Good morning. Off the the High Court Rolls Building to see Alan Bates, sacked by the Post Office in 2003, and who subsequently formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. He's been waiting 15 years for his day in court. Today he's got it. #postofficetrial pic.twitter.com/crft6LTUpn— Nick Wallis (@nickwallis) November 8, 2018
Good morning. Off the the High Court Rolls Building to see Alan Bates, sacked by the Post Office in 2003, and who subsequently formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. He's been waiting 15 years for his day in court. Today he's got it.
We’ve had about 15 mins of the Post Office’s cross-examination of Alan Bates. PO QC says this happened a long time ago and asks if AB's memory of the events might have faded...
AB says "I won’t remember all the detail but because they affected me they were of concern to me - and I recorded them at the time"
PO QC now asking about the due diligence he did on AB’s purchase of his business. How hard he studied the contract and what he understood the contract to mean - particularly the nature of the agent (SPMR)/principal (Post Office) relationship.
Now discussing what conversations AB had with the person he bought the PO from. Previous SPMR told him there was a gains and losses tin in the safe, which struck Alan as odd.
PO QC says AB must have realised the potential for large liabilities if he got something wrong. AB says the sums of money under discussion seemed small and the prospect of large losses never seemed a major issue. Points out this was before Horizon was installed in that PO.
PO QC points out in 1993 there were more than £200 of losses and that he would have seen this. AB says yes and he that there were no losses the year before or the year after.
Starts talking about AB’s business plan. That he only planned to take out £500 a month from the business and that £208 pounds, if it happened whilst AB was in office - it would be a significant sum. AB isn’t that sure it is. “over a 12 month period in a busy office…?"
PO QC “did you ask [mr savage] about it?”
AB “Possibly not, as I thought I might have been able to swallow it in the business or write it off against tax as a loss"
AB takes the initiative for a moment saying he was more concerned about inexplicable losses, which is what happened when Horizon was installed - the losses shooted up.
PO QC steers him away from this and says that theft could be an inexplicable loss.
PO QC asks if AB had legal advice on his purchase of the PO. AB says yes.
QC says AB was committing to spend £175,000 on the entirety of this Post Office - wouldn’t he want to see the Subpostmaster Contract (SPMC). AB says...
he was interested in the terms he was going to be employed by the Post Office, not the terms under which the vendor was employed by the Post Office.
QC now asking if he prepared for his interview by looking at documentation which made it clear about his termination terms and liabilities #postofficetrial
QC if you had any queries about the documents you would have raised them during interview?
QC But you didn’t.
The PO QC is painting a picture of a man who was an experienced businessman, going into a business relationship with his eyes open, having read all the necessary documentation, done his homework and subsequently entered into a contract with the Post Office.
AB did not get the Subpostmasters contract (the SPMC) on his appointment. He received two documents which he thought was his contract.
QC says there’s no way he could have thought it was his contract. It didn’t cover terms referred to in other docs he’d already read before buying the PO.
AB adamant that the contents of what he was sent was the totality of what he was working to. His contract.
PO QC not buying this at all.
“Are you really saying that?”
PO QC “I find that pretty unlikely from the details man and commercial businessman you are."
PO QC says he did get the SPMC, and that if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have signed the contract.
AB says he didn’t get the contract and if he had he would have sent it to his lawyer. As it was he signed the documents he was sent and they were returned on pretty much the same day.
Court is taking a ten minute break. I am hank marvin…
Aaand we’re back. PO QC still pushing that AB did receive the SPMC. AB says he didn’t. PO QC says it was standard procedure to send it, there is a PO employee who says it was sent out so he must have received it. AB says he didn’t.
AB says he presumed all the docs he’d been sent were the contract.
We have moved onto the standard of training AB received.
Part of which was the training AB got from the PO as the branch was handed over to him - we’re back on to the contract and what AB thought the documentation he was presented as he took over the PO meant.
PO QC Still hammering the point that AB calls himself a details man yet he signed lots of documents on the day he took over the PO without going into the detail of them.
AB There were lots of documents I asked the trainer what they referred to...
QC You’re a details man!
AB It was busy - we were trying to serve customers at the same time!
QC points out that twice in his witness statements AB says that PO never drew his attention to the infamous 12.12 clause (see postofficetrial.com and tweets passim), yet in a document he signed....
...there was a line: “Post Office draws your attention to section 12.12”
AB says he was never told about it, it was never discussed during his interview.
QC asks why he says it was never drawn to his attention when it clearly was...
AB blusters a bit
QC did you draft your own witness statement?
AB says his statement is his recollection of what he was told at the time.
J asks how many documents he had to sign on the day he took over his Post Office.
AB 20… 30… 40… but you have to understand we were serving…
J Thank you.
If you would like more information - please go to postofficetrial.com where you can get a load of background and sign up to get daily email reports from this trial, which might be a bit easier to read than the live-tweeting!
PO QC saying that AB’s letter complaining about his PO contract being confusing and wordy must mean he had his SPMC as he was clearly referring to it.
AB says he could have been referring to other documentation.
QC you are referring specifically to a contract.
AB it was probably a general reference to all documentation…
The PO QC is generally not accepting that Alan Bates did not have his SPMC when he took over his PO. AB is adamant he didn’t.
AB adamant he did not have it.
QC now onto a letter sent by AB when he was in post but in dispute with the PO about Horizon.
Asks why when the PO had referred to point 12.12 of his contract...
… AB didn’t, at any stage of the letter, mention he didn’t get his SPMC until 18 months after taking over the PO.
AB says because this was about Horizon, not my contract.
QC asks again.
AB I think I’d gone beyond that stage by that point. I didn’t see any reason to do it.
QC There was a very good reason. It’s the reason you’re here now - you’re trying to contest the liability of this situation.
AB - I wasn’t preparing to come to court today and I didn’t know I was going to get sacked - I was just trying to protect my position, and resolve the situation so we could just get on.
AB notes that when he was on the Working Group of the Mediation Scheme he saw summaries of other complainant SPMRs cases and noted that 62 of the 140 complainants said they didn’t get a contract before taking over their PO.
PO QC: “I don’t accept that."
It’s two minutes before lunch and the installation of Horizon at AB’s PO has been mentioned and the training he would expect on it.
AB states he would have v much welcomed the computerisation of his branch and would hope the training would be good.
That appears to be the only discussion of Horizon as the PO QC asks if we can move on to AB’s contract termination or go to an early lunch.
Early lunch. Back at 1.55pm.
Okay we’re back for the afternoon session of #postofficetrial - Alan Bates from the JFSA.— Nick Wallis (@nickwallis) November 8, 2018
PO QC corrects AB’s point about the number of people who didn’t get the contract. He said the figure of 62 refers to people who had issues with their contract. AB accepts this point.
Okay we’re back for the afternoon session of #postofficetrial - Alan Bates from the JFSA.
PO QC corrects AB’s point about the number of people who didn’t get the contract. He said the figure of 62 refers to people who had issues with their contract. AB accepts this point.
It’s been mentioned to me that calling the claimants the JFSA isn’t strictly accurate as there are members of the JFSA who aren’t claimants and there are claimants who aren’t members of the JFSA. Happy to put that on the record, but think there is enough overlap….
…. in that venn diagram to use the JFSA as shorthand for claimant SPMRs.
PO QC and AB discussing his termination. PO QC telling AB what he was required to with regard to his Horizon accounts and AB explaining why he refused.
AB says he was only refusing to act according to instruction because the issue had been going on for 2.5 years.
QC asks why he didn’t follow procedure. By not accounting in accordance with his contract he deprived the PO the chance to investigate.
AB says the PO had every opportunity to investigate the problems he was having and they didn’t.
AB now explaining to the judge how the suspense account in Horizon worked. Judge has a good handle on this anyway. AB’s point is that putting something into suspense does not solve the issue. AB wanted to get to the bottom of the issue.
Judge querying disputed figures procedures:
a) settle to cash (pay out your own pocket)
b) roll over the debt into the next accounting procedure
c) put it into suspense
PO QC confused by the rollover procedure and how it differs from putting figs into suspense.
Lots of whispering on the PO lawyers’ benches.
which has now become activity. Two of the PO’s guests are now talking to the PO lawyers whilst PO QC goes back to AB and asks how exactly he dealt with negative discrepancies.
AB explains. Judge says he understand it perfectly. And points to the PO QC and says - “it’s back to you”
Sorry - it was an open-hand gesture as an invitation, not a point. Would not want to accuse a judge of pointing when he didn’t….!
Discussing letters AB sent to the PO during problems in 2002 that he was having with Horizon account. PO QC says he was refusing to act according to the terms of his contract.
AB says that’s because he wasn’t given the tools he needed to understand where his mysterious debts were coming from.
There is a discussion about a discrepancy AB rolled-over from week to week which was around £200-£400. AB is asked why he didn’t alert the PO to it.
AB replies because a) intially he wanted to know what was going to be done about the £1000+ already in his suspense account b) he wanted the tools to interrogate Horizon properly c) he wanted to know if he was really responsible for the debt.
PO QC says he could have put this £200 - £400 into suspense and still covered all the above points. So why didn’t he put the sum into suspense?
AB blusters a bit.
AB says he was trying to find out what was going on.
PO QC asking why he didn’t put this into dispute.
J picks up QC and says he is ignoring parts of a PO letter which is demanding payment.
AB’s point appears to be by putting things into suspense, he was setting himself down a road whereby he would be forced to make good a discrepancy which he wasn’t sure was his responsibility.
AB he says just wanted to find out how and why these discrepancies were going on. He said at the time he met other SPMRs having similar problems.
We move on to AB’s notice of termination. Why, asks the PO QC, did he ask the NFSP not to let anyone else take over the PO in his shop.
AB says because he was looking for support and some solidarity.
QC asks if it wasn’t because he was worried someone...
…. else might come in and operate the system without a problem.
AB says it’s the first time he’s even thought of that possibility.
PO QC asks about his AB's staff and how he would sometimes leave his staff to run the PO counter.
And notes an issue he had with Giro duplications
QC says this is a staff error, is it not?
AB No. That was a Horizon issue without the shadows of a doubt.
QC I don’t think it could have been.
QC This wasn’t an error free branch tho was it
AB Well, we all make mistakes, don’t we?
QC it’s not an outlandish thing to think then, that these losses were at least partly caused by errors.
QC because what you get out of Horizon is reliant on what you and your colleagues put into it?
QC you closed your mind to any possibility other than Horizon. You got it into your mind it was Horizon and it’s been Horizon ever since.
AB It can only have been Horizon.
AB All I wanted was a report writing tool that would allow me to investigate losses with my own searches.
QC You had one
AB It was very basic.
QC I don’t think it was. I think it was perfectly adequate for the purpose
AB Well I was the SPMR and I’m telling you it wasn’t.
QC - you didn’t go looking anywhere else for the problem. You didn’t investigate anywhere else.
AB - That’s because when I went looking for the problem in Horizon I found it.
QC I put it to you the overwhelming likelihood is that the losses in your branch were caused by errors by you or your staff. That is the post office case.
J - it’s being put to you so you can answer.
AB [pointedly] No.
We move on to training on Horizon.
QC I put to you formally that you were given all the training on Horizon that was required and that when these two problems arose they were of limited compass...
AB goes on a digression about the stress of having the money in the suspense account hanging over him and his staff for 2 years.
QC saying the helpline assistance was adequate
AB by way of answer says just look at my evidence in which I talk about hanging on hold for an hour and then getting advice where they’re reading instructions off a screen. When you get to the end of that, where do you go?
PO QC concludes his cross examination. Short break then a re-examination of Bates by JFSA (or, more accurately, claimants’) QC, Patrick Green.
We’re back. Judge apologises for heat in the courtroom. He has discovered the thermostat (which is by the door to his chambers) is set to maximum, and noted this happened yesterday too, which he says, suggests there is someone here who arrives early in the morning feeling very cold.
JFSA QC Patrick Green now asking q’s of Alan Bates.
Gone back to AB’s appointment. Reading some heartwarming stuff from the welcome bumph that PO gives new SPMRs.
Also bumph notes on how training varies from office to office as needed as assessed by the Regional Network Manager.
Notes phrase “your training will FULLY cover” [his emphasis] cash and stock etc
QC then asks his expectations as to training when Horizon came in.
AB it was sadly lacking in a major way
QC - let me interrupt
Judge - no let me interrupt - re-examination has to come out of cross examination.
QC - it is, he was asked about his training expectation
Judge - and you got your answer -“it was sadly lacking in a major way”. I think you were about to develop your argument.
QC I wasn’t, he was answering a different question - I asked him about his expectation - not what happened…
Judge says he’s got his answer.
Then that’s it from the JFSA QC
Judge asks AB what year he was born.
He is told he is free to leave. Pam Stubbs is sworn in - second lead claimaint.
She’s now being cross-examined by the Post Office’s QC, David Cavender.
He says he’s talking about 1999 and it might be right to suggest she can’t remember everything very clearly.
PS says her memory is pretty good.
PO QC says these are every day events so memory might not...
… be that good. It’s not as if it were a big event like it was a car crash.
PS says if he’s talking about Aug 1999 then it very much was like a car crash and she remembers it vividly.
PO QC asks if she’s referring to her husband’s death (PS succeeded her husband as SPMR...
… the day after he died of cancer).
PS says yes.
PO QC says - but we’re talking about things like signing contracts.
PS Well let’s see what documents you want to remind me of and I’ll see how much I remember of them.
PO QC - okay.
PS talks about the pre-Horizon days saying the Helpline in those days was very helpful. And so it, rather than the manual would be the first port of call.
PO QC Did your husband have a contract?
PS Never saw one. PO also has no record of him being appointed.
PO QC it was a long time ago.
But you must have understood he was operating under a contract.
PO QC did you ever see him checking his conract? for allowances etc
PS we had a fairly divided marriage. Well, not divided, but he...
… dealt with peple and cash, and I dealt with more mundane things like stock. After I got on top of the retail business I started watching him and gradually got to understand the PO side of the business.
PO QC - you accept you were regulated by the SPMC for the purposes of this process.
PS I assumed I would be taking over the branch on the same terms as my husband ran the branch. I don’t recall having seen a contract.
PS Colin Woodbridge from the PO came to the branch.
PO QC and the PO was very supportive.
PS Colin was very supportive
PO QC shortly before your husband died you said you would like to carry the PO on as SPMR and the PO was supportive.
PO QC On 4 August 1999 Colin Woodbridge came to see you to discuss you taking over office. How long did the meeting last?
They agree around 2 hours.
PO QC was the agent/principal relationship explained?
PS Not to my recollection.
QC - was it explained you you were responsible for losses?
PS - yes. And PS gives explanation of £600 which went missing whilst they used a temp SPMR when they went on holiday. They swallowed the loss and vowed never to use him again.
QC - so you knew you were responsible for losses and these could be any amount?
PS - yes but it was limited in the paper days and it made checking everything so much easier. Explains how her husband was good at using paper to track down mistakes (usually made by her)...
… and then once having tracked them down put them right. Says her husband was a former banker where if any cashier was more than a penny out by the end of the day the whole banking hall would stay behind until the cause of the loss was found.
PO QC - why didn’t you track down that £600 then?
PS - cos we had no idea what he did to lose it and there would have been no point. We just vowed only to use people we knew and we eventually trained up someone ourselves.
PO asking about her status as an agent.
PO QC You understood you were an agent?
PS Yes but I was taxed at source for a number of months at the emergency rate by the Post Office.
This causes some consternation [on the PO benches]
PO QC was that something to with your status as a worker?
PS says she was taxed by the PO on PAYE until she managed to persuade them not to.
PO QC moves on to the nature of the contract she was asked to sign.
PO QC suggests the death of her husband might have affected her mind when she was signing documents to take over the branch the next day.
PS accepts this is a possibility.
PO QC asks if she has any recollection of signing a series of documents.
PS says no
PO QC asks if it is conceivable she could have signed it
PS Anything it possible.
PS I don’t recall signing or seeing the documents you are showing me. I did sign something, and because I got paid I assume it had my bank details on, but I’m sure it’s not these. Particularly this ARS1 document.
I presume this is going somewhere.
It’s not. We move on to Horizon. Installed in Pam’s branch in 2001.
PO QC asks if she had seen the SPMC by then.
PS is not sure.
PO it’s possible you did?
PS it's possible
PO QC was there an expectation the Horizon system would be reliable?
PS I would expect it to be first class
PO QC and you'd expect necessary training?
PO QC and expect a decent helpline?
PO QC Things started to go wrong in your relationship with the Post Office in 2009 when you moved into a portakabin
PO QC and you did this because you were rebuilding your house and Post Office
PS explains everything including the works she was doing AND her...
… determination to keep the PO open whilst this happened.
There is a discussion about the support she got from the PO before she moved to the portakabin. Relationship at this stage with the PO is good.
PO QC jumps to Pam’s suspension later on that year.
Pam suspended day after an audit found an £18K discrepancy.
PO QC were you surprised?
PS Astounded. Staggered. Because for more than 6 months I had been asking the Post Office to try to find the source of these alleged shortfalls.
PO QC you would then have gone to your SPMC and seen they could do this.
PS there seemed little point. They’d already suspended me and locked me out of my office.
PO QC I see, but are you still saying you didn’t have the SPMC at that stage? Wouldn’t you have gone to look at it?
PO QC Why didn’t you check to see the PO had the right to suspend you under the terms it did?
PS I was as angry and upset as I have ever been in my life. I didn’t feel - having had a great many letters to and from Nigel Allan (PO). I felt there was...
… no point in writing back to him at all. I did write to other people at the PO but I was told I was a non-person and that I couldn’t write to anyone at the PO.
PO QC They couldn’t stop you writing to them though.
PS They couldn’t, no. I wrote to people at the PO who...
… I thought could help me. I received nothing. No help at all.
PO QC - one letter you wrote states you thought you could only be terminated if you’ve done something wrong. Did you not realise yo could be terminated on notice?
PS Not really.
PS I felt I couldn’t be terminated. Just told to pick up and go away.
PO QC draws attention to another letter she wrote when she resigend saying she was giving 3 months notice which suggests she did know about the notice terms.
PS I called the helpline and they….
… told me they would not advertise my PO unless I had handed in my notice.
PO QC where did you get the idea you could hand in 3 months notice?
PO QC are you sure you didn’t have your SPMC contract by this time?
PS pretty sure she first saw a contract on a visit to Citizen’s Advice and that she hadn’t seen a contract in all her time as an SPMR.
We are finishing until Monday when Pam Stubbs will return.
That’s it for Day 2 of #postofficetrial.
All today’s tweets will be posted on postofficetrial.com and there will be a round up blog post soonest followed by a secret email for contributors.