"I feel ashamed" says Post Office Horizon lawyer

5 months ago 88

Seema Misra

A barrister who acted for the Post Office in the criminal trial of two wrongly convicted sub-postmasters over the Horizon IT scandal has apologised for his role in their convictions.

"I feel ashamed that I was part of this" said barrister, Warwick Tatford.

He was was giving evidence to the public inquiry into how hundreds of sub-postmasters were prosecuted for shortfalls in their branch accounts.

It's been described as the UK's most widespread miscarriage of justice.

Seema Misra was handed a 15-month prison sentence after she was found guilty of false accounting and stealing more than £70,000 from her branch in West Byfleet in 2010. She was pregnant with her second child at the time.

Her conviction was quashed by the court of appeal in 2021, along with dozens of other sub-postmasters, when it finally emerged that bugs and defects in the Post office computer system had caused money to supposedly go missing.

The Post Office Inquiry is now focussing on how sub-postmasters were prosecuted.

Seema Misra sat feet away from Warwick Tatford as he faced questions over how he conducted her trial thirteen years ago.

"I can see Mrs Misra and I'm very sorry," said Mr Tatford.

He also acknowledged that "a lot of mistakes" had been made in her case.

Mr Tatford also said he thought he'd been misled as to the reliability and robustness of the Horizon system, but "it was difficult to say by whom."

Much of the questioning was on the use of the Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins as an expert witness, who was seen as crucial to the jury's decision.

Mr Jenkins is still under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for potential perjury.

The barrister said there were failures in how Mr Jenkins came to be instructed. Mr Tatford said he should've seen all the paper work and asked more questions.

Emails showed to the inquiry showed Gareth Jenkins to be "reluctant" to make a clear statement over whether there were problems with Horizon. Mr Jenkins wrote that he was aware of one problem where transactions had been lost due to "locking issues".

Mr Tatford said he'd made it clear he needed to have disclosures of any problems relating to the reliability of the Horizon system. Disclosure is where each side is required to make available any material which is relevant to disputed issues in a case.

"Fujitsu and the Post Office were aware of this case.. aware of what I wanted.. and that I expect to be told if there was a problem.. "

But looking back now, the disclosures didn't go far enough:

"There was plenty that should've been disclosed and it wasn't forthcoming.. and I assumed it wasn't there to be given, " said Mr Tatford.

The inquiry heard that it was because of a lack of disclosures that Mrs Misra didn't get a fair trial.

"It's become quite clear that there were many failures I'd ignored on my part. I apologise unreservedly for what happened. "

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