Targets set by the Post Office suggested it was prioritising clawing back money from branch operators accused of financial irregularities due to the organisation’s discredited IT system, the Horizon inquiry has heard.
Former investigator Robert Daily told the inquiry that increasing the target for recovering cash, which was among the performance indicators linked to investigators’ bonuses, from 40% to 65% was instructive when considering the Post Office’s motives for pursuing post office operators. However, he said it did not influence individual investigators.
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.
Asked why his performance targets were increased, Daily said: “I can only think it was because of the amount of losses the Post Office were suffering.”
Emma Price, the counsel to the inquiry, asked him if the target was “indicative of the recovery of funds from those being investigated being a high priority within the Post Office”. Daily said individual investigators did not look at the target that way, and it did not influence their work, but that “it would suggest it was”.
Price asked Daily: “How was this objective at this stage rewarded by the Post Office?” Daily responded: “I understand where this is coming from – ‘Were we given bonuses for recovering money?’. It was part of our objectives to do so. It didn’t necessarily rely on a bonus – we received a bonus every year regardless.”
Explaining how the bonus system worked, Daily said: “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, who was involved in the criminal investigation of two wrongly convicted post office operators who died before their convictions were overturned, was giving evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday.
A Newcastle operator, Peter Holmes, was handed a community order and a curfew, and William Quarm, who had a branch in North Uist in Scotland, was sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid work after their convictions.
Daily also confirmed that, for a spell, there were “no Scottish qualified lawyers within the criminal team”. In his witness statement, he said he asked for support from Scottish solicitors after becoming “concerned” he was not receiving the same support he was in England.
Price asked Daily: “Is it right, therefore that – prior to managing to gain approval for BTO Solicitors to advise on Scottish cases in 2013 – the criminal law team was providing a decision on whether a case should be passed to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service without being qualified in Scottish law?” Daily replied: “I believe so, yes.”
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.
Computer Weekly and Private Eye, among others, uncovered the scandal more than 15 years ago, but national outrage did not follow until it was dramatised in ITV series Mr Bates v The Post Office earlier this month.
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.