Post Office scandal inquiry postpones more key witness hearings

Written by Ainnie Allen

The Post Office scandal statutory inquiry has once more been forced to postpone sessions with key witnesses following the identification  of thousands of relevant documents in late disclosures.

Regular disclosure failings by the Post Office have hampered the progress of the inquiry, which is seeking answers to why one of the UK’s biggest miscarriages of justice occurred and why thousands of subpostmasters were wrongly blamed and punished for accounting shortfalls cause by IT failures.

Evidence hearings featuring former Fujitsu IT executive Gareth Jenkins and former Post Office senior criminal lawyer Jarnail Singh have been postponed.

Singh was due to give evidence in phase four of the public inquiry on Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 November, while Jenkins was due to give evidence for four days, covering issues for phase three and four of the inquiry, at the end of this month and in early December.

Announcing the postponements, inquiry chair Wyn Williams said: “I have reached the decision that [Jarnail Singh] giving evidence next week is not possible because there is every likelihood that the Post Office will in the course of the next either hours or days disclose many documents which are relevant to him.”

He said recently disclosed documents relevant to Singh could number in the hundreds. “It would clearly be impossible for Mr Singh to receive those documents in time for him to give evidence [next week].”

Williams said the Post Office promised to begin disclosure of the documents yesterday, but that has not happened and the inquiry is “unclear” as to when it will begin.

He said it is “also with considerable regret and frustration” that he has to announce that Jenkins will not begin to give evidence on 30 November as planned after the disclosure of 3,045 documents yesterday.

Singh and Jenkins are key witnesses in the inquiry. In May it was revealed that Singh, a senior prosecution lawyer, bragged how his team “destroyed an attack on the Horizon system” and put subpostmistress Seema Misra in prison.

In an email, revealed during the public inquiry, he described his team’s success as “destroying” the Misra defence arguments against the Post Office Horizon accounting software.

In 2012, Misra was found guilty of theft after unexplained accounting shortfalls appeared in her branch. Misra, who was pregnant with her second child at the time she was sent to prison, had her wrongful conviction overturned in April 2021, after it was proved that the Post Office’s branch software contained errors that could cause phantom shortfalls.

On Gareth Jenkins, Williams said: “Due to the obvious importance of Mr Jenkins’ evidence to my inquiry I have decided there should be a substantial period of time which should now elapse before I schedule Mr Jenkins.”

Williams said “some months are likely to go by” before he calls Jenkins because he wants to be as certain as possible that every relevant document is disclosed to all relevant parties.

Jenkins is currently being investigated by the Metropolitan Police for potential perjury in relation to evidence he gave in criminal trials against subpostmasters accused of theft and fraud.

This is not the first time Jenkins’ evidence has been postponed. In July a hearing featuring Jenkins in relation to phase three of the public inquiry was postponed, after “significant” evidence included in thousands of documents was disclosed just hours before he was set to be questioned by inquiry lawyers for the first time.

Following the July postponement, Williams threated “criminal sanctions” against the Post Office if it continued with ongoing “significant failures” in disclosing evidence.

In 2009, Computer Weekly published an investigation into the problems experienced by seven subpostmasters who were using Horizon.

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Ainnie Allen

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