The Post Office (PO) has been accused of failing to disclose over 30,000 documents to the Horizon IT scandal inquiry.
The claims came during the first day of the second phase of the inquiry which got underway in London yesterday, examining the first iteration of Horizon, known as Legacy Horizon.
Lawyers for the subpostmasters called upon chair Sir Wyn Williams to adjourn the inquiry until all relevant paperwork had been made available.
In his argument, Sam Stein QC explained that “to go ahead now is to allow the PO yet again to dictate the pace and content of disclosure”.
Edward Henry QC went on to describe the PO as a “malevolent animal” and accused it of showing “contempt for the process”.
“I’m afraid I can’t use the analogy of a puppy because, of course, the PO is a far more sinister and, I regret to submit, malevolent animal, but you have to train an unruly participant and the only way you can train it is by actually no acceding to its continuing contempt for the process,” he said.
“It has demonstrated time and time again that it cannot be replied upon or trusted to comply with court orders. Once more, it has demonstrated that it is unwilling or unable to meet deadlines which have been set and it is utterly incorrigible.”
Henry admitted adjourning the inquiry would mean momentum is lost, but that it would allow parties to regroup and “attack this subject with even greater momentum and confidence, knowing that a marker has not simply been laid down but imposed upon an institution which seems incapable of acting fairly towards those it had maimed and marred”.
However, Kate Gallafent KC, for the PO, denied the claims and stated approximately 95,000 documents had been submitted to the inquiry.
“The disclosure of those documents was made as soon as reasonably could have been, having regard to the nature of the exercise being undertaken, and there was certainly no intention to delay their disclosure,” she said.
“There was equally no intention to obfuscate attempts by the inquiry to obtain those documents. On the contrary, in correspondence, PO set out in detail the steps that it was taking in order to review potentially relevant documents so that it could make disclosure of any such documents to the inquiry.”
Sir Wyn Williams concluded he would not adjourn the inquiry, and “it is no surprise that sometimes there are glitches in relation to disclosure”.
But he stressed: “I wish to make it clear, that if I reach a conclusion at anytime that there is either accidental, or even worse, deliberate non-disclosure of relevant documents, I will use all the extensive powers at my disposal to obtain the documents which have not been disclosed. Proper disclosure is crucial to the success of this inquiry.”
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