A post office auditor gave “inaccurate” information to the High Court that led to the bankruptcy of a subpostmaster, the Post Office Horizon Inquiry has heard.
Helen Rose, who worked as an auditor between 1999 and 2004, issued a signed witness statement in 2006 before civil proceedings involving subpostmaster Lee Castleton, which indicated he was “sloppy and slapdash”.
On Tuesday, the inquiry heard an audit conducted in March 2004 by Ms Rose had actually recorded the opposite.
Mr Castleton, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, whose branch was found to have a £25,000 shortfall, was made bankrupt after he lost his legal battle with the Post Office.
Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC took the witness through the audit, in which she had answered “yes” to the question: “Is the safe kept locked when not in use with the key removed?”
But in paragraph nine of her first witness statement for the court, Ms Rose had said: “The inspection revealed that the safe was left open, the safe keys were left in the safe door and it was not secured, that cash and stock were not secured during lunchtime if the subpostmaster was not on the premises.”
Under questioning from both Mr Beer and chairman to the inquiry Sir Wyn Williams, the witness said: “I don’t have an explanation as to why that wasn’t taken out.”
Sir Wyn continued: “I am slightly concerned because your evidence to me is, in effect, that (the information) in this statement and the previous version in the second statement should, in effect, never have been in those witness statements because they’re wrong?
“Given that you were the person who signed them, I would like you to try to remember why it is they are there.”
Mrs Rose replied: “I have no recollection of it, I’m sorry.”
Continuing his own questioning, Mr Beer asked: “Why is inaccurate evidence being given to the High Court?”
Mrs Rose said: “I can’t recall. I don’t know.”
Mr Beer continued: “You’re telling the court in this paragraph here, aren’t you, ‘this man, Mr Castleton, was sloppy and slapdash. There are things that we saw when we audited him that could well explain the missing money’.
“That’s what this paragraph is for, isn’t it?”
Mrs Rose responded: “That’s what it kind of indicates, yes, but, as I say, I don’t know why that wasn’t picked up at the time of the hearing.”
Mr Beer also directed the witness to paragraph 10 of her statement to the court, in which she said: “I do remember that Mr Castleton left the branch at lunchtime and returned in the afternoon smelling strongly of alcohol.”
He continued: “There’s no reference in the contemporaneous note of nearly two years previously to that issue and that’s found its way into the witness statement. How has that come about?”
Mrs Rose replied: “I don’t know.
“It must have been a comment I felt necessary to mention but I can’t remember it.”
Mr Beer told the inquiry another part of Mrs Rose’s audit commented on how Mr Castleton seemed “very pleased” to see the auditors and that he had been in contact “regularly” with the Horizon helpline and retail line manager Cath Oglesby.
Mr Beer questioned Mrs Rose: “Do you think these two pieces of information might assist Mr Castleton – he was very pleased or he was pleased to see the auditors and he told you ‘I’ve been in contact with the retail line manager, Cath Oglesby, and the Horizon helpline regularly since these problems began'”?
Mrs Rose replied: “I don’t know. I can’t answer for what I did back in 2004 but I can only presume that the audit report would have been part of the evidence and so it wasn’t duplicated.”
He asked the witness: “So why is it that these two bits of information that might help Mr Castleton have been excluded from the witness statement but paragraph 9 has been left in and paragraph 10 has been added?”
Mrs Rose answered: “I honestly don’t know why other things have not been included at the time.”
On Monday, the Government announced that wrongfully convicted subpostmasters will be offered £600,000 to settle their claims.
The Horizon scandal, which has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history, saw more than 700 Post Office branch managers handed criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing.
The Government said 86 convictions have been overturned and £21 million has been paid in compensation.