Horizon inquiry: Post Office investigator 'uncomfortable' with searching Newcastle victim's home

Robert Daily, a former Post Office investigator, has told the Horizon inquiry of unfair cash recovery targets. Credit: PA

A former Post Office investigator has told the Horizon inquiry that he was "uncomfortable" with searching subpostmasters homes but did so because it was part of the job.

Robert Daily was involved in the criminal investigations for wrongly convicted subpostmasters including Peter Holmes who ran a branch in the Jesmond area of Newcastle.

Mr Holmes was wrongly found to have stolen £46,000 from his branch and was handed a community order and a curfew. He died from a brain tumour in 2015, six years before his conviction was quashed.

His fight has been taken up by his wife Marion, who is still yet to receive any compensation for what they went through.

At the inquiry into the scandal on Tuesday, Mr Daily was asked about his investigation into Mr Holmes, denying any personal responsibility for what happened to him.

Peter Holmes was wrongly convicted in the Horizon scandal but died before his conviction was overturned. Credit: Marion Holmes

He was asked by Christopher Jacobs, a legal representative for subpostmasters including Mr Holmes’ widow Marion, about his claim that he did not know about issues with Horizon while investigating the Newcastle subpostmaster.

He replied: “I can only tell you that when Mr Holmes brought up Horizon in an interview with myself, from what I recall, that’s the first time I heard someone bring it up in an interview.

“I wasn’t aware of all the other cases that were going ahead, I don’t even know half of these people, or most, or all of these people that have been mentioned here or in this inquiry. It was never fed down to us.”

He later added: “I can’t recall when the Post Office started telling us there were issues with Horizon – I couldn’t honestly give you the first date I was aware of it.”

Addressing the searches conducted at Mr Holmes’ address, Mr Jacobs said: “Was it normal to go into people’s homes, go into their bedrooms and their drawers and take out statements from banks before a postmaster or assistant had been interviewed?”

Robert Daily said he took no personal responsibility for what happened to Peter Holmes. Credit: Marion Holmes

Mr Daily replied: “If you’re asking me if I was comfortable doing that, no I wasn’t comfortable but it was part of the job and it was done voluntarily.”

He said it was “expected” that investigators would carry out a search first before conducting an interview.

Interjecting in line of questioning, the inquiry chairman Sir Wyn Williams said: “As it happens Mr Daily, your evidence about the searches and investigations you conducted to, as you then thought and as you’ve told me, discover where the money was, they were quite thorough and yet you found nothing.

“In light of that, did that not give added credence to Mr Holmes’ suggestion that this was generated by the computer as opposed to being real?”

Mr Daily replied: “Not at the time, sir.”

Marion Holmes was present as Robert Daily gave his evidence at the Post Office inquiry. Credit: PA

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Daily told the inquiry that recovery targets were "unfair" on investigators.

Performance reviews set for former Post Office investigators showed an increase in the amount they were expected to recover during the 2010s from 40% to 65%.

Mr Daily told the inquiry that the increased figure “suggests” the recovery of cash was a “high priority” for the Post Office – but said it was not viewed that way by those attempting to achieve the targets.

He added that investigators were “not adequately supported” before a firm of solicitors was brought in to advise in 2013.

Asked why his performance targets had been increased, Mr Daily said: “I can only think it was because of the amount of losses the Post Office were suffering.”

The inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal continues. Credit: PA

However, he added that he did not believe the targets influenced his own investigations.

Mr Daily was later asked by counsel to the inquiry Emma Price about being given a bonus for his investigations. Responding, he said: “I understand where this is coming from – ‘Were we given bonuses for recovering money?’ – it was part of our objectives to do so.

“It didn’t necessarily rely on a bonus – we received a bonus every year regardless.”

Explaining how the bonus system worked, Mr Daily said: “They were individual bonuses for how you performed over the year – if you’ve performed better than someone else.

“So technically you could say this went towards (it), but if you speak to individuals within the investigation team, the investigation managers, it was always considered an unfair target.

“Because any inquiry you did, any case you did, all you could say to a person was ‘were you in a position to repay the money?’

“If that person didn’t have the money, you couldn’t get blood out of a stone.”

The Horizon scandal has been brought into the national limelight by the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office. Credit: ITV

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office after Fujitsu’s faulty accounting software, Horizon, made it look as though money was missing from their branches.

The saga prompted an outcry across the country after it was dramatised in the ITV series Mr Bates v The Post Office earlier this month.

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

The Horizon inquiry continues.

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