Written evidence submitted by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) (POH0007)




  1. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is the largest union in the communications sector in the UK, representing approximately 192,000 members. We are the recognised trade union for all non-managerial employee grades in the Post Office Limited (POL), where we have members in all sections of the business.  Although we have subpostmasters in CWU membership, the CWU is not recognised by the Post Office for collective bargaining purposes for subpostmasters.  This is something we are calling for so that subpostmasters have strong collective representation and protection through a genuinely independent trade union.


  1. The Post Office Horizon IT system scandal is an outrageous miscarriage of justice caused by a series of catastrophic failures, corporate complacency and bullying, denials, cover ups and false evidence by the POL leadership over nearly two decades.  The Government is also to blame for not providing the necessary oversight, control and intervention to ensure that POL was being run effectively.  Fujitsu has serious questions to answer for supporting POL’s position that Horizon was robust and giving misleading evidence in court that contributed to the wrongful conviction of innocent people.  It is also important that the BEIS Committee investigates the actions of the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP), which refused to represent its members on this case and supported POL's position right up until the final judgment.


  1. The CWU is calling for:



Key points


1. Impact on subpostmaster victims of false accusations and convictions


  1. The High Court judgment in December 2019 ruled that the Horizon system was to blame for accounting errors that destroyed the lives of hundreds of innocent hard working people.  Since Horizon was introduced by the Post Office in 2000, hundreds of subpostmasters have been falsely accused of fraud and theft. Many have been wrongfully prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned whilst others have been bankrupted and lost their homes, businesses, and their livelihoods. Some have lost their families and friends, and been forced out of their communities. Their reputations have been ruined, and they have been vilified and physically attacked for their alleged crimes.[1]


  1. There are cases of subpostmasters who have died an early death due to ill health caused by their treatment at the hands of POL, whilst trying to restore their reputation.[2]  There is at least one documented case of suicide.[3]  Others have reported that they became suicidal or that their mental health disintegrated.[4]  One woman was jailed on her son’s tenth birthday whilst carrying her second child.  She said she would have taken her own life if she had not been pregnant.[5]  Another young woman did make an attempt on her own life before being imprisoned at the age of nineteen due to a false accusation of theft, despite her family paying back the money she allegedly stole in a bid to keep her out of jail.[6]  She is now 36 years old and has had to suffer the mental scars of this shocking experience and endure her wrongful conviction and a criminal record her entire adult life.[7] 


2. Post Office failures, denials and cover ups


  1. Long and widely held suspicions have finally been confirmed through the Horizon trial that the Post Office was well aware that there were problems with its IT system, but it aggressively denied that any faults existed and tried to suppress any evidence to the contrary.  The Post Office refused to accept or publish reports produced by Second Sight, the consultancy firm it employed to investigate the Horizon system, after it revealed serious problems with Horizon technology and processes. Instead the Post Office issued counter-reports and denials. The Post Office sacked Second Sight shortly before the consultancy’s final report was circulated in 2015, and terminated the complaint and mediation scheme for subpostmasters.[8]  It then reportedly ordered Second Sight to hand over or destroy all material it had accumulated in the course of its two-and-a-half-year study.[9] 


  1. The evidence and the outcome of the trial clearly reveal that POL continued to prosecute its subpostmasters for alleged wrongdoing despite knowing of faults with Horizon. The High Court judge Peter Fraser said POL’s claims that Horizon was robust and could not be blamed for financial losses were wrong and “amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred”.[10]  The Post Office fiercely and stubbornly protested its innocence in court, spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on its legal defence, challenging every minor detail and even making a desperate attempt to recuse the judge.[11] Judge Fraser said the Post Office "has resisted timely resolution of this Group Litigation whenever it can”, and used the word ‘attritionin describing the Post Office’s approach to litigation.[12]  In other words, the Post Office wanted to keep throwing taxpayers funds at the case until the claimants ran out of money.  POL’s arrogant and persistent refusal to accept it was in the wrong has prolonged the misery of hundreds of subpostmaster victims, denying them justice whilst simultaneously wasting millions in public money, damaging the Post Office’s brand reputation and with it the organisation’s future stability.



3. The need for full compensation and accountability


  1. This appalling scandal has rightly been described as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in UK history.[13]  The Post Office has made an apology of sorts, but under the circumstances a simple apology is not acceptable.  There must be full compensation for all the victims including those who paid back money they didn’t owe to avoid prosecution.   All wrongful convictions must be swiftly quashed, and there must be a proper judge led public inquiry


  1. Equally, there must be accountability and consequences for senior managers of POL, including Paula Vennells and Tim Parker who have presided over this horrific situationPaula Vennell’s position as a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office and as Chair of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust are now surely untenable and she should immediately resign or be sacked.  Her CBE for services to the Post Office is amongst the worst of cases that bring the Queen’s New Year Honours list into disrepute, and it should be revoked. Tim Parker cannot reasonably be allowed to continue as Chair of the POL and he should resign or be removed from the post. 


  1. We also believe that serious consideration should be given to whether POL should be investigated on a charge of corporate manslaughter, given the deaths caused as a result of its failures. There must also be serious questions for the Government and UK Government Investments (UKGI), both of whom have a seat on the board of the Post Office and have failed to take appropriate action to prevent these failures.  Fujitsu, the company that maintains Horizon, having acquired it in 2002, also has serious questions to answer.  Judge Fraser said he had grave concerns regarding the veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system.[14] 


4. Relationship between the Post Office and Subpostmasters


  1. The outcome of the Horizon trial has put further pressure on an already difficult relationship between POL and its subpostmasters, one in five of whom want to quit due to low pay and conditions of employment.  If subpostmasters were not paranoid and suspicious of their employer before, they certainly will be now.  This calls for some genuine and immediate improvements in their treatment and the way the Post Office is run.  The CWU believes there must be an urgent independent review of the Horizon system with major investment to resolve any remaining defects and to ensure the system is fit for purpose. This is essential to restore confidence amongst subpostmasters and clients of the Post Office.  Without such action being taken, Post Office customers will inevitably seek alternatives wherever possible, putting the future of the service at greater risk. 


  1. Although Justice Fraser said in his judgment the current Horizon system is relatively robust, CWU members have informed us that there are still problems that need addressing.  It is also worth noting that Ron Warmington, the managing director of Second Sight, has recommended that ‘steps should be taken to reduce the abysmally high error rates that are endemic throughout the Post Office’.[15]


  1. There must also be a new deal for subpostmasters on pay and conditions, and new contractual protections and assurances against blame for future accounting system errors.  The quality of access to the Post Office network rests to a large extent on subpostmasters, and on the incentives that keep them in the role.  Poor levels of remuneration have already driven many postmasters to close their business, and the scale, should this continue, is potentially huge.  Thousands of postmasters are at a tipping point of handing back the keys because they simply can’t make ends meet and are effectively subsidising the Post Office via their other retail business.  This is a ticking time bomb which risks a cascade of unplanned post office closures.


  1. The BEIS Committee recognised the inadequacy of postmasters pay in its recent inquiry into the future of the Post Office.  It recommended that postmasters should be fairly rewarded for providing services and that the CWU should be involved in the Government’s working group on postmaster pay.  Unfortunately, this has not happened and the CWU continues to be excluded from any discussions on this issue.  We are extremely concerned about this as there is a direct correlation between postmasters’ remuneration and the well-being of the network in terms of its short and long term sustainability.  The Post Office has made some attempt to ameliorate the situation with a 10% pay rise over a two year period from April this year.  However, we believe this is a short term fix rather than a genuine long term solution, and that it does not properly compensate postmasters for savage attacks on their earnings over the last few years.[16] 


5. The need for genuine, independent trade union representation for subpostmasters


  1. To say the CWU and our members are furious about the treatment of subpostmasters would be an understatement.  Like the thousands of people affected and the millions of others observing the fallout in the national media, we want to see justice done for subpostmasters.   We also want genuine, independent representation for subpostmasters in the future.  The CWU has been consistently denied collective bargaining recognition for subpostmasters on the basis that this is the role of the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP).  The NFSP is the main representative body for subpostmasters with over 8,000 members and the only organisation that is recognised by POL to represent subpostmasters.[17]  However, the NFSP’s reputation is now in tatters and its ineptitude has been exposed by the Horizon trial. 


  1. The NFSP refused to represent its members on this issue and subpostmasters had to set up a campaign group to defend and represent themselves.  The duplicity and self-interest of the NFSP is exposed by the CWU’s postmaster branch secretary Mark Baker in a powerful personal account of his experiences whilst an official of the NFSP between 2001 and 2010.  This has been submitted to the BEIS Committee separately by Mark Baker and is attached as an annex to this submission for reference. 


  1. The NFSP was described by Judge Fraser during the Trial as not remotely independent of the Post Office, or putting its members’ interests above its own separate commercial interests.  It is now time for POL to grant collective bargaining rights to the CWU on behalf of subpostmasters so that they can be properly represented in future by an independent trade union.


6. The threat to the Crown Office network and over 1000 Jobs


  1. The Horizon scandal has without doubt accelerated and intensified POL’s attack on the Crown Office network, as POL’s leadership has made a cynical decision to franchise the whole remaining network of circa 120 Crown Offices to help pay for the Horizon fallout.   More than 1000 directly employed Crown Office staff are now at risk of redundancy as a direct consequence of the failings of the Board in respect of the losses it now has to make good on arising from the Horizon litigation. 


  1. This assault on jobs is akin to a punishment charter to cover up the failings of the POL Board.   It lacks imagination and is a crude cost cutting exercise to paper over the large cracks appearing in POL’s finances.   It cannot be right that Post Office services, staff and customers should be adversely impacted in any way as a result of the Horizon scandal.  Any costs from the Horizon scandal, including the costs resulting from civil and criminal litigation, should be the responsibility of the Government with owns the Post Office and has failed in its duty to intervene and protect the service from corporate complacency and incompetence.


  1. Whilst there has been a pause due in wholescale franchising due to the current media attention and political climate, behind the scenes POL are busily planning to off load the Crown Office Network in the next Financial year and this will achieve circa £50m in cost savings.  


  1. Essentially the public will receive a much worse service as proven with recent franchising to WHSmith and our members will pay the price for the Horizon fallout.   It is important to stress that the Crown Network is profitable and makes a huge contribution to the performance of the PO in terms of brand image and reach to customers including SMEs who need these flagship Post Offices. Basically, Crowns are a vital part of the PO Network and should be protected.


  1. Last year the BEIS Committee disagreed with the Government’s strategy of closing Crown Post Offices and recommended that Post Office Ltd and the Government reconsiders this.  We urge the BEIS Committee to continue to pursue this objective, which has not been taken on board by the POL or Government to date.[18]  The BEIS Committee should therefore seek assurances from POL that the Crown Network will not be sacrificed to pay for the Horizon mistakes and that Crowns will be retained and not franchised.  The Government should direct the PO in this regard. 


Post Office Failures


  1. Horizon, a Fujitsu system that was introduced in 2000, is used by nearly 12,000 post office branches.  Ever since unexplained accounting shortfalls began to emerge shortly after its introduction, subpostmasters have claimed that it was the system at fault.  


  1. After considerable public and political pressure the Post Office appointed independent forensic accountants, Second Sight, to carry out an investigation. When Second Sight produced a report that revealed serious problems with the Horizon technology and processes, the Post Office rejected its findings, sacked Second Sight and terminated its complaint and mediation scheme for subpostmasters. The Post Office then published an 83-page report of its own, claiming that Second Sight’s conclusions were wrong.[19]


  1. The Post Office has always denied any problems with Horizon were to blame for accounting discrepancies. But in preparation for the trial, a document known as the known errors log was disclosed, revealing thousands of errors that the Post Office and Fujitsu knew about but did not inform the subpostmaster network about.[20]


  1. The aggressive defence at all the court cases during 2018 and 2019 including the various appeals and the attempt to recuse the judge are predicated on the basis that the Post Office vigorously rejected the claimant’s arguments that Horizon was flawed.  It is also true to say the Post Office has only admitted its failings after spending many millions of tax-payers’ money in unsuccessfully attempting to defend itself. 


  1. An out of court settlement was reached between the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and the Post Office in regard to the Group Litigation brought by 557 Postmasters in relation to the flaws in the Horizon computer system.  The total amount the Post Office has agreed to pay in compensation is £57.75m. However, subpostmasters will only receive around £10m of this after costs and fees, meaning they will not even get back the money they lost.


  1. By defending itself so stubbornly in court, the Post Office has cost the tax payer millions of pounds.  The CWU calls on the BEIS Committee to question where the accountability is for this.  Who made the decisions to recuse the judge?  It is difficult to imagine this was not signed off by the POL Board in March 2019, when Paula Vennells was still CEO and Tim Parker was ChairmanWith the benefit of what we know now, it is clear that this was a strategy to delay the inevitable from a desperate Post Office leadership who knew they were banged to rights.  A simple apology is not acceptable.  Full compensation must be paid to all individuals affected and there must be accountability and penalties applied to those responsible for ruining so many lives.


Paula Vennells and other senior Post Office representatives


  1. Lord Arbuthnot, who became a supporter of subpostmasters after being approached by a constituent who was being threatened with jail for accounting irregularities, has called for a clear out of POL’s board in the light of all the extremely serious failures of governance and probity.[21]


  1. Somebody ultimately has to be accountable to these events that have had such a devastating impact on so many people and their families.  These subpostmasters were ordinary people who were just trying to earn a living whilst providing such an important public service to society.  The traumatic impact on so many indicates a gross injustice on a scale that is nothing short of a national scandal.


  1. Senior Post Office Executives, including the CEO Paula Vennells and Chair Tim Parker were leading the company at the time of this scandal.  They continue to play a high profile role in public life.  It cannot be right that Paula Vennells is a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office and has received a CBE for services to Post Offices.  This must now be rescinded.


  1. Vennells is also Chair of Imperial College Healthcare Trust.  Her fitness to serve on this has rightly been questioned. Concerns over her appointment are being reviewed in line with the NHS’s Fit and Proper Persons regulation, after a former NHS doctor raised them with reference to the Horizon scandal.[22]


  1. What is irrefutable is that Paula Vennells obstinately and consistently argued that the Horizon system was fit for purpose and as such all claims by Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance were dismissed by the Post Office.  This position was demonstrated at a 2015 BIS Select Committee where Paula Vennells gave evidence and robustly supported the Horizon system. 


  1. Nick Wallis, a journalist who has followed the Post Office trial in great detail, said the following of the 2015 proceedings:  “During that inquiry, Ms Vennells refused to accept the Post Office had done anything wrong with regards to prosecuting its Subpostmasters, and during that session she failed to answer a question about how much legal coaching she’d received in advance of answering MPs questions.”


  1. Nick Wallis also reported in 2018 on an email chain apparently started by Paula Vennells in January 2015 whilst she was preparing for her BIS Select Committee appearance.  He describes this as possibly one of the most important documents to this entire story.  Nick’s report states that in the email, Paul Vennells says she wants the answers on Horizon - particularly to the question:

    Is it possible to access the system remotely?’

    Underneath, she has written:What is the true answer? I hope it is that we know it is not possible and that we are able to explain why that is. I need to say no it is not possible and that we are sure of this because of xxx [sic] and we know this because we had the system assured.’


Nick goes on to say:Ms Vennells has asked for the true answer to the question of whether remote access is possible and within the same breath demanded ‘I need to say no it is not possible.’ And a way was found for her to do this.[23]


  1. As is plain from Judge Fraser’s detailed judgment of 16 December 2019 and the Second Sight report, by 2015, POL was in fact in possession of substantial evidence of faults in its Horizon computer system.


  1. Hundreds of subpostmasters and their families have been harmed by POL’s cover up and scapegoating. Some of the harmed individuals have been financially ruined, suffered grave damage to their reputations and livelihoods, serious damage to their health and some have been wrongfully prosecuted, convicted and jailed. The testimony of victims and their families shows that some of the affected individuals have died, some through suicide.[24]


  1. The Criminal Cases Review Commission is looking at over 50 cases of reported miscarriages of justice from the Horizon computer affair, involving 22 prison sentences.  These must now be swiftly dealt with and the convictions must be quashed.


  1. The Post Office Horizon scandal has been catastrophic not only for these individuals, but for confidence in an important organisation and the stability of POL. It has cost the public purse millions that could have been avoided if POL had acted more accountably and responsibly.


  1. Tim Parker was appointed Chairman of Post Office Limited in October 2015.[25]  He oversaw the organisation at the time of its aggressive and persistent legal defence which was designed to beat the postmasters on the basis the PO had deeper pockets. He should be immediately removed from this important public role.


  1. We believe that serious consideration should he given by the Director of Public Prosecutions to examine if there are sufficient grounds to warrant a charge of corporate malfeasance or corporate manslaughter against POL, given there has been at least one death due to suicide as a result of POL’s handling of the Horizon case.  Martin Griffiths, a subpostmaster from Chester, deliberately stepped in front of a bus one morning in September 2013. An inquest heard that he was being pursued by the Post Office over an alleged shortfall running into many tens of thousands of pounds.[26]  Although the law against workplace suicide is weak in the UK, companies have in the past been found liable for actions and negligence that have led to the suicide of employees.[27]  Other countries have stronger laws in this area, and last year three former France Telecom executives were jailed and fined in France after a number of cases of work related suicides.[28]  The CWU is campaigning for a similar law to be introduced in the UK so that workplace suicide is properly recognised in legislation.  It is completely unacceptable that highly paid executives - in this case running a public service with a social purpose – can stubbornly pursue a cause that leads to the deaths of innocent people, and carry on in their roles as if nothing happened.

Fujitsu Failures


  1. Fujitsu, the company that maintains Horizon, having acquired it in 2002, must be properly investigated and held accountable for any actions that contributed to this scandal. In delivering his ruling in the Horizon trial, Mr Justice Fraser announced that he would be referring the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in relation to evidence given by employees of Fujitsu.  He said: "Based on the knowledge that I have gained, I have very grave concerns regarding veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system."[29]  Fujitsu people mentioned during the trial included - amongst others - Gareth Jenkins, the expert witness and “lead engineer” from Fujitsu on the Post Office contract whose testimony in part saw subpostmistress Seema Misra of Woking jailed for 15 months.[30]


Government failures and the need for a Public Inquiry

  1. In a further blow to the Post Office since the outcome of the Horizon trial, the Government has said that POL misled it when asked whether issues raised by subpostmasters about the Horizon system were true.  Martin Callanan, a UK government minister in the House of Lords, said “In hindsight, of course, facts have come to light through the litigation that has revealed that advice given during that period was flawed.”


  1. It is welcome to see the Prime Minister has recognised the gravity of this situation and committed to a public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.[31]  We very much support this course of action and it is something we have campaigned for and helped to bring about through sustained political pressure.[32]  We believe the public inquiry should be set up without delay and we call on the BEIS Committee to do all within its powers to ensure this happens.


  1. However, the Government must also accept its own responsibility for the failures that have led to this scandal.  Paula Vennells reported to the Government, and BEIS has a seat on the Post Office board, as does UK Government Investments (UKGI) which oversees the Government’s 100% shareholding in Post Office on behalf of BEIS.  Both BEIS and UKGI   failed to take appropriate action to prevent or halt the Horizon scandal, which has been allowed to go on for nearly two decades


  1. The Government has already admitted it was too passive when it came to managing the Post Office, in the light of the revelations made in court and the damning judgments that followed.[33]


  1. Alan Bates, the former subpostmaster who led the legal action against the Post Office, responded by saying: “Passive should be described as non-existent. The Government has a statutory duty to be involved in the Post Office.”[34]


  1. Lord Arbuthnot, who previously led a cross-party parliamentary group of MPs looking in to this matter on behalf of their affected Postmaster constituents, was also highly critical of the Government, saying: “One of the problems we all face is that the Government, which owns the Post Office, has, for reasons which seemed good at the time, handed over responsibility to a commercial-type board, so it feels it cannot intervene. But that commercial board has been accumulating vast legal debts and liability for damages, for which the government is liable. This cannot, and in my view will not, continue. Maybe a new Government after the election, of whatever colour, will be able to say ‘that was then, this is now – we need a fresh approach’.”[35]


  1. Lord Arbuthnot has also called for a judge-led inquiry, stating:

“The subpostmasters have been vindicated in every respect.  It is an excellent Christmas present, but won at great cost.  The cost falls partly on the taxpayer but also heavily on the subpostmasters themselves, who will have their damages reduced by the amount the litigation funders will (justifiably) deduct.


“Now that these battles are being won, it is time to turn our attention to how it all came about and went so far.  We need an inquiry and, since the Post Office has repeatedly given inaccurate information including to me, it needs to be led by a judge.  It may be that the best person to conduct the inquiry would be the judge who already has such extensive knowledge of the details, Sir Peter Fraser.  He has done much of the work already."


“There are questions about where does this leave, for example, the consideration by the Criminal Cases Review Commission?  How does it leave those who have been convicted of, or who were persuaded to plead guilty on the basis of incomplete or misleading evidence to, crimes such as false accounting or even fraud?  How are those sub-postmasters who are not parties to the litigation affected?  I shall look forward to the answers to these and many more questions as details begin to emerge.”[36]


  1. There is no doubt this appalling situation amounts to a national scandal.  How can a government-owned organisation treat so many people so badly for so long?  There are exceptionally serious questions to ask of the Post Office leadership and indeed government for that matter.  Whilst the legal process may have come to a conclusion with the out of court settlement, this shouldn’t in any way detract from public scrutiny of what has gone wrong here.  The CWU will continue to vigorously pursue a public inquiry via all parliamentary avenues to ensure the Prime Minister keeps to his promise.  The Post Office Board and its former Chief Executive have to be accountable for their actions and the outcry for justice is not going to go away.


Failures of the National Federation of Subpostmasters


  1. The other challenge facing subpostmasters is that they do not currently have independent representation in the workplace.  This has proved to be a major barrier to justice for subpostmasters in the case of Horizon, as the NFSP shamefully failed to represent its members on the issue and took the side of POL.  The failings of the NFSP are exposed by the CWU’s postmaster branch secretary Mark Baker in a powerful personal account of his experiences whilst an official of the NFSP between 2001 and 2010.  This has been submitted to the BEIS Committee separately by Mark Baker and is attached as an Annex to this submission for reference. 


  1. As Mr Justice Fraser highlighted in his judgment on the Horizon trial, the NFSP is not independent of the Post Office.  In the ruling on 15th March 2019, Mr Justice Fraser reported on evidence gained via a Freedom of Information request, of a secretive multimillion pound deal between the NFSP and POL, whereby money was paid to the NFSP on condition that it ‘… not take any action or engage in any commercial activities which brings, or is likely to bring, POL's name or reputation into disrepute.’[37]  Mr Justice Fraser said, ‘in my judgment,… the NFSP is not remotely independent of the Post Office, nor does it appear to put its members’ interests above its own separate commercial interests… The Post Office effectively controls the NFSP.’[38]


  1. Subpostmasters were clearly, and seriously let down by POL and the NFSP in this deal which meant that the representation they thought they had, was effectively bought by POL, with serious consequences in the case of Horizon.  The judgment is specific about POL witnesses misleading the court, managers being unable to accept that POL is ever wrong and the Company not believing itself to be accountable to the public.


  1. The CWU believes the Post Office should not be using public money to pay for the subpostmasters representative body.  We understand that POL has guaranteed around £25m in funding for the NFSP over the next few years.  We repeat the call we made to the BEIS Committee last year in relation to its future of the Post Office inquiry, for an investigation into the appropriateness of using a Public Authority Grant to fund the NFSP.


  1. The NFSP refused to represent its members who were in desperate need of assistance, forcing them to set up their own campaign group – the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance – which took POL to court through a group litigation order.  In addition, before the High Court judgment in December 2019 that ruled Horizon was not robust, the NFSP publicly supported the Post Office’s position that it was robust. 


  1. We call on the BEIS Committee to investigate the actions of the NFSP who have done absolutely nothing to support their members in relation to the outrageous treatment they have suffered due to the Horizon system.  Indeed, during a previous BIS Select Committee Inquiry in February 2015, George Thomson, former General Secretary of the NFSP stated he believed the Horizon system was “fantastically robust”.  Mr Thomson noted that “Systemically, it is very strong. However, there are one or two issues where money went missing and postmasters have felt that it had to be Horizon, while in a lot of cases it could have been errors or, in fact, members of staff misappropriating money”. 


  1. Furthermore, in a statement following the latest ruling, the NFSP is seemingly trying to re-write history by repositioning themselves as follows:


“By implication of this verdict, PO has misled the NFSP for years about the reliability of the Horizon system.

As outlined by Justice Fraser, the NFSP raised concerns to PO about problems our members have experienced with the system; repeatedly we were told that the system was robust, and that user error is the primary cause of problems.

The fact that Justice Fraser considers the current version of Horizon to be robust is welcome news – this will be a relief to serving subpostmasters. However, government must also ensure that, going forwards, the status of Horizon is monitored and reported on transparently. It is vital that every subpostmaster should feel confident that the investment they have made in their post office business is not reliant on a flawed system.  This will engender trust in the system and PO.

Above all, PO must change the way it deals with the subpostmaster network. The NFSP has long argued that subpostmasters must not be treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’ in the case of a loss or shortfall.  Unfortunately, there was an authoritarian culture within PO for many years – something which was, ultimately, the root cause of the GLO and the reason so many postmasters lives have been disrupted and adversely affected”.


The need for CWU collective bargaining representation for subpostmasters


  1. The CWU is also calling on the Post Office to remove their opposition to the CWU representing subpostmasters through collective bargaining.  On a separate but similar issue, we are calling for the right of the CWU to continued recognition following the transfer of Post Office employees to WH Smith under a franchising agreement.  The CWU’s legal representatives maintain that the CWU is entitled to continued recognition, given the transfer of an organised grouping of employees and the continuation of services provided, and we continue to be in dispute with the Post Office and WH Smith on this. We believe the Post Office’s position on these issues is flagrantly anti trade union, and that the BEIS Committee should be asking the Post Office why they are opposed to CWU representation for subpostmasters.


  1. Whilst the CWU has reached out to the Post Office to work with us the Post Office are not reciprocating.  We urge the Committee to call on the Government to face up to the reality of the situation as too many people have been in denial for too long about the ability of the Post Office to deliver the service the Government and the public require.  A joint approach by all interested parties including the CWU in the Post Office network is required to fix this situation.


Impact on the future of the Post Office


  1. The Horizon scandal has brought into question confidence in the Post Office by users, customers and clients alike and this is deeply worrying especially as it could create a barrier to new income streams and growth.  In essence, Horizon, the vital computer system that enables the Post Office network to operate and serve the public has been rendered questionable in its robustness and this should give grave cause for concern to POL, the BEIS Committee and the Government as it does the CWU. 


  1. Whilst the litigation has come to an end, dealing with the fall-out from all the revelations and findings of the Court in the Judgments it has delivered will take some time to become totally apparent as indeed will the full implications.   It is currently far from business as usual for the Post Office network.  Whilst things may still look and feel the same to the consumer looking in, everything is turned upside down for postmasters.  This means that everything about the contractual relationship between the Post Office and postmasters is likely to and should change.  


  1. Until business as usual can be returned to some form of normality, it is rather futile to assume that the Post Office Network can operate in splendid isolation of the Horizon group litigation order fall-out.  The CWU therefore calls on the BEIS Committee to recommend proactive engagement and monitoring of the Post Office in how it goes about repairing the issues raised during the litigation.


  1. We are also extremely concerned that the Horizon scandal has intensified POL’s attack on the Crown Office network, as POL’s leadership has made a cynical decision to franchise the whole remaining Crown network of circa 120 Crowns to help pay for the Horizon fallout.   More than a 1000 directly employed Crown Office staff are now at risk of redundancy as a direct consequence of the failings of the Board in respect of the losses it now has to make good on arising from the Horizon litigation.  


  1. It should also be noted we have yet to hear from the new CEO of the Post Office, Nick Read, in any material way in regard to his proposals for repairing the damage to the Post Office’s reputation and brand and just how he intends to “reset the Postmaster relationship“ to use his quote.  The CWU wants to be involved in a dialogue about exactly what resetting the relationship means, especially as the NFSP has been discredited by the Horizon judge.  


Funding of compensation


  1. It is vital that the costs of the Horizon case and the associated costs of compensation do not adversely affect Post Office services or reduce the funding available for the Post Office, which is in desperate need of investment.


  1. To this end, the CWU believes the Government must publish where the money is coming from to fund POL legal costs and how potential liabilities, that could total hundreds of millions, will be met.  This must take into account the cost of fully compensating all victims of this scandal, including those who paid back money they didn’t owe to avoid prosecution. 


  1. As things stand, claimants have not received anything like what they should be entitled to for the appalling circumstances they have endured for so longSubpostmasters were awarded £57.75m in damages, but after costs and fees for the litigation funder were taken out they were left with around £10m, which means subpostmasters will not even get back the money they lost.[39]  Payments for each of the 550 litigants have been estimated at between £47,000 and £78,000.  In many cases, this will not meet the financial losses postmasters have suffered, let alone the personal and emotional damage associated with over ten years of seeking justice. 


  1. One former subpostmaster told journalist Nick Wallis: "This is nothing but a great win for the Post Office. My losses alone came to £200,000. This compensation will not cover the fraudulent claims that the Post Office took from me. I am 75 and still work to live and pay my mortgage. There will be no celebrating this decision."[40]


  1. The massive cost of legal proceedings, which have been inflated by POL’s aggressive tactics over many years, must not reduce the real level of compensation available to the harmed subpostmasters.  Neither must it do further damage to Post Office services.



March 2020












Copy of Submission to the BEIS Committee Inquiry on Horizon from Mark Baker, CWU Branch Secretary for Postmasters


4th March 2020

Post Office and Horizon Inquiry

This submission is being made in my personal capacity and relates to the time when I was an National Executive Officer of the National Federation of Sub Postmasters. 

However I should declare an interest as I am currently the Branch Secretary for Postmasters in the Communications Workers Union. The CWU will be making its own submission to the Committee.

I am also a serving Sub Postmaster of 42 years experience in the Post Office Industry.

My submission relates to the theme the Committee has set on the role of the NFSP in the Horizon scandal

I was elected to the Executive Council of the NFSP in 2001. Shortly after the introduction of the first Horizon system. I was elected on a ticket of challenging the Executive Council ( EC) for its seemingly cosy relationship it had with the Post Office. This was because Postmasters in my Region were frustrated that their incomes were falling and the Post Office did what they wanted and the NFSP never challenged the Post Office. 

My mandate was to find out why this was and to bring about change that made the NFSP act more like the Trade Union that it was supposed to be.

It's fair to say that I failed in this endeavour. 

My election to the EC was not well received by my fellow Executive Officers (EO’s) and the then General Secretary Colin Baker CBE was particularly hostile towards me.

I survived several attempts to oust me from my position on the EC because of the difficult questions I was asking etc. I was labelled a subversive by my detractors.

It became clear to me that I had disturbed a cosy gentlemen's club. 

Things got particularly difficult when the issue of Horizon system failures started to be brought to the attention of the EC.

I represented many members who were put through the Post Office disciplinary system for accounting shortfalls. I did my best to defend those members and I was quite successful in preventing summary terminations because I was demanding evidence that could not be produced.

I discussed my case work with the fellow EO’s but they did not seem to go into the same level of detail as I did. Their attitude was that this was clearly theft by either the Postmaster a members of the Postmasters family or staff. They seemed to put up a token defence of the member but in reality just “held their hand” through the disciplinary process with the inevitable consequence that the member was ushered out of the business.

Members would ask the EC for legal representation to be supplied and paid for by the NFSP funds. But all requests were turned down by the EC and the General Secretary.   

I was told much later, after the incident, that one member a Mr Lee Castleton applied for such help as he had terrible problems with his Horizon system. Without consulting the EC the General Secretary, Colin Baker, simply refunded the membership fees paid by Mr Castleton and sent him on his way and to his fate.

The years rolled by and complaints about Horizon continued to be made by members and ignored by the EC. In 2010 a new version of Horizon was introduced. It was called HOL Horizon Online.  All the calculations were done online using a web based system and the data for our cash accounts was held in a data centre. I was very concerned about this as I knew from my research that data flowing from a base unit to a data centre would be subject to data interference if the communication infrastructure was not properly maintained.

Also at this time the Post Office removed the Postmaster ability to place any discrepancy into a locally held suspense account and replaced it with the system we have today of being forced into accepting the discrepancies.

This change was supported the other EC members because the then General Secretary George Thomson told them that it was nothing to worry about and too many Postmasters were absuing the previous suspense account.

The constant support given to the Post Office by George Thomson increased particularly during the times that he was trying to talk the Government into Mutualising the Post Office.

I was not the only member of the Executive to be turned upon. A colleague, Mike Rudkin the then Chair of the NFSP negotiating committee was also treated very harshly by George Thomson. In my opinion Mr Rudkins troubles started after he raised concerns about what he had witnessed at the Fujitsu HQ in Bracknell. Where he saw Fujitsu software engineers remotely access the Horizon system and in live time alter a Postmasters accounting figures. 

I finally left the NFSP in 2010 after several failed attempts to try and get them to change their ways.

By then I had worked it out that the Post Office used its money and power to effectively control the NFSP to support Gov policy on Horizon, the Privatisation of the Royal Mail and the Network Transformation program. The latter two projects culminated in the NFSP converting into a company limited by guarantee and a grant funding agreement being set up for 15 years at a cost of £2.5 m per annum. This I believe was the reward to the NFSP for its cooperation in these projects. But it came at a cost to the organisations independence. 

I do not recognise the NFSP that I was once proud to play a leading role in. The organisation has descended into a money making machine benefitting only those who form its board of Directors. 

The last thing on their minds is protecting the interests of the very Postmasters they profess to represent. 

The current CEO Calum Greenhow has inherited the legacy left to him by George Thomson but he has done nothing to right the wrongs carried out by those who went before him. He has not even issued a public apology for the way in which people have been treated during the life of this scandal. At least the Post Office has gone as far as apologising.

He fully supported the Post Office position during the Horizon litigation and had every opportunity to challenge the evidence submitted by the Post Office that the NFSP supports the PO position.

If he thought the NFSP name was being used against his wishes during the trial he could of written to the Judge at the time to state this.  

In my opinion the NFSP is part of the Horizon problem.

The nature of the grant funding agreement is questionable for its compliance with Gov policy on the issuing of grants by a Public Authority. 

Also the formation of the company arrangements of NFSP ltd should be called into question as such a company should be owned and controlled by its members as detailed in their Articles of Association of NFSP Lrd.

I am still in contact with many Postmasters who thought they were such company members but they have all confirmed that they have never been asked to legally take on company membership nor have they ever voted at an AGM or appointed the Directors which is the normal practice for members of a company limited by guarantee.  

Democracy within NFSP Ltd does not appear to exist. 


The free membership of the NFSP that the Post Office claims they pay for appears to be nothing more than a sham.

I urge the Committee to challenge the Post Office on its continued funding of the NFSP and to recommend that the funding is stopped in its entirety.

On the 30th March 2019 I wrote to Sir Alex Chisholm the principle accounting officer for BEIS department. I wrote to him to query the use of what I perceived to be the misuse of tax payers money in funding the NFSP following the Judgement issued in the Common Issues hearing of the Horizon litigation. Sir Alex replied on the 30th April 2019. He informed me that whilst he did not consider that tax payers money had been misused by the Post Office he had been informed by Post Office officials that it was reviewing its relationship with the NFSP following the outcome of the Common Issues Judgement.

To date I have not seen any change in the relationship the Post Office has with the NFSP and the funding continues.

The NFSP, both past and present versions of their organisation, have been aware of the issues with the Horizon system for many years. I can bear testimony to that fact and would do so in a Court of Law.


Mark Baker


Larkhill Post Office




[1] Jailed Post Office worker: I wanted to kill myself, BBC News, 15th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50756192

[2] Post Office agrees to pay subpostmasters £58m compensation over false accusations of theft, The Telegraph, 11th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/12/11/post-office-ordered-pay-subpostmasters-58m-compensation-false/

[3] Decent lives destroyed by the Post Office, Mail Online, 24th April 2015, accessed at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3054706/Decent-lives-destroyed-Post-Office-monstrous-injustice-scores-sub-postmasters-driven-ruin-suicide-computers-really-blame.html

[4] Victim testimony, Post Office Trial, 23rd January 2019, accessed at: https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/01/victims-testimony.html

[5] Depression, bankruptcy and jail: why we sued the Post Office, Sky News, 15th March 2019, accessed at: https://news.sky.com/story/depression-bankruptcy-and-jail-why-we-sued-the-post-office-11623616 

[6] Post Office vs Mental Health: “They didn’t care that I was this scared girl” – Tracy’s story, Post Office Trial, 24th June 2019, accessed at: https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/06/post-office-v-mental-health-they-didnt.html

[7] Post Office staff are to launch Britain’s largest ever miscarriage of justice case to have theft slurs quashed, Mail Online, 3rd March 2020, accessed at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8067795/Post-Office-staff-launch-Britains-largest-miscarriage-justice-case.html

[8] Second Sight’s Ron Warmington breaks his silence, Post Office Trial, 18th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/12/second-sights-ron-warmington-breaks-his.html

[9] Post Office IT, Crash Test Dummies, Private Eye, March 2015

[10] Judge rules that Post Office IT system was not remotely robust, Financial Times, 16th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.ft.com/content/07f74dda-2031-11ea-92da-f0c92e957a96

[11] Post Office applies for removal of High Court judge in Horizon IT case, 21st March 2019, accessed at: https://ukcampaign4change.com/2019/03/21/post-office-applies-for-removal-of-high-court-judge-in-horizon-it-case/

[12] Blighty’s most trusted brand? Yeah you wish, judge tells Post Office in Horizon IT ruling, The Register, 16th March 2019, accessed at:  https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/03/15/post_office_horizon_it_system_initial_judgment/

[13] Quote from Andrew Bridgen MP, Government claims it was misled by Post Office over IT Scandal, Computer Weekly, 20th February 2020, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252479323/Government-claims-it-was-misled-by-Post-Office-over-IT-scandal

[14] Subpostmasters vindicated as high court finds system had bugs and defects, Telegraph, 16th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/12/16/subpostmasters-vindicated-high-court-finds-system-had-bugs-defects/

[15] Second Sight’s Ron Warmington breaks his silence, Post Office Trial, 18th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/12/second-sights-ron-warmington-breaks-his.html

[16] A £3,200 red-letter day: Struggling postmasters are to get salary boost to stop post offices closing in major victory for Mail campaign, Mail Online, 4th November 2019, accessed at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7649059/Struggling-postmasters-salary-boost-stop-post-offices-closing.html

[17] The NFSP is the only organization that is recognised by Post Office Ltd to represent subpostmasters, NFSP website, accessed on 6th March 2020 at: https://www.nfsp.org.uk/

[18] Future of the Post Office Network, House of Commons BEIS Committee, 22nd October 2019, p.30 accessed at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201919/cmselect/cmbeis/247/247.pdf

[19] Peer calls for a clear-out of Post Office Board after Court of Appeal confirms major court defeat, Computer Weekly, 26th November 2019, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252474583/Peer-suggests-clear-out-of-Post-Office-board-after-Court-of-Appeal-confirms-major-defeat-in-court

[20] Peer calls for a clear-out of Post Office Board after Court of Appeal confirms major court defeat, Computer Weekly, 26th November 2019, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252474583/Peer-suggests-clear-out-of-Post-Office-board-after-Court-of-Appeal-confirms-major-defeat-in-court

[21] Referral of Paula Vennells CBE Chair of Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust, under CQC FPPR, Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower, 26th December 2019, accessed at:  https://minhalexander.com/2019/12/26/referral-of-paula-vennells-cbe-chair-of-imperial-healthcare-nhs-trust-former-post-office-ltd-ceo-under-cqc-regulation-5-fit-and-proper-persons-fppr-but-what-was-the-governments-role-in-the-pos/https://minhalexander.com/2019/12/26/referral-of-paula-vennells-cbe-chair-of-imperial-healthcare-nhs-trust-former-post-office-ltd-ceo-under-cqc-regulation-5-fit-and-proper-persons-fppr-but-what-was-the-governments-role-in-the-pos/

[22] Referral of Paula Vennells CBE Chair of Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust, under CQC FPPR, Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower, 26th December 2019, accessed at:  https://minhalexander.com/2019/12/26/referral-of-paula-vennells-cbe-chair-of-imperial-healthcare-nhs-trust-former-post-office-ltd-ceo-under-cqc-regulation-5-fit-and-proper-persons-fppr-but-what-was-the-governments-role-in-the-pos/

[23] Day 9 Write up: Paula Vennells implicated, 21st November 2018, Post Office Trial, https://www.postofficetrial.com/2018/11/day-9-write-up-best-of-avdb-part-3.html?fbclid=IwAR3CuYXIiXViaUfz8R_jaiNboEAYYluBEgsFpZI_WA7IbC7_4b89Xwmeztc

[24] Victim testimony, Post Office Trial, 23rd January 2019, accessed at: https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/01/victims-testimony.html

[25] Tim Parker, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Parker

[26] Decent lives destroyed by the Post Office, the monstrous injustice of scores of sub-postmasters driven to ruin or suicide when computers were really to blame, Mail Online, 30th April 2015, accessed at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3054706/Decent-lives-destroyed-Post-Office-monstrous-injustice-scores-sub-postmasters-driven-ruin-suicide-computers-really-blame.html

[27] A breach of duty, Thompsons Solicitors, 10th April 2008, accessed at:  https://www.thompsonstradeunion.law/news/lelr/weekly-issue-61/a-breach-of-duty

[28] France Telecom suicides, three former bosses jailed, BBC News, 20th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-50865211

[29] Subpostmasters vindicated as high court finds system had bugs and defects, Telegraph, 16th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/12/16/subpostmasters-vindicated-high-court-finds-system-had-bugs-defects/

[30] Post Office faces potential criminal probe over Fujitsu IT  system’s accounting failures, The Register, 18th December 2019: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/12/18/post_office_trial_fujitsu_horizon_judgment/

[31] Boris Johnson commits to getting to the bottom of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, ComputerWeekly.com, 26th February 2020, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252479176/Boris-Johnson-commits-to-getting-to-the-bottom-of-Post-Office-Horizon-IT-scandal

[32] CWU pressure secures public inquiry into Horizon scandal, CWU, 2nd March 2020, available at: https://www.cwu.org/news/cwu-pressure-secures-public-inquiry-into-horizon-scandal/

[33] Government admits it was too passive managing Post Office as parliamentary pressure builds, Computer Weekly, 25th February 2020, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252479087/Government-admits-it-was-too-passive-managing-Post-Office-as-parliamentary-pressure-builds

[34] Alan Bates: The ‘details man’ the Post Office paid the price for ignoring, Computer Weekly, 31 January 2020, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/feature/Alan-Bates-The-details-man-the-Post-Office-paid-the-price-for-ignoring

[35] Peer calls for a clear-out of Post Office Board after Court of Appeal confirms major court defeat, Computer Weekly, 26th November 2019, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252474583/Peer-suggests-clear-out-of-Post-Office-board-after-Court-of-Appeal-confirms-major-defeat-in-court

[36] It’s all over, parties agree a resolution through mediation, Post Office Trial, 11th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/12/its-all-over-parties-agree-resolution.html

[37] Alan Bates and others v Post Office Ltd, Judgment No.3. ‘Common Issues’, para 590 and 592

[38] Alan Bates and others v Post Office Ltd, Judgment No.3, ‘Common Issues’ para’s 368 and 596 

[39] Boris Johnson commits to getting to the bottom of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, ComputerWeekly.com, 26th February 2020, accessed at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252479176/Boris-Johnson-commits-to-getting-to-the-bottom-of-Post-Office-Horizon-IT-scandal

[40] Post Office coughs £57.75m to settle wonky Horizon IT system case, The Register, 12th December 2019, accessed at: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/12/12/post_office_horizon_case_settled/