Barrister says Post Office lawyers misled him over Horizon cases

Simon Clarke told public inquiry he believes he was misled by Post Office internal lawyers over Horizon prosecutions

Post Office lawyers misled a barrister acting for them in subpostmaster prosecution cases, the Post Office Horizon scandal public inquiry has heard.

Simon Clarke, previously a barrister at Cartwright King, said he believes he was misled by the Post Office’s lawyers during his work with the organisation.

Discussing the case of Seema Misra, who was wrongly prosecuted and convicted of theft in her branch in West Byfleet in Surrey, he said at no stage in his appraisal of the case did he see the Post Office’s relevant prosecution file, which he believes was “deliberately withheld” from him.

“I asked for it on a number of occasions and I learned from this [public inquiry] process that somewhere there is a digital file,” Clarke told the inquiry.

“I came to the conclusion that this was deliberately withheld from me,” he said. “I cannot understand why.”

Clarke said the Post Office had a transcript of the summing up and later was able to produce a transcript of the trial proceeding, but, according to them, “did not have their own prosecution file and papers”.

In the Post Office Horizon scandal, over 700 subpostmasters and their staff were prosecuted by the Post Office and convicted after unexplained accounting shortfalls in their branches. These shortfalls were later proved to have been caused by errors in the Post Office’s Horizon accounting system, supplied by Fujitsu.

‘Misled and deceived’

Clarke told the inquiry that he has come to this conclusion after watching public inquiry evidence hearings featuring Post Office lawyers, both internal or external. “I watched Rodric Williams, I watched Jarnail Singh twice, I watched Martin Smith and I watched Harry Bowyer,” he said. “As a result of that, combined with the documents I have seen in this [public inquiry] process, it has crystalised my view that I was misled and deceived.”

Clarke said this is not only in relation to the Misra prosecution, but also on a wider basis. “The Post Office repeated its protestations that since day dot there was nothing wrong with Horizon, when they clearly knew there were problems with Horizon,” he told the inquiry.

Earlier in the hearing, Clarke was drawn to his witness statement to the inquiry by barrister Blake, which recorded Clarke’s opinion of the Post Office’s attitude to disclosing evidence during prosecutions of subpostmasters.

In it, he said: “Looking back I now see what appears to be three strands of thought within the Post Office on the topic of disclosure.”

He said the first “amounted to an article of faith that Horizon is both robust and reliable”, and that if it says money is missing then money is missing.

The second strand, he said, considered that the cost of providing disclosure was prohibitive and should always be discouraged, while in the third he described “an almost religious panic that Horizon must not be seen to have been impugned”.

The Post Office scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to accounting software (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

Timeline: Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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