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    Post Office scandal: Ex-boss apologises for ‘subbies with hand in the till’ comment

    Former Post Office Ltd Managing Director Alan Cook leaves after giving evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry in central London on April 12, 2024. More than 700 people running small local post offices received criminal convictions between 1999 and 2005 after faulty accounting software made it appear that money had gone missing from their branches. The scandal has been described at an ongoing public inquiry as "the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history". (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP) (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images)

    A former boss at the Post Office said he will “regret for the rest of his life” writing in an email suggesting “subbies with their hands in the till” were blaming Horizon technology for their cash shortfalls.

    Alan Cook, who was managing director of the Post Office when media started reporting on Horizon flaws, gave evidence today (12) in the inquiry today. An email was presented at the inquiry in which Cook described a “steadily building nervousness about the accuracy of the Horizon system” at a time when the press were “on it”.

    He wrote to Mary Fagan, a former corporate affairs director at Royal Mail, “My instincts tell that, in a recession, subbies with their hand in the till choose to blame the technology when they are found to be short of cash.”

    Asked about his comments in the email, Cook told the inquiry, “It’s an expression I will regret for the rest of my life. It was an inappropriate thing to put in an email and not in line with my view of sub postmasters.” He said he should have known and done more.

    During today’s hearing, Cook also claimed ignorance of the Post Office’s prosecution powers. He also said he was unaware until the very last months of his time leading the Post Office as managing director that the organisation was independently prosecuting branch operators.

    Cook did ask for the claims about Horizon to be examined, although he admitted to the inquiry that he did not recall receiving the findings before leaving in January 2010.

    Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of post office operators were accused of negligence and in some cases convicted of crimes relating to theft, false accounting and fraud, based on faulty information from the Horizon computer system, which erroneously suggested that money had gone missing from branch accounts.

    Later, Adam Crozier, who ran Royal Mail, then the Post Office’s parent company, between 2003 and 2010 told the inquiry that he lacked a “developed understanding” of the business’s approach to prosecutions. But he added that Cook’s claim that he was not aware it could launch prosecutions was “surprising”.

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