The Post Office Scandal

The Post Office Scandal

By Ian Iliffe

The ITV drama has brought home to millions the scandal of the Post Office investigations of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, leading to their wrongful convictions. These were good people, you couldn’t hold these trusted positions unless you were honest and of good character, all they wanted to do was serve in our communities and at the same time make a living.


There are some of us who have followed this story with interest for some years and have analysed what went wrong. The Horizon system was bug ridden and problematic. But this wasn’t the problem.  It was the investigation. The Horizon system didn’t investigate, people investigated. The investigators didn’t join up the dots, it appears that they didn’t listen to what their suspects were telling them or worse still they chose to ignore them. Then of course there are the solicitors who managed the cases, they either ignored what they were told, were ignorant, or just completely blind to their responsibilities under Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act, in other words disclosure in criminal cases. For those who are not sighted, this has been in law since 1996, where reasonable lines of enquiry should be followed that point towards and most importantly away from a suspect. The material gathered during the investigation should be considered in the context of the disclosure test. Does the material or information that an investigator obtained or created undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence? If it does, the defence should be told about it. An investigator who is gathering evidence for a case that may be heard in a criminal court should follow all reasonable lines of inquiry. In this case when you have a number of people telling you that there is a problem with the Horizon system it should be shouting out at an investigator to conduct an inquiry. Even if you are being told that the system is working properly by its creator, the defence should have had an opportunity to challenge this. The investigator should have been alive to all the other people who were saying the same thing! This should have been brought to the attention of the prosecutor, they should have been identifying a reasonable line of enquiry and in turn they should have been bringing this to the attention of the defence. This is plain and simple. This is where it went wrong.


The investigators at the Post Office are employed by the Post Office, they pay their wages, the solicitors are employed by the Post office, again they pay their wages. Who has their loyalty? One thing is for sure, whether through ignorance, deceit or incompetence, it wasn’t the criminal justice system. The consequences are what the millions can now see today, but the few have known and painfully felt for over 20 years.


One last thing. There are investigators and solicitors up and down the land in local authorities, charities and government departments that investigate and prosecute independently from the Police and the CPS. If we take this away from the Post Office do we do the same for all these other organisations? Or should we make sure that investigators are properly trained, even qualified, know their responsibilities and make sure they know who they really work for when prosecuting – that is the criminal justice system and most importantly everyone of us who is fair minded who in turn want the guilty to be convicted and the innocent to be acquitted.

Equinox Training will very soon be delivering a Level 6 qualification in investigating serious and complex crime regulated by OFQUAL. They also deliver disclosure training up to an advanced level.

The author is a College of Policing PIP L3 Investigator and has investigated over 70 murders and other serious and complex crimes.

Equinox Training

Our Senior Team are all retired Detectives with a background in the investigation of serious and complex crime, major crime and serious and organised crime. The team are also qualified educators with a background of investigative training.

There will be regular updates and posts on this page with all that is new and current in the world of investigation.

Decision-Making and the Media: Key Lessons from the Nicola Bulley Case for Investigators

Decision-Making and Media: Key Lessons from the Nicola Bulley Case for Investigators
The independent review of the Nicola Bulley case, conducted by Lancashire Constabulary in early
2023, offers valuable insights into decision-making and media management in high-profile
investigations. The report runs into 138 pages, that may turn people away from reading it, however
there is some significant and valuable learning to be taken away that every investigator should now
consider. This post aims to distil key learnings for investigators, emphasising the interplay between
operational decision-making and media dynamics.

Exemplary Tactical Management and Professionalism
The review team’s thorough examination of the case, involving over 350 documents and insights
from over 70 key personnel, highlighted the exceptional tactical management and professionalism of
the operational aspects of the investigation. The search for Nicola was not only conducted to a high
standard but also leveraged national expertise, demonstrating best practices in investigative rigor
and resource deployment​​.

Challenges in Senior Leadership and Communications
However, the case also exposed significant challenges, particularly in senior leadership and
communications. Despite widespread media coverage, there was a notable underestimation of the
investigation’s profile and its impact on public confidence. This oversight led to several
complications, including the controversial release of Nicola’s personal information. The Constabulary
missed opportunities to minimize or avoid disclosing sensitive details about Nicola, raising questions
about media handling and information dissemination strategies​​.

The Impact of Media and social media
The Nicola Bulley case attracted unprecedented media and social media attention, exemplified by
over 500 media calls, 75,000 social media comments, and a global outpour of 6,500 news articles in
a single day. This level of interest underscores the evolving landscape where social media platforms
significantly influence public perception and narrative control​​.

Decision-Making and Leadership Under Media Pressure
The investigation’s management contrasted sharply with its communication strategy. While the
operational approach was highly professional and correctly classified as high risk, the leadership team’s

decision-making, particularly regarding media engagement, was less effective. This gap led to
unchecked speculation and a loss of control over the media narrative, highlighting the need for
improved decision-making and awareness at the leadership level, especially in handling media and
social media complexities​​.

So how could policing’s National Decision Model be applied?
Code of Ethics: Central to all decision-making, the Code of Ethics emphasizes accountability, fairness,
honesty, integrity, leadership, objectivity, openness, respect, and selflessness. In the Nicola Bulley
case, applying these principles would involve ensuring that all decisions respect the victim’s dignity

and the community’s trust, a critical aspect given the controversial release of personal information
and media handling issues​​​​.

Gathering Information and Intelligence: This step involves defining the situation and clarifying initial
information. In the Bulley case, accurate and comprehensive information collection was crucial,
given the complexity and the media’s interest in the case. It would involve not only the details of the
disappearance but also understanding the media landscape and potential public reaction​​​​.
Assessing Threat and Risk: Decision-makers should assess the situation for potential threats, risks,
and benefits. In this case, evaluating the risk of harm to public confidence due to media handling,
and the potential benefit of transparent communication could have guided more effective media

Considering Powers and Policy: This involves evaluating the applicability of various powers, policies,
and legislation. In this case consideration would have been given to the Data Protection Act and
whether the release of the personal information was lawful or not. It was found to be lawful, but just
because it was lawful it does not make it necessary to release the information.
Identifying Options and Contingencies: Decision-makers need to explore different decision-making
avenues, considering the immediacy of threats, available information, resources, and the potential
impact of actions. In the Bulley case, exploring various media engagement strategies and preparing
for different public reactions would have been essential​​.

Taking Action and Reviewing Outcomes: Implementing decisions and then reflecting on their
effectiveness is a crucial final step. In retrospect, reviewing the media engagement decisions and
their impact on public perception and trust could provide valuable lessons for future high-profile

The Nicola Bulley case, when analysed through the lens of the NDM, underscores the importance of
structured decision-making in investigative training. Each element of the NDM provides a framework
for addressing complex situations. As the landscape of high-profile investigations continues to
evolve, particularly in the era of social media, the ability to adapt and respond to these challenges
will be critical for the success and public confidence in future investigations. The importance of clear
communication strategies, both internally and with the public, cannot be overstated. These
strategies should be flexible enough to adapt to the rapidly changing dynamics of public and media
This case serves as a vital learning opportunity for investigators. It highlights the importance of
integrating effective decision-making with sophisticated media management strategies.