Sunday 25 November 2018

Bates v Post Office: Ten memorable moments of the first ten days

In no particular order:

1) The Post Office's admission it has bet the farm on Horizon. On Day 1 of the trial (7 Nov) the Post Office says in paragraph 3 of its opening submission that this legal action by the JFSA represents an "existential threat" to its entire business. Let's just repeat that, this legal action by the JFSA threatens the existence of the Post Office. News editors take note.

2) The Post Office CEO's demand to her staff via email that she "needs" to tell MPs there is no remote access to Horizon. This arose on Day 9 (21 November) during Angela van den Bogerd's evidence and you can read about it here.

3) The apparent admission by Helen Dickinson, Security Team Leader at the Post Office (Day 9, Wed 21 November) that she believed some Subpostmasters had been prosecuted simply to get a Proceeds Of Crime Act order, which enables the Post Office to take a Subpostmaster's assets to the value of a Horizon discrepancy. You can read about that here.

4) The moment on Day 8 (20 November) when Angela van den Bogerd, Director of Development and the most senior Post Office witness, said she didn't feel able to comment further on a piece of evidence because she was "coming to it cold". This caused some consternation amongst the JFSA's legal team. They told Mrs van den Bogerd that they had only recently received her signed witness statement for the Horizon trial, and in it, she dealt with this specific piece of evidence. Mrs van den Bogerd then admitted her statement to the court about coming to the piece of evidence cold was "a mistake". Read about that in the Day 8 write-up here.

5) The repeated assertions in passing by Post Office witnesses that Subpostmasters are liable for ANY losses in their branch, and the repeated assertions in Post Office literature that Subpostmasters are liable for any losses in their branch despite, the JFSA's QC taking quite some considerable amount of time to demonstrate (and have other senior Post Office witnesses agree) that this was contractually inaccurate. Subpostmasters, as we now know, are only liable for any losses in a branch caused by their own or their assistants "carelessness, negligence or error". Read the live tweet notes on Day 6 (15 Nov), Day 7 (19 Nov), Day 8 (20 Nov), Day 9 (21 Nov) and Day 10 (22nd Nov).

6) Patrick Green (claimants' QC) comprehensive trashing of the National Federation Subpostmaster's supposed "independence". You can read about how that came up in court as the last point in my write up of Day 6's events here, the NFSP General Secretary's "signed in blood" email here, and my subsequent comment piece here.

7) The release of an internal Post Office document on Day 1 (7 Nov) of the trial called the Receipts Payments Mismatch Meeting Memo outlining a serious Horizon error which had been going on for 5 months, the fact no Subpostmasters had been informed, the number of branches involved, and the proposed methods for fixing it, one of which involved remotely accessing branch accounts. Read it here.

8) Elaine Ridge, the Post Office Contracts Advisor who suspended Lead Claimant and former Croydon Subpostmaster Naushad Abdulla telling the judge, the Hon Mr Justice Fraser, that a spreadsheet containing information about the source of some of Mr Abdulla's discrepancies would not have been of any use to her in deciding whether or not to recommend Mr Abdulla for termination. Read it in the Day 10 (22 Nov) live tweets.

9) The Post Office being unable to defend its rather quaint practice of not allowing a suspended Subpostmaster to have a lawyer present during a post-suspension interview (Elaine Ridge: "it's just the way it is"), despite agreeing that a) during that meeting Subpostmasters could be accused of the criminal offence of false accounting, and b) the taped interview could be used by Post Office as evidence to support a prosecution. Read it in the Day 10 (22 Nov) live tweets.

10) Evidence from Louise Dar, Lead Claimant, that she was told to: “get around” Horizon by altering stock figures to balance, something she said "was obviously not helping me to find the specific problem, and was just covering it up. They told me they ‘shouldn’t be doing this’ but that this was the only way around the problem I had. This felt wrong and it was concerning to me that there were little ’work arounds’ to dealing with the Horizon system, this really suggested that there was some kind of fault in the system." Read Mrs Dar's witness statement paragraph 118, and see my live tweets on her being challenged on this on Day 5 (14 Nov) of the trial by the Post Office's QC, Mr David Cavender.