About 100 sub-postmaster convictions separate to Post Office cases may be ‘tainted’

Prosecutions of sub postmasters by the Department for Work and Pensions could be “tainted” as Sky News reveals officials worked with now discredited Post Office investigators to secure convictions.

Around 100 prosecutions of Post Office staff were led by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) between 2001 and 2006.

It is understood that these usually involved the cashing in of stolen order books.

The Post Office itself wrongly prosecuted hundreds of sub-postmasters between 1999 and 2015 – based on evidence from the faulty Horizon accounting system.

The role of government

A Sky News investigation, however, has discovered that information was shared between Post Office investigation teams and the DWP.

Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Robert Neill KC, said as a result DWP convictions “need to be looked at”.

More on Post Office Scandal

“I hadn’t been aware of that, for example, there may have been material in the DWP case as a result of joint investigations – which suggests a disclosure failure,” he added.

“I think that’s the area they need to look at if we are saying their approach was tainted from the beginning – in the way the investigators adopted things – then joint operations I suspect would be just as tainted arguably as something where it has been the Post Office on its own.”

What was known?

A 2003 DWP report into fraud describes “joint working” and the “sharing of information” with the Post Office.

It also outlines a “Fraud Prevention Board” established by the DWP and Royal Mail Group plc which includes “the exchange of information that directly assists fraud prevention and investigations”.

In addition, separately, a 2003 letter seen by Sky News also indicates a connection between DWP and Post Office investigations.

The letter, from the then post affairs minister Stephen Timms, references the case of Roger Allen, a sub-postmaster from Norwich.

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It states: “Subsequent investigations by the police, the Post Office Investigation Department and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) led to a prosecution by DWP…”

Roger Allen was convicted in 2004 of stealing pension payments and was sentenced to six months in prison. He died in March of this year.

Mr Allen had pleaded guilty to spare his wife – after his lawyer told him in a letter that there had been “an indication from the Crown that they may discontinue the proceedings against Mrs Allen were you minded to plead guilty”.

Despite the Criminal Cases Review Commission deciding Mr Allen had grounds to appeal against his conviction – it was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2021.

DWP prosecutions are not covered in upcoming government legislation that will overturn Post Office convictions.

Roger Allen. Pic: Keren Simpson
Roger Allen. Pic: Keren Simpson

Fighting to clear names

Keren Simpson, Roger’s daughter, has vowed to fight to clear his name posthumously.

She describes her father as a “proud” and “honest” man who “couldn’t face or deal” with the fact his conviction would not be overturned.

She says “in the end he obviously gave up” and there is “very little surviving evidence” because of the passage of time.

“He’s the innocent one,” Keren states. “I don’t see why he’s got to try and prove it. They have got to try and prove it, and show what evidence they actually had on my dad.

“Because the Department of Work and Pensions have put a statement out saying there was surveillance and witness testimonies and physical evidence to show it.

“Show me it.”

Roger Allen. Pic: Keren Simpson
Roger Allen. Pic: Keren Simpson

Investigation failures?

Sky News has also seen documents that suggest failures by DWP investigators in a different case in the 2000s.

It involved a sub-postmaster who decided to plead not guilty and was acquitted of stealing by a jury.

In one extract it says a “senior investigating officer” was “willing to admit in open court that (they) had been neglectful in (their) duty in securing evidence”.

Another document appears to show a failure to review transaction logs used as evidence against the sub-postmaster.

Some logs appear to show that the accused did not cash the “dockets”, used to collect pension payments.

Other transaction logs indicate the sub-postmaster was not present at a particular branch when the theft was alleged to have occurred.

Christopher Head
Christopher Head

Chris Head, former sub-postmaster and a campaigner for others, has also seen the documents and says they point to a “deeply flawed” DWP investigation.

“…they failed to obtain all transaction logs for the entirety of this case, but the ones that they have, they have they clearly haven’t looked at.”

He believes there are “more cases out there” which could be “part of a miscarriage of justice”.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We do not recognise these claims.

“DWP investigates offences against the welfare system to protect taxpayers’ money, and between 2001 and 2006 a small number of Post Office staff were convicted for welfare-related fraud.

“These cases involved complex investigations and were backed by evidence including filmed surveillance, stolen benefit books and witness statements – they did not rely on Horizon evidence, and this has been accepted by the Court of Appeal.”

The Post Office says it “continues to help other prosecuting authorities to ensure that they have every assistance in taking their work forward”.

“This includes sharing all the information we have in relation to prosecutions which have been brought by other prosecutors.”

Meanwhile, Lord Sikka has tabled an amendment in the House of Lords to the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill to include all DWP convictions.

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