Ex-Post Office executive denies ‘bullying’ and ‘intimidating’ subpostmistress

Ex-Post Office executive denies ‘bullying’ and ‘intimidating’ subpostmistress

A former top Post Office executive has denied claims of “bullying” and “intimidating” behaviour towards a wrongly convicted subpostmistress.

Angela van den Bogerd also told the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry in central London that issues raised by colleagues relating to the Horizon IT system were “outside my knowledge scope”.

On her second day of giving evidence at the inquiry on Friday, Ms van den Bogerd was asked about the cases of several individual subpostmasters and their branches.

Sam Stein KC described the helpline asking subpostmasters to pay shortfalls as committing “fraud”, and asked Ms van den Bogerd if she thought it was fair.

She replied her expectation would be “they would get some help” to try and understand where the shortfall came from.

Mr Stein focused on subpostmistress Jennifer O’Dell, who was accused of stealing thousands of pounds from her branch in Cambridgeshire and called the helpline numerous times to refute any wrongdoing.

Ms van den Bogerd said Ms O’Dell should have been called back and her case should have been escalated.

Mr Stein then said: “You were intimidating and bullying towards her [Ms O’Dell], telling her that she had stolen the money and, if she didn’t, Post Office would take her home away.”

Ms van den Bogerd replied: “That conversation did not happen.”

Angela van den Bogerd giving evidence to the inquiry
Angela van den Bogerd giving evidence to the inquiry (Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA)

The inquiry was earlier shown an email, from fraud analyst Helen Rose sent to Ms van den Bogerd on February 13 2013, about the audit record query (ARQ) logs being provided by Fujitsu for use in court.

Ms Rose expressed concerns that in some cases the logs “would not be giving a true picture” in court, and later said: “I don’t know where to go with this.”

Asked by Jason Beer KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, if Ms Rose was raising a broader issue about IT systems, Ms van den Bogerd said: “That’s not how I read this.”

Ms van den Bogerd confirmed she did not do anything with the contents of the emails and that she expected Ms Rose to raise the issue “through her reporting line”.

Mr Beer asked: “That didn’t ring any alarm bells?”

She replied: “Not for me at the time.”

Mr Beer continued: “Is it one of those things that it’s just somebody else’s job, Ms van den Bogerd?”

She said: “Well it was outside my knowledge scope, so I wouldn’t have had the knowledge to know what to do with that.”

A Post Office sign
Errors in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system meant money appeared to be missing from many branch accounts when, in fact, it was not (PA)

She added: “Now, I would obviously look at this very, very differently.”

Tim Moloney KC suggested Ms van den Bogerd had been “wilfully blind” the the email’s contents.

The inquiry was also shown a series of letters and emails concerning the case of Martin Griffiths, who was sacked from his Hope Farm Post Office branch in Cheshire in July 2013.

Mr Griffiths deliberately stepped in front of an oncoming bus on September 23 2013, after he had been deemed culpable for an armed robbery at his branch in May of that year.

He had also previously written to the Post Office in July 2013 about a £39,000 shortfall at his branch between February 2012 and May 2013.

An email shared by Alan Bates to Post Office executives from Mr Griffiths’ mother on the same day said “the post office had driven him to suicide”.

The email was eventually forwarded to Ms van den Bogerd with suggestions to hire a specialist media lawyer.

Mr Beer asked: “The immediate reaction was not what can we the Post Office do to help this man’s family, was it?”

Ms van ven Bogerd replied: “Not at this point.”

Mr Beer continued: “Is that what it was like working in the Post Office at this time? That the first thought was, we need a media lawyer?”

She replied: “In all my time with Post Office from very, very early on, I was very conscious that PR was very important.”

Ms van den Bogerd held various roles throughout her 35-year career at the Post Office, starting off as a network change operations manager, then on to head of network services, head of partnerships, director of support services and the director of people and change.

She was appointed as the Post Office’s business improvement director in 2018, but stepped down from the role in 2020.

Ms van den Bogerd was played by former Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly in the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which aired in January.

Errors in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system meant money appeared to be missing from many branch accounts when, in fact, it was not.

As a result, the government-owned organisation prosecuted more than 700 subpostmasters who were handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015.

The scandal represents one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in UK legal history. Since then, the Court of Appeal has quashed the convictions of more than 100 subpostmasters.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those whose convictions have been quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

Ms van den Bogerd was made redundant by the Post Office, according to her witness statement.