Appointment of disgraced former Post Office director triggers vote of no confidence in Welsh FA boss

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The CEO of the Football Association of Wales (FAW), Jonathan Ford, is on the brink of leaving after losing a confidence vote, which is said to have been triggered by the controversial appointment of former Post Office executive Angela van den Bogerd.

Ford, who is now on gardening leave, lost a confidence vote by 26 votes to five, with three abstentions, according to Wales Online.

Van den Bogerd was a senior executive at the Post Office during a period when subpostmasters, who run branches, were held responsible for accounting shortfalls caused by errors in its Horizon computer system. Many were prosecuted.

According to Wales Online, there have been a number of issues of concern to FAW board members, but controversy over the appointment of Van den Bogerd triggered the motion of no confidence.

Van den Bogerd was appointed head of people at FAW despite her involvement in the Horizon scandal, which has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history. It saw subpostmasters have their lives destroyed after being wrongly blamed for accounting shortfalls. Many were prosecuted for crimes which a High Court judgment ruled were actually caused by computer errors.

Judge Peter Fraser said Van den Bogerd tried to mislead him during a multimillion-pound group litigation, known as the Horizon Trial.

Van den Bogerd left the Post Office in May, without fanfare despite many years of service.

Computer Weekly has contacted FAW to determine the current status of Van den Bogerd’s employment, but has had no response.

Attention was drawn to Van den Bogerd’s appointment at FAW in December, when Jack Sargeant, Welsh parliament member for Alyn and Deeside, expressed his concerns.

Sargeant wrote in a letter to Ford: “The judge’s comments and the considerations of the victims of the scandal across Wales and the UK should be at the forefront of your mind.”

Computer Weekly investigation in 2009 revealed that subpostmasters, who run Post Office branches, were being blamed for unexplained financial losses, which they claimed were caused by errors made by the Horizon system. The Post Office denied this, and many subpostmasters were subsequently prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with prison sentences, community service, criminal records and heavy fines among the injustices they suffered as a result (see timeline below).

The Post Office insisted that Horizon was robust and strenuously denied Horizon errors were causing unexplained accounting shortfalls. In the multimillion-pound Horizon group litigation, in which subpostmasters were proved right that Horizon was causing shortfalls, High Court judge Peter Fraser described the Post Office’s stance as “amounting to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat”.

Van den Bogerd was the most senior Post Office executive who gave evidence and was cross-examined in court during the trials.

When the judge handed down his judgment on the first trial, which was a huge victory for the subpostmasters, he was highly critical of Van den Bogerd.

He said: “There were two specific matters where [Van den Bogerd] did not give me frank evidence, and sought to obfuscate matters and mislead me.”

A number of the affected subpostmasters were based in Wales, including Alan Bates, who went on to lead subpostmasters to victory in the High Court, and Noel Thomas, who spent his 60th birthday in prison while serving a 12-week sentence after being prosecuted for false accounting.

“It was hell on Earth and it took me a long time to get over it,” Thomas told Computer Weekly in 2009. He is one of 47 subpostmasters who will have their appeals for their convictions to be quashed heard in the Court of Appeal next month.

Computer Weekly has been emailing and calling FAW regularly for over a month to discuss the appointment of Van den Bogerd, but emails and calls have not been returned.

Another organisation that faced questions over the recruitment of a former Post Office executive was Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which hired former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells as its chair in 2019.

During her seven years at the Post Office helm from 2012, Vennells earned millions of pounds and in 2019 was awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office and charity. That same year, just before the court case ended, Vennells left the Post Office to take up the role of chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, one of the biggest trusts in the NHS.

Imperial faced questions over its adherence to the NHS Care Quality Commission’s (CQC’s) fit and proper persons requirement (FPPR), which is designed to ensure executives are appropriate. The NHS trust defended its decision and said the developments in the Horizon scandal at the time were in line with what was understood at the time of Vennells’ appointment, which it said provided no further insight for the board to consider.

However, Vennells left the trust in December as pressure mounted over her involvement in the Post Office Horizon scandal.

The CQC began investigating whether FPPR was followed when Vennells was appointed.

NHS Improvement, which is responsible for the appointment of the chairs and non-executives of non-foundation trusts, such as Imperial, said: “We have a specific role in appointing and supporting NHS trust chairs and non-executives which includes a duty to ensure that the individuals they appoint meet the requirements of the fit and proper persons regulations.”

NHS Improvement bosses, including the controversial Dido Harding, who is chair, were involved. An answer from NHS Improvement to a freedom of information request said: “Dido Harding was part of the original selection panel which operated as an advisory panel to assess which candidates had the required experience and the leadership behaviours needed to be effective in the role.”

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