Former Post Office boss did not realise he was head of prosecuting authority

A former managing director of the Post Office has told a public inquiry he did not realise for more than three years that he was the head of a prosecuting authority.

Alan Cook said he had not heard anything “sufficiently categoric” to suggest that the Post Office made prosecutorial decisions and said he blamed himself for “not picking up on it”.

Former chief executive of the Royal Mail Group Adam Crozier expressed “surprise” over Mr Cook’s claims, adding: “He certainly always gave the impression of someone who was very much in control of his brief.”

He told the inquiry he did not ask questions on the matter until he saw an article in Computer Weekly in May 2009.

Mr Cook also denied asking for a “more robust defence of Horizon” despite an email from a Post Office investigator saying that is what he had asked for.

Questioned on the email, from Dave Posnett to head of information security Sue Lowther and security architect Dave King from October 2009, Mr Cook said: “Definitely not looking for a robust defence, just looking for answers.

“One of the perils of being the boss is people use your name to get things done and I would have responded to that if I’d been copied to say that is not what we’re after.”

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Alan Cook told the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry that he had never come across ‘a situation before that a trading entity could initiate criminal prosecutions themselves’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

The witness replied: “I wouldn’t have said that – ‘robust’ was a word I used which I meant ‘thorough’ and ‘vigorous’, but ‘defence’ wouldn’t have been a word I used.”

During Mr Cook’s time in the witness box on Friday, counsel to the inquiry Sam Stevens asked: “Your evidence is still that in no point in the years that you were the managing director, (nobody) in the security or investigations team raised the fact that they made decisions to prosecute?”

Mr Cook said: “That is my position, definitely.

“I think it’s sometimes what’s said and what’s heard, and the problem that I was bringing to the piece was I just had a presumption and I didn’t hear something sufficiently categoric to say ‘what, you mean we decide on our own and no-one can stop us?’

“I never asked that question – well I did obviously when we got to the Computer Weekly article (in 2009) which we’ll get to, but prior to that point, I had gone through not picking up that.

“I’m not blaming them for not spelling it out enough, to be frank I’m blaming me for not picking up on it.”

He said: “I wonder… if I could just say before we get started, I’d like to put on record most strongly my personal apology and sympathies with all subpostmasters their families and those affected by this.

“As we get into the conversation, obviously, there will be an opportunity for me to elaborate but it just felt to me that was an important thing to say up front.”

Mr Cook also said one of his “most stressful days” at the Post Office was when he undertook the “fast version” of the Horizon training course.

He told the inquiry: “I did the fast version of the Horizon training course and I went to work in a Crown Office for a day, it was probably one of my most stressful days at the Post Office.”

He added: “It showed to me that was a complicated thing to do.”

The Post Office has come under fire since the broadcast of ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which put the Horizon scandal under the spotlight.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Government-owned organisation and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

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