Post Office lawyer accused of telling 'big fat lie' to Horizon inquiry

A former top Post Office lawyer has been accused of telling the Horizon IT inquiry a "big fat lie" over his knowledge of a bug in the system that could have stopped wrongful prosecutions of sub-postmasters in their tracks.

Jarnail Singh was a senior in-house lawyer and subsequently head of criminal law at the Post Office from 2012.

The inquiry into the Horizon scandal heard he was copied into an email containing a report which identified the glitch in the accounting system but denied knowledge of it for years - despite saving the document and printing it out.

Mr Singh denied the claims by Jason Beer KC, counsel to the inquiry.

Mr Beer said the report was sent to Mr Singh just three days before sub-postmaster Seema Misra's case began in October 2010.

Ms Misra was eight weeks pregnant when she was handed a 15-month prison sentence after being accused of stealing £74,000 from her branch in West Byfleet, Surrey.

Her conviction was later quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Singh said he "wasn't made aware" of the report, written by Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins.

Explanation of bug

Mr Beer said it described a bug "that will result in a receipts payment mismatch" and offered an explanation for apparent cases of theft among sub-postmasters.

He added that a file address on the bottom of the document, which included Mr Singh's name, showed the lawyer had both saved the report to his drive and printed it out only nine minutes later.

He said this proved Mr Singh had lied years later when he denied having advance knowledge of the issues uncovered by a 2013 report carried out by forensic accounting firm Second Sight.

Mr Singh said he also did not know how to save or print documents during his employment at the organisation and had to ask others to do it for him.

Mr Beer accused Mr Singh of telling "a big fat lie" to the inquiry and of having failed to disclose important information to the defence or court ahead of Ms Misra's prosecution, asking: "You'd known about the bug all along hadn't you, Mr Singh?"

The lawyer responded: "No, that's not true."

Admission of mistakes

He also denied any suggestion of a cover up but admitted that "mistakes were made" in the prosecution of Ms Misra.

Mr Singh said: "I'm ever so sorry Ms Misra had suffered and I am ever so embarrassed to be here, that we made those mistakes and put somebody's liberty at stake and the loss she suffered and the damage caused which was not what this was about."

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Following her case, hundreds of people were later wrongly convicted of stealing after bugs and errors in the accounting system, operated by Fujitsu, made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

There were more than 700 convictions in total, dating back from 1995 to 2015.

Victims not only faced prison but financial ruin. Others were ostracised by their communities, while some took their own lives.

Fresh attention was brought to the scandal after ITV broadcast the drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, prompting government action that aims to speed up the clearing of names and payments of compensation.