Thursday, 18 August 2022

The Post Office Horizon Trial and subsequent Inquiry

I have been quite on this of late, not because nothing is happening, but because I am busy and have left plenty of references, mainly to Nick Wallis excellent blogs, but elsewhere.

Very little is happening on the compensation front, although I understand that the 555, the Sub-Posmasters in the Group Litigation order case against Post Office Limited are starting to get their first interim payments.  Slowly.

The reason for this post, however, is more revelations about who knew what and when.  Through a Freedom of Information request it has been discovered that the Government (in the form of the Business Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe), expressed concern about possible miscarriages of justice. She directed Tim Parker to give these concerns his “earliest attention” on assuming his role as PO chairman.

The review was undertaken in February 2016 for the newly appointed Mr Parker by the government’s senior civil law counsel, Jonathan Swift QC.

The review is an extraordinary and important document, in the light of what is now known. The Swift review – Concerning the steps taken in response to various complaints made by sub-postmasters – runs to 175 paragraphs and 65 pages, and was relied upon by Mr Parker to allay government anxiety about potential miscarriages of justice.

But the Review was never seen by the Post Office Board!  Parker kept it to himself on what seems to be dubious legal advice concerning legal privilege.  

Mr Swift says that process (by law firm Cartwright King) was the subject of “oversight and advice from Brian Altman QC”, whom he notes had “considered both the process adopted by Cartwright King, and their actual decisions in a sample of cases, to be reasonable and appropriate”.

This wasn’t revealed to the Court of Appeal in 2021. You'll probably recall that Mr Altman was the Post Office’s lead counsel on the 2021 appeals!

This summary is extracted from an excellent piece by Paul Marshall, who was responsible, in the face of widespread opposition, for pursuing ‘second category abuse of process’ as a freestanding ground of appeal, an issue of decisive importance including in the Williams inquiry being elevated to a statutory inquiry.

With his solicitors, Aria Grace Law, and junior, Flora Page, he was responsible for eliciting from the Post Office the now infamous ‘Clarke advice’.

Read the whole piece at Legal Futures.   It's a 15-20 minute read, and is entitled

The Post Office, smoke and mirrors – and it’s all just got a bit worse


Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Something old and new: Transformers - another 'blockbuster' - 1 September 2022.

For the record, this blog post is based on Royal Mail's next stamp issue aimed at fans of modern culture. 

According to the information provided on the justification of this issue:

The Transformers – alien robots who can change into vehicles, machinery and weapons – first appeared in toy shops and on TV screens in 1984. Nearly 40 years on, thanks to the addition of comic books, computer games and movies, the likes of Optimus Prime and Megatron have become pop-culture titans.

And it appears they have, alongside Marvel and other more well-known franchises, although I was totally unaware of their continued popularity, despite knowing about them and seeing them when the toys and tv programme appeared in 1984.

Continuing Royal Mail's justification:

The story of the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons has been told in many different ways, but the core premise is usually the same: a deadly civil war engulfs the distant metal planet of Cybertron and eventually spreads to Earth. Key to the warring mechanoids’ success in the UK and Ireland was Marvel UK’s The Transformers comic, which told an epic seven-year story across 332 issues.

As well as launching the careers of British writers and artists, ‘TFUK’ inspired fans to follow in their footsteps, with James Roberts, Nick Roche and Jack Lawrence going on to help expand the mythos, establish the definitive origin of the Transformers, and reinvent the Robots in Disguise for the 21st century with characters and concepts that endure to this day.

The stamps feature original illustrations created by three established comic artists Andrew Wildman (pencils), Stephen Baskerville (inks) and John-Paul Bove (colours) who have all contributed to The Transformers UK comic series The stamp designs arranged in pairs depict an Autobot and Decepticon locked in a battle, featuring eight characters in retro Generation 1 style from the 1980s.

The stamps 4 x 1st class and 4 x £1.85:


1st CLASS: OPTIMUS PRIME
The strongest and wisest Autobot, it was a young and charismatic Optimus Prime who led the fightback against the Decepticons when war broke out. Deeply compassionate, with an unflinching sense of justice, he was originally known as Orion Pax but took a new name when he inherited the Matrix of Leadership.

1st CLASS: MEGATRON
Highly intelligent, terrifyingly powerful and utterly merciless, the cruel but charismatic Megatron uses a huge, arm-mounted fusion cannon to obliterate his enemies. A Cybertronian supremacist, to realise his dream of galactic conquest he plans to annihilate the Autobots and turn his home planet into a deadly cosmic dreadnought.

1st CLASS: BUMBLEBEE
Although small and physically weak, Bumblebee’s abilities as a messenger and spy – not to mention his tremendous bravery – have made him one of the most valuable Autobots. Friendly, kind-hearted and
eager to please, his misplaced self-doubt can lead to risk-taking behaviour.

1st CLASS: STARSCREAM
“A missile with a mouth” according to Soundwave, the scheming, traitorous Starscream is not content with being Decepticon Air Commander: he’s determined to usurp Megatron himself. But his arrogant, opportunistic nature does not stop him being a highly skilled, shockingly brutal warrior – especially in the skies.

£1.85: GRIMLOCK
He may be gruff, belligerent and rebellious, but Grimlock is also protective and fiercely loyal – to his fellow Dinobots, at least. In both robot and T-rex mode, his stubbornness and strength make him all but
unstoppable. He hides his intelligence behind simple speech patterns, associating eloquence with weakness.

£1.85: SHOCKWAVE
An occasional Decepticon leader, Shockwave’s every action is ruled by cold, calculating logic. A master tactician and strategist who despairs of Megatron’s rash impulsivity, this cyclopic space warrior would be considered emotionless were it not for his deep hatred of the Autobots, and the Dinobots in particular.

£1.85: ARCEE
A formidable warrior, Arcee is as deadly with swords as she is with firearms. She has put her life on the line time after time to protect Autobots and humans alike. Behind her no-nonsense attitude is a dry
sense of humour, and while she is slow to trust others, she would do anything for those closest to her.

£1.85: SOUNDWAVE
As the Decepticons’ Communications Officer and spymaster, the stoic and unknowable Soundwave uses his unique mind-reading abilities to extract enemy information and blackmail his rivals. Megatron’s most trusted lieutenant, he shares a special bond with Laserbeak and the other ‘cassette spies’ that he carries in his chest.

The stamps are printed with UV ink which reveals each character’s Autoboot or Decepticon motif and their name coded in the Cybertronian alphabet when shone under UV light.

Each of the eight stamps has a unique Augmented Reality animation which brings the stamp to life and includes a clip from the original Transformers TV series. This can be activated by downloading the Royal Mail App and scanning the stamp with a smartphone or tablet.

The miniature sheet, 2nd class, 3 x 1st class, £1.85:

Transformers miniature sheet featuring the five Dinobots; Grimlock, Snarl,
Slug, Sludge and Swoop.


The original illustrations have been created exclusively for Royal Mail by established comic artists Andrew Wildman (pencils), Stephen Baskerville (inks) and John-Paul Bove (colours) who worked on The Transformers UK comic books.

Technical details and acknowledgements

The stamps and miniature sheet are designed by The Chase with design and illustrations by Andrew Wildman (pencils), Stephen Baskerville (inks) and John-Paul Bove (colours).  The 50 x 30 mm stamps are printed in litho by Cartor Security Printers in gummed sheets of 60, perforated 14.

In the 190 x 67 mm miniature sheet, the Swoop (2nd) and Sludge (1st) stamps are 27 x 37 mm (perf 14). The Slug (1st) and Snark (£1.85) stamps are 35 mm square (perf 14½); the Grimlock stamp (1st) is 35 x 37 mm (14½ x 14).  The self-adhesive sheets are printed by Cartor Security Printers in litho.

Acknowledgements TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro and
are used with permission. © 2022 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved. Licensed by Hasbro.

Prestige stamp book



Click on the images to enlarge.

Panes 3-5 are self-adhesive, panes 1 & 2 are gummed.  The innovation - or perhaps I should say 'correction' is that the Machin definitives' iridescent printing now has the codes M22L MPIL.  So these stamps are not the same as those in the previous PSB, issued for Women of World War II

Digitally enhanced phone picture of the £1 stamp from the Transformers PSB showing the source code MPIL.
 
Incidentally Royal Mail's publicity pictures of the PSB pane and its first day cover both show the labels with a printed perforation, as on the stamps.  I suspect this is because each image is actually composed with several layers in a software application such as Photoshop, and the perforations are there on all six positions (you will recall that there were five stamps on the earlier PSB).  This is a scan of the actual pane:
Scan of actual PSB definitive pane.  No printed perforations on the labels.

Products available from Royal Mail

Set of 8 stamps, miniature sheet, presentation pack, postcards, prestige stamp book (PSB), 3 x FDCs, Collector sheet (£12.40), 2 x Fan sheets (£7 each), limited edition PSB (£50), medal covers, silver-plated ingots (£25), framed products etc.

Collector Sheet

Transformers Collectors Sheet containing one of each of the sheet stamps, with attached label.

The Collectors Sheet is self-adhesive so the stamps are different to those in sheets. However as they are only available in this sheet they will not get individual numbers in the main catalogues, but there will be space in some preprinted albums.

Fan sheets

Bumblebee Fan Sheet
Optimus Prime Fan Sheet
 
UPDATE:  Several people have pointed out that there is a third Fan Sheet for Megatron.  This is not listed on the order form, nor is it illustrated in the news bulletin, nor is it in the collector bulletin First.   So for completeness I have lifted this from the Royal Mail shop.  Thanks everybody!
 
Megatron Fan Sheet
Further update 18 August:
I queried this with my account manager and was told: "
this sheet is an online exclusive so not available to order via the normal Channels.  Apologies in advance for any inconvenience caused."

I find this incredible.  On several previous occasions special covers have been sold at Conventions with 'postmarks' not available for collectors or dealers.  But I don't ever recall a single one of three similar products being produced and ONLY sold online.  If it had been sold only at a post-issue event it would have been wrong, but this is very odd.


Press Sheet

Miniature sheet, press sheet of 12.

Reaction to these on social media has been mixed.   

While again some people have affirmed that enough is enough and that they will not be buying them, some Transformers fans who don't normally collect stamps have reacted positively and will buy them. 

Will they buy other stamps? Unlikely: they are buying Transformers merchandise; the fact that these are stamps is coincidental and of no consequence.

Samples of reaction on Twitter:





 

 

As usual, we will not be stocking these, they can all be obtained from Royal Mail's website and some can be bought at some post offices.





Some things old, some things new, something borrowed - News update!

Thank you to everybody who has written with fresh information this past week.  It is surprising just how much can occur in such a short space of time.

We actually left a day earlier than intended, and even while we were on the road the news started arriving. When I got home I found that there were also some nice anonymous letters, one being a 'social' first day cover of the England 2nd class stamp with the 'Swap-out' slogan, a lovely addition to my own collection - thank you JLBC of Bradford. 

2nd class England datamatrix stamp used on day of issue (11/08/2022) with 'Swap-out' slogan postmark at North & West Yorkshire

A customer in war-torn Chernihiv, Ukraine, kindly sent me this first day cover of their latest war propaganda stamps, reproducing the widely-shown image of a tractor towing a disabled Russian tank. This was the winning design for their second such issue (after the defiant troops being attached by the later sunk Moskva).   The stamps were issued on 28 July (other stamps on the reverse make up the registered postage rate).  

There are two values (M & W) for domestic and international basic mail.

"Good evening, we are from Ukraine" pair of stamps issued 28 July 2022 on first day cover.

Ukrposhta also has T-shirts for less than £8 (plus shipping, import dues etc)! 



There is also news added to the August Postmarks post, and to that about the availability or otherwise of the Country Datamatrix Definitives.



And there's another thought about Datamatrix coded stamps.  People here and on social media and other forums are saying things like "what's wrong with the current system?". Well we know that one reason for the change is forgery.  Another is so that you can add provided or (eventually) your own video to send to the recipient.

It's becoming more and more clear that most postal services really don't need stamps.  The situation in Ukraine - and things like that - apart, the prime reason for producing special stamps is to generate revenue from collectors, and in some cases non-collectors.  Witness the Transformers stamps below.

And while Denmark's postal service (PostNord) does still produce stamps and has a very conservative and country-relevant programme (click on the link), they have other ways of demonstrating that postage has been paid.  

12 character code written in place of a stamp, indicating that postage has been paid.

The postage can be bought online via the website or a mobile app.   

Screenshot from Post Nord website.

The German Post Office has a similar system.  So... things could be worse.

Of course this is part of philately - and arguably the codes are far more variable than the alternative adhesive stamps.  But who would want to collect more than a few?  It doesn't indicate anything about the postage rate, or where it was sent.  And if you use if with a window envelope, you still won't know, without the contents.




Something old and borrowed from Wales - amazing error!

Our journey started the day before the datamatrix country definitives were issued, but - apart from not being able to find any in the branches in Wales that I visited - that provided the first news, which came from Ian in County Durham.

This is a 'spot the difference' question:

Wales datamatrix country definitives mint (top) and on Royal Mail fdc (below).

I'm not setting this as a quiz, the news is too startling not to reveal.  You might spot the difference if you click on the image above, but to save you the trouble, here is an enlargement.


As most collectors of modern definitives know, there is usually a special coil printing of self-adhesive stamps for use on Royal Mail fdcs.  The direction of print on these is sideways (horizontal) rather than vertical.  I'm not good enough to see that and I don't know how long it would have taken me to see this, even if I did have the first day cover.  

As you will see, the denomination in the sheet stamp is in the new (2017, that is) font but on the FDC stamp the AF is in the original font.   This can only apply on the Wales stamps, and the 2nd class is fine, with AIL/ND all being in the 2017 serifed font.

This isn't the first time that this value has been featured in these columns.  Back in July 2019 we reported that Cartor, having switched to the new font in 2017, did a reprint in January 2019 in the original font.  So they have form!  But this is the first instance of mixed fonts as far as I know.

If anybody is interested in acquiring this FDC please contact me by email.

Royal Mail have not yet been approached for comment.



Tuesday, 9 August 2022

New type of counter datestamp in use.

A reminder that all news about new postmarks - Royal Mail slogan and others, and Post Office counter datestamps, is on a single post each month.

The August post is here, and includes news of the first change for many years in PO counter datestamps.

New Boscombe East PO 2022 Morse Code bordered counter datestamp.



Misinformation over the swap scheme in national and provincial newspapers and websites.

Royal Mail is starting its campaign to publicise the end of stamps as we know them and urging people to use them up by introducing a new slogan postmark. 

Unfortunately this has been accompanied by a press coverage* which has been reflected around the country in misleading headlines and images in the country's regional newspapers and their websites:

Misleading words and images from the regional press!


Use up your
non-barcoded stamps
by 31 January 2023
Or swap them out for
new barcoded ones

visit
royalmail.com/barcodedstamps

Barcoded stamps slogan, Lancashire and South Lakes (Preston) 08/08/2022

* I understand that this is not the result of a Royal Mail Press Release but is part of the six-month countdown from website Money Saving Expert (MSE).  And this demonstrates that sloppy writing, and sloppy interpretation, can mislead the reader whether it is in print or online.   This is the start of the MSE article (click on the link above for the whole thing).

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2022/08/stamps-royal-mail-swap-out-six-months/


 

Basically there is nothing actually incorrect in what the writer has written, the article shows examples of definitives which will no longer be valid - 1st 2nd and a couple of 2019 valued - and those which will - some special and Christmas stamps.  

It's what is not written: there are no illustrations of the barcoded stamps (the new ones still have the Queen's profile on) and the 1st and 2nd are not the only ones to be invalidated as the illustrations show.

Consequently we get the article such as that in the Manchester Evening News which headlines "Queen's head to be replaced":

Stamps with the Queens Head will soon disappear from letters as a new barcode system is set to be brought in to replace them.

From January 31, 2023, you won't be able to use the current style of stamps that feature an image of The Queen 's head. Instead, only the new style stamps complete with their new barcodes will be valid,

The Western Telegraph (where all the links go to The Bury Times) writer headlines:

Royal Mail first and second class stamps to be scrapped in changes

Thousands of Royal Mail stamps are set to be unusable withing months as a new system is introduced, with some left set to be thousands out of pocket.

Brits have been warned that their ‘1st’ and 2nd’ class stamps will be unusable from January 2023 as Royal Mail begin rolling out a new barcode system to replace the traditional stamp system.

Royal Mail will introduce new "reinvented" stamps after a successful trial of the new designs. 

A special barcode will be added to the side of the stamp but the Queen's head will still remain a main part of the stamp.

In this case, the writer (probably for The Bury Times), has a totally false headline. 

Even the nationals don't help.  The Daily Express has "The new system will not include the use of current stamps, meaning anyone with of 1st or 2nd class stashes has just months to use them. Current postage stamps will become invalid after the new system is launched on January 31, 2023."

And includes a video from Royal Mail "Royal Mail explains how to use barcode artwork generator".  Sadly this is nothing to do with the stamps, but is for business account users who print the Unsorted Barcode Generator.  Any Express reader who watches this will think that they have to set up a Royal Mail account, in order to print barcodes so that they can post a letter!

I understand that Royal Mail are now in the process of trying to contact the news desks to obtain correction - not an easy task especially for media groups and syndicated articles.

Readers of this blog, and other collectors, know the truth - or should do by now.  So if any of your friends or relatives repeats the incorrect information that they have read online or in their newspapers, do your best to disabuse them.  After all, just because it's on the internet, it doesn't make it true.




Unusual printing flaw on 2nd class Datamatrix definitive reported.

My thanks to Andrew P for sending a fine picture of an unusual flaw on a new datamatrix definitive.

Here are Andrew's pictures:

 Doctor blade flaw on barcode of 1st class purple datamatrix stamp from a book of 8 (rotated 90º)

1st class purple datamatrix stamp from a book of 8 with doctor blade flaw on barcode

This is a Doctor Blade Flaw - 

DOCTOR BLADE: A printer blade which removes surplus ink from printing cylinders. Stamps affected by faults in this process are often referred to as Doctor Blade errors or flaws.  They are not consant and therefore not catalogued.

As I reported when the first such stamp was issued, the 2nd class blue business sheet, the stamps are, as usual printed in a single colour.  But the datamatrix code was printed in a combination of colours -- need to get the microscope on the new ones to find out if this has continued.

2400 dpi scan revealing magenta dots misaligned so that some are above the edge of the cyan.


400x magnification showing uneven 'splash' of magenta at random (which shows as darker blue), and more rounded and sharp black dots, possibly regularly spaced (further investigation needed on these).

I've seen them before on booklet covers and stamps, but this example demonstrates clearly that the magenta ink-spread is due to the colour used in the datamatrix code.

Has anybody else seen anything like this recently?


New discovery from Scotland - 2019 printing of 2nd class country stamp.

As many readers know Royal Mail send to dealers, at irregular intervals, a list of new printings of sheet definitives which allows us to identify new printings, and in the past, new year codes which we were never told about.

A correspondent in Scotland recently bought a whole sheet of the old pre-datamatrix stamps to keep with the new ones.  To his surprise it has a printing date which I had not prevously recorded.  And it was not on the lists we got from Royal Mail; indeed by 2021 they recorded only 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Here's the picture he sent:

2nd class Scotland stamps, printing date 24/06/19.

Sheet of 2nd class Scotland stamps, printing date 24/06/19.

Back in July 2020 I was comparing printings:

The first Cartor printing with the new font was 27/12/2017, cylinder C1.
The second printing was 27/08/2018, from cylinder C2.
The third printing is 16/04/2020, back to cylinder C1  (Column 1 in a grid of 2x2.)

So the April 2020 printing was not the third after all!

Does anybody else have or have a a record of this date?  Where were those stamps bought?

We look forward to hearing from you.


Tuesday, 2 August 2022

August Slogan Postmarks - and other postmark news

August is off to a flying start following the victory of the England Women's Football Team in the European Championships final against Germany on Sunday.

Publicity image of Slogan postmark for England - Women's European Football Champions

"Following England women’s spectacular 2-1 win against Germany at Wembley Stadium last night, that saw them crowned European Women Football Champions, Royal Mail will be applying a special congratulatory postmark to stamped mail from Monday 1 August to Saturday 6 August."

Congratulations
England!

Women's European
Football Champions
31 July 2022

 

It's just about possible that mail processed Sunday night might have the 31 July postmark - please let me know if you have seen one.

First pictures from JE, who also writes:   "I doubt whether any mail would have been processed on Sunday night with this slogan.  Engineers have to download thee slogan at a change of shift, and Preston
(for example) does not sort mail on Sunday nights.  I understand Saturday's postings are cancelled and sorted on Saturday afternoon, and inward mail (from other Mail Centres which should not need cancelling anyway) is sorted on a Sunday morning shift, ready for Monday delivery."

Congratulations England! slogans from Preston (Lancashire and South Lakes), and Edinburgh Mail Centres.

The top picture is on a DL envelope and so in four lines; the centre picture is on a c5 envelope and should be 5 lines but the lower line and datastring are missing.

UPDATE 7 August: Some more pictures of the Football postmark.  First from MM showing the reverse format on square envelopes.  M asks if the wavy lines are too close together, but that is deliberate to avoid the barcode.  Tyneside NE/SR 03/08/2022

Congratulations England! slogans from Tyneside NE/SR Mail Centre 03/08/2022.

The alternative format on a letter from me to a customer, postmarked Norwich 01-08-2022   Also cancelled with the Dereham CDS producing a particularly nice 54p (catalogued £1.50 vfu). Another exaample of "use it or burn it" as we clear stocks of Machins.

Swap-out cover from Norwich Mail Centre with Congratulations England! slogan 01-08-2022



UPDATE 9 August: now that the football and the Commonwealth Games are over, Royal Mail is starting its campaign to publicise the end of stamps as we know them and urging people to use them up.

I expect this slogan to be used nationwide for long periods from now until the end of the year, interrupted by significant events, such as Christmas.  This is one that we received on mail this morning, from Preston Mail Centre, 08/08/2022.

Use up your
non-barcoded stamps
by 31 January 2023
Or swap them out for
new barcoded ones

visit
royalmail.com/barcodedstamps

Barcoded stamps slogan, Lancashire and South Lakes (Preston) 08/08/2022


UPDATE 17 August: thanks for other examples sent during the week.  This one from BM from Swindon also 08-08-2022.

Barcoded stamps slogan, Swindon, 08/08/2022

Then there is the reversed format from Tyneside (10/08/2022) - and a normal one - both unnecessarily on envelopes with printed (digital) stamps.  Thanks MM for these.

Barcoded stamps slogan, Tyneside NE/SR, 10/08/2022

Reverse Barcoded stamps slogan, Tyneside NE/SR, 10/08/2022





OTHER POSTMARK NEWS

Thanks to a Bournemouth member of the Stampboards forum, we learnt that Post Office Ltd has introduced a new style of counter date stamp.  Still self-inking, this appears to be similar in operation to the one I use for putting the return address on envelopes, but it also has wheels to change the date.

Thanks to the kind people at Boscombe East post office, I can show both devices and the impressions they produce.

Boscombe East PO self-inking metal-framed datestamp (right) and new type with Morse Code border.

Boscombe East PO new type of datestamp with Morse Code border.

In Morse, the border spells out the letters of Post Office, although Morse purists would argue that there should be bigger spaces between the letters than between the elements in each letter.

The SPM writes: We are indeed one of the first offices to trial the new date stamp, there’s not been many changes over the years but from the ‘bang bang to the SID and now to the ‘stamper’.  The name is a little small, and there is no town shown. And the date is one piece, so will only last as long as it lasts. Three separate reels would be better.  (But it might not last that long!)

Let us know if you see any others, please.

UPDATE 17 August:  According to RW the existing datestamps at Paignton only go to 2022 so their replacements may be like these. 

On the other hand, as this is a trial, there may be trials of other devices taking place at other offices. Apparently this device costs just under £50, whereas for the metal ones Post Office charges SPMs over £100.  But how long will they last under pressure?  

My old postmaster had a new SID supplied for his Outreach activities and it fell apart in less than two years: he refused to buy a new one and continues to use the old single-ring datestamp 'on the road', while the older double-ring datestamp is used in the office.



Isle of Skye

Although it isn't strictly news, it's not often that we get to see postmarks from Scotland's islands, so here is an example from Staffin, Isle of Skye.  Staffin is in the far north-east of the island, about 15 miles north of Portree. 

Staffin, Isle of Skye, counter date stamp 13 August 2022.





This is the place where all news about August postmarks - provided by readers or discovered by us - will be posted.  Please check back and refresh the page before sending anything which may have already been sent since you last looked: this will save you time scanning and writing.  Variants on postmarks already shown are also welcome.