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Ex-Post Office boss admits he ‘missed opportunity’ to change course of Horizon scandal

A FORMER Post Office boss admitted today that he failed to read a crucial IT report flagging the Horizon system as “clearly defective” which could have changed the course of the scandal. 

More than 700 subpostmasters were wrongfully convicted between 1999 and 2015 after faulty accounting software Horizon made it appear as though money was missing.

Hundreds faced jail and bankruptcy, accused of theft, false accounting and fraud. Five people committed suicide.

At an inquiry into the scandal today, former chief operating officer at the Post Office David Miller admitted there was a “missed opportunity” regarding the case of subpostmistress Julie Wolstenholme.

Ms Wolstenholme was pursued for £25,000 through the civil courts over £11,000 of “missing” money in 2021.

The Post Office instructed IT expert Jason Coyne to assess whether there was evidence she was responsible for losses.

Mr Coyne then flagged in a report that there were defects with the system and said it was “clearly defective.”

A barrister advising the Post Office on the case said she was told that the organisation was “anxious for the negative computer experts’ report to be given as little publicity as possible.”

Sam Stein KC, who represents a number of subpostmasters, told Mr Miller “you’re either lying through your teeth or you’re a complete incompetent — which?”

Mr Miller chose to blame the latter. 

Former Post Office chief executive David Mills said that a potential financial loss of £1 million “caught his eye” after an “IT risk register” suggested that the Post Office could suffer the damage if it lost the case.

Tim Moloney KC, who represents former Post Office staff affected by the scandal, asked Mr Mills if the business would have been “in real trouble” if it had to go back to the drawing board on its online accounting system. 

Mr Mills said: “Definitely, crisis mode it would have been in.”

Mr Mills wrote in 2005 in a magazine for subpostmasters that Horizon was reliable “99.7 per cent” of the time.

He acknowledged that issues had been raised about the system’s data, but astonishingly he claimed that he did not know that it was being used to prosecute workers at that time.

His colleague Mr Miller admitted that he “should not have said” that the faulty computer system was “robust and fit for purpose” during a July 1999 board meeting.

Counsel to the inquiry Emma Price asked: “What is your position on whether you did say that?”

Mr Miller said he could not remember the meeting, but made “the assumption the board minutes are correct.”

He went on to deny that he was responsible for devising a plan to raid the pensions of convicted postmasters.

Minutes from a December 2004 board meeting read: “In the event of fraud against the company, David Miller would ensure that the pensions of fraudsters were targeted to help ensure the company was reimbursed.”

Mr Miller called the plot “horrendous” and said he “certainly didn’t propose that.”

On the day of the inquiry, former Post Office minister Sir Ed Davey apologised to former subpostmaster Alan Bates, whose two-decade fight for justice inspired the ITV series Mr Bates vs the Post Office.

Mr Davey declined his first request for a meeting in 2010, and sent a letter that Mr Bates said “appeared to be a standard template response.”

At the time, Mr Davey had written that the government had a  “arm’s-length relationship” with the Post Office, which the ex-subpostmaster said was “offensive.”

Speaking to Sky News, the Liberal Democrat leader said he was “sorry for not seeing through the lies.”

Mr Bates flagged concerns after the Post Office said there was no remote access to the Horizon system, therefore the subpostmaster was responsible for the system.

“He was claiming that couldn’t be the case, so I put that very important IT issue to Post Office executives and to officials and they said no, there was no remote access at all,” Mr Davey said.

He said it was “shocking” that the executives in fact knew all along there was remote access and lied “on an industrial scale.”


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