Home Business Ex-Post Office boss who accused subpostmasters of having 'their hand in the till' under fresh fire

Ex-Post Office boss who accused subpostmasters of having 'their hand in the till' under fresh fire

by news

As managing director of the group from 2006 to 2010, Alan Cook was at the helm when around 200 prosecutions were brought against subpostmasters, but says he was „unaware” it had initiated criminal proceedings against individuals.
News reporter
Friday 12 April 2024 15:53, UK
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

A former Post Office boss who blamed cash shortfalls caused by computer glitches on branch managers „with their hand in the till” has faced a backlash.
An email written by Alan Cook, who was managing director of the group from 2006 to 2010, has been read out to the public inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal.
Giving evidence on Friday, he said it was an expression he would „regret for the rest of my life”.
Mr Cook was at the helm when about 200 prosecutions were brought against subpostmasters.
Despite being in charge, he said he was „unaware” it was the Post Office that had brought criminal proceedings against individuals – and that during his time in the top job, it did not feel like the Post Office „had a crisis on its hands”.
But subpostmistress Janet Skinner, who faced a long fight for justice after being wrongfully jailed, has dismissed Mr Cook’s testimony, arguing people’s lives had been destroyed when he was „sat at the head of the table”.
An email sent by Mr Cook in October 2009 to a Royal Mail Group press officer said: „For some strange reason there is a steadily building nervousness about the accuracy of the Horizon system and the press are on it now as well.
Sub-postmaster wrongly sent to prison while pregnant rejects apology from ex-Post Office boss David Smith
Lord Arbuthnot says Post Office bosses blamed ‘temptation’ of ‘cash lying around’ rather than accept IT faults
Post Office hero Alan Bates had seemingly been preparing for this day from the start
„It is… strange in that the system has been stable and reliable for many years now and there is absolutely no logical reason why these fears should now develop.
„My instincts tell me that, in a recession, subbies (subpostmasters) with their hand in the till choose to blame the technology when they are found to be short of cash.”
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Pressed over his remarks at the inquiry, Mr Cook said: „Well that’s an expression I will regret for the rest of my life. It was an inappropriate thing to put in an email – not in line with my view of subpostmasters.”
Former subpostmaster Sami Sabet, whose conviction for theft was quashed, said: „It’s unbelievable, unbelievable that he’d think that it’s obvious they thought that all us subpostmasters were thieves and dishonest.”
Hundreds of people were wrongly convicted of stealing after bugs and errors in the Horizon accounting system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.
Victims faced prison and financial ruin, others were ostracised by their communities, while some took their own lives.
Fresh attention was brought to the scandal after ITV broadcast the drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, prompting government action.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Earlier, as he began giving evidence, Mr Cook said he wanted to „put on record most strongly my personal apology and sympathies with all subpostmasters, their families and those affected by this”.
He also told the inquiry: „I was unaware that the Post Office were the prosecuting authority.
„I knew there were court cases but didn’t realise that the Post Office in about two-thirds of the cases had initiated the prosecution as opposed to the DPP (director of public prosecutions) or the police.”
Mr Cook has issued a personal apology to former subpostmistress Janet Skinner, branding her treatment „disgraceful”.
Mrs Skinner was sentenced to nine months in prison for false accounting, separating her from her two children, while Mr Cook was in charge.
Questioned on whether he had anything he’d like to say in way of apology to Mrs Skinner, who was subsequently cleared, Mr Cook said: „I can only apologise on behalf of the whole organisation for the way that you were treated. It was disgraceful.
„I can only apologise personally that whilst I had not heard of your case, I have an accountability that I should have been on top of it, and I wasn’t.
„There’s nothing more I can say – this will be with you for the rest of your life, it will be with me for the rest of my life.”
Responding on Sky News, Mrs Skinner said: „He’s probably being sincere about his apology, but I think his actual statement and the evidence he’s given could have been more sincere.
„I think they tend to pick and choose what they remember and what they don’t… He was well aware of what he was doing.
„What this country needs to prove and what these inquiries need to prove is just because you are in a high position doesn’t make you any better than someone in a lower position.
„We might have been the little people at the bottom but they should be prosecuted just the same way we were.”
During his time as non-executive director of the Post Office, Mr Cook said it was his „regret” he failed to properly understand minutes of a meeting which said the organisation had a „principle of undertaking prosecutions”.
He said: „It never occurred to me reading that that the Post Office was the sole arbiter of whether or not that criminal prosecution would proceed.”
During his time at the Post Office, Mr Cook said in his witness statement it was not apparent there was a problem with the Horizon system, pointing out that financial audits „did not identify a systemic issue”.
He added: „It is a matter of deep regret to me that I did not recognise that the early issues raised in 2009 were an indication of a systemic issue before I left POL (Post Office Limited) in February 2010.
„In addition, I have since learned that the annual rate of prosecutions brought by POL in the seven years prior to my appointment (ie since 1999) had remained steady during that time, and continued to remain steady during my time in office and thereafter. It did not feel, at the time, that POL had a crisis on its hands.”
But speaking to Sky News, Mrs Skinner said: „I think they tend to pick and choose what they remember and what they don’t.
„He was sat at the head of that table, he was well aware of what it was doing to people. And I think they just need to realise this is actually people who have destroyed people. It’s not just about computers.”
Pressed over whether she believed Mr Cook’s claims he had not been aware of the extent of the IT problems, Mrs Skinner said: „No, I don’t. Absolutely not.”
Sky.com Homepage © 2024 Sky UK


Related Posts