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Ex-Post Office manager denies being architect of ‘horrendous’ pensions plan

David Miller was giving evidence to the Horizon IT inquiry.

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Former Post Office manager David Miller

A former Post Office manager has denied being the architect of a “horrendous” plan to target the pensions of fraud-accused subpostmasters.

The Horizon IT inquiry heard ex-chief operating officer David Miller attended a December 2004 board meeting in which he was assigned the task of ensuring “that the pensions of fraudsters were targeted to help ensure the company was reimbursed”.

Mr Miller also denied likening Horizon system developers Fujitsu to a “man who had just shoved 15 inches of bayonet up my posterior”.

He was quoted in a September 2010 PowerPoint presentation which also said leaders of the organisation felt they had been “shafted” by the Government and the company then known as ICL Pathway.

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
David Miller denied likening Fujitsu to a ‘man who had just shoved 15 inches of bayonet up my posterior’ (Lucy North/PA)

The document, which was prepared by former IT programme manager and head of automation Dave Smith, said the agreement with the technology giant had been signed with a “gun pointed at the head” of the Post Office.

Addressing the minutes of the 2004 board meeting, counsel to the inquiry Emma Price asked: “Was this a proposal that you made to the board, this particular reference to targeting the pensions of fraudsters, or was this something that was proposed by somebody else?”

Mr Miller replied: “It was something that was proposed by somebody else.

“I don’t recall this in any detail at all – but I certainly didn’t propose that.”

Ms Price continued: “What was your view on that?”

Mr Miller said: “Seeing it here, it sounds horrendous. Sorry, it sounds severe in terms of its intention.”

Post Office sign
The Post Office has come under fire since the broadcast of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which put the Horizon scandal under the spotlight (Yui Mok/PA)

Tim Moloney KC, who represents a number of subpostmasters, asked: “Was this not an opportunity given that those ‘fraudsters’ were subpostmasters for you to raise your concerns that Horizon was a new system coming in and everybody should be very cautious about the evidence that came out of that system?”

Mr Miller replied: “Had I known what I now know, the answer would be yes.”

The former temporary managing director of the Post Office told the inquiry on Tuesday that he had “absolutely not” made the comment about Fujitsu which was displayed in the 2010 presentation, labelling the words “unprofessional”.

The document read: “The leaders at Post Office Counters Ltd (POCL) felt they had been shafted by a Government/Pathway stitch-up.

“Whilst the group’s board signed up to the deal (Sunday afternoon in the CEO’s kitchen!) they did so with a gun pointed at their head – ‘sign this or all the other things you want you can forget’.

“Post Office Counters Ltd felt stuffed by Pathway with terms that were imposed.

“Dave Miller, the MD of Post Office Network, said at the time: ‘I have the same feelings about Pathway as I would for the man who had just shoved 15 inches of bayonet up my posterior’.

“No statement could more adequately express the attitude of Post Office towards Pathway.”

Ms Price asked: “Do you recall making the comment that’s in quote marks there?”

He replied: “Absolutely not.”

Chair of the inquiry Sir Wyn Williams
Inquiry chairman Sir Wyn Williams later asked Mr Miller to clarify one of his answers (Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA)

Ms Price continued: “Are you saying you didn’t make that comment?”

Mr Miller said: “I didn’t make that comment.”

The former chief operating officer said there was a “resentment” towards the company, later known as Fujitsu.

Mr Miller also told the inquiry he now recognised that the dual role the Post Office had as an investigator and a prosecutor, as well as the company’s financial interests, could have been considered a conflict of interest.

He said: “I can see now, looking back, that that could well be the case.”

Ms Price continued: “At the time, to what extent did you consider the position of the Post Office to be unusual, being simultaneously the alleged victim, the investigator and the prosecutor?”

Mr Miller said: “At the time, I accepted it as part of what the company did.

“Subsequently, I can understand how that is a potential conflict.”

During his time as managing director of Post Office Network, Mr Miller told the inquiry he “should not have said” to the organisation’s board that the faulty computer system was “robust and fit for purpose”.

Mr Miller was recorded as saying the words during the July 1999 board meeting.

He told the inquiry: “I should not have said that it was robust.”

Ms Price then asked: “What is your position on whether you did say that?”

Mr Miller replied: “I can’t remember the board meeting, but I make the assumption the board minutes are correct – so I did say it.”

Inquiry chairman Sir Wyn Williams interjected: “Sorry, Mr Miller, I want to be clear about this – you don’t actually remember what you said, you are prepared to assume that the board minutes are correct, and if they were correct, you should not have said what is recorded, is that it?”

Mr Miller said: “I’m afraid so, sir, yes.”

The Post Office has come under fire since the broadcast of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which put the Horizon scandal under the spotlight.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Government-owned organisation 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 awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

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