Post Office involved in 'possible criminal conspiracy', investigator says

The Post Office 'didn't want to commission a review' into faulty Horizon IT software, according to investigators. ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports.

The Post Office has been accused of being involved in a possible "criminal conspiracy" by an independent investigator who played a pivotal role in uncovering the Horizon IT scandal.

Ian Henderson, who in 2012 alongside Ron Warmington was hired from Second Sight and asked to investigate potential issues with the software, gave evidence at the Post Office inquiry on Tuesday.

Mr Henderson told the inquiry that he felt former Post Office boss Paula Vennells "frequently and consistently" tried to steer him away from probing miscarriages of justice.

He accused the Post Office of refusing to commission an independent review into the scandal, adding he faced "various threats" of legal action from the company, which appeared to include "defamation, breach of confidence or breach of contract".

Alan Bates, former sub-postmaster and founder, Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, has been made a Knight Bachelor this year. Credit: PA

Mr Henderson said despite Ms Vennells telling him the Post Office was the "nation's most trusted brand", he believed the company felt it was "above the law".

Ron Warmington gives evidence at the inquiry

The inquiry was told his colleague, Ron Warmington, had spoken to sub-postmaster Alun Jones and told him the actions of The Post Office had been “the worst corporate behaviour I’ve ever come across”.

In his witness statement to the probe, Mr Warmington said: “I was very used to dealing with conflict in my profession but had never encountered such ferocious resistance to almost every sentence used in every report.

“Every point we raised, that we knew to be true, received monstrous and illogical pushback. Their approach was, in my experience, unprecedented.”

Giving evidence at the inquiry today, Mr Warmington said he wishes he had "demanded" to see Paula Vennells once he started to doubt "whether the truth was penetrating through to her and the board".

Second Sight studied over 140 sub-postmasters' claims and produced a report in 2013 finding that the Horizon system was largely "flawed" and that Fujitsu, the creator, and maintainer of Horizon, was altering branch accounts.

However, Second Sight said the Post Office "repeatedly refused" to consider faults with the Horizon system.

An interim report produced by Mr Henderson and Mr Warmington in July 2013, identified two bugs in the system that caused problems for 76 branches.

The forensic accountants were sacked in 2015, and Mr Henderson said he believed they were dismissed because they were "getting too close to the truth".

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Ex-Post Office lawyer had 'limited knowledge'

Mr Henderson was quizzed about the legal department at the Post Office that he encountered while conducting his review.

He described it as a "relatively small" team that "somewhat shambolically and haphazardly" focused on storing files in paper form as opposed to electronically.

Mr Henderson added that when he first started his work there were only "10 or 12 legal case files available to me".

Lead Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC also probed Mr Henderson on his assessment of former Post Office lawyer Jarnail Singh - who became head of criminal law in 2012 after the firm split with Royal Mail.

Mr Henderson said that Mr Singh "didn't strike me as a lawyer", adding: "He struck me more as an administrator that was dealing with farming out of potential cases, dealing with administrative matters, chasing progress by third-party solicitors around the country.

"His level of knowledge of prosecutions actually in my mind seemed to be quite limited."

Former sub-postmasters celebrate after their convictions were overturned. Credit: PA

Secret recordings obtained by ITV News earlier this year revealed proof of Mr Warmington and Mr Henderson telling senior Post Office bosses about their concerns over the Horizon system.

One recording was of a meeting held between the Post Office’s top lawyer Chris Aujard and the two accountants in December 2013.

It shows the two men presented a damning assessment of the Post Office’s conduct in its investigations and prosecutions of sub-postmasters.

In the recording, Mr Warmington tells Mr Aujard that the organisation is “more defensive than any company I've ever come across in my life”, describing it as being “in total denial that there was anything wrong at any point”.

Less than four months later, Post Office executives secretly decided to remove Second Sight from independently investigating sub-postmasters' cases and bring the role in-house.

The second recording was from a meeting on January 5, 2015, between Mr Warmington, and then Head of Partnerships at the Post Office Angela Van Den Bogerd.

In the phone call, Mr Warmington discusses the conviction of Carl Page with Mrs Van Den Bogerd, and says the conviction was based on Horizon data on foreign exchange currency that he says was inaccurate.

Mrs Van Den Bogerd is heard in the recording agreeing that “we need to take another look at this,” confirming Mr Warmington had provided “further information that is material to this case.”

However, Mr Page heard nothing from Mrs Van Den Bogerd or anyone at the Post Office after this meeting.

His conviction was not overturned for another six years, during which time, he attempted to take his own life.

The Horizon scandal was brought to the fore by the ITV drama 'Mr Bates v The Post Office'. Credit: ITV

The Post Office has come under fire following the screening of ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which put the scandal under the spotlight.

In the ITV drama, the company Second Sight was represented by the character Bob Rutherford, who was an amalgam of Mr Warmington and Mr Henderson.

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

The inquiry continues and will resume tomorrow.

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