Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Horizon trial: Day 2 - Disappeared Into Magic Air

Anup Patny
The Post Office must have been laughing all the way back to Finsbury Dials tonight.

If the three witnesses put on the stand today were the best the claimants have to offer in their case that Horizon is riddled with errors, the game is already up.

Don’t get me wrong, Adrees Latif, Jayesh Tank and Anup Patny all seem like lovely blokes (and I am very grateful to Mr Patny for letting me take his photo to illustrate this piece). 

All were very respectful and honest. I know that if I went into a witness box in the High Court to have my recollection of a specific event forensically and methodically examined, I would fall apart. So this is not a criticism of them. 

In fact I don’t think any of them had any idea of what they were walking into.

This trial is about the systematic examination of the Horizon system to see if the claim that IT errors have been responsible for branch losses, bears out. If your first three witnesses are not able to answer basic questions about plausible reasons for their “inexplicable” losses, then you have a problem.

Adrees Latif was interviewed over Skype from Islamabad. He had driven four hours to get there and he spent three long, painful hours on the stand. According to his witness statement, Mr Latif had run the Caddington Post Office in Bedfordshire since 2001. He was also a Post Office trainer - going into other branches to teach them a thing or two about Horizon and running a Post Office in general.

Also according to his witness statement, Mr Latif, on one occasion, managed to lose £2000 on Horizon and from his branch whilst in the process of transferring the equivalent cash from one stock unit to another. This was examined in detail by the Post Office barrister, Owain Draper.

The story, as Mr Latif tells it in his witness statement, is pretty straightforward:
“In or around July 2015 I processed a transaction whereby I electronically transferred £2,000 from the AA stock unit to SJ1, the second stock unit. This was not an unusual transaction and the purpose of this was to stock up the second unit with cash. I would transfer cash out of the first stock unit and then move over to the second stock unit and transfer the cash in. 
When I moved over to the second stock unit to transfer £2,000 in, I noticed that £2,000 had not transferred to this stock unit successfully. I immediately performed a cash declaration on the first stock unit and confirmed that £2,000 had left this unit. I also checked the CCTV to make sure that I had performed the transaction correctly. It was the case that £2,000 had simply disappeared from Horizon. 
Given that I carried out the transaction correctly, I believe that some sort of bug or defect in Horizon caused the discrepancy, quite possibly during the transfer. Certainly Horizon’s limitations in terms of accessing data and reporting functions made it difficult to interrogate the system and locate the source of the error. I do not know whether the Post Office had any additional ability to identify the source of the error but I called the Helpline who said that there was nothing they could do. There was therefore a shortfall in the Branch account for £2,000.”
Mr Latif was asked why, when he checked the CCTV to ensure nothing untoward had happened, he didn’t use the images to prove to the Post Office it was a Horizon error. He replied it was “a long time ago”.

Mr Latif told Mr Draper he carried out a reversal to reverse the £2,000 transfer out of the AA stock unit, but Mr Draper said Horizon had no record of him doing so. 

Mr Latif agreed that he put the physical £2000 back into the stock unit, and agreed that if there were no reversal logged, the AA stock unit would have a £2000 surplus, but there was no surplus. 

Mr Latif was vague about whether or not he had called the helpline to complain about the situation or ask for advice on what to do. When presented with the evidence he hadn’t, he said he had called his area sales manager to complain.

Mr Latif was then shown a Horizon log from July 2015, which showed there was no evidence of any shortfall of £2000:

Q.  Mr Latif, on your account the only thing that can have
       caused the shortfall that you're describing is the
       Horizon derived cash figure for stock unit AA somehow
       having increased; that's right, isn't it?
   A.  Correct, it's a software accounting issue, sir.  That's
       my statement.
   Q.  That also isn't described anywhere in your witness
       statement, that you identified some problem with the --
   A.  Well, we cannot look -- I mean I do not have access to
       the Post Office's internal software so I can only assume
       the money is missing.  It has disappeared into the
       Post~Office's system.  That's all I can say.
   Q.  Mr Latif, that's not right.  Let me take it slowly with
       you, Mr Latif.
           If your account were right, the problem would be
       that the Horizon cash figure in stock unit AA had
       somehow gone up by 2,000 when it shouldn't have done so.
       That's right, isn't it?
   A.  The money is there but the system doesn't resolve.
       Something has gone wrong with the transfer, sir.
   Q.  Can you just answer the question.  Am I right that the
       derived Horizon cash figure would have had to go up by
       £2,000 for there to be a £2,000 shortfall given that the
       physical cash, on your case, was the same?
   A.  The Horizon derived figure and the physical figure
       should have matched, but they did not, sir, and the
       shortfall -- what I'm saying is there is a loss of
       £2,000.  So that does not make sense.
   Q.  If that were right, Mr Latif --
   A.  It shouldn't have happened.
   Q.  Mr Latif, it would have been very easy for you to have
       shown that, wouldn't it, and to have described it in
       your witness statement?  What you would have said was:
       before these processes the Horizon derived cash figure
       for stock unit AA was X thousand and after all of these
       processes the Horizon derived cash figure was X minus
       2,000 and there was no reason for that.  Do you follow?
   A.  That is what happened, that's what I'm trying to say.
   Q.  I think you said earlier, before the break, that you had
       had to put £2,000 into the branch, is that right?
   A.  Correct, sir.
   Q.  When do you say you did that?
   A.  I would have done it on the Wednesday (inaudible), sir.
   Q.  Do you say you did that without disputing this
       shortfall, Mr Latif?
   A.  We are liable.  The Post Office's contract clearly says
       that we are liable for any shortfalls.
   Q.  Is your understanding that you are liable for
       a shortfall even if it is a computer glitch, is that
       what you are saying?
   A.  Yes, sir, we're liable.
   Q.  Mr Latif, you will appreciate we don't accept that there
       was any such shortfall, or that you paid it in, but can
       you comment on this suggestion.  If you genuinely
       believed that the derived cash figure on stock unit AA
       had been increased by a glitch and that therefore you
       were in no way responsible for any of this, what do you
       say to the suggestion that it's very surprising that you
       wouldn't raise that with Post Office and complain about
       it?
   A.  Well, I have complained to the area manager, sir, so
       I don't know your saying I haven't complained.  I have
       complained to the area manager, Mr Navjot Jando,
       a number of times, so I don't know why you're saying
       I haven't complained about it or raised it.
   Q.  So do you now say you disputed a £2,000 shortfall
       in July 2015 by contacting your area manager and
       complaining that there was a glitch; is that what you
       are now saying?
   A.  Well, yes, we would have obviously raised questions, but
       there is a glitch or something and we don't know what's
       happened.  This is just one instance, sir, but there are
       a number of other instances which I haven't given in my
       statement.  It happens all the time and generally we
       think it's the operator that's causing the problem and
       that's what the Post Office keep telling us, it's
       operator error, not necessarily it's a software error,
       and this is clearly a software error, sir.  And also,
       can I just say, when I have been training other offices
       they have been telling me a similar story, sir.
[…]
 

   Q.  Just to confirm your previous answer, you said that you
       would have complained, or words to that effect, about
       the glitch.  Do you say that you in fact did phone your
       area manager and tell him that you had suffered a £2,000
       loss as a result of a glitch as you have just described?
   A.  Yes, sir.
   Q.  Why is none of that recorded in your witness statement?
   A.  I didn't think it was relevant.  I talk to the area
       manager about a lot of things, so, you know ...
   Q.  Do you accept that you did not, however, phone the
       helpline to say that you had suffered a £2,000 loss as
       a result of a glitch?
   A.  There would have been definitely a call to the helpline.
       I'm not sure why it is not showing up there, but it
       should have been logged all through helpline as well.
       As you can see, we quite regularly make calls to the
       helpline.

After going round in circles for what felt like hours, Mr Latif was left to repeat variations of an earlier assertion that:
 “There is a software glitch that stole our money, you know, that disappeared into magic air where it is not possible.”
Eventually, on the basis of a lack of any Horizon evidence that £2,000 had balanced or been transferred incorrectly or one-sidedly anywhere on the Post Office systems in relation to Mr Latif’s branch in June, July or August 2015, Mr Draper said:

Q.  Mr Latif, Post Office says there
       was no failed transfer such as that described in your
       witness statement and that you are simply wrong about
       that, it never happened.
   A.  So you are calling me a liar?
   Q.  Mr Latif, you may be mistaken or you may be lying.
       I put the question that it didn't happen.
   A.  Well, I state that they did.
It then transpired that despite his witness statement saying he was still a Subpostmaster, Mr Latif had stopped being a Subpostmaster in September last year.

Next up was Jayesh Tank, Subpostmaster at Fleckney Post Office between 2006 and 2017. Mr Tank was cross-examined by another Post Office barrister, Mr Simon Henderson. Mr Tank was asked about both his witness statements, which were the source of some confusion. 

Mr Tank initially claimed a £600 discrepancy was caused by a power cut to his branch in 2011. In his second statement he had the benefit of seeing some posts he made to a Subpostmaster forum on Yahoo groups called The List. After viewing these he conceded he was out in his recollection of the £600 event by three years. It happened, says Mr Tank, in 2014. And there was another mysterious loss of £660 in 2014 too.

Mr Henderson affected some incredulity at Mr Tank’s evidence:

Q.  Is your evidence that you didn't take care over the
       preparation of your first witness statement?
   A.  I did.
   Q.  But not much?
   A.  It was very general.  My original witness statement --
       I was just trying to get the point across -- because
       I was referring back to my memory as well, I couldn't
       realise the importance of what was important as -- it is
       only subsequently after finding the information and
       having -- being able to go back into -- it was only
       a few weeks ago that I managed to get back into the
       forum.  I left my post office in 2016, so I stopped
       visiting the forum.
In fact, Mr Tank’s evidence was such a mess that another example of a Horizon IT error, in his second witness statement, was provided to him by Angela van den Bogerd from the Post Office when she was investigating his initial witness statement.

It led to this exchange:

Q.  Now, this is part of where I am confused, because your
       evidence here is that there are two events.  One is
       a power cut on a date that you don't specify which led
       to a loss of £600 which we saw on page 4, do you
       remember?
   A.  Yes.
   Q.  And the other is a separate incident in August 2014 for
       £660 but again no mention of a power cut.  Can you
       explain the anomaly?
   A.  The fact that I didn't mention the power cut?
   Q.  Well, you do mention a power cut -- I apologise -- if
       I'm taking it too quickly, I apologise.  Your evidence
       now is that there was a power cut in September 2014
       which led to a loss of £600.
   A.  Okay.
   Q.  Well, if you disagree say so?
   A.  No, I agree.
   Q.  Okay.  And in this document you refer, as I understand
       it, to two separate incidents.  One is a power cut on
       a date you don't specify, which led to a loss of £600,
       and the other is the loss of £660 in August 2014 and I'm
       just asking if you can explain what appears to be
       a rather strange situation?
   A.  Just confusion, I would ... I was just confused.
   Q.  You are confused.  So are we to take it that the £660
       in August 2014 is caused by the power cut and there's
       only one incident that you meant to refer to in this?
   A.  I couldn't say for sure.  As I tried to explain earlier,
       in drafting my original witness statement I went back to
       my box file and it was filled with various bits of
       paper, different sizes, different formats and with
       handwritten scribbled notes on and that's where I tried
       to piece together the information that I provided in
       this.
   Q.  I'm not trying to trip you up here, Mr Tank, I'm just
       trying to understand what your case is.  Because you
       appear to now be saying that there were two power cuts.
       One was in December 2011 and it resulted in the loss you
       say of £195.04 and you were reminded of it by
       Ms van den Bogerd's statement.  Yes?  That was one power
       cut?
   A.  Yes.
Things continue in a similar vein until Mr Henderson put his point to Mr Tank:

MR HENDERSON:  what we see here is the red figure is the
       withdrawal of £600 from the Post Office card account,
       yes?
   A.  Yes.
   Q.  And then below it, immediately, there is a cash deposit
       into a Lloyds Bank?
   A.  Yes.
   Q.  Now, it's possible, isn't it, that what actually
       happened is that the cash was accidently handed over to
       the customer and also registered as being deposited with
       Lloyds Bank?
   A.  It's possible, but, as I have mentioned, I checked the
       CCTV and we could see what was going backwards and
       forwards across the counter and it was receipts going to
       the customer and a paying in slip coming from the
       customer.
   Q.  Well, Mr Tank, you haven't referred to any CCTV in your
       witness evidence.
   A.  I understand.
   Q.  Which I accept you thought was only provisional but we
       take a bit more seriously.
   A.  Okay.
   Q.  And as far as I'm aware, you haven't given disclosure of
       any CCTV, have you?
   A.  No.
   Q.  Okay.
           (Pause).
           Based on the evidence here, you can't say that what
       I have suggested to you, which is that an error was
       made, a simple user error was made, you can't say that
       didn't occur, can you?
   A.  I can say that.  I can say that there is no cash that
       went over the till.
   Q.  Based on what you tell us you saw on the CCTV?
   A.  Correct, yes.  Obviously I can't evidence that, but ...
   Q.  I'm just wondering how you can be so confident about
       what happened, about this particular transaction when
       you couldn't even get the year right to the tune of four
       years?
   A.  I investigated the loss to the best of my ability.
       I turned to the Post Office for help.  What they told me
       on the telephone was everything looked fine, they could
       see the transaction, they could see the £600 going out,
       they could see the £600 going in.
   Q.  Exactly.
   A.  So that's why it is an unexplained loss, because I can't
       explain it.
   Q.  Well, I understand that it is a frustrating loss, but
       there's a perfectly simple explanation for it which is
       an understandable user error?
   A.  I agree.
   Q.  And you nevertheless come into court and say on oath
       that you are so confident that you did nothing wrong,
       that that didn't happen, because of evidence you have
       seen and we haven't.
   A.  Okay.  Fair point.
   Q.  In a situation where you couldn't, until reminded by
       Post Office, recall the date of the transaction to the
       tune of four years?
   A.  But you have to bear in mind I paid that £600 back.
       I beared that loss.  I never thought that I would
       actually get it back.  My relationship with Post Office
       ended a couple of years ago, so that money was written
       off.  I wrote that money off myself.  I paid that back.
   Q.  I understand that.  But if it was, as I'm suggesting to
       you, or if it's possible that it was a user error then
       you would have to pay it back, wouldn't you?
   A.  Yes.
And so on.

Finally we had Anup Patny. Mr Patny’s witness statement was simple enough to understand:
“There was a major system outage on 9 May 2016 when Horizon went down at or around 09:00-10:00am. I was working in the Branch at this time. The screen went blank and none of the transactions that I had undertaken that morning were showing. I rang the Helpline to find out what had happened and had no option but to close the Branch until the problem had been rectified. 
I understand that this outage affected Branches across the whole national Post Office Network. 
Following the system outage of 9 May 2016 mentioned below, at the end of the trading period on Wednesday 11 May 2016 there was a shortfall of over £17,000 which could not be explained, but which I understand related to remming in of approximately £16,000 worth of £1 coins. 
As I usually worked in the Branch in the morning, to the best of my recollection I was responsible for remming in the cash delivery on the morning of 11 May 2016. I know and am certain that I did not receive £16,000 worth of £1 coins. Such an event would have been wholly out of the ordinary for my Branch and I have never held such a large amount of £1 coins. 
My son, Akash Patny, worked as an assistant in the Branch and was responsible for undertaking the balance. Akash therefore undertook the necessary liaison with the Post Office. 
On 19 May 2016 I received a call from Debra Lambley (from NSBC) about a discrepancy with the figure Horizon was showing for stamps. This appeared to relate back to the £16,000 discrepancy referred to above but I immediately thought this was strange as, again, I would never have had stamps to that value in the Branch. 
I told Debra that she would need to speak to my son about this as he was responsible for carrying out the balancing procedure. I understand that Debra called the Branch later that day and did speak to Akash.  
To my mind, these discrepancies could only have been caused by some failure of the Horizon system.”
Mr Henderson took him through it, stage by stage. First of all he showed that there was a cash declaration on the 9 May showing a £1,138.21 discrepancy, which he said proved the power outage was nothing to do with the £17,000 discrepancy.

Then Mr Henderson shows Mr Patny his cash management records:

   Q. we know that you remmed in £16,000 worth
       of £10 notes on 11 May.
   A.  Yes, sir.
   Q.  But the 11 May £10 notes are only 22,130.  So what you
       would have expected, on 11 May, would be something like
       £32,000 of £10 notes, which is the 16,000 from the 10th,
       plus the 16,000 from the 11th, less any notes that had
       been paid out in the course of 11 May; do you agree?
   A.  Yes, sir.
   Q.  And in fact, as we can see, there's only £22,130 worth
       of £10 notes, but the cash declarations for the
       following days in £10 notes are very much higher: 37,650
       and 35,700.  Do you see that?
   A.  I can see that, yes.
   Q.  And even though there had been no cash remmed in in that
       period?
   A.  Well I think when my son rang the NBSC on that 11 May
       they asked him to do some adjustments.
   Q.  Well, what I'm suggesting is that the most natural
       explanation for this, whatever adjustments were made, is
       that at some point on 11 May someone hadn't counted
       a big pile of £10 notes.  They had been put in a safe
       and forgotten about, which is understandable, and that
       they were found the next day, or located, and there was
       an accurate cash declaration on 12 May.
   A.  I don't know about that, sir.
   Q.  It's perfectly plausible, isn't it?
   A.  I can't say anything to that.
   Q.  Well, the final piece of this little jigsaw is at
       {F/1507.1} and I think you will need to --
   MR JUSTICE FRASER:  What document is this?
   MR HENDERSON:  This is going back to the events data showing
       the cash declarations on 13 May.  Now, we saw before
       that on 11 May the cash discrepancy was minus £17,000.
       Do you remember that?  We looked at that a few moments
       ago?
   A.  Yes, sir.
   Q.  And two days later the discrepancy is plus 17,000, in
       other words it looks as though it has gone, it has
       cancelled out.  Do you see that?
   A.  I can see that, sir.
   Q.  So it's a bit of detective work and it's a bit fiddly
       and I apologise for that, but doesn't it look overall as
       though what the problem here was is nothing to do with
       an outage, it's been a mistake somewhere in the branch,
       temporary mistake, counting cash and once the cash count
       was done properly, the problem disappeared?
   A.  I don't know, sir.  I don't think so.
   Q.  You didn't suffer any loss as a result of this incident,
       did you?
   A.  I still think this is because of the adjustments NBSC
       had asked my son to make.  I don't know.
   Q.  What I'm trying to put to you, I hope fairly, Mr Patny,
       is your evidence is -- I think your evidence is that
       there were some sort of problems in Horizon that caused
       all of these difficulties and all I'm trying to
       demonstrate to you is that if you go through the various
       records that are available it looks as though in fact
       there has just been a difficulty with declarations of
       cash.  Do you accept that?
           (Pause).
   A.  I wouldn't know how to answer that.
[…]
   Q.  Mr Patny, your evidence, as I understand it, is that
       your experience of Horizon leads you to conclude that
       there are bugs in the Horizon system.
   A.  Well, how else -- I mean these shortages have occurred
       and there's no explanation to that.
   Q.  Well, I'm suggesting to you that there's a perfectly
       sensible explanation, which is that as far as we can
       see, none of the events that you refer to are consistent
       with there being a serious problem in Horizon and all of
       them are consistent with things being pretty chaotic in
       your branch.
   A.  But where the cash has gone then?
   Q.  Are you suggesting that you actually lost this cash?
   A.  No.
I didn’t speak to anyone from either party after the conclusion of today’s proceedings, so I don’t know what they felt about it, but it struck me as a really bad day for the claimants.

From the evidence I have seen covering this story, and the tales I have been told by dozens of former and serving Subpostmasters and the people I have spoken to, who have themselves investigated or worked on Horizon… I know Horizon isn’t all that.

The Post Office knows Horizon isn’t all that. According to the internal document read out in court yesterday, Horizon, is a “high risk” system, and along with all the other Post Office IT, it is “not fit for purpose… failing to meet POL aspirations on any assessment lens (cost, risk, delivery or service).”

So today was an opportunity to score a few home runs. To put up the claimants who have unassailable evidence that they were left out of pocket by a bona fide Horizon glitch, to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that an IT error robbed these decent people of their hard-earned money. And it is here that the claimants utterly failed.

*****************************
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