Post Office was prioritising recovering money from branch operators accused of financial irregularities by setting up targets for cash recovery, latest Post Office Horizon enquiry heard.
Former investigator Robert Daily told the inquiry on Tuesday (23) that recovering cash, which was among the performance indicators, was linked to investigators’ bonuses.
Asked whether it was right that investigators were set targets for recovery of cash from those who were investigated, he replied: “Yes.”
Daily said the target was viewed as unfair by investigators because meeting it depended largely on a post office operator’s ability to pay the money they had been accused of stealing.
“There were individual bonuses for how you performed over the year – if you’ve performed better than someone else. So, technically, you could say this went towards [it]. But, if you speak to individuals within the investigation team, the investigation managers, it was always considered an unfair target.
“Because any inquiry you did … all you could say to a person was: ‘Were you in a position to repay the money?’ If that person didn’t have the money, you couldn’t get blood out of a stone.”
Daily helped prosecute tragic Peter Holmes and William Quarm, whose convictions were finally overturned years after their deaths. Holmes was handed a community order and a curfew while Quarm, who had a branch in North Uist in Scotland, was sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid work after their convictions.The widows of both men said the wrongful prosecutions in 2010 had a devastating impact on their husbands.
Asked if he felt personal responsibility for the injustice Mr Holmes suffered, Daily responded, “No I was only doing my job.”
He confirmed he and fellow investigators were expected to recover at least 65 per cent of the money sub-postmasters were accused of stealing by 2014. These were a factor in deciding their annual bonuses, he admitted. Just five years earlier, in 2009, the expected return figure had been 40 per cent, the inquiry head.
More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office after Fujitsu’s faulty accounting software Horizon made it appear money was missing from their shops. Hundreds of post office operators are awaiting compensation despite the government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Fujitsu, the tech company that developed the Horizon system, said the company recognised the “devastating impact on postmasters’ lives and that of their families” and had “apologised for its role in their suffering”.