Thursday, 2 April 2020

Fisking the Horizon trial judgment 2: What Angela did next

Angela van den Bogerd
Angela van den Bogerd probably knows more about the Horizon scandal than anyone else inside the Post Office.

She attended most days of both trials during the litigation, she was an integral part of the Post Office's complaint and mediation scheme, and in 2015 she appeared before MPs at a parliamentary select committee inquiry into Horizon. She has also co-authored at least one internal Post Office report on its relationship with Subpostmasters and Horizon.

In 2018 Mrs van den Bogerd was made the Post Office's Business Improvement Director, and in the first trial in this litigation, she attempted to mislead a High Court judge under oath.

Notwithstanding this, Mrs van den Bogerd was put forward as a witness by the Post Office in the 2019 Horizon trial and gets an entire section to herself in the Horizon Issues judgment.

When discussing her evidence this time round the Hon. Mr Justice Fraser says:
"I did detect a change of approach in Ms Van Den Bogerd.... she generally demonstrated in her cross-examination a more realistic approach to the accuracy of her evidence than she originally demonstrated in the Common Issues trial."
It's great that reality had started intruding into Mrs van den Bogerd's approach, yet "her written evidence...  was still substantially of the same tenor in relation to individual Subpostmasters, in terms of widespread attribution of fault to Subpostmasters as a default setting."

So why the inconsistency between the written and oral evidence? Well, it seems most of Mrs van den Bogerd's written evidence was submitted before the Post Office received the first trial judgment.

After that judgment, which found gaping holes in her credibility, Mrs van den Bogerd may have had a little strategic re-think, and turned up in the witness box with a clearer appreciation of her responsibility to the truth.

Two cheers for Mrs van den Bogerd.

So how did she do, second time around, in the Horizon Issues trial? 

This is what the judge said:

... on the accuracy of Mrs van den Bogerd's written evidence:
"I do not consider that her written evidence had provided plausible explanations. It provided explanations that the Post Office wished to advance, as these explanations would, if accepted, provide a defence to the claimants’ factual case. These explanations were not based on the facts."
... on remote access:
"Mrs Van Den Bogerd had only learned of the ability of Fujitsu in terms of remote access, namely the insertion of transactions at the counter under Legacy Horizon “within the last year or so”... which given she is central to the Post Office’s position in the group litigation shows, in my judgment, a remarkable situation."
.... on the Rose Report:
"I do not accept Mrs Van Den Bogerd’s characterisation of the evidence she had originally given in her witness statement. She had clearly stated that Mr Coyne [claimants' independent IT expert], having taken passages out of context, “mistakenly claim[ed] that the relevant reversal was issued in error by Horizon, not the Subpostmaster”. In fact she accepted that the reversal had been generated by the system, which in my judgment it plainly had. Not making oneself clear is a curious way of describing that her own statement had said the exact opposite of the factual situation."
.... on her dismissal of the evidence of a witness Subpostmaster, Adrees Latif:
"the notable point made by Ms Van Den Bogerd, a director of the Post Office, in her written evidence, to shift the blame back onto Mr Latif, is simply wrong in fact... [her response] essentially amounted to an assertion that if certain steps had been followed by him, this should not, or could not, have happened. That would be all well and good in an ideal theoretical world that did not pay any attention to reality."
... on the Post Office and Fujitsu's bizarre definition of what Horizon working correctly actually means:
"Mr Jenkins [Horizon Chief Architect at Fujitsu] thought that “the system had behaved as it should”. Given Mrs Van Den Bogerd accepted that this situation could lead either to an Subpostmaster, or a customer, either being in pocket or out of pocket, I disagree that an accounting system should work in that way. This is not only an optimistic description, it is in my judgment entirely wrong."
... on Mrs van den Bogerd's apparent ignorance of Really Important Things.
"I do however consider that this litigation, and indeed her cross-examination, is a very expensive way for a senior director at the Post Office to become educated about the myriad issues contained in the documents that were put to her. Either the team of ten people assisting her with her evidence had the aim of producing entirely one-sided evidence in chief, or they were unaware of all the documents relied upon by the claimants. Either alternative is highly regrettable."
But...
"There were no evident attempts on this occasion to mislead me in her oral evidence" [hurray!] and "I am of the view that her approach in the Horizon Issues trial to answering questions was far more constructive and aligned to what is expected of any witness giving evidence in court, particularly a senior witness of an organisation such as the Post Office."
She's learning. But it is downright odd that a supposedly competent director of a government-owned organisation should, over the course of two High Court trials, first attempt to mislead a judge on oath, then supply inaccurate and misleading sworn witness statements, and then profess ignorance of Horizon problems absolutely central to Subpostmasters' concerns.

It is even odder that Mrs van den Bogerd's interesting approach to supplying accurate information to the courts was self-evidently supported and abetted by her employer.

The Post Office tells me Angela van den Bogerd remains its Business Improvement Director, and is "currently working as part of the Covid-19 response team, putting in place all the various measures the Post Office is taking to support postmasters, staff and customers."

Further reading:

Fisking the Horizon trial 1: the meaning of "robust"

Bluffer's guide to the Common Issues trial

Fisking the Common Issues trial:
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 Office
Part 3 - on the Post Office witnesses (one found to mislead the court on oath)
Part 4 - on 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

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