Kickstarter link - please help fund this site

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Day 8 write-up: AvdB part 2

Rolls Building entrance
Angela van den Bogerd, Post Office Development Director, spent the entire day under cross-examination on Day 8 of the Bates and others v Post Office group litigation common issues trial.

She was answering questions put to her by Patrick Green, QC for the JFSA, who walked Mrs van den Bogerd through a bewildering number of documents, initially painting broad brush strokes and before drilling down into complex issues to make a specific point.

There were a significant number of former Subpostmasters present to hear what Mrs van den Bogerd had to say, though, on occasion, her mumbling, low-volume responses in the witness box made it difficult to pick out exactly what she was saying.

If you would like to read my blow-by-blow live tweeting of Day 8's events, please do click on this compendium of them and have a read. If you want a summary of the key moments, read on...

Let's deal with the biggest shock. The already infamous September 2010 receipts payments mismatch meeting memo, released via the court and published on this blog last week, had another big secret to reveal.

We already knew it concerned a serious Horizon "bug" which had materially changed the accounts of around 40 Post Offices. We already knew that a summary of possible courses of action discussed remote access to Subpostmaster branch accounts. Remote access was presented as as a given, something that until January 2017 the Post Office had denied was possible.

What we didn't know is the outcome of the discussion within the memo.

The memo lists three possible courses of action with regards to rectifying the damage the bug has already done, whilst Fujitsu are working are working on isolating it and writing a fix:

SOLUTION ONE- Alter the Horizon Branch figure at the counter to show the discrepancy. Fujitsu would have to manually write an entry value to the local branch account.

IMPACT - When the branch comes to complete next Trading Period they would have a discrepancy, which they would have to bring to account.

RISK- This has significant data integrity concerns and could lead to questions of "tampering" with the branch system and could generate questions around how the discrepancy was caused.This solution could have moral implications of Post Office changing branch data without informing the branch.

SOLUTION TWO - P&BA will journal values from the discrepancy account into the Customer Account and recover/refund via normal processes.This will need to be supported by an approved POL communication. Unlike the branch "POLSAP" remains in balance albeit with an account (discrepancies) that should be cleared.

IMPACT - Post Office will be required to explain the reason for a debt recovery/refund even though there is no discrepancy at the branch.

RISK - Could potentially highlight to branches that Horizon can lose data.

SOLUTION THREE - It is decided not to correct the data in the branches (ie Post Office would prefer to write off the "lost" [sic]

IMPACT - Post office must absorb circa £20K loss

RISK - Huge moral implications to the integrity of the business, as there are agents that were potentially due a cash gain on their system

Now because this list of solutions is preceded by the statement: "the groups [sic] recommendation is that solution two should be progressed", it was accepted that this is what did happen.

But today Mr Green had something of a revelation. He had been able to discover, through his cross-referencing of responses he had received from the Post Office legal team, that one of the "circa" 40 affected branches had received a balancing transaction via Solution One: Fujitsu manually writing an entry value to the local branch account.

When this was presented to Mrs van den Bogerd she was adamant that this would not have been done without the relevant Subpostmaster's knowledge.

Mr Green said he had approached the Post Office legal team for the answer to that very question. He wanted to know specifically if they had informed the Subpostmaster. He read the response - a letter saying that as the Subpostmaster in question was not a claimant and as it had very little bearing on the claimants' case, the information would not be released.

Mrs van den Bogerd repeated her assertion that the Subpostmaster would have been told.

So - asked Mr Green - why not just say yes?

Mrs van den Bogerd had no answer.

There is an inference that Mr Green was asking the judge to make, and it is a serious one. It is that the Post Office (or Fujitsu at the Post Office's behest) has the capacity to manually enter balancing transactions into individual branch accounts, and has done, without the knowledge of the Subpostmaster. It is important to stress the Post Office has not admitted doing this, but it has also not confirmed it did inform the Subpostmaster that this balancing transaction had taken place, when you would think that if it did happen, it would be very much in their interests to confirm it.

The implications of this have been spelled out to me by a senior and experienced figure not connected to either legal team. If the Post Office have the capacity to manually enter balancing transactions into branch accounts without the knowledge of the Subpostmaster, and have done so, the integrity of the Horizon system, particularly, the Subpostmasters' responsibility for their branch accounts is now called into question.

Other revelations came thick and fast - internal documents detailing inadequacies in training and support, more Horizon bugs and the need to keep on top of them internally, the near-impossibility of Subpostmasters being able to properly investigate problems being held as debts against them, genuine, provable examples of Subpostmasters being held liable for errors made by Post Office staff or systems and the sheer unpredictability of the Post Office's transaction correction system which is liable to wild swings in value from year to year.

I was also somewhat bewildered to hear that it was Post Office policy to require Subpostmasters to put fake transactions through Horizon in order to balance their stock. Mr Green gave the example of stamps. If Horizon said a branch should have 221 stamps, and in fact the branch had 225, the Subpostmaster had to "sell" 4 stamps to a phantom customer to reduce the number to 221. And if there are too few, the Subpostmaster carries out a reverse transaction, again to balance actual stock against Horizon's number.

But no money changes hands? asks the judge.

Correct, agrees Mrs van den Bogerd. What, said Mr Green, if the Post Office sends out too few stamps and the Postmaster doesn't notice, then carries out a phantom transaction to balance. Does the Subpostmaster then become liable for that discrepancy.

"No" said Mrs van den Bogerd. There was a sharp exhalation of breath from at least one of the attendant former Subpostmasters, a bunch of people who have otherwise listened in perfect respectful silence on every day of the proceedings.

Mr Green explained the situation again, and on this occasion Mrs van den Bogerd agreed that if the Subpostmaster failed to notice the Post Office's mistake, they take on the liability.

I'll be honest I was less surprised by the Post Office shovelling risk onto Subpostmasters (even when it's the Post Office making the initial mistake), than I am by a procedure which requires Subpostmasters to make phantom transactions on Horizon, but there we go.

Two moments today really did make me wonder.

The first came when Mrs van den Bogerd was presented with a spreadsheet in which she was asked to look at apparent Post Office errors regarding Transaction Corrections on Naushad Abdulla's branch account. After a bit of a grilling on it Mrs van den Bogerd told the court she wasn't really able to comment further on this as she was "coming to it cold".

This caused some consternation amongst the claimants' lawyers. After a break, Mr Green pointed out to Mrs van den Bogerd that on Friday 16th November he had received her signed witness statement for the second ("Horizon") trial in this group litigation, which is due to happen in March 2019.

He points out that in her Horizon witness statement Mrs van den Bogerd makes specific, quite detailed points about Mr Abdulla's case. She asks to see her witness statement for the Horizon trial. After lunch it is presented to her. Mrs van den Bogerd accepts her phrase "coming to it cold" was a mistake.

The second came towards the end of the day when Mr Green read out several paragraphs from Mrs van den Bogerd's witness statement for this trial which had been copied and pasted directly from various Post Office documents including a Post Office rebuttal statement to Second Sight which was written in 2015. I really wish I could have told you what Mrs van den Bogerd said in response to this, and it may well have been perfectly reasonable, but to be honest she was mumbling so much by this stage I could not make out what she was saying.

Just as I have asked the NFSP for comment on my recent piece about them, I am hoping the Post Office will see fit to contribute meaningfully to the debate which has been going on outside the courtroom as well as inside it. Whilst I aim to keep my reporting fair and balanced, if the loudest noises are being made by those who are critical of the Post Office, my reporting is almost unavoidably going to reflect that.

Today I was given the overall statement by the Post Office about this litigation which, thanks to the joy of the internet (rather than the time/space restrictions of broadcast news), I am happy to post up in full:

"The Post Office is robustly defending its position in the court and welcomes the opportunity to do so. We take these cases extremely seriously and we have worked hard over a number of years to address the issues raised. We have conducted thorough investigations and sought to resolve some of the claims through mediation.

"It’s important to note that the claimants represent a very small proportion (0.01%) of users of our Horizon computer system users since 2000.

"Our employees and postmasters are important to us and we take our relationships with them very seriously. We have confidence in our network of 11,500 Post Office branches and the systems underpinning it.

"The Horizon computer system is operated successfully by thousands of employees, postmasters and their staff to process 47 million transactions every week."

I look forward to further contributions from the Post Office...

Day 8 - live tweets

Here are today's live tweets from Day 8 of Bates and others v Post Office at the High Court adjusted for legibility and formatting. Please remember they paraphrase what was said. Nothing is a direct quote unless it is in direct quotes. You can read today's tweets at Thread Reader or the originals here. Or just scroll down...


Yay.... #postofficetrial

Day 8 of this trial is expected to be entirely taken up with the cross-examination of Angela van den Bogerd, a Post Office director and most senior Post Office person at this trial.

We are in Court 26 ready to begin. Judge has walked in. Angela van den Bogerd (AB), Post Office Director, is in the witness box. Cross-examination by JFSA silk Patrick Green QC continues.

QC do you know whether it was PO policy to remind SPMRs of the hardship fund if they have significant debts
AB never seen it in writing
QC goes to letter to Pam Stubbs - states "this letter" is to give authority to hold the hold the loss for 8 weeks. letter then says...

… any further losses which arise during the authority period must be made good immediately.
QC do you accept this is a standard letter?
AB yes.
QC goes to internal memo - Po staff telling each other they’ve told Pam Stubbs she needs to prove what the problem is - it’s not...

… horizon in its steady state -
QC If PO knows or believes it has a problem with Horizon it must tell SPMR immediately
AB I agree yes
QC if an error notice is issued to an SPMR after this letter is issued she has to pay it immediately
AB she could request if she could delay...

… one of the payments.
QC Let’s go to Liz Stockdale letter in which she asks to repay money she says she owes. "I am assuming the investigation has been done", hence her letter [ie the letter which is demanding payment]
QC then goes to a PO internal email which says the...

… no investigation has been carried out.
AB well it isn’t clear whether it has or not

correction - not an internal email - it’s a reply to Liz Stockdale. The email also asks Liz which product she made the loss on.

email also makes clear that LS cannot settle any further...

… losses until 12 months after her existing losses have been repaid
AB says she still can settle centrally and that’s how I would read that letter.
AB says it’s not very clear in the letter,
Judge asks if there is word in there that would make it clear...

… or is what you think he means is rather different what he appears to be saying.
AB my understanding of what he means is different
[QC now pushing on AB’s understanding on what it means by referring to another internal document]
During the repayment period:
1. Losses are made good immediately
2. Repayment period can be made up to 12 months
3. No more than two repayments in 2 years or more than one going at once.
Now - that point is different to the one that is in the 3rd bullet point there. [he refers...

… to a document they can all see, which I can’t].
AB SPMs are able to settle centrally a loss. It doesn’t mean they are going to go into a deduction remuneration situation
Judge we’re rather gliding off the point. This is about a period when they are already having deductions.
AB accepts that was the policy
QC says that part of the policy is still in place?
AB answers

[there is some confusion here about which part of the policy which does now allow the dispute of shortages during a repayment period]
QC suggests that the situation is the same now as 1998. If you are already repaying a loss, you have to make any further losses good immediately.
AB agrees position hasn’t changed.

QC is there a doc which specifically contradicts the 1998 position
AB trying to recall.
QC you can’t think of one
AB there is a document which allows SPMs to question… ther are two things - a) I”m unable to pay and seek the hardship relief b) I don’t agree with this loss and want to dispute it
QC but this line of questioning is about SPMs already repaying...

… are you aware of any document which allows SPMs to defer
AB I can’t recall the document but I know the situation is that under repayment SPMs can still dispute further shortages.
Judge says he is sure PO QC will find this document if it exists for re-examination. We move on.
QC brings up a standard terms document "Whilst these provisions do reflect the T&Cs of the contract, they are not reflective of the whole nor do they incorporate operations manuals, booklets and instructions issued to SPMs from time to time.”

Also notes the terms of this document has the phrase SPM is responsible for ANY losses caused in branch.
QC that’s wrong isn’t it?
AB it does also say it’s reflective of s12:12
QC but expressed there, it’s wrong.
QC are you aware that SPMs should be expected to understand anything they settle centrally as a debt?

AB I wouldn’t use the word debt.
[AB talks about them being responsible for losses and that they would understand that]
QC says in reality they don’t
AB says they do...

AB it is made clear and she has made it clear to SPMs that is their responsiblity
QC when did you last have a conversation with an SPM about this
AB you want a date?
QC roughly.
AB a couple of years ago maybe

QC is the receipt of a full SPM contract no later than the day they take over the branch still standard practice
AB no it has changed
QC are there any SPMs still on the old style contract
AB there are some…

QC in attributing responsibility for transaction corrections [in a period I missed] 19044 caused by branch 84,614. So by the PO’s own figures, around 20% of TCs are not caused in branch.
Here there are 33 errors not caused by branch wrt to Camelot and more than 2,000...

… were caused in branch. That’s a v high proportion on the branch side.
Do you know why?
AB depends what the error is - could be problems remming out scratchcards…

QC okay let’s look at cash remming out errors [qc explains the process for a branch receiving cash] On 1565...

… occasions there had been TCs sent to branches for errors which were not their fault. That is something SPMs had to spot. Otherwise they would be potentially liable for that loss, unless the cash centre spotted it.
AB they are required to check their cash on receipt.
QC goes to a document called a Working Agreement about financial services.

AB I have never seen this before
QC it says SPMRs must report shortage to the helpline. A TC will usually be issued in 3 months. QC asks how much Horizon info is available to SPMRs
AB 60 days
QC which is less than three months.
QC lists other examples of larger TC which might come down within 2 years - again, he says - longer than 60 days.
QC makes point that criteria for communicating with SPMRs re large TCs..

… if it affected more than 10% of the network and if it fell outside a specific period in the working agreement.
QC points to another document about reviewing TCs “to correct accounting errors in Horizon"
It is a 10 Feb 2010 doc which aims to stop large scale TCs coming down to a branch which don’t actually affect that branch (among other things).

QC goes back to Working Guidance, actual procedure is that when an SPM gets a TC the first thing they see is “accept now” button
AB not sure - I’d need to see a screen shot
QC goes back to document which states as policy not to issue a high value TC on a monday or tuesday before rollover day. Now talking about compensating transaction corrections issued to correct TCs made in error.

QC says that one of those TCs HAS to have been sent in error, yes?
AB yes
QC goes to PO document which says that a dispute process should be in place to allow SPMRs to dispute TCs so that they are not forced to accept soemthing they are not liable for [i paraphrase]
QC that shouldn’t be controversial.
[they agree it isn’t]

[QC is going through a bewildering number of documents to make a point that although it should be possible to dispute a TC, in practice it is quite difficult]
QC goes back to Liz Stockdale issue. It’s very hard for her to effectively dispute something when she doesn’t know how it has been caused.
AB accepts

QC goes to email chain relating to an SPM called Fiona Whybrow in which she disputed a TC of £655 re a lottery transaction and was told she would get a further TC down the line which was why she settled centrally, but told the PO she would not give them the £655...

… cos she was on a promise of a correcting TC.
QC this must be quite stressful not to receive a compensating TC
AB yes that shouldn’t have happened
QC and theres room for human error in the production of TCs
and that’s one of the reasons why errors may occur in branch accounts..

… as well as human error there is also the possibility of Horizon error?
AB Yes
QC moves on to talk about lottery TCs. They can be very large.
AB yes
QC gives real eg of a £28K +tive TC and a £34K -tive TC. Big sums, esp. compared to how much a branch might be turning over...

QC brings up PO document with no author or date or distribution list which talks about debt recovery of from SPMRs over TCs they don’t agree with “evidence provided is not meaningful in some cases, processes are not understood” etc
“The vast majority of calls to NBSC...

… are appropriate", the others are complaints about how to settle centrally.
QC says that this was an issue that clearly was not addressed in training for SPMRs
AB I don’t know
QC “I’m grateful."
Back to the doc "Review of the creation and management of TCs in POLFS” - talks about Camelot’s habit of rolling up all the errors made in each branch and then feeding them back in a lump because it is to costly to particularise them...

...and that this is not that helpful to SPMs.
AB that’s Camelot
QC it appears to be Camelot yes.
QC then goes to something from Horizon data about information attached to TCs and says that if SPMs cannot get to the bottom of the reason for a TC, the SPM has to accept it.
[AB says something like this is a document aimed at trying to improve a situation] - sorry I missed that.

Judge asks what a blocked TC is. AB explains
QC now on to another document in which concerns are raised about the use of cheques in and out of branch.
QC gives an example on an excel spreadsheet of how a TC comes down to an SPMR - date, reason, amount [in this case a Child Trust Fund payment wrongly taken over the counter]. Then he goes to one which warns of a TC coming on a specific date, which doesn’t come.

[this is Naushad Abdulla’s branch (he is a lead claimant)] The TC that was due to come was to balance a debit TC of more than £1K. When it does come, it is another debit TC, putting him more in debt erroneously?
Judge do you accept this?
AB I’d have to see more info
Judge - no no - do you accept that on the face of it, this is an error?

AB on the face of it, yes.
QC goes on to explain that later on Mr Abdulla is shown to have a loss for a similar amount [this is getting v complicated as they are basically reading lines on a tiny excel spread...

… sheet I can’t see.
QC ends up reading an spology from PO to Mr Abdulla, but QC says more than one error has been made here?
AB on the face of it, yes.
QC lists errors, AB interrupts says I’m not sure there are that many.
QC let’s put it this way - if you’ve been billed...

QC three times for £1092 when you were only expecting one, then you can see why they have these concerns?
AB I can’t really comment on this further
QC why can’t you sent SPMs this sort of info on an excel spreadsheet so they can see what’s going on
AB i have not considered...

… that before.
QC moves on to a document about a service level agreement culture within the Post Office - so diff depts within PO have to provide each other with a high level of service. It is HEAVILY redacted.
QC brings up Transaction Corrections and problems with corrupted data from Camelot. It is one of 130 clients sending data to the PO which has to be reconciled and processed. Asks about issue with new polymer notes not working on PO counting machines...

QC asks if these counting machines are in branch or cash centres
AB both
QC if they’re in a branch, whose responsibility is it if they’re not working
AB depends who provided them
QC let’s say you did.

AB then we are responsible
QC brings up wild monthly variations in TCs why?
AB what we would do is look at the trends and see why they have these swings
Judge asks what the “fix on lottery was”
AB can’t recall.

10 min break!

12.08 we’re back. Angela van den Bogerd, a Post Office director is being taken back to a moment before the break when she was shown some evidence and said “I’ve just seen this cold so I can’t comment.”
QC says on Friday she served a witness statement for...

… March’s Horizon trial in which she explicitly addresses the issue. Either you are not aware of what’s in your witness statement or you are not coming to it cold.
AB says she would like to see what’s in her witness statement before commenting further.
Judge asks for AB to have her witness statement provided to her.
QC moves on.

QC says TCs require data to be entered manually and that manually entered data can go wrong. He shows examples of mistakes by PO in evidence. His point is manual error is a risk in TCs, yes?
AB yes.
QC shows letter from Womble Bond Dickinson...

[Post Office lawyers in court today] in response to request about TCs since 1998. They can only provide data since mid-2000s
QC says now - SPMs don’t become wildly more inaccurate or wildly more diligent from one month to the next - and points out data from 2005/6...

… which shows wild swings - 12K to 108K - in total numbers of TCs from one year to the next.

Then points out 2009 - 2011 data which again show wild movements in the values of the TCs from one year to the next.
QC asks if AB can explain it
AB is looking at the figures
QC goes to wild value swings (+ or - a few million) again and notes in 2015 there were +£42m in TCs done. Can she explain why?

AB has no recollection or knowledge of why this figure is as it is.
QC says it can’t have been the ping fix can it as that was 2012
AB explains that they were having difficulties with Camelot data being manually entered into Horizon so they semi-automated the process.

Judge points out this might be why TCs went down in 2013 and 2014
Judge says no one should read anything into this but problems with Camelot do seem to come up an awful lot in the documents he’s read. Asks if that tallies with AB’s experience
AB agrees

QC showing AB a working document which she co-authored in which it is noted that SPMs have to make good “ANY" losses made in their branch and notes “substandard Horizon help”. So H help was substandard
AB not in content but they way it was used to make searches
AB so happy with H help content but she wanted an easier way to search for that help in branch.
QC says we’ll come back to this.

QC notes a new document in which AB says Horizon help has been substandard. So you’re being honest in this appraisal here?
AB yes
QC notes this document (co-authored by AB) states an need for better access to Horizon help through an intuitive search function. Has this been introduced?
AB No not yet.
QC and that document was written in 2016.
QC lists other things in the document about problems with Horizon helpline and notes it says that the impact of failing to introduce it is continued poor user experience of Horizon. This is a candid internal document?

AB yes it was my view
QC draws a parallel with AB’s written internal appraisal and that of a sacked SPMR Liz Stockdale. Does she accept?
AB my problem was more of the speed of access to the content, not the content itself.
QC going back to particulars of defence which rejects crit of the Horizon...

… as being “difficult to use”. Now thinks he has made the point that AB’s own words validate difficulties for Horizon help as an issue.
QC why did you not put this in your witness statement. why did we have to go looking for it
[AB is mumbling, I can’t hear her answer]
[accepts Horizon help is “clunky” and there is room for improvement]

Judge has just asked AB to keep her voice up
Court is being shown a process map called the "Horizon Challenge Process” QC asks if it has ever been introduced. After 30s thinking time AB says it was
QC it was?!
AB not in its entirety, but step 2 was
QC asks about the bottom half of what sounds like a complex map
QC quote from process map which asks if agent can provide timeframe of specific fault?
AB no

QC did you ever tell SPMs a Horizon Challenge Process has been introduced internally to investigated Horizon errors.
AB no
QC is it fair that if an SPM cannot understand an H error they should be held liable for it
AB gives indistinct answer
QC goes back to 2010 branch mismatch error which has been in the news recently. Says this is a very niche Horizon error which would not be picked up in branch yet they SPMs potentially being held liable for it. Is that fair?

AB goes into her longest answer yet about the processes
that are in place to find the source of the error which is an investigation involving locating the problem in branch and getting to the bottom of it in a structured way.
QC do SPMs get the raw data or just your conclusion
AB both
QC but you accept there will be some sums...

… that SPMs cannot understand where they came from.
AB yes
QC what is a reasonable time frame within which an SPM should be able to identify a problem
AB gives answer about problems caused when people keep rolling losses over
QC suggests the tables are turned when SPM gets a TC x months down the line and wants to challenge it. It’s very hard isn’t it?
AB but a TC comes with supporting evidence.

QC goes back to payments mismatch issue affecting 40 branches. None of the SPMs had spotted it.
AB agrees says it was spotted by Fujitsu who alerted PO
QC says yes but you hadn’t told the SPMs
AB says yes but this is about agreeing next steps
Judge asks how SPMs...

… could identify the source of their losses if they didn’t know the cause.
QC now asking Ab about the payments mismatch memo in detail (which I published on postofficetrial.com) - asking why they were not telling SPMs about this.
QC notes concern in memo it could be used as ammunition
QC is it fair to say PO likes to maintain a narrative that Horizon is robust
AB it will make mistakes and we will correct them but we won’t communicate things without facts - it would just generate more questions

QC well let’s see what you could have communicated. This fault was found in May and the memo was written in September - so 5 months you’ve known about this and not told them.
AB yes - I was not involved in this decision
QC you are the most senior person from the PO...

… giving evidence.
[they continue]
QC explains how serious this fault could be to SPMs and the corrections being discussed.
QC no suggestion here that PO can’t change branch data here is there?
AB no
QC in fact is says the opposite
AB agrees

QC goes through possible solutions in memo, all of which don’t show PO in a good light
QC clearly it’s seen as a bad idea to let anyone know what has been happening.
QC explaining options in detail
QC notes group recommends solution 2 should be progressed.
[which so far journalists have assumed was what happened]

QC goes to PO response to remote access queries re balancing transactions in Horizon online. PO says this has only...

… happened once.
QC says so it must mean that it wasn’t Option 2 that was carried out in relation to one specific branch, in must have been Option 1
AB it wouldn’t have been done without their knowledge.
QC well we asked the PO if they did tell the branch about this and were told it was not relevant and it was not disclosed

AB I don’t know specific details but if we did that we would have told the branch
QC why not just reply saying yes then?
[silence]
AB I’m not familiar with this specific incident.
QC Thank you. would this be a convenient moment for a break, my Lord?

Before we go for lunch, AB’s witness statement which she made for the forthcoming Horizon trial which she signed on Friday is being given to her. AB is being asked to look at it in relation to what she said in court earlier today about not being familiar with some evidence...

… she was shown “coming to it cold” i think were her words.
QC suggested either she didn’t know about the contents of her own WS or she was not, indeed coming to it cold. AB will now read her new WS again over lunch and be asked about it afterwards.
2.21pm We’re back. AB is being asked about her witness statement for the next trial in relation to her comments earlier today about an excel spreadsheet containing info about Naushad Abdulla’s branch.
QC establishes that when AB said she was coming to it cold, she was mistaken.

AB it was a mistake
QC I suggest to you you are hesitant to accept things which are damaging to the Post Office.
AB that’s not the case

Forgot to reboot over lunch. Computer is going to sleep. will restart...

Okay we’re back. Talking about the Post Office’s Horizon Management Council which AB has no knowledge of.
Noting the need to keep across this “business critical” system, which recommends setting up oversight of the Horizon system in a formalised way between Atos, Fujitsu and PO...

…. bringing in data from branch auditors. It also talks about errors in Horizon, deletions caused by super-users and the need to keep track on them.
AB says she understood that tracking deletions has always been in place. She has not seen the document we are looking at b4.
I say we. I mean they...

The document was in circulation around the same time AB’s Branch Support programme was running. She says she has no knowledge of the issues in this document affecting the Branch Support programme.
QC now reading from the Branch Support programme internal document which recognises need for better training and support, but which says Horizon is in good nick.
There is a lot of quoting from documents I can’t see...

I think they’re still talking about this Branch Support programme scheme scope which AB ran in which the issues raised by Second Sight’s interim report will be explored. I think.
QC making the general point that the fact these issues have been raised means and are now going to be explored by AB’s team suggest they have some merit - they include defensive attitude from PO staff, problems with training and more.

AB agreeing these issues have been raised.
QC asks if training on transaction corrections and balancing was at a fairly basic level
AB pushes back
QC but no training on investigating shortfalls - little or none at all
AB no there was training - SPMs taught how to search for a loss and narrow the field...

… and then says it gets reinforced during onsite training.
AB says she has a very good knowledge of the training given from her own experience of the classrom
QC since 2002?
AB yes
QC okay let’s go back to this document by Sue Richardson in May 2012

Sue goes back to training provided to SPMs in 2002 from anecdotal evidence. She says she can find no evidence of formal classroom training just some business awareness customer care use of the date stamp etc.
QC How are you able to form a view in your WS if she...

AB I formed a view from my own witness statement and talking to other people, but it is difficult as we don’t have any documentation
QC so it is quite hard to say with any confidence that training in how to deal with discrepancies and investigating was part of the training
AB but that is how it has always been done and I know that from my own experience

QC goes to another document which spells out a particular SPM training session. It doesn’t make explicit any training on dispute/balancing?
AB not on that document
QC let’s go over the page…

[he’s going through some training material and guides - notes one guide - balancing horizon - is 93 pages long]

QC that can’t be got through in half an hour, can it?
AB not in any great detail...
QC notes training guidance on making good a loss and says options are putting the cash into the till but we’re not seeing much on how to identify underlying causes of errors in that section of the document...

QC so we go elsewhere looking at info on errors you have found, not errors you can’t find or errors you have tried to find and can’t
AB agreed, but points out this is 2002 when Horizon is quite new. The system in place was quite similar to the pre-Horizon paper system, it’s just
with an extra step, which is that you had to input the information into Horizon.

QC moves on to the Horizon helpline training bumf and Horizon training from 2002. In which it says it should never be switched off
QC pauses to say should it therefore be switched of….

… off 25 times in one day?
[?]
QC that would be a *bad* idea wouldn’t it?
AB yes
[QC then lists a bit more of the training which describes what a screen is and a barcode reader
QC it’s pretty basic, isn’t it?]
AB yes
Right sorry I’ve just realised this stuff is a powerpoint training presentation for new SPMRs in 2002 giving them the basic bullet-points on their relationship to Horizon and the helpline. It’s all very basic
AB says these slides are prompts for the trainer who would
deliver a lot more information in-between the slides.

QC sums up all the training and says it’s great if you want to check your stock of stamps, but not if something goes wrong.
AB that’s where the helpline can help
QC moves onto a different point in training which encourages SPMRs who have stock differentials to put fake transactions through Horizon.
System thinks you have 225 stamps, in fact you have 221, so you have to sell 4 stamps to balance the system.

Judge intervenes - he is very interested in this. So if a customer comes in - he asks - and wants to buy 4 stamps and hands over the money the process is exactly the same.
AB yes
Judge - but if the SPM does this without money changing hands it balances the system.
AB yes
QC moves onto wrong number of stamps being sent out. If PO sends out wrong number of stamps and SPM books them in and doesn’t notice it’s their liability.
AB says two things...

.. have to go wrong - the PO sends the wrong stamps, the SPM doesn’t notice - it’s the SPM’s liability.
QC what about the other way round. If the SPM makes a mistake and PO doesn’t notice - whose responsibility is that?
AB both
QC who is liable for the loss?
AB if it happens in branch and PO cannot know what caused it, it is the SPMs

QC asserts that in 2013 AB knew training of SPMs on Horizon was an issue
AB says some people were saying it was an issue, but it was not thought generally.
QC goes to document showing training team leaders - “too much to cover in the 8 days - new delegates struggle...

… to take it all on board”. Basically notes from trainers saying training was an issue.
AB don’t recall seeing this document. It was in 2011 as we were going into the NT programme - looking at whether training was sufficient.
QC starts to list things that needed to be done in the eyes of the trainers - a lot. Mainly about how little time there is to cover all the things they have responsibility for. Says these are all presumably problems

AB agrees that these have been identified for that reason
QC notes some of the complaints of the trainers suggest training in 2011 has actually got worse because of the lack of time available to properly train people. And one final comment that the training is better for Crown Office employees not SPMRs

Actually there is a final comment from a trainer which suggests that SPMRs should get two audits in their first 6 months - a compliance audit after 3 months to identify gaps in knowledge and a a follow up after 6 to see how they are improving.
This would make the audit process part of the training rather than something potentially punitive.
10 minute break. Evidence from AB is due to finish shortly after 4.30pm. QC has asked if he can go slightly over. Judge checks AB would prefer not to continue into next day. Judge says okay but indicates this is not giving QC free rein. I reckon done by 4.40pm

I have moved position to the left hand side of the room, closer to the claimants’ side, to better hear Mrs van den Bogerd speak. I am now staring at the back of her head, but am nearer so I can hear her much better. It’s weird tho.

I was warned these courts were terrible for journalists, and they are. You either can’t hear or can’t really see. Add to that no access to the documents being discussed in court as they are being discussed.

I accept the latter point is true of all of these things, but in criminal courts they do generally stick things up on a big screen for all to see.
Moan over, judge is back. Court is sitting.

QC asks AB to tell judge if she was aware in 2015 that there were problems with the PO’s training.
AB she says there wasn’t really a thought that there was a problem with training at this time.
QC takes her to a document from 2013 in which a serious issue happened

as a result of product changes thrown into relief by insufficient training. Doc goes onto outline problems and notes that there are structural issues and lack of responsibility for training across the PO which is causing problems.
AB admits she was aware of

… the fact that training was done by different parts of the PO - initial training, product training.
QC doc concludes training should be harmonised and brought on-brand and made more user-friendly and a group established to over see this.
AB remember lots of conversations about how we deliver the training, but not detail
QC you remember lots of conversations about how it wasn’t very satisfactory

AB my recollection is that lottery was still a concern because of the number of errors, but I can’t recall what we did about it.
QC there isn’t much about your recognition of problems with training and what if anything you did about it.
AB there are things in there about the things I introduced around online training [she lists other things she did to improve matters]

QC goes to Second Sight report in which the most common complaints were about training and support (from the 150 complainants)
QC so you knew about this
AB yes we knew that 130 of these respondents had a problem

QC lists problems complainants were having. Were you aware of that? Did you recognise that?
AB a small number of people said they had problems and we looked at them and made changes.
QC raises Internal Memo re Branch Support programme in response to Second Sight report. Lists changes - classroom training, contractual obligations, accounting consequences, revised balancing guide has been introduced to help new SPMs balance correctly.

QC why not send these to everyone?
AB [and i paraphrase] we decided there was no need
QC showing a document which may be Dec 2014 - a handy guide to balancing to go into branches. It doesn’t have any troubleshooting

AB no it’s a step by step
QC says - in that broad sweep I’ve tried to give you about issues with training can you see why some SPMs might have a point
QC about their concerns?
AB yes

QC can we move onto the helpline?

[we do - now raising SPM complaints and concerns about helpline service, availability quality of help etc]

PO holds that the helpline is not script based.
The QC describes the PO’s description of the helpline in which operators listen to the calls and select the appropriate answer from a list. Or they go to the knowledge base and read out articles. This is a script
AB waffles

Judge - is reading out the information in an article any different from a script?
AB if you have a script you stick to specific words - that isn’t quite the same as what happens on the helpline.

QC then reads out two internal PO descriptions of the Post office helpline in which Post Office scripts are referred to
AB says the scripts are the information they are supposed to give, but they won’t necessarily stick to them

QC says there is no difference. It’s reasonable to call them scripts
AB argues they are not compelled to stick to defined and specific words
so therefore in her understanding, she would not call them scripts.

QC has just spent five minutes proving that large chunks of AB’s witness statement has been lifted word-for-word from previous rebuttal documents produced by the PO before
AB which I had input into
QC but the matters in this litigations have arisen since those
original documents were written
Did you give any thought to updating your views?

AB If I thought they needed updating or things had changed I would have updated them.

QC has just raised an error which caused a loss to the PO which they wrote off but failed to alert Fujitsu
Surely a robust system means checking for the root cause of any error?
AB Yes
QC The error appeared again - this time the SPMR reported direct
to Fujitsu and it was fixed. So we can see how if things don’t get investigated and fixed they can return?

AB yes
QC is on to listing a number of real transaction examples affecting claimants which could not have been their responsibility
AB accepts them all
QC says so these are a mixture of human and mechanical errors
QC goes on to instructions to SPM for disputing a TC - saying it’s much like a grievance procedure.

PO decides whether a TC is correct or not when disputed
QC so this sharpens the trust
the SPM must place in in the Post Office and the PO must exercise that trust in good faith.

Judge interrupts to ask if we are going to finish on time
“I know how hard you find it to rein yourself in when you think you’re on a roll."

Bearing in mind there will be some re-examination by the PO QC and the judge has some questions for Mrs van den Bogerd, he asks her to come back tomorrow.

Court has finished for the day (apologies for the long gap between this and the last tweet). We will be back for more from Mrs van den Bogerd at 10.30am tomorrow. Please check in on postofficetrial.com for a write up before 9pm tonight.

If you’ve enjoyed these tweets and can chuck a couple of quid in the tip jar, please go to postofficetrial.com - if you’ve already donated - more power to you. Thanks. I am very grateful.