Written submission by Mr K R Johnston (POH0002)
Post Office and Government Responsibility for Erroneous Prosecutions and Imprisonment of Innocents
I have prepared and submitted this document as a UK citizen who is concerned that the corporate governance regulatory framework remains ineffective in protecting the public, investors and service providers.
How could this debacle have been allowed to happen at all and, even worse, continue for so long ?
The inherent regulatory flaws in ensuring an adequate level of managerial competence and accountability in UK business operations:
3.1. From the evidence that is already in the public domain, it is obvious that basic corporate governance provisions were either absent or, at the very least, deficient and ineffective. It is already clear the Post Office’s ‘Three Lines of Defence’ corporate governance framework has been evidenced to have not achieved meaningful and transparent accountability. However, it remains to be ascertained, and independently reported to the public, whether Post Office Ltd management and Directors were solely incompetent or, additionally, deliberately bent on maladministration to hide their misdemeanours, incompetencies and deficiencies.
3.2. During the years that this debacle was allowed to persist, there should have been many opportunities for the HORIZON based problem to be properly addressed. However, these have either not been taken advantage of at all, or not exercised with a minimum satisfactory degree of competence and accountability – e.g.
The spectrum of robust and necessary corporate governance framework measures have been well known for well over a decade. There was no excuse for ignorance – so how well did the corporate culture support transparent and meaningful accountability?
3.3. To establish a minimum acceptable level of confidence in the control of corporate entities, particularly (but not solely!) those having an important strategic role, it is clear that:
3.4. It is correct that all available lessons should be learned to ensure that such debacles are never again allowed to damage the reputation of UK corporate governance. However, it is important that those proven not fit to perform their designated ‘Three Lines of Defence’ roles are prosecuted and, where professionally qualified their performance reported to the relevant Professional Institutions for disqualification from membership. There must be adequate incentive for those supposedly qualified to exercise professionally competent management / supervision to achieve a minimally acceptable standard. Once appointed on accepted competitive salary packages, they should be expected to perform their role competently knowing that they will be held accountable (i.e. personally liable) and disqualified from holding such roles in future. Certainly, all Directors of the Post Office Ltd should be held personally liable for the damage sustained by Postmasters/Sub-postmasters (i.e. slander/libel/bankruptcy/criminal records/imprisonment). This was not a momentary blip – it lasted for years and there was ample opportunity to identify the cause of the problem and take appropriate remedial action.
3.5. It is not just a question of ensuring the embedding and practice of professional processes day to day. It is also necessary that the corporate culture of the Post Office and its management be closely investigated. It beggars belief that Senior Executive managers and Directors did not become aware of the HORIZON failings. Yet prosecutions ensued. If there is evidence that any responsible person ‘looked the other way’ or deliberately attempted to cover up the root cause of the problem, it is clear they should be criminally prosecuted.
3.6. It is essential that the Inquiry’s findings are reported publicly, and credible remedial actions seen to be implemented. Given the continued high public profile and interest that this saga will enjoy, it is essential the Terms of Reference are quickly published and regular progress reports issued up to a prompt conclusion. This will not disappear in the long grass!