POST OFFICE: HORIZON SCANDAL – SIX CONVICTIONS OVERTURNED
Branches are advised that on Friday 11th December 6 former Postmasters who were wrongfully convicted as a consequence of the Horizon scandal had their convictions quashed at Southwark Crown Court. This is obviously very good news for the 6 victims and some sense of justice has finally been achieved after many years for these innocent people. We believe those wrongfully convicted now need to receive proper compensation from the Post Office or Government for having their lives ruined by this terrible scandal. The problem is, how can these victims be meaningfully compensated for the huge personal losses they have suffered – not just financially but to the distress and damage this caused to their reputations within the communities and their livelihoods?
As these particular 6 Postmasters were originally prosecuted in magistrates’ courts, their cases were heard in the Crown Court, whereas the other 41 people (a total of 47 cases were referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission) were prosecuted in the Crown Court and therefore their appeals will be heard in the Court of Appeal on 22nd March 2021. The Post Office confirmed on 2nd October it will not oppose or contest 44 out of the 47 total cases. The CCRC tweeted the following on Friday:
“Great news from Sout[h]wark Crown Court – convictions quashed in all six of these @ccrcupdate Post Office Horizon referrals”
The following news articles were published in relation to this development:
The story also gained TV coverage on ITV and BBC Friday evening.
Independent Horizon Inquiry – Chaired by Sir Wyn Williams
We continue to work with the General Secretary’s Department and our Research Department on preparing and finalising our submission to the inquiry (the closing date is 23rd February 2021). Mark Baker, Postmasters Branch Secretary will also be participating in “focus groups” to be run by Sir Wyn Williams’ office as part of the inquiry.
At the invitation of Sir Wyn Williams, we met with him and his team on 3rd November. As you will be aware, we do have some reservations about the inquiry in that it was non-statutory and therefore Sir Wyn would not be able to compel witnesses, including ex Post Office Senior Directors to give evidence. However, we felt it was important to participate in the inquiry, including providing written submissions, as we are keen that the CWU’s voice is heard and hopefully we will be able to positively influence the outcome.
Furthermore, following internal discussions we identified an area of serious concern regarding the issue of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Over the last few years, many Post Office Directors and senior Managers have left the business via a Settlement Agreement which contain legally binding NDAs. We felt that certain individuals could hide behind these NDAs as a convenient excuse not to give evidence to the inquiry. In addition, other key witnesses may have felt inhibited in coming forward for fear of legal action by the Post Office. We therefore wrote to Sir Wyn (letter attached) on 23rd November to raise our legitimate concerns directly with him and ask whether he could provide reassurances that those who may wish to participate in the inquiry would be fully protected legally if they were critical of the Post Office. Basically we wanted to ensure that the threat of the Post Office invoking the “gagging clause” in a NDA wouldn’t impact upon witnesses coming forward.
The response below was received from Sir Wyn on 8th December:
Dear Mr Furey,
I am writing you let you know that Post Office Limited has indicated it will waive any confidentiality obligations owed to the organisation by current or former postmasters/employees so that such individuals may engage freely with the Inquiry. The waiver is limited in purpose so it applies to any current or former postmaster or Post Office Limited employee who wants to engage with the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry.
The specific words that Post Office Limited used are, “Post Office is committed to helping the Inquiry meet its objectives. Consistent with that commitment, Post Office will not seek to enforce the terms of any non-disclosure agreement it may have with a past or present Post Office employee or postmaster so as to prevent him or her from assisting the Inquiry.
The scope and operation of any waiver will need to reflect the specific agreement entered into with the individual, given that the terms, rationale for them, and extent to which it might be appropriate to maintain them for matters outside of the Inquiry and its terms of reference, will be case specific. It would however reflect the overarching principle that Post Office will enable the individual to participate in the Inquiry free from any inhibition created by an NDA. Your proposal to publish the waivers is noted, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss with you how and when this could best be done (my emphasis in bold).”
I have said from the outset that transparency and fairness are important parts of how I want the Inquiry to proceed. With this in mind, you will note that I have copied Mr Williams (Head of Legal) and Mr Salter (Director) from the Post Office Limited into this correspondence so that they may see how I am conveying the result of my engagement with them about NDAs and the potentially inhibiting effect of these on individuals’ participation in the Inquiry. I sought a waiver in good faith and having received it I expect that it will be honoured. The waiver offered by Post Office Limited has a specific purpose and on this occasion I have chosen to communicate with you and add representatives of Post Office Limited as copy recipients so they may see that I am conveying what they have communicated to me. I neither sought nor have I received a broad waiver that enables current and former postmasters/Post Office Limited employees to breach the terms of an NDA with Post Office Limited for purposes outside participation in the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry and it is important that this is understood widely.
I take this all to mean that for any former or current postmaster or employee of Post Office Limited who may have felt unable to speak to me/the Inquiry because of an NDA with Post Office Limited may now do so without risk of any action by Post Office Limited in response to co-operation with the Inquiry.
Sir Wyn Williams FLSW
Clearly the above is a positive development and in particular will provide guarantees that there will be no victimisation of anyone who may have otherwise been reticent about participating in the inquiry.
Last week I was invited to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Post Offices meeting chaired by Marion Fellows MP. The Horizon inquiry was discussed in detail and Marion Fellows and Lord Arbuthnot explained that they had also recently met with Sir Wyn Williams. Alan Bates from the Justice for SubPostmasters Alliance (JFSA) gave an update as to the status of their complaint of “maladministration” against BEIS and the Government which was submitted to the parliamentary ombudsman on 1st December. We will be keeping a close eye on developments in this area.
Former CEO Paula Vennells to Step Down from NHS Role
On 3rd December, just 18 months into her four year term, former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells announced she was stepping down from her role as Chairman of Imperial College Healthcare Trust in April. The statement (via the Trust) in which Paula Vennells said this was a “personal decision” is contained within the following link:
Clearly the pressure is mounting on Paula Vennells who held the Network Director and subsequently CEO role at the Post Office. During this time, a significant number of decisions were made with regards to the prosecution of Postmasters due to discrepancies in their accounts because of the faulty Horizon system. Ms Vennells still holds non-Executive Director roles at retailer Dunelm and the supermarket Morrison.
The following media articles were published in relation to the resignation from the NHS Trust:
Petition to Strip Paula Vennells of her CBE
Branches are advised there is also a petition (signed by 749 people at the time of writing this LTB) conducted by 38 Degrees circulating on social media with regards to stripping Paula Vennells of her CBE. The link is as follows:
Former Director Angela Van Den Bogerd appointed to FAW
Another former Senior Post Office Director, Angela Van Den Bogerd who Justice Fraser said obfuscated and misled the court in 2019 has recently been appointed as the Football Association of Wales’s new Head of People. The BBC published the following story on its website on 3rd December.
In addition, an article was published in the Western Mail on 10th December and was picked up by Jack Sargeant MS, Welsh Labour politician for Alyn and Deeside in the following Tweet. Branches will note that Jack Sargeant is expecting “an answer to question I have asked the @FAWales”
A further article appeared in Computer Weekly on 14th December:
All of the above demonstrates that the Horizon scandal will continue to remain in the public eye and will run into 2021. Indeed Sir Wyn Williams is planning to publish his recommendations to his inquiry next summer which means that the long road to justice for hundreds of Postmasters will continue to take time. What is clear is that the spotlight is firmly on those people who are clearly accountable and this must continue, together with political pressure on the Government. It mustn’t be forgotten, this scandal has already cost the Post Office over £100m and this will continue to rise once compensation is awarded to those who are eventually exonerated at the Court of Appeal together with the six at Southwark Crown Court.
Further developments will be reported.