Connect with us

ATV Today

Channel 4 News obtains secret recordings at centre of Post Office scandal

Channel 4

Channel 4 News obtains secret recordings at centre of Post Office scandal

The Post Office scandal, re-highlighted by an ITV drama, sees more damning evidence presented by Channel 4…

Recordings proving Post Office management knew subpostmasters’ were not to blame for accounting errors in the Horizon system are broadcast for the first time, as part of an exclusive Channel 4 News report.

Over 900 subpostmasters were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting based on faulty Horizon data – now widely held as one of the largest miscarriages of justice in British history. The two recordings released today date back to 2013 when forensic accountants from the firm Second Sight were hired by the Post Office to conduct an independent investigation.

The audio tapes obtained by ITN who produce Channel 4 News reveal the Post Office and Fujitsu knew their computer system could alter subpostmasters’ accounts, a central fact they would keep secret for years. Tonight, Lord Arbuthnot MP who drove the charge for justice for the subpostmasters speaks exclusively to the programme.

Shown the recordings, he breaks down saying: “I’ve been doing this for 14, 15 years now and to think that a British institution could behave like this, owned by us, is just terrible.”

Tonight’s exclusive report comes just two weeks before the resumption of the independent public statutory inquiry into the Horizon Post Office scandal. The inquiry was commissioned in 2020 to provide an account of the implementation and failings of the Horizon IT system at the Post Office over its lifetime.

The first of two recordings released tonight document a call with the Post Office’s own IT specialist, Simon Baker.  This appears to be the moment the independent accountants learn of systemic issues with Post Office accounts being altered overnight.

Ian Henderson opens saying: “It’s more than one email. We’ve got sort of other emails that talk about the Bracknell function – accessing live data, making changes to the system. Not in real time but  it says something from memory along the lines of ‘Oh, and this will be corrected overnight’ or ‘we’ll make these adjustments in the overnight run.”

In response, Simon Baker says: “Ok so let me bring you up to speed with where I am. I did ask Fujitsu to actually come clean and apparently, there is a process where, sorry, there is a technical avenue where you can technically do some form of adjustment. But apparently, it’s very carefully monitored, controlled, audited stuff, type stuff.”

The conversation continues as Ian Henderson asserts: “The impression I get looking at the emails is whilst in theory there might be those sorts of controls and so on. You know, they’re the sort of controls that are in a procedures manual. There’s actually, there’s no electronic lock, if I can put it that way. In other words, if somebody in Bracknell had a brainstorm and wanted to do something they could just do it.”

Ron Warmington adds: “Yeah, we sometimes refer to them as controls for those who wish to obey them.”

Later in the exchange, the two accountants pose the possibility that accounts of subpostmasters across the country could be altered without their knowledge – “a nightmare scenario”, as they describe it, which the Post Office would deny for years.

In the exchange, Ian Henderson is heard saying: “Whether they’re shown as a system adjustment, a journal adjustment or whatever or whether they are linked, and this would be the nightmare scenario, whether they are linked to an SPMRs ID.” In response, Simon Baker says: “Yeah, that would be the nightmare. And the other factor for me is, was the sub postmaster informed?” Ron Warmington adds: “Yes I concur that is a valid question to ask.”

Simon Baker then reveals he’s told senior PO executives Alwen Lyons and Susan Crichton that Fujitsu has admitted they can access subpostmasters’ accounts secretly in a jaw-dropping moment: “I am going to continue to dig around I think for my own benefit and also I want to keep Alwen and Susan informed on what I’ve come up with because for them to be forearmed is, I think, you know – because they’re not aware of any of this by the way. Because I’ve told them I’ve just found out from Fujitsu there is a mechanism and their faces dropped.” … “If we’re asked a straight question, we’ve got to give a straight answer”

The two accountants then presented their evidence to senior Post Office management that afternoon, one day before CEO Paula Vennells’ scheduled meeting with Lord Arbuthnot MP.  On the call were Post Office company secretary Alwen Lyons and chief lawyer Susan Crichton, with audio released as part of tonight’s report.

Ron Warmington opens saying: “I would say you need to decide when you want her to know about this before the Arbuthnot meeting and if she does know about it before the Arbuthnot meeting you gotta make the decision if she tells him about it.”

In response, Ian Henderson agrees: “This is so close to one of the issues at the heart of the complaint. And I think we pretty well have confirmed that the capability that was alleged in some shape or form does appear to exist.”

Speaking again, Ron Warmington says: “Well we, we could be in a very awkward position if we’re trying to defend why we are concerned, the whole issue about sort of Arbuthnot’s main concern, how he would react, you know, we can’t keep this stuff from him.” Concluding, Ian Henderson adds: “If we’re asked a straight question by frankly anybody, we’ve got to give a straight answer. I think in relation to Arbuthot someone needs to brief Paula.

Later in the tape, the investigators share details of their findings, strongly recommending that Vennells be briefed on the failings of the system. Ron Warmington begins: “We were discussing this bloody Bracknell issue. Are we right in thinking that Paula isn’t aware of that?” In response, Susan Crichton says: “Yeah, she’s not aware of it. Or, no, she’s not aware of it.”

Ian Henderson intervenes: “I think it’s dangerous not to brief Paula.” In affirmation, Ron Warmington adds: “Yeah, so do I. I would brief her on it.” At this point, Alwen Lyons interjects: “What do we say though?”

In response, Ron Warmington comments: “How is it gonna be for example  if Arbuthnot asks her a question about it tomorrow. She’s gonna be blindsided on it.” Again interjecting, Ian Henderson asserts: “What we’re getting, Susan, not to put too fine a point on it is confirmation that the sort of facility that was described or the sort of capability that was described does exist.”

The Second Sight accountants were later fired by the Post Office; they say, for getting too close to the truth. Channel 4 News showed these recordings to James Arbuthnot the MP who led the charge for justice for the subpostmasters.

Commenting on the role of Post Office management at the time after hearing the tapes he said: “They allowed that lie to continue. They allowed subpostmasters to languish in prison. They permitted further subpostmasters to go to the wall. Paula Vennells lied to parliament in February 2015.” Pausing and breaking down in tears, Arbuthnot adds: “I’ve been doing this for 14, 15 years now and to think that a British institution could behave like this, owned by us, is just terrible.”

Speaking to the programme for tonight’s report, one victim Lee Castleton, who was characterised in the recent ITV drama, says “nothing” has changed. “When you look at everything from my point of view, my case still stands in the High Court. I’ve not been compensated and no one’s been held to account so nothing is the truth”, he adds.

The full story will be broadcast tonight on Channel 4 News from 7pm

Continue Reading
Advertisement

More in Channel 4

Advertisement

Trending

Advertisement
To Top