Metropolitan Police could investigate one of its own staff in Post Office probe

A former Post Office investigator who deleted information from an expert IT witness statement during the wrongful prosecution of a subpostmaster faces being investigated by his current employer, the Metropolitan Police, as part of its Post Office scandal probe.

Last week, the Post Office scandal public inquiry was shown evidence for the second time that  Graham Ward, a former Post Office investigator, made changes to a witness statement from Fujitsu IT expert Gareth Jenkins during the prosecution of Noel Thomas, a former subpostmaster in North Wales.

Ward’s evidence last week, his second appearance before the inquiry, came days before Jenkins is due to be questioned by the inquiry, beginning tomorrow (Tuesday 25 June). Jenkins is currently under Metropolitan Police investigation for potential perjury in relation to evidence given in subpostmaster trials.

In 2006, while prosecuting Thomas, Ward removed a sentence from the witness statement from Jenkins, which confirmed errors existed in the Horizon system.

When Ward made his first appearance at the public inquiry in February, evidence was first revealed that he suggested Fujitsu’s Jenkins should change his witness statement to remove the reference to a “system failure”.

In the email to Fujitsu staff, Ward wrote: “Given the allegations made by the postmasters, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s very much in ourselves and Fujitsu’s interest to challenge the allegations and provide evidence that the system is not to blame for the losses provided.” He removed it in his edit of the statement and it was left out of the final one.

At the time, subpostmasters blamed for unexplained accounting shortfalls were raising questions about the integrity of the Horizon accounting system they use in branches. Thomas, who was one of the first seven subpostmasters interviewed by Computer Weekly in its 2009 investigation, was found guilty of false accounting and sentenced to 12 weeks in prison, where he spent his 60th birthday. His wrongful conviction was overturned in 2021.

More evidence

Ward told the inquiry in February that he didn’t know why that line had disappeared from the witness statement, but that he knew he hadn’t removed it. “This just isn’t me,” he said.

But the inquiry has since received further evidence that last week revealed Ward’s tracked changes to a draft of Jenkins’ witness statement sent to the Post Office for review.

He removed a line from Jenkins’ witness statement about how a “system failure” could be a reason for an incorrect figure in accounts and that “such failures are a normal occurrence”.

Ward wrote a comment regarding the paragraph he deleted. It read: “This is a really poor choice of words which seems to accept that failures in the system are normal and therefore may well support postmasters’ claims that the system is the blame for the losses.”

He said last week he was making a suggestion and not instructing that the line should be deleted.

Jenkins appears before the inquiry this week, where the extent of Post Office influence on his evidence could become clearer.

Ward’s current employer, the Metropolitan Police, began an investigation into Jenkins and a former Fujitsu colleague, Anne Chambers, in November 2020. This followed a High Court case where subpostmasters proved the Horizon system was faulty and could cause unexplained losses.

In 2020, Judge Peter Fraser, who managed the High Court group litigation order, referred the two to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who subsequently passed the information to the Metropolitan Police. Judge Fraser said at the time: “Based on the knowledge that I have gained both from conducting the trial and writing the Horizon issues judgment, I have very grave concerns regarding the veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system.”

The Metropolitan Police said: “We began an investigation in January 2020 into matters concerning Fujitsu Horizon and the Post Office following a referral from the DPP. The investigation is ongoing into potential offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice. These potential offences arise out of investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office.”

But since ITV’s dramatisation of the Horizon scandal was broadcast in January this year, public anger has forced the government and the police to act. Last month, the Metropolitan Police said it’s setting up a national investigation into the Post Office scandal, although it said it could take at least two years before any individuals will be charged.

Computer Weekly asked the Metropolitan Police whether Ward, one of its current employees, will be investigated. It would not comment on individuals, but said: “Our investigation is considering the actions of individuals connected with Fujitsu and the Post Office.”

Jenkins to face four-day grilling

The extent to which the Post Office influenced Jenkins will be under the spotlight this week, as he gives evidence to the inquiry. Jenkins has had previous evidence sessions postponed, but he has so far been in the background .

During a recent public inquiry hearing, Ian Henderson, director at forensic accountancy firm Second Sight, which revealed problems with the Horizon system, described Jenkins as helpful during his investigation.

In an email to his business partner, Ron Warmington, during Second Sights investigation of Horizon from 2012 to 2015, Henderson said: “Gareth Jenkins has always struck me as, you know, straight as a die.”

Inquiry KC Jason Beer asked Henderson: “What was it in your dealings with Mr Jenkins that struck you and allowed you to say that he was straight?”

“He was not being evasive; [Jenkins] was happy to help; he was answering my questions; he provided promptly with follow-up material that I requested; I mean, there was no hesitation in his willingness to answer our questions and to provide assistance,” replied Henderson. He also agreed when it was put to him that Jenkins was willing to discuss Fujitsu’s ability to remotely access Horizon, while the Post Office was not.

Jenkins was a member of the British Computer Society (BCS), through which he held Chartered IT Professional qualification.

The BCS said in a statement: “In summary, BCS has no role in deciding whether any of its members are qualified to act as expert witnesses.

It should be noted that ultimately it is for the court to consider whether the evidence provided by the expert will be relied on. ”

Computer Weekly asked the BCS whether it has any comment on its name and qualifications being used in court by Jenkins when presenting evidence in front of a jury.

“While BCS does not have regulatory authority, we have a Code of Conduct which all of the BCS members need to agree to, which emphasises ethical behaviour and professionalism in the field of computing,” the trade organisation said. “Following the completion of the inquiry and any other relevant legal proceedings, we will take action in accordance with the BCS Disciplinary Procedures against any BCS members found in breach of the Code. ”

The BCS’ CEO, Rashik Parmar, wrote to Gareth Jenkins earlier this month to advise him that investigative action under its code of conduct was possible, pending evidence due to be heard from him at the Inquiry.

  In response

Jenkins resigned his membership of BCS, including his Chartered IT Professional Status.

The Post Office scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters – including Alan Bates – and the problems they suffered due to accounting software. It’s one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

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