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Ex-Post Office manager ‘regrets’ not reading damning report before civil case

David Miller said it was a ‘missed opportunity’ not to read IT expert Jason Coyne’s report.

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David Miller

A former Post Office manager has told a public inquiry he “regrets” not reading a damning expert’s report about the Horizon system during civil action against a subpostmistress.

Ex-chief operating officer David Miller said his failure to read the 2003 report from IT expert Jason Coyne and counsel’s advice about the case of Julie Wolstenholme was a “missed opportunity”.

Ms Wolstenholme ran a branch in Cleveleys, Lancashire, and was pursued for £25,000 through the civil court by the Post Office.

The company later settled the case for around £180,000.

Mr Coyne was instructed to assess whether the subpostmistress was responsible for the losses at her branch, but produced a report which said the Horizon system was “clearly defective”.

Under questioning during Tuesday’s proceedings, Mr Miller denied “lying through my teeth” about not reading the report.

Sam Stein KC, who represents a number of subpostmasters, asked the witness: “Mr Miller, one of two things arise from that, you’re either lying through your teeth or you’re a complete incompetent – which?”

Mr Miller responded: “I’m not lying through my teeth.”

Mr Stein continued: “Right, so incompetence?”

Mr Miller said: “If you wish to say that, yes.”

Mr Stein then asked: “Well, do you agree it’s incompetence not to have read a report in these circumstances?”

Mr Miller replied: “I’m not happy that I didn’t read that report.”

Mr Miller told the Horizon IT inquiry that Ms Wolstenholme winning her tribunal appeal against the Post Office in 2002 would have been a “significant challenge to the business model”.

He said: “What she was doing would be considered by me and others to be a threat to the whole … if she was wanting to change the subpostmasters’ contract and challenged that, that would be a significant challenge to the business model.

“So, that would have been, when I say that I mean that it would have changed the economics of how we ran the business if she had won her case.”

Ahead of the civil case in 2004, the inquiry previously heard emails between two Fujitsu employees spoke of how ex-Post Office solicitor Mandy Talbot had advised that “the safest way to manage this is to throw money at it and get a confidentiality agreement signed”.

Mr Miller said he learned of Mr Coyne’s report during a meeting with head of security Tony Marsh.

In his witness statement, he said: “He told me there was an issue with the expert advice which had led our counsel to say the case was unlikely to succeed. It was clear that he did not think much of the expert.

“The view was that we should cut our losses and pay up. He said something about Horizon – I cannot recall specifically what he said, but I remember checking with him whether there were issues with Horizon (I said something like: ‘You are not saying there are issues with Horizon are you, Tony?’)

“He said that there were no issues and I got the impression it was a one-off case.

“Knowing what I now know about Horizon and the way it was used to wrongly prosecute and bring civil claims against subpostmasters, I very much regret not reading the expert’s report and counsel’s advice.

David Miller
David Miller is the former managing director of Post Office Network (Handout/PA)

“Had I done so I would have taken action to address the issues raised. I acknowledge that by not reading them there was a missed opportunity.”

Mr Miller said Mr Coyne’s report was “not given sufficient weight”.

Counsel to the inquiry Emma Price asked: “Do you remember having concerns at the time that there was a computer expert report which was unfavourable and unflattering to Fujitsu?”

Mr Miller said: “There was conflicting information about this report and I have read it thoroughly in the papers that you have given me, and the descriptions from various angles that were given to me of it seem to be unfair.”

Ms Price continued: “In what way?”

Mr Miller replied: “That Mr Coyne actually did, within the information available to him, a good job and that didn’t suit various parties – including Fujitsu. But certainly, it wasn’t given sufficient weight.”

The inquiry previously heard that a barrister advising the Post Office was told to take into account that the organisation wanted as “little publicity as possible” drawn to the negative expert report.

The written advice from July 2004 read: “I am asked to take into particular account that the Post Office is anxious for the negative computer experts’ report to be given as little publicity as possible.”

Mr Miller told the probe the words did not come from him.

Ms Price asked: “Can you help at all with where the message that the Post Office was anxious for the negative computer experts’ report to be given as little publicity as possible came from?”

Mr Miller said: “No, I can’t – no, sorry, just to say it didn’t come from me.”

Ms Price continued: “Does this reflect a sensitivity, even at this relatively early stage in 2004, about the integrity of the Horizon system?”

Mr Miller responded: “Particularly any publicity being given to that, yes.”

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