Wednesday 18 December 2019

Second Sight's Ron Warmington breaks his silence

Ron Warmington
Ron Warmington is the managing director of Second Sight, the independent forensic accountants hired six years ago by the Post Office to look at its Horizon computer system and investigate Subpostmaster complaints.

Mr Warmington has not commented publicly about that experience, until now. Today he released a statement castigating the Post Office for its treatment of Subpostmasters and setting out his belief that cash in Post Office suspense accounts has been unfairly taken from the pockets of Subpostmasters and funnelled into Post Office profits.

According to Mr Warmington:
"the Post Office has improperly enriched itself, through the decades, with funds that have passed through its own suspense accounts. Had its own staff more diligently investigated in order to establish who were the rightful owners of those funds, they would have been returned to them, whether they were Post Office’s customers or its Subpostmasters.  When is the Post Office going to return the funds that, in effect, belonged to its Subpostmasters?"
He adds:
"It also seems to be clear now that some of those funds could have been generated by Horizon itself, or by errors made by the Post Office’s own staff, or by those of Fujitsu. They weren't "real" losses at all. They were phantom discrepancies."
Mr Warmington is a former CFO of Citibank’s Global Asset Management Business. He went on to run the firm's Global Fraud Investigation Department and head up Security in Europe, the Middle East & Africa. He then became Head of Fraud Management in GE’s EMEA regions before setting up Second Sight in 2010.

Second Sight's first report for the Post Office, published six years ago, found bugs in Horizon, and concluded: "had the Post Office investigated more of the "mysterious shortages" and problems reported to it [by its own Subpostmasters] with the thoroughness that it has investigated those reported to it by Second Sight, the Post Office would have been in a much better position to resolve the matters raised, and would also have benefited from process improvements."

Today Mr Warmington said:
"if the Post Office Board had believed - and acted on - what Second Sight reported... instead of being led by the nose by its own middle management and in-house and external legal advisors, huge amounts of money, and human suffering, would have been avoided." 
"As a fraud investigator who has, for decades, dealt with real fraudsters and confidence tricksters, it struck me, six years ago, as I interviewed Subpostmaster after Subpostmaster, that these are good, honest, straight-talking people. It was very rapidly obvious that many have suffered life-changing damage because they received no investigative support when mysterious shortfalls appeared in their accounts. 
"Some were left in limbo when the police refused to investigate, saying that Post Office’s own investigation department should carry out the work, and the latter said they wouldn’t investigate either."
Mediation scheme

After their initial investigation and report was published in 2013, Second Sight were retained to investigate individual Subpostmasters' cases during the Post Office's complaint and mediation scheme, which ran from August 2013 to May 2015. During this period Second Sight produced a number of reports which uncovered serious problems with the Post Office's processes and business model. Here are just two:
"As a result of our investigations we have established that Post Office’s investigators have, in many cases, failed to identify the underlying root causes of shortfalls prior to the initiation of civil recovery action or criminal proceedings."
"Post Office generally insists on losses being made good, but the Subpostmaster is not necessarily entitled to receive all of the information and explanations necessary to establish the cause of the loss. We regard this as unfair."
These perceptive reports were ultimately borne out by Mr Justice Fraser over the course of the recently concluded litigation. At the time, the Post Office refused to accept or publish them, instead issuing counter-reports and more denials. Shortly before Second Sight's final report was circulated, the Post Office sacked them and terminated the mediation scheme.

Today Mr Warmington has put forward what he thinks should happen next, arguing that:
  • the CCRC must come to a conclusion quickly about referring cases of criminalised Subpostmasters to the Court of Appeal.
  • those Subpostmasters who have been wronged in the civil courts (such as Lee Castleton) need to be properly recompensed.
  • funds need to be found to supplement the meagre compensation available to claimants after costs and the litigation funder’s success fee has been taken out.
  • the Post Office needs to redesign its business plan and prepare new contracts with which to engage its agents (or franchisees) - the Subpostmasters. 
  • steps should be taken to reduce the abysmally High error rates that are endemic throughout the Post Office (apply Six Sigma or similar process improvements).
  • a completely new and trusted investigation department needs to be established - probably funded through a captive insurance company.
  • the Post Office’s right to bring prosecutions in the name of the Crown, bypassing the CPS, needs to be revoked, immediately. 
Mr Warmington concludes his broadside by saying:
"The Post Office’s profound readiness to distrust even its longest-serving Subpostmasters; to defend "the brand" at all costs; and to refuse even to consider the possibility that its own staff or its own core system could be at fault contrasted starkly with my decades of experience in high-integrity financial institutions.

"Properly trained investigators are always as enthusiastic at finding evidence of innocence as they are at finding evidence of guilt.  Until Post Office adopts that philosophy, nobody - and no civil or criminal court - should trust anything it asserts.” 
I have contacted the Post Office and Fujitsu, putting Mr Warmington's allegations to them. All Fujitsu will say about the matter is that they take Mr Justice Fraser's Horizon Issues trial judgment "very seriously" and they will now review his findings "in detail." The Post Office tell me they have nothing to add to their statements about the now-concluded litigation.

If you have enjoyed reading the content on this website, I would be grateful if you could chuck a few quid in the tip jar below. Contributors who give £20 or more get regular "secret" emails which have all the info and gossip about this litigation and its wider repercussions. Click here to see how and where your money is being spent.

Choose an amount