Sir Ed Davey boasted about the ‘integrity’ of the post office’s flawed Horizon computer system even after the campaigner Alan Bates had alerted him to catastrophic failings in the system.
The Liberal Democrat leader defended the controversial IT system, which is at the heart of Britain’s biggest ever miscarriage of justice, in 2010, while he was the minister in charge of the post office.
His defence of the system, which followed a face to face meeting with Mr Bates, is contained in a 2010 letter which he sent to a Labour MP who had highlighted the plight of one of her own constituents caught up in the scandal.
The disclosure of the letter, which has been obtained by The Mail on Sunday under freedom of information laws, will increase pressure on Mr Davey who has found himself engulfed by the ongoing scandal.
His critics claim he turned a blind eye to the concerns of sub postmasters while he was serving as the minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs.
Sir Ed Davey boasted about the ‘integrity’ of the post office’s flawed Horizon software despite being warned by Alan Bates of the system’s catastrophic failings
The Liberal Democrats leader reportedly only met Mr Bates on the advice of civil servants in order to head off unwelcome headlines
He insists he didn’t do more at the time because he was lied to by the Post Office.
Earlier this week it emerged that he had only agreed to meet with Mr Bates – the eponymous hero of the recent ITV drama – on the advice of civil servants who believed not meeting him would generate unwelcome headlines at a time when journalists were investigating the scandal.
In advance of the meeting in October 2010 he was advised not to agree to any of the demands made by Mr Bates, who was then the Chair of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance.
In the newly disclosed letter, which is also dated October 2010 Sir Ed repeated the Post Office’s claims about the Horizon system.
Several of the assertions he made in the letter are now known to be inaccurate, including his claim that only staff in an actual post office branch could input data into an Horizon terminal.
He wrote: ‘The integrity of Horizon is built on tamper proof logs, real time back ups and absence of ‘backdoors’ so that all data entry or acceptance is at branch level and is tagged against the log-on ID of the user.’
Mr Davey also raised the idea of ‘user mistakes’ in the letter even though he had already been told that it was the technology, not the postmasters at fault.
He wrote: ‘Help lines are available. If an error occurs through a user mistake – there is a full system in place for investigation and error resolution.’
His remarks about the helpline will raise eyebrows because it is now known that call staff misled callers so they would think they and not the system was at fault.
Mr Davey referred to his meeting with the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance in his letter to Glindon.
He assured her he had listened to the concerns of campaigners and instructed his officials to raise some of their points with the Post Office.
But that claim contradicts the advice he had been given by his own civil servants.
The documents obtained by this newspaper show that other MPs also wrote to Mr Davey to highlight the plight of constituents caught up in the scandal.
In July 2010 the Labour MP Valerie Vaz wrote to him to highlight her concerns that the Horizon system was ‘ridden with faults.’
In October 2010 the Tory MP Jonathan Lord wrote to him to ask what action he was intending to take in the light of his meeting with the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance.
Mary Glindon, the Labour MP for North Tyneside who received the letter from Mr Davey said: ‘If you get a letter from the minister you don’t imagine that they are saying something that they don’t believe or that is contrary to the facts.’
‘Its very disappointing to learn about this.’
Chris Trousdale a former sub postmaster and victim of the scandal said many of the claims in Mr Davey’s letter were simply incorrect.
Other MPs wrote to Sir Ed, who was then the minister in charge of the post office, to voice the plight of constituents’ who were caught up in the scandal
Mr Trousdale said Sir Ed should have agreed to meet campaigners earlier and acted on their concerns immediately.
He said: ‘My opinion is that in his position, a position of oversight, if someone has repeatedly come forward for a meeting and he has been given information from a group of people who have become organised surely the first thing you would do when given assurances by the Post Office is to ask probing questions. It’s the minimum you would do.’
He added: ‘Mr Davey now claims he was misled or lied to by Post Office officials. But you cannot now go around saying people lied to you without identifying those people and identifying what they said.’
A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said: ‘Ed held the first meeting on record with Alan Bates to hear his concerns and put those concerns directly to the post office. Ed – like Alan Bates, the sub-postmasters and every other post office minister – was lied to by the post office.
‘These lies from the post office constitute an enormous conspiracy and led to the greatest miscarriage of justice of our age.’