Why the Post Office Rejected Horizon Review Five Years Before the Witch Hunt Ended

Rob Wilson, who joined the Post Office as head of criminal law in 2002, sent an email warning of the “consequences” of investigating the software.

The Post Office decided not to investigate problems with its Horizon software five years before the witch hunt ended for fear it would undermine prosecutions, documents reveal.

More than 700 subpostmasters were unfairly prosecuted by the organization for false accounting, theft and fraud between 1999 and 2015.

However, internal emails show that Post Office lawyers talked about investigating problems with the Horizon software as early as 2010, but took no action for fear it would undermine prosecutions.

The software that flagged the deficiencies was eventually discovered to be defective.

The organisation’s head of criminal law highlighted to colleagues that the “consequences” of such a move would include suspending current and future proceedings, a move that would attract “adverse publicity”.

Months later, an internal review commissioned by the Post Office said it was important to make it “very clear” that any investigation launched into Horizon “would have to be revealed in court”.

However, the Post Office did not release this information and continued to prosecute deputy postmasters and assistant postmasters, including a subpostmaster who was sentenced to 15 months in prison while pregnant.

Politicians called the latest revelations “appalling” and accused the Post Office of “blocking justice.”

Meanwhile, Alan Bates, the campaigner whose fight for justice was portrayed in ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, said he had “no doubt” the organization knew the state of Horizon “for many years” .

Emails revealed to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry reveal how Rob Wilson, who joined the Post Office as head of criminal law in 2002, responded to “difficulties” relating to the Horizon system.

Wilson wrote the email after not being invited to a conference call with colleagues about Horizon.

In response to a memo from another colleague suggesting various actions including “conducting thorough investigations into integrity issues,” Mr. Wilson wrote on March 3, 2010: “If it is believed that there is a problem with Horizon, then clearly there is They must take the measures established in their memorandum, it is not only necessary but imperative.

“However, the consequence will be that initiating or continuing any criminal proceedings will be inappropriate.”

Wilson went on to say that “inevitably” defense lawyers for the accused subpostmasters would argue that any ongoing investigation would demonstrate that the Post Office had “no confidence” in Horizon and that continuing to prosecute would be “an abuse of the criminal law.” process”.

He then suggested that prosecution proceedings could be suspended pending an outcome, but added: “If this were adopted, the resulting adverse publicity could lead to massive difficulties for POL as it would be seen by the press and media as advocating challenges.” current. .”

It comes as undercover recordings allegedly show the Post Office knew of problems with Horizon at least two years before chief executive Paula Vennells denied there was any problem.

The contents of the tapes, shared with The Times, show that in 2013 the Postal Company Secretary prepared a report for Ms. Vennells saying that it was possible to access Horizon accounts remotely without mail administrators doing so. know, the newspaper reports.

This contradicts the Post Office’s position that there was no miscarriage of justice.

It is believed that a jury would not have been able to conclude a guilty verdict if they had known that the accounts could be altered remotely.

In 2015, Vennells wrote in an email that he needed to be able to say that remote access was not possible, before telling MPs on a business select committee that there was “no evidence” of miscarriages of justice.

Mr Wilson’s email was sent five months before pregnant subpostmaster Seema Misra was sentenced to 15 months in prison after a false £74,000 deficit was recorded at her branch in West Byfleet, Surrey.

She later said, “It’s hard to say, but I think if I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have committed suicide.”

His conviction was acquitted at the Court of Appeal in 2021.

Deputy Postmaster Seema Misra was pregnant when she was sentenced to 15 months in prison after a false deficit was recorded at her branch.Deputy Postmaster Seema Misra was pregnant when she was sentenced to 15 months in prison after a false deficit was recorded at her branch.

Deputy Postmaster Seema Misra was pregnant when she was sentenced to 15 months in prison after a false deficit was recorded at her branch – Christopher Pledger

Questioning Mr Wilson about his email at the inquiry, Jason Beer KC, lead counsel at the inquiry, said: “What you are saying in this email is: ‘The Post Office will be in serious trouble if we continue with an independent investigation into the integrity of Horizon.’”

Wilson responded: “Well, not necessarily. “It depends on what the independent report was going to say.”

He then attempted to downplay the email by saying he had “overreacted” after being excluded from a meeting.

Wilson claimed that it was not his “intention” to give “a bunch of reasons not to even look,” as Beer suggested.

He said: “I think I overreacted to being excluded from what I considered fundamental to me as head of the criminal law team.”

When contacted by The Telegraph about the emails, Bates said: “In my opinion, there is no doubt that they have always known in what state [Horizon] has been there. They have known this for many, many years. I have no doubt about it”.

And he added: “It doesn’t surprise me in the least. As I’ve always said, there was either arrogance or ignorance, and I think sometimes it was both.”

Correos ignored the Ismay report

Concerns about an investigation being carried out into possible software problems were also supported by the Post Office’s lack of response to an internal review, which was later called the Ismay Report.

On behalf of the Post Office, former Ernst & Young auditor Rod Ismay admitted at the inquiry that he had been tasked with finding “reasons to be sure” and that it was not his remit to investigate “allegations” against Horizon.

However, their report made clear the consequences of further investigating any problems with the system.

The document, published in August 2010, said: “It is also important to be very clear about any review, should one be commissioned; any investigation would have to be revealed in court.

“While we would make the review to comfort others, any perception that POL doubts its own systems would mean that all criminal proceedings would have to be suspended.”

Meanwhile, Dave Pardoe, then one of the Post Office’s senior security managers, told the inquiry it was clear the impact on other prosecutions was worrying.

He testified last November: “There was a persistent feeling that the system was fit for purpose.”

“I was never in a meeting in which the concept of stopping the activity of the prosecutor’s office was discussed with me.”

He added: “It is clear that there was a fear that doing so would immediately cast doubt on the prosecutions that had been completed and had been initiated earlier. “I was never aware of that kind of conversation, no.”

Sir John Redwood, a senior Conservative MP and former head of the No 10 political unit, said: “These revelations are appalling and I am shocked, but not surprised, that hundreds of people have confronted a post office blocking justice. .

“That’s what I felt at the time, and I knew from my own local experience that honest, decent people had been caught up in something they couldn’t fight. “I am shocked by all of this.”

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, former business secretary, said: “This is getting worse and worse. The fact that prosecutions were carried out based on flawed evidence was bad enough, but not investigating when they were worried things were wrong is even less forgivable.

He added: “Anyone who has prosecutorial authority has a duty to do justice; it’s not that you are defending a case, but that you are risking someone’s freedom.”

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We fully share the objectives of the current public inquiry, set up to get to the truth of what happened in the past and accountability. “It is up to the inquiry to reach its own independent conclusions after considering all the evidence about the issues it is examining.”

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