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Current Post Office executive in denial of Horizon cover-up

Executives at the Post Office today are still in denial of the part they played in destroying the lives of thousands of people

A current Post Office executive remains in denial of the organisation’s deliberate and determined actions to prevent details of software problems emerging when subpostmasters were being prosecuted over unexplained accounting shortfalls.

While hundreds of subpostmasters and their families had their lives destroyed as a result, no Post Office executives have been held to account and faced any punishment.

The latest hearing in the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry heard evidence from Christopher Knight, who joined the government-owned organisation in 1983 and remains there today as part of the Post Office’s security team.

In his 40 years at the organisation, the one-time Post Office investigator has lived through Horizon’s complete life. But in his witness statement, he claimed that during his time in the Post Office security team, he did not recall “a subpostmaster, subpostmaster assistant or Crown Office employee attributing a shortfall to problems with Horizon” before the group litigation order (GLO) in the High Court in 2018, where hundreds of subpostmasters proved errors in the Horizon software were to blame for unexplained losses they were forced to repay and even prosecuted for.

He said: “I do not recall being aware of any robust challenges to Horizon, other than the GLO.”

This stance was obliterated during his questioning, with the inquiry shown several documents that confirm Knight knew about subpostmaster challenges to Horizon when he was a Post Office investigator.

During the inquiry, Knight was shown a spreadsheet from 2011, which he’d had access to, that contained details of at least 20 cases where subpostmasters under investigation were raising issues with Horizon.

Knight was asked by inquiry barrister Emma Price whether he accepted that at the time this email was sent he was aware that there were at least 20 cases where Horizon integrity had come into question. He said: “I would have to say yes, but I don’t know if at the time I comprehended that.”

When challenged on this by inquiry chair Wyn Williams, Knight admitted he must have understood that the spreadsheet contained 20 cases where subpostmasters were raising questions about the integrity of Horizon.

Williams said: “Well, the email is pretty straightforward in its terms, Mr Knight.” Knight agreed, but was incapable of giving a coherent response. “Yes, sir, it’s – I understand what the email and this sheet – I – again, I don’t know. I’ve got no response for it,” he said.

Knight was also presented with documents detailing his involvement in investigations of subpostmasters, which revealed that he’d had direct involvement in cases where Horizon problems were raised as an issue.

During the hearing, the transcript of a 2008 interview between Knight and another Post Office investigator and former subpostmaster, Peter Holmes, was revealed.

Holmes, a former subpostmaster in Newcastle, had told the investigators that Horizon had technical problems. When he was asked about a shortfall in his branch accounts during the interview, Holmes told investigators: “I have absolutely no idea, unless it’s Horizon that let us down.” Holmes, who died in 2015, had his wrongful conviction for false accounting, concerning a £46,000 shortfall, posthumously overturned in the Court of Appeal in 2021.

Knight was pointed to a suspect offender report on former subpostmaster Scott Darlington, which he had sent to the fraud team at the Post Office in 2009. In the report, Darlington, who also had his wrongful conviction for false accounting overturned in 2021, had said that a large shortfall in his office, about £44,000, was caused by system errors and that he expected transaction corrections would put it right.

Moreover, in a 2010 memo that Knight was copied in on, former Post Office senior criminal lawyer Jarnail Singh described the court case during Darlington’s prosecution and said, on hearing the facts of the case, the judge had inquired whether there was an actual loss or whether the shortage was the result of a “glitch” in Royal Mail systems. Darlington was sentenced on the basis that no money was missing.

During the public inquiry hearing, Knight admitted he was made aware of the judge’s comments, but that he did not understand it. “At the time, I wasn’t thinking about Horizon issues,” he told the inquiry.

Knight was also reminded of the case of Alison Hall, who was subpostmaster at a Post Office branch in Yorkshire.

A transcript seen by the public inquiry revealed that during an interview in 2010, Hall told Knight, who was investigating an unexplained shortfall of about £14,000, that she wanted everything to be looked at in detail “because Horizon is not 100%”. Knight did not accept this, however, or include it in a report to the criminal law team after interviewing her. He accepted, when asked by inquiry barrister Price, that his report should have included this information.

A case event log completed by Knight in 2011, which related to Hall’s case, included an entry that described a phone call from a barrister asking if the Post Office would accept a charge of false accounting if the theft charge was dropped. Knight wrote that they would accept this if it was agreed that Hall would not mention problems with Horizon. She was convicted of fraud and received a community sentence order with 120 hours of unpaid work. Her conviction has been overturned.

Knight was also shown a document from 2010, which showed an email chain he was included in, headed “Horizon Challenges”, which had links to press articles – including Computer Weekly’s investigation in 2009 which first exposed problems with Horizon. This article and others linked to revealed allegations made against Horizon’s reliability by subpostmasters.

He told the inquiry that he did not know the detail of the articles, but knew they were talking points in the business.

When offered the opportunity to confirm his statement that pre-GLO he was unaware of subpostmasters raising questions about Horizon was incorrect, he said he didn’t know if his statement was wrong, but that it was what he believed was right at the time and that he was taking the company line that everything was fine with Horizon.

In an earlier hearing this week, former Post Office head of criminal law Rob Wilson was questioned. One of the final admissions was that executives at the highest levels in the Post Office were determined to protect the reputation of the Horizon system amid claims that it was seriously flawed.

When put to Wilson, during the inquiry hearing, that the Post Office protected Horizon at all costs, for both its own reputation, and Fujitsu “aiding and abetting it to serve its own commercial interests”, he said: “… having considered all of the documents that I’ve seen, and listened to arguments like you’re putting now from counsel, that, at a high level yes, there was a protection of Horizon.”

Wilson himself failed to disclose details of a known software error to an accused subpostmaster’s legal team, which was questioning the reliability of the software as a potential cause of an unexplained account shortfall for which the subpostmaster was being prosecuted.

Edward Henry KC, representing former subpostmasters at the inquiry, asked Wilson whether he agreed that the Post Office’s and his own evidence “revealed that the [Post Office] criminal law team was the submissive servant of the Post Office’s commercial interests or perceived reputational advantage”.

He said: “Your department’s duties as a private prosecutor were twisted, degraded or suborned in the service of the Post Office’s interests as a business [and] prosecutorial standards and duties were subordinated routinely to ruthless commercial imperatives”. Wilson disagreed with all three, and said he didn’t make decisions to protect Horizon.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, with the stories of seven subpostmasters (see timeline of all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal below).

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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