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Former Post Office boss speaks of regret over ‘subbies with hands in till’ email

A former managing director of the Post Office has said an email suggesting “subbies with their hands in the till” were blaming Horizon is one he will “regret for the rest of my life”.

Alan Cook, who was in the position from 2006-2010, described his words as “unacceptable” and denied it represented his actual views at the time.

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Alan Cook said his words were ‘unacceptable’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

The October 2009 email to Royal Mail Group’s PR officer Mary Fagan read: “For some strange reason, there is a steadily building nervousness about the accuracy of the Horizon system and the press are on it now as well.

“It is the more strange in that the system has been stable and reliable for many years now and there is absolutely no logical reason why these fears should now develop.

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“My instincts tell me that, in a recession, subbies (subpostmasters) with their hand in the till choose to blame the technology when they are found to be short of cash.”

Counsel to the inquiry Sam Stevens asked: “Why was your instinct to think that subpostmasters, who alleged that Horizon caused shortfalls, were stealing from the Post Office?”

Mr Cook said: “Well that’s an expression I’ll regret for the rest of my life – it was an inappropriate thing to put in an email. It was not in line with my view of subpostmasters.”

Mr Stevens continued: “In perhaps an unguarded comment, you’ve put that your instincts were for it to effectively be that subpostmasters were stealing and then blaming the technology – does that represent your actual views at the time?”

Mr Cook replied: “No, but it was said.”

Mr Stevens pressed him: “Why did you say it if it wasn’t your view?”

Mr Cook responded: “I had a friendly informal relationship with Mary Fagan and it’s just an email I shouldn’t have written but it was important to me that she understood exactly where we were at.

“She was very helpful to me, she was a sounding board and I was probably more open and frank with what I was thinking with her than many other people. That sentiment was expressed – what I wrote in that email was unacceptable.”