Post Office scandal: Ex-boss makes personal apology ‘most strongly’ to wronged subpostmasters

Post Office scandal: Ex-boss makes personal apology 'most strongly' to wronged subpostmasters

A former Post Office boss has said he wanted “most strongly” to record his personal apology to branch managers impacted by the Horizon IT scandal.

As managing director of the group from 2006 to 2010, Alan Cook was at the helm when about 200 prosecutions were brought against subpostmasters.

He said he was “unaware” it was the Post Office that had brought criminal proceedings.

Hundreds of people were wrongly convicted of stealing after bugs and errors in the Horizon accounting system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Victims faced prison and 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.

Mr Cook told the Post Office inquiry on Friday: “I wonder… if I could just say before we get started, I’d like to put on record most strongly my personal apology and sympathies with all subpostmasters their families and those affected by this.

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“As we get into the conversation, obviously, there will be an opportunity for me to elaborate but it just felt to me that was an important thing to say upfront.”

He also told the inquiry: “I was unaware that the Post Office were the prosecuting authority.

“I knew there were court cases but didn’t realise that the Post Office in about two thirds of the cases had initiated the prosecution as opposed to the DPP (director of public prosecutions) or the police.”

Read more:
‘Cash lying around’ might have led sub-postmasters ‘into temptation’, ex-Post Office bosses argued
Alan Bates slams Post Office as ‘atrocious organisation’ that is ‘beyond saving’ after inquiry appearance

During his time as non-executive director of the Post Office, Mr Cook said it was his “regret” he failed to properly understand minutes of a meeting which said the organisation had a “principle of undertaking prosecutions”.

He said: “There was a sort of high and mighty tone sometimes and it fed a sense of self-importance. It never occurred to me reading that that the Post Office was the sole arbiter of whether or not that criminal prosecution would proceed.

“I felt what they were saying was ‘we agree it’s proceeding but somewhere else had to agree it was going ahead’.”

Mr Cook added: “I had never come across a situation before that a trading entity could initiate criminal prosecutions themselves.

“I’m not blaming others for this, it’s my misunderstanding but I’ve just not encountered that type of situation.”

He acknowledged he should have known the Post Office was making prosecutorial decisions.

Counsel to the inquiry Sam Stevens asked: “Your evidence is still that in no point in the years that you were the managing director, (nobody) in the security or investigations team raised the fact that they made decisions to prosecute?”

Responding, Mr Cook said: “That is my position, definitely.

“I think it’s sometimes what’s said and what’s heard, and the problem that I was bringing to the piece was I just had a presumption and I didn’t hear something sufficiently categoric to say ‘what, you mean we decide on our own and no-one can stop us?’

“I never asked that question – well I did obviously when we got to the Computer Weekly article (in 2009) which we’ll get to but prior to that point I had gone through not picking up that.

“I’m not blaming them for not spelling it out enough, to be frank I’m blaming me for not picking up on it.”

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