Thursday 28 May 2020

Post Office CEO Nick Read commits to inquiry

Nick Read's letter date 20 May 2020
In response to a request to back a judge-led inquiry into the activities of the Post Office, the organisation's chief executive Nick Read has stated his position as follows:
"the Post Office will cooperate fully with any inquiry which Government ultimately determines appropriate. It is as much in the interests of Post Office as it is in the interests of postmasters to ensure that issues of the past are ventilated and resolved."
The commitment comes in a letter to a recent prospective parliamentary candidate, Ross George, who has a relative who was both a Subpostmaster and claimant in the Bates and others v Post Office group litigation.

Mr Read's response would be more newsworthy had he stated the Post Office is not intending to cooperate with any inquiry, but the indication he has no preference for the format of any inquiry will now focus attention on the Postal Services minister at BEIS, Paul Scully. Mr Scully has committed to an independent "review" rather than inquiry, something many MPs and peers within his own party feel won't go far enough.

Mr George's request comes in a letter to written to Mr Read on 2 May. Another one of Mr George's key concerns is the relatively tiny amount of compensation the litigation claimants received in relation to what they lost.

Mr George makes the point that many claimants in the litigation felt "bitterly disappointed" with the financial aspect to the settlement agreement on 11 Dec last year.

Mr Read's reply, dated 20 May, states he is "extremely sorry to hear that there are some claimants who are disappointed with the individual payments they received."

But he adds the way the settlement was divvied up is "a matter between the claimants and their legal representatives and is not something which Post Office has any power to interfere with."

Keeping things in suspense

Mr George's letter also raises questions about the Post Office's infamous suspense accounts (accounts which they apparently initially suggested to Second Sight didn't exist).

He asks:
"All monies that were paid to Post Office Ltd from claimants for debts that didn't exist went into a 'Suspense Account'. Where is this money now? Was it included in the Post Office's P & L [profit and loss] Accounts when reporting figures to Government as a 100% shareholder?"
Mr George goes on to say:
"An estimate from a 2015 report from Second Sight unallocated money in the 2014 financial year stood at around £96m in respect of Bank of Ireland ATM's and around £66m in respect of Santander. Although now surely different figures this shows the great extent of unallocated money in the Post Office's coffers."
"Could this money" he wonders "be used to properly recompense litigation claimants?"

Mr Read does not provide a response.

Second Sight's Ron Warmington broke his six year silence last December to raise queries about this very subject. Some believe the Post Office has erroneously taken money from Subpostmasters into its suspense accounts. The money was then (allegedly without any proper audit) moved onto the balance sheet where it was used to boost the Post Office's profits.

Jo Hamilton had to pay the Post Office £36,000 to avoid a theft prosecution. Bal Gil had to find £108,000. Given we now know the Post Office prosecuted 900 people over a 15 year period - how many of them also acceded to demands for cash? And where did it go?

This could be one of the next big battlegrounds in the story, and almost certainly a strand to any judge-led inquiry. I suspect a government "review" won't want to go near it with a bargepole.

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Monday 25 May 2020

Post Office reviewing 900 prosecutions since 1999

These figures are new and off the scale. The Post Office is reviewing around 900 prosecutions since the rollout of Horizon "which may have relied on Horizon data".

From the limited information which was publicly available we knew the Post Office had prosecuted dozens of people a year from 2005 to 2013. No one outside the Post Office had any idea, until now, it had prosecuted 900 Subpostmasters and counter staff since 1999.

This is one of the single biggest developments in the entire Post Office story and I think it will lend weight to the voices of those who are demanding a full independent inquiry into this scandal.

Furthermore, I have been given information by the Post Office which reveals for the first time that there is a significant difference in the number of prosecutions and convictions of Subpostmasters in the pre and post-Horizon years.

The new information about the 900 prosecutions appears to have been prompted by a Freedom of Information request I made on 9 April this year (the Post Office links to it in their press statement). I asked for the total number of prosecutions by the Post Office and subsequent convictions since 1990.

My FOI request came on the back of the revelation, made to me on 3 April 2020 and published in the Daily Mail on 11 April, that the Post Office was reviewing 500 convictions on top of the 61 cases being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (39 of which have already gone to the Court of Appeal).

As well as being staggered by this number, I realised it meant the information previously made public by the Post Office in response to other FOI requests was incomplete.

In August 2016, someone called Nic de Gaia asked the Post Office:

"How many subpostmasters have had charges filed against them for false accounting and inflating figures and or theft? Since 2010."

The response came on 26 September 2016:

2010/2011 - 31
2011/2012 - 38 
2012/2013 - 42 
2013/2014 - 2 
2014/2015 - 0
2015/2016 - 1
2016/2017 - 0

I am enormously grateful to Ms/Mr de Gaia for asking for these figures. They clearly show that around the time of the Second Sight investigation into Horizon, someone, somewhere realised the Post Office might be massively over-prosecuting dozens of people every year. The above figures were used in court during the Bates v Post Office group litigation and have proved enormously valuable journalistically, but they don't tell the full story.

A month after the de Gaia FOI another request, this time from a Tony Williams, was put to the Post Office requesting: "the number of Subpostmaster suspensions, reinstatements and prosecutions between 1990 to 2010."

This is a crucial question, as it would show whether or not there was an uplift in prosecutions after the advent of Horizon. The Post Office's response, on 12 October 2016, was incomplete, and, as we will see, incorrect.

The table supplied stated the following:

The prosecution column allows us to add to M de Gaia's request and look across the total number of prosecutions of Subpostmasters from 2004/5 to 2016/7. That total is 251.

I realise 251 prosecutions over a twelve year period is a huge amount, and perhaps it should have been flagged up by people like me sooner, however the figures most journalists fixed on were the 35 cases being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the years between 2015 and 2019 and the 550 claimants who subsequently took the Post Office to the High Court (of whom only 74 were criminally prosecuted).

The crucial thing to note about the above figures is that they only relate to prosecutions, not convictions. Of course, any prosecution is deadly serious. It has been made quite plain to me by Sue Knight, Sarah Burgess Boyde, Nicki Arch and many other Subpostmasters that even without a conviction a criminal prosecution can completely ruin your life. And with regard to the figures above, you would assume that the majority of prosecutions would result in convictions. I have no idea what I'm making that assumption on - perhaps the idea that the CPS, or the Post Office would only prosecute on strong evidence.

This is why the figure which was given to me on 3 April is so staggering - because it related to convictions - "around" 500 of them since 1999.

Doing the number-crunching, if we assume every single prosecution between 2004/5 and 2016/7 - 251 - resulted in a conviction (which we know it didn't), that meant between 1999 and 2003/4 the Post Office secured the conviction of at least 249 Subpostmasters over a four year period. Wow. More than one a week.

This is either uncovering criminality on an industrial scale, or the criminalisation of a significant number of people without, as far as I can see any audit, scrutiny, independent oversight or review.

The latest revelation - currently going out on the Today programme as I write - that the Post Office is now reviewing "around" NINE HUNDRED criminal prosecutions... blows the doors off. Of course there will be guilty people among them. But if there is even one innocent soul among that 900 (and the evidence so far suggests there is a great deal more than one), the Post Office should be on its knees apologising to them and their families for the damage they have done.

The Horizon effect

Many years ago, when I was first looking at this story, a number of sensible editors would ask if I knew whether there was a significant uplift in the number of Subpostmasters prosecuted after the arrival of Horizon. Journalistically it was a key questions. If there was no uplift, then maybe Horizon wasn't the problem all the Subpostmasters were saying it was.

If there was an uplift, well... it might. Of course the Post Office would be able to explain it by saying it meant Horizon was instrumental in helping them identify the supposed criminality which was already out there, but it might also point to the start of where things started to go very wrong.

Finally, the answer to that decade-old question came on Friday.

For the first time the pre and post-Horizon prosecution figures are now public.

They look like this:

The answer to the question is yes, there was a significant uplift in prosecutions of Subpostmasters after the advent of Horizon. It went from an average of 3.6 Subpostmasters a year in the six years of available figures up to and including 1998 to an average of 29.8 a year in the six years after the introduction of Horizon in 1999. That is an eight-fold increase - or if you prefer it in percentage terms - 827%.

The only rational explanation for this is that the Post Office must have assumed that large numbers of its Subpostmasters were criminals, and at last, Horizon was helping catch them.

This perception that Subpostmasters are easily tempted criminals, combined with stupidity, a belief in the infallibility of computers, massively over-developed prosecutorial powers and a lack of independent scrutiny or oversight has resulted in a scandal you can now see from space.

I hope you are able to listen to The Great Post Office Trial, which starts on BBC Radio 4 today at 1.45pm and runs for ten episodes across two weeks. If you are reading this after the event, you can find all the episodes here after they have been broadcast.

This blog is entirely funded by donation. You can donate any amount through the secure payment portal I have set up for this purpose. If you contribute £20 or more you will be added to the secret email list. This alerts you to the latest developments on this story before they happen, as well as links to new articles and stories, whether posted here on this blog or elsewhere. Thank you for your support.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Previews in the Times and Guardian

The Great Post Office Trial begins on BBC Radio 4 at 1.45pm on Monday 25 May. It is a ten-part series and each episode is 15 minutes long with two hour long omnibus editions going out on the next two Friday nights. You can listen to the series as it goes out, on ten consecutive weekdays at 1.45pm, or online after it's been broadcast. See below for a couple of press previews: 

Saturday's Times:

Saturday's Guardian:

These are the epsiode titles - you can click on them and listen to them shortly after transmission if you miss them going out live:
The Imaginary Heist, The Bloodiest Mind in Wales, I Love My Post Office, Navigating the Matrix, Follow the Money, War of Attrition, A Call for Help, The Big Green Button, Extremely Aggressive Litigation, and What the Hell Had Happened.

Monday 18 May 2020

Donate to support this blog

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Tuesday 12 May 2020

BBC Radio 4 series: The Great Post Office Trial

On 25 May 2020 at 1.45pm, a new ten-part series looking into the Post Office Horizon Scandal will begin on BBC Radio 4.

Here's the relevant link to the BBC website where the episodes will appear after broadcast for your listening "pleasure".

It's quite difficult making a landmark Radio 4 series under lockdown. I hope you will think we have gone somewhere towards doing the subject justice. 

I would be most grateful if you could spread the word. It would be very special if this story reached the number of people it deserves.

Private Eye Special Report free pdf download

The favoured investigation of the discerning reader
That Lord Gnome is a public-spirited proprietor after all. He has made the Private Eye Special Report, "Justice Lost in the Post" available for you to download here as a free pdf!

What a man.

Profound thanks to Eye staffer Richard Brooks who was first among equals on this project. I've been working with Richard on the Post Office story since 2011 and his nose for the telling detail and killer fact is second to none. It would be less than half the piece it is without him and the brilliant designers who made it look so good on the page.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who supplied information to me for the piece, especially those who told their own, very painful stories. "Enjoy".

Chances of inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal diminishing

Subpostmasters celebrate victory at the High Court, Dec 2019
The coronavirus outbreak has been useful to the government and the Post Office in taking the heat out of demands for a public inquiry into the Horizon scandal. The campaign to secure a proper investigation into what has been going on over the last 20 years reached a high point during Prime Minister's Questions on 26 February 2020, when Boris Johnson told Kate Osbourne MP he was:
"indeed aware of the scandal to which the hon. Lady alludes and the disaster that has befallen many Post Office workers—I have met some of them myself. I am happy to commit to getting to the bottom of the matter in the way that she recommends." 
Since then there have been odd noises. One former Subpostmaster wrote to the Cabinet Office and received an interesting missive from the chief executive of the civil service, Sir John Manzoni.

Sir John told the former Subpostmaster:
"Since you sent your letter the Prime Minister has announced a public inquiry into the Post Office and Horizon, and the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee has been looking into this matter also. We must now allow those inquiries to take their course."
That letter was dated 4 April. Unfortunately since 10 March, the BEIS select committee inquiry website wears all the hallmarks of a post-apocalyptic village suddenly abandoned by its residents. Rachel Reeves, former chair of the select committee who set the inquiry up, is no longer in post, having accepted an invitation to join Sir Keir Starmer's shadow cabinet.

As for the "public inquiry" Sir John seems to think is coming, the minister who could actually announce it clearly has no intention of doing so. Worse, he's already in "lessons will be learned" mode.

On 7 May, Paul Scully, the minister for Postal Services at BEIS wrote to Siobhan Baillie MP, who contacted him on behalf of her constituent, Nicki Arch. Mr Scully wrote:
"The Government is... committed to establishing an independent review [my italics] to ensure lessons are learned from this case, so that these issues do not happen again. Further details will be announced in due course. It is of the utmost importance that the Post Office deals with postmasters openly and transparently, and ensures that they are adequately listened to, supported and remunerated so that they can thrive."
The last sentence is telling. It looks as if the "review" will be about making sure everything is tickety-boo now, rather than holding anyone to account. Indeed, earlier this year, a serving Subpostmaster, John O'Sullivan, wrote to BEIS with a list of concerns, not least why the Post Office's directors have escaped censure for their part in this scandal.

On 2 April, Mr O'Sullivan received a response from Lauren Wood at the BEIS Ministerial Correspondence Unit stating:
"Given the major programme of work the Post Office is implementing, the Government will not be taking further action at this time. The Horizon IT system was put in place in 1999, with the first issues being raised by postmasters in the early 2000s. Over an almost 20-year period decisions were made by many people, including in relation to the prosecution of postmasters. There is therefore no single person accountable for what has taken place."
For Tony Collins, the journalist who commissioned the first ever investigation into the Post Office Horizon scandal, whilst editor-in-chief of Computer Weekly, eleven years ago, this is not enough.

Today Mr Collins published a direct appeal to Mr Scully and his boss Alok Sharma, calling on them to put themselves on the right side of history. It will be interesting to see if it gets any traction.

To BEIS or not to BEIS

Other MPs have tried to circumvent BEIS. Lee Castleton's MP, Sir Greg Knight, wrote to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, asking what action she proposed to take over the scandal.

Ms Hillier wrote to the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Committee, Gareth Davies. On 4 March Mr Davies told Ms Hillier his powers were limited, as the Post Office does not fall under the NAO's remit, however he proposes asking his team to prepare:
"a short briefing which could support a PAC [Public Accounts Committee] evidence session... setting out the governance exercised by BEIS, as shareholder, and UK Government Investments, as shareholder representative, over Post Office Ltd... this would also have the benefit of holding the relevant individuals to account without the delay of a long investigation."
Holding the relevant individuals to account? We'll see.

Incidentally, after Eleanor Shaikh's incendiary report (on this website) detailing the government's failure to properly scrutinise the Post Office, there has been a change.

Last year Ms Shaikh was able to reveal that six years after the Post Office was hived off from Royal Mail, there was still no formal arrangement between the Post Office and its shareholder (the government) laying out how Post Office directors should be held to account for their actions.

That was rectified in a document dated March 2020, but as Ms Shaikh says, the new Post Office Shareholder Relationship Framework:
"reads like a catalogue of all the mistakes, all the measures of oversight which SHOULD have been deployed all along."
Inspector Knacker and the CCRC

There are other lines of enquiry outside parliament. The judge in the recent litigation was so concerned about the veracity of evidence supplied by Fujitsu employees to Post Office prosecutions he passed a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions who handed it to the Met Police to investigate. I have seen correspondence from the investigating officer at the Met who is contacting relevant people and asking for information, whilst being keen to stress no criminal investigation has begun.

There is also an ongoing investigation into the actions of Post Office prosecutors over the Seema Misra case, which is being carried out by Surrey Police.

Finally, the Criminal Cases Review Commission has indicated it will issue a Statement of Reasons explaining why it referred the cases of 39 prosecuted Subpostmasters to the Court of Appeal.

The CCRC has also stated its commissioners are intending to meet before the end of May to see if any more Subpostmaster cases can be referred.

There are 21 applicants waiting to see if they are in the next batch and I am in direct contact with three of them. I cannot begin to tell you how much a referral would mean to these people.

You'll hear about any further movement here first. Or second, if the mighty Karl Flinders at Computer Weekly beats me to it again.

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Monday 4 May 2020

Historical Shortfall Scheme announced and more CCRC action

The Post Office has launched its Historical Shortfall Scheme for "current and former postmasters who believe they have experienced shortfalls related to previous versions of its computer system Horizon."

The Post Office press release fails to mention that the scheme is not open to claimants who were part the recent High Court litigation, despite being prompted by it.

The Post Office's new-ish CEO Nick Read said:
“We are resolving past events fairly where we got things wrong. The launch of this scheme is an important milestone that demonstrates a more open and transparent relationship with postmasters and offers redress for those who may have experienced shortfalls related to previous versions of the computer system Horizon.”
The press release goes on to state:
"this is a Post Office scheme - [but] all claims will be assessed by an independent advisory panel... A dispute resolution procedure is available for applicants not satisfied with the assessment outcome, providing further review stages and independent mediation.   
The independent mediation provider will be Wandsworth Mediation Service, a charitable community mediation service chaired by Stephen Ruttle QC who co-mediated the resolution of the group litigation."
There's more information here. It seems legit, but then so did the complaint and mediation scheme launched in August 2013 which was later described by MPs as a "sham". There's nothing to stop this scheme being a sham either.

The Post Office says the scheme has been set up in "good faith", a concept it was until recently (as Lord Coulson noted in his now famous Paragraph 11) explicitly denying it had to show its Subpostmasters in any circumstance.

I suspect this scheme has been set up to forestall or mitigate an avalanche of legal claims from Subpostmasters who weren't claimants in the recent group litigation. Given the Post Office is reviewing the 500 criminal convictions it pulled off over the first 15 years of this century, you wonder just how many hundreds, or even thousands of Postmasters have faced unlawful demands for cash (see the ruling on Common Issue 8) based on Horizon discrepancies.

If enough people take it up, this Historical Shortfall Scheme could save the Post Office a lot of money.

Statement of Reasons

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has written to the 39 applicants whose cases have been referred to the Court of Appeal, telling them their Statement of Reasons should be with them by the end of May.

The statement of reasons is an important document as it lays out exactly why the CCRC thinks each applicant should be referred.

Right now, all we know is that the CCRC commissioners thought the Post Office's prosecution frenzy between 1999 and 2014 was an "abuse of process."

The statement of reasons will flesh out exactly what that "abuse of process" is believed to be, and its contents will be of particular interest to the law firm Peters and Peters who have been engaged by the Post Office to look at the further five hundred prosecutions outside of the 61 which are/were being reviewed by the CCRC. The Post Office has already said it is taking into account the CCRC's statements with regard to any action it might pursue over the Peters and Peters review.

I have also been contacted by a claimant in the group litigation who only applied to the CCRC after the settlement was announced in December last year. He has received a letter telling him the CCRC's commissioners are aiming to meet at the end of May to discuss his case, which suggests a further round of referrals to the Court of Appeal may be coming through before long.

The legal baton

The law firm Hudgells appears to have struck a deal with the Justice for Subpostmasters' Alliance.  Hudgells were very quick out of the blocks in seeking to represent Subpostmasters who feel they have been unfairly prosecuted, and the firm's MD Neil Hudgell has already put up a useful blog post noting his concerns about the Post Office's Historical Shortfall Scheme.

Hudgells relationship with the JFSA was revealed by JFSA founder Alan Bates, who, in a circular to members, said:
"Under the terms of the December 2019 Settlement Agreement the JFSA and Freeths [the solicitors who represented the JFSA at the High Court] are legally restrained from organising and taking a further Group Action and legal claims against Post Office Limited.  
However that restraint does not extend to assisting those who were criminally prosecuted by Post Office, in particular helping them to determine whether their convictions might be overturned. To that end, and with the assistance of Freeths, the JFSA is supporting these cases being taken forward by Hudgells solicitors, the firm that the MP Karl Turner has discussed a number of these cases with."
I've spoken to Neil Hudgell, the firm's MD, a couple of times. He seems like a switched-on cookie, with a good understanding of the issues at stake, though please don't take that as a recommendation. Other law firms are available. It's interesting, though, that Hudgells are the firm Freeths and the JFSA are choosing to work with on this issue.

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Disquiet and anger as final payments for claimants land

Over the last week final payments from the settlement reached in the Bates v Post Office group litigation began to land in the 555 claimants' accounts.

Some were delighted: "Still trying to process. Thank you!" said one claimant who got nearly £40,000.

Others weren't so happy. One former Subpostmaster who got £23,000 told me:
"the actual amount I have received does not even cover the debt I am still paying off... like everyone else I feel it is a bitter pill to swallow, better than nothing but less than 2.5 percent of my losses..."
Nicki Arch, who suffered for nearly twenty years after being prosecuted for theft, tweeted:

"My total recompense for two decades of hell is £5,059.70. How soul destroying is that?......Truly devastated."

The compensation payments date back to a settlement to the litigation announced on 11 Dec 2019 after nearly two weeks of mediation, alongside an apology from the Post Office for past mistakes. It was a confidential agreement, which the Post Office broke in less than an hour to reveal the total sum payable to claimants would be £57.75m.

The relative paucity of this settlement, and the glee with which the Post Office revealed it led to a piece I wrote the same day asking who the winner in this litigation actually was. I guesstimated that of the £58m pot the claimants could see as little as £26m, an average of £46,846 each.

We found out the following week it was only going to be about £12m, an average of £21,621 each.

At the time there was joy and satisfaction. One claimant wrote:
"This is the best news I have ever heard. Still in disbelief that they would actually acknowledge let alone apologise for their behaviour."
"This has just given me the biggest lift!!!" emailed another.

But one expert saw it differently. "I hope to Christ that figure is wrong," he said. And another claimant put it into perspective:
"This is nothing but a great win for the Post Office. My losses alone came to £200,000. This compensation will not cover the fraudulent claims that the Post Office took from me. I am 75 and still work to live and pay my mortgage. There will be no celebrating this decision."
The Great Apportioning

Since December, Freeths, the claimants solicitors, have been calculating the sums due to each individual. The exercise appears to have been complex, and given it took four months, lengthy.

I have been forwarded the seven page rationale sent to each claimant by Freeths. Titled "Post Office Group Litigation: Methodology Underpinning Preparation of the Claim Proceeds Account", it states:
"This document provides further detail on the methodology that the legal team, together with their Steering Committee [on which Alan Bates and Kay Linnell sit], have followed to prepare the Claim Proceeds Account and to calculate each Claimant’s proportionate share of the available settlement monies."
That calculation takes into account fifteen different categories of loss, namely:

Shortfalls, Loss of Appointment, Loss of Earnings during suspension, Contractual Notice Losses, Handicap on the open labour market, Stigma/Reputational Damage, Personal Injury, Bankruptcy expenses, Harassment, Legal Fees for civil proceedings, Legal Fees incurred, Professional fees, Staff redundancy costs (for Subpostmasters who were terminated or forced to resign), Loss of value in the business premises, Loss of residential home (for example, where repossessed, Loss of value in any other personal/tangible property.

The rationale document says the value applied to each category was based on information each claimant provided to Freeths via their initial statement, a detailed questionnaire and any additional information provided to Freeths during the litigation.

However, the methodology document was not accompanied by any working out. No claimant, as far as I am aware, has received a breakdown of how their individual total was calculated.

The mystery as to how the methodology was applied to each claimant, and the wildly disparate payments have caused anger and confusion. One claimant who wasn't even suspended received tens of thousands in compensation. Janet Skinner, who went to prison, received £8,500.

Another who suffered appallingly wrote:
"After speaking to other claimants I realised that there is not much difference in the payments ie claimants with lesser losses also had a similar payment.  I am not happy. And as a group we need to know the breakdown of the payments to all claimants."
This anger appears to have caught both Freeths and the JFSA on the back foot. Some claimants believe the money from the settlement should have been shared equally, matching the one for all and all for one mentality which typified the claimants' mindset at the outset. Others want to sue Freeths and the JFSA. Some are wondering if the the apportioning exercise was influenced by those who stood to get the most from the way it was eventually designed. Where there is a lack of transparency, there is suspicion.

Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, moved to address claimants' concerns on Friday.

"we know, many of you are disappointed with what you have received." he said "But hopefully by now you are clearer on why the available sums are at the level which they are."

He went on to suggest a legal claim against Freeths or the JFSA to recover more money would be "a complete waste of time and money and would go nowhere."

Nonetheless Freeths have actually held back some of the final settlement to cover ongoing litigation-related costs including "any legal challenge which is being considered against the apportionment."

Mr Bates says he is not in a position to offer legal advice about the wisdom of any claimants doing this, but noted:
"Don’t forget you saw the terms of the group action before you signed up to it, and if you attempt to challenge it, all you are doing is spending more money with lawyers instead of giving it to claimants. But it is your decision."
The other £46m

Rather than argue the toss about the apportionment, Alan Bates now has his eyes on a bigger prize. We know £46m of the £58m settlement went in legal fees and success fees. Mr Bates feels this £46m should be covered by the government:
"it would seem on average that every single person who took part in this action has been penalised £85,000 for having dared to expose the lies and cover up by Post Office in court. An action we had to take because BIS, then BEIS or in other words Government, failed to do its statutory duty."
The wording of this is very interesting. If the government has failed in a "statutory duty" it is laying itself open to possible legal action. Up till now ministers and mandarins alike have made it very clear the government has no intention of covering the claimants' legal fees. I wonder if there is another legal fight brewing and wouldn't be surprised if Alan Bates finds himself in the High Court once more - this time taking on HMG. We'll see.


Since publishing this piece I have received quite a bit of correspondence. One conversation was very worrying - a claimant who sounded right on the edge. He admitted to me that the sum he had received had knocked his self-esteem and mental health right back, just when he thought he was beginning to turn the corner. He sounded broken and I felt desperately sorry for him. It's easy to forget that so many people have suffered very dark moments through their experience with the Post Office, and a sum of money, landing with finality and deemed to be a dispassionate reckoning of damage done, might be a triggering experience.

One Subpostmaster wrote to me, saying:
"Speaking for myself, and having largely given up the ghost anyway, I was very pleased with my apportionment. Having regard to those poor devils who have suffered so much, I completely understand their anguish, sense of disappointment and frustration. They have, for it is worth, my complete sympathy."
Another email read:
"We are not comfortable with all the criticism that is going on at the moment, with out Alan, Kay [Linell, advisor to the JFSA], and Freeths we would have not even received an apology from the Post Office. We will always be so grateful for that. Yes we are all down on money but come on guys did we ever really think we were going to get anything at all."
And a final email which read:
"I hear the cries of those upset at the settlement values but had Alan not put his head above the parapet, had Freeths legal team not given their all, had Judge Fraser given in to all the B****S spouted by Paula Vennells and her Mafia friends the payout would be ZERO. We won and have the law on our side, so we can fight another day without having to prove anything. The Post Office have been seen for what they are: bullies with no regard for its employees or working partners. My losses are north of £700,000 and my payout near zero but I can hold my head up once again knowing that my penniless retirement was not my fault."
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