must be asked why is Vennells spending so much money defending this?  It is a question I cannot answer as her actions make no logical sense.   She will lose – there is no doubt about it.  There will be a police investigation into matters surrounding the prosecution of Seema Misra once the CCRC returns the case to the appeal court – that investigation is open and suspended until that time.   There is every reason to believe that prosecutions of POL staff will result and if that happens a jail sentence is mandatory.

Why then do government officials continue to support Vennells?   Do they think they will be able to hide that support when the ship sinks with all hands?  Do they have a hidden life jacket they can use or will they too go down with the ship.  It is time to make very clear to these elected officials that their record of support for Vennells and co will be long remembered and that when the ship goes down the shipping company (i.e. the government) will be looking for scapegoats.  Supporting Vennells now may no longer be considered the brightest of career moves.

To all of you reading this perhaps it is about time you asked of your local MP which version of events they wish to support and in doing so remind them of the effects the wrong decision may have on their future political career.

What has happened to the Post Office Network?


Five years on and two billion pounds later what effect has Network Transformation had on the Post Office network?

When this question is asked, in various shapes and guises in the Houses of Parliament, the government spokesman refers the question to the responsible civil servant in order that they may prepare an answer.  This civil servant, whoever they may be, has probably never entered a post office in their life and more to the point has never run a commercial enterprise.   So the civil servant asks Post Office management, “How are you doing?”.  The Post Office replies, “ Very well thank you, we are nearly making a profit don’t you know and everything is hunky dory”.   The civil servant now replies to the Government spokesman in words that I can now recant verbatim without having to look them up.  The post office network has never been more stable they say.  More than 200,000 extra opening hours a week and the Post Office is now the largest retailer open on a Sunday.   The government has invested over £2 billion pounds in the network over the last few years….. blah blah blah.

The trouble starts with the original question.  It is directed at the wrong person.  The question should be put to a critic like me or like Mark Baker or Dave Ward and we can respond with the truth not propaganda.   When enough parliamentarians start understanding that the actual state of the network is perilously close to disintegration and that the critics have been proved correct right from the start of this ill fated project then perhaps they can force the government to investigate for themselves the mess they have made of this.

A recent freedom of information request gives us the latest statistics:

11,633 Post Offices in the Network
3,319 Main Post Offices in the Network
3,363 Local Post Offices in the Network

These are the ‘open’ branches.  5,000 (less the remaining Crown offices) remain unconverted after the £2b investment.

POL say that they have met their targets and awarded themselves bonuses as a result.  Trouble is the original targets were never met.  They were changed when they realized they would never meet them.

The remaining 5,000 offices – no matter how it is split between ‘last shop in the village / community’ offices and unconverted – is a key indicator that the project has failed.   These unconverted offices have had 6 years to find a nearby outlet that was willing and able to take on a Post Office franchise and they can’t.   They can’t because nobody wants the hassle and extra work involved only to be paid peanuts and be treated like a monkey.  These words have recently been repeated by a multiple who are now considering removing Post Offices from their stores.  What better example do you need that a key component of the original strategy of Network Transformation has failed; namely securing a sustainable network.

The network is no longer sustainable because the number of offices affected by the fact that nobody wants them is growing not shrinking and will continue to grow at a faster rate.  The only resistance at this point is community action where the local post office is ‘saved’ by either local community effort or the commendable efforts of local businesses taking on the hassle of running a post office purely for the sake of the community and not recompense.

Two billion pounds of tax payers money down the tubes already and the incompetents who misspent it are not only still in charge but they want more.   Two billion pound spent and the network still relies on outdated and unreliable technology.  While there may be plans to replace the current infrastructure there certainly is no money left in the kitty to do so even though a significant portion of the original £1.35b investment was earmarked for technology.

A great proportion of the network of branches that remains is no longer fit for purpose.  For several years now only an idiot would have taken on a Post Office franchise and as it turns out POL managed to find several thousand of them.    These new franchisees are not in the same league as subpostmasters of old who worked for the good of the Post Office not necessarily themselves and were reasonably rewarded for their efforts.   Even POL admits that.   The only relevance left for the remainder of the Crown network is to keep in house well paid and well trained staff who can test and roll out new products.   That is a task not best left to the foundering franchisees.

Members of parliament, from all sides, need to wake up to the fact that all is not well with POL.  They cannot rely on them for anything other than self adulation.  The network is now in terminal decline and its purpose in our communities may well be lost forever.   Leaving the idiots that have brought about this situation in charge is their responsibility and the only and easiest solution I can offer at this time is to have them replaced by the people who care and who know more about the network than any others – the subpostmasters, many of whom have left the network but remain concerned for the institution they loved to work for and would be willing to do so again.


The Sickness of Network Transformation


Yesterday, Citizens Advice finally published their ‘late’st report[1] into Post Office Ltd’s Network Transformation project.  They labelled it ‘Transformation Health Check’.  The report summarises CAB’s research into the views of Subpostmasters/Operators/Multiples who are now operating Post Offices under one of the new models.

Let me make it clear from the start.  I don’t think CAB would have published this report if they had not been placed under extreme pressure by myself and others to do so.  The fact they only published it yesterday after the government’s consultation[2] into the role that the Post Office plays in the community had closed is extraordinary.  The fact that CAB allowed POL to comment on the contents of the report before publication suggests that POL and the government had some say on the final edition.  That would be astonishing though because the contents are totally and utterly damning of the failure of the NT project and the very high risk now of the entire network imploding rapidly.

The report itself is 33 pages long.  It will be provided no doubt to a short list of recipients and will remain hidden from public consumption in the dark recesses of CAB’s research pages.  Most notably they have not ‘tweeted’ the publication of this report as they have done others.  No matter.  Others will raise the existence of this welcome report into the failure of NT with those who should know about it.

When you hand a 33 page report to a bureaucrat or politician to read you can bet your bottom dollar that unless the executive summary contains some startling revelation whose detail follows in the report that they will not read further than the opening few paragraphs.

In this report the summary ends with three conclusions:

  1. Ensure staff can conduct Post Office transactions confidently
  2. Consider adding greater flexibility to branch model types
  3. Continue monitoring the medium term financial viability of new models

You read through the summary and then these conclusions you stop there.  Looks like NT is doing OK with a couple of minor problems that POL can handle.  Nothing to worry about.  Well I for one worry about why the executive summary fails to mention the extraordinary revelations hidden in the main body of the document.

Let’s look at that in more detail:

BY the end of page 7 CAB have provided the background to NT, the purpose and method of the research and noted that they had 121 responses to an online form (promoted on Twitter – but not the resultant document!) and then conducted 65 telephone interviews.   POL could counter any criticism coming out of this report by saying the sample size was insignificant compared to the network size of 11,500.  Well I would like to see them try.   Skip to the end of the document where it is revealed that the researchers also interviewed 6 multiples that together represent 1,800 offices!   It is the comments coming from the multiples that are the truly frightening part of this document.

These comments from multiples are understandably not associated with any individual multiple but one must assume that this CAB report reflects a balanced opinion and when and if multiples’ comments were at odds with each other this would be noted.   Therefore these comments can and should be attributed to all multiple outlets – 1800 of them.

The Myth of Increased Opening Hours

When POL get on their high horse and try to defend the £2 billion pounds they have wasted of taxpayers money they consistently refer to the increased number of opening hours now available to their customers.   Brilliant – but a total waste of time and money for most operators and compounded, as the report suggests, by a massive drop in branch standards due to poor training and a high, and rising, level of staff turnover as a direct result of the complexity that the job entails.

Post Office footfall is in decline and has been for years.  Opening Post Offices for longer hours has not stopped that.  From an operator’s perspective it has merely spread the same number of customers over a longer period and increased the amount of skilled staff they need to run the outlet.

If Operators were allowed to choose their own opening hours (many do anyway) then they would be reducing the number of hours open not increasing them.    Perversely in rural areas, and I have firsthand experience of this, when a restricted hours office changes hands Post Office Ltd themselves insist on reducing the number of hours they open the Post Office for.   You really can’t make it up with these people.


A significant weakness of NT is where retailers have a single PO combi counter at their retail counter.   A lengthy PO Transaction or one that requires a call to the Help Desk will result in queues forming and customers leaving without purchasing.   Queues are inconvenient to customers.  Post Offices are by and large in Convenience stores.  Convenience is the name of the game.  I have no answers to that conundrum as I support the concept of a combi counter, but it needs a solution.


The single biggest overhead for most retailers is staff costs.  The single biggest worry for operators is staffing.   There is no doubt that a dedicated Post Office counter with dedicated trained staff is no longer viable for most operators in the absence of core tier payments.   Reduced income from Post Office transactions is matched by populist government increases in living wages.  Living wages indeed.  When the self employed start demanding living wages our service industry will no doubt collapse.

The report misses though the glaring obvious that requires no research.  It is all on the internet, facebook and twitter complaints.   Walk in to most Post Office branches these days and you will find behind the counter staff and owners alike with a most disagreeable temperament.   Working for Post Office is a sad and depressing affair with complicated transactions, demanding customers with repetitive interaction required and in urban deprived areas? I don’t think we need to go there other than to mention the security screens are there for a reason.


Take on a Post Office into your convenience store and watch your footfall increase and as a result your retail sales was the pledge from POL.   It beggars belief that so many people fell for that.   The research shows it not to be the case and as I pointed out right at the beginning of NT, put two identical convenience stores next to each other with one having a post office and the other not and see who gets the most footfall and the higher retail sales.  The proof of that is now out there.  Convenience stores are throwing out the Post Office and seeing their retail turnover increase!   The same incidentally applies to Paypoint who also spin the footfall line.  Many are getting rid of that loss making machine on their counter and watching their income increase!

New Operators

A glaring omission in this report is research into the skill levels of the new operators that Post Office has appointed.   The survey was voluntary.  Most new operators would have no inkling that it was taking place.   The rush to get the job done, the bonuses that were being paid for securing conversions, the lack of any basic skills test all led to a huge portion of the network now being run by individuals who are barely able to address an envelope let alone decide what postage is required for it.  You see it doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to run a convenience store just hard work and determination and many of the operators I refer to are very well off thank you very much so I am not criticising their ability to run the shop just the post office.

A sustainable network.

That is what NT was all about.  A network secured for the future with much reduced government funding required.  The key word which I keep harping on about is ‘sustainable’.  What does that mean?  It means a network of post offices that can continue to be run by independent operators on a profitable basis.  A network of businesses that can be sold into a pool of experienced small business entrepreneurs who see the purchase of a shop with a post office as an attractive investment.  Without that prerequisite there is no sustainability.  Without that pool of investors attracted to the opportunity of running a post office there is no future.   One of my very first pieces 6 years ago was about what happens when a PO Local closes?  When the operator says enough is enough and throws the keys in and by doing so loses his investment in the business.  Which idiot close by will take up the challenge to do better knowing full well the reason why the previous idiot had lost his money?   Idiots only need apply to take one on and therein lays the rub.

Conclusion / Executive Summary

So here is my summary.  No – I am not going to write it.  I am going to let the multiples that were interviewed for this research write it.  After all they represent 1800 branches.  These are in grave danger of being closed overnight based on sound financial policy by large organisations who themselves are in decline.   How would the government and the nation react to that I wonder?

‘Customers do use services outside core hours, but after 8pm there is very little usage. Custom is still concentrated during traditional opening hours.’ Multiple retailer

‘Overall Post Office footfall has slightly increased due to longer opening hours. But in many cases there has been no increase in footfall following the extension of opening hours.’ Multiple retailer

‘Where post offices are open 5.30pm-8pm, and there are no or few customers, this results in costs for the retailer.’ Multiple retailer

‘Generally the relationship between the retail and Post Office side is good. Some sites work like a dream.’ Multiple retailer

‘Biggest positive has been refurbishment, stores are modern and look better compared to before. Good feedback on this from customers and staff.’ Multiple retailer

‘Combi counters can lead to privacy issues. Customers, perhaps especially older people, do not like to stand in a queue where people can overhear what they are saying, for example when undertaking financial transactions.’ Multiple retailer

‘Customers expect to queue in a post office, but never in a convenience store. So [name of retailer] cannot afford queues which can lose customers.’ Multiple retailer

‘In Locals, staff undertaking transactions can be slower than the more experienced staff (in traditional offices and Mains) and can exacerbate any queuing issues – if staff don’t do certain transactions frequently, they forget how to do them.’ Multiple retailer

‘If the branch has inherited staff from closed branches, it generally runs well. If there are new staff in, it is tough for the branch.’ Multiple retailer

‘It takes 6-12 months to learn Post Office products properly. Many staff are students, working for six months and then leaving. This leads to training problems.’ Multiple retailer

‘Go live training is 7 to 8 days in total, which equates to half a day per member of staff. This is not much compared with, for example, Subway which has 3 weeks training. However, Post Office transactions are more complex.’ Multiple retailer

‘Training is offered in core hours, so this does not work for staff who only work out of core hours.’ Multiple retailer

‘Previously under the traditional post office model, in each store Post Office compliance training was undertaken by 2 people… Under the PO Local each store may have around 12 people who need this training – this is a financial problem.’ Multiple retailer

‘In general [retail] staff do not want to do Post Office transactions because they are complex.’ Multiple retailer

‘Retail products are simple to sell with barcode scan and till prompts. However, Post Office products are not always consistent and need an element of knowledge of the different products.’ Multiple retailer

‘We have a recruitment challenge with Locals as staff apply for jobs primarily in retail and do not want to undertake Post Office transactions.’ Multiple retailer

‘Opening hours are difficult to manage and we would prefer to be able to offer a reliable and predictable service, rather than a service that is less reliable but open all hours.’ Multiple retailer

‘The Post Office has been useful over the years in bringing in footfall. But the footfall benefits are not seen so much now. If it is the only retailer in the village the presence of a Post Office does not make much difference to footfall.’ Multiple retailer

‘The impact on footfall is different depending on the store in question. In many newsagents the Post Office footfall is needed to make the business viable.’ Multiple retailer

‘A high proportion of our post office branches are loss making. Others are not making massive money.’ Multiple retailer

 ‘For us post offices are very unprofitable. [We] have decided to keep post offices (for now) and run them at a loss to the business, because they are a great community service.’ Multiple retailer

‘As the [retail] sector isn’t making a huge profit, the pressures from the [retail] business may lead to a tipping point on [our] stance on post offices.’ Multiple retailer

‘The recent and future National Minimum Wage rise puts pressure on business that wasn’t there previously – a 25% minimum increase in payroll.’ Multiple retailer

‘Remuneration for transactions is very low. Transaction income for many products is pennies.’ Multiple retailer

‘Remuneration in Mains is mixed. There are quite a few Mains where the 3 year protection is very important.’ Multiple retailer

‘We have concerns that there will be a shortfall for some Mains after 3 years when the parachute payment runs out, due to the loss of the core tier payment which previously made up around one third of Post Office remuneration. We could end up with Mains that are at best breaking even, or starting to make a loss. This is not what was originally expected.’ Multiple retailer

‘Over the next 2 to 3 years [we] will have to consider our post office strategy. We love the Post Office. We want to make it work and offer the service, but at a profitable level and are struggling to do this.’ Multiple retailer

‘How will the Post Office be competitive when the Royal Mail contract comes to an end? Will Royal Mail transactions continue to decline? And at what rate?’ Multiple retailer



An Open Letter to Paula Vennells

An Open Letter to Paula Vennells


Dear Ms Vennells


As is often reported in the media you are a devout and faithful Christian.  In a few days you will be celebrating the birth of the Son of your God.  A few months later, at Easter, you will also celebrate his death; executed on the gallows for his beliefs.

The death penalty is the ultimate sanction and I am sure the Christian community condemns the practice not only as inhumane but also because of the possibility that the original conviction could prove to be unsound as new evidence comes to light.  If sin could be measured on a scale of 1 to 10 I am sure the execution of an innocent person would be a 10.

Unsound convictions are part and parcel of the work of our Judiciary.  We allow for the possibilities of mistakes and new evidence coming to light with our Appeal system.  Even Post Office Ltd acknowledge this possibility and state that they have a duty to release new evidence to the defence even after a successful conviction.

In Post Office’s rebuttal of the Second Sight Report you stated:

Post Office as a prosecutor has a continuing duty to disclose immediately any information that subsequently comes to light which might undermine its prosecution case or support the case of the defendant.  

It is the duty of the defence lawyers to identify to the Court where there is insufficient evidence to sustain a charge, or to seek further information from the Post Office which might assist the defendant’s case. If the Court agrees, then the Judge must dismiss that charge. Thus a charge upon which there is no evidence will inevitably fail. 

Now I will admit that you, as the CEO, have to rely on the information you are provided with by your employees.  You cannot be expected to investigate personally every issue that is put before you BUT and this is most important, as CEO you accept the responsibility for the consequences of their actions and iinactions as the case may be.  As CEO you stand by the statements you make to the Media and your company’s owners, the Government.

However it is not only your employees who provide you with information.  External sources do to and I am one of them.  I have provided you with details for instance of where to look for and read the transcript of the trial of Seema Misra.  She was the subpostmistress at West Byfleet Post Office who your team had convicted of theft.   In fairness you could not have known that this transcript would enter into the public domain but the fact is that it has, and I have urged you to read it in the past.   You must read this transcript and compare it to not only what you have been told about how your team obtained this conviction but also compare it to the statements that POL have made about this whole sorry mess and the behaviour you must and should have expected from your employees who have now very visibly and publicly let you down.

You don’t have to read very far into the transcript before it becomes obvious that your team has been responsible for securing a conviction against Ms Misra by duplicitous means.  You state yourself above that it is the defence lawyers duty to seek further information from the Post Office which might assist the defendant’s case.  Well the defence asked right at the beginning for more details of errors in Horizon and your team argued against the defence team having access to them.   Your prosecution team argued that any errors in Horizon would be noticeable by the SPMR so there was no need for further disclosure.

3 years after the trial of Seema Misra, Second Sight reported on an error that had occurred in Horizon.  This error first occurred in 2011 and was not noticed by any of the branches affected.   The consequences of this error were that branches had deducted from their accounts an amount of money which POL were not entitled to.   Now tell me was this theft or just a silly mistake?   During the course of the year (2011) you and your auditors signed off your accounts and proudly reported to the public and the Government a decrease in the company’s losses.  Was this False Accounting or a simple mistake?

In 2012 the same error re-occurred and a subpostmaster at last noticed it.   When POL checked they found that 14 branches had been affected.   13 of them didn’t notice it.  Some of these branches actually owed money to POL.   Were these branches guilty of Theft Paula or was it just a stupid mistake?   For over a year they had wrongly signed off on their accounts.   Were they guilty of false accounting or just too stupid to notice?

Eventually POL wrote off the money that some of these branches owed POL and refunded the ones that POL owed money to.   You actually paid cash to these branches when the error was generated by the computer system and as you will know no computer knows how to steal physical cash.   Did Seema Misra actually steal all that money in cash?  The amounts concerned in the error were not very large by all accounts in comparison with the amount Seema was charged with stealing.  Do you think that should make a difference?  Well if you think it should then I suggest you read the transcript in full and see what the prosecution had to say about that particular point.

It gets worse – a whole lot worse – because several of these branches that did not notice this error – the error that the prosecution in the Misra Trial said would be so obvious to the Seema that it was totally impossible for it to happen – were CROWN offices Paula – the offices that your company runs – the offices that have produced most of your management staff.   POL would have actually recovered from these branches an amount or paid to the accounts of these branches an amount as a result of a computer error that sometimes you say never happens and sometimes your company says when trying to find an innocent person guilty of theft would be so obvious to the user that it would be spotted and rectified immediately.

And of course it keeps getting worse.  Even when you spotted this error in 2012 and tried to fix it you didn’t even manage to do that so when the SAME error occurred yet again in 2013 it proved that even when you know about an error it can remain in the system for three years or more – iwe have no way of telling whether or not it re-occurred in 2014 – my bet though is that it did.   You compound all of these errors and inconsistencies by failing  to notify the branch network to look out for these errors even when you know them to exist.  In private emails your team decide not to tell anyone about them to protect the reputation of the system yet you prosecute someone on the premise that the losses that occurred at her branch could not have been the result of computer error because she would have noticed it.

So there we have it – it is not all of the story, there is a lot more evidence to suggest that Seema Misra was incarcerated unjustly.    You just need to read the transcript to see that.   I am truly and utterly gobsmacked that had the transcript not been made public I would not have been in a position to ensure Seema’c conviction is overturned which it will be – if you can’t see that now then I truly pity you.

Seema’s case is before the CCRC now for review.  They have been sitting on it for 18 months and from what I hear they will sit on it for another 18 months, but it is not going away.  It will be returned to the appeal court and you and your company will be publicly humiliated.

On Sunday you will no doubt attend church and pray to your God.  You will thank him for sacrificing His Son so that our world can be a better place to live in.   You will celebrate with your family.  No doubt you will open expensive gifts from one another and reflect on what has personally been a very financially rewarding career at the Post Office.

I don’t know Seema.  I don’t know whether or not she and her family celebrate Christian events but she may well be reflecting on yet another year without her conviction being overturned.   I suspect it is too late for you to intercede in the CCRC process but what you can do is call Seema and tell her that you are sorry for the actions of your employees.  That you recognise her conviction is unsafe and will do everything you can to ensure it is overturned as soon as possible.

This is the best gift you can give anybody this Xmas and it won’t cost more than a price of a phone call.

Call her now Paula and pray to your God for forgiveness that you have not done this sooner.  It would be a sin not to.

I wish you and your family a merry Xmas and I trust you reflect on the fact that on Xmas day 2010, Seema Misra was heavily pregnant and in prison as a result of your team’s misguided efforts.  I wonder what she was thinking then?  What her family were thinking?


Tim McCormack