Post Office lawyer suggested calling sub-postmasters ‘liars’ and ‘criminals’, inquiry hears

Andrew Parsons
Andrew Parsons, a partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, gave evidence at the Post Office inquiry on Thursday - Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

A Post Office lawyer suggested branding wrongfully convicted sub-postmasters as “liars” and “criminals” to attack their credibility, the inquiry heard.

Andrew Parsons, a partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, made the comments about three sub-postmasters who had appeared in a BBC Panorama programme in 2015.

One, Seema Misra, was eight weeks pregnant when she was imprisoned in 2010 for an alleged shortfall of £70,000 recorded at her branch in West Byfleet, Surrey.

Mrs Misra was one of more than 900 sub-postmasters wrongfully prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 due to faulty Horizon software incorrectly recording shortfalls on their accounts.

On Thursday, the Post Office Horizon inquiry was shown a damning email written by Mr Parsons, who worked on the business’ account as an external commercial litigation solicitor in 2013.

The lawyer, who was working for the same firm as he does today, was giving in-house lawyer Rodric Williams advice about the business’s “confidentiality position” following the broadcast of a Panorama programme featuring convicted sub-postmasters in 2015.

It followed correspondence between the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and the Post Office about several cases which had been highlighted by the media.

Mr Parsons wrote: “In short, my view is that POL [Post Office Ltd] either (i) does nothing but a bare denial of the allegations and wait for the CCRC or (ii) goes on a full attack – with the former being my strong preference.”

Lower down in the August 2015 email, Mr Parsons gave a suggestion for how the Post Office might have gone about the first option.

He wrote: “POL could however start attacking the postmasters’ credibility by calling out Thomas, Misra and Hamilton as the liars and criminals that they are.

“They all admitted to FA [false accounting] and all admitted to it again last night on Panorama.”

Seema Misra
Seema Misra was eight weeks pregnant when she was imprisoned in 2010 for an alleged shortfall of £70,000 - Jordan Pettitt/PA

Ms Misra was named alongside Jo Hamilton, a mother-of-two, who was prosecuted for an alleged shortfall of £36,000 in 2006.

After being handed a community order, Mrs Hamilton took up a cleaning job, re-mortgaged her house twice and borrowed money from friends in order to pay back the money she was accused of stealing.

Meanwhile, Noel Thomas was sentenced to nine months in prison for an alleged £48,000 loss – which he would go on to describe as “hell on Earth”.

When asked how he could make such a comment after receiving legal advice that warned of serious concerns about the credibility of an expert witness being used to prosecute sub-postmasters, Mr Parsons began to wring his hands.

“Yeah, on reflection that language is too strong,” he told the inquiry.

When asked if he thought his language was appropriate, he said: “I accept that the comments about the three sub-postmasters named was inappropriate, but I think it all has to be read in the context of the top part of the email, where it says that my strong preference is that the Post Office does nothing and waits for the CCRC.”

In his witness statement, which was over 500 pages long, Mr Parsons said: “Over the years of our acting for POL, my firm and I did make a few mistakes.

“They were genuine errors and at all times I believe that my firm and I acted appropriately.”

He added: “I apologised for them at the time and apologise for them now.

“A great deal of information about the Horizon system has come to light over the years and, like everyone, I now know that there have been miscarriages of justice.”

Mr Parsons will continue to give evidence on Friday.