At the recent hearing at the Court of Appeal into a case involving subpostmasters, who were prosecuted for defrauding the Post Office, it was alleged that the Post Office instructed employees to shred documents in a bid to destroy evidence. However, when its legal counsel heard about the plan, he cautioned that if these instructions were carried out, it would “amount to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.”
The appeal was brought by 42 former subpostmasters who are fighting to have wrongful convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting quashed. Some of those accused were jailed, at least one took their own life and many faced financial difficulties as they struggled to rebuild their lives with a criminal record.
According to the defence, rather than financial wrongdoing, the unexplained financial losses were because of the Post Office’s Fujitsu-developed Horizon IT system. The system was first installed into Post Offices in 1999. However, by the early 2000s, money had started disappearing from accounts, and hundreds of subpostmasters faced prosecution over the following 15 years.
The Post Office initially denied there was a problem with the Horizon system, but in 2019, a High Court Judge found that it was not robust and was prone to errors that could cause unexplained losses.
During the recent appeal, it was claimed that the Post Office had tried to ‘dispose of’ evidence that would have supported the High Court’s findings of the Horizon system. In fact, according to a barrister advising the Post Office in 2013, advice was given that ‘If it’s not minuted, it’s not in the public domain and therefore not disclosable’.
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon explains, that parties to litigation can occasionally be tempted to try to conceal or even destroy documents that undermine their cases. However, if such attempts are subsequently uncovered during a forensic investigation it can have a devasting effect, destroying credibility at best or, at worst, leading to criminal charges. For that reason, a policy of full and disclosure, “warts and all” is always the best policy.