A former Post Office investigator referred to subpostmasters campaigning for justice as “crooks” and expressed his determination to prove they had no case against their prosecutions for financial crimes, a public inquiry hears.
Since the comments were made in a 2015 email, the same campaigning subpostmasters have uncovered the widest miscarriage of justice in UK history, forced the government to set aside over £1bn on compensation for affected subpostmasters and a statutory public inquiry, and exposed how the government-owned Post Office systematically destroyed lives in search of profit.
In April 2015, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) began examining claims from former subpostmasters that they had been wrongfully prosecuted by the Post Office and convicted of financial crimes. Faced with CCRC investigation, Post Office executives requested documentation from those that had investigated the prosecuted subpostmasters. That same month, following one such request, former Post Office investigator Gary Thomas, told a more senior colleague that he was “pleased” to say he had the electronic documents relating to two cases he had worked on.
When asked why he was pleased, he replied: “Because I want to prove that there is no FFFFiiinnn [sic] ‘Case for the Justice of Thieving Subpostmasters’ and that we were the best Investigators they ever had and they were all crooks!!” The email included a derogatory reference to the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), a group of former subpostmaster campaigners.
The JFSA was set up in 2009 after Computer Weekly had revealed the stories of seven former subpostmasters who had had their lives wrecked after being blamed for unexplained account shortfalls, which they said were caused by errors in the Post Office’s accounting and retail software, known as Horizon.
In 2018, JFSA took the Post Office to the High Court in a group litigation order (GLO) and proved the Horizon software was to blame for unexplained errors.
Between 2000 and 2013, there were more than 900 subpostmaster prosecutions, which were reliant on evidence from the Horizon computer system used by branches to do their accounts.
As a direct result of the work of the JFSA, nearly 100 people have so far had wrongful convictions overturned. Furthermore, the government was forced to set up compensation schemes for thousands of subpostmasters and former subpostmaster affected by the Horizon errors. In June 2022, the government set aside £1bn to pay compensation, but this figure has since risen.
Asked what he meant in the email, Thomas said: “Absolutely disgraceful…other than say it’s an absolute disgrace and it’s something that I wouldn’t have wanted to be part of the Inquiry, and I can only apologise to absolutely everybody, because I’ve labelled absolutely everybody, so I can’t defend it.”
He then tried to defend his email stating that he was replying to “no one else other than a colleague, a friend within the Post Office Security Team” and that, at the time, he still believed that Horizon had no bugs, errors or defects.
It wasn’t just investigators that suspected wrongdoing among subpostmasters experiencing difficulties with Horizon. In October, the inquiry was told that Post Office auditors and had preconceived ideas about subpostmasters.
During an earlier evidence hearing, former Post office auditor and contracts adviser, Alan Lusher, told the public inquiry that when problems arose in branches, the first presumption was that the subpostmasters’ accounts were a mess, which could be caused by a subpostmaster stealing money.
“We referred colloquially to office accounts sometimes being in a muddle and sometimes as a result of a fiddle,” he said.
Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, with the stories of seven subpostmasters (see timeline of all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal below).