Post Office boss denies ‘covering tracks’

A Post Office boss has denied deleting emails that would have shown a key report he wrote was inaccurate weeks after he wrote it.

Rod Ismay’s 2010 internal report was widely cited by the Post Office as proof that Horizon was reliable.

When Mr Ismay was told his conclusions were wrong, Mr Ismay didn’t correct his report, the Horizon Inquiry heard today.

In fact he listed it as a "highlight" in his annual appraisal two years later.

Rod Ismay was the Post Office’s head of product and branch accounting.

He wrote his report in two weeks in 2010, and in evidence to the Post Office Inquiry last year he accepted the suggestion that he had been asked to “present one side of the coin” rather than thoroughly investigate flaws in the system.

He was recalled to the inquiry for a further day of evidence today after new documents were disclosed.

The inquiry heard today that within weeks of filing the report, he was shown evidence that undermined one of its key assertions – that there was no ‘back door’ and no way for the data in Post Office branches to be changed without the sub-Postmasters’ knowledge.

If the existence of back doors had been publicly known, the inquiry heard, it would have undermined all previous prosecutions which had relied on Horizon data to prove the guilt of sub-postmasters.

Weeks after he circulated his report in 2010, Mr Ismay received an email which clearly indicated that Fujitsu could alter data at branches – a back door did exist.

This email has not been disclosed to the inquiry. Its contents are only known as a cut and pasted section in a different email.

Flora Page, one of the lawyers acting for Horizon victims, said this was because Mr Ismay had deliberately deleted them, in an attempt to conceal the fact that he knew his 2010 report was wrong.

“You knew that email had to be deleted, didn’t you?”

“No,” Mr Ismay replied.

“You understood that it undermined the safety of all those past convictions. You knew that, didn’t you?” Ms Page asked.

“No,” he replied again.

“I didn’t go round deleting my history of emails on this topic,” he added.

The inquiry presented Mr Ismay with four occasions where documents showed he was made aware that there were back doors.

“Why did you do nothing on each of those four occasions?” counsel for the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked.

Mr Ismay replied “Well, I am sorry, I think I’ve just got so many things going on this hasn’t registered with me either. And that’s not good saying that. That’s not a satisfactory thing, but it didn’t.”

It was one of many times during his evidence where Mr Ismay cited the pressures of work and the volume of emails he received for failing to draw attention to flaws in his report.

But the inquiry heard that far from correcting his 2010 report, Mr Ismay was still circulating it.

He forwarded the first part of it to colleagues as late as November 2013, saying it “still holds good” – long after he was informed its conclusions were wrong.

The inquiry was also shown Mr Ismay’s submission to own performance and development review – his annual appraisal assessing his work.

In a list of his ‘highlights of the year’ he mentioned “Praise from Chairman [at the time, Alice Perkins] for “The Ismay Report” and being able to continually rebut claims.”

Those were claims about flaws in the Horizon system, which led to hundreds of people being convicted.

The inquiry also saw how Mr Ismay had forwarded an email from Post Office boss David Smith greeting the conviction of Seema Misra as “brilliant news”. She was the postmistress from West Byfleet in Surrey who was convicted of theft and sent to jail while pregnant in 2010.

He added his own note, welcoming it as an “excellent result”.

Mr Beer asked if he was regarded as a “[safe] pair of hands who would always defend Horizon on behalf of the Post Office” – which Mr Ismay denied.