Witness evidence delayed due to further Post Office disclosure failings
The Inquiry has had to postpone hearing from two “significant” witnesses this week after further disclosure failings by the Post Office came to light.
Hearings were due to resume this week with evidence from Phase 4 witnesses Elaine Cottam, Stephen Bradshaw, Teresa Williamson, David Posnett and Natasha Bernard.
However, following the evidence of Ms Cottam, Counsel to the Inquiry, Jason Beer KC, provided an urgent update on recent correspondence from the Post Office which revealed issues stemming from an email gateway software migration involving ‘Microsoft Exchange’.
Referring to correspondence from the Post Office’s representatives received late last week and on Monday night, Mr Beer KC explained that the Microsoft Exchange issue meant that Post Office emails which may be relevant to matters under investigation by the Inquiry “have not been available for search” and that “the total scale of this issue is not known”.
The Inquiry heard that the Post Office is working to investigate the severity of the issues but that, in relation to Mr Bradshaw, certain searches over Microsoft Exchange had returned a ‘very significant volume of material’ and that, in relation to Mr Posnett, there is a pool of some 22,000 ‘parent emails’ to be looked at. This was in addition to 421 documents the Post Office disclosed late on Friday evening in relation to Mr Posnett and Mr Bradshaw, and which members of the Inquiry team had worked over the weekend to review.
Mr Beer KC also added: “This [Microsoft Exchange] material was not, on the face of it, disclosed in the course of the Group Litigation.... The non-disclosure of this material in the GLO may be a matter to which we will have to return in Phase 5 and 6 of the Inquiry. This material was not, on the face of it, disclosed in the course of the appeals to the Court of Appeals Criminal Division.”
After the Post Office was asked to explain in clear terms what had gone wrong, and hearing from legal representatives for sub-postmasters, Jason Beer KC responded and addressed Sir Wyn:
“We as your Counsel want to get on with the business of progress in this Inquiry. But the conduct of one of the Core Participants is presently standing in our way. Accordingly, as has now occurred, it should be that Core Participant who is standing in the way of the Inquiry who is preventing progress in the Inquiry should come to the Inquiry and state plainly that its own conduct is preventing progress.
“This is of course the latest in a series of disclosure failings by the Post Office. They may be forgotten to many. They are etched in the memory of those who sit on this side of the room. Hard copy documents found in new Post Office locations. The use or misuse of search terms when conducting the disclosure exercise. An improper de-duplication exercise. A failure to consider families of documents when giving disclosure, a failure to disclose blind copyees to emails. The failure to give disclosure of documents held on back-up tapes.”
He noted that the material appeared to cover emails from 2012 and that, “what we have seen in the Inquiry so far, when we have been allowed to see materials after 2012, is that important material is generated in the years after 2012 … about the reaction to the unfolding scandal described by some as a ‘cover-up’.”
Mr Beer KC also noted that Messrs Bradshaw and Posnett have a “heavy footprint on important events that the Inquiry is considering.”
The Post Office committed to providing a further update to the Inquiry by the end of the week however Mr Beer said, “The end of the week is frankly not good enough.”
Sir Wyn Williams therefore directed that the Post Office provide an update by midday on Thursday 9 November, as confirmed in directions published on the Inquiry’s website today.
The Chair confirmed he would postpone hearing evidence from Stephen Bradshaw and David Posnett, but would reflect further before giving an update in relation to witnesses to be called later in Phase 4.
Evidence from Teresa Williamson and Natasha Bernard continues in line with the published timetable.
Read the full transcript here.