Post Office lawyers warned of ‘red rag’ if Horizon faults came out

Post Office lawyers discussed how it would be a ‘red rag’ to investigators if it became known that Horizon systems could be accessed remotely.

The Post Office Inquiry today saw an email exchange between head of legal Rodric Williams and Womble Bond Dickinson partner Andrew Parsons in 2014.

The pair discussed a witness statement from Fujitsu expert witness Gareth Jenkins, whose evidence was relied on to convict innocent sub-postmasters, where he said that ‘it is true that [remote] access is possible’.

Parsons said this only referred to balancing transactions in branches, but that this revelation would be a ‘red rag’ to the accountants Second Sight, who were assessing the robustness of Horizon. He later said this information would be ‘entirely new’ to Second Sight.

Around the same time, accountancy firm Deloitte had produced its own independent report into the issue of remote access of branch accounts. If it could be proved that access was possible, then it was widely acknowledged that convictions based on Horizon data were unreliable.

Deloitte stated that there was the possibility of remote access, but Williams had thought at the time it was ‘inherently unlikely’ as it would involve a deliberate and fraudulent act. Both Second Sight and the BBC, who were investigating the issue for a documentary, were assured by the Post Office that remote access was not possible – contradicting the Deloitte report – and Williams admitted: ‘I missed this.’

The inquiry saw a 2015 email to Williams and others from Post Office communications manager Melanie Corfield, where she stated: ‘Our current line if we are asked about remote access potentially being used to change branch data/transactions is simply: “This is not and never has been possible”. This line holds but if we are presented regarding SS’s points about “admitting” there is remote access, etc, we can say: “There is no remote access for individual branch transactions”.’

Williams admitted to the inquiry this statement was ‘not accurate’.

The inquiry had heard that Williams instructed Deloitte with the note that it ‘wants to demonstrate’ that the Horizon system was ‘robust’. Jason Beer KC, counsel for the inquiry, said the note ‘doesn’t particularly suggest the Post Office was looking for objective findings’ and that the organisation appeared to be framing the review for the outcome that it wanted.

Beginning questions on behalf of sub-postmasters, Ed Henry KC asked Williams whether he discharged his duties as a solicitor at all times. Williams said he ‘certainly sought to’.

Henry replied: ‘I strongly suggest you did not and that you knew you did not,’ adding: ‘You were part of the suppression, obstruction and cover-up of people’s article six appellate rights.’

The hearing continues.


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