Saturday, 17 December 2011

Lee Castleton - bankrupt and bitter

In the light of the recent article in Private Eye, I got an email from Lee Castleton, whose situation was highlighted back in 2009, by Computer Weekly.

Lee has given me permission to publish his email which has been edited slightly for clarity.

"Hi Nick,

"My name is Lee Castleton. I am a former subpostmaster. I am writing to give you my sorrowful experience of dealings with Post Office Ltd. I believe I am the only person to have defended a civil case (and lost) for losses in my branch - Marine Drive Bridlington. Case number HQ05X02706 in the High Court London. I was taken there in Dec 2006 by Post Office Ltd.

"In Jan 2004 My Post Office branch started to accrue losses. The first of which was £1103.68. This I paid. But I telephoned helpline and explained that I lost £1103.68. They told me to pay it and it would no doubt turn up the following week as a mistake on my part. The following week we again misbalanced. I was £4300 short. Again I made the phone call to helpline but I was given no help. 

"I explained I had paid in a large amount the week prior and I could not afford to pay. I was told they would look in to it. Over the following 10 weeks we misbalanced every week. Sometimes we had too much money but more often we had too little. I was frantic. I received no help and even though I never hid any misbalances, no answers we given. 

"After repeatedly voicing my concerns and begged for help (over 91 phone calls in the 12 week period) I asked for an audit. I knew this would stop the never helping attitude and force some action. I am naive. On the 23rd March 2004 I was audited. I was found to be exactly where I had told Post Office I was with respect to the misbalances (-£25000). 

"I did not expect what happened next. I was suspended. I was told the deficit was against my contract and that I needed to pay the money there and then. I explained that I had told Post Office repeatedly and that I felt the Horizon system was at fault. 

"I was taken through a procedure where my suspension became a termination yet still despite my pointing out faults in paperwork there was no investigation. Post Office now were not paying me and they then started proceedings to recover the supposed missing money. I was able to get representation through a legal insurance. 

"Post Office delayed and delayed with letters back and forth. All the time eating up the insurance money. 

"Finally we went to court in Dec 06. The Post office offered little evidence other than my signed accounts. I lost. From Jan 07 to this day my family and I have suffered far beyond anything I could explain. 

"I had to declare myself bankrupt because the Judge order costs against me to the value of £321000. The Judge told the Post Office that it was unlikely I would be able to pay prior to the case being heard but Post Office wanted to continue. So Post office Ltd paid £321000 to try to recover £25000. Even though they knew I could not pay.

"What is still painful is even more so when new revelations are revealed by others on a daily basis. I always asked for help and explained and reported any losses. It is not reasonable to think that an average working man can just pay ever more money into a system that clearly is flawed. 

"I have documents that prove the system does not work. One of which is the one Shoosmiths refer to - the Horizon records transactions whilst the person whom the Horizon says is operating the system is not even logged on to the system. This is one of the faults from my office.

"Post Office's case against me was argued on the basis that an account stated is an account owned. They argued that I signed of the accounts as a true reflection of the the accounts. Firstly over the 12 week period I made 91 phone calls asking why the system was showing shortages or gains. 

"Secondly I have now found out that Horizon has 3rd party access. Which Post Office deny. How can I own an account that a third party can change?

"Lee Castleton"

Since emailing this letter, Lee has asked Humberside Police to investigate his situation. He is alleging the Post Office:

"withheld the fact that the system has had and continues to have balance problems where transactions are lost. They withheld information during disclosure and still deny that the system has serious flaws with balancing. 

"They have financially gained from the non-disclosure and continue to deny they have a problem with the system. They have sought to criminalise people where possible whilst withholding this information. 

"They have profited from withholding this information. Because they are able to prosecute people without any form of checks with the CPS they have been able to continue to withhold this information to their own benefit in such cases."

Lee tells me the investigating officer at Humberside Police:

"has confirmed to me that he will be investigating the Post Office. He explained that he felt there is clearly a problem that needs to be looked into. 

"Whilst he also felt that it will be particularly difficult to do so he feels that it is certainly something that needs to be investigated."

I ought to point out, just in case any of the Post Office's lawyers are reading this, that the Post Office believes its Horizon interface to be "robust", and no one has ever offered any testable proof that the Horizon system has any faults whatsoever.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Namechecked in the House

I know exactly why Jeremy Hunt MP did this, and so do his sniggering colleagues.

 Jeremy Hunt loves BBC Surrey by nickwallis 

But that doesn't mean it isn't strange and wonderful to have your name mentioned by a Secretary of State in the House of Commons.

He said: "There are numerous examples which we've heard this afternoon, across the country, of where BBC Local Radio has filled a gap that would not have been filled by anything else, and I think in line with what other Hon. Members have said I do need to mention the excellent work done by BBC Surrey, which I visited recently, including the excellent Nick Wallis breakfast show." - Jeremy Hunt MP, Thu 1 Dec, 2011.

The mention, whilst extremely welcome, was gratuitous. Members of Parliament know that if they namecheck a specific local newspaper in the House of Commons there is a 99.9% chance they will appear in the paper they have mentioned (probably with a photo), and the coverage of their mention will almost certainly be favourable. 

I haven't heard the full debate on BBC Local Radio that led to Jeremy Hunt mentioning my name, but as he infers in the above clip, his parliamentary colleagues were almost certainly queuing up to mention their local radio station because they knew by doing so, they would make the bulletins on the radio stations they mentioned. Hence the knowing laughs in the background when Jeremy Hunt mentioned BBC Surrey.

It's not a conscious or pre-meditated "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours", nor does the extended coverage of the mention come from any pathetic sense of gratefulness on behalf of the publication or media outlet which gets its brief moment in the spotlight. It's just the way these things work. 

If someone who has a high profile endorses your work it is likely that people who already like you will be interested in it. Report it. Make a trail using it. Put it on the cover of your book or your billboard, RT it on twitter. Write an article about it. Anyone in this situation who gets all bashful is a fool.

The important thing to note is why my name was mentioned by a Secretary of State in the House of Commons. Although it may have been done for cynical reasons, it didn't happen spontaneously.

The debate in the chamber was about the future of BBC Local Radio, and it was called by the veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell. He has concerns about the scale of cuts an internal BBC review (called Delivering Quality First or DQF) is going to impose on BBC Local Radio. Where did his concerns come from? Not out of thin air.

Since I started doing my show, I have been in regular contact with an extraordinarily committed listener who goes by the name of Darcy Sarto. He is passionate, articulate and very funny, and he cares an awful lot about BBC Local Radio. In his spare time he is involved with a group called the BBC Local Radio Forum, which has lobbied incessantly to get all the people who say they care about BBC Local Radio to do something about it. He is very well aware of the potential implications of DQF for local radio, and he sees it as his business, as a licence-fee payer and listener, to be an advocate for BBC Local Radio.

Whilst chatting (off air) with Darcy about DQF, I suggested the biggest problem that BBC Local Radio had was not enough movers and shakers listen to it. For many and varied reasons, a lot of influential people listen to BBC Radio 4 and/or 5live.

If there were a "Listen to BBC Local Radio Day", which simply asked everyone to try their local BBC station for a few moments, whether it be MPs, local councillors, charity bigwigs, NHS chief executives, police chiefs, business owners, shop workers, commuters, schoolteachers, mums, kids, celebrities, whoever - then it would raise the profile of BBC Local Radio, prove to people who'd never listened what a vital job BBC Local Radio does and it might even get us a few more regular listeners. It would also be something that the BBC hierarchy could get behind - why wouldn't they support a listener-generated campaign to ask everyone to tune in to BBC Local Radio?

Darcy agreed and suggested the date - Thu 1 Dec - the birthdate of the founder of BBC Local Radio, Frank Gillard. Poetically resonant and conveniently within the timescale of the current BBC Trust consultation into DQF. Perfect.

I am ashamed to say I did very little thereafter. Darcy and his friends did all the running - they got to enough MPs to get the debate called, and they ensured that the biggest news story coming out of DQF was the effect it may have on local radio. It won some significant public statements from people within the BBC, not least Mark Thompson, the Director General, and Caroline Thomson, the Chief Operating Officer who told the Voice of the Listener and Viewer group that the BBC had been "surprised" by the response to the Local Radio proposals.

Before we go any further, I need to state, for the record, that I have no opinion on DQF, nor on the way the BBC chooses to go about setting its budgets. I know that if there is a reprieve for BBC Local Radio, some other department will lose out. It's not my place to pontificate even if I did have an opinion.

If, however, you have a view on BBC Local Radio, and you want that view to count, please contact the BBC Trust. They are reviewing the proposals in DQF, and as a licence-fee payer, what you have to say will make a difference.

Here's the link. You have until 21 Dec 2011 to make your contribution. Please spread the word.

In the event, not many MPs attended today's debate, but the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, given his brief, was more or less obliged to do so. I have no idea of his real feelings on BBC Local Radio. Although he says I'm "excellent", I have no idea how many hours (minutes? seconds?) of my show he has listened to.

But he knew he would hear lots of other MPs talk passionately about their radio station, and so he made sure, at the very least, that he knew my name. 

And please be in no doubt that however cynical I may seem, it was rather thrilling to hear it said in such a rarified setting.

Monday, 14 November 2011

It was 20 years ago today

This rather small and badly-cropped picture is of John Terrett. His was the first voice, and he was the first breakfast show presenter, on BBC Radio Surrey, when it launched on 14 Nov 1991.

I spoke to John on air this morning. I was in the same studio he was sitting in exactly 20 years previously. He was in Washington DC, where he now works as a US correspondent for Al Jazeera.

My former colleague at Five News, Brian Ging, tracked John down. Brian moved to "Al Jazz" as we call it in "the" "trade", and worked with him before he moved to the US. A few quick emails later and John and I were having a natter on the phone, sorting out this morning's interview on the BBC Surrey Breakfast Show.

John is a perfect gentleman and could not have been more helpful. Bearing in mind the 5 hour time difference, he very kindly agreed to stay up until 1.20am his time to talk to us live on the radio.

Speaking to John on air brought all the stories out of the woodwork. I asked people what they were doing in 1991 and as well as personal histories, I was bowled over by the number of people listening to the radio station this morning who started listening to BBC Radio Surrey in 1991.

As well as the birthday wishes and reminiscences from listeners, my news editor Angus Moorat came on air to tell me that when BBC Radio Surrey launched, he was running a student radio station at the University of Surrey.

It's name? Radio Surrey. When Angus got wind of the BBC's plans he went up to Broadcasting House in London (by appointment) with a fellow student to tell the BBC they couldn't call their new station Radio Surrey, as it would clash with their student station.

They met with a nice man at the BBC who sat behind a large desk in a wood panelled room. He listened to their concerns and then told them there was no chance of the BBC changing its mind, so thanks very much for coming and goodbye.

The student Radio Surrey is now called GU2 radio - and it is doing rather well - taking home two silvers from last week's Student Radio Awards.

Peter Stewart, my newsreader, and author of an excellent book on radio, told me in 1991 he was busy applying to be a journalist at BBC Radio Surrey. He still has the rejection letter.

BBC Radio Surrey lasted two years before becoming part of BBC Sussex and Surrey. Then they both became BBC Southern Counties, for a long time. 

In 2009, BBC Surrey was born. I heard about the launch of this new station, and was delighted there was finally a BBC station representing my home county (I never knew where or what Southern Counties was supposed to be). 

I went along to meet the Managing Editor responsible for this name change. One conversation led to another... and here I am.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Two years in the job

Just over a year ago I wrote "One year in the job", a review of my first year presenting the BBC Surrey breakfast show.

A year and a half ago, I wrote "A day in the life", a fairly extensive blow-by-blow account of my daily routine.

Here's an update.

There have been three significant changes to my routine in the past 18 months.

1) I no longer regularly make programme pieces for my show.
2) We have shifted the programme back an hour, so it is now broadcast between 6-9am.
3) I have taken on the Saturday breakfast show.

Stopping doing regular pieces for my show happened during the summer of last year. The time commitment was too much. I was leaving the office more or less straight after finishing the programme, going to a job, and then spending two hours at home putting the edit together.

After travel time, I often wouldn't file the piece until 2.30-3pm, making it a difficult working day. I was getting more and more tired, and whilst it was nice having three minutes of good quality audio on the show, it was affecting my performance during the other 177 quite considerably.

It also meant that I often wouldn't be around for the morning meeting, which is an essential debriefing and planning session. Here we get an early idea as to the likely stories in the next day's show. We also get to discuss those stories, and try to think creatively about how we could bring them to air.

These meetings can throw up some brilliant ideas, and can turn a weak story on paper into something very vivid when you hear it. It can also flush out the duff stories - ones which look good on paper, but are much harder to develop or execute on the show.

By the end of the planning meeting we will all have some idea of what should be happening the next day.

Then it's off home, or on to any other work commitment that might come my way. Recently I've been working with the BBC South Inside Out team again, which has been great. I have also had the enormous satisfaction of working with a Private Eye journalist to get a story about the Post Office into print, and I'm pleased to say there may be another broadcast piece to be made about the latest developments there.

More often than not, though, I will head home to have lunch, go for a run, sleep, do my share of childcare, or all of the above.

Since we have moved the show to 6-9am (it used to be 7-10am), I get up at 3.45am. I remember Nicky Campbell saying his alarm call was 3.45am when he used to start at 6am, and that's good enough for me.

It means I have less time to prep the show in the office. Some days, if a cue isn't quite right, or the producer, newsreader and myself think we need to make significant changes, it can be challenging.

The upside is: I'm not exhausted by the time we get to air, and I still get to listen to the excellent Morning Reports on 5live (and BBC Surrey!) on the drive-in, which gives you a full briefing on the day's news agenda.

The lack of prep time in the morning means it is more essential than ever to speak to the day producer at the end of their shift to discuss the next day's stories. I'll usually get a call between 6pm and 7pm, and we'll have a chat about everything. I think the producer finds it helpful too. They've spent all day with their heads inside the various stories, changing them, writing them, finding guests and working them up into something worth broadcasting; now they have to brief me verbally. Given that's what I'm doing for the audience the next day, it's a neat test of whether or not they've got the "tellability" of it right.

It doesn't matter how good the story or guest is, or how much work you've done on it, if I can't tell the listener what is going on in a simple, accurate and engaging way, everyone's hard work is wasted.

Whilst talking to the producer on the phone I can obviously ask questions that immediately occur to me. If any changes are needed (or have time to be made) the producer will make them, and I will use the basis of our conversation for some kind of approach on air the next day.

Once the scripts have been finalised, the producer sends them through to me on email, and I will read through them before I go to bed, making notes as to any further changes I think might need making, and absorbing the briefing notes which sit below the cues.

So the my current routine is:

3.45am Alarm goes off. Take phone off charge, stagger downstairs and make breakfast.
3.50am Watch last night's BBC1 Ten o'clock news on PVR whilst eating breakfast. Also check twitter feed on phone. If anything comes up on there, I'll forward it to my colleagues and to my work email to watch/read on a big computer screen.
4.20am Shower. Get dressed.
4.50am Get in car, listen to paper review on LBC.
5am Switch car radio to BBC Surrey to listen to 5live's Morning Reports.
5.20am Arrive BBC Surrey in Guildford. Discuss stories with producer and newsreader. Make any changes to cues as necessary. Get weather, write show introduction, choose 6-7am quiz question.
6am On air. The first hour has a relatively gentle start with a quiz and 4 songs before 7. But we have a top story, there is a full news, weather, travel and sport service, plus a rather enjoyable entertainment fix, and the papers.
7-9am All speech. Full on, full service breakfast show.
9am Decompression.
9.30am Morning planning meeting.
10.30am email and other admin. Occasional meetings with management.
11-11.30am Leave the BBC Surrey building.
11.30am Sleep or eat or work or carry out family-related duties.
6-7pm Producer phone call (10 - 25 mins)
8.30pm Read scripts
9pm Lights out.

Since taking on the Saturday breakfast show, I will also spend some of the post-show production time at the office thinking about what should go into Saturday. I'll talk to the news editor on a Friday and stay in regular contact with my weekend producer throughout the week. He comes in on Friday to set up the show and will studio produce on a Saturday morning.

We've only been doing this for four weeks, but I think already we've started to push the show in the direction we want to take it. It is a bit more relaxed than the weekday breakfast show - we have music running throughout the 3 hours we are on air, and it is a Saturday. So whilst we are geared up to take on breaking and important news, I think there should be a weekend feel to things.

So that's me. It's a reasonably punishing routine, but nowhere near as wearing as looking after three small children, which is what my wife does when I'm not around to assist. I also love doing it, which helps.

The main thing I have learned over the course of the last two years is that whilst good journalism is essential, the show is a performance. As a presenter, my responsibility is as much to the performance as it is to the journalism within it. Most of what I've been doing over the past year is working on my performance, and shaping my daily schedule to give me the best chance of doing it well.

To extend the point I made earlier in this post, the material I work with has to be simple, accurate and engaging, but unless I can do something extra with it, to put a smile on someone's face, or really connect with a story, everyone's hard work is completely wasted.


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Post Office Horizon story grows legs

This is the new issue of Private Eye (no 1299). The last issue (no 1298, amazingly) carried an article about possible problems with the Post Office's Horizon IT system (see my blog post about it, which includes the text of the first Private Eye article and links to further information).

I am pleased to say the initial article provoked a response. The above issue contains three letters about it on p.15, and a follow up article In The Back (p.31) where it is leading the section entitled "IT cock ups".
If you would like to read them, please buy the magazine.

I also need your help. If you have high level experience of working on banking/high volume/legacy IT systems and you think you may have something interesting to say about Horizon, please get in touch. If you are prepared to go on camera about it, that would be nice too.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Post Office story in Private Eye

UPDATE: New blog post on the 2nd Sight interim report 14 Aug 2013.


I have been working with a journalist at Private Eye magazine over the past few weeks, and a piece on the Post Office Horizon system leads the investigative section "In the Back" in this fortnight's issue (No 1298 30 Sep - 13 Oct p.28).

To read the original story in full and watch the TV piece I did about it in February, click here, but if you have a chance, please buy the magazine. It's an excellent read, and the Post Office story deserves wider public attention.

If the link above expires, here is the same article copied and pasted.


AS Britain’s multi-billion pound public IT programmes hit the next stage in the lifecycle of botched computer projects – malfunction – alarming repercussions are being felt in the nation’s post offices. In recent years the Horizon system that 11,500 sub-postmasters are forced to use has thrown up a rash of apparent financial “shortfalls”.

These have prompted dozens of prosecutions and financial ruin for businessmen and women with previously spotless records. Fifty-five of them last week launched a “class action” against the Post Office, arguing that their troubles owe more to computer error than dishonesty.In a standard week a sub-post office performs thousands of transactions – many such as pension payments and lottery and foreign currency purchases, in cash. When the computer says the till is short, the sub-postmaster (or mistress) has to cough up the difference; and the computer is always right apparently. If the sub-postmaster or mistress can’t pay up, the Post Office’s fraud investigators swiftly descend.

No sign of any missing cash

Typical is the case of Jo Hamilton from South Warnborough in Hampshire, who one week was £2,000 down. After the helpdesk told her to press a few buttons the total doubled, and the Post Office took £4,000 off her.

When the problem kept repeating, her mistake was to claim that everything was fine so she could at least keep trading in the hope that the errors would correct themselves and she’d get her £4,000 back. Then the total hit £36,000, the auditors swooped and she was convicted for false accounting (without ever being accused of taking any money) and forced to pay the £36,000 back with the help of supportive villagers.

Others have been jailed for theft simply on evidence from a computer system that seems to be misfiring, with no indication of what they are supposed to have done with the money. One, Seema Misra, was pregnant when she was found guilty of stealing £75,000 even though no trace of the cash could be found and the judge at Guildford crown court, according to supporters present, appeared to instruct the jury that the evidence was very limited. She was sentenced to 18 months.

Since her case, others have pleaded guilty simply for more lenient sentences. Many more have coughed up thousands of pounds from their own pockets in desperate attempts to retain their livelihoods. The Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance reckons the total affected could run into the thousands.

A law unto itself

The Post Office remains the only body in the UK to run its own prosecutions and campaigners think that if it had to use the Crown Prosecution Service, many cases would not have made it to court. The last organisation with such powers, Customs & Excise, was stripped of them almost a decade ago when it was found to have over-stepped the mark in several high-profile cases.

Mrs Hamilton’s MP, James Arbuthnot, expresses a widely-held view when he says: “I find it very difficult to believe that all these sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses are suddenly found to be dishonest, if the alternative is that it may be a public sector computer system which has gone wrong. We’ve heard of that before.” But postal services minister Ed Davey is washing his hands of the problem, simply re-directing MPs’ questions to the Post Office itself.

Lost Horizon

There is no shortage of visible problems with Horizon. One sub-postmaster explained to the Eye how when selling stamps, for example, his terminal often either registered no stamp sale or not the class of stamp keyed in. And in July the entire Post Office banking system was shut down by a “Horizon online issue”. Even the 370 large “Crown” post offices managed centrally are not immune from glitches. Latest known figures show shortfalls there of £2.2m in a year, although mysteriously these haven’t produced any criminal sanctions.

These are just the latest episode in Horizon’s inglorious history. It originated in 1996 in a joint Department of Social Security-Post Office PFI deal for an automated benefits payment system with Pathway, part of ICL (now Fujitsu) on the back of a cheap but technically flawed bid. Four years and £1bn later it was ditched by the government, with the Post Office left to convert it into the Horizon automation project. Fujitsu still runs the technical side of things.
The lengthening list of “shortfall” cases, many in odd geographical clusters, has received little attention beyond diligent investigation by BBC South TV hack Nick Wallis and Computer Weekly magazine. This could be about to change, though, as solicitors Shoosmith begin action on behalf of the 55, with another 150 cases pending.

The Post Office, fearing immense further cost if its computer system is found wanting, has its head firmly in the sand. There are, a spokeswoman told the Eye, “no issues” with Horizon (which is nonsense given the ones already admitted). To say anything else would be to admit that the computer on which it depends is a pig in a poke that has not only wasted billions but might now be dispensing miscarriages of justice as well.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

When politicians *really* don't want to answer the question

You might like this. The Conservative leader Dr Andrew Povey sacked his deputy (David Hodge) and then announced he was resigning. But wouldn't tell me why. Well, he wouldn't tell me really why.

 NICK POVEY by nickwallis

We just happened to have an interview with a different cabinet member (Peter Martin) booked for the same morning, so I asked him what was going on. He wouldn't tell me. He really wouldn't tell me.

 NICK MARTIN by nickwallis

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

How to deal with hate in radio and in life

Please take the time to read this article written by the documentary film-maker and polemicist Michael Moore. Funny, fascinating and deeply worrying.

And for some light relief, click on the fist, and listen.

It's taken from talkSPORT's late night show, hosted by @mattforde.

The odd thing is that the rage is at one level - the caller starts very angry and remains so. He doesn't get any more or less wound up - it's a steady, constant pitch of compellingly-enunciated bile, delivered without one swear word.

Thanks to @richardpbacon for tweeting them both.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Six days a week

Now I'm doing BBC Surrey Breakfast six days a week, Monday to Saturday, 6am to 9am.

I had better go to bed.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Would you like to taste the wine, sir/madam?

I hate this ritual. It's awkward and odd and has no place in all but the very best restaurants.

95% of wines are okay. In the restaurants I frequent, 99.5% of them are okay. Most are screw-top, and modern bottling procedures are such that even cork-stopped wines are usually always as they should be.

But still, we have to go through with the tasting. What is the point?

Traditionally, when one person is paying the bill, that person is asked by the sommelier/waiter to taste the wine. Not because of their inherently superior knowledge, but because it re-inforces the hierarchy of their position as bill-payer. You might be breaking bread as equals, but some are more equal than others.

We wait for the bill-payer to say the wine is good enough to drink, then it can be shared among us lesser mortals.

In terms of real, genuine practical effect, the only thing this obviates is the pouring of bad wine into more than one glass.

It's out of date. I don't like it.

Hmm I think, as I take a sip doesn't taste corked, but I'm hardly having an epiphany here... in fact... it tastes exactly like the second cheapest wine on the menu, which is, funnily enough, exactly what I ordered. 

The waiter knows it's bog-standard supermarket screw-top plonk with a 400% mark-up, and so do I. He's now been waiting exactly five seconds for me to say something, which is far too long to comment on what I already knew would be okay. Why are we doing this?

"Lovely" I say, failing to make eye contact with the waiter, or my dining companions.

Let's stop this now. In future, I'll order the wine. You bring it.

If there's a problem, I'll let you know.


Saturday, 13 August 2011

Word on the Street

I have just updated my biog to take account of what I've been doing for the last couple of years.

In doing so I found a link to a language programme called Word on the Street I did for young people at BBC World.

This went out on BBC Persia, and was sold to various other territories.

I could be big in Iran.

Biography and Credits

Nick is a freelance television reporter and presenter. He is currently under contract as a reporter with the One Show. In 2015 he presented his fourth crime series for Channel 5 and produced a well-received Panorama called Trouble at the Post Office.

Nick is also in demand as an event host and public speaking trainer. 

You can contact him via Abbee, his agent at Champion Speakers on 01509 85 29 27 or use the contact form on this blog - it goes straight to his email inbox.

You can also trying twitter, linkedin or facebook.

One Show Reporter, BBC1, Dec 2014 - to date
Caught on Camera series 3, Channel 5, Summer/Autumn 2015, 7 x 60mins
Panorama: Trouble at the Post Office (producer), BBC1, August 2015
Criminals: Caught On Camera series 2, Channel 5, Summer/Autumn 2014, 8 x 60mins
Britain’s Crime Capitals, Channel 5, Spring/Summer 2014, 2 x 60 mins
Criminals: Caught On Camera series 1, Channel 5, Autumn 2013, 6 x 60mins
Inside Out, regional investigative journalism strand, BBC 1, 2011 to date
Word on The Street, BBC / British Council, 2010
Five News, reporter and weekend presenter, Channel 5, 2008 - 2009
London Tonight, reporter, ITN, 2008 - to date

Saturday Breakfast, BBC Surrey, 2011 to 2015
Newsbeat, BBC Radio 1, output editor, End 2012
Weekday Breakfast, BBC Surrey, 2009 - 2012
BBC Radio 5 Live, dep presenter 2007 - 2009
Newsbeat, Entertainment reporter, BBC Radio 1, 2004 - 2007


1997 - 1988 Broadcast Assistant at Xfm working on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's show.
1998 - 2001 BBC Oxford Broadcast Assistant then Broadcast Journalist.
2001 - 2004 BBC Three (then called BBC Choice) Broadcast journalist, dep 60seconds presenter.
2004 - 2007 Radio 1's Newsbeat reporter, specialising in entertainment news.
2007 - 2009 BBC Radio 5live dep presenter covering Weekend News, Richard Bacon and Stephen Nolan.
2008 - 2009 ITN's London Tonight and Five News reporter. 
2009 Five News weekend presenter.


Crime, surveillance, politics, corruption, finance/banking, food retail, alcohol and music.

Nick is married with three children and lives in Surrey.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

I want to work in radio Part 3 - Marsha's advice

When I wrote I want to work in radio, quite a few people got in touch, which was nice. 

I got an email from my dear, and talented friend Marsha (above), which contained a whole better load of advice in it than my initial post.

So here is Marsha's take on the whole thing. She wrote it when she worked at Xfm in London. It was initially posted up by CMUonline in 2009. Go Marsha:

"First of all, here's the bad news: because of changes in the law, a lot of stations' shows have become networked. 

"Often, there are only three shows that actually come from the local town (Breakfast, Drive and Weekend Breakfast) with all the rest coming from London. 

"The BBC are going to be carrying out similar cuts in staff across the next two years. What it means is fewer jobs and more people (now out of work and often over-qualified) competing for them. 

"It's a very tough business to get into just now. However, someone's got to get employed, right?

"Next comes the reality check: We DJs don't usually pick the music ourselves. Actually, on Xfm, between 10pm-2am the presenters do, but this is extremely rare on commercial radio. 

"On my show, I have three choices an hour (which I have to pick from an appropriate pool) and the rest are prescribed by the Head of Music. 

"People always think I must hate this - actually, covering Xposure (where it's 100% free plays) is insanely hard work, so I don't, and I don't think choosing all the music yourself is what should happen, but if you do, be aware that it probably won't happen for you.

"It's also an incredibly insecure industry. We're all freelance (which means if you take a day off or have to miss work through illness, you don't get paid), and could get the sack at any time. 

"I know these days that's true of many industries, but I think in radio it's particularly brutal - there's usually no notice period. You just get a phonecall informing you that the last show you did was the last and please clear your desk. 

"So you often spend most of your time feeling worried you're about to be let go. In my previous job, I found out my show was being cut when I switched on the radio to hear the presenter before me telling the listeners that it was my last show. That's actually more warning than most presenters get.

"Also, the hours suck. I have worked every Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday since I started. For three years I woke up at 3am every Saturday and Sunday. Which meant I could never go out with my friends without one of us having to be up for work the following day. 

"Your employers generally don't care about you. You are often treated badly, and any years of good service means nothing. 

"Outside of the BBC, there are very few off-air staff. If you're lucky there will be a producer on Breakfast, on the bigger stations one on drive, but otherwise you're on your own, doing everything (including research, editing etc) on your own.

"However, in spite of all of this, I still think it's the best job in the entire world. That's why I've been doing it for so long. 

"Assuming I haven't put you off, here's what you have to do...

"Broadcast/media courses are good, but, unless you specifically want to be a journalist, they are by no means essential. Much, much, much more important than this is experience. 

"As such, if you're going to uni or college, make whether the course has a student radio station affiliated to it a very serious consideration. 

"Get involved in hospital radio (look online for stations). 

"Look into community radio as well (look online for stations). If you want to be a presenter, you need as much on air experience as possible. Then start trying to get as much work experience in professional stations as you can.

"Your best bet is to tap up small local stations. Have a look on the internet at what smaller stations run in your area, call them up and ask who's in charge of work experience, write to that person telling them specific things you like about the station (if you're not familiar with it, get familiar with it, listen or listen online), outlining your experience etc.

"You can approach presenters direct too. Tell them you want to do work experience on their particular show, tell them what it is about that show you like. I get requests like yours all the time. If I think you're just some chancer I'm not interested. 

"If I think you are a genuine fan of the show or someone who's bothered to make the effort to (a) find out which show I do and (b) listen to it, I might be interested.

"Then, if you hear nothing, pester them once every couple of weeks with a "just wanted to check you got my email" type email. 

"Do this by hitting reply all to your original email (so they can scroll down and remember who you are). In fact ALWAYS do that when emailing someone more than once (though you only have to ever do it for one email - they don't need to read through four 'just checking you got this' emails before they get to the original one you sent).

"Also, apply to as many stations as you can, regardless of whether you like that particular station or not. You need to just get loads of experience under your belt. 

"Although it's better to do more at fewer stations than do less at more stations. When a job comes up, they're more likely to give it to the person who has already done a lot at that station than someone who's just been there one day.

"Every single time you meet anyone in the radio industry, chase them up with a "nice to meet you" email (email addresses are either obvious or easy to find on google). Every time you get an excuse to email them after that (their station is in the paper with something positive, they got nominated for a Sony), drop them an unobtrusive, "just wanted to say well done. Since we last spoke, I've had some more experience doing xxx". 

"This is so that, when they need help with something, you'll be a name they think of and your contact details (put your number after your name on the email) will be easy to read. If you're still a student, go to as many student radio conferences as you can -

"If you're not, go onto and go to as many talks as you can. Make friends with your peers as well as your superiors - they'll be the ones in the future who'll be open to helping you because you were in the same boat at the same time.

"Tailor your cv. Put all the radio experience in one section at the top of your work experience.

"Doesn't matter which is paid/unpaid - the experience is most important. Two pages is acceptable length - no longer. 

"Don't bother with your postal address, age/martial status and don't waste space on writing the words "email" and "mobile" - it's obvious it's an email address and a mobile phone number. 

"Don't write CV at the top, just your name in big letters, with your email address and mobile number underneath. Make it easy to skim read. Get several friends to spell and grammar check it.

"And good luck."

If you want to see and hear Marsha talking about working in radio, she's on the Route into Radio website I mentioned in my last blog post. I hope you find it useful.

There's more:

I want to work in radio Part 1 - Simon
I want to work in radio Part 2 - Route into Radio

Thursday, 21 July 2011

I want to work in radio Part 2 - Route into Radio

I want to work in radio Part 1 is here - the link to I want to work in radio Part 3 is at the bottom of this post.

Now there's an exciting photo. It's my office - studio 1a at BBC Surrey.

Thank you for all the great responses to my blog post I want to work in radio, which included some very useful advice via email from a former Xfm presenter. I will try to put it up here at the weekend.

In the meantime, if you still want to work in radio, you could do worse than have a look at Route into Radio, a project my wife worked on whilst on secondment from Radio 1.

It's got video advice from Mark Kermode and Scott Mills, my dear colleagues Danny Pike and John Reynolds, plus many other luminaries.

The interviewees are divided into categories, so as well as presenting, you've got journalism, interactive, technical, sales and marketing, management and production.

Then you've got the stuff they are talking about also divided into categories - getting started, moving up the ladder, and day-to-day advice. The idea being you can cross-reference them against the job categories.

Have a look, and tell me what you think. My wife wasn't responsible for the bits you don't like.

There's more:

I want to work in radio Part 1 - Simon
I want to work in radio Part 3 - Marsha's advice

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Phone Hacking

On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 I was pointed by The Guardian's front page to an article on the New York Times website about Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, which contained some pretty extraordinary allegations.

Mr Coulson, was, at that time, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications.

I thought it was a big story, yet not many other people seemed to think so. Certainly I remember being surprised at how little interest there was in making a big deal about it at network level.

I asked various people why they thought no other newspaper (apart from Private Eye which had been banging on about it for moths) or broadcast organisation thought the Guardian or New York Times story was that big a deal.

I was variously told that it was perhaps because it was an "old" story, or too "media" or "villagey" (shorthand for Westminster village, the little political bubble inhabited by lobby hacks, MPs and the rest) to be of interest to the public.

Yes, but.... I thought... these are serious allegations about someone at the very heart of government. It's in the public interest. I've seen lobby hacks getting in a froth about far duller stories - why not this one?

So I thought, well... I think this is a serious story. I am a journalist. I have a BBC radio show. Why don't I do something about it? So I did.

I wrote to every MP in Surrey asking them if they would let me know their thoughts about Andy Coulson's continued employment as David Cameron's Director of Communications. With the resources I had, it's all I could do.

Surely one of them would read the New York Times article and say "actually, this is new information, it does look a bit odd - perhaps Mr Cameron should have a think about this."

I suppose, in a way, I thought it would be mutually beneficial to give them the opportunity to come on air and say something. We could discuss it, they would sound reasonable, and I would get a line (and a local angle) on a story I thought was quite important.

I wrote to all 11 Surrey MPs via email.

Maybe some of them were worried about what the whips would think if they went on the record. Maybe some of them hoped it was a situation that would go away if everyone ignored it. Maybe they thought the sort of person the PM employs is none of their business. Maybe they thought it wasn't all that important what Mr Coulson may or may not have been up to as the editor of the News of the World. Who knows? Not one of them replied.

But as I said, at the time, not many journalists seemed to think it was worth bothering about either.


Saturday, 9 July 2011

I want to work in radio Part 1 - Simon

Rather excitingly, this has turned into a three part series. Start here. Links to parts 1 and 2 are at the bottom of this post.

This is Andy, but let's call him Simon, because this blog post isn't really about Andy.

I met Simon earlier today. He wants to get into radio.

Simon is 23, more or less the same age I was when I was trying to find my first paid job in the media. Simon is a student, working in student radio at the University of Surrey.

Simon made the effort to find me on twitter, start a conversation, and eventually ask if we could hook up. Fine. He wants a job in radio, I work in radio.

Simon's student radio station is GU2, which is situated about 200m from BBC Surrey. In two years of working at BBC Surrey, Simon is only the second student to approach me with a view to getting on in the industry.

I set up a meeting with the first person after he contacted me on twitter, but he cancelled our meeting, because he "had a lot on" that day. I said that was cool - he could get back in contact to set another date. He didn't.

So Simon came to BBC Surrey and I gave him the tour. I asked if I could have a look round GU2 student radio.  It was exactly as I expected. Ten year old radio desks taped together with chewing gum and love.

We went for a drink. I asked him if he could have any job in radio, what it would be. The answer: Zane Lowe's.

I once wanted Steve Lamacq's job, so I could see where Simon was coming from.

When I wanted a job in radio, in 1996, the BBC was expanding at a hell of a lick, and commercial radio was in its pomp. It was easy - people were recruiting, and I wasn't an idiot. I was in a very lucky position.

Things have changed in the last 15 years. Very bright people who have been bitten by the radio bug can't get a job.

The BBC, as far as I am aware, is shrinking, not recruiting. Commercial radio is... I don't know where commercial radio is, as the only commercial stations I listen to are LBC and TalkSport. Wonderful success stories, but not ideal for someone who wants to be the next Zane Lowe.

So what to tell Simon?

Having come across the World's Most Jaded Radio Manager very early in my career, I resolved, from the very start, to be as positive as possible about my industry and what it has to offer.

Every person I have met since, every person who has shown a genuine interest in getting into radio, I have tried to help to get on in some small way.

It felt different with Simon. Here was someone who loved his music (which makes it difficult to forge a career in commercial radio), who had no interest in being a journalist (which makes it difficult to forge a career in BBC local radio), telling me that he was trying to get his demo together with a hope of getting a shot at 6 Music, or something.

Lovely, bright, intelligent guy, but what sort of career will he have if he doesn't become the next Zane Lowe, or Lauren Laverne, or Shaun Keaveny, or Marc Riley?

How many presenting jobs are there in radio for people who love music, which can actually pay a living wage?  50? 100?

So I told him. I told him he was more than welcome to come and shadow one of my shows. I told him I was on nodding terms with two reasonably powerful agents in music radio, and I would send an email on his behalf, if his demo was up to scratch. I told him that he was doing all the right things.

But that at the same time, I couldn't help thinking his sideline as a successful gig promoter and club DJ in Guildford would stand him in far better stead in the future. And so I told him he might be better off pursuing a career in that area.

Should I feel bad about that? Looking at it as a numbers game, has Simon got a hope of making a good living in radio?

I'm not an embittered hack - I love my job to bits, but I'm one of around 800 people in the UK who have a breakfast time radio show. There aren't that many of us.

I hope Simon doesn't listen to me. I hope I'm so out of touch with the way radio is recruiting that there's a massive future for someone like Simon. I love radio, and I want to see it popular, ground-breaking and successful, both commercially and within in the BBC, and I hope that Simon is one of those people who will make that happen.

But maybe I did the right thing. And when, at the age of 40, Simon is a successful club/festival promoter with money in his pocket, a decent pension and a once-a-week session show on BBC Wherever/Heart FM, he will look back at our meeting, and say something along the lines of "Wallis, fetch me some more scotch".

Until then, and in the interests of helping out... if you can use someone with quite a bit of presenting, producing and editing talent, someone who really loves his music, who has no interest in becoming a journalist, but who desperately wants a job in radio, give me a call. I'll pass Simon's details on to you. You already know what he looks like, and that he's really called Andy.

There's more:

I want to work in radio Part 2 - Route into Radio
I want to work in radio Part 3 - Marsha's advice

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Lady Gaga ate my Hamster

Been reading some fascinating blog posts about content farms and SEO and all that. I had no idea.

If you have any interest why and how you come to read the things you do on the internet, please do click on the above links.

Thanks to @briancathcart for the latter and some other nice person on twitter (sorry - forgotten who) who linked to the former. Both blog posts are excellent, if lengthy, reads.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Danny Baker is alive and kicking

Before Christmas Danny Baker announced he had got "a pretty mouldy diagnosis", and henceforth would be an intermittent visitor to the airwaves whilst undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy (Danny: "Yes radiotherapy; can you beat it?").

A world without Danny Baker would be infinitely poorer - he has inspired so many people to attempt to become radio presenters, and continues to do so. We as an industry should be grateful that Danny is a one-man recruiting service for our medium.

I'm listening to Danny's first show back on BBC London right now. So is David Hepworth, James Wickham, Jon Moonie and many tens of thousands of other people who love the man dearly. It is effortlessly, shambolically, wonderful.

Danny started his show with Stanley Holloway's My Word You Do Look Queer - a paean to other peoples' perceptions of your own illness. At the end of this he opened the mic to say "And that, is the story so far", before launching the Beatles' Get Back on us (refrain: "Get back to where you once belonged").

If ever there's an elephant in the room, Danny will mount it, and then within five minutes have it performing tricks, nuzzling up to you or charging you down, usually within the same sentence. This means the rather difficult subject of his own illness became a source of fascination and joy.

One of the first anecdotes described the gifts he'd received from many thousands of well-wishers (to get an idea of how loved he is, read Danny Kelly's piece about the effect of being associated with the great man). Danny thanked everyone for the books and films and pictures and records and made a point of saying he had read every card and every letter and was immensely buoyed up by them. He couldn't help singling out a curious gift from a chap who worked in the City. Said chap had sent him a cheque for £2000 pounds with a letter saying how he appreciated that illness or no, there were still bills to be paid and hoped the money would help in some way.

Everyone in the studio was suitably impressed by this rather touching gesture. Danny quickly repeated that it meant no more to him than all the other gifts he had received, the books, the films, the records, the pictures, before suggesting, on reflection, it obviously meant more than the £500 cheques he'd been sent.

Later discussions revolved around his guaranteed Sympathy Sony. The Sony Radio Academy Awards are radio's Oscars equivalent. They take place in May and Danny is nominated for two this year (neither in the non-existent Sympathy category). Danny was speculating that they must be gearing up to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the Sympathy Sony package and eventually ended up deciding he should have delayed his comeback until the night of the Sonys, stayed behind the scenes all evening, and when they announce he's won an award, come charging out of the kitchens in a bath chair.

One genuinely good thing has come out of Danny's cancer. Well, genuinely good for me, anyway. Danny said on his show that he was so bored by his enforced absence that he's finally succumbed to twitter, where you can find him writing as @prodnose.

Unlike George Michael's slow and rather painful journey to understanding what twitter is about, Danny is instantly one of the funniest people on there, and if there is any sports writer able to top his 4 tweet analysis of yesterday's incredible 1-1 draw at the Emirates, then please tell me.

For those who weren't listening/watching, Arsenal (managed by Arsene Wenger) scored in the 8th minute of injury time to go 1-0 up through a penalty. It should have been all over, but Liverpool (managed by Kenny Dalglish), won a penalty in the 12th minute of extra time and got the equaliser and the draw. How did Danny write it up?

Call from Arsene Wenger. He feels he's not taken seriously because of his heavy accent. In France apparently, he sounds "Just like Harry".

Keep thinking Arsene has hung up but its just he leaves long depressed pauses. I keep saying "Anyway..." but he doesn't take the hint.

Apparently AW waited outside ref's room for an hour then found it was broom cupboard and ref had gone. Try to disguise my laugh as coughing.

Finally get rid of AW when Kenny D. calls. He's giggling hard. Had I heard about AW and the broom closet? I say yes but he tells me anyway.

Now I wouldn't wish cancer on my worst enemy, let alone one of my all time heroes, but if it has the effect of making Mr Baker's genius a touch more accessible, then it is true that every dark cloud does indeed have a silver lining.

God bless you Danny, I'm very glad you're back.


Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Making of What's Up at the Post Office

For the last three months I've been working on an investigation into the Post Office. Regular readers of my tweets will be aware of, and possibly fed up with, the number of times I have mentioned this since the investigation was broadcast on Monday.

It was only after all the stress of getting it to air (last minute re-writes and edits, interventions from the BBC's internal Editorial Policy dept, our lawyers, the Post Office's lawyers etc) that I realised there was no point just hoping the story would have an effect - I needed to set up a permanent easily-accessible resource which collated all the information about the investigation, and the response to it.

You can find all that in my blog post What's Up at the Post Office? It includes the TV piece, the radio discussion, a full transcript of the TV piece, relevant quotes, how the story came my way, and the extraordinary response the broadcasts provoked.

I am deeply indebted to a whole bunch of people for getting the investigation so far. Thanks to:

Davinder, who brought me the story, has been having a very tough time. His mental health has suffered as a result of what he and his wife have been through. Yet his commitment to getting me the information I needed has been incredible.

Issy Hogg, lawyer for Seema Misra and Jo Hamilton, has been a mine of information.

My superiors at BBC Surrey and BBC Inside Out South, who immediately recognised this was a massive story and channelled serious resources at getting it to air.

Jenny Craddock and Jon Valters at Inside Out for cheerfully attacking the tedious investigative work whilst I got the fun part of interviewing people and fannying around on camera.

Nicci Holliday and Mark Carter at BBC Surrey who pulled together and got the radio scripts legal led.

Tim Ross, the BBC lawyer who went over everything with a fine toothcomb, and then went over it again after a late statement from the Post Office arrived on his day off, shortly before broadcast.

Alan Bates at the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance.

Ben Goldacre and Richard Wilson for their wise words post transmission. Melissa Wilde for the Manchester Evening News story link.

Matt Deegan, whose knowledge of the Dark Arts and continued sponsorship of important bits of my online presence is something I hope to pay him back for one day.

Chris Cooke and every friend, colleague, ex-colleague and contact who has taken the time to watch/read the story and spread the word...

....and finally, every single subpostmaster and subpostmistress who helped us with the research for the programme, appeared in it or contacted us subsequently. I urge to you to read some of the stories I've been sent in the last week. Some of them are heart-rending.

In order try and have a few hours with my family this weekend I'm going to have to leave this story alone for a bit. But by all means get in touch if you want to.


Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What's up at the Post Office?

This story has been updated: 14 Aug 2013

In November last year, whilst on air, I got a random tweet from a man called Davinder Misra who wanted to know if I might use his West Byfleet-based taxi service.

I replied, possibly a bit flippantly, that it depended on whether he had any good stories to tell.

Davinder said something like "oh I've got a story to tell alright".

I took his number, we spoke on the phone and I went to see him.

I also spoke to Alan Bates, the man who runs the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, then I took the story to my boss at BBC Surrey and my colleagues at Inside Out South. Nearly three months later on Mon 7 Feb 2011, we broadcast the above piece on BBC 1 South.

If you can't view it, a transcript of the film can be found here.

On the same day the television piece went out we broadcast a radio programme focussing on the story on the BBC Surrey Breakfast Show. Have a listen...

The above 28 minute piece features a longer conversation with Davinder Misra and three live guests - Jo Hamilton (who features in the TV piece), her lawyer Issy Hogg, and Seema Misra's MP, Jonathan Lord.

In it Jonathan Lord MP calls for

"a full investigation... we need absolutely independent double-checking of the Horizon computer system... but I think also... if discrepancies are shown up within a subpostmaster systems - I think that needs looking into. I think our postmasters need to be able to contact the Post Office in the knowledge that things will be looked at in a fair, balanced and compassionate way. Peoples' livelihoods are on the line here.

"They... almost certainly have invested thousands, if not tens of thousands of pounds in their businesses and if they don't feel secure in going to the Post Office and saying, look, there's a discrepancy here, I need help... rather than thinking the Post Office, because of the contract they've signed is going to pounce on them, and potentially take them out of the business they've worked so hard to build up and put so much money into, then you can understand why they feel worried and why that side of things needs looking at."

In the radio broadcast Jo Hamilton's MP, James Arbuthnot, says:

"I find it very difficult to believe that all these subpostmasters and subpostmistresses are suddenly found to be dishonest, if the alternative is that it may be a public sector computer system which has gone wrong. We've heard of that before."

We invited the Post Office and the Minister for Postal Affairs, Ed Davey, to be interviewed for the television piece and the radio discussion. They declined. To paraphrase their statements, the Post Office says everything about the computer system is fine, and the Minister for Postal Affairs says he's asked the Post Office and it says everything is fine, so he's not going to intervene.

I asked Jonathan Lord MP if he was happy that the Minister was "sitting on his hands." Mr Lord said:

"I suspect there's a little bit more going on behind the scenes than perhaps the Minister is willing to let on. I hope that is the case."

Two days after the above broadcasts I asked Ben Goldacre (I worked with Ben on this) and Richard Wilson to have a look into what I'd managed to put together so far.
A follower of Ben's called Melissa Wilde sent me a link to an almost identical story in the Manchester Evening News I wasn't previously aware of.
Richard did some digging himself and found this.
Since the broadcast went out on BBC1 South, Jon Cuthill, the Inside Out South presenter, has been forwarding me some of the emails he's received. These are all genuine, with certain names and locations changed to protect serving postmasters/mistresses. Some of the people below have had their livelihoods and reputations destroyed. They still cannot understand why.

1) Paul: "I have just seen Inside Out South on BBC iPlayer after a friend told me about the episode transmitted on 7/2/2011.

"I myself was taken to court by the Post Office and sentenced to 15 months in prison for false accounting. The amount owing to the Post Office changed at every court hearing, but the last amount was £51,000.

"In court the judge asked if the money was stolen. The Post Office did not say yes I stole the money but when I said money was in the Post Office when it was not was false accounting. One day I lost £6,000 according to the system.

"I do think the Horizon system has lots of flaws, and find it hard to understand why they can accuse people, but don't look into the system.

"They have ruined many peoples lives including my own. I'm sure there are many more subpostmasters like myself out there."

2) Steve in Northumberland: "Many thanks for reporting on the theft allegations of Post Office Ltd. I am a serving subpostmaster and was obliged to "pay back" just over £4,000 last October. Keep up the good work and don't let go of the scandal of the Post Office Horizon system."

3) Simon in Norfolk: "It was good to see your program last night exposing the shameful issues that the Post Office are subjecting their subpostmasters to.

"My wife Allison took over an ran the small Sub Post Office in our village of Worstead, Norfolk in June 1997. All ran well until three years ago when unexplained losses started appearing in her weekly balance.

"Like the others featured in your film she believed that it was a system error and it would correct itself. A few weeks went by and the system did not rectify itself, so, like she was told to do previously, the figures were inputted incorrectly to make the system balance.

"(At training sessions for the older "ledger" accounting system they were told that large sums do not go missing, these are down to errors so put incorrect figures in the ledger and correct them when a correction notice is received from central accounting).

"Time went on and the losses mounted until they reached £12,000. Allison received little assistance from the "helpline" and did not know where to turn.

"Surprise, surprise, an auditor suddenly arrived and after a short inspection told her that she was some £18,000 adrift in the accounts. This he whittled down to £12,000 after some 10 minutes of looking. Allison was suspended without pay.

"Some nine months later she was charged with theft and summoned to the Norwich Magistrates Court, and then sent for trial at the Crown Court. At the Crown Court a second charge of false accounting was levelled at her.

"She intended to plead not guilty to all charges but the barrister told her that the Post Office would look for a custodial sentence if she was found guilty. This if course frightened her and she decided to plead guilty to false accounting.

"The sentence was 200 hours of community service plus £1400 cost to the Post Office. She has also had to pay back the £12,000 of supposed losses.

"The sad part of all this is that due to the bullying of the barristers into accepting the charge of false accounting the Post Office did not have to produce any evidence to support their claim of losses. Also, at no time during this sad debacle did the Post Office ever try to show where they thought the losses were in the books or try to assist a long-serving member of their staff.

"They hid behind the clause that says postmasters make good losses however caused and basically hung her out to dry.

"Our local community, however, was, and still is, very supportive of Allison but the stigma and the criminal record will not go away for a long time.

"I look forward to seeing updates in your future programmes."

4) Pam in Barkham: "I have just watched your item on Inside Out concerning the Post Office.

"I am a former subpostmistress with 24 years experience who has been at the receiving end of the Horizon System.

"My problems began in October 2009 when my office was relocated into a Portacabin whilst my shop and office were rebuilt. The first balance after moving was short by £388, the next on 6 Dec was short by £3500.

"I telephoned the helpline to query both of these, but paid them, assuming that it was perhaps lost paperwork during the move and the error would manifest itself at a later date, and the money returned.

"However, the next balance on 6 Jan 2010, which followed a period with bad snow conditions, my daughter's wedding, Christmas, New Year and more bad snow, when the Post Office was only open for two and a half weeks, was £9000 short.

"Yet again, I rang the helpline, got no help, so I registered this as a disputed loss and decided that I needed to protect myself by printing out transaction logs of every single transaction performed in the office from 6th December 2009.

"At that point I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I knew that there was never £9000 in the Post Office over that short period which was unaccounted for and which could have been removed.

"February proved no better, £8500 short. At this point I rang Horizon and demanded that they compare their logs with mine since they appeared to differ. I was dismissed with the words:

"Sorry, we've checked the nodes. They're working. This is your problem".

"I have to admit that I was very angry and told Horizon and everyone else at the Post Office that I had printed out the logs and would not accept that my office had lost this money until they had compared the logs they had with mine. I was ignored.

"So we continued. I disputed every loss at each balance, I became paranoid about my part time member of staff. I spent my waking life counting money. I worked my way through the transaction logs, which I had eventually managed to print from 17 Nov 2009, pulling out all cash deposits, all cash withdrawals, any remittances which were made to the cash centre; then comparing these with the overnight cash figure for the office. There were no obvious differences. I continued to ring the helpline, by this stage we were almost on first name terms, but still nothing was done.

"An auditor was sent out to sit and watch me while I worked,to see if I was doing anything wrong. At the end of a morning, the office was £200 short and all he could offer was that I might be keying in items too fast for the computer. However, he did point out that this shortage did help my case.

"I wanted the computer system checked before we were due to move back into the new building in June, since I was convinced that the move out had triggered these errors.

"In the weeks leading up to the move I was required to count the cash 3 times a day and report shortages, which I did each time. They were regularly short.

"Then suddenly, just two weeks before we were going to move, without any checks being done, I was audited for closure and suspension without any notice.

"I only found out a couple of weeks ago, at my preliminary interview with the Post Office Fraud Strand, that the balance on closure showed a surplus of almost £3000, this despite the fact that my regular daily checks showed shortages.

"I am unable to contact anyone at the Post Office management, having been told that I must wait until I am contacted by them. As a suspended employee I have no right to speak to anyone. So, I have been waiting and finally received notification of this interview on 6 Jan 2011, exactly one year to the day since I first flagged up the problems.

"I still have all my evidence, transaction logs from 17 Nov until the day before I was suspended. I am still hopeful that I might get to check the logs at each end of the information highway. The gentleman from the fraud department was trying to get copies of the Horizon logs for me so that I could compare them. It's now a month since I saw him and I am beginning to believe that they will never be released to me. I have found anomalies in the logs which have never been explained by Horizon/Fujitsu.

"Please continue to publicize the plight of the subpostmasters, there are hundreds of us nationwide and the Post Office, a Government-owned business, is hiding behind a technological company which just refusing to even consider that something might be wrong. In fact, when I first mentioned Horizon to a Manager, I was told "A lot of subpostmasters have said that but nobody has been able to prove it yet."

"Surely, someone must be able to investigate this for us?"

5) Anna in Cambridgeshire: "Thank you so much for your Inside Out South report re the Post Office. I am one of the subpostmasters that this has happened to, and you brought out how awful it is, and how we feel. So frustrated and so sick with worry. What really makes me annoyed is that Post Office Ltd. has
evidently bullied these people into giving the monies that Post Office Ltd., say they owe. I have refused to do this, as I am not going to give them any monies, even if I win the lottery I wouldn't because as we all say, we haven't taken it!

"I am emailing as many East radio stations and Look East to see if they could do a programme about it, and hopefully it would help our cause."

6) Clare in Dorset: "Reference your piece about the Post Office. How I sympathise with those people who have been wrongly prosecuted. Dreadful.

"I worked at a Post Office but left after six months because Horizon and Post Office audit staff were not able to detect what I had done wrong with a transaction which resulted in a deficit which I knew I had not stolen but looked suspicious as it was a round figure.

"On a day I had been left on my own, the subpostmaster was taking a lunch break and a customer wished to withdraw £200 from a savings account.

"I scanned the passbook and the computer allowed me to follow through the process of a withdrawal transaction.

"However, the transaction should NOT have been processed as I later found out, several weeks later, the customer should have applied for a letter of authority from Head Office and this letter would have a barcode to be scanned at the post office, NOT the passbook.

"Consequently I gave the customer the £200 but because the correct barcode had not been registered with Horizon this in turn resulted in a deficit at our end-of-day balance. The subpostmaster spoke with the Help Desk but nothing came of their investigations (if they did any at all).

"The Sub-Postmaster was not exactly believing and I just could not take the pressure of him thinking that I had taken the money. I handed in my notice.

"It was only after I left that the other clerk at the post office told me that the same lady came in again to withdraw another sum of money; this clerk was more experienced and asked her for the letter of authority. She said she had withdrawn the money previously against the passbook but luckily my initials were in the passbook and so the clerk realised this was how I'd made the error.

"On many transactions Horizon asks you whether you have performed checks but it failed on this occasion.

"What I found most alarming is that nothing came of the conversations with the Help Desk. This deficit was a rare occurence at our post office. I suppose it was too small amount of money and it would come out the the Sub postmaster wages, the post office would not lose.

"Horizon is not foolproof and certainly when you are new to counter work, it is a minefield. You cannot know everything all the time."

7) Gurinder: "My question for the Post Office is, if they constantly supervise every transaction we make is monitored how can they allow these error figures to grow up to five figures?

"At least in once in six weeks their professional supervisors check our accounts. How can they overlook them?

"Why were we not given the proper help or advice which is in the contract under their obligations."

8) Linda in Surrey: "I am an ex subpostmistress, who was also prosecuted for false accounting, and have been through hell, debt and disbelief for almost 6 years.

"I would very much like to talk to the people involved, and my heart goes out to the others, as I know what they are going through.

"Several postmasters joke about the black hole that money seems to disappear into, and leave you having to make good unexplained shortages!

"I even had ex-employers standing up for me in court, that couldn't believe what was happening, the Post Office was the worst company I have ever worked for.

"The training is abysmal, and the support non-existent. When my father was dying in intensive care, and I received a telephone call from the hospital asking me to get there as quickly as possible, I asked the post office if I could close early and explained the circumstances, the only reply I got, was" get someone else to cover", which as a single-handed office is nigh impossible.

"I knew I was innocent of dishonesty, and I never stole any money, but I now have a conviction for false accounting, debts, a destroyed reputation ,a wrecked family, asthma, and a long recovery from emotional trauma. Even now I still find it difficult.

"I hope you can pass my details on to the people investigating, and hope to hear from someone. 55 of us can't all be wrong. I thought I was the only one."


The Post Office has its own trainers, auditors and prosecutors. It says the Horizon system has been tested against "independently-assured" standards.

This is a computer system that has been in place for 10 years, which, to my untrained eye has all the user-friendliness (and interface speed) of a ZX81. But the Post Office holds the line - everything is fine.

Subpostmasters get full training, says the Post Office, they also get access to a helpline, so any discrepancies that can't be resolved must be the subpostmaster/subpostmisstresses' fault. Ones they need to make good.

The subpostmasters/subpostmistresses can dispute them, of course, but the Post Office can decide, without giving any evidence, that they are wrong, and that they need to pay back what the Post Offices says they owe them.

Or be prosecuted, suspended or sacked.

At the time of writing there are three subpostmistresses in jail. No one has ever found the money they are supposed to have stolen/falsely accounted.

As Ben Goldacre said on twitter a couple of days ago: "really you need some computer security / accountant ninjas now".

If you are an investigative journalist/programme editor/newspaper editor/blogger/computer security/accountant ninja and want to pursue this story, call me.