Ex-Post Office chair denies hiding key Horizon report


By Tom EspinerBBC business reporter

Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry Tim ParkerPost Office Horizon IT Inquiry

Former Post Office chair Tim Parker has denied deliberately hiding a key report he commissioned into the Horizon IT system from members of the Post Office board.

The 2016 report, written by former top Treasury lawyer Jonathan Swift, raised concerns about the accounting software which was later found to be faulty.

Incorrect data from Horizon led to the wrongful conviction of 700 sub-postmasters for theft and fraud between 1999 and 2015.

On Wednesday, an inquiry into the scandal heard that only four copies of the Swift report were made, none of which were shared with the Post Office board or the government.

Mr Parker said he had been acting on advice from Post Office lawyers not to share the document.

“It’s one of my regrets that I got this advice and I took it,” he said. “Could we have shared it? I wish we had, in a way.

“I’ve had this report commissioned, I wanted to get some kind of result from it, but then I get this advice.”

All subpostmaster convictions have now been quashed, but many people went to prison or lost their businesses.

The Swift report was commissioned by the government following a BBC Panorama programme in 2015 that raised concerns about the strength of evidence against those convicted.

Although supportive of the Post Office in parts, it raised key concerns about whether the Post Office had enough evidence to bring charges of theft.

It also cast doubt over claims that Horizon data could not be altered remotely by Fujitsu, the company that developed the software.

This turned out to be untrue, and may have deprived subpostmasters of an important line of defence at their trials.

Mr Parker, who became chair of the Post Office in October 2015, and remained in the role until September 2022, told the inquiry that top Post Office lawyer Jane MacLeod had advised him not to share the Swift report because it was legally privileged.

That meant it had the same confidential status as communications between a lawyer and a client.

Mr Parker said he was told that breaching this could have resulted in the report being made public, and that it needed to be kept within the “tightly knit” Post Office legal team.

‘I had no vested interest in protecting the Post Office’

When challenged by inquiry lead counsel Jason Beer, Mr Parker conceded that by doing this he had prevented the board from discussing the report’s findings.

However, he said he believed that the Post Office legal team would “take forward” the report’s recommendations and denied hiding it for improper motives.

“What possible motive would I have had at the time from hiding this report from my fellow board members, other than receiving advice that I shouldn’t share it?” he said.

“Bear in mind I had no axe to grind on this, I had no vested interest in trying to protect the Post Office.”

He continued: “With hindsight of course, it would appear there were motives perhaps underpinning some of the advice or direction of this that were not wholly fair or right or in the interests of people who’d be wronged.

“At the time, however, it seemed to me that the people giving me advice… were doing this in good faith and it was the right thing to do.”

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