Belinda Cortes-Martin (Crowe) - Day 133 AM (07 May 2024) - Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry

Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry
7 May 2024168:58

TLDRBelinda Jane Cortes Martin, a key participant in the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, testifies about her involvement with the Post Office and its mediation scheme. She clarifies her role as the program director for Project Sparrow, emphasizing that her position was more of a coordinator than a decision-maker. Martin discusses the challenges faced by the Post Office, including the transformation program and issues with the Horizon system. She also addresses the lack of clarity regarding the scope of Second Sight's engagement and the need for a formal protocol to enable a rapid and effective response to crises. The summary highlights the complexity of the issues, the internal dynamics within the Post Office, and the critical importance of understanding and managing the mediation scheme and its implications for all parties involved.


  • 📜 Belinda Jane Cortes Martin, a key witness, provided evidence at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, confirming her statement's accuracy after reviewing certain documents.
  • 🔍 Corrections were made to Martin's statement regarding the terms 'fulltime' to 'fixed term', indicating a shift in employment conditions within the Post Office.
  • 🤔 Martin expressed uncertainty about her exact roles and responsibilities, particularly in relation to the Post Office's transformation program and the Horizon system issues.
  • 📋 Martin confirmed her professional background, including her civil service experience and roles before joining the Post Office, such as being the information director for the Ministry of Justice.
  • 🏢 Her work for the Post Office involved supporting the mutualization project and later, the complaint review and mediation scheme, known as Project Sparrow.
  • 🔗 Martin was involved in the strategic support for Project Sparrow, but she did not directly investigate specific complaints or cases related to the Horizon system.
  • 📈 The interim second site report highlighted several issues with the Horizon system, including bugs that affected a number of branches and led to financial discrepancies.
  • 🚫 Martin was not aware of internal concerns about bugs, errors, or defects within the Horizon system during her time at the Post Office.
  • 🤝 The role of Second Sight (an external investigator) was to review the Post Office's investigations into complaints and support the working group, but there were disagreements over the extent of their role and independence.
  • 💼 Martin's contract with the Post Office was fixed term, and she served as a program director for Project Sparrow, though she felt the title was misleading given her actual responsibilities.
  • ✉️ An email thread discussed the potential need for an engagement letter with Second Sight, indicating some confusion or disagreement over the scope of their work and independence in relation to the Post Office.

Q & A

  • What was the main role of Belinda Jane Cortes Martin during the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry?

    -Belinda Jane Cortes Martin served as the program director for Project Sparrow and was responsible for providing secretariat to the working group, supporting the chair, and managing a small team of coordinators. She was not involved in the strategic responsibility or final authority to make decisions regarding the scheme.

  • What were the key issues raised by Second Sight in their interim report?

    -Second Sight raised concerns about the lack of evidence of systemic problems with the Horizon software, issues with defects or bugs affecting branches, unhelpful responses from the Post Office, lack of a user forum for sub-postmasters, and problems with the end of trading period processes.

  • What was the role of Paula venel in the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry?

    -Paula venel chaired the steering group overseeing the work of Project Sparrow and was involved in discussions and decisions regarding the mediation scheme and the investigation into the Horizon system.

  • What were the main tasks assigned to Belinda Jane Cortes Martin in her role as part of Project Sparrow?

    -Her main tasks included providing secretariat to the complaint review and mediation scheme working group, acting as the main channel of communication between the chair of the scheme working group and the business, and providing strategic support and advice to Paula venel in her role as chair of the Project Sparrow Steering group.

  • What was the significance of the Helen Rose report in the context of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry?

    -The Helen Rose report was significant because it raised concerns about the integrity of the Horizon system and the potential for figures to be remotely altered without the knowledge of sub-postmasters. This report was later disclosed in several prosecution cases and was referenced by How and Co in their case reviews.

  • What was the issue with the Horizon system that Second Sight identified?

    -Second Sight identified that there were defects or bugs in the Horizon system that gave rise to incorrect balances or transactions in some branches. These issues took some time to identify and correct, and in some cases, the Post Office's response to individual sub-postmasters experiencing problems was seen as unhelpful or failed to solve the underlying issue.

  • What was the role of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance in the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry?

    -The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance raised concerns about the Horizon system and was involved in the discussions and processes related to the mediation scheme. They were one of the parties that brought attention to the issues faced by sub-postmasters due to the Horizon system.

  • What was the position of the Post Office regarding the remote access to the Horizon system?

    -The Post Office maintained that transaction data could not be changed remotely without the knowledge of a sub-postmaster. However, there were discussions and concerns raised about the possibility of remote access being used to alter branch data or transactions.

  • What was the purpose of the lessons learned exercise coordinated by Belinda Jane Cortes Martin?

    -The purpose of the lessons learned exercise was to discuss and review the process leading up to the publication of the second site report, focusing on the establishment of the mediation scheme and the response to the Second Sight report. It aimed to identify any improvements and ensure the Post Office was prepared to respond effectively to similar issues in the future.

  • What were the main concerns raised by the stakeholders regarding the mediation scheme?

    -Stakeholders, including the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, were concerned about the scope and independence of the mediation scheme. There were discussions about the potential for the Post Office to try to restrict the terms of the investigation and the need to maintain the integrity and independence of Second Sight's role in the scheme.

  • What was the role of Angela vanen Bogard in the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry?

    -Angela vanen Bogard was responsible for the investigations into the complaints contained in the scheme applications. She had particular expertise and experience in Horizon and the way the system worked, managing the investigation team and ensuring the progress of the investigations.



😀 Court Inquiry Proceedings

The video script captures a formal court inquiry where Ms. Belinda Jane Cortez Martin is asked to affirm the truthfulness of her upcoming testimony. She confirms her identity and acknowledges the presence of her signed witness statement, dated April 8, 2024. Ms. Martin agrees to make corrections to her statement, highlighting specific amendments, such as changing 'fulltime' to 'fixed term' in several paragraphs and adding details based on new documents she reviewed. This process establishes the groundwork for the detailed scrutiny of her professional background and roles, setting a serious and procedural tone for the inquiry.


😀 Examination of Professional History

This section delves into Ms. Cortez Martin’s extensive career history, primarily in civil service roles before joining the Ministry of Justice as Information Director. She recounts her various responsibilities, including policy reform and data protection, indicating her deep involvement in administrative functions. After leaving civil service, Ms. Martin worked as an independent consultant focused on information security, which led her to a contracting position with the post office to aid in its mutualization project, reflecting a shift from public service to a consultancy role focused on organizational strategy.


😀 Details on First Role and Horizon Issues

Ms. Cortez Martin discusses her initial involvement with the post office, where she was not briefed on priority issues like the Horizon system problems, instead focusing on a transformation program. She is queried about her move to a scheme addressing complaints and mediation related to the Horizon system, which she does not clearly recall. This ambiguity highlights a possible disconnect between her understanding of her role and the broader organizational issues at the post office, especially concerning the problematic Horizon system.


😀 Involvement in Complaint Review and Mediation

The script further explores Ms. Martin's responsibilities within a specialized steering group for a project named Sparrow, indicating her role in providing strategic support and communication. However, she expresses uncertainty about the exact goals and scope of Sparrow, illustrating challenges in her role's definition and execution. This confusion underscores potential organizational issues within the post office, particularly in project management and role clarity.


😀 Legal and Ethical Considerations in Role

In this part, Ms. Martin discusses the ethical implications of her simultaneous roles in the steering group and the mediation scheme. She reflects on the perceived lack of conflict at the time, but acknowledges that retrospectively, the dual roles could appear problematic, especially considering the later revealed issues with the post office and Horizon system. This candid acknowledgment points to a complex interplay of ethical considerations in her assignments, which she navigated without clear guidance on potential conflicts of interest.


😀 Transition to Fixed-Term Contract and Scope of Duties

Ms. Martin clarifies her transition to a fixed-term contract with the post office, discussing her full-time engagement and additional responsibilities supporting the new general counsel. This segment illuminates her evolving role within the organization, where she managed to integrate her expertise in strategic management with the operational needs of the post office, albeit without significant decision-making power regarding the mediation scheme's outcomes.


😀 Examination of Legal Issues and Oversight

The script transitions to a critical review of Horizon-related legal issues, including Ms. Martin's limited awareness of the systemic problems despite significant concerns being raised externally. This section reveals a potential oversight in her role, or a systematic underestimation of the Horizon issues within the post office, pointing to a broader organizational reluctance to acknowledge or address these deep-rooted problems fully.



💡Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry

The Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry is an investigation into issues surrounding the Post Office's Horizon computer system, which was at the center of disputes with subpostmasters. The inquiry is significant as it seeks to uncover the truth behind allegations of systemic errors and their impact on those running Post Office branches. In the transcript, Belinda Jane Cortes Martin is questioned regarding her involvement and knowledge of the situation.

💡Witness Statement

A witness statement is a formal, written account of a person's testimony regarding their knowledge about a particular matter under investigation. In this context, Belinda Jane Cortes Martin's witness statement is dated April 8, 2014, and is being reviewed for accuracy and completeness during the inquiry proceedings.

💡Civil Servant

A civil servant is a person employed in the public sector, typically in a role that is not political and involves the administration of public policy. Belinda Jane Cortes Martin mentions her background as a civil servant, having worked for the majority of her career from 1979 to mid-2011, including her role as the Information Director for the Ministry of Justice.

💡Mutualization Project

Mutualization refers to the process of converting a company or organization into a mutual entity, where it is owned and controlled by its members. In the transcript, the discussion revolves around the mutualization project that Belinda was involved in, supporting the Post Office in formulating its response to the government's proposals for such a conversion.

💡Project Sparrow

Project Sparrow is an initiative that Belinda Jane Cortes Martin was involved with at the Post Office. It is mentioned in the context of her roles and responsibilities, particularly in relation to the complaint review and mediation scheme. The project's objectives and her understanding of them are discussed during the inquiry.

💡Second Site

Second Site is an independent body that was commissioned to review issues concerning the Post Office's Horizon system. The Second Site report is referenced in the transcript, highlighting preliminary conclusions about the system's integrity and the impact of bugs or defects on subpostmasters.


Subpostmasters are individuals who operate and manage sub-post offices under a contract with the main Post Office. They are significant in this inquiry because some subpostmasters have claimed to have experienced financial discrepancies and issues due to problems with the Horizon system.

💡Bugs, Errors, and Defects (BEDS)

BEDS refers to bugs, errors, and defects within a computer system. In the context of the Horizon IT Inquiry, the term is related to the problems that subpostmasters have reported with the Post Office's Horizon system, which they claim led to financial discrepancies and wrongful prosecutions.

💡Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance

The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance is an advocacy group representing subpostmasters who have been affected by issues with the Horizon system. They are mentioned in the transcript as one of the parties raising concerns about the system's integrity and its impact on subpostmasters.

💡Mediation Scheme

A mediation scheme is a process put in place to resolve disputes through a third-party mediator. In the transcript, Belinda Jane Cortes Martin discusses her role in the Post Office's mediation scheme, which was established in response to the issues raised by subpostmasters regarding the Horizon system.

💡Fixed Term Contract

A fixed term contract is an employment agreement that specifies a certain period of time for its duration. Belinda Jane Cortes Martin corrected her witness statement to reflect that she was employed under a fixed term contract with the Post Office, rather than a full-time contract, indicating the temporary nature of her role.


Belinda Cortes-Martin provides corrections to her statement, altering 'fulltime' to 'fixed term' in multiple paragraphs.

Belinda affirms the corrected statement to be true, preparing it for publication on the inquiry website.

Belinda reviews her professional background, detailing her extensive experience as a civil servant and later as a consultant.

Discussion on her role as Information Director at the Ministry of Justice, emphasizing her responsibilities over information policy and practice.

Belinda recounts her initial involvement with the Post Office, starting from an approach by the chair in late 2011.

She describes her consultancy work on the government's proposals to mutualize the Post Office.

Exploration of her move to work within the Post Office's complaint review and mediation scheme, known as Project Sparrow.

Belinda details the strategic support and communication roles she held in Project Sparrow, highlighting the project's complexity.

She acknowledges the challenges of aligning the mediation project with the overarching transformation program of the Post Office.

Belinda's testimony touches on the perceived independence of her role within the Post Office scheme.

Discussions of her awareness of bugs and issues with the Horizon system, including her later realization of their significance.

Belinda reflects on the information shared with her about the Horizon system and her trust in the Post Office's handling of related prosecutions.

She speaks on the complexities of managing disclosures and information within large organizations, emphasizing the importance of accuracy and completeness.

Belinda discusses the broader implications of her work, touching on policy changes and the strategic management of information within the Ministry of Justice.

Final reflections on the transition from her roles in government to her consultancy work, highlighting the challenges and learning curves involved.