An investigator whose inquiry resulted in an innocent Post Office victim dying a convicted man insisted “I was just doing my job” when questioned at the Horizon IT inquiry.
Robert Daily admitted on Tuesday that he was not “comfortable” when he carried out searches on Peter Holmes’ family home and car but failed to apologise to his widow Marion, who sat just a few feet away.
Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, has said the Government can impose a deadline for Post Office workers wrongly convicted of theft to have their convictions overturned.
Former police officer Mr Holmes had been manager of a Newcastle Post Office branch for 13 years when he was accused of stealing £46,000.
The father of three pleaded guilty to four counts of false accounting in 2010 and was acquitted by a judge.
He died of a brain tumour six years before Mrs Holmes successfully cleared his name in April 2021.
An inquiry is now examining the scandal which saw more than 900 Post Office workers wrongfully prosecuted because of faulty Horizon software reporting fictional shortfalls.
On Tuesday the inquiry heard how Mr Holmes raised concerns about the Horizon software in his interview with Mr Daily – which the Jesmond branch manager described as “bloody awful”.
However, in his witness statement Mr Daily said he didn’t believe he “would have been aware of the significance of this” as he “didn’t recall being aware of any issues with Horizon” at this point.
Christopher Jacobs, representing Mrs Marion and others affected by the scandal, said Mr Holmes’ widow and several of his other clients “simply don’t believe that”.
He said: “We can’t accept that you had no idea that other sub-postmasters or assistants had problems with the Horizon system and were raising those in interviews.”
Mr Jacobs went on to cite the case of ex-sub-postmistress Suzanne Palmer, who had been acquitted the year before Mr Holmes was interviewed, who had issues with Horizon as part of her defence.
Mr Daily told the inquiry he was “not aware” of the case and any others at the time.
Addressing the search of Mr Holmes’ family home, Mr Jacobs asked: “Was it normal to go into people’s homes, go into their bedrooms and their drawers and take out statements from banks before a postmaster or assistant had even been interviewed?”
Mr Daily said: “If you’re asking if I was comfortable doing that, no I wasn’t comfortable. But it was part of the job and it was done voluntarily.”
When asked what he would say to Peter Homes today, Mr Daily said that from what he had heard from previous evidence he would have been “pleased” that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
But he declined to accept any personal responsibility for what happened to Mr Holmes, saying: “No, I was only doing my job”.
Mrs Holmes, who grimaced as Mr Daily spoke these words, said afterwards: “It’s astonishing to be honest. All the evidence is there and he still doesn’t accept that he had any part in it. He just sat there.”
A CV Mr Daily submitted to the Post Office listed his wife’s academic achievements rather than his own.
The inquiry heard how Mr Daily first started at the Post Office as a counter clerk in 1979 but had worked as a security and investigations manager since 2005. He had to reapply for his role as part of a restructuring process in 2008.
However, within the first 15 minutes of Tuesday’s hearing, the inquiry was told that his wife’s “educational achievements” had been included on the CV he submitted during this time.
Emma Price, counsel to the inquiry, asked: “Did you realise this and correct this at the time?”
“No,” Mr Daily said.
“So it’s something that’s only come to light during [this investigation]?” she continued, with Mr Daily responding “Yes”.
The Post Office raised investigator targets for cash recovered by 25 percentage points, documents revealed.
Paperwork showed “loss recovery” targets of 40 per cent for investigators in 2009 had become 65 per cent by 2014.
Ensuring a “robust approach to fraud recovery loss” was also assessed as part of performance reviews.
A document originally produced Mr Daily’s own review read: “I have achieved an 86 per cent recovery, £68,733 in my cases.”
When asked why he thought the target had increased, Mr Daily said: “I can only think it was because of the amount of losses the Post Office was suffering.”
Ms Price then questioned Mr Daily on how meeting the objective was “rewarded” by the Post Office.
He said: “It was part of our objectives to do so. It didn’t necessarily rely on a bonus, we received a bonus every year regardless.”
An investigation document showed that Mr Daily effectively dismissed Mr Holmes’ complaints about Horizon in 2008.
“This has been checked and the allegations are unfounded,” it read.
However, the inquiry heard no details or mention of such “checks” were handed over as part of the disclosure process.
The apparent failure to investigate his concerns prompted a heated exchange between Mr Daily and chairman Sir Wyn Williams, who addressed him via videolink.
Sir Wyn said: “As it happens Mr Daily, your evidence about the searches and investigations you conducted to, as you then thought and as you’ve told me, discover where the money was, they were quite thorough and yet you found nothing.
“In light of that, did that not give added credence to Mr Holmes’ suggestion that this was generated by the computer as opposed to being real?”
Mr Daily replied: “Not at the time, sir.”
The inquiry chairman went on to say: “But how does that square with your duty to investigate lines of inquiry which are raised before you?
“Did you think it was so fanciful that it wasn’t even worth bothering to look at it?”
“No that wasn’t the case, sir,” he replied.