A lawyer told the Post Office that one of its expert witnesses misled courts in trials of subpostmasters prosecuted for financial crimes.
The advice, given by a lawyer contracted by the Post Office in 2013, said the witness from Fujitsu, Gareth Jenkins, should not be used again.
During a Court of Appeal hearing, where 42 former subpostmasters are appealing to have their criminal prosecutions quashed, Brian Altman, a QC acting for the Post Office, said advice was given, on request, that the former Fujitsu technology executive could not be relied upon and was in breach of his duties.
Known as The Clarke advice, it was given to the Post Office in 2013 by Simon Clarke of Cartwright King, who was carrying out work for it.
A total of 38 of the 42 cases currently at the Court of Appeal are not being contested and are expected to have their convictions quashed when judgment is handed down next month.
Between 2000 and 2015, about 900 subpostmasters were prosecuted for financial crimes such as theft and false accounting, based on data from the Horizon system.
Altman said: “Simon Clarke, on instruction, wrote the advice to the Post Office that Jenkins couldn’t be relied upon. That if he was an expert, he was in breach of his duties…”
A Computer Weekly investigation in 2009 revealed that subpostmasters 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 automated previously manual accounting with the introduction of the Horizon system, From Fujitsu, in 1999. Soon after, subpostmasters and other staff at Post Office branches began to experience unexplained losses.
The organisation blamed the subpostmasters, and hundreds were prosecuted. Many more had to pay back the unexplained losses, which they suspected were related to computer errors. But the Post Office would not listen and, according to an independent report by forensic accounting company Second Sight, was too quick to take legal action against subpostmasters.
A multimillion-pound group litigation, which ended in the High Court in 2019, proved that the Post Office had wrongly blamed subpostmasters for financial losses caused by computer errors.
Jenkins is one of two former Fujitsu staff, alongside Anne Chambers, under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for potential perjury during the trials of subpostmasters being prosecuted by the Post Office.
Judge Peter Fraser, who managed the group litigation, said: “On the basis of information that has come to my attention as a result of the Post Office group litigation, I consider important evidence given both to the Crown Court and the High Court on previous occasions in other cases was not true, and was known not to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, at the time it was given.”
The Court of Appeal also heard, this week, that Clarke warned in separate advice, also in 2013, that instructing Post Office staff to destroy documents that could undermine Horizon’s claimed robustness could “amount to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice”. In the note to the Post Office, in relation to a “primary repository for all Horizon-related issues”, Clarke wrote: “The minutes of a previous conference call had been typed and emailed to a number of persons. An instruction was then given that those emails and minutes should be, and have been, destroyed: the word ‘shredded’ was conveyed to me.”
The Post Office has now named the person responsible for giving that instruction as John Scott, who was head of security at the time. Altman said that, on discovering the advice from Scott, it quickly put processes in place to make sure this could not happen.