Thursday, 17 January 2019

Reading the Common Issues trial

Getting wiggy with it
More than half a million words were spoken during or written up for the Common Issues trial.

I know this because I wrote and spoke some of those words, and I was present every single day in court to live tweet and report on proceedings. And because I used the word count facility on my word processing application whilst pasting them up on this blog.

So they're all here to be read, but navigating your way around half a millions words to find the killer line might feel daunting. So here's a mini-guide:

If you do not know anything about the story behind this trial, you can either read the about section of this blog (also linked to on the nav bar at the top of every page of this blog), or Antonia Hoyle's rather brilliant piece for the Daily Mail, published on 1 Dec last year.

The Common Issues Trial Menu (also linked to on the nav bar at the top of every page of this blog) will help you get around. 

Rather than read the Generic Particulars of Claim, Generic Defence and Common Issues (all linked to in the Common Issues trial menu) you might as well dive into the transcripts on Day 1. Here both the claimants' and defence barristers set out their arguments, and it's quite easy to follow.

Once you have done that, by all means have a look at the Generic Particulars of Claim, the Generic Defence and the Common Issues, but you don't need to. They are filled with legalese and can be hard going.

You're better off heading to the witness statements of lead claimants who give evidence on the second day: Alan Bates and Pam Stubbs. Then read the day 2 transcript.

Then read the witness statement of Mohammad Sabir and read the day 3 transcript.

Then read Naushad Abdulla and and Liz Stockdale and read the day 4 transcript.

Then read Louise Dar and the day 5 transcript.

I would not bother with going to the Post Office employee witness statements next. The JFSA barrister makes a very good job of suggesting they are barely worth the paper they are written on. I would go straight into the day 6 transcript and read through the cross-examinations.

The Post Office witnesses were:

Nick Beal, Head of Agents’ Development and Renumeration.
Paul Williams, Restrictions Advisor
Sarah Rimmer, Agent Remuneration and Expenses Manager.
John Breeden, Head of Agency Contracts.
Angela van den Bogerd, People Services Director.
Timothy Dance, Retail Transformation Integration Manager.
Helen Dickinson, Security Team Leader.
Michael Shields, Temporary Subpostmaster Advisor.
Elaine Ridge, Network Contract Advisor.
David Longbottom, Training and Audit Advisor.
Michael Webb, Training and Audit Advisor.
Michael Haworth, Network Engagement Manager.
Andrew Carpenter, Agents Contract Advisor.
Brian Trotter, Network Contract Advisor.

You can find links to the transcript of their evidence laid out in the Common Issues trial menu. Having read what they say, if you then want to go back and cross-reference the transcripts with their witness statements, be my guest - I have posted them all up and they are linked to in the menu too.

Then finally have a look at the Common Issues - which is what this trial is all about - and then go and read everything again.

I am still waiting on the transcripts of the last four days of the trial - which comprised closing arguments. Days 14 and 15 were taken up with the closing argument of the Post Office barrister. He methodically tore into the claimants' legal position whilst trying to persuade the judge to ignore the testimony of all the witnesses and park them for October's "breach" trial.

Mr Cavender made (through implication) the perfectly respectable point that whether Post Office employees had been acting with incompetence or worse in the cases that were described in court, it didn't actually matter to the Common Issues trial - this first trial was about whether the contractual relationship between the Post Office and its Subpostmasters allowed the Post Office to act as it had done, and he contended it was. 

If you're still hungry for more you can read the claimants' stories I posted on my blog. These people are part of the class action, but were not required to give evidence in court this time round. I'd recommend checking out Bal GillHelen WalkerWendy MartinJanet BradburyChris and an anonymous correspondent. If you're feeling very lazy you can sit back and watch a couple of One Show pieces I helped make back in 2014 which tell various peoples' stories. (There's also the perspective of the Communications Workers' Union Subpostmaster rep, Mark Baker, which is very much worth reading).

If you count up the claimants' stories on this blog and the cases of the lead claimants in the Common Issues trial, and those in Antonia' Daily Mail article and those in my One Show pieces, you will still only know about what happened to around 3% of the claimants in this class action. 


To which I would say - well - we'll see, won't we...?

Day 1 transcript - Wed 7 November - Opening arguments
Day 2 transcript - Thu 8 November - Claimants: Alan Bates, Pam Stubbs part 1
Day 3 transcript - Mon 12 November - Pam Stubbs part 2, Mohammad Sabir
Day 4 transcript - Tue 13 November - Naushad Abdulla, Liz Stockdale
Day 5 transcript - Wed 14 November - Louise Dar
Day 6 transcript - Thu 15 November - Post Office: Nick Beal, Paul Williams
Day 7 transcript - Mon 19 November - Sarah Rimmer, John Breeden, AvdB part 1
Day 8 transcript - Tue 20 November - AvdB part 2
Day 9 transcript - Wed 21 November - AvdB part 3, Timothy Dance, Helen Dickinson, Michael Shields part 1
Day 10 transcript - Thu 22 November - Michael Shields part 2, Elaine Ridge, David Longbottom, Michael Webb
Day 11 transcript - Mon 26 November - Michael Haworth, Andrew Carpenter, Brian Trotter

Common Issues trial menu


The Common Issues trial was the first trial in the Bates and others v Post Office group litigation at the High Court. It was held at the Rolls Building between Wed 7 Nov and Thu 6 Dec 2018. Mr Justice Fraser presided.

The judgment was handed down on 15 March 2019. You can read it here. It is 180,000 words long.

If you'd prefer something a little shorter, there is my bluffer's guide to the Common Issues judgment. You can read it here in five minutes. There's also my report on what happened in and outside of court when the judgment was handed down. It's called "He did it." See the bottom of this post for more reaction to the judgment.

Fancy more than dipping your toes in, but you're still not read for the full judgment? This is my fisking of the Common Issues judgment in 5 parts:

Part 1 - on the first few lead claimants and their treatment by the Post Office
Part 2 - on the last few lead claimants and their treatment by the Post Offic
Part 3 - on the Post Office witnesses (one found to mislead the court on oath)
Part 4 - the Post Office's goon squad and general attitude problem
Part 5 - a breakdown of who won what re the Common Issues themselves
Special report on the judge's findings on the National Federation of Subpostmasters

See the bottom of this post for more reaction to the judgment, including press cuttings.

The rest of this blog post deals with everything pretty much chronologically as the trial happened. It includes day-by-day transcripts, write-ups, extra pieces witness statements and other documents as presented to court, not least:

The Common Issues - what the first trial was contested on.

Claim particulars - what this group litigation is about.
Generic defence and counterclaim - the Post Office's defence.

Also, before you start, you might like to read a pre-trial judgment (judgment no.2) - handed down on 20 October - a couple of weeks before the trial started - in which the Post Office's attempts to get lots of evidence ruled inadmissible was struck out. It is quite entertaining.

Ready? Here we go:

Day 1 - Wed 7 November

Claimants' opening statement - Mr Patrick Green QC.
Defendant's opening statement - Mr David Cavender QC.

Transcript,
Write-up: "Skeleton arguments"
Collated live tweets.

Day 2 - Thu 8 November

Giving evidence:

Lead Claimant 1 - Alan Bates
Lead Claimant 2 - Pam Stubbs part 1

Transcript.
Write-up: "Alan Bates and Pam Stubbs take the stand"
Colllated live tweets (morning).
Collated live tweets (afternoon).

Supporting information:
Alan Bates' witness statement.
Pam Stubbs' witness statement.
Serious Horizon Errors document.

Extra pieces by me: Liabilities

Day 3 - Mon 12 November

Giving evidence:

Lead Claimant 2 - Pam Stubbs part 2
Lead Claimant 3 - Mohammad Sabir

Transcript,
Write-up: "Pam Stubbs finishes being cross-examined".

Supporting information:
Mohammad Sabir's witness statement.

Extra pieces by me: Post Office internal memos - Serious Horizon Errors

Day 4 - Tue 13 November

Giving evidence:

Lead Claimant 4 - Naushad Abdulla
Lead Claimant 5 - Liz Stockdale

Transcript,
Write-up: "Naushad Abdulla and Liz Stockdale".

Supporting information:
Naushad Abdulla's witness statement,
Liz Stockdale's witness statement.

Day 5 - Wed 14 November

Giving evidence:

Lead Claimant 6 - Louise Dar

Transcript
Write-up: "Final Lead Claimant is cross-examined".
Collated live tweets.
Supporting information: Louise Dar's witness statement.

Day 6 - Thu 15 November

Giving evidence:

Nick Beal, Head of Agents’ Development and Renumeration, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
Paul Williams, Restrictions Advisor, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).

Transcript
Write-up: "The Post Office speaks!"
Collated live tweets.

Extra pieces by me: The NFSP

Day 7 - Mon 19 November

Giving evidence:

Sarah Rimmer, Agent Remuneration and Expenses Manager, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
John Breeden, Head of Agency Contracts, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
Angela van den Bogerd, People Services Director, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here) part 1.

Transcript.
Write-up: "Angela van den Bogerd part 1"
Collated live tweets.

Day 8 - Tue 20 November

Giving evidence:

Angela van den Bogerd, People Services Director, Post Office Ltd - part 2.

Transcript.
Write-up: "Best of Angela van den Bogerd part 2"
Collated live tweets.

Day 9 - Wed 21 November

Giving evidence:

Angela van den Bogerd, People Services Director, Post Office Ltd - part 3.
Timothy Dance, Retail Transformation Integration Manager, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
Helen Dickinson, Security Team Leader, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
Michael Shields, Temporary Subpostmaster Advisor, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here) part 1

Transcript.
Write-up: "Paula Vennells implicated".
Collated live tweets.

Extra piece by me: Did the Post Office prosecute Subpostmasters in order to seize their assets?

Day 10 - Thu 22 November

Giving evidence:

Michael Shields, Temporary Subpostmaster Advisor, Post Office Ltd - part 2.
Elaine Ridge, Network Contract Advisor, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
David Longbottom, Training and Audit Advisor, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
Michael Webb, Training and Audit Advisor, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).

Transcript
Write-up: "The Long and Windy Road".
Collated live tweets.

Extra pieces by me:
The NFSP "signed in blood" email
Internal Post Office email chain "she is questioning the integrity of Horizon"
Ten memorable moments of the first ten days

Day 11 - Monday 26 November

Giving evidence:

Michael Haworth, Network Engagement Manager, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
Andrew Carpenter, Agents Contract Advisor, Post Office Ltd (witness statement here).
Brian Trotter, Network Contract Advisor, Post Office Ltd, (witness statement here)

Transcript
Write-up: "The joy of text".
Collated live tweets.

There's also a cameo from me at the beginning of the day, if you're interested: Application to make an unofficial sound recording of proceedings.


Day 12 - Monday 3 December

Oral closing statement from the claimants' QC, Mr Patrick Green - part 1

Transcript.
Collated live tweets.
Written closing statement from the claimants' QC.

Extra piece by me: CCRC gets interested in the Common Issues trial.

Day 13 - Tuesday 4 December

Oral closing statement from the claimants' QC, Mr Patrick Green - part 2

Transcript.
Write up: "Something very serious happened today."
Collated live tweets.
Written closing statement from the claimants' QC.

Day 14 - Wednesday 5 December

Oral closing statement from the Post Office QC, Mr David Cavender - part 1

Transcript.
Write up: "What the Post Office did next".
Collated live tweets.
Written closing statement from the Post Office QC.

Day 15 - Thursday 6 December

Oral closing statement from the Post Office QC, Mr David Cavender - part 2

Transcript.
Write up: "Not even the end of the beginning".
Collated live tweets.
Written closing statement from the Post Office QC.

Judgment day - 15 March 2019

Write-up "He Did It"
Common Issues judgment cheat sheet.
The actual judgment - all 180,000 words of it.

Judgment reactions:
Post Office
Alan Bates (JFSA founder and lead claimant) interview outside court +
James Hartley (lead solicitor for the claimants, Freeths) interview outside court +
Media reports on the day
Slightly bonkers Post Office fireside chat video
NFSP Q&A to its members
My comments on the NFSP Q&A

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