‘I didn’t realise we prosecuted sub-postmasters,’ former Post Office MD admits

The former managing director of Post Office Limited has admitted he did not know the organisation had the power to prosecute people.

Appearing before the Post Office Inquiry today, Alan Cook said he regretted that he had not realised the Post Office was the prosecuting authority.

Cook was appointed non-executive director of the business in 2005 and then managing director a year later.

He stated in his written evidence he had ‘no knowledge’ at the time that Post Office Limited was prosecuting sub-postmasters. He told the inquiry he was not told by any member of the security team of the Post Office’s role and did not pick up on this until the first Computer Weekly article on the Horizon IT scandal in 2009.

‘I was unaware the Post Office was the prosecuting authority,’ Cook said. ‘I knew there were court cases but I didn’t realise that Post Office in two-thirds of the cases had initiated the prosecution.’

Asked if there was an inherent risk in the Post Office being responsible for prosecutions, Cook agreed. ‘I would have been uncomfortable because I would not have encountered that before. I would have probed the principle [if I had known]. What level of independence could we build into that decision-making process inside the Post Office? I would have at the very least looked for line manager sign-off.’

Alan Cook arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry

Inquiry counsel Sam Stevens asked Cook what he thought was happening if POL was not the authority responsible for bringing prosecutions.

‘Expressions were used like “this is going to court”,’ said Cook. ‘I had assumed the police or DPP had been involved. I shouldn’t have presumed. I had not encountered the notion of an organisation that could make that decision on its own.’

Hundreds of people were prosecuted between 2000 and 2015 based on evidence from the Horizon IT system that was later found to be faulty.

Cook was subsequently shown a monthly report he and other executives received from 2006 which stated how many prosecutions were ongoing and gave details of a successful prosecution of a sub-postmaster from Gaerwen. 

Sam Stein KC, representing some of the victims, suggested that Cook’s assertion in his written statement he did not know about prosecutions was ‘just a straight out lie’.

Cook said he had believed what he had written at the time and denied trying to mislead the inquiry.

Elsewhere in the hearing, the inquiry was shown an email sent by Cook to a Post Office PR person after an issue with Horizon had been raised by federation chief Michael Rudkin.

In the email Cook said there had been a ‘steadily building nervousness about the accuracy of the Horizon system’ but that it had been stable and reliable for many years and there was no reason to suggest it was faulty. He added: ‘My instincts tell that, in a recession, subbies with their hand in the till choose to blame the technology when they are found to be short of cash.’

He told the inquiry this email was ‘inappropriate’ and that he had used an ‘expression I will regret for the rest of my life.’

The hearing continues.


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