The statutory public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal was told that the public are now paying attention, as barristers closed its fourth phase.
After months of questioning and several delays, the inquiry phase investigating the Post Office’s wrongful prosecutions of its branch managers heard powerful closing submissions.
Legal representatives of core participants wrapped up phase four submissions, with KC Tim Moloney, representing former subpostmasters affected by the scandal, referring to how the airing of ITV’s dramatisation of the Post Office scandal has increased public interest in what is regarded as the widest miscarriage of justice in modern UK history. He said there has been “a powerful groundswell” and “now people are listening”.
Moloney went on to describe the shocking revelations of the inquiry phase, which has exposed the malpractice of Post Office and external lawyers, as well as investigators. “It is only when the tide goes out that you can see who has been swimming naked,” he said.
He also referred to the “institutional amnesia” that has obstructed the inquiry from getting to the truth, and said what has been revealed includes an “obscene reversal of the burden of proof”, which left subpostmasters responsible for providing evidence that they had not taken the missing money – an impossible task without access to and understanding of the computer system being used to provide the evidence against them.
• Also watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary: The real story.
• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal.
Sam Stein, a KC also representing those who fell victim to the Post Office’s scandalous behaviour, said phase four of the inquiry has revealed many former and current staff to be “liars and amnesiacs” with a disdain for subpostmasters. He referenced a view within the Post Office that the people who ran branches “were all crooks”.
Closing the phase, which began in July, inquiry chair Wyn Williams also announced that the next two phases would be combined, with hearings beginning on Tuesday 9 April. Former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells and controversial director Angela van den Bogerd will face questioning, as well as Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey.
Phase four of the inquiry was hampered by delays due to the Post Office’s failure to disclose documents on time.
What is the statutory public inquiry?
After a 2019 High Court victory for subpostmastesr against the Post Office, which proved the Horizon system was to blame for losses, the first thing former subpostmaster and campaigner for justice Alan Bates said to Computer Weekly was that he wanted a public inquiry into the scandal. He got it in May 2021, when a government inquiry into the scandal was made statutory.
The inquiry is split into seven phases. It has so far heard statements from victims in the human impact phase, investigated the Horizon IT system, looked at its operation and knowledge of errors, as well as legal action against subpostmasters.
• Read more about phase one of the public inquiry: The British people are waking up to the scandal that happened under their noses.
• Read a round-up of phase two: Post Office scandal – ‘cock-up or cook-up’?
• Read a round-up of phase three: Post Office scandal – cover-up a ‘dark chapter’ in government, corporate and legal history.
Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system. Hundreds were prosecuted, with about 200 sent to prison, and 100 have now had wrongful convictions overturned. Many more were financially ruined after being forced to repay shortfalls that didn’t exist (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).