Former Post Office boss tells inquiry he was not 'clever' enough to question Horizon IT system

David Mills, the former chief executive of Post Office Ltd, arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. Credit: PA

A former Post Office chief executive has said he was not “clever” enough to ask what challenges were made to the Horizon IT system during a civil case against a subpostmistress – despite being aware of the potential loss of £1 million.

David Mills, the former chief executive of Post Office, admitted he should have asked more questions about what was going on as concerns were raised as early as 1999.

Speaking at the Horizon IT inquiry on Tuesday, Mills said he had seen a Post Office “IT risk register” suggesting the organisation could suffer £1 million worth of financial and reputational damage if it lost a civil case against a sub-postmaster.

The establishment was pursuing sub-postmaster Julie Wolstenholme who ran a branch in Cleveleys, Lancashire for £25,000 through the civil court in 2003.

Independent IT expert Jason Coyne, had written a report pointing out the Horizon system was “clearly defective” as part of that case.

But when asked in front of the post office inquiry on Tuesday whether he had asked what the challenge regarding the Horizon system was, Mr Mills responded: “no.”

Asked why not, the former chief executive said: “I wasn’t that clever. I’m sorry, I didn’t ask about it.”

Mr Mills said he had not “properly assimilated” that reliability of Horizon was in doubt when the organisation settled Ms Wolstenholme’s case.

Mr Stevens continued: “Did it not concern you that an offer of settlement had been made in a case where the reliability of the Horizon IT system was an issue?”

Mr Mills replied: “No because I hadn’t properly assimilated the fact that the reliability of Horizon was in doubt – I hadn’t got that in my mind.

“What I’d got in my mind was £1 million and looking at this email it looked pretty certain to me that we were going to settle for three months’ notice and at the level I was operating at, that seemed the end to that issue.”

He said the reason he did not notice the miscarriage of justice developing was because he was too busy trying to save the Post Office business.

Former post office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice Credit: Yui Mok/PA

He was asked if the Post Office was in "real trouble” due to its online accounting system.

Mr Mills replied: “Definitely, crisis mode it would have been in.” The Post Office has come under fire since the broadcast of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which put the Horizon scandal under the spotlight.

More than 700 sub-postmasters were prosecuted by the government-owned organisation and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters are awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

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