Post Office inspector ‘asked sub-postmistress’s son if he loved his mother’

A former Post Office inspector “asked a sub-postmistress’s son if he loved” his mother, the inquiry has heard.

Jennifer O’Dell, who ran a Post Office in Great Staughton, Cambridgeshire, was suspended from her role in 2010 after being blamed for a £9,617 shortfall in her accounts which was actually caused by defects in Horizon.

Jon Longman, the lead investigator in her case, was questioned on the investigation and others he was involved in today.

Sam Stein KC, who represents Mrs O’Dell,  asked Mr Longman: “Did you once pull aside her son Daniel, aged 20, and ask him whether [he] loved his mother and basically suggested to him the question of whether his mother might have been nicking money from the Post Office? Do you remember doing that?”

Mr Longman said: “I remember receiving a letter from her son and we interviewed him, not under caution.”

He added: “I can’t remember what was said but if it was said it wasn’t in that context.”

04:36 PM BST

That’s all for today

Thank you for following The Telegraph’s live coverage of the Post Office inquiry.

04:14 PM BST

Inquiry concludes for the day

The inquiry has now brought today’s proceedings to a close and Allan Leighton will return to complete his evidence at a later date that is still to be determined.

The inquiry will resume at 9.45am on Thursday.

03:58 PM BST

Leighton: Prosecutions were ‘not on my mind’ during chairmanship

Allan Leighton has said prosecutions of sub-postmasters were not on his mind “at all” during his time as chairman of Royal Mail.

Asked by Sam Stevens, Counsel to the inquiry, whether they were “actively on your mind”, Mr Leighton replied: “Not at all.”

He added: “Because obviously there were many other things that were being addressed in all of the businesses.

“But actually more so if you, when you, have all the structures and processes in place that you think are there, and there’s nothing coming back that’s indicating in any way, shape or form that there’s some sort of systemic issue that is then resulting in these prosecutions.

“Nothing was ever raised of that nature the whole time I was there.”

03:50 PM BST

Leighton ‘aware’ Post Office prosecuted own sub-postmasters

Allan Leighton has said he “must have been aware” that the Post Office prosecuted its own sub-postmasters.

The inquiry previously heard Alan Cook, who served as managing director from 2006 to 2010, say he did not realise until 2009 that the Post Office conducted these prosecutions itself without external bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Leighton’s witness statement reads: “Although I do not have specific recollections, I must have been aware at least as a general matter that the Post Office also prosecuted individuals for fraud-related offences.”

The ex-Royal Mail chairman said he first became aware of this when he joined the organisation.

He said: “Obviously as I was going to become the chairman of POL [Post Office Ltd], you know, that was the idea.

“Then I read about POL and the history of POL. And as you know that’s been there for a long period of time.”

03:42 PM BST

Inquiry resumes

The inquiry has now resumed.

03:37 PM BST

Leighton to give evidence again

Allan Leighton will return to give evidence to the inquiry again on another date because today’s proceedings need to finish at 4.30pm so Sir Wyn Williams, chairman of the inquiry, can go to a medical appointment this morning.

The date of his second appearance is yet to be determined.

03:24 PM BST

Inquiry takes break

The inquiry has paused and will resume at 3.30pm.

03:23 PM BST

I never discussed prosecutions with government, says Leighton

Allan Leighton has said he “never” discussed sub-postmaster prosecutions with ministers or Government officials.

The former Royal Mail chair said he met with the government – the Royal Mail’s only shareholder – “two or three times” over his seven-year tenure.

Counsel to the Inquiry Sam Stevens asked: “When you were discussing with DTI [Department of Trade and Industry], did you ever discuss Horizon?”

Mr Leighton said: “Again I honestly can’t remember. It’s 20 years – but I would imagine that we did.

“But I think it would have been going more along, you know, ‘How it’s going?’. I certainly don’t recall any detailed conversations about Horizon.”

Mr Stevens asked: “Did you ever talk about prosecutions of sub-postmasters?”

“Never,” replied Mr Leighton.

02:51 PM BST

Leighton apologises for Post Office scandal

Allan Leighton has apologised for the “elements” of the Horizon scandal that occurred during his tenure – describing the scandal as “unbelievable”.

Mr Leighton, who was chair of Royal Mail from 2002 to 2009, began giving evidence to the inquiry with the apology.

He said: “What’s happened has been a terrible thing for everybody who has been involved, in particular the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses.”

The former Asda chief executive added: “It’s unbelievable that it’s happened and I just wanted to say that I’m sorry that elements of that occurred while at my tenure at the Royal Mail. I’m sorry for that happening.”

02:44 PM BST

Longman questioning concludes

The questioning of Jon Longman has concluded and Allan Leighton, the former chairman of Royal Mail Group, is now being sworn in to give evidence for the remainder of the day.

02:43 PM BST

Longman pulled sub-postmistress’ son aside to ask ‘do you love your mother?’

A former Post Office investigator pulled a sub-postmistress’s 20-year-old son aside and asked him whether he loved his mother, an inquiry heard.

Sam Stein KC, who represents Jennifer O’Dell, 74, asked Mr Longman: “Did you once pull aside her son Daniel, aged 20, and ask him whether he loved his mother and basically suggested to him the question of whether his mother might have been nicking money from the Post Office? Do you remember doing that?”

Mr Longman said: “I remember receiving a letter from her son and we interviewed him, not under caution.”

He added: “I can’t remember what was said but if it was said it wasn’t in that context.”

02:36 PM BST

Longman admits ‘institutional bias’ against doing the right thing

Jon Longman has agreed there was “institutional bias” among himself and his colleagues to do “precisely the opposite” of what they should have done.

The former Post Office investigator was quizzed by Edward Henry KC, with his client Seema Misra sitting beside him.

Mr Henry asked multiple questions about the lack of queries made to Fujitsu about cases such as Ms Misra’s.

Mr Henry asked: “There was institutional bias to do precisely the opposite of what you ought to have done, wasn’t there?”

Mr Longman said: “Yes, I can’t disagree. We should have – there should have been more inquiries with Fujitsu in a lot more cases than what actually did occur, I think.

“I don’t know how many cases Fujitsu have actually looked at for glitches and bugs, but it’s clear now looking back there should have been more cases referred to them for analysis.”

02:12 PM BST

‘They put me in prison to save £15k’: Sub-postmaster’s fury at Post Office inspector

Seema Misra “could not believe” that Post Office staff were reluctant to spend £15,000 to disclose transaction data from her branch when she was being prosecuted over an apparent shortfall in her accounts.

The former sub-postmistress, who was pregnant when she was handed a prison sentence in 2010 for a £75,000 discrepancy which was actually caused by faults in Horizon, said she felt “angry” as she watched former Post Office inspector Jon Longman giving evidence to the inquiry on Wednesday morning.

Speaking to The Telegraph, she said: “When I saw that £15,000 figure – I couldn’t believe it. They were willing to let an innocent person go to prison to save £15,000.

“People committed suicide as a result of this scandal – you had CEOs receiving millions of pounds, but they were worried about spending £15,000 on disclosure – it’s completely unethical.”

Ms Misra also took issue with Mr Longman saying that he would not have done anything differently in the initial investigation of her case.

Describing the search he and his colleagues carried out, the mother-of-two said: “He was going through my house from the morning to the evidence and they were there that long because I had nothing to hide.

“I had a freezer and they moved that to see if there was anything behind it. Then I had a temple in a room and I asked them to remove their shoes but they didn’t, it was so horrible.”

Seema Misra has said 'she could not believe' the Post Office's reluctance to spend £15k to disclose evidence to her legal team
Seema Misra has said she 'could not believe' the Post Office's reluctance to spend £15k to disclose evidence to her legal team - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

02:03 PM BST

Inquiry resumes

The inquiry has now resumed after lunch.

01:14 PM BST

Inquiry breaks for lunch

The inquiry has paused for lunch and will resume at 2pm.

12:57 PM BST

Misra trial was ‘test case’ for Horizon integrity

The Seema Misra trial became a “bit of a test case”, Jon Longman has told the inquiry.

Mr Longman was asked about an email sent by a former Post Office legal executive Jarnail Singh congratulating colleagues who worked on the case which sent the then-pregnant postmistress to prison.

In the email, Mr Singh said it was hoped the case would dissuade other defendants from “jumping on the Horizon bashing bandwagon”.

Julian Blake asked: “Do you think the Seema Misra case was significant in relation to dissuading other defendants from challenging Horizon?”

Mr Longman said: “No, I don’t think it was going to dissuade [others].

“It developed, if you like into – and I didn’t know this at the time – but I think there [were] a lot of people in different departments within the Post Office watching the outcome of this very closely.

“So it sort of developed into a bit of a test case, I would say.”

12:52 PM BST

Post Office lawyers ‘advised against Horizon investigation’

Post Office lawyers advised against conducting a “drains up” investigation into allegations of failings in Horizon because it would prompt the question “why are you looking if you say everything is okay”, an email shown to the inquiry suggests.

The July 2010 email from Andrew Hayward, then a senior security programme manager, reads: “[Head of information security] Sue Lowther’s team have reviewed this on behalf of security and will be producing a briefing summary for the stakeholders.

“In essence it will state that there are no underlying issues or trends identified regarding the Horizon challenges to date and that we will continue to ‘manage’ each case as and when further challenges arise.

“This is also the recommendation from the Legal team in that if we carry out a ‘drains up’ exercise we are leaving ourselves open to an even greater risk of challenge (i.e. in simple terms: why are you looking if you say everything is okay!).”

12:46 PM BST

Post Office feared ‘world of trouble’ if Horizon failings discovered

The Post Office feared a “world of trouble” if it lost a case because of the failings in Horizon.

The inquiry has been shown a July 2010 email from Andrew Daley, then a security programme manager, which reads: “The investigators are concerned that if we lose a case based on the Horizon integrity, we’ll be in a world of trouble.

“They have also been getting queries from solicitors during case briefings. So this is still very much in the spotlight and not going away.”

12:34 PM BST

Longman: I should have realised Horizon was unreliable by 2010

Jon Longman has said that “with hindsight” his view on the “reliability and integrity of the Horizon system” should have changed by July 2010.

The inquiry has been shown numerous emails and documents which suggest the former Post Office investigator knew about identified bugs and issues with transaction data.

Referring to comments about 200,000 system faults, Julian Blake asked: “When you add that to the knowledge that we’ve established, that you had heard about Callendar Square [bug], about magazine articles, a growing number of cases, the issues with ARQ [audit record query] data, why didn’t all of these together change your view as to the reliability and integrity of the Horizon system?”

Mr Longman said: “Well, with hindsight it should have done, but at the time, I was probably focussed on only offices where an actual fault with Horizon had been identified.”

12:22 PM BST

Fujitsu believed it ‘surprising’ that Misra transaction data was not requested

Fujitsu found it surprising that the Post Office had not requested transaction data for Seema Misra’s trial, an email suggests.

Correspondence sent by David Jones, then-head of legal at the firm, to a legal executive at the Post Office read: “One concern is that POL [Post Office Ltd] have not apparently requested transaction data for West Byfleet for the period and transactions in question.

“This would normally be provided in previous cases and would include Fujitsu extracting lots of files from the system to enable us to provide details of transitions.”

It added: “Surprisingly this has not been requested [in] this case. Perhaps you would consider the need for this.”

12:18 PM BST

Longman ‘did not consider disclosing’ requested information to Misra’s counsel

The court is being shown a 2010 disclosure request by Seema Misra’s defence team requesting the Post Office disclose a copy of her original contract.

In it, the defence says: “The Post Office case has always been that the Horizon system is robust and does not have any problems.

“If there are sub-postmasters who have had losses on the Horizon system, but have not been prosecuted for theft and false accounting, this would tend to suggest an acceptance by the Post Office that problems can exist, a situation which is borne out by the immediate recognition of Callendar Place [sic], Falkirk by a Fujitsu analyst as referred to in paragraph 2023 of the [Lee] Castleton judgment.

“This information would, therefore, potentially undermine the prosecution case and/or assist the defence case.”

Jon Longman told the inquiry: “No, I didn’t consider disclosing that, no.”

12:09 PM BST

Post Office lawyers tried to dissuade Misra ‘requesting transaction data’

Post Office lawyers attempted to dissuade Seema Misra’s defence team from requesting transaction data by telling them it was “not a free service”, a letter suggests.

Correspondence shown to the inquiry from Phil Taylor, a member of the organisation’s criminal law team, claimed the request would take “six to eight weeks” to produce.

It read: “The retrieval of data by Fujitsu is not a free service. It is very expensive and depends upon the amount of data which has to be retrieved which is why you are requested to be very precise.

“At that stage a firm quotation can be obtained and Counsel will be asked to give further advice as to disclosure and payment for this service. The Post Office will not underwrite the cost if Counsel considers the data is irrelevant.”

Mr Taylor added: “I have set out the matter out quite clearly because in the past many thousands of pounds have been spent on obtaining that type of data, subsequent to which a late plea of guilty is tendered which means the exercise has been a complete waste of time and money.”

12:03 PM BST

‘Not necessary’ to disclose Misra’s helpline calls, Longman believed

Ex-Post Office investigator Jon Longman did not initially consider it necessary to disclose to Seema Misra’s defence team that she made 107 calls to a sub-postmasters’ helpline about issues she was having with Horizon.

An email shown to the inquiry by Mr Longman reads: “If the defence do want details of the 107 calls then a further statement will be needed at a later stage.”

Mr Longman said in his witness statement that he did not realise he had the official title of “disclosure officer” but told the inquiry he knew that the task of sharing necessary information with the defence was his responsibility.

Counsel to the inquiry Julian Blake asked: “It seems from that email that you took the decision that you didn’t need to provide the helpdesk calls to the defence as at June 2009, is that correct?”

Mr Longman said: “Yes that’s what the statement said.”

11:55 AM BST

In pictures: Former Royal Mail chairman arrives at inquiry

Allan Leighton, former chairman of Royal Mail Group, arrives at the inquiry
Allan Leighton, former chairman of Royal Mail Group, arrives at the inquiry - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph
Mr Leighton was in the role from 2002 to 2008
Mr Leighton was in the role from 2002 to 2008 - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

11:50 AM BST

Inquiry resumes

The inquiry has now resumed.

11:29 AM BST

Inquiry takes break

The inquiry has taken a break and will resume at 11.45am.

11:25 AM BST

Longman: I did not consider one Horizon challenge to be relevant to other prosecutions

A former Post Office investigator has said that he did not believe a challenge to the Horizon IT system in one case would be relevant to other prosecutions unless a bug had been found.

“So if it was just a challenge, but a bug hadn’t been discovered, then I wouldn’t have thought it was relevant to another case,” Jon Longman said.

Under the heading of “general” in his witness statement, Mr Longman said: “As explained earlier in this statement, it was never confirmed to me that there was a definite fault with the Horizon system.

“As such, I was under the impression that the system was operating as expected.”

11:24 AM BST

Post Office only investigated Horizon defects if sub-postmasters mentioned them

The Post Office only investigated potential Horizon defects if sub-postmasters accused of theft mentioned them in their first interview with investigators, the inquiry has heard.

In a witness statement submitted to court for a 2009 prosecution, Jon Longman wrote: “When conducting enquiries at a Post Office, if any interview with a member of staff reveals a system problem as a possible cause for the loss then this would be followed up as a matter of course by making the necessary enquiries with our financial department at Chesterfield in the first instance.

“If during interview no mention is made of system failures and other reasons are given for cause of the losses such as staff thefts then I would not as an investigator make system enquiries.”

Asked by Julian Blake, counsel to the inquiry, if the burden to investigate Horizon was therefore on the sub-postmaster, Mr Longman replied: “Well, that is correct.”

10:58 AM BST

Longman had ‘reservations’ about Misra prosecution

Jon Longman has claimed he had “reservations” about the prosecution of Seema Misra.

He told the inquiry: “I agree with you, if you are ringing up the helpline, as she was, and saying ‘I’m incurring losses’ and all the helpline, I think, was saying was, ‘Well, you’ve just got to make it good’ and she said, ‘I wasn’t going to make it good because I haven’t taken the money’.

“You know, there wasn’t much assistance there. But, yes, it was the one case allocated to me where I did speak to a manager or someone and say, ‘Why has this been passed over to us?’.

“I can’t be 100 per cent sure but I did have reservations with the case.”

He added: “This was a case that should have gone through a process of seeing if there was a fault, most probably it should have gone up to Fujitsu for a review. I think I’ve said in my statement that I would consider that Fujitsu would be the ones to be able to identify a problem or a fault more than an investigator.”

10:54 AM BST

Post Office did not want to spend £15k to disclose data to Misra

The Post Office was reluctant to spend £15,000 on disclosing transaction data for the pregnant postmistress case, emails suggest.

The inquiry has been shown emails between Mr Longman and members of the legal team following the adjournment of Seema Misra’s trial.

In an email sent to Mandy Talbot, a member of the Post Office’s dispute resolution team, Mr Longman wrote: “One of the sticking points in all of this was that the defence indicated they needed five years of transaction log data, but this would have cost the Post Office over £15,000.”

Julian Blake: “Do you recall cost being an issue with regards to disclosure?”

Mr Longman: “On the transaction log data, I think it was actually three years the defence requested and it was rejected, and then I fed it back to legal – the solicitor dealing with this case – and I think he spoke to the barrister about trying to get a smaller period of transaction log data.

“The data was refused because it would take up a lot of our ARQ [audit record query] requests, we only had so many we would have per month or over the course of the year.”

10:51 AM BST

In full: Post Office statement on Nick Read

The Post Office has made the following statement following the conclusion of the investigation into Nick Read.

Over the last few months an independent barrister has been investigating a Speak Up complaint into various allegations, which included a number of misconduct allegations against our CEO, Nick Read. Following several interviews and examination of documents by the barrister, Nick has been exonerated of all the misconduct allegations and has the full and united backing of the board to continue to lead the business.

The board regards the Speak Up process as critical to the open and supportive culture it wants to encourage at the Post Office. The integrity of that Speak Up process relies on confidentiality for whistleblowers and therefore we will not be providing further detail on this or any other Speak Up investigation. It is unacceptable that this specific process was referred to in the public domain but notwithstanding that, Post Office wants to make clear that Speak Up allegations will always be thoroughly and consistently investigated, whoever they are aimed at.

The external investigator has made some recommendations on where improvements can be made to Post Office’s processes. Those recommendations are helpful and we will ensure that they are properly and promptly addressed going forward.

We will not be commenting further on this matter.

10:48 AM BST

Post Office boss ‘exonerated of misconduct’

Post Office chief executive Nick Read has been “exonerated of all misconduct allegations” following an external report into his behaviour, the organisation has said.

Henry Staunton, the Post Office’s former chairman, wrote to MPs in March claiming that Mr Read treated Jane Davies, the Post Office’s former human resources director, like a “pain in the arse” for “focusing on tackling the toxic culture rather than prioritising Read’s salary”.

Mr Read told staff at the time that he “absolutely refutes” the claims.

10:40 AM BST

Longman was warned in 2010 that Horizon integrity was questioned in court

Jon Longman was warned in 2010 that sub-postmasters accused of being responsible for shortfalls in their accounts “can and do challenge Horizon in prosecution cases”.

The inquiry has been shown a February 2010 email sent by fellow investigator Dave Posnett to Mr Longman which he forwarded onto the lawyers prosecuting Seema Misra, the pregnant sub-postmistress.

It reads: “This ties in with previous correspondence I’ve submitted – in that defence teams can and do challenge Horizon in prosecution cases.”

10:34 AM BST

Longman: I wouldn’t have done anything differently in Misra case

A former Post Office investigator has said he “wouldn’t have done anything differently” in the investigation of a postmistress who was wrongly sent to prison while pregnant.

Seema Misra was handed a 15-month sentence in 2010 over an apparent £75,000 shortfall at her Post Office branch which turned out to be caused by defects in Horizon.

But in his witness statement, Jon Longman wrote of her case: “I’ve reviewed the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Josephine Hamilton and others vs Post Office Ltd. Upon reflection on this case I do not think I would have done anything differently.”

When questioned by counsel to the inquiry Julian Blake, Mr Longman softened his stance and suggested he would have wanted more to be disclosed to Ms Misra once the case had gone to trial, but he continued to insist that the initial investigation was done “properly”.

Ms Misra has previously told of how she was left “intimidated” by Mr Longman and colleagues when they conducted a search of her home to look for hidden cash.

Mr Longman told the inquiry: “When I say I don’t think I would have done anything differently, I was talking about the initial investigation, the offender report and – well, up to the offender report and charging.

“When it got to court obviously there are things that I wish I had done differently.”

When asked to clarify what he meant, Mr Longman said: “I think I would have been more forceful in making sure that the disclosure requests were all actioned if I had that authority.

“And obviously yeah, there were a lot of – there were disclosure requests that didn’t get actioned, for one reason or another, when they should have been actioned.”

10:11 AM BST

Longman clarifies evidence

Jon Longman has started his evidence by clarifying that he had acted as a lead investigator in a case where the sub-postmaster blamed the shortfall on Horizon.

His witness statement read: “I’ve never experienced a situation where a sub-postmaster attributed a shortfall to problems with the Horizon during the initial investigation.”

He told the inquiry that having reviewed documents he had changed this evidence.

Mr Longman said: “I can see that there was a matter in which I acted as a lead investigator in which the sub-postmaster had attributed losses to issues with the Horizon system.”

Mr Longman said this related to sub-postmistress Jennifer O’Dell who ran a branch in Great Staughton, Cambridgeshire.

10:04 AM BST

Longman appearing remotely for ‘medical reasons’

Counsel to the Inquiry Julian Blake, who will be questioning Jon Longman this morning, has told the inquiry that the former Post Office investigator has been given permission to appear remotely today “for medical reasons”.

10:02 AM BST

Misra and Hamilton arrive at inquiry

Seema Misra and Jo Hamilton, who were both wrongly convicted over shortfalls in their Horizon accounts, have arrived at the inquiry for today’s proceedings.

The two sub-postmistresses were both convicted of false accounting before later having their convictions overturned after the issues in Horizon came to light.

Jo Hamilton arrives at the inquiry on Wednesday morning
Jo Hamilton arrives at the inquiry on Wednesday morning - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

10:00 AM BST

Sub-postmaster rebuffs Davey’s ‘apology’

The youngest victim of the Post Office scandal has rebuffed an apology from Sir Ed Davey.

The Liberal Democrat leader, who was the Post Office minister from 2010 to 2012, apologised on Tuesday for not seeing through executives’ “lies” about Horizon.

Christopher Head, who was a sub-postmaster in West Boldon, County Durham, from the age of 18, told Sky News: “I just think when you say you’re going to apologise, to come from that you would expect to hear the words ‘I’m sorry’.

“But obviously he said ‘I apologise for not seeing through the lies’ which is deflecting from the actual apology itself.”

He added: “There are many, many people that have a responsibility for what’s gone on in the scandal, many ministers over all the political parties.

“But we need to see them people taking responsibility for the things that they failed to do, which is they didn’t ask the right questions, they failed to delve deeper to find what was going on and they believed only one side of the story.”

09:38 AM BST

Post Office scandal timeline

You can remind yourself of how far the Post Office scandal stretches back by scrolling through our timeline below.

09:30 AM BST

Who is Jon Longman?

Jon Longman was an investigation officer at the Post Office responsible for building cases against sub-postmasters with shortfalls in their Horizon accounts.

He searched the house of Seema Misra, a sub-postmistress who was eight months’ pregnant when sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2010 over a £75,000 discrepancy in her accounts.

The shortfall was actually caused by faults in the Horizon accountancy software, and her conviction was later overturned.

Mr Longman will give evidence to the inquiry remotely.

Last night Ms Misra – who will attend the hearing in-person today – said she was “disappointed” she would not be able to be in the same room with the former investigator while he gave evidence.

She told The Telegraph: “It’s really bad that he won’t be appearing in-person. I wanted to look him in the eyes when he was giving evidence.”

A Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry spokesman said: “Wherever possible the inquiry expects witnesses to give evidence in person, however the chair considers requests to give evidence remotely on a case-by-case basis, taking into account relevant personal circumstances.”

09:28 AM BST

Welcome to the live blog

Good morning and welcome to The Telegraph’s live coverage of the Post Office inquiry, which begins at 10am.

The inquiry will hear from Jon Longman, a former Post Office investigator, this morning and Allan Leighton, former chairman of Royal Mail, this afternoon.