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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Martin Belam (now) and Jamie Grierson (earlier)

Former Royal Mail chief exec says he ‘was not aware’ group’s lawyers were prosecuting post office operators – as it happened

Summary of the day …

  • Adam Crozier and Alan Cook, who both held senior roles while the events of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal unfolded, have both claimed to the inquiry that they were not fully aware of the prosecutorial function of the business. Crozier claimed he did not realise it was the Royal Mail legal team that was enacting prosecutions on behalf of the Post Office. Cook said it was only near the end of his tenure he realised that he was the managing director of an organisation that could prosecute people. In his evidence, Crozier described Cook’s statement on that as “surprising”. A counsel acting for subpostmasters described part of Cook’s written testimony as a “straight out lie”.

  • Cook also told the inquiry that Paula Vennells “likely” signed off on a trial bill of more than £300,000 after a subpostmaster was accused of having a £25,000 shortfall at his branch. Lee Castleton’s prosecution in 2006 was the subject of the 2009 Computer Weekly article that began to draw wider attention to the complaints about the Horizon system. Cook said the article “shocked” him. Vennells is scheduled to appear at the inquiry in May.

  • Keir Starmer has said he is “fully confident that Angela Rayner has not broken the rules” after Greater Manchester police said it had reopened a probe into claims Labour’s deputy leader may have broken electoral law over information she gave about her living situation a decade ago.

  • The latest GDP figures show that the UK economy grew slightly by 0.1% in February, which coupled with the “technical recession” of the final two quarters of 2023 show the economy has been flat-lining for months. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the figures were “a welcome sign that the economy is turning a corner”. Year-on-year the economy is 0.2% smaller than it was in February 2023.

  • Rishi Sunak’s government has discussed the possibility of using a UK-based airline to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, industry sources have confirmed.

  • Starmer visited Barrow-in-Furness today where nuclear submarines are being built, and said “the only way to have a safer world is to have an effective nuclear deterrent.”

  • Energy and net zero minister Graham Stuart has said he is stepping down from Sunak’s cabinet to concentrate on his constituency.

  • The Bank of England’s recent record of forecasting inflation and the path of interest rates was undermined by out-of-date methods and a failure to communicate clearly with the public, according to an independent assessment.

Thank you for reading and all your kind words and comments this week – and for helping me out and flagging when I’ve made typos. I will no doubt see you somewhere else soon on the Guardian website. Take care, have a good weekend.

Here is a little bit more from Adam Crozier’s testimony today at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, via PA Media, which has pulled out these bits of transcription, where Crozier said he “doesn’t know” if the money paid by subpostmasters for accounting shortfalls was recorded as profit.

Sam Stein KC, who is acting at the inquiry on the behalf of a large group of subpostmaster and has been notably tenacious in his questioning of witnesses, said: “Subpostmasters and mistresses were being told to pay up. It’s your contractual duty, they were told, to pay up. And many of them did pay up for shortfalls that were certainly not their fault. They got that money from their own pockets.

“They got that money sometimes borrowing from friends. Some, you may recall, got the money from their kids’ piggy banks. Others got money from loan sharks at extortionate interest rates, tipping them into financial chaos and bankruptcy. Help us please understand what happened to that money when it was paid in? Was it properly accounted for?”

Crozier, who headed Royal Mail when it owned the Post Office between 2003 and 2010 responded: “I assume it was through the financial team.”

When asked if it was accounted for as profit, he said: “I don’t know.”

Stein then asked: “It would be wholly wrong, would you agree, to account for a payment as shortfall as profit?”

Crozier responded: “I’m not an accounting expert. I wouldn’t know exactly how you account for different payments.”

Energy and net zero minister Graham Stuart to quit cabinet

Conservative energy minister Graham Stuart has said he is stepping down from Rishi Sunak’s cabinet to concentrate on his constituency.

PA Media reports he said in a statement “I’m proud to have served in the government for most of the past eight years, but now it’s time to focus on Beverley and Holderness.”

Stuart had held the ministerial role since February 2023.

On Wednesday, while appearing on a phone-in at LBC Radio, prime minister Sunak said “There are a lot of things facing the country that we’ve been working hard on that your callers I’m sure are interested in, whether its helping with the cost of living, tackling the waiting lists, stopping the boats, having a more sensible approach to net zero.”

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry has concluded for the day. It resumes on Tuesday. On the schedule are former managing director of the Post Office David Miller and David Mills, former chief exec of Post Office.

But chair Wyn Williams has observed that it has “been a stretch” having two witnesses a day over the last couple of days, and Jason Beer KC says they will review the schedule. That could mean an earlier start – as happened today – or it could mean a rejig of who appears when. Williams has previously indicated that he was not inclined to alter the timetable and that he did not think the inquiry should last a day longer than was necessary because of the anguish caused to those who were affected.

Adam Crozier has just added “I am not an accounting expert” to his earlier “I am not a lawyer” while giving his evidence. He is being asked whether the Post Office was generating and recording a profit when it was getting these payments from subpostmasters generated from what we now know may have been phantom or duplicate Horizon transactions.

  • This block has been edited at 16.00. It originally said “Adam Crozier has just added ‘I am not an accounting expert’ to his earlier ‘I am not an expert’ while giving his evidence.” He had in fact earlier said “I am not a lawyer”, not “I am not an expert”. With apologies.


The questions are trying to get at whether Adam Crozier can see that because the whole Post Office solvency was up in the air, there was an incentive not to say that a business critical system like Horizon was failing. He is saying he always wanted a culture of transparency.

Sam Stein KC has now taken over questioning on behalf of subpostmasters. He is saying to Crozier that hundreds of subpostmasters called the helpline and raised problems with the systems. “They were the subpostmasters under your care,” Stein says. They were told to pay up contractually from their own pockets, he is told.

Crozier said he always assumed the prosecutions were being carried out by a mix of the Post Office’s own legal team, some Royal Mail lawyers, and some external lawyers. Earlier he claimed he was not aware that the Post Office did not have its own legal team.


Adam Crozier is now being questioned by other lawyers, the first set of questions is trying to drill down into whether from the documents referring to Royal Mail prosecutions he could have known they were prosecuting Post Office staff.

Adam Crozier has been asked to concur that the Horizon IT system was a business critical system for the Post Office, and hence for the broader Royal Mail group that he headed.

He is asked by Jason Beer KC “What steps did the main board take in your seven years to ensure that it was running reliably? Were you aware of any internal audit conducting any review or investigation into the use, reliability and accuracy of the data that Horizon produced.”

“I genuinely can’t remember,” Crozier says.

There will now be a ten minute break. I will take one too.

My colleague Daniel Boffey has written this piece summing up the testimony this morning at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry from Alan Cook.

Adam Crozier has just told the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry that he would find it “surprising” that Post Office managing director Alan Cook did not know the company had a prosecution function until late in his tenure.

Crozier says Cook always gave the impression he was on top of his brief. He says Cook never gave the impression of being anything other than in control of that brief.


Former chief executive of the Royal Mail Group Adam Crozier has said he did not have a “developed understanding” of the way in which Royal Mail carried out prosecutions.

Asked by Jason Beer KC “Is the truth of the matter that in your position you did not have a developed understanding of the extent to which Royal Mail prosecuted or the way in which things were or were not carried into effect?”

Crozier responded “I am not a lawyer. I would not claim it is my area of expertise.”

During Crozier’s time at the helm of the Royal Mail, its legal team, acting as a central team on behalf of the separate Post Office corporate entity, prosecuted hundreds of subpostmasters using Horizon IT data.

Former Royal Mail chief exec Crozier says 'I was not aware' Royal Mail lawyers were prosecuting Post Office subpostmasters

Former chief executive of the Royal Mail Group Adam Crozier said he was not aware that lawyers within the group conducted prosecutions at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.

At the time Royal Mail owned the Post Office, and the Post Office used the Royal Mail’s legal department.

In his witness statement Crozier said:

I do not recall any involvement in or knowledge of the oversight of the investigations and prosecutions brought by Post Office Ltd against subpostmasters, either for theft, fraud and false accounting for alleged shortfalls in branch accounts for the recovery of such alleged shortfalls through the use of civil proceedings.

Counsel to the inquiry Jason Beer KC asked: “Were you not aware that in fact there was no Post Office legal team – it had no separate legal in-house function and that civil and criminal proceedings were brought by lawyers within the Royal Mail Group legal team?”

Crozier replied: “I was not, no.”

Beer continued: “So lawyers from within the group gave advice on prosecutions, they made decisions about prosecutions and within prosecutions, and they conducted the proceedings, not any Post Office lawyers, you didn’t know that?”

Crozier replied: “I was not aware of that, no.”

The BBC has previously reported that Crozier was paid £9.7m in salary and bonuses in his time at Royal Mail. 400 convictions using Horizon data took place while he was in charge of Royal Mail.


Adam Crozier has just said he was not aware that the Post Office did not have its own lawyers and it that it using the central legal function of the Royal Mail group. Crozier headed Royal Mail when it owned the Post Office between 2003 and 2010.

It should be noted that earlier Alan Cook was essentially saying on the Post Office side of things, because they were using the Royal Mail legal function, they didn’t have full oversight of it.

Keir Starmer has been talking to broadcasters about the UK’s nuclear deterrent, saying it is “the single most important part of our armoury to protect our country”.

During a visit to Barrow-in-Furness, PA Media reports he told broadcasters:

The commitment I’ve made here today is really important, I think I’m the first Labour leader to come here to the shipyard here, to see the building of the submarines for 30 years and to make a very important generational commitment which is to the Dreadnought submarines, to the continuous at-sea deterrent and to the upgrades that are needed over time and of course there’s AUKUS in there as well so this is a generational commitment.

The only way to have a safer world is to have an effective deterrent. The nuclear deterrent has been effective now for decades. It’s the single most important part of our armoury to protect our country, and that’s why I’m so committed to it.

And it’s important that we see this as a long term project because not only do we need the deterrence today, but we need … continued deterrence as we go forward.

Adam Crozier has just confirmed that in his seven year period at Royal Mail (2003-2010) he is not aware of any external audit of either the Post Office’s IT and Horizon systems or an external audit of the prosecution processes being undertaken by the Post Office. He is being reminded that company directors have a legal obligation for accounts to be accurate.

Incidentally the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry usually runs from 10am to 3pm on a Friday when sitting, but because there was a lot to go through today, chair Wyn Williams asked for an earlier start at 9.30am today. The plan is apparently for this session to run until 3.45pm, but they may have to include an extra break for the benefit of the transcribers at the hearing.

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is restarting, with Adam Crozier being questioned by Jason Beer KC. You can watch it here. I will bring you the key lines that emerge …

Rajeev Syal is the Guardian’s home affairs editor

Rishi Sunak’s government has discussed the possibility of using a UK-based airline to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, industry sources have confirmed.

AirTanker, a charter airline with Ministry of Defence and RAF contracts, is understood to have been involved in talks about flying people 4,000 miles to Kigali.

The disclosure comes as No 10 prepares for the latest Rwanda bill to return to parliament on Monday in its attempt to deter asylum seekers from travelling across the Channel in small boats.

Government insiders remain confident that the bill will pass by the end of April after another round of parliamentary ping pong between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and that flights will take off in the spring.

Asylum seekers facing deportation, many of whom are from Iran, Iraq and Syria, are poised to launch legal action against the law.

Read more of Rajeev Syal’s report here: UK government in talks with charter airline over Rwanda deportation flights

The Bank of England’s recent record of forecasting inflation and the path of interest rates was undermined by out-of-date methods and a failure to communicate clearly with the public, according to a bruising independent assessment.

The report by the former US Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke said the Bank spent much of its time attempting to justify its poor judgment rather than admit its failures and change course.

Accusing the Bank of appearing to “at times suffer from excessive incrementalism”, he said policymakers had raised rates too slowly over the past two years when it was clear inflation was already rising beyond normal levels.

Bernanke said the Bank relied on old software to process information and failed to consult staff who were often overworked and inexperienced.

Setting out 12 recommendations, Bernanke said the forecasting errors by the Bank “were hardly unique” among central banks in the developed world.

Read more of Phillip Inman’s report here: Bank of England forecasts undermined by out-of-date-methods, report finds

I'm confident Rayner has not broken the rules - Starmer

The police investigation into Angela Rayner’s council house sale will allow a “line to be drawn” on the issue, Sir Keir Starmer said.

The Labour leader said: “We welcome this investigation because it will allow a line to be drawn in relation to this matter.

“I am fully confident that Angela Rayner has not broken the rules. She will cooperate with the investigation as you would expect and it is really a matter for the police.”

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is breaking for lunch. And so will I. Jamie Grierson will be with for the next hour or so, and then this afternoon there will be more testimony from Adam Crozier.

There has been a lengthy discussion about corporate structure and reporting lines at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, and then Adam Crozier has been asked about the fact that the Post Office was in financial difficulty.

Jason Beer KC points out that “It was clear that the company was insolvent and that in the absence of support from his parent company or ultimate shareholder, that’s the government it would be unable to meet its debts as they failed you for the foreseeable future.”

Crozier said the solvency issue of the Post Office threatened the solvency of the whole group.

He has been asked a bit about how issues with IT in the Post Office would be raised at Royal Mail board level.

In his witness statement Crozier has said:

I must stress that my responses are not in any way intended to detract from the fact that it’s clear to me now that this structure did not help facilitate vital information regarding Horizon and the conduct of criminal proceedings reaching me or the board of Royal Mail as it should have done.

Asked to expand upon this, Crozier said the structure made sense to him at the time because the two companies had such different objectives, but he says now:

I think the issue looking back that I could see that was unhelpful was actually one in the way which impacted on the two attitudes or cultures of the two companies.

In Royal Mail, because everything as I said earlier was fundamentally broken. Everyone on the board was aware of that the starting position was everything didn’t work. And therefore there was no option but total utter transparency because if anyone had brought a presentation saying everything’s fine, they wouldn’t have been believed.

I worry with the benefit of hindsight that because Post Office Ltd didn’t have that same burning bridge, for want of a better phrase, that same transparency didn’t allow information to flow up through that governance system on its own, and that potentially the separation of the two aided and abetted people not getting at that information.

At the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, former Royal Mail CEO Adam Crozier is being asked about the risk management around the Post Office being able to carry out prosecutions itself.

He was asked by Jason Beer KC:

Can you recall whether the conduct of prosecutions and the possibility of bringing subpostmasters to justice including by imprisoning them and the issues that arise when conducting prosecutions was on the Royal Mail holdings risk register?

Crozier replied: “I don’t believe so. And I don’t believe I recall seeing it on the Post Office register.”

He was then asked if that was a failing, and Crozier said “With the benefit of hindsight? Yes.”

Adam Crozier has said at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry that the corporate structure of Royal Mail and Post Office was set up as it was because Royal Mail was expected to develop into a successful commercial venture operating in an opened deregulated market, and that the Post Office was required to “a sustainable public service.”

Adam Crozier is being asked about the corporate structure of the Royal Mail and the Post Office, which these week has clearly established was very convuluted.

While that is happening, PA Media have produced a fuller transcript of the exchange where Alan Cook was accused of a “straight out lie” earlier.

In his questions to Alan Cook, Sam Stein KC, on behalf of a number of subpostmasters, asked: “In your statement, you say this, ‘to the best of my knowledge the Risk and Compliance Committee was not given any information or reporting, nor did I have any oversight of the prosecution of subpostmasters. As a result I did not take any steps … to ensure the Post Office was acting in compliance with its legal obligations. In relation to those prosecutions and civil proceedings against subpostmasters, I was not aware they were taking place.’

“It’s just a straight out lie, isn’t it Mr Cook?”

The former Post Office managing director said: “The point I was trying to make was about the initiation of prosecutions – I have repeatedly acknowledged that there were cases under investigation, and that I was aware there were cases under investigation.”

Stein continued: “Well first of all you do agree you were aware they were taking place and secondly, in your statement, you’re pretending that you weren’t aware to avoid the implication which you needed oversight of the things.

“Just simply not true, is it Mr Cook?” The witness replied: “That was not my intention.”

Stein continued: “Then why did you write that in your statement, Mr Cook?”

Cook said: “Well I believed it at the time, certainly.”

Jason Beer KC is now going to question Adam Crozier at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. Crozier headed Royal Mail when it owned the Post Office between 2003 and 2010. You can watch it here …

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is taking a ten minute break to switch witnesses, who I am expecting to be Adam Crozier. I am also going to take a quick break until they resume.

Wyn Williams is saying that under Alan Cook’s watch in 2006 that the Post Office spent £300,000 trying to recover about £25,000 from Lee Castleton. Williams is trying to get Cook to explain where that money came from to pursue the case, and why Cook claimed not to have heard of Castleton.

“They did not come to me for approval,” said Cook. Cook says it would have been delegated.

Williams asks “there would have been a person within the Post Office organisation who would have had authority to sign off spending the money without taking it either to you or to the board.”

Cook says yes, and suggests it would have been Paula Vennels.


Chair Wyn Williams is questioning Alan Cook now at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. He says:

You will have told me that in early May 2009 this possibility that there were a number of cases involving a challenge to Horizon came as a bit of a bolt out of the blue. And your first reaction was to instruct Mr McLean to investigate. And you did so because you thought highly of him. But then reading the rest of that paragraph, it seems to me at least and this is what I want your help with, that this inquiry just petered out.

Cook says he can’t remember what the response of the investigation was.

Williams said Cook did not leave until eight months later, but this investigation appears to have produced no results. Williams continues:

Forgive me if it sounds critical, and perhaps it is critical, that there doesn’t appear to be any urgency on your part to get an answer from him if you allow it eight months to go by.

Cook has given a lengthy reply saying he doesn’t remember much and that documents being produced “fills in the picture for me”. He says “I remember the story, I have difficulty remembering the order and the dates, so I remember moments.”

Alan Cook has been accused of a “straight out lie” in his statement. He has been accused of pretending not to be aware of prosecutions to evade responsibility.

He is now being asked specifically about one subpostmistress who is in court who served a prison sentence.

“I did not appreciate what was going on” says Cook. “When I had reports about them and the individual who pleaded guilty, then I thought we must have been in the right.”

The lawyer is saying it was a deliberate strategy, that this woman had made over 100 calls to the helpline about balancing faults, and then was prosecuted.

“Are you proud of presiding over that culture” he is asked.

There are now going to be questions for Alan Cook from Sam Stein who represents subpostmasers.

He is asked about the phrase prosecuting authority and if he knew he was one. “My view of that changed during my time,” said Cook.

He is asked what he thought “the criminal law team” did. Cook says he cannot recall the head of criminal law Rob Wilson.

He is shown a document that says:

The principal aims of the investigation team are to stop criminal offences taking place, apprehend and prosecute those who commit offences against us, in order to maximise our recovery and reduce loss to Post Office Ltd and its clients through the identification of areas of weakness

Stein says “it does appear on the face of this document that you’ve got information that there’s a criminal law team that’s operating within the business, and secondly, an investigation team with aims of stopping criminal offences taking place apprehending and prosecuting people.”

Cook is maintaining that was all about customer fraud and “scams”.

Miliband: Labour party is '100% behind Angela Rayner' and she is 'an inspiring person'

Ed Miliband has said that the Labour party is “100% behind” Angela Rayner and she is an inspiring person and “exactly the kind of person we need in politics”.

The shadow energy minister told PA Media:

We are absolutely 100% behind Angela. We are absolutely confident that she has complied with the rules. She welcomes the fact she can set out the facts.

My message to the country is we are incredibly proud of Angela Rayner, our deputy leader.

She is an inspiring person, she is exactly the kind of person we need in politics. If a Labour government is elected, I look forward to Angela Rayner serving as deputy prime minister.

Frankly the Conservative party is a desperate party that has nothing to say to the country about the big issues that it faces.

At the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, former managing director Alan Cook is being asked about an email which says “Alan Cook is asking for a more robust defence of Horizon” in a period when the Post Office had begun to investigate the system.

He said “One of the perils of being the boss is the people use your name to get things done,” and suggests that he would have meant the word “robust” to mean a thorough investigation, and wouldn’t have used the word defence.

Sam Stevens, the barrister asking the questions, puts it to him that someone using his name could equally have said “Alan Cook is asking for an independent review of Horizon” or “Alan Cook is asking for a review into its integrity” if that is what he had been saying or wanting.

Cook says “At this stage there was the Computer Weekly article, and a few complaints on specific cases. And I was more than prepared to believe that the answer would be different to each of them. And that the answer wasn’t that there’s nothing wrong. But obviously that’s the stance that the organisation took in the event.”

PA Media has just alerted that the Labour party said it remains confident that Angela Rayner has complied with the rules, and the deputy leader “welcomes the chance to set out the facts with the police”.

Police have reopened an investigation over claims she may have broken electoral law by giving false information about where she was living before she became an MP.

It comes after James Daly, the deputy chair of the Conservative party, made Greater Manchester police aware of neighbours contradicting the deputy Labour leader’s claims.

Former Post Office boss says he 'regrets' saying subpostmasters had their 'hands in the till' and were blaming Horizon

By the October of that year, a Royal Mail Group’s PR person Mary Fagan had emailed “there is a steadily building nervousness about the accuracy of horizon of the horizon system. And the press are now on it as well.”

Former Post Office managing director Alan Cook at that point said to her in an email:

My instincts tell that in a recession subbies with their hand in the till choose to blame technology when they are found to be short of cash.

He tells the inquiry “it’s an expression I will regret for the rest of my life. It was an inappropriate thing to put in an email and not in line with my view of subpostmasters.”

Sam Stevens, the barrister, is now saying Cook had said he was “shocked” by the Computer Weekly article, and had several letters from MPs. There was now a “body of complaints” Stevens says. He asks why Cook did not order an indpendent inquiry.

“The first step seemed to be to investigate it ourselves,” Cook says.

Alan Cook is shown an email from 10 February 2009 by Brian Binley MP which includes the claim that “random flaws in the IT are causing deficits in their weekly accounts, sometimes £1,000s of pounds at a time”. He is told that he received it in May, and he says he recalls reading it.

He is also shown the Rebecca Thomson article in Computer Weekly about Lee Castleton. Cook says that he saw this. He claims he did not know about the prosecution of Castleton, or if he did it would have been one of a number of prosecutions mentioned in a report.

Cook says the Computer Weekly article was a shock to him:

This article was a shock to me. Should it have been a shock to me? No, it shouldn’t have been, but it was.

He doesn’t appear to be able to clarify when or if he linked the two things in his mind.

At the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, Alan Cook has agreed that he visited over 200 branches during his time there and found the visits “illuminating”.

He said:

When I arrived, I felt the subpostmaster community felt unloved. To a degree by Post Office Ltd. And one of the one of my early objectives was to try to get close to the Post Office or community. And I try to resolve that. One of the first things I did was establish a strong relationship with the chap who was then the Federation’s top guy.

This is interesting because earlier in the week Alan Bates, in his evidence, said that the National Federation of Subpostmasters were of no help at times to his campaign because rather than acting on behalf of subpostmasters, he felt it acted like an additional arm of the Post Office.

Cook appears to be talking about his outreach efforts to staff where he would drop in to branches as an example of him being a visible boss and having good relations and says with a small laugh that as you can imagine he got a lot of feedback.

Sam Stevens, the barrister asking the questions, is gently pointing out that therefore he must have had some feedback about the Horizon IT system.

Keir Starmer is out on a campaign visit too, at BAE Systems in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has been meeting veterans today as part of an announcement that the government is setting up a new scheme to try to help those leaving the armed forces find employment.

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry has moved on to asking Alan Cook what he knew about the Horizon IT system itself. Earlier he had mentioned he had been on a training course on using the terminal and said he had spent one day working in a branch.

He said that at his first board meeting “my impression was there was a level of contentment with the functionality of the system, but not its running cost, and occasionally, its availability.”

At the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, former managing director of the Post Office Alan Cook has been shown a document he signed, which Sam Stevens the barrister says:

This shows doesn’t it, that you were aware that it was the Post Office security team that made decisions on whether or not there was a criminal case to answer.

Cook replies again that this was “not how he read it”. Asked about what action he would take to verify that documents he signed were true he tells the barrister that it would have been drafted for him.

Describing what was in the document, Stevens told the inquiry:

The last paragraph says in terms of the decision to issue court proceedings, the investigations undertaken by the Post Office security team to decide whether there is a criminal case to answer is independent from any action that may be taken by the contracts team, whose role is to focus on contractual related issues only.

The decision to issue legal proceedings is never taken lightly. The alleged offence of fraud against you are, however, have a sufficiently serious nature to support that this is the correct course of action to take a decision therefore, remains unchanged.

Cook maintains “clearly we wouldn’t have wanted anyone prosecuted where we didn’t believe we wanted to prosecute, but I didn’t believe that we were the only party that made that possible.”

PA Media has alerted that Greater Manchester police has said it has reopened a probe into claims Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner may have broken electoral law over information she gave about her living situation a decade ago.

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry has resumed. Alan Cook who was managing director at the Post Office during the early 2000s is the witness, being questioned by Sam Stevens. So far the key line to emerge is that Cook claims it was not until late in his tenure that he realised that the Post Office was itself acting as the prosecutor in cases against subpostmasters. The BBC has previously reported that Cook earned a total of £3m during his time at the company, including £1.2m in his final year. You can watch it here …

Some reaction from Scotland on Keir Starmer’s decision today to come out and say that nuclear weapons are a “bedrock” of Labour’s security plans.

SNP defence spokesperson Martin Docherty-Hughes said:

Westminster has already wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on nuclear weapons and expensive nuclear energy.

It is therefore grotesque that Sir Keir Starmer is prepared to throw billions more down the drain when his party claim there is no money to improve our NHS, help families with the cost of living or to properly invest in our green energy future.

This money would be better spent on a raft of other things – not least investing in the green energy gold rush, which would ensure Scotland, with all its renewable energy potential, could be a green energy powerhouse of the 21st century.

If you missed our First Edition newsletter today, Archie Bland was talking to Patrick Butler about the growing carers scandal:

“Each injustice has its own special identity,” Patrick Butler said. “But what they have in common is the sense of the little guy being crushed by the vast, impersonal, ruthless state. It has been known for a long time that this is a crappy design, that it punishes people, but they haven’t done anything about it.”

Here’s how it works: let’s say a carer goes over the eligibility limit by £1 a week and doesn’t notice. They are immediately ineligible for the entirety of the allowance, which becomes a debt to the DWP. Over a year, their debt is not the £52 annual total by which their income increased – but the accumulated £81.90 a week benefit, or £4,259.

Of course, because there has been so little change in the carer’s income, it is all too easy to miss: this is not a story about benefit cheats brazenly living the high life. And so there are many potential victims. Last year, the DWP was seeking to recover the debts of more than 145,000 people.

“It can be tempting to cast the DWP as the evil empire, but it’s not,” Patrick said. “The majority of people working there are just human beings. But it is an insanely rigid system that allows no discretion at all.”

Read more here: Friday briefing – ‘The little guy crushed by a ruthless state’ – how the carers scandal is growing

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is taking a ten minute break. And so will I. See you when they resume.

Alan Cook has said he believed the potential for fraud was endless within the Post Office business because it was cash rich. He told the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry:

More cash went through the Post Office organisation than any other organisation, you know, £80bn a year. The potential for fraud was endless. But the fraud I’m talking about is what the customers are up to. Not particularly what staff were up to. So there was a constant stream of these investigation reports would have a whole range of issues.

He later added:

If you look at the different types of product, the risk of fraud, and primarily to me, when I was hearing the word fraud, I was thinking it was us or the Bank of Ireland was being defrauded by customers.

Cook is claiming that on the documentation he saw, there was never a distinction between prosecutions involving the CPS and those solely by the Post Office.

He has been shown a note from 29 September 2005 which Sam Stevens, the barrister asking the questions, says makes it clear that the Post Office carried out its own prosecutions.

“It’s not how I read it. This is my regret,” said Cook. He went on to say:

There was a sort of high and mighty tone sometimes and it fed a sense of self-importance. It never occurred to me reading that that the Post Office was the sole arbiter of whether or not that criminal prosecution would proceed.

I felt what they were saying was “we agree it’s proceeding but somewhere else had to agree it was going ahead”.

He continues to maintain he did not know the Post Office was acting as prosecutor until 2009.

Former Post Office managing director Alan Cook says he assumed the police and DPP were involved in prosecutions

Alan Cook said he had not previously encountered an organisation that could initiate prosecutions itself, and he describes it as “one of my regrets” that he didn’t “pick up on that earlier”.

He told the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry:

I had assumed that the police/DPP had been involved. I shouldn’t have presumed, but I did presume, sadly. And then “it had gone to court” was the expression they used. I had not encountered the notion of an organisation that could make that decision on its own. And I suppose I had too much assumed knowledge. And when you see the words that were written, I can see why that view still perpetuated in my mind, because it didn’t overtly say “We have taken the decision to prosecute.”

Chair Wyn Williams interjects, and says:

As I understand it, it follows from what you’re saying that when you became the managing director, no one within the company Post Office Ltd thought it necessary to tell you “And by the way, we prosecute people, in the sense that we don’t just investigate them, but we initiate and conduct the prosecution.”

Alan Cook says that is correct.

He is shown some minutes about court cases from a meeting he did not attend but would most likely have read at the time. The phrasing still did not, he says, strike him as meaning that Post Office Ltd was itself carrying out the prosecutions.

“I am not blaming others,” he said “It’s my misunderstanding, but I had just not encountered that type of situation.”


Alan Cook, who was the managing director of Post Office, has just told the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry that he was not aware until late in his tenure that the Post Office was the prosecuting authority in many of these cases.

I knew there were court cases. But I didn’t realise that Post Office, in about two-thirds of the cases, had initiated the prosecution as opposed to, you know, the DPP or the police or whatever.

At the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, Alan Cook has said that he was not directly responsible for the group functions including HR and legal at Post Office that were done by the over-arching Royal Mail group.

“The people that were doing that work did not work for me,” he said, then clarified “I’m not saying I’m not responsible for the issues.”

He said the fact those functions belonged elsewhere made him “a little reluctant when I was being offered the job.”

As a reminder, Cook was managing director of the Post Office from 2006 to 2010. He goes on to explain:

Reliance was placed on Royal Mail Holdings governance as well as Post Office Ltd governance. For example, producing the annual results and having the accounts audited was a process that would have been run through an audit committee, and that audit committee was at the Royal Mail Holdings level. I fully accept I was on the board of Royal Mail, but I’m just saying that from a Post Office Ltd board’s perspective, they weren’t the accountable party that.

As Labour have made committing to nuclear weapons their theme for the day, I did just look up polling on support for the UK being a nuclear power.

When YouGov last surveyed adults on the issue in January, nationally 53% of people strongly supported or somewhat supported the UK retaining a nuclear deterrent, while 31% strongly or somewhat opposed it.

Worth noting that this is not the case in Scotland, where the national and regional breakdown of the data shows that in Scotland 41% of adults are against the UK having nuclear weapons, and 35% are for.

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry has started for the day at Aldwych House in London. Alan Cook, the former managing director of Post Office, is up first. Junior counsel to the inquiry Sam Stevens is asking the questions. You can watch it here.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has also reacted to the latest GDP figures. She said:

After 14 years of Conservative economic failure, Britain is worse off with low growth and high taxes. The Conservatives cannot fix the economy because they are the reason it is broken.

Growth in January was revised up from 0.2% to 0.3%, and in February the figure was 0.1%. That follows two quarters of slight contraction meaning that, effectively, regardless of whether GDP is slightly up or slightly down, the economy has been stagnating for months.

As my colleague Graeme Wearden notes, year-on-year, GDP fell 0.2% in February compared with the same month last year.

Labour: 'our commitment to the nuclear deterrent is total'

Labour’s shadow armed forces minister, Luke Pollard, has been on the media round this morning, talking about Labour’s commitment to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence “when circumstances allow”.

He said “our commitment to the nuclear deterrent is total and our support for the armed forces is on the record.”

He went on to explain:

What we need to make sure is that we’re reflecting the changing international circumstances, growing threats to not only the UK but our allies as well.

And that’s why we’ve set out our ambition to get to 2.5% of GDP on defence spending, but also that defence spending should be focused primarily on UK companies creating and supporting jobs across the UK, rather than buying equipment on the international markets from international partners where the jobs clearly go abroad.

The intention to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence exceeds the 2% spending target for Nato allies, and matches what the current government has said it intends to do.

Asked about potential dissent within the party on Sky News to increased defence spending and an endorsement of continuing the UK’s nuclear capabilities, Pollard said:

There is strong support for the renewal of our nuclear deterrent. I think when you’re looking at the screen and see news bulletins, and you’re seeing Russian aggression against Ukraine, where we’re seeing daily cyber-attacks against the UK, where we’re seeing our allies being threatened internationally, that case for a robust and strong defence policy is set out very clearly in front of us.

Pollard also said it was difficult at the present time to set out plans in more detail. He said “I don’t get to see the information, the security briefings, the intelligence, that would be required for us to set out clearly which capabilities need to be invested.”

Keir Starmer will be in Barrow today, where the UK’s nuclear submarines are built. He said in an interview ahead of the trip:

The changed Labour party I lead knows that our nation’s defence must always come first. Labour’s commitment to our nuclear deterrent is total.

In the face of rising global threats and growing Russian aggression, the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the bedrock of Labour’s plan to keep Britain safe. It will ensure vital protection for the UK and our Nato allies in the years ahead, as well as supporting thousands of high paying jobs across the UK.

Hunt: GDP rise of 0.1% in February is 'welcome sign economy is turning corner'

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has responded to those latest GDP figures by saying:

These figures are a welcome sign that the economy is turning a corner, and we can build on this progress if we stick to our plan.

Last week our cuts to national insurance for 29 million working people came into effect across Britain, as part of our plan to reward work and grow the economy.

Others have been more lukewarm about the news. A spokesperson for the British Chambers of Commerce said “Today’s data confirms once again that the UK economy is stuck on a low-growth treadmill.”

UK GDP rose by 0.1% in February new data shows

Richard Partington is the Guardian’s economics correspondent

Britain’s economy has taken a step closer to exiting recession after official figures showed growth continued in February despite a washout month for construction and retail after one of the wettest starts to a year on record.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 0.1% in February, matching City economists’ forecasts and extending a recovery after growth in January was revised up from 0.2% to 0.3%.

Liz McKeown, an ONS director of economics statistics, said: “The economy grew slightly in February with widespread growth across manufacturing, particularly in the car sector. Services also grew a little with public transport and haulage, and telecommunications having strong months.

“Partially offsetting this there were notable falls across construction as the wet weather hampered many building projects.”

The UK met the technical definition of recession after contracting in the third and fourth quarters of last year. An end to the slump will require a continued expansion in March to meet a quarterly return to growth.

You can follow reaction to that news live with my colleague Graeme Wearden: UK GDP grows in February, suggesting economy is escaping recession – business live

Former Post Office bosses Alan Cook and Adam Crozier to face Post Office Horizon IT inquiry

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry has had a series of high profile witnesses so far this week. On Tuesday Alan Bates, the lead campaigner in the scandal accused ministers of being vindictive over his own compensation claim as he disclosed a catalogue of attempts to sabotage his two-decade fight.

On Wednesday Lord Arbuthnot set out how attempts by MPs to get an investigation going in the 2010s were thwarted by the Post Office. The former Conservative MP said James said concerns about reliability of faulty Horizon computer system were “brushed off”, and accused the company of running a “behind-the-scenes deception process”.

Sir Anthony Hooper, the former senior judge who chaired the mediation panel in the early 2010s to try to resolve claims between the justice for subpostmasters campaign and the Post Office also appeared on Wednesday, describing it as “the greatest scandal that I have ever seen”.

Yesterday the inquiry heard a range of corporate oversight failures, and former Post Office executive David Smith apologised for sending an email saying the conviction of a pregnant branch owner-operator who was subsequently jailed and then exonerated was “brilliant news”.

Former Post Office chair Sir Michael Hodgkinson also offered an apology yesterday, but his words came after a passage in which Sam Stein KC skewered him for his lack of curiosity in the way in which the company he chaired was prosecuting people. Asked “What did you do to investigate that the Post Office was properly prosecuting its own members?”, Hodgkinson could only reply “I didn’t do anything.”

And so to today. Alan Cook, the former managing director of Post Office who went on to chair the insurer Liverpool Victoria, will appear.

After that we will see the former chief executive of Royal Mail, Adam Crozier. Crozier was also once in charge of ITV, whose drama did so much to draw attention to the scandal earlier this year, but which notably omitted any reference to its former chief. Crozier, who headed Royal Mail when it owned the Post Office between 2003 and 2010, will provide detailed testimony about his actions for the first time.

Yesterday, retired judge Wyn Williams who is chairing the inquiry, asked to move the start time forward from 10am to 9.30am, as there is a lot to get through. The hearings are streamed on video, and I will bring you the key lines as the emerge.

Welcome and opening summary …

Good morning. Rishi Sunak is expected to be out campaigning, foreign secretary David Cameron is in Brussels, GDP figures show continued economic stagnation, and Adam Crozier will be at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. More of all that in a moment, first, here are your headlines …

  • The UK took another step on path to exit recession, but GDP rise is just 0.1%

  • Tory candidate for London mayor Susan Hall has a Trumpian attitude to climate, says Sadiq Khan

  • Keir Starmer is expected to promise to make the UK’s nuclear deterrent the “bedrock” of his security plan to keep Britain safe today

  • The government needs a TikTok strategy to help combat misinformation directed at young people, MPs have said

There isn’t any business scheduled in any of the country’s legislatures today, however that doesn’t mean the diary is empty. Alan Cook and Adam Crozier are witnesses at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, and both were senior leaders at the Post Office and Royal Mail during the time the scandal was unfolding. There is likely to be especially keen interest in the appearance by Crozier, former ITV CEO, and a person who now acts as chairman of both Whitbread and BT Group. That is expected to start at 9.30am.

It is Martin Belam here with you today once more. I do try to read all your comments, and dip into them where I think I can be helpful, but if you want to get my attention the best way is to email me – – especially if you have spotted errors/typos/omissions.

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