Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Letter demanding a public inquiry into the Post Office scandal

Eleanor Shaikh
This was sent on 10 January to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Andrea Leadsom by Eleanor Shaikh. Eleanor's research into the extent of the government's control of and responsibilites regarding the Post Office has already made waves in Westminster.

This letter is another tour de force...







THE CASE FOR A STATUTORY PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO THE POST OFFICE HORIZON SCANDAL

Dear Andrea Leadsom,

As a constituent of Jeremy Hunt I have been seeking justice for over two years for my ex-subpostmaster, Chirag Sidhpura, who was accused of theft by POLtd after an alleged shortfall of £57k at our branch in Farncombe, Surrey.

Chirag was not party to the Group Litigation as his case began in October 2017 and developed after the deadline to join. But for two years his plight has been hopelessly neglected by POLtd and my appeals to your predecessor, Greg Clark, on his behalf have achieved nothing to help his situation by way of engendering active shareholder intervention.

Now that the High Court Litigation has concluded and the catastrophic errors in POLtd’s management of its Horizon IT system finally exposed, it is vital that a public inquiry be established to determine how such far-reaching and profound failures were allowed to occur in a company owned solely by the UK Government and in the face of numerous warnings. These include the June 2015 Whitehall debate on the POLtd Horizon controversy during which MPs’ appeals for a judicial inquiry were disregarded by BIS.

I enclose a document which looks at significant presages of failure running up to the Horizon scandal which BEIS (and formerly BIS ) consistently failed to interpret during the years it chose to rescind its duty of oversight. The document draws upon multiple sources to chart the structures of governance by which meaningful oversight and intervention by BEIS, as Sponsor Department, could have been deployed over its Arm’s-Length Body. 

Its conclusions chime with the comprehensive findings of the Cross-Party BEIS Committee Report of October 2019. Unable to comment upon matters pertaining to the Group Litigation, this committee still raised wide-ranging concerns regarding the inadequacy of departmental scrutiny from BEIS over POLtd:
It is important that POL is held properly accountable by the Government for its decisions, whether strategic or operational, and there needs to be consistency in the criteria applied by Government in its decision of whether or not to intervene… 
We recommend that the Government undertake an urgent review of its mechanisms for holding Post Office Ltd to account and produces a clear statement of how it will do so in the future. This should examine how all Post Office Ltd’s decisions, operational or strategic, are supporting the comprehensiveness and sustainability of the Post Office network’.
The lack of scrutiny which handed POLtd free reign to conduct itself so disgracefully - and the cover-up which appears to have developed in its absence - has left a trail of human suffering so appalling that a public inquiry is the very least and the very last remaining mechanism by which we must all learn lessons, write them indelibly in the public domain and then hope to move forward.

There is, without doubt, sufficient public interest in the controversy to warrant such an inquiry: at its centre the once trusted and much-loved brand of POLtd which serves communities across the land in a social mission far beyond its purely commercial remit. A brand which is entrusted with contracts from multiple government departments yet which, for two decades, has hounded and prosecuted its own sub-postmasters for mysterious shortfalls without first conducting thorough investigations or admitting known errors in its IT system. 

An inquiry is needed to unpick the twists and turns on the road which led ‘the nation’s most trusted brand’, as POLtd obsolescently describes itself, to its final destination where, tens of millions of pounds poorer, the sinister alter-ego of its corporate identity has been revealed through painful and eye-wateringly expensive litigation.

An inquiry must uncover each step on this humiliating path right down to POLtd’s lowest, darkest hour in which the very contracts it used to hold innocent men and women liable for vast branch discrepancies - caused by its own negligence - were proven to be worth no more than the paper they are written on.

The catastrophic fallout of POLtd’s behaviour is belatedly emerging now victims’ testimonies fall under the media’s spotlight. It is a scenario which leaves in its wake the wreckage of reputations and of businesses, the loss of homes and the breakdown of marriages. It has criminalised the innocent and casts a shadow of depression, PTSD and stress-related illness. At its most harrowing it has led to imprisonment and suicide. It is a pattern replicated hundreds of times over and behind the ranks of the 550 Claimants made visible through the Group Litigation await unseen cases estimated by the Communication Workers Union to be also in the hundreds. And this notwithstanding the thirty-four POLtd cases under consideration by the Criminal Cases Review Commission under for potential malicious prosecution, among which are 22 prison sentences. The scale of injustice is unprecedented and simply staggering.

It is essential that a rigorous and impartial investigation be carried out to establish factually the causes of events which led to such widespread and corrosive impact and for inference to be drawn from these facts regarding the likelihood of liability. To this end I respectfully ask that you set in motion a statutory public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Such an inquiry must identify ways to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy, it must hold individuals and organisations to account and frame recommendations to give much-needed reassurance to sub-postmasters still serving POLtd’s customers across the land. Its legacy must rebuild public confidence in a brand upon whose Services of General Economic Interest many communities rely, with a dependence felt nowhere more keenly than in remote, rural or deprived, urban areas and by vulnerable customers comprising the elderly, disabled and those on low incomes. 

Such an inquiry must allay public concerns by reaching beyond the compass of the High Court at a time when serious reservations over the network sustainability of POLtd are already, justifiably, being voiced.

A PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO THE POST OFFICE  HORIZON SCANDAL MUST:

1: Evaluate the level of competence of the present POLtd Board, senior management and investigative department, the majority of whom remain in office despite two damning High Court Judgements. 

For years,  the Board’s readiness to accept a dangerously misplaced, self-interested belief in Horizon’s infallibility, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, must be questioned and suitability for continuance of Board membership be carefully weighed. In this, an inquiry may be mindful of Lord Arbuthnot’s suggestion that, with the exception of the recently appointed CEO Nick Read, ‘the government should clear out the entirety of the board and senior management of the Post Office and start again’.  

Scrutiny must be applied to the Board’s decision to pursue litigation of such magnitude which hung on an inversely slender chance of success and for sanctioning a trajectory for POLtd whose direction was so high-risk as to be described by its own counsel as presenting an ‘existential threat’ to its entire operations. 

Displaying scant capacity for self-reflexivity or rational judgement, POLtd’s Board and upper echelons of management clung with brutal determination to a blind faith in Horizon which, according to Judge Fraser, ‘amounted to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat’ (929, Horizon Issues Judgement, 16th December 2019). It presided over a culture described as ‘capricious and arbitrary’ and which ‘demonstrates the most dreadful complacency, and total lack of interest in investigating these serious issues, bordering on fearfulness of what might be found if they were properly investigated’. (217, Horizon Issues Judgement, 16th December 2019). 

An inquiry must determine if this self-same body is genuinely capable of forging the radical overhaul which it is now incumbent upon POLtd to deliver. Can the panel assure itself and the public that this same Board now suddenly possesses the credibility, the business acumen, the will and the ethical compass to engineer the wholesale reparation of POLtd’s IT systems, its support & investigative mechanisms and its corporate culture as envisaged by Second Sight in its prescient recommendations of January 2016? (See enclosed document ‘Fixing the Post Office’). 

On this Board sits BEIS’s representative, a UKGI colleague entrusted to evaluate and, if necessary, to challenge POLtd strategy and risk parameters. In the light of internal POLtd documents revealed during the litigation relating to Horizon’s flaws, this Board member’s exposure to, or failure to uncover, critical information in the years leading up to the crisis-  and this individual’s subsequent transmission of, or failure to transmit, such information to the Sponsor Department, must also fall within the remit of an inquiry.

Regarding the dispersal or suppression of crucial, if potentially incriminating, information on Horizon’s flaws between interested parties see the enclosed document ‘Who Was In The Know’ in which Ron Warmington (MD, Second Sight) expertly delves into the realms of who might have known what about ‘the Truth’ at given points in the sequence of events. The net is cast as wide as the hierarchies of POLtd, Fujitsu, Ministers and the Government-appointed Civil Servant Board Member.
Email correspondence between POLtd CEO Paula Vennells, Angela Van den Bogerd, senior POLtd management and Fujitsu engineers such as Gareth Jenkins, Stephen Parker (Fujitsu Post Office application support) and Andy Dunks (Fujitsu IT security analyst) must be subject to meticulous investigation. Confidentiality Commitments used by POLtd to silence voices which run counter to its corporate narratives must be waived.

2: Seek to establish how POLtd was permitted by BEIS to conduct highly aggressive and costly legal tactics with such reckless regard to the public purse. According to Judge Fraser ‘Both this level, and rate, of expenditure is very high, even by the standards of commercial litigation between very high-value blue chip companies’.

POLtd’s legal costs were recorded as £20m in its Reports and Accounts of 2018/19 which is exclusive of the £3m of the previous year, of its legal costs to the end of 2019, of the £57.75m price-tag of its ‘final’ settlement and of costs pertaining to the unresolved CCRC cases.

POLtd’s attempt to sack the managing Judge mid-trial (‘virtually unheard of in sensible civil litigation’ according to The Register, 18th December 2019) and its ill-advised attempt to appeal the Common Issues Judgement (failing on every one of its 26 counts), are just two examples of its attritional, financially irresponsible and arguably irrational conduct. It flies in the face of assurances given to Parliament by BEIS’s Lord Henley (19th November 2018) on the very issue:
As the sole Shareholder, the Government expects the Post Office Limited to ensure value for money principles in its use of resources at all times’.
An inquiry must therefore ask who sanctioned such costly and cavalier legal tactics fuelled by the public purse, widely thought to be effected to prolong or even derail the judicial process. It was a strategy which unnecessarily inflated not only POLtd’s legal costs (on which the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office must be drawn) but also, ultimately, cost the victims dearly. An inquiry might consider whether, by exhausting the Claimants resources, POLtd arguably coerced them to a premature settlement before the hearing of all four scheduled trials.

Of the £57.75m received by Claimants in this settlement as little as £8-£11m will remain once their legal, insurance and funding costs are met. According to their own legal team ‘People will not recover anything like their full losses’ (James Hartley, Computer Weekly, 13th December 2019).

It is a travesty that this deflated figure fails even to match the total sum of phantom shortfalls estimated at £18m which have been repaid to POLtd by sub-postmasters over the years.

Had POLtd dealt fairly and transparently with its sub-postmasters from the outset, Claimants would not have been forced to adopt the third-party funding structure which inevitably so materially diminished their victory.

Had BEIS exercised intelligent shareholder oversight and/or  intervention, POLtd could have been persuaded to conduct itself with appropriate fairness and transparency from the beginning - both in respect of its behaviour towards sub-postmasters and its behaviour during the litigation.

An inquiry might therefore advise whether, on this issue, the Government should itself release  funds to supplement the compensation so it more realistically reflects the scale of damages suffered and recognises the role played in this controversy by successive governments in turning an indefensibly blind eye.

3: Determine if millions of pounds of unallocated funds which have for years accrued in POLtd suspense accounts represent the reverse effect of IT failure. It is suspected by Independent Forensic Accountants Second Sight, who spent years investigating POLtd, that they may, in part, represent the accumulation of phantom shortfalls generated by Horizon but subsequently made good by sub-postmasters under duress. 

This being the case, it is only logical that these substantial sums, hitherto creamed off to inflate POLtd’s own profits or else left hanging in suspense limbo for years, should be released to further supplement the Claimants’ remuneration.

4: As a matter of urgency consider whether POLtd should any longer be trusted with the powers it wields to bring about its own prosecutions. This privilege currently permits POLtd to do so independently of the Crown Prosecution Service, thereby escaping the checks and balances that CPS involvement would routinely invite.

Throughout two High Court trials POLtd was consistently proven to withhold evidence despite the overarching duties of disclosure beholden to a prosecuting authority. On its secrecy Judge Fraser remarked:
there are obligations upon parties in terms of disclosure. So far as criminal cases are concerned, these concern the liberty of the person, and disclosure duties are rightly high. I do not understand the motivation in keeping this type of matter, recorded in these documents, hidden from view; regardless of the motivation, doing so was wholly wrong’ (457, Horizon Issues Judgement, 16th December, 2019).
Of its current Business Improvement Director, Angela Van Den Bogerd, he observed that:
she did not give me frank evidence, and sought to obfuscate matters, and mislead me’ (Common Issues Judgement, 15th March 2019),
Her witness statement also stated, in terms, the exact opposite of what the reality of the situation was’ (249, Horizon Issues Judgement, 16th December, 2019).
Such scant regard for the truth, even under oath at the High Court, exhibited by the highest ranking (but not only) POLtd witness, is incompatible with POLtd’s authority to bring criminal cases in the name of the Crown and must be relinquished with immediate effect. Ideally this should not await the formal process of an inquiry.

Moreover, POLtd employees’ consistent track record of mis-presenting, twisting or concealing fact (including before the BIS Select Committee, 2015) has prompted Lord Arbuthnot to call for inquiry to be Judge led, indeed for a full Judicial Inquiry.

5: Finally, identify means of embedding more rigorous departmental oversight of POLtd by BEIS and for it to relinquish once and for all the defence of POLtd’s ‘operational independence’ by which it has erstwhile sought to rationalise its non-intervention.

For, left to its own devices and  without the supervision of a higher authority it is doubtful that POLtd will engineer its own transformation.

POLtd is a company whose corporate DNA was, until less than two months ago, so entrenched in its sense of absolute power that it’s ‘oppressive’ conduct towards sub-postmasters was likened by Lord Justice Coulson to that of ‘a mid-Victorian factory-owner’. It was said to exhibit ‘institutional obstinacy’ and, according to Judge Fraser, borders on ‘institutional paranoia’ (946, Horizon Issues Judgement, 16th December 2019).

The litigation has exposed in POLtd a split personality which has, for twenty years, presented a highly polished and (almost) convincing veneer of propriety to the Government, to the public and to numerous courts of law. And with such unparalleled autonomy that it dared even deploy counsel and expert witnesses to uphold a facade which has been proven to be the exact opposite of reality.
Tighter shareholder oversight is critical.

Correspondence between two broken ex-sub-postmasters seeking resolution from POLtd’s terrifying incompetence as recently as December 2019 (supplied) suggests that the pace of corporate transformation is either insufficiently urgent, superficial, or both, and that any rhetoric from POLtd’s well-tuned PR machine to the contrary must be fully scrutinised and substantiated by BEIS to ensure it is not concealing default behaviours of POLtd’s former self.

The emails were written in desperation, the culmination  of months of mismanagement of cases involving alleged discrepancies at two branches. They were sent just days before POLtd congratulated itself on its  ‘major overhaul of our engagement and relationship with postmasters’ (joint statement on the announcement of settlement, 11th December 2019) and shed light on the hand-me-down teams to whom, even with the noblest of intentions, a new CEO must delegate his vision.

An inquiry must satisfy itself that Nick Read alone constitutes a sufficient enough change of guard for the undertaking of mobilising such inertia. Chairman Tim Parker’s response to Judge Fraser’s Common Issues Ruling ‘We have taken his criticisms on board and will take action throughout our organisation’  of March 2019 is looking seriously late on delivery, yet to anyone caught in POLtd’s invisible noose, a delay can be the difference between life and death.

If POLtd’s corporate culture, network modernisation and sustainability is to be guaranteed under its new CEO and the watchful eye of BEIS, it must be built on the foundation of a Framework Agreement drawn up between these parties. It may be pertinent for an inquiry to consider why this has not yet occurred. This should formally establish principles of governance and lines of accountability within the POLtd/BEIS relationship including the remit of UKGI. It should include in its scope details of the ‘circumstances of, and rights upon, intervention’ belonging to BEIS and must be conceived in the light of a thorough re-examination of the entire viability of POLtd’s business model. This model has, to date, sustained itself on the premise of its entitlement to offload liability for all branch shortfalls onto sub-postmasters, an entitlement which the Common Issues Judgement ruled POLtd no longer possesses - indeed never did. It is for an inqury to seek evidence that will assure stakeholders that the dysfunctional nature of POLtd’s business model is being reshaped to accommodate this seismic shift.

Final words here must go to my ex-sub-postmaster, Chirag Sidhpura, who was powerless to prevent all that he had ever worked for being snatched from his grasp by a company owned by your department.
I lost everything overnight, my dignity, respect and everything which I built over the course of 5 years, Post Office took it all away without a proper investigation and explanation, with no care in the world of how would a family man support his family without pay’. 
‘This brought stress into my marriage, family life, to the point where my wife said to me it’s either the business or your family, but I could not walk away from either as I had done nothing wrong’. 
‘My frustration was still there and getting worse, I broke down and didn’t know which way to turn, my family life was suffering, interaction with my children was getting worse. After talking to my doctor I was prescribed Setraline anti-depressants which has helped’.
Chirag’s is another unresolved story which bears witness to the complacency, incompetence and cruelty of POLtd management until as recently as 2019.

The High Court Litigation may be over and victory rightly seized by the Claimants but the battle to reclaim POLtd and restore it to the fully-functioning, dynamic, Nolan-principled business that it must become has only just commenced.

Will BEIS up tools and actively involve itself in redrawing POLtd’s road map and will you, as its Secretary of State, trigger a public inquiry laying the foundation for this rejuvenation? For the sake of all sub-postmasters - past, present and future - I sincerely hope that you will.
  
I look forward to your response,

Yours sincerely, 
Eleanor Shaikh


N.B. I have identified three instances where a potential conflict of interest within an inquiry exists. The first, that of Paula Vennells whose tenure as CEO of POLtd spanned critical years of the Horizon controversy, now in office as a non-executive Director of the Cabinet Office. Aside from the very serious concerns aired in the Fit and Proper Person referral made against Ms Vennells (supplied) it should be noted that, not only must Cabinet Office advice be sought on whether or not an inquiry should be held, but also that the Cabinet Office functions as the pinnacle of overarching oversight of departmental ALBs. Owning as it does the process for reviewing ALBs the Cabinet Office may itself, therefore, come under scrutiny during a public inquiry. Ms Vennells position at its core risks compromising any impartiality in both respects due to her significant personal interest in investigations not being conducted.

Additionally, according to the Cabinet Office Inquiries Guidance it falls to the Permanent Secretary of your department, Alex Chisholm, to ‘put processes in place to start collecting relevant evidence... suspending the usual process of archiving and destruction of papers’.

Alex Chisholm is also the principle Accounting Officer of BEIS, is a non-executive Director of UKGI and until 2017 the Accounting Officer of POLtd’s parent company Postal Services Holding Company. Given questions might be asked by an inquiry as to whether or not Alex Chisholm was successfully is discharging his combined duties of oversight in all these roles and given that BEIS will be both sponsor of and party to the inquiry, such potential conflicts of interest must be brought to its attention.

Lastly, Michael Keegan, potentially implicated in the controversy through his role at Fujitsu, was last year appointed a Crown Representative at the Cabinet Office. As Fujitsu’s UK Chairman 2015-2018, previously its CE, and a UK board member since 2010, Keegan’s tenure spans critical years during which his IT company managed Horizon on behalf of POLtd. So gravely concerned was Judge Fraser by the veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to previous courts in a number of criminal cases, that he is passing a separate dossier to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Fujitsu is a long-standing and major IT supplier to the government.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Horizon trial judgment is handed down - inc transcript

Sir Peter Fraser
The handing down of the Horizon trial judgment on 16 dec 2019 was expected to be a damp squib. After all, the parties had settled five days previously.

On the day, it all went off. You can read my report here.

The following piece is mainly about ensuring the judge's exact comments in court are made available to all - although, as you'll see, there appears to be a spelling mistake in the transcript on a crucial word!

The most interesting bit came at the end of the hearing. Having handed down the judgment and dealt with housekeeping, Sir Peter Fraser gave the following announcement:
"Based on the knowledge that I have gained both from conducting the trial and writing the Horizon Issues judgment, I have very grave concerns regarding the voracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system. These previous proceedings include the High Court in at least one civil case brought by the Post Office against a sub- postmaster and the Crown Court in a greater number of criminal cases, also brought by the Post Office against sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses.
Max Hill QC
After very careful consideration, I have therefore decided, in the interests of justice, to send the papers in the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Max Hill QC, so he may consider whether the matter to which I have referred should be the subject of any prosecution."
Sir Peter went on:
"It will be entirely a matter for the DPP what, if anything, he does in respect of this referral... I wish to make it clear that the specific subject to which I will drawing the specific attention of the DPP relates to the evidence on previous occasions of Fujitsu employees."
Notwithstanding the likely homonymical typo in the transcript (I think his Lordship was understood to say "veracity" rather than "voracity"), Fujitsu, and the employees who gave evidence against Lee Castleton, Seema Misra et al are now firmly in the firing line.

If you want to know exactly why the judge felt the need to pass on a folder to the DPP I would recommend you have a crack at the long, but very readable judgment.

In it, the judge finds Andy Dunks, Fujitsu's IT Security Analyst "expressly sought to mislead" him.

He says Fujitsu's Head of Post Office Application Support, Stephen Parker, effectively lied to the court, by choosing "specifically to give the impression in his 1st witness statement that Fujitsu did not have the power (the word Mr Parker expressly chose) to inject transactions into the counter at branches, even though he knew that it did."

And the judge finds in conclusion that Fujitsu:
"do not... appear to me to have properly and fully investigated... myriad problems, nor did Fujitsu categorise... incidents correctly. They also seem to have moved away, in their investigations, from concluding that there were any issues with the software wherever it was possible for them to do so, regardless of evidence to the contrary."
If the DPP is minded to do anything, it might not be long before Inspector Knacker starts knocking on a few doors.

So, for completeness, here is a full transcript of the final hearing, which took place in Court 26 of the High Court's Rolls Building, starting at 2.30pm on Monday 16 Dec 2019. Enjoy:

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION
No. QB-2016-004710
Rolls Building Fetter Lane London, EC4A 1NL
Monday, 16 December 2019
BETWEEN:

Claimants

BATES & ORS

- and -

Defendant

POST OFFICE LTD
Before:
MR JUSTICE FRASER

MR P. GREEN QC (instructed by Freeths LLP) appeared on behalf of the Claimants.
MR O. DRAPER (instructed by Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP) appeared on behalf of the Defendant.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: There are three items on the agenda for this afternoon. The first is handing down the judgment. 

This was distributed in draft on 28 November 2019 to the parties’ legal advisors and two members of the steering committee, but it was under embargo until now. The usual embargo in this case was slightly amended so that the two mediators involved in assisting the parties settle the litigation were also permitted to see the draft judgment. That judgment is to be handed now, which means its contents become public, so I am going to ask my learned clerk to do that. 

There are a number of printed copies. There are ten in folders; there are eight printed copies not in folders. The judgment has three appendices, one is the technical appendix, one is a glossary and one is a summary of the findings on the numbers of bugs, defects and errors that I have found to exist within the Horizon system. 

If anyone who is in court would like a copy and they put their email address on the three forms which have been provided for that purpose, or they give my learned clerk their email address, they will be emailed a copy straightaway after this hearing. 

The judgment is also going to be placed on the Bailii website which is at www.bailii.org with the neutral citation [2019] EWHC 3408 QB. It will also be placed on the judicial website straight after this hearing at www.judiciary.uk. If anybody does go onto the Bailii website and search for it under the name Bates v Post Office, they should just remember that it is the sixth judgment, so it is Bates v Post Office (No 6). That is the first item. 

The next item, Mr Green.

MR GREEN: My Lord, the parties, as your Lordship know, agreed a settlement to be 
incorporated in a Tomlin order to be made by your Lordship, subject to your Lordship’s approval, of course. We have revised it in the light of your Lordship’s observations about the malicious prosecution claims and the provision made for those. 

The structure is that the settlement does not embrace the malicious prosecution claims to which that paragraph refers, which are those of convicted claimants, and that is why there is a provision in paragraph 3 that neither the stay provided for in paragraph 1 nor the discontinuance provided for in paragraph 2 prejudice the right of any convicted claimant to bring an individual claim for malicious prosecution. 

What we have added, your Lordship will see, that last sentence, which is to the extent that convicted claimants require permission under CPR rule 38.7 to make another individual claim for malicious prosecution following discontinuance under paragraph 2 above. Such permission is granted. 

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Yes. Now, that provision – I will just check this with Mr Draper in a moment – as I understand the operation of it is so that if there is any claimant who is currently subject to the group litigation wishes to advance a claim for malicious prosecution---- 

MR GREEN: Exactly.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: --that is not caught by the settlement.

MR GREEN: Exactly.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Because that is a claim that is actually included on the claim form. 

MR GREEN: Your Lordship is absolutely right. Exactly.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Right. And the discontinuance does not yet occur until an application 
is made under paragraph 2.

MR GREEN: Exactly right. So, it is a Tomlin order until the application for discontinuance is 
made and granted, and then it comes to an end.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Right, I am just going to ensure that Mr Draper is on board; I am sure 
he is. Mr Draper, I see you appear for the Post Office today.

MR DRAPER: I do appear for the Post Office. My Lord, yes, the provision there is just to 
ensure there is no possible argument about abuse of process if there is, if you like, what 
might be contended to be a second claim in relation to malicious prosecution.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: That is why I raised the point because I think the intention of the 
parties is that any such claimant in that situation issues a fresh claim form. Is that right? 

MR DRAPER: My Lord, yes.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: But for the moment this action is not yet discontinued in any event. It 
is just subject to a stay under the Tomlin order.

MR DRAPER: That is right.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Right. Thank you very much. I am going to make that order. I have 
signed one copy of the Tomlin order. I am going to hand that down now, as well as return the confidential schedules that were lodged at the same time. I will give those to Mr Green. So far as the parties are concerned, is there anything else today? 

MR DRAPER: My Lord, no. 

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Right. There is one more thing from the court’s point of view. By signing the consent order that I have just signed, today is the final substantive hearing day of the Post Office Group litigation. This means that I am therefore effectively no longer the managing judge. 

What I have to say now does not have any effect upon that function in any event and I will still be able to make any further procedural order in January 2020 if one is sought, as anticipated in paragraph 2 of the Tomlin order, for the withdrawal of the group litigation order. However, I am making these comments now in open court at the conclusion of the Horizon Issues trial in the interests of open justice and transparency. 

The Horizon Issues trial involved very detailed analysis of the Horizon computer system.
In the year of its inception in 2000 up to 2018, in order to address the Horizon issues, both the evidence and the judgment that I have just handed down considered in great detail the contents of contemporaneous documents within Fujitsu and the Post Office dealing with the operation of the Horizon system generally, but particularly in respect of the known existence of Fujitsu of bugs, errors and defects in Horizon. 

Based on the knowledge that I have gained both from conducting the trial and writing the Horizon Issues judgment, I have very grave concerns regarding the voracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system. These previous proceedings include the High Court in at least one civil case brought by the Post Office against a sub- postmaster and the Crown Court in a greater number of criminal cases, also brought by the Post Office against sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. 

After very careful consideration, I have therefore decided, in the interests of justice, to send the papers in the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Max Hill QC, so he may consider whether the matter to which I have referred should be the subject of any prosecution. 

In arriving at that decision I have considered the relevant authorities, including:
  • R v Patel [2016] EWCA Crim 2001, which was a decision in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division of Lord Justice Simon and Mr Justice Hickinbottom, as he then was, at paragraph 84; 
  • Hussein v William Hill Group [2004] EWHC 208 QB, a decision of Mrs Justice Hallett, as she then was, at paragraph 50; 
  • and a number of others.
It will be entirely a matter for the DPP what, if anything, he does in respect of this referral. The contents of the letter that I send him will be confidential, although I will copy it to the parties in this litigation through their solicitors. 

I wish to make it clear that the specific subject to which I will drawing the specific attention of the DPP relates to the evidence on previous occasions of Fujitsu employees. 

This matter is entirely separate from any aspects of the process currently underway at the Criminal Cases Review Commission in respect of claimants who were convicted. Paragraph 66 of the judgment that I have just handed down explains why this court has no involvement in the process underway at the Criminal Cases Review Commission. 

Mr Green, Mr Draper, nothing else?

MR GREEN: Nothing further, my Lord.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Mr Draper?

MR DRAPER: No observations, my Lord.

MR GREEN: My Lord, may we thank you on behalf of all parties for the hard work that has 
gone into several thousand pages of judgments.

MR JUSTICE FRASER: Yes. My learned clerk did actually do a word count on all six of the 
judgments and it is just slightly fewer than War and Peace, but not by very many. Thank you all very much, and if I could wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

[Judge rises]

*************************
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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Is Paula Vennells a Fit and Proper Person?

Dr Minh Alexander
Earlier this year, the blogger and NHS whistleblower Minh Alexander got in touch. She had stumbled across an item I wrote called "The ballad of Paula Vennells", and was interested in finding out more. Paula Vennells was at the time the CEO of the Post Office and had recently announced she was going to be taking up a position as chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust.

As Dr Alexander found out more about the way the Post Office had treated its Subpostmasters, she became increasingly concerned about Fit and Proper Person issues.

As Dr Alexander puts it:

"NHS trusts are under a legal obligation to recruit and to do ongoing checks to ensure that their directors are Fit and Proper Persons. In a safety critical sector, it is vital that directors can be trusted to act accountably, to fulfil an organisational legal Duty of Candour and to prioritise patients’ wellbeing and safety above any considerations of reputation management. 

The Post Office’s behaviour under Paula Vennells’ leadership was not accountable nor open about its computer problems, and the Post Office instead caused serious suffering to scapegoated subpostmasters, some of whom had been prosecuted and jailed. 

It would be very unsafe for such a corporate culture to be replicated in the NHS, where vulnerable patients would take the brunt of any cover ups. I have therefore asked the relevant health regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to exercise its powers under CQC Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons (FPPR), and to review Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s Fit and Proper Person arrangements."

The letter to the CQC requesting the review is a long one, but it's worth reading. Dr Alexander has given me permission to reproduce it in full. Here goes: 

Nigel Acheson
Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals
Care Quality Commission
24 December 2019 
Dear Mr Acheson, 
FPPR referral on Paula Vennells, former CEO of Post Office Ltd and current Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
I would be grateful if the CQC could look into whether Paula Vennells is a fit and proper person to be a director on an NHS trust board, under CQC Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons (FPPR). 
This is in relation to the widely publicised failings by the Post Office Ltd, where she was a senior manager from 2007 and the CEO between 2012 and 2019, before taking up her current post as Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. 
Paula Vennells presided as CEO over a period in which Post Office Ltd: 
-       Resisted criticisms of its Horizon computer system, which has since been demonstrated to cause errors in accounting;
-       Repeatedly publicly denied faults in its computer system, when it was actually aware of such faults;
-       Resisted concerns that it had treated subpostmasters unfairly and had wrongfully prosecuted some of these individuals over accounting anomalies that were caused by its own computer faults;
-       Continued to pursue and prosecute more subpostmasters over anomalous accounts that were likely related to the computer problems;
-       Aggressively resisted legal claims by subpostmasters in relation to their mistreatment by the Post Office; 
A High Court judgment by Judge Fraser of 16 December 2019, in a group action by subpostmasters against Post Office Ltd, concluded: 
968 It was possible for bugs, errors or defects of the nature alleged by the claimants to have the potential both (a) to cause apparent or alleged discrepancies or shortfalls relating to Subpostmasters’ branch accounts or transactions, and also (b) to undermine the reliability of Horizon accurately to process and to record transactions as alleged by the claimants.” 

“969 Further, all the evidence in the Horizon Issues trial shows not only was there the potential for this to occur, but it actually has happened, and on numerous occasions. This applies both to Legacy Horizon and also Horizon Online. It has happened under both the HNG-X and HNG-A iterations of the Online system, but far less frequently under the latter than the former. Indeed, there are only isolated instances of it happening in respect of HNG-A, which the experts agree is a better system than either of the other two iterations of Horizon.”

970 I accept the claimants’ submissions that, in terms of likelihood, there was a significant and material risk on occasion of branch accounts being affected in the way alleged by the claimants by bugs, errors and defects.”

Judge Fraser also found that both Fujitsu, the company responsible for the Horizons computer system, and to a lesser extent Post Office Ltd, had remote access to branch records and could “insert, inject, edit or delete transaction data or data in branch accounts”. 
On 11 December 2019 the Post Office Ltd and subpostmaster claimants in the group legal action against Post Office Ltd issued a joint statement, after coming to  a settlement.
In this joint statement, Post Office Ltd accepted that it had got things wrong: 
We accept that, in the past, we got things wrong in our dealings with a number of postmasters and we look forward to moving ahead now, with our new CEO currently leading a major overhaul of our engagement and relationship with postmasters”

Lord Arbuthnot who has supported the subpostmasters, has called for a public inquiry into the very serious failings by Post Office Ltd, and noted that the subpostmasters had been fully vindicated:

“The subpostmasters have been vindicated in every respect.  It is an excellent Christmas present, but won at great cost.  The cost falls partly on the taxpayer but also heavily on the subpostmasters themselves, who will have their damages reduced by the amount the litigation funders will (justifiably) deduct.”
Post Office Ltd has been very heavily criticised for its prolonged attempts over several years to cover up its failings and its abuse of power, to the extent of scapegoating and punishing subpostmasters when it knew that there were faults in its computer system. 
Judge Fraser the High Court judge who oversaw the most recent litigation against Post Office Ltd has criticised Post Office Ltd’s behaviour and extreme denial in the most serious terms: 
928 The approach by the Post Office to the evidence of someone such as Mr Latif demonstrates a simple institutional obstinacy or refusal to consider any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary. That approach by the Post Office was continued, even though now there is also considerable expert evidence to the contrary as well (and much of it agreed expert evidence on the existence of numerous bugs). 

929 This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred, at least so far as the witnesses called before me in the Horizon Issues trial are concerned. It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.

930 When real world examples such as Mr Latif’s are put together with the expert evidence that I have accepted – or even with Dr Worden’s lower figure for accepted bugs of 11 different ones – it can be seen that this institutional obstinacy by the Post Office amounts to little more than repeated assertions that the Horizon system (both Legacy and Online) cannot be to blame for the claimants’ experiences, coupled with (for some) challenges to the claimants’ witnesses because the Post Office simply cannot accept their factual accounts.”

 The extreme organisational denial was juxtaposed with abundant evidence of incidents caused by bugs in the Horizon computer system. Judge Fraser noted that one of the known software bugs in the Horizon computer system, the so-called “Dalmellington Bug” was known to have caused numerous incidents dating back to 2010:

Judge Fraser noted an important comment by a Fujitsu employee which threw light on the fact that Horizon software bugs had been recognised for many years: 
925 One notable example is the expression used by Anne Chambers – “this bug has been around for years” – in February 2006.” 
Judge Fraser noted that contemporaneous documents recorded that Post Office Ltd staff had seen the computer faults and had ruled out user error: 
940. I have already explained that the subject matter of the Simetra case is very different to this one, and I emphasise here that my analysis of the contemporaneous documents is in respect of the Horizon Issues in the context of this case, not the Simetra case which concerned very different allegations. Here, the categories of documents that are most illuminating in terms of specific incidents with Horizon over the years are the very numerous PEAKs and KELs. These emanate from, and are created within, Fujitsu. They are, in my judgment, a very good means of getting at the truth in this case. They show what was going on and the type of unexplained problems that numerous SPMs were experiencing in practice over the years, as they were reported to the SSC. They contain statements made when Fujitsu personnel’s “guard is down and their true thoughts are plain to see”. Some of them also record that Romec engineers, or the Post Office’s own auditors, have seen what has occurred and ruled out user error. Notwithstanding this, Fujitsu attribute user error to what has occurred.” 
The judge noted that internal 2009 Post Office Ltd documents showed that the company was aware of faults in its Horizon computer system: 
942….”However, we need to continue to manage firmly any over-expectations of the frontline that Horizon Online will deliver improved functionality – they may see this as a missed opportunity so will not cure all the issues and problems that users have with Horizon although where practical, and at no extra cost, we have smoothed away a number of “rough edges”. 
Judge Fraser found that a 2011 Post Office Ltd document about correcting a system fault in the handling of Camelot lottery transactions showed that user error by subpostmasters was not at issue: 
945. This has nothing to do with correcting excessive carelessness or fault on the part of SPMs. It is, in my judgment, about remedying a deficiency in the functionality of Horizon. That document also made it clear, because there are express entries to this effect, that outages might mean that the system would not deal with the matters sufficiently or accurately.” 
The judge found that Post Office Ltd was negligent in its response to accounting anomalies and to the concerns raised by subpostmasters:

217. In my judgment, the stance taken by the Post Office at the time in 2013 demonstrates the most dreadful complacency, and total lack of interest in investigating these serious issues, bordering on fearfulness of what might be found if they were properly investigated. This SPM, whose branch was known to the Post Office, should obviously have been asked for further details (if further details were required for an investigation), and the Post Office and/or Fujitsu should plainly have investigated the matter as a matter of some importance. By 2013 Horizon was an extraordinarily controversial subject; there can simply be no sensible excuse for the Post Office’s failure to try and understand this particular subject. This is particularly reprehensible given that an internal Post Office document in August 2013 showed that Mr Winn’s involvement in this was because his area of responsibility was as follows: “also responsible for resolving specific branch accounting issues.” It was his specific job to resolve specific branch accounting issues, yet he decided at the time that “we have enough on”.  
 Judge Fraser noted that instead of handling the concerns about the Horizon computer system properly, Post Office Ltd blamed subpostmasters for carelessness or dishonesty: 
“517. The Post Office has, however, maintained publicly that it was seeking to be “transparent” about Horizon, and prior to the litigation it made certain public statements in relation to the increasing disquiet on the part both of SPMs, and others who became involved either on their behalf (such as some Members of Parliament) or in an investigative way (such as the BBC Panorama programme and other journalists). These statements by the Post Office routinely and strongly insisted that there was nothing in the criticisms being levelled at the accuracy of Horizon, and that losses that were shown in SPMs’ branch accounts were caused either by carelessness or dishonesty on the part of the different SPMs who experienced what they considered to be unexplained discrepancies and losses.”  
Judge Fraser noted a point blank denial made by Post Office Ltd in 2015: 
““The Post Office wholly rejects extremely serious allegations repeated in BBC’s Panorama programme of 17 August 2015. The allegations are based on partial, selective and misleading information. 

·       The Post Office does not prosecute people for making innocent mistakes and never has 
·       There is no evidence that faults with the computer system caused money to go missing at these Post Office branches 
·       There is evidence that user actions, including dishonest conduct, were responsible for missing money 
Judge Fraser noted that a 2016 letter by Post Office Ltd lawyers made the following claims, casting blame on subpostmasters: 
954…The Post Office’s solicitors’ response to the pre-action letter is dated 28 July 2016, very lengthy, and states that “the investigations to date have consistently pointed towards human error or dishonest conduct in branches as the most likely cause of shortfalls.” 

The judge criticised Post Office Ltd’s decision in 2016 not to investigate one of the software bugs, and noted that internal documents showed that Paula Vennells was aware of the issue and had originally asked her staff to look into the matter: 
“This needs looking into please.” 
Judge Fraser criticised witnesses called by the Post Office Ltd for giving factually incorrect or misleading evidence, and he criticised submissions by Post Office Ltd. For example: 
249. Mrs Van Den Bogerd was in the witness box for in excess of one day, the longest period of any of the witnesses of fact for either the claimants or the Post Office. Her cross examination led to a far greater understanding of the Horizon Issues on the part of the court, although her written evidence was, as originally drafted, extraordinarily one- sided. She minimised any reference to problems or issues with Horizon, and reverted to potential user error whenever possible as a potential explanation, an approach which she explained in her written statement as providing “plausible” explanations. Her witness statement also stated, in terms, the exact opposite of what the reality of the situation was, and I have given examples at [221], [223] and [226] above. Witness statements are supposed to be factually accurate, and care must be taken in future rounds of this group litigation that they are drafted in accordance with the rules. Making statements that are the exact opposite of the facts is never helpful, to put it at its mildest. It is also the opposite of what witness statements are supposed to be.” 
442. Mr Godeseth gave express evidence in his witness statement that the Receipts and Payments mismatch bug occurred in September 2010. That date too was factually incorrect. The issue notes refer to Fujitsu knowing about it far earlier, and Mr Godeseth accepted he had seen this document before his cross-examination. That document even records Fujitsu being taken to task by the Post Office about how long it had taken to react, as in “We have asked Fujitsu why it has taken so long to react to and escalate an issue which began in May. They will provide feedback in due course.” Not just the impression, but the express text in Mr Godeseth’s witness statement, was to the effect that the bug was discovered in September 2010 and almost immediately dealt with. That was far from the case, and that written evidence was simply wrong.” 
422. Mr Godeseth’s witness statement about this, prior to his cross-examination, presented a very different picture to the one that eventually emerged. Indeed, I would go further, and I find that his witness statements omitted some very important headline points in respect of the Callendar Square bug, presented a chronology very different to the real one, and had the effect (whether intended or accidental) of giving a misleading impression of the Callendar Square bug and its impact.” 
294.…Mr Dunks expressly sought to mislead me by stating that there was no “Fujitsu party line” when it came to the contents of drafting witness statements about audit records for legal proceedings. There plainly is; it was used in the Fujitsu statements in 2010 and it was used by him in his statement for the Horizon Issues trial.  
565.1 A witness statement was ordered from the Post Office to explain the express, and factually incorrect, submissions made to the court by the Post Office about the Royal Mail’s refusal to produce, at the Post Office’s request, audit documents. The Royal Mail had, contrary to what the court had expressly been told by the Post Office, not even been asked by the Post Office for these. The Post Office’s leading counsel accepted that he had, entirely unwittingly, and on instruction, provided misleading information to the court and explained and apologised as soon as he discovered this.  
938. The Post Office’s approach to evidence, even despite their considerable resources which are being liberally deployed at considerable cost, amounts to attack and disparagement of the claimants individually and collectively, together with the wholly unsatisfactory evidence of Fujitsu personnel such as Mr Parker.”  
Judge Fraser said he had “grave concerns” about evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts: 
““Based on the knowledge that I have gained, I have very grave concerns regarding veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system.” 
Judge Fraser criticised failure of disclosure by Post Office Ltd: 
457. …To see a concern expressed that if a software bug in Horizon were to become widely known about it might have a potential impact upon “ongoing legal cases” where the integrity of Horizon Data was a central issue, is a very concerning entry to read in a contemporaneous document. Whether these were legal cases concerning civil claims, or criminal cases, there are obligations upon parties in terms of disclosure. So far as criminal cases are concerned, these concern the liberty of the person, and disclosure duties are rightly high. I do not understand the motivation in keeping this type of matter, recorded in these documents, hidden from view; regardless of the motivation, doing so was wholly wrong. There can be no proper explanation for keeping the existence of a software bug in Horizon secret in these circumstances.”

Judge Fraser criticised Post Office Ltd’s “extreme” preoccupation with protecting reputation and its avoidance of scrutiny: 
946. A theme contained within some of the internal documents is an extreme sensitivity (seeming to verge, on occasion, to institutional paranoia) concerning any information that may throw doubt on the reputation of Horizon, or expose it to further scrutiny. One entry in a document that makes it clear that the Post Office itself had already recognised this is contained in a document authored by Mrs Van Den Bogerd, entitled “Extracts from Lessons Learned Log” and dated 11 November 2015. One entry under “issues identified” was as follows in respect of the Post Office’s behaviour up to that date: 

"Failure to be open and honest when issues arise eg roll out of Horizon, HNGx migration issues/issues affecting few branches not seemingly publicised." (emphasis added)” 
Judge Fraser noted that Paula Vennells asked her staff about remote access to the Horizons computer system, (and whether parties other than subpostmasters could be responsible for amending records), and that at the same time she told her staff what she wished to say to the BIS select committee: 
545….The statement in the Defence was misleading too. It ought also to be noted that the truth did not emerge internally within the Post Office in the email answers provided to internal inquiries in 2015 by senior Post Office personnel, such as the Chief Executive, who posed the specific question in preparation for providing evidence to a Select Committee and asked: “What is the true answer?”  
546. She also said in the same email “I hope it is that we know this is not possible and that we are able to explain why that is”. The true answer is that, contrary to her aspiration, it was possible.” 
547. She also stated “I need to say no it is not possible and that we are sure of this because of xxx and that we know this because we have had the system assured.” The true answer to that was also “yes, it is possible”.  
Judge Fraser has passed a file to prosecutors: 
You will note that the above article on the criminal probe observes that the judge made a finding that Post Office Ltd misled Lord Arbuthnot in 2015, when Paula Vennells was CEO. 
Lord Justice Coulson of the Court of Appeal who rejected an appeal by Post Office Ltd has equated Post Office Ltd’s misconduct as an employer with the behaviour of “Victorian factory owner” 
The Law Gazette described Lord Justice Coulson’s judgment against Post Office Ltd as “damning”: 
“The Post Office is accused of blaming sub postmasters and mistresses (SPMs) for alleged shortfalls in branch accounts since the roll out of a computer system called Horizon. Earlier this month it sought to appeal the judgement of the first trial, known as the ‘common issues trial’.

However, Lord Justice Coulson dismissed the Post Office’s appeal on all 26 grounds, citing ‘a number of reasons which militate against granting the PO permission to appeal’ and comparing the business to a 'a mid-Victorian factory-owner'.” 
In his judgment, Lord Justice Coulson noted that Post Office Ltd’s application to appeal misrepresented findings by the original judge and it had made claims which were “demonstrably wrong”: 
Many of the PO’s difficulties now are self-inflicted. For example, as happened during the trial and on the application for permission to appeal both to the judge, and to this court, the PO has consistently put its arguments much too high. It made sweeping statements about the trial and the judgment which were demonstrably wrong. The PO ascribed various findings or conclusions to the judge which, on analysis, form no part of his judgment.” 
He also dismissed aspects of Post Office Ltd’s application to appeal as: 
 “fanciful and wholly unpersuasive.”

He also criticised Post Office Ltd’s aggressive litigation style: 
7. Another aspect of the PO’s litigation strategy which works against them now is their desire to take every point, regardless of quality or consequences. That was regularly apparent during the trial, where the judge correctly labelled their approach as “attritional”. The same approach was still in evidence on the application for permission to appeal.”

Lord Justice Coulson singled out this example of unreasonable, unaccountable behaviour by Post Office Ltd:

8.….The PO accepted at trial that the written contracts (the SPMC and the NTC) were inadequate as they stood and that some terms had to be implied. But the PO’s proposed terms were pitched at such a high and general level that they were of no practical value. By contrast, the SPMs put forward 20 odd detailed terms for the judge’s consideration. The judge asked the PO to be more helpful: the PO’s pleaded response was a one-line assertion that the terms put forward by the SPMs were denied. Having refused to put forward the detail of their case on the implied terms at the appropriate time, the PO cannot seriously complain now because they do not like the detail of the implied terms found by the judge.” 

The massive cost of legal proceedings, which have been inflated by Post Office Ltd’s aggressive tactics over years and which will reduce the real level of compensation available to the harmed subpostmasters, have been much criticised. 
Lord Arbuthnot has called for a clear out of Post Office Ltd’s board in the light of all the extremely serious failures of governance and probity: 
Lord Arbuthnot advised that the consultancy Second Sight will hold detailed evidence of executive culpability: 
“My own suggestion is that the government should clear out the entirety of the board and senior management of the Post Office and start again, perhaps with the assistance of consultancy services from Second Sight, who know where the bodies are buried,” he said.”

The final report compiled by Second Sight reported that certain themes emerged from subpostmaster’s complaints about mistreatment by Post Office Ltd:

Second Sight reported on many examples of unfairness in Post Office Ltd’s treatment of subpostmasters. For example:

Second Sight noted a denial by Post Office Ltd that it could remotely access and manipulate branch records, which the High Court has since found to be untrue:

Second Sight reported a lack of cooperation by Post Office Ltd in looking at cases of possible miscarriage of justice:

Some accused subpostmasters reported harassment by Post Office Ltd staff and intrusive searches of their homes. For example, Tracey Merritt reported that her home was searched and that she was asked to sign a “confession” composed for her by Post Office Ltd staff:

The Sunday Times quoted Lord Arbuthnot’s comments on Paula Vennells’ role: 
““These people have been under extraordinary pressure for decades,” he said. “The Post Office clearly knew there were things wrong with the [IT] system.”

He said the settlement was “not enough” to make up for the suffering they had endured. An inquiry, he added, would root out who was accountable. “It starts with Paula Vennells, but it includes the whole board of the Post Office.”” 
The Sunday Times has reported that Paula Vennells has “declined to apologise”. 
Her role in these matters have been documented by Nick Wallis, a journalist who has followed the Post Office trial in great detail: The ballad of Paula Vennells
In 2015 Paula Vennells appeared before the parliamentary Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and gave evidence about the Horizon computer system scandal: 
“During that inquiry, Ms Vennells refused to accept the Post Office had done anything wrong with regards to prosecuting its Subpostmasters, and during that session she failed to answer a question about how much legal coaching she'd received in advance of answering MPs questions.” 
As is plain from Judge Fraser’s detailed judgment of 16 December 2019 and the Second Sight report, by 2015, Post Office Ltd was in fact in possession of substantial evidence of faults in its Horizon computer system. 
Hundreds of subpostmasters and their families have been harmed by Post Office Ltd’s cover up and scapegoating. Some of the harmed individuals have been financially ruined, suffered grave damage to their reputations and livelihoods, serious damage to their health and some have been wrongfully prosecuted, convicted and jailed. A pregnant subpostmaster, Seema Misra, was jailed: 
Some have died. 
These are some powerful individual accounts of their suffering that have been collated by Nick Wallis:
You will see from the testimony of victims and their families that some of the affected individuals have died, some through suicide: 
The Criminal Cases Review Commision confirmed that it was looking into 35 cases of reported miscarriages of justice from the Horizons computer affair, involving 22 prison sentences: 
The Post Office Horizons computer scandal has been catastrophic not only for these individuals, but for confidence in an important organisation and the stability of Post Office Ltd. It has cost the public purse millions that could have been avoided if the Post Office Ltd had acted more accountably and responsibly. 
Given Paula Vennells’ role at the helm of Post Office Ltd for seven years, during which the scandal was mishandled, I would be grateful if you would review the Fit and Proper Person arrangements at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. 
It is vital that NHS staff should not be exposed to the sort of risks and harm that befell subpostmasters, and that any organisational wrongdoing and any patient harm and deaths caused by Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust should not be approached in the way that Post Office Ltd approached the flaws in the Horizon computer system. 
I copy this to Lord Arbuthnot for his information, and I copy it to Dido Harding the chair of NHS Improvement, which is the body which is responsible for appointing the directors of non-Foundation NHS trusts such as Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. I also copy it to Tom Kark QC in respect of his review of the application of FPPT in the NHS. 
Lastly, I note that on 23 July 2019, after Paula Vennells had joined the trust, that the Care Quality Commission rated the trust as “Good” in the Well-Led domain.
 The CQC inspection team was as follows: 
“The inspection team consisted of one CQC hospital inspector, an observer (CQC staff) and two specialist advisors (matron and head of midwifery). The inspection was overseen by Terri Salt interim head of hospital inspections." 
I found no comment in CQC’s inspection report on whether the trust was meeting its duty under FPPR to ensure that its directors were Fit and Proper individuals. 
Instead, there were these comments on how the trust continued to be “Well Led” following Paula Vennells’ appointment as trust chair: 
"The leadership, governance and culture of the trust promoted the delivery of high-quality person-centred care. 
Managers at all levels in the trust had the right skills and abilities to run a service providing high-quality sustainable care. There have been several changes in senior leadership since the last inspection. Following his appointment as CEO at NHS Improvement, Ian Dalton was replaced by Professor Julian Redhead, acting as the interim chief executive officer, from 4 December 2017. Professor Tim Orchard was appointed as chief executive officer from 7 June 2018. Professor Orchard was formerly the trust’s interim medical director and divisional director of medicine and integrated care. The trust also had a new Chair of the board, Paula Vennells CBE joined the trust on 1 April from the Post Office, where she is group chief executive. Despite these changes, we found a stable senior leadership team in place with the appropriate range of skills, knowledge and experience. The trust leadership team had a comprehensive knowledge of current priorities and challenges and was taking action to address them."
Yours sincerely,
Dr Minh Alexander
Cc Ted Baker CQC Chief Inspector of Hospitals 
      Dido Harding Chair of NHS Improvement
      Lord Arbuthnot
      Tom Kark QC