Probation Period Over?

The word on the street is that Post Office Ltd (POL) will fund the £58 million settlement with the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) out of available funds.   Another example of the unbelievable arrogance of the POL board who seem to revel in the fact that they are unaccountable to anyone.  Unaccountable perhaps but not closed to external scrutiny and I do hope they realise in time that I at least will examine in detail their annual accounts when they are published to see where they sourced these funds.   It may come as a surprise to the POL accountants that they are specifically prohibited from dipping their fingers in the BEIS working capital loan which may be used ONLY to finance the cash flow in the network under EU State Aid rules.  If they did attempt to use it then it would not be the first time they have overstepped the mark in this way and as we are beginning to understand, being caught doesn’t seem to prevent POL from trying again.  We’ll see.

Unaccountability is a recurring theme with POL.  The situation would be entirely different if they were answerable to shareholders as a public company.   What public company would attempt to persuade shareholders that the very people who mismanaged the company into a situation where a small businessman who never trusted the computer system that POL forced upon him to produce his Post Office branch accounts took POL to court and ended up costing them over £80m in settlement and legal costs, proposed to carry on with Business as Usual with no sackings or resignations.

POL might rebut this observation by referring to Paula Vennells’ departure but she left the building in January last year, long before the Horizon trial started and well before such remarkable and extraordinary strategic decisions were made like the decision to apply for the recusal of the trial judge without even informing their own QC who was appearing on their behalf in court at the time.

A board member has now left but it looks more like rats leaving the sinking ship rather than being forced out.   Perhaps more will follow but it is self evident surely that those who remain in charge of POL believe that the JFSA litigation is behind them and they can move on safe in the knowledge that there is no one out there ready, willing and in a suitable position to hold them to account for POL’s incredible lack of corporate common sense.

Are they truly blind to the forthcoming referrals from CCRC to the appeal court of many if not all of the convictions against subpostmasters brought by POL.  The consequences of these appeal court hearings, the publicity generated and the new facts that will emerge will make the JFSA litigation look like a walk in the park, notwithstanding the criminal proceedings to be brought against POL and Fujitsu employees.   All that will probably act as a catalyst for more whistleblowing and I for one am already sitting on a huge piece of incriminating evidence that is good enough to suggest further acts of perjury may have been committed in the Horizon trial..

What is more, without the heads rolling of those responsible for this mess, it appears to me to be far more certain there is a huge cover up in progress.   Well good luck to them if that is what they are trying to do because they were stupid enough to be caught and tried in court already and if they are that stupid then clearly their attempts at a cover up will be just as weak as their defence was in the Horizon trial.

If POL were a public company reliant on shareholders to back their Share Price on the open market I would certainly not be investing in them and would be warning others to do the same.   There is nothing at all to suggest that anyone in the upper echelons of POL management have got an iota of commercial ability and if they only took a real interest in what the people who have been criticising them over the years and in doing so have been proved correct time after time will they have any chance at all of maintaining a viable network.

The new CEO, Nick Reid, arrived last September.   He has had 4 months to find out what has been going on and in those 4 months he has had the opportunity to hear at firsthand what the Judiciary think of the past mismanagement of the company in very scathing terms.   His probation period is now up as far as I am concerned.  His inaction in removing employees who have been implicitly involved in the totally misplaced decision to contest the JFSA claims in court is now testament to either his complete lack of managerial ability or his involvement in a massive cover up.  I truly do not understand how someone taking over as CEO of a company that has just lost its entire profits and more for the last two years in defending a court case that should never have taken place can consider asking the people responsible for the mess to help him get to know the company he is taking over.

Nick, this has just started.  The trials and tribulations in the Rolls Building before Justice Fraser was a mere prelude to the real action.  You can wait and see what happens or I (or plenty others) could tell you what IS going to happen.   Clear as mud to you perhaps, clear as daylight to me.

Imagine

3rd February 2015 BEIS Select Committee Inquiry into Horizon IT System

Adrian Bailey Chair of the BEIS Select Committee: Paula, as you are the senior person here, the buck stops with you. I find it quite astonishing that you do not seem to know anything about a process that is so politically and socially sensitive.

Paula Vennells: I know a huge amount about this. I know the really important things about it

Before the meeting started, in evidence revealed in the trial, Paula Vennells asked her staff to ensure her that it was not possible for subpostmaster accounts to be altered without their knowledge.  The answer she was given was that it was not possible.  Imagine the consequences if Fujitsu had told her the truth?

Would there still have been a trial?   The answer to that appears to be yes because just before the beginning of the first trial, POL came clean and admitted that yes it was possible after all and that they had misled the court and the claimants.   How did they find that out?  Well Fujitsu finally owned up after a whistleblower, Mr Rolls, stepped forward.   At that time, in their admission, POL stated that the ‘tool’ had only been used once and that the subpostmaster involved had been made aware of it.  Yet further down the line in the Horizon trial, it appeared to be the case that no-one really knew how many times it had been used and who had done so.  Extracting the truth from POL and Fujitsu seems to be an extremely arduous process and as a result who is to say that the whole truth has been extracted yet?

But really?  Would the litigation really have progressed if Paula had discovered the truth for herself?  If she had sat before the Select Committee and stated publicly that within that huge amount of really important stuff she knew about the system was knowledge that the Horizon system was neither robust or reliable?  If she knew then what she knows now to be the case it surely is absolutely certain that the case would not have reached court.

And that would have led to the claimants receiving a far greater proportion of their claims than they have now received because of the cost they incurred pursuing POL through the courts.  It is not just unfair it is disgraceful behaviour by a Government owned entity.

It could be argued that POL didn’t know about all of this because Fujitsu didn’t tell them.  Perhaps POL could sue Fujitsu but that would be difficult because there is a contract between POL and Fujitsu and I am certain that within it there will be a warranty clause and a limitation of liability clause.  The only way POL could overcome that would be pursue a ‘duty of care’ implied term in the contract which, paradoxically, their legal teams have now some experience of in litigation.

If there ever was an indicator that Fujitsu probably knew all about the potential problems they might face by providing POL with unreliable software then it is the paragraphs in the various witness statements from Fujitsu employees to several different courts that caught the eye of Justice Fraser in the Horizon Trial.  He notes:

  1. Mr Dunks gave every indication, in the first part of his cross-examination, of being helpful and frank, and explained the process of data extraction and answered questions put to him openly. However, this encouraging start came to an end when he was asked about two curiously worded paragraphs in his statement. These stated as follows:

 “8. There is no reason to believe that the information in this statement is inaccurate because of the improper use of the system. To the best of my knowledge and belief at all material times the system was operating properly, or if not, any respect in which it was not operating properly, or was out of operation was not such as to effect the information held within it.

  1. Any records to which I refer in my statement form part of the records relating to the business of Fujitsu Services Limited. These were compiled during the ordinary course of business from information supplied by persons who have, or may reasonably be supposed to have, personal knowledge of the matter dealt with in the information supplied, but are unlikely to have any recollection of the information or cannot be traced. As part of my duties, I have access to these records.”
  2. Before I come to his evidence about this, it is obvious that the wording of paragraph 8 is almost that of a legal disclaimer (or a legally worded claim of accuracy, to be more precise), rather than a witness’ actual evidence. It would be very curious for a witness of fact to decide to put such a formally (and rather clumsily) worded paragraph in their witness statement.

I am pretty sure that neither Mr Dunks nor Mr Jenkins will escape the due process of the law regarding their witness statements to courts during their employment at Fujitsu but perhaps, just perhaps, one of them will be inclined to step forward voluntarily to tell the real truth about what transpired at Bracknell.

What remains to be seen is what action Fujitsu take with regard to their role in this.  I think the media has a part to play here.   They successfully extracted, eventually, some sort of meagre apology from Vennells for her role in all of this, but nothing as yet from Fujitsu – an international Computer Company with a pretty big reputation to protect – whose annual profits appear to be close to £1 Billion.

Perhaps it is about time Fujitsu put their hands in their very deep pockets and coughed up the money the claimants lost in funding the litigation that eventually proved Fujitsu were at fault here.

Exploring the Financial Risk of Bates & Others v Post Office Ltd

 

It took Alan and Susan Bates 15 years or so to secure funding for what has turned out to be one of the most expensive civil litigation hearings in the last decade.   It was a long road that eventually led to Therium, a company specialising in funding large law suits.   Funding was provided on a no win no fee basis and they entered into a contract with Freeths knowing only the facts as they were at that time pre disclosure and that they were up against a government entity with seemingly bottomless pockets.

Therium knew it was going to have to outlay many millions of pounds before they would have any possibility of recovering some or all of their expenditure.  They fund this expense from what they refer to as ‘a diverse investor base’ and those secondary investors need a return on their investment as do Therium.   Therium of course will not win all the cases they fund so a good proportion on the margin they provide the funds at needs to go to cover those losses.   You certainly wouldn’t expect them to receive only a small percentage on a successful outcome and they certainly cannot be blamed for the massive reduction in what the claimants will now eventually receive out of the £58m.

When you apply to Therium for funding they will of course go through your case with a fine toothcomb and consider the chance of success, ultimately deciding whether or not to invest after the case is presented to their Investment Committee.

I do not know how many people sit on this committee nor their backgrounds, but it is very telling indeed that these clearly commercially and legally astute people made a wise choice in backing Alan when presented with the facts that Alan and Freeths had at that time.   In comparison, Post Office Ltd (POL) had not only the facts Alan had but also access to all the substantive evidence that was later produced to Freeths in disclosure and then in court.  The same evidence that led Justice Fraser to openly deride POL in all the decisions he published.

As some stage in the proceedings leading up to the eventual trial, POL would also have had to sit down at Board Level and even further up the food chain within the Civil Service (UKGI, BEIS etc) and decide upon the financial and reputational risk of the case brought against them and weigh that against the legal arguments they could pursue in their defence.   These meetings resulted in a commitment to spend millions of pounds on a defence they must have thought had a reasonable chance of success and from a financial point of view a reasonable return on the investment, perhaps not just in terms of tangible financial returns but in protecting the reputation of the Post Office network.

We cannot but admire the Therium investment committee for approving the funding of the claimants.  They got it right based on the limited evidence put before them.   The same cannot be said for all those that sat in on the various meetings that were held by POL that led to the approval of the expenditure and eventual loss of £58m from the public purse plus of course their own legal costs.

I doubt very much if the makeup of the Therium Investment committee has changed and I don’t doubt that they will have held their own small celebration when the settlement was reached (note that Therium are prevented from having any say in whether or not to accept settlements offered).  At this point, in comparison, I should be able to recount that those that were responsible in POL, the civil service and the government for deciding that they could win this case have now left the building because they have displayed such a remarkable lack of ability in legal, commercial and above all ethical, terms but I cannot.  They all remain in their place with the exception of one who may have left the building but  has not only been honoured by the Queen but also received appointments to two senior government positions.  They remain to oversee the financial risks of a £1 billion company and in doing so, having taken on board the findings of the court, have yet to make any substantive changes to the way they operate; the same way they operated that brought about this litigation in the first place.

A long long time ago I started writing about the unaccountable face of Post Office Ltd and the fact that despite being in control of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money they remain unanswerable for their actions to anyone.   Surely this now is the time for the government to put an end to this and only a full scale Judicial Inquiry will make sure it never happens again.

 

What else could possibly go wrong?

The end of the Alan Bates & Ors v Post Office Ltd litigation leaves many stones unturned.   What lies beneath them, how can they be investigated and what likely effect could they possibly have?

The two trials explored only two facets of Post Office internal mechanisms, the contract between the subpostmasters and the Horizon Computer system.   It has been a source of frustration since the days of the Second Sight investigation that Post Office have sought to limit investigations to the actual working of the computer system and not the processes, procedures and effects that surround that system.

We have now had confirmed that the Horizon computer system is suspect and that errors in that system have a material effect on the accounts of subpostmasters but the Horizon system is only part of the story and some of the effects of these errors have wider implications.

There are clearly a massive amount of unreconciled transactions floating around, the value of which are assigned to suspense accounts until such time as one of two things happen:  a) The value is either allocated to the correct account or, b) as Second Sight discovered, ultimately transferred to the Profit and Loss account because the correct account could not be found.   Reconciling rogue transaction values would primarily be a manual process and a slip of the finger, accidentally or deliberately, could lead the value to be assigned incorrectly.  I use the word ‘deliberately’ because it seems to me to be totally statistically unlikely that the only fraudsters POL have employed over the years have been subpostmasters.

Which side of the accounts these rogue transactions lie is of interest as well.   One would have thought that statistically they are just as likely to be a debit or a credit.  Those that debit a POL account would surely attract more attention to be resolved than those that result in a credit to them.

Then there are the parties involved.  Post Office Ltd are one, the subpostmasters are another and then there are the third parties who are either customers or providers such as banks.  Post Office Ltd have shown scant concern in the past where a dispute arises between subpostmasters and the third parties.  For instance if a subpostmaster accidentally credits £1,000 to a customer who has deposited £100 then that creates a debt to Post Office Ltd for the subpostmaster of £900 while the customer is sitting pretty with an extra £900 in his account.    Post Office Ltd is not at all interested in your mistake.   History shows us that failure by the subpostmaster to top up the Post Office Balance by the missing £900 will be treated as theft.

The value of individual transactions is of course the greatest concern.   In the example above, and for the sake of simplicity (because I don’t know the current commission rate) let’s say the subpostmaster receives £3 for every £1000 he takes as a banking deposit, POL take £2 and the customer pays his bank £7.

Let’s have a look at the flow of money from £1000

Customer receives Nett from Bank                                         £993       Profit     £893.70(£993 – £99.30)

Bank Receives Nett from POL                                                     £995       Profit     £1.80

POL Receive Nett from SPMR                                                     £998       Profit     £2.70

SPMR Receives Nett from Customer and POL                     £102       Loss       £897.80

So in this example as a result of the SPMR mistake if it is not discovered you can see that the Customer, the Bank and POL ALL make an additional profit paid for by the unfortunate subpostmaster.

The trial judge has found it to be more than likely that Horizon errors were to blame for the losses attributed to the claimants but we will never know the effect of these errors and whether or not they were compounded by additional profit via commission received by POL from their clients or customers.   The judge also confirmed that the keyboard layout and issues with the touch sensitive screen led to errors being generated by the user (and/or the hardware itself).   These errors would in most cases create either phantom transactions or transactions with incorrect amounts all of which would generate additional profit to third parties and losses to the SPMR.

It is worth pointing out perhaps that there seems to be a very distinctive difference between the number of transactions processing in error that resulted in a loss to the SPMR and those that resulted in a credit.   There could be two possible logical reasons for this: a) Customers failing to report the additional credit they received whether deliberately or not and SPMRs taking advantage of a method available to them to recover previous losses and b) SPMRs not noticing these spurious credit transactions.

However none of these would necessarily end up in a suspense account.

The more likely transactions to end up in a suspense account are those that involve a payment and receipt mismatch and there are plenty of examples of those revealed in the trial.    Of the greatest concern are those transactions involving totally different computer systems such as between the Cash Centre computer system and Horizon.     This year (after the Horizon trial was closed to new evidence) there have been numerous errors spotted where the value amount received by a branch is different from what was printed on the dispatch note.   It was very clear, to me at least, that there was a major problem in the cash centre and the end of day reconciliation process (if there was one) was not working as it should.   The difference in the amounts dispatched would have had to end up in a suspense account somewhere for investigation and subsequent allocation.

As the trial was limited to the operation of the Horizon computer system there were some additional known errors that were not investigated.   One of these is of particular interest, perhaps even to the police at some stage.   Since 2011, Network Transformation has meant the relocation of thousands of post offices over and above the usual churn in ownership.   It is known that some transaction corrections (error notices from POL to the SPMR) whether credit or debit can take up to a year and sometimes even longer to process internally by POL    The amount of these credits to SPMRs must be held in a suspense account somewhere and will be payable to the SPMRs once the investigation is complete.  In a Freedom of Information request it was discovered the POL make no attempt to maintain contact details for SPMRs once they leave the network so how they pay back this money from the suspense account to the rightful owner is questionable.     One example I have of what has happened in the past is that a new SPMR received a credit transaction correction only a few weeks into opening his office and queried it with the Help Desk as he knew it could not be for him.   The Help Desk told him it was for the previous SPMR and just to keep it.

The job of Second Sight was to investigate these matters.  When it came to looking at the suspense accounts they were told that it was out of scope of their investigation and they were quickly stood down.  It is a matter of fact that their job is incomplete and POL will always remain under suspicion and the brand untrustworthy until such time as they are allowed to complete their task or the police decide to get involved.

It is also a matter of fact that the new CEO of POL, while seemingly willing to change the company for the better, has yet to make any significant changes as a result of the judge’s decisions.   He is still relying on the same people who couldn’t supply his predecessor with the truth to tell him what  he needs to know.   It is only a matter of time, without positive action on his part, until he becomes embroiled in the past and what looks like current indiscretions of some of his employees.

He needs to get rid of them now.

 

 

Who on earth are the NFSP?

 

The National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) have been mentioned quite a lot in the recent trial but there will be many interested in the story behind the trial that do not know who they are or what exactly they do.

Let me try and explain.

Founded over 100 years ago the NFSP were initially a representative body for subpostmasters to bring matters of concern to the management of the Post Office (in all its collective guises over the years, POL remain a government owned entity).   Subpostmasters, then and now, are mostly self employed individuals who have invested capital into setting up shop as a Post Office with or without supplementary income.

Eventually the NFSP were awarded Trade Union status which meant that effectively they had the power to negotiate subpostmaster remuneration backed up by the threat of strike action.  This however was clearly an idle threat that not even subpostmasters let alone POL gave any serious thought to.  No self employed individual was ever going to strike knowing that a) he would lose all his income b) probably a lot of his customers on a permanent basis and c) the likelihood was that the Post Office down the road would stay open and pick up all the trade that he had lost.

However there was a purpose to the NFSP ‘s existence and it developed a relationship with POL such that POL would listen to them and in many cases adopt the ideas and suggestions that they put forward.   The NFSP to this day provides support to subpostmasters in several ways including most notably a benevolent fund that provides financial support for current and former members in difficulty.

The people of the NFSP

This really is the most important part to understand for those readers who have never been involved with a representative body and/or a trade union.   By the time the story of Alan Bates & Others starts in the year 2000 there were about 25,000 sub post offices scattered around the country.  It is important to note that the best word to describe the relationship between individual subpostmasters and POL was ‘fear’.  Fear that POL could walk into your office one day and close you down because you had done something wrong.  Fear, that as a result, you could lose the significant personal investment you had made in the business.   The NFSP certainly used that notion of fear and the fact that they could support you from a position of relative strength in negotiating on your behalf , to gain new members.

Not all postmasters elected to join the NFSP though but figures show that in their heyday 80% of the postmaster network had joined and paid levies to do so.   The NFSP was quite a large and wealthy organisation.

To this day its organisational structure from the ground up consists of local branches, regional councils and ultimately an executive council presided over by a general secretary/CEO.   There are those among us who are attracted by the thought of actively engaging in the administration of such organisations.  From putting their name forward for a local branch committee position to standing for election to the Executive Committee.   For some the attraction is personal recognition and the lure of wielding some influence.   For others and from my personal experience the reason most put their name forward was the attraction of being invited to an all expenses paid annual jamboree to the National Conference.    The conference was the highlight of their year and the faces of the attendees were pretty much the same year on year as was the content sadly.

You also have to remember that membership was naturally geographically scattered with only one representative coming from each post office.  In my area of the borders, attending a branch meeting located centrally in the region meant a 120 mile round trip, in the middle of winter on your one day off a Sunday.   Of course the NFSP would provide drinks and lunch so some repayment for the time and effort put in to attend and it was clear that a few attended only for that reason.

When we ask who are the NFSP in terms of numbers then we are referring to the active members only.  One could suggest that is the total number of members who regularly attend branch meetings but in reality the number is far smaller and as it stands now I would hazard a guess that less than a hundred are actively involved in promoting the interests of the organisation.

Out of that 100 I would say the vast majority are honestly concerned with the welfare of their fellow subpostmasters and they dedicate a lot of their spare time in assisting them.  However the further up the organisation you go and as the financial rewards and benefits increase, sadly personal interests start to play a more important role in the rationale behind their involvement in the organisation.   That, I must add, is not a unique premise to the NFSP and can be seen in many such representative bodies.

Clearly a key role in the structure of the organisation is that of what was the General Secretary and now the CEO.  In my time since I first became a subpostmaster there have only been three.  Colin Baker, George Thomson and now Calum Greenhow.  There are stories to be told about all three but the role played by George Thomson is probably that of most interest to the Bates saga.   He oversaw the implementation of Network Transformation and ‘negotiated’ the new structure of the NFSP as a representative trade organisation fully funded by POL.   In addition, and most concerning to the Alan Bates story is his obstinate stand on the problems encountered by his members when using the Horizon computer system.

In my opinion George is a man of fairly low intellect backed up with an extremely aggressive nature that at times becomes physical.  He had, at one stage, political ambitions but lack of ability and his aggressive behaviour put paid to that.   However he found his feet in the subpostmaster community and in particular the NFSP.   He realised that there was a path to the top for him and to the top he rose becoming General Secretary in the mid noughties.   The only good thing I could ever say about Thomson was that he knew how to speak to his members.  Probably not by design but by the fact that so many were in awe of his position and, truth be told, many were of the same low intellect as he is as well as the number of threats he issued to them on a personal level.    Of note was one issued to me personally in front of a large audience when I was not even a member of the NFSP so how he was going to carry that out is worth considering.

The Horizon computer system was introduced around the turn of the century and from the off it developed problems.   I have over the years collected NFSP Executive minutes from various sources and ones from that early period of Horizon note that the NFSP were well aware of the situation.   For the next 20 years their stance never changed (until this week when remarkably the current CEO Calum Greenhow expressed dismay that POL should have allowed this mess to happen) and they supported POL in the notion that there was nothing at all wrong with the computer system.   The EC minutes tell a different story.   They reveal that the NFSP knew of the problems but insisted that they could not challenge them publicly because, for the very same reasons POL did, it would cause grave reputational damage to the brand.   Well look at the brand now and the damage the NFSP has done to the members the organisation was put in place to support in the first place.

In my opinion the NFSP wilfully refused to support any subpostmaster who challenged the efficacy of the Horizon computer system including some very notable names and senior figures in the NFSP organisation.   Thomson’s remarks to the various governmental inquiries and the press into the Horizon scandal may bear some investigation now that Justice Fraser has delivered two judgements on it which include scathing remarks about the role the NFSP played.

So when we talk about how the NFSP came to be involved in this mess we need to be careful and not insinuate that the majority of NFSP activists were complicit in the deceit.   The message, not to question Horizon, came from the top down and was backed up by unsubstantiated claims from POL and the NFSP EC that Horizon was robust and reliable.  For many in the NFSP this became the truth they believed in and they were never provided with any evidence to the contrary by either POL or their union’s elite.

Both POL and the NFSP now have a real problem to deal with and that is how to justify in any way shape or form their continued existence while the people that expounded the myth of Horizon reliability remain employed by their relative organisations.    In a few months some of the people most deeply involved in all of this will face criminal charges, of that I have no doubt.  The question is why have they not been removed from office yet?

As it stands there is no place whatsoever for the continued existence of the NFSP as they remain inexorably linked to the scandal and are totally funded by POL.    The latter reason being why they cannot re-invent themselves as an independent organisation once again.   Network Transformation had already reduced the number of members they had to a minimum level and now with their reputation in smithereens they have absolutely no means of restoring trust and the membership they would need to financially support them.

POL need to do the necessary and shut them down now.  It will be a massive blow to those members who to this day provide much needed support to the subpostmaster community but there will be other ways their efforts can be supported.

It was the best of settlements, it was the worst of settlements.

The title of this blog can be attributed to another (as well as Mr Dickens) who must remain nameless but thanks.

In travelling down to London on Monday to hear the decision of the court in the Horizon Trial, I had two objectives.  One, to get to shake Mr Green’s hand and thank him and two, to meet at last these wonderful people collectively known as ‘the claimants’ in this case.  I was delighted to achieve both objectives.

There has undoubtedly been a mixed reaction to the settlement agreed in this case, the details of which remain behind the cloak of a confidentiality agreement, which only adds to the confusion and generates speculation on just how much each individual claimant will receive.

It was the best of settlements.

The fact is that Alan Bates & Others only got to this point because of a number of factors, the greatest of which no doubt is Alan and Susan Bates’ tenacity.  There are however several parties involved here and each of them deserve the credit they will undoubtedly receive in their industry and professions.  Starting with Therium the funders of the litigation, they are a huge litigation funding company whose business model relies on success in the cases they choose to provide funding to.  They don’t seem to publish details on their success rates but I can’t imagine they win all their cases.   It is perfectly reasonable to assume then that the return they seek on their investment should be significantly greater than that they would receive from an investment account.  It should also be pointed out, that according to their website they play no part in any settlement agreement however the price they recover from a successful case must be brought into the calculation of an acceptable settlement amount.

Freeths as well need to recover the portion of their costs that are not covered by POL and in cases such as this there is also often a supplementary amount payable to them on success.

As soon as POL approached Freeths for mediation it put the ball in Freeths court to either accept or reject the approach.   I have absolutely no idea how these amounts get finally settled upon but I have absolutely no doubt at all that James Hartley got the best possible settlement amount after weighing up the risk of continuing and the ever increasing costs of doing so.    In addition he got an admission of guilt, an apology and a commitment from the new CEO of POL to make the changes necessary to make sure this does not happen again.  There is some closure there, some vindication for the claimants but it really never mattered what the amount of the settlement would be because no amount of money could ever compensate for the suffering of the claimants.

It was the worst of settlements.

As soon as I heard the words, confidentiality agreement, I feared the worst.  It allows POL to hide behind a cloak of secrecy.  It means that claimants may never know why POL chose to settle at this stage.  Was there a restriction in the amount of money that they would be able to pay out?   Who influenced the settlement?  Was it the Government?   Was the timing deliberate around the time of the election?   Will the people who decided to appeal the first decision and to apply for they recusal of the judge ever be held to account for patently delaying the trial and wasting public funds on doing so?

Probably most important for the claimants does it prevent them from seeking additional claims should, as expected, the payouts not cover the claims they submitted?

Let’s be clear here.  POL lost and they lost big time.  They lost completely.  The amount of money claimed by the claimants was more than likely very fair recompense for the money the claimants lost yet due to the factors above regarding the impact of legal costs on the amount of the settlement due to the claimants POL will end up paying less than the total amount claimed.   That is scandalous because it means that POL will have PROFITED in the end from this trial.  The amounts that the claimants claimed were for money that went missing and as the decisions of this trial have supported it is most likely that those amounts, if they ever existed, were probably lost somewhere in POL’s voluminous suspense accounts that eventually went to their profit and loss account.   Bonuses could and probably were paid to POL management based on accounts inflated with money that they had been claiming was stolen or missaccounted for in the claimants branch accounts.

The government must now intervene and ensure that this final travesty of justice be overturned and an ex-gratia payment be made to each and every claimant to ensure they all receive the amount they claimed for at the start of this trial.

Just to add a point here if as I suspect the claimants will not receive the full amount they asked for.   The claimants in this trial are not the only ones.  There are others now and probably more coming along given the publicity this trial has received.  They will benefit from the evidence produced in court and the decisions of Justice Fraser.  It would be extremely unlikely that they will need to go to court to prove their case.  They will undoubtedly receive the FULL amount of their future claims.  Why should the people who brought this first wave of claims suffer by receiving less?

A judicial inquiry is a reasonable expectation now to ensure a full and complete investigation is carried out into the accounts, procedures and policies of POL in the past that allowed this to happen.  I would expect it also to advise on a level of transparent accountability given the vast amount of public money that is entrusted to this organisation.   Until such time as the claimants have been paid in full and the judicial inquiry is approved this scandal is only going to get a lot worse for those who caused it.

It’s all over bar the shouting …. or is it?

 

By all counts a dramatic week in the saga of Bates v Post Office Ltd. A settlement, vindication and the end of a protracted trial that was causing huge embarrassment to Post Office Ltd and the Government. With only a few loose ends to tie up such as distributing the settlement cash and hearing the decision of the court this Monday on the Horizon Software trial, it looks as if the claimant’s lives can return to normal.

Ha! I don’t think so.

I am not a claimant. Nick Wallis has kindly described me as a campaigner, Freeths described me as a bit of a nut (which I don’t mind because they could only have come to that conclusion after reading my diatribes which means that they did actually read them) and what POL think of me probably shouldn’t be published.

Wednesday’s startling announcement shouldn’t have affected me directly but it did. I recall one of my first tweet’s was asking @NickWallis what we would both do now with all our new found spare time. I said the same to Karl Flinders on the phone. On reflection, it was a really selfish reaction, but this case as well as campaigning for better treatment of subpostmasters has dominated my life these past 9 years. Not only that but I have just sold my property including the business and on 3rd February next year at the age of 62 I will have no job, no wife (divorce should be through by then) and nowhere to live. No problem, things could be worse.

When things do get bad for me, as they do with everybody, I always (well eventually) recognise that somewhere in the world there is someone a lot worse off than me. Which leads me to the real reason I am writing this.

I am trying to put down my thoughts and rationale why I should continue to pursue Post Office Ltd and those responsible for allowing this whole sorry mess to happen. Would it not be a good time in my life to put it all behind me and move on to a new adventure? POL will continue along its merry way, continue to ignore my advice and no doubt continue to ruin the lives of many of its subpostmasters. What would the point be of seeking retribution against those who have caused this suffering that has been revealed by Alan Bates? If I succeeded in getting it and putting those responsible behind bars would I really take any joy out of doing so?

BUT it’s not about me is it? Never has been. It is about the claimants and their quest for justice. Will justice be served by an amount of cash that regardless of what POL would ever provide in settlement would never be enough to appease the suffering they have endured?

While the cash settlement is closure for some, there remain those claimants who still have to have their criminal convictions overturned in court. In June 2016 I wrote this https://problemswithpol.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/what-are-you-waiting-for-paula/

It referred to the case of Seema Misra, a case I know well because the transcript of her trial was made public by the barrister Stephen Mason. Three and a half years later she is now ‘only’ a few months away from having her conviction overturned which I have repeatedly asked POL to deliver over the years.

On Wednesday Seema was interviewed on Radio 2 about her conviction and her suffering since then. Tears flowed as I listened. I cannot imagine how much she has gone through. When she explained how she has been stopped at airports regularly because she is a convicted criminal that brought all my anger against the people that caused this back to the fore. The ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE delay in having her conviction overturned is compounded, gravely compounded, by the fact that she was convicted as a result of criminal behaviour by POL and Fujtsu employees. Not only that but even more damning for POL at it stands today, NONE of the people responsible for this criminal activity have been reported to the Police by POL (they have been by me and a case opened against them but that is another story). Ignorance is not an excuse because I told POL. I pointed it all out to them. I even went so far as identifying to the board their legal obligations to do so. I have got proof that they read what I wrote to them including emails and letters from their legal team.

And to make matters just about as bad as they can be, those individuals are still working for the company and receiving annual bonuses.

NO IT IS NOT OVER… I am going to pursue them. The only people who can stop me from doing so are the claimants themselves. If they ask me to drop it I will. It remains for POL to explain why they have not fired them already and informed the CPS/Police.

PS I haven’t heard from Nick whether or not his crowd funding continues or not but there is something else we can all do for him and that is to ensure industry recognition i.e. an award for his journalistic achievements in covering the trial, including the tweets and the most original idea of crowdfunding and the support it received.   I am sure this method will be used by other journalists in the future to ensure media coverage of scandals that otherwise may not have been brought to the attention of the public.  Everybody who contributed to Nick’s fund will no doubt take some pleasure in the future to hear up and coming journalists saying they are going to ‘Wallis Fund’ their efforts or maybe say they are going to use a “WallisWallet”.   Someone get that on to Wikipedia!