Ex-Post Office ‘gatekeeper’ had ‘other priorities’ when told of ‘problem’ with system

The former head of accounting for the Post Office has been described as the “gatekeeper of the remote access secret”, the inquiry has heard.

Rod Ismay authored the first report into faulty accounting system Horizon, in August 2010, which concluded the software was robust.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongfully convicted between 1999 and 2015 as a result of flaws within the system.

Giving evidence at the inquiry, Mr Ismay rejected barrister Flora Page’s description, when she asked if he was “the Post Office’s gatekeeper for the remote access secret”.

The fact that branch accounts could be accessed remotely was a significant piece of evidence undermining convictions.

Ms Page, a lawyer for victims, questioned whether Mr Ismay’s team “signed off” when Fujitsu sought approval for remotely accessing Post Office branch accounts.

He responded that his team were “one of the people approached” as shown in a “three options paper”.

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When pushed further on ‘routine’ tampering by Fujitsu with accounts and if his Post Office team specifically gave approval, he replied: “No, I don’t think so.”

Mr Ismay also told the inquiry that he had “other priorities” when asked why he did not highlight inaccuracies in his Horizon report after its publication.

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Ex-Post Office exec accused of lying

An email exchange in December 2010, a few months after his report was published, refers to evidence “that Fujitsu can actually put an entry into branch accounts remotely”.

It also described “a problem generated by the system” which “impacted 60 branches and meant a loss/gain incurred in a particular week in effect disappeared from the system”.

At the Post Office inquiry, Mr Ismay was told that the email statement “undermined” his report.

He responded: “Looking at it now, yes, I can see that undermines my report.” But he added that his report was “written before this”.

He continued: “Looking at it in hindsight, yes, I might have wished to revisit it but I had other competing priorities going on…

“It might have been helpful to notify other people that this issue had come to light but in the context of everything that I was doing, I don’t think it occurred to me at the time.”

Post office scandal

Jason Beer KC replied saying that it was “a bit beyond helpful – maybe essential?” to which Mr Ismay agreed.

Mr Ismay was later asked if he considered his report to be “a feather” in his “Post Office cap”, to which he replied that it had been “a matter of pride” that he could explain why Horizon was robust at the time.

The inquiry heard how the ‘Ismay Report’ was put together in two weeks and that no independent report was carried out as part of it.

Mr Ismay described his report as “not an investigation”.

Read more:
Post Office lawyer accused of telling ‘big fat lie’ to inquiry
Ex-Post Office boss accused of ‘lying throughout’ at inquiry

Three years after its conclusion, the forensic accountants Second Sight released their first interim report in July 2013, highlighting flaws in the Horizon computer system causing cash shortfalls.

Four months later, despite evidence pointing to the knowledge of remote access and bugs in Horizon, Mr Ismay was described as saying his report “still holds good”.

He told the inquiry he wished he had been able to highlight issues:

“… but with everything that was going on at the time”, he said, “I hesitate to keep saying I forget things, but even a couple of years onwards, there are so many things going on you don’t remember everything that happened.”

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He was asked why, despite the evidence, he kept “peddling the line” from his 2010 report.

Mr Ismay repeated that he had “so many things going on, and I would have kept referring back to that paper.”

Jason Beer KC asked him if he “knowingly” regarded his report as a “guiding star” despite information emerging that “directly undermined it”.

Mr Ismay responded that he recognised his response that he had “so many things going on” sounded “bad”.

The inquiry continues on Tuesday with Mark Davies, former group communications and corporate affairs director at the Post Office, giving evidence.

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