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Ted Baker, the formal and occasion wear retailer, has reported a slump in annual sales during the coronavirus pandemic but argued it is now better placed to navigate continuing disruption.

The fashion chain reported a deepening pre-tax loss of £107.7m for the year to the end of January on the back of a £77.6m sum in the previous 12 months.

The company was already in the doldrums at that time – before COVID-19 hit – as it pledged a recovery from a string of setbacks including a £58m inventory overstatement and the departure of previous chief executive and founder Ray Kelvin following misconduct allegations – claims he has denied.

Ted Baker denied there was a culture of 'forced hugs' at the firm
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Ted Baker’s founder Ray Kelvin denied claims including ‘forced hugs’ while he ran the firm

Ted Baker said on Monday that the pandemic had taken an inevitable toll on its CEO Rachel Osborne’s transformation plan, which includes a greater focus on online sales.

It revealed an underlying pre-tax loss of £59.2m for its last financial year compared to a £4.8m profit the previous year as its global store footprint fell under coronavirus trading restrictions.

Total revenue fell 44% to £352m though e-commerce sales were up 22% to £144.9m.

The company, like many rivals, had to cut jobs and raise cash during the height of the crisis as it navigated the disruption to normal life which heavily restricted demand for its prime offering.

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Competitors with a focus on athleisure and casualwear have tended to do better given more people working from home and the lack of opportunities to enjoy nights out.

Ms Osborne said: “While the impact of COVID-19 is clear in our results and has amplified some of the legacy issues impacting the business, Ted Baker has responded proactively and is in a much stronger place than it was a year ago.

Ted Baker has 560 stores and concessions worldwide
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Ted Baker – long criticised for a lack of focus on online sales – has 521 stores and concessions worldwide

“During the period, we delivered robust cashflow generation, fixed our balance sheet, refreshed our senior leadership team and today we are upgrading our financial targets for the second time since outlining our new strategy last summer.

“Additionally, we have made good progress with our sustainability strategy, Fashioning a Better Future, including the mapping of all of our factory partners within our supply chain and significantly increasing our usage of cotton from sustainable sources to 69%.”

Shares opened positively initially but later fell back by around 1.6%.

Senior analyst at Freetrade, Dan Lane, said the results represented something of an own goal, despite the increase in e-commerce sales.

“Ted’s online presence needs an almighty boost and should have been focused on years ago.

“It finally started to get some attention as part of ‘Ted’s Formula For Growth’ but leaving it so late has meant being ill-prepared for the shift online over the year.

“It’ll be the epitome of ‘too little too late’ for a lot of beleaguered investors.”

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Post Office scandal: Ex-boss accused subpostmasters in email of having ‘their hand in the till’

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Post Office scandal: Ex-boss accused subpostmasters in email of having 'their hand in the till'

A Post Office boss blamed cash shortfalls caused by computer glitches on branch managers “with their hand in the till”.

An email written by Alan Cook, who was managing director of the group from 2006 to 2010, has been read out to the public inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal.

Giving evidence on Friday, he said it was an expression he would “regret for the rest of my life”.

Mr Cook was at the helm when about 200 prosecutions were brought against subpostmasters.

Despite being in charge, he said he was “unaware” it was the Post Office that had brought criminal proceedings against individuals – and that during his time in the top job, it did not feel like the Post Office “had a crisis on its hands”.

Alan Cook arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.
Pic: Reuters
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Alan Cook arrives to give evidence to the Post Office inquiry. Pic: Reuters

An email sent by Mr Cook in October 2009 to a Royal Mail Group press officer said: “For some strange reason there is a steadily building nervousness about the accuracy of the Horizon system and the press are on it now as well.

“It is… strange in that the system has been stable and reliable for many years now and there is absolutely no logical reason why these fears should now develop.

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“My instincts tell me that, in a recession, subbies (subpostmasters) with their hand in the till choose to blame the technology when they are found to be short of cash.”

Pressed over his remarks at the inquiry, Mr Cook said: “Well that’s an expression I will regret for the rest of my life. It was an inappropriate thing to put in an email – not in line with my view of subpostmasters.”

Hundreds of people were wrongly convicted of stealing after bugs and errors in the Horizon accounting system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Victims faced prison and financial ruin, others were ostracised by their communities, while some took their own lives.

Fresh attention was brought to the scandal after ITV broadcast the drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, prompting government action.

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Alan Bates speaks at Post Office inquiry

Earlier, as he began giving evidence, Mr Cook said he wanted to “put on record most strongly my personal apology and sympathies with all subpostmasters their families and those affected by this”.

He also told the inquiry: “I was unaware that the Post Office were the prosecuting authority.

“I knew there were court cases but didn’t realise that the Post Office in about two-thirds of the cases had initiated the prosecution as opposed to the DPP (director of public prosecutions) or the police.”

During his time as non-executive director of the Post Office, Mr Cook said it was his “regret” he failed to properly understand minutes of a meeting which said the organisation had a “principle of undertaking prosecutions”.

He said: “It never occurred to me reading that that the Post Office was the sole arbiter of whether or not that criminal prosecution would proceed.”

Mr Cook added: “I had never come across a situation before that a trading entity could initiate criminal prosecutions themselves.

“I’m not blaming others for this, it’s my misunderstanding but I’ve just not encountered that type of situation.”

He acknowledged he should have known the Post Office was making prosecutorial decisions.

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Jailed subpostmistress watches evidence

Counsel to the inquiry Sam Stevens asked: “Your evidence is still that in no point in the years that you were the managing director, (nobody) in the security or investigations team raised the fact that they made decisions to prosecute?”

Responding, Mr Cook said: “That is my position, definitely.”

He went on: “I never asked that question – well I did obviously when we got to the Computer Weekly article (in 2009) which we’ll get to but prior to that point I had gone through not picking up that.

“I’m not blaming them for not spelling it out enough, to be frank I’m blaming me for not picking up on it.”

During his time at the Post Office, Mr Cook said in his witness statement it was not apparent there was a problem with the Horizon system, pointing out that financial audits “did not identify a systemic issue”.

He added: “It is a matter of deep regret to me that I did not recognise that the early issues raised in 2009 were an indication of a systemic issue before I left POL (Post Office Limited) in February 2010.

“In addition, I have since learned that the annual rate of prosecutions brought by POL in the seven years prior to my appointment (ie since 1999) had remained steady during that time, and continued to remain steady during my time in office and thereafter. It did not feel, at the time, that POL had a crisis on its hands.”

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Sub-postmaster wrongly sent to prison while pregnant rejects apology from ex-Post Office boss David Smith

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Sub-postmaster wrongly sent to prison while pregnant rejects apology from ex-Post Office boss David Smith

A victim of the Post Office scandal who was wrongly jailed while pregnant has rejected an apology from a former Post Office executive – who celebrated her conviction as “brilliant news” at the time.

Former managing director David Smith made the apology to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, saying: “I would absolutely never think that it was ‘brilliant news’ for a pregnant woman to go to prison and I am hugely apologetic that my email can be read as such.”

That victim, Seema Misra – who was sentenced to 15 months in jail and served four months while pregnant – said it wasn’t good enough.

“They’re apologising now, but they missed so many chances before,” Ms Misra told Sky News.

“We had my conviction overturned, nobody came at that time to apologise. And now they just suddenly realised that when they have to appear in a public inquiry, they have to apologise.”

The inquiry is investigating who knew what and when about the faulty accounting software that ruined lives, resulted in huge debts, ill-health, ruined reputations, and led to the conviction of hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting.

The scandal received renewed attention after an ITV drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, aired early this year and brought to life how Horizon software, developed by Fujitsu, incorrectly generated financial shortfalls at Post Office branches throughout the UK.

More on Post Office Scandal

Read more:
More than £1m claimed as ‘profit’ may have come from victims
Post Office hero Bates had seemingly been preparing for this day

‘Brilliant news’

In 2010 Mr Smith emailed Post Office prosecutors, congratulating them on a job well done in jailing Ms Misra for theft.

“Brilliant news. Well done. Please pass on my thanks to the team,” he said.

The message was intended to celebrate proving Horizon was robust, Mr Smith said, rather than someone going to prison.

“Regardless of the result, I would have thanked the team for their work on the case.”

“However, seeing this email in the light of what I know now, I understand the anger and the upset that it will have caused and sincerely apologise for that,” Mr Smith’s evidence statement to the inquiry said.

“It is evident that my email would have caused Seema Misra, and her family, substantial distress to read and I would like to apologise for that.”

Ms Misra’s conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2021 but the memories of her time in prison still give her nightmares, she said.

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Sub-postmistress wrongly jailed while pregnant

A ‘test case’ that added confidence in Horizon

Mr Smith told the inquiry Ms Misra had been used as a “test case”.

The success of the case led to more confidence in Horizon, he said.

He said: “I do know that from this point forward, we didn’t really think about whether we should have an inquiry [into Horizon] again while I was at the Post Office and certainly if you looked at board minutes from the month after and the month after that which had been shared with me, we’re not talking about Horizon at all.”

In response, Ms Misra told Sky News: “How can they do a test on a human being?”

“I’m a living creature,” she added.

“I heard that my case has been used as a test case before. But hearing it again and again, it’s just annoying. It makes me more and more angry, to be honest.”

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A wrongly convicted pregnant sub-postmaster has told Sky News she

Flora Page, a barrister representing some sub-postmasters, said the trial of Ms Misra was being “actively used by Post Office as part of [its] campaign to claim that Horizon was robust”.

This was denied by Mr Smith.

Ms Page questioned Mr Smith at the inquiry about what the Post Office knew before putting Ms Misra behind bars and said prosecutors were alerted to bugs in Horizon on a Friday.

On the following Monday Ms Misra’s trial began, the inquiry heard.

Documentation submitted to the inquiry showed a Fujitsu witness in Ms Misra’s case was present at a pre-trial meeting where bugs in Horizon were being discussed, Ms Page said.

The meeting “made it perfectly plain that Fujitsu had the power to remotely alter branch accounts”, as the option was put forward as a way to resolve the receipts and payments mismatch bug in Horizon, she added.

At the time, Mr Smith said, he was unaware of the meeting and documents.

Former managing director of Post Office Ltd David Smith, arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.
Pic: PA
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Former managing director of Post Office Ltd David Smith, arrives to give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.
Pic: PA

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‘Inherent risks’ in Post Office prosecuting

The Post Office was allowed to investigate and bring prosecutions itself and did not require Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) involvement.

Reflecting on how prosecutions were carried out, Mr Smith told the inquiry there are “risks” within the system.

In-house prosecution “can lead you to a position where you might not think as independently as you should do about the quality of the information”, he said.

None of these issues occurred to Mr Smith during his tenure.

He said: “I cannot recall thinking that any risk or compliance issues arose from [the Post Office] undertaking this role, but with the benefit of hindsight, and in light of the wrongful prosecutions, I can see the inherent risks in the prosecutions taking place ‘in house’ and not by an independent enforcement authority.”

At the time the organisation was too focused on other issues, such as the Post Office separating from Royal Mail, the new coalition government, and the need to refinance the business, he said.

The company board was “pre-occupied” with investment from the government, his witness statement said.

“Therefore, although we were aware of the case, at board level we were not heavily focused on it as our attention was on keeping the business running,” he added.

It was down to “institutional bias” that led executives not to interrogate what was being said by sub-postmasters and the public about Horizon, he added.

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Port Talbot steelworkers vote to strike over proposed furnace closures

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Port Talbot steelworkers vote to strike over proposed furnace closures

Hundreds of steelworkers are set to go on strike over the proposed closure of Port Talbot’s blast furnaces.

Unite the Union announced the result of its strike ballot on Thursday but walkout dates are yet to be confirmed.

Around 1,500 workers based in Port Talbot and Newport voted in favour of strikes.

It will be the first time in more than 40 years that Port Talbot steelworkers have gone on strike.

Thousands of jobs could be lost in the South Wales town should Tata Steel proceed with proposals to shut both blast furnaces.

Unions are warning that a total of up to 2,800 jobs could be lost if Tata’s plans go ahead.

Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham described the ballot result as a “historic vote”.

“Unite will be at the forefront of the fight to save steelmaking in Wales,” she added.

“We will support steel by all and every means.”

‘Competitive and greener’

The proposals were officially confirmed in January, with Tata boss TV Narendran telling MPs the decision was “pretty much” a done deal.

Tata said the move will mark the beginning of a new way of steelmaking which is “competitive and greener”.

But there are concerns in Port Talbot about its impact on the local economy, with the plant’s workforce currently accounting for 12% of the town’s population.

Unite argues that other European countries are transitioning to ensure a “bright future” for the steel industry.

It says the blast furnaces at the Tata plant in the Netherlands are being kept open and that in Germany more steel is being produced at a single plant than by the entire UK industry.

Unite Wales regional secretary Peter Hughes said its members would “not be intimidated into standing by”.

“Our members have their union’s absolute support in striking to stop these cuts – Unite is backing them every step of the way,” he added.

The Community union is currently balloting its members at Tata for industrial action.

Read more from Ed Conway:
Why British steel is on brink of extinction

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A Tata Steel spokesperson said the company was “naturally disappointed” by the decision.

The spokesperson added that Tata was engaged in a consultation process with the unions on its proposals.

They said the consultation “continues in an open, collaborative and constructive fashion”.

The firm says it has written twice to Unite during the ballot process to “notify them of significant irregularities in the ballot process they have undertaken”.

“While the £1.25bn commitment with the UK government will ensure a long-term viable future for low-CO2 steelmaking in the UK, our current business is unsustainable, reporting losses of more than £1m a day,” the spokesperson added.

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