Be careful what you say …

One thing that has transpired from the current trial, is a waft of disclosed evidence now available to be put in the public domain, which our intrepid court reporter Nick Wallis has done.   (Before I go on, his court reporting, sourcing of documents and publishing them all costs time and money so if you haven’t already, pop along to www.postofficetrial.com and top up his piggy bank because we really need his work to continue)

Already a mountain of documents to wade through and comprehend but just as important is to cross reference what is revealed in them to what has previously been said in public.  The trouble for some is that what they said then in public is not quite what it appears they said in private.   These people could not for one moment have imagined that a full blown trial would come to be and with it the disclosure of so many revealing documents.  They could also not have imagined for one second that the transcript of the trial of Seema Misra would also be published courtesy of the barrister Stephen Mason, which reveals so much about how POL went about obtaining criminal convictions.

There should, quite rightly, be some worried people out there, considering their futures in more ways than one.

Perhaps not so, Mr George Thomson, past General Secretary of the NFSP union and then CEO of what became NFSP Ltd.  His statements in the past may not come back to haunt him personally but they must have a devastating effect on the current and future relevance of the NFSP.  I am looking forward to hearing Justice Fraser’s take on that particular issue.

In August 2013 an email exchange between Thomson and Beal of POL revealed the following:

https://www.scribd.com/document/394041328/Bates-v-Post-Office-NFSP-Signed-in-Blood-Email-Chain#from_embed

“4. POL and NFSP to sign a 15 year contract for the NFSP to represent all post office operators. This will include: Financial agreement £500k payment 2013-14 £1.25m payment 2014-15 £1.25m payment 2015-16 £2.5m payment 2017 onwards to 2028 This process allows for the drop off of our present membership fee, and facilitates the change from check off towards POL charging a fee from all agents which is passed directly to the NFSP. Memorandum of Understanding to be worked on with rights and responsibilities on both sides. If necessary, NFSP will drop Union badge to sign contract. Please note – a signed agreement with the blood of both myself and Paula is necessary on the future of the NFSP before any agreement is granted on either NT and other points.”

I have been warned about my scribblings in the past and the fact that they might attract some interest from the legal profession on behalf of POL and others so with that in mind I better be careful what I say here.

On second thoughts, given that I am pretty much penniless and couldn’t give a shit plus of course I would be delighted to have my day in court with them I’ll just carry on saying things as I see them.

It is pretty clear from the email extract above that George is telling Paula, regardless of any benefit or lack of benefit of Network Transformation to the very SPMRS George was meant to support, he, George Thomson, wants Paula to personally commit POL to pay the NFSP close to £30m, otherwise he/NFSP will not provide public support to the project.  The withdrawal of public support for NT by the NFSP, it should be noted, would have had major political consequences.  Of course he also throws in the attraction of having the NFSP relinquish its union status despite his public outcry at those he believed responsible for ultimately bringing that about.

Now you can interpolate the above for yourself to determine what occurred in between that email and what or what did not transpire as a result, but I could point out a couple of things:

a) The NFSP continues to this day to receive heavy financial backing from POL

b) The NFSP never withdrew support for the NT Project

c) The NFSP lost their Union Status

d) to the best of my knowledge the final agreement between the NFSP and POL was not signed in blood (but who knows? I haven’t actually seen it.)

I do not know if the role of the NFSP in the events leading to this trial will be a major turning point or a mere irrelevance.

What I do know that unless the NFSP changes tune pretty damn quickly then they, as an organization, are and will remain totally irrelevant to the SPMR community.

 

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Risk v Reward

 

While the ongoing trial continues to throw up significant reasons why potential new subpostmasters should be wary of taking on a Post Office franchise, existing subpostmasters need to consider the considerable financial risk involved with the ever increasing amount of banking transactions they perform on behalf of High St banks whose local branches are closing in increasing numbers.

I am currently supporting a new bill that is in the first stages of passing through parliament (Banking and Post Office Services (Rural Areas and Small Communities))  and last week I visited Westminster to put my views to two of the sponsoring MPs.

For this bill to succeed in its’ premise:

a Bill to require banks to provide certain services in rural areas and small communities; to make provision for access to Post Office services in such areas and communities; and for connected purposes.

The Bill would amend the law relating to banking and Post Office services; make provisions to strengthen access to banking for rural and small communities by placing the access to banking standard on a statutory footing; place a duty on banks that received taxpayer funds to establish a community investment fund for when those banks leave a community; and strengthen the provision of Post Office services for rural and small communities across the UK.”

it will need to address the real underlying issues of transferring the risk of providing such services via the Post Office network to the subpostmaster and the remuneration they receive in return for accepting those risks.

Let me be clear though, these risks have always been there for subpostmasters, it is the increased risk due to the spate of bank branch closures that must be taken into account.   The subpostmaster needs to take them into account but so must Post Office Ltd, the government and the banks themselves.  The banks will tell you that all transactions they enter into are priced based on several factors not least of which is the risk involved.  The greater the risk the more you pay and I see no reason at all why subpostmasters should not expect more pay as the risk they carry increases.

These risks include:

  1. Increased risk of robbery (usually armed) including the possibility that Post Office Ltd will not cover the full amount stolen.
  2. Transaction errors where the blame and cost is to the account of the subpostmaster
  3. Acceptance of counterfeits as real and passed to the Post Office who then claim back the amount of the forgery from the subpostmaster

 

 

Each of these risks requires a full explanation as well as a risk reward analysis but let me take just one, the latter, as an example.

Accepting Counterfeits

A standard risk for any retailer who accepts cash as payment.   It is for them to use various methods, intuitive or automated, to determine whether or not the note presented is genuine or not.

Post Office Ltd no longer supply any assistance in this regard and it is for the subpostmaster to invest in equipment capable of determining a forgery.  Not all of these methods are foolproof though and occasionally one will slip through the net and be accepted as payment for a Post Office service.

Remembering at all times of course that many sub post offices also accept foreign currency in exchange for Sterling and certain types of notes, from all countries of the world, can each have their own unique anti counterfeit markings to be checked.   Note designs can also change on a regular basis and there will be times when multiple designs of the same value note will be in circulation.   Very difficult to keep up with especially when a subpostmaster may only come across a few of these variations a year.

So the subpostmaster, or assistant, has inadvertently accepted a counterfeit note.  If it is subsequently spotted before it is sent to Post Office Ltd in a return remittance of cash, then there are procedures in place where a subpostmaster can reclaim the value of the accepted note from Post Office Ltd.

However, if they do send back to POL a remittance that includes a counterfeit note and that is spotted by POL then the SPMR is sent a transaction correction for the face value of the note. In other words the SPMR loses that value.   The SPMR can challenge the decision to charge him the loss but in order to do so, he must personally attend the nearest Post Office Cash Centre which could be hundreds of miles away in order to review the evidence.  If the SPMR does this and manages to persuade POL that the note is in fact genuine then the SPMR can recover from POL the travel expenses incurred.  If POL prove the note is counterfeit then no travel expenses are re-imbursed.  Note that it is standard practice NOT to return the counterfeit note to the SPMR so that they can confirm for themselves the authenticity of the note.  They must travel to the cash centre to do this.

This is patently absurd and stinks of distrust.  POL may as well adopt a straightforward, unchallengeable procedure should they be sent a counterfeit from a branch.

With the increase in banking transactions now, most notably cash deposits, the risk of accepting a counterfeit note increases as does the risk of passing that through to POL where the SPMR will ultimately bear the cost of accepting it should POL notice it as a forgery.  As I mentioned before, in banking terms, if the risk increases then should the cost of processing these transactions increase.  That is certainly not the case with POL nor does the present level of remuneration reflect anything like the risk of undertaking banking deposits.

Example

A SPMR currently receives 18p per £1,000 he accepts as a deposit.

Had the customer paid the cash into a High St bank they would have paid approximately 70p or more per £100 deposited.

That in itself is a staggering difference. For a £2,000 deposit, the largest most subpostmasters are authorised to accept, they would receive 36p while at a bank branch the customer would be paying at least £14.00 in charges.

If you asked the bank to explain how they arrive at the amount they charge their customer they would explain about the cost of handling cash, the staff costs and the risk inherent in handling large amounts of money.   That risk is carried in total by the bank as a whole.  The Bank Branch Manager isn’t charged for any forgery he inadvertently accepts, and while he may face disciplinary action for not following standard security procedures during a robbery, he certainly wouldn’t be asked to pay back a portion of the amount stolen because of that.

The ludicrous nature of this discrepancy between SPMR remuneration and Bank charges for their customers is best highlighted by a recent example sent to me by a serving SPMR who raised his objections directly with Paula Vennells (so ignorance is no excuse).  This SPMR sent back cash to the cash centre and the cash centre declared that a £50 note he had sent back was counterfeit.  The SPMR recognised the note as it had stood out at the time of acceptance and he used all available methods at the time to check if it was a forgery.  He was left with the choice of travelling a hundred miles or so to the cash centre at the risk of not only losing £50 but also his time and travel costs, or accepting the loss, which he reluctantly did.

In order to recoup this lost £50, in banking remuneration, he would have to process banking deposits to the tune of £278,000 which is beyond belief. (note to self: nothing POL does is beyond belief)

Conclusion

This is just one of the risks associated with banking that subpostmasters currently accept for so little remuneration.   The reward does not justify the risk and can only serve to alienate more and more subpostmasters from accepting these banking deposits.  Even worse, if this became public knowledge, which it should, then it will certainly disenchant potential franchisees.   No parliamentary bill hoping to secure rural banking services through the increased use of the Post Office network will be worth the paper it is written on if it does not recognise that the risks associated with these transactions are high, are mostly carried by the subpostmaster and for an unacceptably low level of remuneration.

I would also add for my dear Post Office Ltd management readers, the simplest of solutions for this particular problem of counterfeit notes.  Do as the banks do and accept the loss on a national scale and do not, ever again, pass the loss associated with the acceptance of a counterfeit note onto extremely lowly paid workers that your company employs.  (I use the words ‘worker’ and ‘employ’ advisedly)

 

And it happened to me too …

(I am waiting for my train so time to write…)

The trial, for some reason, brought back memories of a small, seemingly innocuous loss I incurred while the serving subpostmaster at Foyers on the banks of Loch Ness.   Income was very low and we were on restricted hours although generally we kept the Post Office counter open the same hours as the shop.   When we took over in 2004 it was a very tight squeeze into the single fortress position and it meant on most mornings we needed two people serving; one in the shop and one in the fortress.

The local area manager, Kenny Lamont, came to visit and suggested I go and have a look at Croy PO, a small shop to the east of Inverness as it was one of the first POs to have installed a combi counter.  I liked the idea and progressed the project through the various channels only to discover that the rural grant fund I needed to fund 50% of the project had been depleted.    But you know me by now I suppose.   An email on another subject one Monday morning to none other than Alan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail, attracted an immediate response from him and we exchanged a few replies, and in one I mentioned the trouble I was having justifying investing more of my own money into a combi counter.   Next thing I know, one of his assistants called me to say they had ‘found’ a small amount left over in the fund and if I applied straight away I could grab it for my project.  The combi counter was duly installed, the fortress removed and the shop refurbished.  All this just as background I suppose but not really relevant other than I supported the underlying concept of productivity gains that a combi counter brought and in 2006 it was ahead of its time.  Oh dear … I have just thought, perhaps I helped convince them that NT was a good idea.  Sorry.

Anyway back to the error.   In those days banking customers would have an arrangement with POL that they could fill and seal money bags with the correct amount of notes (say £1,000 in £10) they wrote on the bag who they were and when deposited at their local branch all the branch would have to do was accept and stamp the bag and rem it out when required without checking the contents.   These customer filled bags would wing their way to the cash centre AND THEN be sent out to another branch unopened and unchecked.  It was for the receiving branch to open the bags and check the contents.  If there was a difference then you would report this as a REM difference and modify your accounts accordingly.   POL would clearly (maybe not) retrieve or refund the different from/to the customer account.   The element of trust involved in this process is staggering.  The allocation of risk to the SPMR even more so.

One day I received two bags of £10 notes, both customer counted and from two different customers.  I really hadn’t thought about it before and opened both bags and counted the contents.  £100 short.  So I phoned the help line.  They told me what to do and what would happen and then they asked which bag the shortage was in.  That was when the trouble started.  I had opened both bags at once.  I couldn’t tell which bag the shortage was in.  The long and the short of it was that POL insisted that it was now my responsibility to make good the £100.  There is some sort of logic around why they might say that but logic can be described in many terms and in my terms that logic was perverse.  Being who I am I didn’t stop at the help desk and ended up talking to the most remarkably horrible person I have ever came across in POL (move over AvdB I just remembered someone better than you – difficult I know).   You can imagine the conversation but it came to an abrupt halt when, as I was getting slightly more frustrated and angrier, he uttered the immortal words, “Do you know who you are talking to?”.   Now that to me is similar to a partially sighted person standing directly in front of what appears to be a large animal and waving a red flag to find out if it is a bull.   “For a brief moment sir”, I responded, “I thought I was talking to a human being.  I am clearly wrong” and put the phone down.

The anger, the frustration, all the problems I was having with the business all came flooding over me and tears flowed.   I called Kenny Lamont, the very helpful Area Manager, and still in tears explained the situation in terms I know he understood – poor Kenny it wasn’t his fault but I did take it out on him.  “Tomorrow morning come here and take your fucking post office shit out of this office before 10am or you will find it on the decking outside”.   Understanding that I was probably quite sincere, he asked if he could just go and check to see what the situation was.   “10am Kenny – no later”.

An hour or two later Kenny calls back, I am slightly less angry and more reticent while he explains that POL will wave this loss, this time.   That is all I wanted.  I knew I wouldn’t make the same mistake again but with the whole system of customer cash deposits remaining in place I am sure others made the same mistake until the system was withdrawn some years later.

There are lessons to be learned from this story.  Maybe just repeats of what goes on elsewhere in the network but testament to the idiots who managed to come up with such a system that was clearly open to abuse from all three sides.  Yes all three sides.  The crooked customer that manages to pass on their theft to the SPMR while POL sits happily in between.   Yes – truly madly deeply logical….

 

The Trial, Trump and Brexit

Edited preface to this post .. “Sometimes I write things without thinking about the personal circumstances of some of the people that read my blogs, and this post is proof of that.  It is understandably hard to read for any of the claimants that found themselves lacking the support they should have received from the NFSP.  It is worth pointing out that all the claimants did not receive either any or full support from that organisation when they needed it most.   I am truly sorry and the post below merely reflects my ambition that that organisation adapts itself to ensure that what has happened never happens again“”

I come away from 4 days attending the trial in a melancholy mood.   Reflecting on the situation as it stands, what it might have been and what it may be in the future.

We live in ever increasing divisive times with polarised opinion dominating the media and our thoughts.  The end result of course is frustration regardless of which side of the fence you sit on.  The frustration though is limited to those who feel it necessary to engage with their opponents and try to alter their opinion to reflect yours.  Stubbornness and the unwillingness to contemplate and include contrarian opinion in your own judgement making process just fuels the frustration of others.  It is time I think, in Post Office Land, to address these issues.

To put this into context:  the USA is divided by Trump, you either love him or hate him but ALL want the best for the USA.  Brexiteers or Remainers are united in their wish to have the best possible deal with our European neighbours.   Every single person involved in the Post Office network wants the best for the company they are associated with (including some like myself whose association with the company is in the past but I believe I can associate myself with the general public’s opinion of the Post Office who love it to bits despite all its apparent faults). But we have similar divided opinions within the company which have inspired several ‘them and us’ scenarios.   Subbies v Crowns.  CWU v NFSP.  Management v SPMRs and those who truly believe Horizon to be infallible and those who don’t.

With Brexit, no one knows the truth of what will happen, what the effect will be on our lives in the future.  With Trump, and I show my side here unfortunately, one side clearly has no concept of the real truth.  In POL Land, the truth, for many of the divisive issues among us, is about to be made starkly clear with the outcome of the trial.  It is inconceivable that the decision of the judge will not serve to change people’s opinions on what they had observed to be the truth in the past.

We can also reflect on what may have been.  In a perfect world and a perfect POL, the venerable Mr Alan Bates may still have been a wonderful subpostmaster in Wales, serving his community proudly and lauded for it while approaching retirement safe in the knowledge that his sub post office was worth more now than he bought it for and that it remained an attractive investment that he could sell on.  Well the POL world as we know is not perfect.   Mr Bates reflections on what may have been should create genuine sadness for us all, but it should also be realised that his quest for the truth over the last 15 years while maybe fuelled by other emotions, will ultimately lead to a far better run company, and divisive barriers broken down.   No matter the outcome of the trial, change will come and those prepared for it will be in a better place.

Of course there will be recriminations.  There will be side effects.   The people who led us into this situation are clearly not the people to manage the inevitable changes and those that refuse to acknowledge that change is necessary may well leave on their own account.   Those that remain will have to engage with those they despised in the past.  It is going to be difficult but possible.

I think now is the time to start preparing.   Yesterday for instance the NFSP was attacked in court which their opponents the CWU enjoyed.  Elements of ‘I told you so’ appeared even before the Judge has reached his verdict.  But who are the NFSP in reality?   They are a collection of well meaning subpostmasters, who devote a lot of their own time in helping others as well as enjoying the camaraderie of Federation meetings, conferences, rules and protocols.  The collection however is limited in size.  Claiming to represent the entire network but in reality reflecting only the views of their most active members which I would number now far less than 100.  Against this we have the CWU subpostmaster’s branch whose active members are found on the CWU facebook page and may number 20 to 30 (active members actively post and provide opinion).   The CWU branch is funded by its members while the NFSP have a substantial income from POL.    The CWU and the NFSP ultimately want the same thing as stated above but they have different aspirations on how they might get there.  Working against each other over the last few years has, I believe, been beneficial in a certain way, to all subpostmasters.  Any NFSP action is subject to intense scrutiny by the CWU and vice versa but is there a place for two subpostmaster organisations going forward after the trial?

One thing is very very clear from yesterday’s events and revelations.  There is no place for a representative organisation to be funded by the very company that employs its members.  Yes it happens in practice elsewhere, but the conditions associated with the NFSP funding from POL are and always have been ridiculous.   Calum Greenhow, the CEO of the NFSP, said yesterday that he is keeping an open mind on the outcome of the trial yet 10 minutes after he left the room, POL were conceding that the MOU that controls his organisation’s source of funding binds him to not criticize POL in any way shape or form.  That is not a great catalyst for a change of opinion based on the outcome of the trial.  I would suggest with the greatest possible respect, that as a result of yesterday’s testimony, Calum seeks the removal of that binding clause from the MOU with immediate effect.

And with the greatest of respect to both of you, Calum Greenhow and Mark Baker of the CWU, you need to sit down now and start preparing for life after the trial.  Two representative organisations, antagonising each other, at the very time unity and harmony is needed to start repairing the mess and ensuring it never occurs again will be vitally important.   POL are NOT going to come out the other end of this trial covered in anything else but dung, that is already clear and I for one am certain you will not be negotiating with Paula Vennels for much longer.   Together you can make sure that the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT action following the outcome of the trial, the selection of her replacement, is something you have an active role to play in.

Finally I appeal to all SPMRs of either persuasion who post on chat boards – let us stop the name calling now.  My hand is up. I was one of the worst. From today onwards that changes and please torture me if half a bottle of wine and a bad day at the office makes me slip in an unwanted and unnecessary satirical comment about past behaviour .. although I would dearly love to reserve my right to talk about one particular person .. no no no .. forget him .. totally inconsequential as am I of course..

 

 

POL, National Audit Office and ATMs

No court for me yesterday as I was off to Parliament to meet with a couple of MPs who are introducing a bill to  hopefully legislate protection for Banking and Post Office services in Rural Areas which is of great interest to me.  Mark Baker from the CWU postmasters branch joined me (great to meet up with him again although we do chat regularly on the phone) and we certainly put forward a few points that the MPs needed to know.  I surprised them with the fact that Post Office Ltd do not fall under the remit of the National Audit Office, just as the new Post Office APPG was surprised to learn.  It seems remarkable to think that I am the only person who has approached the NAO to investigate the financial mess the Post Office appears to be in.   You would have thought that at least one of the parliamentary watchdogs would want more information about how the £3b has been spent from an independent source rather than the management team who think nothing of throwing what will now be close to £30m when it is finished on legal expenses alone for the ongoing trial.  (£20m of this clearly being spent after any sane person would have realised they have lost already).  Anyway, the good news is that my discovery is now in the open and MPs from all parties will be enquiring as to how this situation has arisen and what needs to be done about it.

Following my meeting, I was lucky enough to be invited to observe PMQs on what was thought, was going to be a very fiery exchange between May and Corbyn.   Bit of a damp squib really, but the bonus was a question from an SNP MP to the Prime Minister regarding the real reduction in postmaster’s pay compared to the profit POL are ‘allegedly’ making.  I could easily have got thrown out as I teetered on the brink of applauding and shouting support for the question.

I returned to court to meet up again with Mark Baker only to find there would be no afternoon session.  Mark appeared from the court building in conversation with another former SPMR who I presumed was part of the claim.   It transpired he was not and had had his contract terminated in similar fashion to the rest of the claimants.  The problem with him though was that he knew nothing about Freeths, nothing about JFSA, nothing about the CWU before it was too late.  I am sure he will now join in subsequent claims to be made and eventually have his case heard and most likely he will win but be that as it may, the real concern from this is the fact that both POL and the NFSP failed to advise him of the ongoing JFSA claim which he could have joined in time to be one of the claimants in this case.   That is very disturbing indeed.

Helen Baker, former CWU Postmaster Branch Chairwoman, joined us later and we discussed the above case as well.  I hadn’t even got to the point of disclosing where the problem in his accounts lay, when she jumped in and said ‘I bet it was the ATM’.   Yes it was Helen and many many of the cases I believe have an ATM lurking in the background.   This reminded me of the Seema Misra trial transcript which I have read several times.  She went to prison as some of you may recall and details of her case are elsewhere on this blog.   Now you can read her trial’s transcript and come to the conclusion, quite rightly, in my opinion, that she did not steal the £80k or so in question but you have to ask where might it have gone.   It was only when I looked at her former office on Google Streetview did I see that she had an ATM in her post office.  Not once, NOT ONE SINGLE TIME, was this ATM mentioned by POL as prosecutors and to be fair her defence team.   POL have known for a long time the difficulties and mistakes that are being made in the extremely complicated process of trying to enter figures produced by  the ATM into Horizon.  Proof of this is of course the recently introduced ‘Easier’ way of doing this on Horizon.  I haven’t seen it in action and can’t comment on how difficult it remains but if you make something easier then clearly it was understood to be difficult before.   Helen’s knowledge of similar incidents is astounding and she can testify to the fact the she had to show POL Auditors on numerous occasions how to feed ATM readings into Horizon.  If POL Auditors can’t do it then how the hell can SPMRs be expected to do it perfectly every time.

I would point out that in this new case above, the former SPMR says his branch was fine until the ATM was installed.  I think there are many similar cases out there.

Joining the dots from all these points you come up with the conclusion that if each and every SPMRs was now visited by an independent inquiry team I think we would find that the current Freeths claim of c550 claimants is the mere tip of the iceberg.  I also think that if you put every POL ‘Auditor’ in charge of a branch for a couple of months, the number of claimants would rise considerably.

I haven’t forgotten about the error I mentioned yesterday – still following up on that one.

Off to court now for my last time.

And the trial continues …

My Day Two

The next witness is Mr Abdulla and I don’t recall whether or not he is a claimant picked by POL or JFSA as a lead claimant.  If it was POL that picked him then there is a clear pattern emerging here but more of that later.   All witnesses are different of course, but the pent up frustrations are clear to see and emerge when the witnesses are asked questions that provide them with the opportunity to tell their side of the story.  Mr Abdulla used these opportunities to the max and ended up clearly frustrating both Mr Cavender and Justice Fraser and he was also not averse to answering a question from Mr Cavender with a question of his own.   My initial note on his testimony was ‘Bitter’ and that certainly showed through in his combative approach to questioning from POL’s counsel.   I don’t know whether or not that will have an effect on the Judge’s take on his evidence – probably not – but as I said yesterday, I feel Justice Fraser commands some deference and I would certainly have been far meeker if I was providing evidence to his court.

Mr Abdulla though wins today’s award for Quote of Trial contender.  In reply to some innocuous question about support from POL he replies with a question that he immediately answered for the court:

“Why does POL have a Second Tier Help Line? Because the first one is useless” I am sure I heard a few stifled giggles from the POL team sitting behind me.

There appear to be fewer people in court today – some 50 including all legal staff and supporters.  That to me is a bit of a problem because it means less interest and fewer people to spread the word about what is happening.  The claimants who attend are under strict instruction not to discuss the case and I understand that BUT there are points coming out of the trial that are already very significant to existing subpostmasters and they need to know them now – not later after the decision is published.

Having said that though I am going to have to bite my tongue and NOT explain the following because right now I don’t want POL to know just how badly their feet have been shot today.  Somebody else will have to take the decision to reveal this but what is clear is that there is a pattern emerging for me after only two days.   Mr Cavender is being continually undermined by POL in clearly trying to follow their instructions to him while having contradictory evidence introduced that he wasn’t aware of.   We can thank Mr Abdulla for that also – while yesterday one of the witnesses had severe memory problems of what occurred, Mr Abdulla’s memory in this particular instance was perfect and an extremely large intake of breath from me may have indicated the significance of what was revealed.

This was also the end of the trial for me today as I had to leave to let someone know what had transpired.  I was also going to have lunch with Stephen Mason and another.  Stephen is a barrister – now of the academic genre – who specialises in Digital Law.  He is an accomplished fiction writer as well and the man responsible for the publication of the Misra Transcript.   He took me on a tour of the Inns of Court and displayed his remarkable knowledge of the buildings and their history.  Thanks Stephen for that and I look forward to meeting up with you again soon.

With my sciatica rearing its ugly head again I returned to my base hotel (well they call it a hotel but I look enviously at the homeless in the shop entrances who look more comfortable than I am at the moment)

No trial for me tomorrow but back on Thursday ….

 

 

Painting the Picture – Inside the Court

My first day in court – not just for the JFSA trial but in my life .. so 61 years on I finally make it and meet some of the wonderful people that have been so resolute in establishing their innocence and/or loss.   I have absolutely no idea how you have all managed to remain so sensible during the intervening years.  I haven’t been accused of anything (yet) but I got the distinct impression from many of the journalists and combatants that I met today that association with my, shall we say, more freely expressed views, may be more trouble to them than it is worth.  I agree and understand and I consider it perhaps a responsibility to use my lack of assets as protection against the litigious POL to perhaps paint a closer to the truth picture than others may dare to.

However that said there are limits and as these limits on court reporting are under the supervision of Justice Fraser I am most certainly not for a moment going to try and upset him.  What a star he is.  Tall, handsome and an absolute doppelganger for a Holywood Actor whose name eludes me.  When he entered the room I think my body bowed automatically in his presence notwithstanding the fact that we were meant to anyway.  He has this presence about him – enough to make me check three times at least that I had switched my phone off before he entered.  As I said to someone today I think whatever he decides will be impossible to challenge as his command of the trial is awesome.  Two steps ahead of the game and correcting counsel before they even make the mistake they were going to make (almost but you get my drift)

The modern day courtroom is far removed from Rumpole of the Bailey days and is decidedly electronic in feel with A4 page monitors, normal PC Screens and Ipads in abundance.  The judge himself has three to hand, one of which displays that transcript of the trial as it plays out.   No wigs or silks in sight and a calm and relaxed atmosphere.   A relatively friendly atmosphere exists and I noted the JFSA QC quietly prompting Cavender QC for POL occasionally to help him get the most out of his witness.

Hats off to Mr Cavender.  I thought he was exceptional today; showing patience and respect to both witnesses as he tried to make his failing points.  That wasn’t his fault – that goose he bought and fattened up for Xmas on the back of this trial has started to quack and I am sure he is beginning to understand that the very people who have instructed him so far have got less of an idea how to run a branch than the claimant witnesses.  If I were to offer Mr Cavender some advice, I would suggest that he has at least one or two SPMRs in his support team – but then again he would find out that what they have to say will only further support the claimants case.

Yet again POL show their true colours – them and us – POL v SPMRs – they have the answers but to the wrong questions because they don’t ask the right people.  The courtroom divided as they sit in their little huddle and the claimants in theirs and of course me stage right ..

As to today’s witnesses, Pam was amazing.  My overall impression of her testimony was that there was no sign of bitterness (which there must surely be), a clear understanding and confidence that whatever happened at her office it wasn’t her fault and most surprisingly I really felt that she wanted POL to understand this in order that they could make the network better – I think, like me, she genuinely loves the Post Office and wants it to succeed (in business not in court).  People like Pam should be listened to when the current management team departs after this trial.

Sabir, it has to be said, played a game of two halves.  Perhaps one of 4 quarters as he saved himself for the last 15 minutes or so.  3 – Nil down with only a few minutes to go the game frankly had become quite boring and then … he was asked about the particulars of his claim.  Well in my reckoning he scored about 3 goals of his own while Mr Cavender, who I genuinely felt sorry for being led into such a trap by his own team, netted three or four own goals of his own.  So in the end a real result (7-3 to the JFSA) coming from a lead claimant that was handpicked by the POL team probably because they thought he was weak.   Ha!  He is certainly in my Fantasy Claimant team for this week for sure.   Trouble is that Mr Cavender and POL maybe not realise what has transpired – I certainly hope the JFSA team can follow it up in their closing arguments.

While I look forward to the rest of the week, I also know that I can look forward after I return home to more updates from Nick on a daily basis.  Let me be clear having seen him in action – he has undoubtedly bitten off more than he can chew I think and he deserves more support.  Mentally he must be exhausted already so keep on rattling the cans and getting folk you share his tweets with to donate so we can at least provide a stimulus for him to keep going.