England’s largest apprenticeship provider this week gave full backing to its boss after his conduct during the Post Office scandal came under scrutiny.
David Smith, who was appointed chief executive of Lifetime Training in July 2023, is currently providing input to the public inquiry which has gained national attention following the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which aired this month.
Smith was managing director of the Post Office from April to December 2010 before becoming chief customer officer of Royal Mail.
He is a predecessor to Paula Vennels, who became chief executive of the Post Office in 2012 and this week announced she would hand back her CBE after more than one million people signed a petition for her to be stripped of her honour.
The Post Office prosecuted more than 700 sub-postmasters between 2000 and 2014 based on information from the faulty Horizon computer system run by technology firm Fujitsu. Hundreds more were pursued in civil litigation.
So far, 93 convictions have been overturned. Prime minister Rishi Sunak this week said a new law will be introduced so people wrongly convicted in the Horizon scandal are “swiftly exonerated and compensated”.
Smith’s appointment at the Post Office came at a time when Horizon’s failings were being more widely reported in the press. He commissioned an internal report but instructed its author, Rob Ismay, then head of product and branch accounting, to “confirm the belief in the robustness of the system”.
During the public inquiry at a session in May 2023, Ismay agreed, when asked by Jason Beer KC, if he was asked to “only asked to present one side of the coin”.
And in 2010, pregnant sub-postmaster Seema Misra was sentenced to 15 months in prison after being wrongfully accused of stealing £74,000.
The sentencing took place while Smith was managing director and he is reported to have celebrated her imprisonment in an internal email as “brilliant news”, according to The Times.
A spokesperson for Lifetime Training told FE Week: “David Smith had a nine-month tenure at the Post Office (April to December 2010) and is currently providing input to the inquiry alongside other Post Office employees from this time.
“David is fully committed to his current role at Lifetime and continues to receive full support from the board.”
Education secretary’s husband also under the spotlight
Another name engulfed in the Post Office scandal is Michael Keegan, husband to education secretary Gillian Keegan.
He was chief executive of Fujitsu between May 2014 and June 2015. He joined in 2006 as a business unit director, progressing through several business development and technology roles.
The Horizon software was developed by Fujitsu, though Keegan denies having any operational involvement with the Post Office, according to The Times.