Post Office lawyer advised against sharing critical Horizon report, ex-chair tells inquiry

A former chair of the Post Office has told the Horizon IT scandal inquiry that in-house lawyers advised him against sharing a report he commissioned on the accounting system.

Tim Parker, who held the role for almost seven years from October 2015, said he regretted taking the advice the findings of the review by Jonathan Swift in 2016 were legally privileged.

He said he could not recall whether it was received orally or in writing from Jane MacLeod - general counsel at the Post Office.

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Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC recalled Ms MacLeod had stated, in her own witness statement, that she gave a briefing to the board on the findings and the report was available to members on request.

But the inquiry heard that none of the conclusions were shared with the Post Office board or the government, let alone lawyers for the hundreds of sub-postmasters who, since 1999, had already been convicted of theft and fraud related to their use of Horizon.

Mr Parker said he believed the lawyers would take the findings forward and the report would later be shared with some possible redactions.

The Swift review called into question the strength of the evidence the Post Office had to secure convictions.

Each has since been overturned but there remains frustration among victims over the speed of the compensation processes despite government intervention.

Mr Parker, under questioning from Mr Beer, dismissed any suggestion he was happy to bury the Swift review.

"What possible motive would I have had at the time from hiding this report from my fellow board members, other than receiving advice that I shouldn't share it with my fellow board members?"

"Bear in mind I had no axe to grind on this, I had no, any, vested interest in trying to protect the Post Office... It was simply the advice I received and I followed it".

He said he believed at the time the advice was made in good faith but acknowledged that, with hindsight, the motive may not have been in the interests of sub-postmasters.

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He added he could not recall any briefing from Ms MacLeod, agreeing with Mr Beer there was no record of it in board meeting minutes.

Mr Parker also told the hearing he had done much soul-searching on whether to make a fulsome apology to the victims of the miscarriages of justice.

"Today I was toying with making an opening statement. Stand up, you say, 'I'm deeply, deeply sorry' as many people have done, and there ensued a discussion with people.

"Should I do this? Because I would like to say sorry. And the response I got was that 'well you could do this but actually people have kind of got a bit tired of that and it all rings a bit hollow and you're probably just going to annoy people more than give them any sense of your real desire to say sorry'."

The inquiry is due to resume on Tuesday next week.