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Former Post Office Chair Tim Parker Regrets Withholding Critical Report on Horizon IT Flaws During Public Inquiry

Tim Parker
Tim Parker

Tim Parker, former chair of the Post Office, expressed regret during a recent public inquiry for following advice from the organization’s legal chief, Jane MacLeod, to keep confidential a critical report. This report could have supported subpostmasters wrongly accused of theft and false accounting due to flaws in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system.

Parker, appointed in 2015 amidst growing accusations against Horizon, repeatedly cited memory lapses during questioning, using the phrase “I do not recall” 64 times in his 158-page witness statement.

The controversy unfolded after a 2015 BBC Panorama documentary revealed potential issues with Horizon, contradicting the Post Office’s claims about the system’s capabilities. Minister Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe urged Parker to prioritize investigating these allegations. Around this time, the Criminal Cases Review Commission was already reviewing cases involving prosecuted subpostmasters.

Tim Parker

Tim Parker

Parker commissioned barrister Jonathan Swift to review Horizon and related convictions. Swift’s findings suggested that the Post Office may have pressured subpostmasters into false accounting pleas under threat of fraud charges, despite insufficient evidence.

He highlighted Horizon’s occasional bugs and warned of potential miscarriages of justice. However, MacLeod advised Parker not to share Swift’s review with the board, citing legal privilege.

This decision meant the Swift review wasn’t considered during the subsequent 2018/19 High Court case, where Horizon’s bugs causing accounting discrepancies were proven.

Criticism of Parker’s handling of the review intensified in 2020 when a government letter criticized the decision to withhold the report from the board. Parker admitted regretting this decision, acknowledging it was based on legal advice he now views as misguided.

MacLeod’s insistence on legal confidentiality further delayed action on Swift’s recommendations. Despite plans to broaden its distribution post-implementation, only four copies of the report were initially made, all kept within MacLeod’s legal department. Subsequently, legal advisors recommended halting work on the Swift review due to impending litigation, maintaining its privileged status.

The Swift review only became public in 2022 following a freedom of information request, shedding light on its contents and the decisions surrounding it. MacLeod, now residing in Australia, declined to participate in the inquiry. The revelations underscore ongoing scrutiny and criticism regarding the handling of the Horizon scandal, its legal implications, and the treatment of subpostmasters caught in its fallout.

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