A former Post Office employee complained of a “sad, short-sighted and disastrous move” to “water down” subpostmaster prosecutions while Horizon system bugs were being investigated, an inquiry has heard.
Graham Ward, a former security team casework manager and financial investigator, denied he was angry when he sent a late evening email to a colleague about the decision to slow down or stop prosecutions in 2012.
Mr Ward conceded he was aware that challenges to the Horizon system and the work of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) campaign group were “impacting on the strategy and decision-making of the Post Office in late 2012”.
In his email, sent to Post Office investigator Dave Posnett after a trip to the pub, Mr Ward wrote: “I get the impression there’s a strong desire from the powers-that-be to water down our approach to prosecution and recovery.
“A sad, short-sighted and disastrous move if I’m right.”
On Thursday, counsel to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, Jason Beer KC, asked: “What was your concern, why were you lost for words?”
After a long pause, Mr Ward said: “At the time, my feeling was, because we were still being told by the business that the Horizon system was robust and we could rely on it, my view at the time was that it looked as though we were going to stop prosecutions even though the system was robust and reliable.”
Mr Beer went on: “And you were fed up about that.”
Mr Ward replied: “At the time I just thought, if the system is robust and reliable, why do we need to worry about stopping it?”
Mr Beer continued: “You were angry weren’t you?”
Mr Ward responded: “I wasn’t, no not really.
“I’m not an angry type of person, at the end of the day I just get on with things.”
Mr Beer then said: “You wanted to get on with prosecuting people, taking money back from them didn’t you?”
Mr Ward said: “No I didn’t – I was actually leaving the team, I was probably already aware I was leaving the team at that time.”
The counsel to the inquiry went on: “Well, you were leaving the team because things were winding down and you weren’t going to be able to carry on prosecuting people and carry on taking money from them were you?”
Mr Ward replied: “No, that’s not the case at all – I applied for jobs quite a few years’ previous, so no.”
Mr Beer continued: “At the very least, would you agree that the chain we’ve looked at here, shows that you were aware that the impact of Horizon challenges and the work of the JFSA was impacting on the strategy and decision-making of the Post Office in late 2012.”
The ex-Post Office employee said: “Yes, I would agree with that.”
Mr Beer then said: “You and your colleagues, including Mr Posnett, would have been well aware of those challenges to the Post Office, do you agree?”
Mr Ward replied: “Yeah, of course, yeah.”
Mr Beer continued: “Why did you consider the approach to be sad, short-sighted and disastrous?”
Mr Ward said: “I do believe that a prosecution policy is important, I do think it sends out a good message that the business is going to proactively deal with people that are committing offences.
“I think moving away from that would have been a bad thing, that was just my personal opinion.
“I do say that this email was obviously late at night and sometimes you say things in emails that maybe sound a bit worse than you actually mean.”
Mr Beer asked: “Is that the case here?”
Mr Ward responded: “Possibly, yeah.”
Mr Beer went on: “Or is it that after you’d had a drink, your true feelings were being revealed?”
Mr Ward said: “No, not at all – I’m not a drinker at all so I would have just been having probably one drink on the way home.”
After being asked why he believed slowing down prosecutions to be “disastrous”, and pressed on his email being in the context of independent forensic accountants who found bugs in the Horizon system, Mr Ward replied: “I don’t know what to say, it was just an email.”
Mr Beer said: “Well it’s not just an email, is it? It’s you speaking to us back in 2012 revealing what you thought?”
Mr Ward replied: “As I said, I still believed what we were told, we were told that the system was robust and reliable and I believed that.”
Mr Beer asked: “Told by who?”
Mr Ward said: “Well it was senior management, it was communications that came out, we were being told that we were robustly defending the system and rightly or wrongly, I believed that.”