Ex-Post Office PR boss denies hiring lawyer after subpostmaster's suicide 'to combat bad press'

Mark Davies told the Horizon IT inquiry that he questioned if the Post Office were ‘the baddies’

Mark Davies denied wanting a media lawyer to tackle negative stories about the Post Office. (PA)
Mark Davies denied wanting a media lawyer to tackle negative stories about the Post Office. (PA)

The former communications director for the Post Office has denied hiring a media lawyer to combat negative publicity after a subpostmaster took his own life.

Mark Davies insisted the lawyer was hired for help in reporting the story of Martin Griffiths, who was sacked from his Hope Farm Post Office branch in Cheshire in July 2013, having previously written to the Post Office in July 2013 about a £39,000 shortfall at his branch between February 2012 and May 2013.

Griffiths died by suicide on 23 September 2013. He had been deemed culpable for an armed robbery at his branch in May of that year.

At the Horizon IT inquiry on Tuesday, Davies was shown an email from campaigner Alan Bates, which detailed the incident with Griffiths. Davies’ response to the email was to line up a “specialist media lawyer”.

Slough, Berkshire, UK. 19th April, 2024. The Post Office branch in Slough High Street in Berkshire together with WH Smith, is closing down on 11th May 2024. This is reportedly after the rent increase made the business no longer viable. Locals are said to be really saddened at the closure and there are concerns about the impact that it will have on elderly residents who live in Slough or get the bus into the town from local villages. Credit: Maureen McLean/Alamy Live News
Mark Davies was the communications director for the Post Office. (PA)

Davies told the inquiry it was a “difficult incident” and he was aware that there would be extensive media coverage of the case. However, he denied his priority in hiring the lawyer would be to protect the Post Office from negative publicity, insisting that he was conscious of how the media should report suicide and wanted guidance. He told the inquiry: “It was the right thing to do.”

Davies is the latest high-ranking former Post Office employee to give evidence at the inquiry. Former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells is set to give evidence next week.

Former Post Office Chief Executive Paula Vennells pictured during her tenure with the company from 2012 to 2019. (PA Images)
Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells is set to give evidence to the inquiry. (PA)

Davies told the inquiry that he asked himself whether the Post Office might have been “the baddies” throughout the Horizon scandal – but insisted ultimately that they had “tried to do the right things”. He conceded that some of the numerous emails he had written “blaming the journalists” who were campaigning on the issue “look ludicrous” with the benefit of hindsight.

Emails that Davies had written about the media coverage were displayed at the inquiry, with one showing him joke about being “at the heart of a corporate cover-up”. In one message, sent to Post Office colleagues in January 2015, Davies wrote that the “reality” was “some distance from the picture painted by a determined band of adversaries”.

After showing the inquiry further emails criticising media coverage, with one referencing the work of journalist Nick Wallis as “garbage”, counsel to the inquiry Julian Blake asked: “Had you ever asked yourself, might we in fact be the baddies?”

Davies replied: “I’ve asked myself that question, I’ve asked myself many, many questions on this issue many, many, many times over the course of the last few months, over the course of the last few years, and throughout the whole period I was dealing with these issues. We really believed we were doing the right things.”

Bracknell,England - November 06,  2016: The Fujitsu Office in Bracknell, England.Fujitsu is a global information and communication technology (ICT) company
Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system was subject to multiple problems that led to the Post Office scandal. (Alamy)

Davies denied he had ever attempted to “cover up issues with Horizon” as he concluded his witness statement to the inquiry. However, he apologised for his part in the scandal.

He said: “I did not, as been alleged, seek to ‘cover up’ issues with Horizon – indeed quite the opposite. But because I did not have access to all the facts, I clearly played a part in prolonging the pain and injustice for those innocent people who were wrongly accused or whose convictions were unsafe. I am deeply sorry for that.”

The Post Office has come under fire following the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which put the Horizon IT scandal under the spotlight. More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting full compensation despite the government announcing those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

For confidential emotional support contact The Samaritans at any time by calling free on 116 123. You can also email jo@samaritans.org.