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Former Post Office complaints handler defends knowledge of Horizon failings

A former top Post Office executive has told the inquiry into the Horizon scandal that she never “knowingly” did anything wrong.

Angela van den Bogerd, who held various roles over 35 years at the organisation, made the comment after opening her evidence on Thursday by saying she was “truly, truly sorry” for the “devastation” caused to wrongly convicted sub-postmasters.

Her roles at the Post Office included handling complaints about its Horizon software, which was provided by Japanese firm Fujitsu.

More than 700 Post Office managers were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015, after the system made it seem like money was missing from branches. At the time, the company insisted Horizon was robust.

Ms van der Bogerd, who was played by Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly in the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, had previously not spoken publicly since a 2019 High Court case.

At the time, Judge Peter Fraser criticised her testimony and said she “did not give me frank evidence, and sought to obfuscate matters, and mislead me”.

Jason Beer KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, challenged Ms van den Bogerd’s opening statement, as he accused her of not saying sorry for her own role in the scandal.

Ms van den Bogerd, who resigned as the Post Office’s business improvement director in 2020, said she regretted missing significant documents and apologised for “not getting to the answer more quickly”.

She said: “But with the evidence I had and the parameters of my role at the time, I did the best I could to the best of my ability.”

Ms van den Bogerd added: “I didn’t knowingly do anything wrong and I would never knowingly do anything wrong.”

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The inquiry heard that Ms van den Bogerd was sent an email in December 2010 informing her Fujitsu could remotely amend cash balances in branch accounts via Horizon.

She told the inquiry she had no memory of it and only became aware of the issue in a January 2011 email.

The inquiry was shown a transcript of a meeting that same month between her and sub-postmistress Rachpal Athwal, who was sacked after being wrongly accused of stealing £710 before being reinstated.

In the meeting, Ms van den Bogerd said Horizon could not be accessed remotely by anyone from the Post Office, without mentioning that Fujitsu could, the inquiry heard.

Mr Beer asked: “Are you saying that what you said overall there is accurate?”

Ms van den Bogerd replied: “So that is accurate. I go on to talk later about Fujitsu, I believe”. Mr Beer said it was inaccurate because she had not given the full picture.

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Scandal ‘tip of the iceberg’

The inquiry also heard that, prior to a High Court case in 2019, Ms van den Bogerd made a witness statement in 2018 in which she said the first she knew of the possibility of inserting transactions into the system remotely was in the year or so before.

Mr Beer told the inquiry: “That was false.”

She replied: “Well, at the time I didn’t think it was.”

Pressed further on the issue, she said the messaging on remote access was “constantly changing” and that colleagues had been “very strong” that such access was “impossible”.

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‘I have had breakdowns’

Ms van den Bogerd was also asked about an October 2014 email she and other senior staff were sent by Post Office media officer Melanie Corfield, which discussed what the response should be if anyone asked about remote access to Horizon.

The email said: “Our current line if we are asked about remote access potentially being used to change branch data/transactions is simply: ‘This is not and never has been possible’.”

Mr Beer said: “You knew that was false from multiple sources by then, by now, didn’t you?”

Ms van den Bogerd appeared flustered, before replying: “Clearly I was aware of that and just didn’t pick this up… it didn’t register with me at the time, but obviously from what we’ve discussed then this was incorrect terms of reference of a flow of information, yes.”

She added she was “certainly not trying to cover up… it wasn’t just me, there were other people party to the same information”.

Meanwhile, earlier in the hearing, the former executive said she agreed with Mr Beer that using words such as “exception” or “anomaly” to describe computer bugs had been an “attempt to control the narrative”.

The inquiry continues.

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