A senior Post Office lawyer told an engineer to provide a court with evidence that would help “preserve” its IT system ahead of a trial that led to the jailing of a wrongfully convicted pregnant subpostman, an inquest heard.
Jarnail Singh emailed Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins in March 2010 asking him to find the “shortest interval” of transaction logs to “disprove or refute” a defense expert's conclusions that the Horizon system it had errors.
The prosecutor in the case, Warwick Tatford, told the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry that the advice sent by Mr Singh before the prosecution against Seema Misra was “devastating”.
He added: “I'm sorry, this shouldn't have happened.
“As far as I'm concerned, I was the prosecutor in the case … and I obviously failed to ensure that there was an atmosphere where an expert could be properly instructed.
“I would like to think that if I had seen it I would have done my best to solve it and put an end to it, but it is very disturbing reading.”
Mr Tatford fought back tears as he began his evidence on Wednesday, saying he was “ashamed to have been a part of this” and apologized to Ms Misra, who was sitting in the public gallery.
Ms Misra started running a post office in West Byfleet, Surrey, in 2005 and was eight weeks pregnant when she was jailed.
He was suspended in 2008 and jailed for 15 months in November 2010 after being accused of stealing £74,000.
Ms Misra was one of more than 700 Post Office branch managers who faced criminal charges after the system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu, made it appear as if money was missing.
In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained a number of “errors, errors and defects” and there was a “substantial risk” that deficiencies in Post Office branch accounts would be caused by the system.
During his evidence, Mr Tatford was given Mr Singh's email to Mr Jenkins, which read: “As you are our Horizon expert you should call Charles McLachlan … to arrange a meeting where you can to discuss all of his reports and concerns about Horizon so that you can address and counter them.”
The email continued: “… and then write a detailed report that would go some way to progressing and completing this matter and most importantly preserving the Horizon system.
“Perhaps the simplest and most practical way to deal with this whole issue is to find a smaller range of logs, analyze it, disprove or contradict what the defense expert says in his reports.
“Just a reminder that you're a Fujitsu expert, you're going to be testifying in court, the judge and the jury are going to listen to you very carefully and a lot will depend on the evidence.”
Mr Tatford also received an email, which had been forwarded to him, in which Mr Jenkins said he was “reluctant” to provide expert evidence because he was aware of a report of a Horizon fault at a branch in Falkirk.
The witness told the inquest: “It's my fault, I'm sorry. I didn't remember seeing it, it would make me ask questions.”
He added: “If I had read that document, if I had cross-referenced it with other documents, that might have been the mistake, but obviously it's something I missed and that's important and I missed it and I'm sorry. for this.”
At the start of his evidence at the inquest, Mr Tatford apologized to Ms Misra and fellow deputy constable Carl Page, who he had also prosecuted as a junior barrister.
Mr Tatford said: “I would like to apologize profusely to both of them.
“I know Mrs. Misra… I can see her and I am very sorry.
“I don't know if Mr. Page is here, but I apologize to him.”
Taking his time to apologise, Mr Tatford appeared to hold back tears as he said: ‘I'm sorry, I'm finding it quite difficult, it's not really about me, but I feel ashamed of what happened.
“The best I can do is try to help the research and try to learn something myself.
“That's enough for me. it's much more important to answer the questions, but I'm sorry.”
Hundreds of victims of the scandal are waiting for compensation.
The investigation continues.