Two key Post Office scandal inquiry witness hearings have been postponed following the identification of thousands of potentially relevant documents that had not been disclosed.
The hearing of evidence from two witnesses with “heavy footprints” on what the inquiry is considering have been postponed while the Post Office analyses the newly emerged emails to see if they are relevant to the inquiry.
During the latest public inquiry hearing, it was revealed that the Post Office has identified more than 300,000 emails from after 2012, that had previously been missed due to a technical problem dating back to an email gateway software migration in 2016, referred to in the inquiry as the Microsoft Exchange issue.
When the Post Office separated from Royal Mail in 2012, it used the email gateway platform Proofpoint, which connects to Microsoft Exchange to create archives of all emails from or to Post Office email addresses. In around 2016, the Post Office introduced Mimecast and the Post Office said Proofpoint data was migrated into the new system.
But inquiry barrister Jason Beer KC said that Post Office legal teams have now ascertained that there “are material volumes of email data that are in Microsoft Exchange, but that are not in Mimecast”.
These documents were therefore not searched during disclosure exercises carried out so far. Quoting a Post Office statement, Beer said that the Post Office used Mimecast to find relevant documents for disclosure during the current public inquiry as well as the group litigation order in 2018/19, when 555 subpostmasters sued the Post Office and proved that the computer system they used was to blame for unexplained losses that they were blamed and punished for.
Beer added that the Post Office has not identified why the transfer from Proofpoint to Mimecast “did not provide the assumed continuity and/or completeness”.
Although the scale of the problem is not yet known, KMPG has completed analysis of the possible scale and has revealed that approximately 363,000 parent emails (emails to or from certain individuals) are not held in Mimecast, although it does not reveal how many are relevant.
Hundreds of former subpostmasters were prosecuted for financial crimes based on evidence from the Horizon computer system used in branches. The system has since been proved to be error-prone and 93 convictions have so far been overturned. Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, with the stories of seven subpostmasters (see timeline of Computer weekly articles below).
The Post Office has been responsible for multiple delays to the public inquiry due to its failure to disclose relevant documents on time.
Evidence from former Post Office investigators, David Posnett and Stephen Bradshaw was due this week, but has now been postponed due to the liklehood that new documents will emerge which are relevant to them.
Beer said that Bradshaw and Posnett have “a heavy footprint on important events the inquiry is considering”. He added that, through its conduct, the Post Office is standing in the way of progress being made in the inquiry.
“This is the latest in a series of disclosure failings by the Post Office,” he said. “They may be forgotten to many, but they are etched in the memory of those on this side of the room.”
He cited hard copy documents being found in new locations, the use or the misuse of search terms when conducting disclosure exercises, and the failure to disclose documents on back-up tapes as examples.