The computer says ‘no’…

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Disturbing news now that the Post Office (PO) was behind the design of another faulty IT system called Capture even before the huge scandal of hundreds of sub-postmasters and mistresses being wrongly prosecuted, once again shines the spotlight on the crucial role of Wales.

Two days after revealing the details it gave more information, and the Labour MP Kevan Jones said it was a ‘second scandal’: “It’s an obvious link to Horizon (the Fujitsu system at the centre of it all).

The worrying report comes in the wake of the enormous controversy of more than 700 sub-postmasters and mistresses being in supposed trouble based on incorrect data from the Horizon system (or because it allowed unauthorised access to computer records), between 1999 and 2015, with some going to prison for false accounting and theft, while many were financially ruined. There were four suicides.

Now it has emerged that the UK Government is in discussions about alleged errors in Capture accounting software, and it has been revealed that the PO sold the in-house package to those in charge of post offices in the early 1990s.

Only today, it seems, is major action being taken, following the ITV drama ‘Mr BATES VS THE POST OFFICE’, that kick-started the latest round of publicity about the extraordinary situation, and which was filmed largely in North Wales.

Major questions are being asked, too, about the public money that has been used in awarding contracts to Fujitsu.

The Commons Treasury Committee has disclosed that Fujitsu was to have received more than £3.4 billion from Treasury-linked organisations since 2019, yet the IT firm has admitted it knew of faults in its Horizon system as far back as 1999. Chairwoman of the committee, Tory MP Harriett Baldwin said she “hopes this will aid transparency and scrutiny around the role of Fujitsu as a public sector supplier”.

Henry Staunton was sacked but was he the right one?

Meanwhile Henry Staunton was sacked by Secretary of State for Business Kemi Badenoch as PO chairman, although there are growing doubts now about whether he was responsible, and if the sacking was justified (see story soon). Another senior official who has been accused of prolonging the torment of those wrongly accused, is Paula Vennells. She was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) between 2012 and 2019, and has now handed back her CBE which was awarded “for services to the Post Office…”

Alan Bates and his wife Suzanne Sercombe used their life savings to buy the Llandudno Post Office

The star of MR BATES VS THE POST OFFICE (actor Toby Jones) portrays the despair of former Llandudno sub-postmaster Alan Bates, as he reads that the reason Ms Vennells had been given the honour originally was for “services to the Post Office”. The transmission, was on air last month, although the problems began years before.

Documents show that the present leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey, was advised as PO affairs minister in 2010 to meet Mr Bates for “presentational reasons” to avoid ‘bad publicity’.

There have been questions about the political future of Sir Ed Davey

The programme followed the story of Mr Bates, who with his wife Suzanne Sercombe, used life savings in 1998 to buy the PO branch in Llandudno.  Mr Bates refused to accept liability like many other sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, yet officials terminated their contract with just three months’ notice.

It meant the couple lost the £65,000 they had invested.

Mr Bates vs the Post Office – officials have said sorry but more is now coming out

He said in a January 22 letter that the compensation scheme needed a “radical boot up the backside”, and he has also stated elsewhere that he received a “cruel” offer.

In the letter to PO Minister Kevin Hollinrake, Mr Bates said claims from some victims were being processed too slowly, and Ms Badenoch has vowed to look into his complaint.

A judge said that Angela van den Bogerd had ‘misled’ a court

A key player at the PO then was Angela van den Bogerd. She too featured in the broadcast and, along with the head of the organisation, Ms Vennells, was described as part of “the gruesome twosome!”. Ms van den Bogerd was named afterwards as ‘Head of People’ at the Football Association of Wales (FAW). Her arrival led to the abrupt departure of the organisation’s headline-grabbing chief at the time, Jonathan Ford, who left losing a vote of no-confidence, following an astonishing civil war inside the organisation, which has never been fully explained by the mainstream media. Ms van den Bogerd’s appointment came despite the fact that she had been found by a judge to have “obfuscated” and “misled” a court, and she is shown in the drama in tears as she reads the judgement.

Angela van den Bogerd – Business Improvement (!) Director gave evidence at a hearing investigating what happened

She was an integral part of the PO’s complaints and mediation scheme, and in 2015 Ms van den Bogerd appeared before MPs at a select committee inquiry into the Horizon computer system (which played a part in the show too). She has also co-authored at least one internal PO report on its relationship between sub-postmasters and mistresses, and that system, while in 2018 she was made ‘Business Improvement Director’. Ms van den Bogerd has now departed from the FAW as well.

Mark Kelly told an inquiry into the scandal how he was left feeling suicidal

The Eye’s disclosure of crucial facts like these, came amid news that one sub-postmaster who lived between Swansea and Merthyr Tydfil explained how he (along with others) had tried to take his own life, while another Welshman talked about his marriage going on the rocks. Mark Kelly, who ran the Brondeg Post Office, from 2003 until 2006, has like others described publicly the terrible impact on him, of the wrongful accusation from the PO that he had stolen money. He said that it had “made me feel guilty and depressed, over the years, I started then to blame myself and I tried to end my life a few times”.

Mark Kelly was made to feel guilty

Mr Kelly proclaimed: “I can’t really socialise as much as I used to and I can’t actually manage some tasks – I can’t handle stress”. He has described how he went to senior managers at the organisation, believing he had worked out how the errors were happening, but he said the company “didn’t want to know” and wanted to “bury it”. He eventually resigned, losing the business and then his house, and it meant he and his wife decided not to start a family. Mr Kelly, who now runs a mobile phone repair and accessory shop in Neath Market, hopes his story will “help everyone”.

Jennifer O’Dell, said she had night terrors because of what the Post Office did to her

But Mr Kelly is not alone in having these suicidal thoughts because of the incorrect allegations. Another former PO worker, Jennifer O’Dell, said she had also considered killing herself and suffered from recurring night terrors. She had been wrongly accused of stealing almost £10,000 from a post office in Cambridgeshire. Speaking at the end of the first week of an independent inquiry into what happened, Ms O’Dell said she had researched how to take her own life, and suffered from depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Sir Wyn Williams, born at Ferndale in the Rhondda, led an earlier legal inquiry into what went wrong

The inquiry (led by retired Welsh judge Sir Wyn Williams) was to hear evidence about the design of the defective computer system which made the mistakes (or allowed the unauthorised access), as well as the failings in the investigation.

A further victim of the PO’s tactics, Tim Brentnall, from Roch in Pembrokeshire, said the scandal led to the breakdown of his marriage because of “trust issues”, and he was prosecuted in 2010 after a £22,000 ‘shortfall’ was discovered at his branch, but his conviction was overturned.

Tim Brentall was another victim

Mr Brentnall has told how his sister, who ran a local hotel at the time, was also affected because “people tarred her with the same brush”. And he said in the years that followed his conviction, there was a “whispering campaign”, in the community with people calling him a “thief” and a “fraudster”. Following the overturning of his convictions, he is now working in the Roch shop again, but said the business would never recover financially with its turnover down from £500,000 to £100,000.

Did Paula Vennells prolong the agony?

In addition to apologising, the PO declared: “In addressing the past, our first priority is that full, fair and final compensation is provided and we are making good progress”. It has been revealed that Ms Vennells’ CBE was pushed through by Theresa May’s Government, DESPITE the fact that the honours committee raised concerns about the scandal. As Ms Vennells (who is also an ordained Church of England [C of E] priest) gave back her CBE she issued a controversial statement of ‘apology’ which appeared to minimise her own role, and put the blame squarely on the IT system at the heart of the affair

Dan Neidle believes there are major questions

Financial issues are also coming to the fore today too.

Questions are being asked about how the PO’s books were signed off by external auditors, and as one of those wrongly accused said in the broadcast: “Where did the money go?!”. Accountants from EY and PwC are braced to be put under the microscope at the public inquiry into it all. It’s emerged that the PO may have underpaid more than £100 million in tax while overpaying its senior executives (like Ms Vennells and possibly Mr Staunton). Dan Neidle of Tax Policy Associates has proclaimed that the PO paid less tax by deducting payments to victims of the scandal from its profits.

Paula Vennells said she had “listened”

In 2017 (even though the scandal was known about), Ms Vennells had been shortlisted to become Bishop of London, one of the C of E’s most senior positions, and in her statement Ms Vennells said she had “listened” to the sub-postmasters and others, calling for her to return her CBE. She declared: “I am truly sorry for the devastation caused to the sub-postmasters and their families, whose lives were torn apart by being wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted as a result of the Horizon system”, and the decision generated enormous headlines both in the UK and abroad. Yet to her critics this is not a true apology at all, it is merely saying sorry that “devastation” was caused as “a result of the Horizon system”, which is entirely different.

Paula Vennells is an ordained priest, although the situation is not so holy…

She emphatically did NOT say ‘I am sorry for what I have done’. It is claimed, however, that Ms Vennells bears responsibility for prolonging the torment of those who have been affected, and still faces questions about the receipt of bonuses worth £2.2 million.

Meanwhile scrutiny about these amazing events has grown, along with concern about the way executives behaved and the public contracts that have been awarded to Fujitsu.

As The Economist has put it: ‘Paula Vennells…responded to concerns about Horizon by referring to assurances from Fujitsu that the software was “like Fort Knox”. What that really meant was that the Post Office did not know what was going wrong’.

More bad publicity for Ms Vennells followed this, with the front page splash in the Sunday Mirror screaming: “POST Office chiefs were filmed enjoying a lavish company bash as it fought wrongly jailed sub-postmasters in court.”.

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An anonymous whistleblower said that everyone knew the IT system was a bag of shit

An anonymous member of the Horizon team speaking to Computer Weekly (CW) in 2021 said: “everybody in the building knew… (the software) was a bag of shit, it had gone through the test labs God knows how many times, and the testers were raising bugs by the thousand”.

HM Treasury and HMRC are among 21 public sector organisations now being asked by MPs to reveal details about the contracts given to Fujitsu. The Commons Treasury Committeesays it wants to discover the extent to which taxpayers’ money has been spent on contracts with the company since 2019. The Welsh Government (WG) has also faced criticism over the Fujitsu contracts awarded in Wales.

A lot of money has been handed over

One of the contracts there relates to Smart ticketing systems for concessionary travel schemes by Transport for Wales, and together with another, it is worth £2,037,251.46. It began in August 2022, meaning it was awarded after the scandal came to light and following the launch of a UK Government inquiry the previous year.

In an emergency business select committee hearing in the UK Parliament, which was prompted by outrage after the drama was broadcast, Fujitsu admitted the firm have a “moral obligation” to contribute to compensation for sub-postmasters and mistresses wrongly prosecuted as a result of its faulty software.

Paul Patterson – Fujitsu has a ‘moral obligation’

Paul Patterson said Fujitsu gave evidence to the PO which was then used to prosecute innocent managers, and he added that the PO knew about “bugs and errors” in their Horizon accountancy software early on.

Nick Read, the CEO of the PO, appeared alongside Mr Patterson in front of the committee, but was criticised for not having provided information to them about key events in the timeline.

There have been a lot of victims

A key event now seems to be that the PO was behind the design of another faulty IT system and how it has again put centre stage the crucial role of Wales… 

 

 

Details of our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry’s astonishing decades-long journalistic career (when the misdeeds of major organisations were often reported), as he was gripped by the rare and incurable neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in an important book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now.

‘BUY MY BOOK!’

Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.

Tomorrow – how during 23 years with the BBC, and 40 years in journalism (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon), for Phil blunders (or ‘gaffes’), whether wilful or not, have always featured prominently as politicians fish for votes, and this is now put centre stage by revelations about the latest one from the most powerful man on earth, even as his likely republican opponent in the US Presidential elections has been condemned for doing the same thing.