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Exclusive: Covert footage from C4News proves the Post covered up the scandal for years

Records proving postal management knew subpostmasters were not responsible for accounting errors in the Horizon system are aired for the first time as part of an exclusive Channel 4 News report.

Over 900 sub-postmasters were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting based on faulty Horizon data – in what is now widely regarded as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history.

The two recordings released today date back to 2013, when forensic accountants from Second Sight were hired by the Post to conduct an independent investigation.

The tapes obtained by Channel 4 News reveal that the Post Office and Fujitsu knew their computer system could manipulate the accounts of subpostmasters, a key fact they kept secret for years.

Tonight Lord Arbuthnot, MP who campaigned for justice for the sub-postmasters, speaks exclusively to the programme.

When shown the footage, he breaks down and says: “I’ve been doing this for 14, 15 years now and to think that a British institution that belongs to us could behave like this is just terrible.”

Today’s exclusive report comes just two weeks before the independent public statutory inquiry into the Horizon Post Office scandal resumes.

The research was commissioned in 2020 to produce a report on the implementation and shortcomings of the Horizon IT system at the post office throughout its lifespan.

“A nightmare scenario”

The first of two recordings released this evening documents a call with the Post’s IT specialist, Simon Baker. This appears to be the moment when independent accountants learn of systemic problems as postal accounts are changed overnight.

Ian Henderson begins by saying: “It’s more than an email. We have received a number of other emails discussing the Bracknell feature – accessing live data and 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 overnight.”

In response, Simon Baker says: “Okay, so let me bring you up to speed on where I am. I’ve asked Fujitsu to actually clarify and apparently there is a process where unfortunately there is a technical way to technically do some form of customization. But apparently these are very carefully monitored, controlled, tested things, type things.”

The conversation continues as Ian Henderson claims: “Looking at the emails, I get the impression that theoretically there could be such controls etc. You know, these are the kind of controls that are in a procedures manual. There is actually no electronic lock, if I may put it that way. In other words, if someone in Bracknell had an idea and wanted to do something, they could just do it.”

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

Later in the conversation, the two accountants raised the possibility that accounts of subpostmasters across the country could be altered without their knowledge — “a nightmare scenario,” as they describe it, that the postal service would dispute for years.

In the exchange, Ian Henderson is heard saying: “Whether they show up as a system adjustment, journal adjustment, whatever, or whether they are linked, and that would be the nightmare scenario, regardless of whether they are linked to a SPMRs ID.”

In response, Simon Baker says: “Yes, that would be a nightmare. And the other factor for me is, has the sub-postmaster been informed?”

Ron Warmington adds: “Yes, I agree, it’s a fair question.”

Simon Baker then reveals that he told senior PO executives Alwen Lyons and Susan Crichton that, in a stunning moment, Fujitsu had admitted that they could secretly access subpostmasters’ accounts: “I’ll keep poking around, I think, for my own benefit, and I also want to keep Alwen and Susan updated on what I’ve come up with, because I think it’s important for them to be armed, you know – because I don’t know anything about it, by the way. Because I told them that I just found out from Fujitsu that there is a mechanism, and their expressions dropped.”

“When we are asked a clear question, we must give a clear answer”

The two accountants then presented their evidence to senior postal management in the afternoon, a day before CEO Paula Vennells was scheduled to meet with MP Lord Arbuthnot.

The call was attended by Alwen Lyons, general manager of the Post Office, and Susan Crichton, general counsel. The audio recording was released as part of this evening’s report.

Ron Warmington begins by saying: “I would say you have to decide when she should know before the meeting in Arbuthnot, and if she knows before the meeting in Arbuthnot, you have to make the decision whether she tells him about it.”

In response, Ian Henderson agrees: “This comes very close to one of the core themes of the complaint. And I think we’ve pretty much confirmed that the ability that was claimed in some form actually appears to exist.”

Ron Warmington says again: “Well, we, we could be in a very awkward position if we try to defend why we’re worried, the whole question about Arbuthnot’s main concern, how he would react, you know, we can’t keep those things from him. “

Finally, Ian Henderson adds: “If someone honestly asks us a clear question, we have to give a clear answer. Regarding Arbuthot, I think someone needs to inform Paula.

“The damn Bracknell question”

Later in the volume, the investigators share details of their findings and strongly recommend that Vennells be informed of the system’s deficiencies.

Ron Warmington begins: “We talked about this bloody Bracknell problem. Are we right to assume that Paula is unaware of this?

In response, Susan Crichton says: “Yes, she is not aware of it. Or no, she’s not aware of it.”

Ian Henderson intervenes: “I think it’s dangerous not to inform Paula.”

Ron Warmington adds: “Yes, I do that too. I would let them know.”

At this point Alwen Lyons interjects: “But what do we say?”

In response, Ron Warmington comments: “For example, what will it be like if Arbuthnot asks her a question about it tomorrow? She’ll be surprised by this.”

Interjecting again, Ian Henderson claims: “What we get, Susan, not to put too fine a point on it, is confirmation that the kind of facility that was described or the kind of capability that was described actually exists.”

Second Sight’s accountants were later fired from the post office; They say because they are too close to the truth.

James Arbuthnot MP reacts: ‘Paul Vennells lied to Parliament’

Channel 4 News showed this footage to James Arbuthnot, the MP who campaigned for justice for the sub-postmasters.

After listening to the tapes, he commented on the role of postal management at the time: “They allowed this lie to continue. They allowed subpostmasters to languish in prison. They allowed more sub-postmasters to go to the wall. Paula Vennells lied to Parliament in February 2015.”

Arbuthnot pauses and breaks down in tears, adding: “I’ve been doing this for 14, 15 years now and to think that a British institution that belongs to us could behave like this is just terrible.”

Lee Castleton says: “Nothing has changed”

Speaking to the show for today’s report, Lee Castleton, a victim characterized in the recent ITV drama, said “nothing” had changed.

“If you look at everything from my perspective, my case is still before the Supreme Court. I was not compensated and no one was held accountable, so nothing is the truth,” he adds.

The full story will be broadcast on Channel 4 News from 7pm tonight, with clips to embed @Channel4News or on demand.

END

Answer

Fujitsu, the Post Office and Gareth Jenkins declined to comment, citing the public inquiry currently investigating this scandal.

Simon Baker, Susan Crichton and Alwen Lyons did not respond to Channel 4 News’ requests for comment.

When Channel 4 News raised Paula Vennel’s allegation of lying to Parliament in a previous report, she declined to comment.

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