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Human Impact Focus Group 4 (18 March 2022)

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(2.00 pm)

Focus Group Session 4

Facilitator: (Audio missing) – Sir Wyn as part of his Public Inquiry.

Sir Wyn, do you want to just have a quick word before we get going.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, just really to reinforce the thanks that I know you have already received from Mr Norris and from the Secretariat team. I am extremely grateful to you for participating in this way. It is not a formal forum, like giving evidence might be thought to be, but nonetheless you are in the public eye and so I appreciate that it’s an effort for anyone to put themselves in that position, so I’m very grateful to you all for doing it this afternoon.

My task is to listen and, for the most part, that’s what I will do, but occasionally you may hear my voice.

Over to you, Jerome.

Facilitator: Thank you, Sir Wyn.

So I would like to start perhaps with you Gary, if that’s okay. Just tell us a little bit about yourself, so that Sir Wyn knows who you are and where you are and also if you could just share with us a little bit about why you have joined us today, why you wanted to share your story with Sir Wyn.

Gary Brown: Yes, my name is Gary Brown. I left school at 15 with no qualifications. I first off trained as a butcher, but I weren’t very satisfied with that so at 20 I retrained as a paint sprayer, and for 23 years I worked for the Ministry of Defence, Stoke Vickers Defence Systems, painting the armoured fighting vehicles.

We used everything to buy our Post Office, redundancy money, everything, so we had nothing to spare when we did move in there.

We moved from Leeds to a little village called Rawcliffe in East Yorkshire.

Facilitator: Okay, and when did you first get involved with the Post Office then, Gary?

Gary Brown: It was August 2000 we moved in. We started purchasing it or trying to buy it in the February.

Facilitator: And are you still there now?

Gary Brown: In Rawcliffe, yes. About 100 metres down the road from the old post office.

Facilitator: But you don’t run the post office any more then?

Gary Brown: No, no.

Facilitator: Thank you very much. What would you say has brought you here today to share your story?

Gary Brown: I just want to give my version of events as best as I can, that’s all, to let Sir Wyn know how we have been affected by it all.

Facilitator: Right, thank you. That’s very clear. Thank you, Gary.

Sandy, could I come to you and just for you to tell us a little bit about yourself.

Sandra Brocklehurst: My name is Sandy Brocklehurst. Before taking on a post office my career was retail and customer service. We took our first post office on in November 1998, which was a village post office and I had been there a couple of years when I became the branch secretary of the Taunton branch of the Federation, and a little while after that I had a surprise phonecall from the Post Office, asking me if I would like a job with them as a retail line manager and if I accepted the vacancy they would cancel all the other interviews and I thought this was a bit strange.

My husband reckoned I had been a thorn in the side of the Post Office for a while as the branch secretary. Anyway, cut a long story short, I turned that down and the Post Office said I was wasting my talents in a small office so, with their encouragement, we sold the village post office and bought an ex-Crown Post Office with a main contract in 1995.

That’s it really for now.

The reason I have come here today, mainly, is I would like Sir Wyn to hear some of the sort of side-effects of how POID dealt with people because I sat in on quite a few interviews and I think that’s important for him to know about that, and also my views on the Federation of SubPostmasters.

Facilitator: Thank you. I’m sure you will get a chance to – so POID being the investigative team, yes. So are you still living in the area where you were with the post office then Sandy?

Sandra Brocklehurst: We’re living in the next town to where our post office was but we’re now retired.

Facilitator: Similar situation to Gary, in that sense then? Thank you.

Finally, Tim, welcome, do you want to introduce yourself to us.

Tim Boothman: Hello, my name is Tim Boothman. I’m current postmaster at Chapel-en-le-Frith in High Peak, Derbyshire.

I grew up on a Yorkshire Dales dairy farm and started to work for my mother and father when I left school.

However, sadly, in 1995, my father died suddenly and left myself and mother to run the farm. We did round and about three years and we just carried on, but it got to the point where I felt that I needed to do something for myself and so we started to look round for a business for myself.

My mother actually was – she wanted me to go through further education and go to university and actually get a profession, such as an accountant or a lawyer or something along those lines, but at 29 years old I felt that probably going back to school was a little bit too late and I wanted to get my teeth into something really.

So it was a bit of a compromise with my mother. She said, “Well, how about being a postmaster, that’s an upstanding type of profession in the community and you can have your own business at the same time?” So we actually started to look round at post offices and we travelled the length and breadth of the country and we settled on one actually near to where we lived in Keighley. That post office was Low Moor post office in Bradford.

So we purchased that in – I took over in September 1998 and we ran that post office until January 2005, and the post office that – that closed under – I think it was the urban network reinvention programme, so I was paid out a sum of compensation and I used that compensation to purchase Chapel-en-le-Frith Post Office where I am now and still currently.

The main purpose of coming to the Inquiry really is 24 years of experience of running a post office and dealing with the Post Office and I believe that I’ve got quite a number of things that would be helpful to the Inquiry. Thank you.

Facilitator: Thank you, Tim.

Thank you all for those nice clear explanations.

So I would like to take you back to the time when you were sort of first coming into the role in the Post Office. I’m just interested to hear about, kind of, your feelings and expectations at that time: what was in your mind and in your hearts at those times?

I will start with you, Tim, as you are still on my screen, so do you just want to tell us a little bit about what was in your mind or your sense of expectation of what it would be like?

Tim Boothman: My sense of expectation was I knew it was going to be hard work and I was no stranger to that, growing up on a farm. My expectations were that, having a post office would provide me with a good level of income, it would form a basis really, you know, to get married, start a family, that kind of thing, and a good – what I believed was a good secure – something like, you know – it’s not really a job, it’s owning a business that would be secure, it had a secure future, and, obviously, I was always sort of led to believe that the Post Office had a good brand and they could be trusted, they had integrity, so it felt like a very good career move for a youngish 29-year old.

Facilitator: Right, thank you Tim, yes.

How about you, Sandy, what was your sort of expectation and emotions when you first started?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Well, we bought a village shop. It didn’t have a post office. The post office was in another small village shop in the same village.

When the subpostmaster handed in his notice and was going to retire, in those days, a post office advertised the vacancies on a big board in the main post office and my husband happened to see it and we decided it would be a good idea to try and get the post office into our business, so that it would be more viable, and that’s exactly what we did.

Facilitator: Okay, and how would you describe the person you were at that time, Sandy, in terms of your outlook?

Sandra Brocklehurst: I don’t know. I have always been very optimistic. I was looking forward to a new challenge. I had always worked in retail and I’m a people person, so I was looking forward to it. Little bit of intrepidation but it was basically paperwork and handing out money, which was no – nothing unusual for me, so I knew how to do that.

Facilitator: Right, right, thank you.

Gary, what was your, sort of, state of mind when you first came into the game?

Gary Brown: We planned to work up until retirement, 65 or thereabouts, and hand it over to our daughter because she is interested in things like that, but when we moved in, after a few weeks, I realised we were onto a winner, or we thought we were onto a winner and our shop takings increased fivefold within months, so we were thinking about retiring early, maybe 55, and handing things over.

But things changed completely, everything was turned on its head with what happened so – yes, we would have liked to stay – we were adamant we were going to stay there. We even buried my father’s ashes in the garden, so in a few years after that everything went to pot.

Facilitator: Yes. The same way I asked Sandy, how would you describe the person that you were in terms of your outlook when you started?

Gary Brown: I liked to have a laugh and a joke then. My favourite day of the year were April Fool’s Day. I liked to play practical jokes but not any more. No. No, I’m a completely different person.

Facilitator: Right. Okay, thank you.

So let’s think about your first experiences of running the post office. Obviously, we will get into the Horizon issues as well but I’m interested into how it started to pan out in those early days. Can I just check, all of you were started on a paper-based account ledger –

Gary Brown: No, I didn’t.

Facilitator: You didn’t, Gary, you were on Horizon, okay. I will perhaps come back to you in a second then.

How about you – Sandy, do you want to tell us about those early days and how running the post office was and (inaudible).

Sandra Brocklehurst: It was a small village post office. It ran exceedingly well. I had a very good trainer. He was a counter clerk from the Crown office and I had a week’s training with him. I think some of the customers stayed away knowing I was going to be trained, so he ended up having to grab things like a tin of baked beans and putting them on the scales and say “Right, that’s a parcel going to France”, or “That’s going somewhere else”, so that was quite good fun. He was with me for a week and then he came back a week after to go through the balance, and no problem at all.

Being such a small office, if I was tuppence out on balance night, I was looking for it on the floor, “Oh, there it is”. No problems whatsoever with that.

When I moved to the mains post office in 1995 that was a different ball game. The Post Office deemed I didn’t need any training because I had already had a post office but the office I took on had vehicle licensing, Datapost, all sorts of thing I had never dealt with and the staff knew more than I did, which seemed, you know, a bit difficult. I was supposed to be the boss and I was having to ask them, and so I had no training, I had to learn as I went along.

And what made it worse was the Post Office took 25 per cent of my remuneration in my first year to reflect the risk, I don’t know whose risk that was, I think it was mine, not theirs.

Facilitator: This is when you transitioned to what previously had been a mains office?

Sandra Brocklehurst: It had been a mains office, yes. Well, it had been a Crown Office, then it was transferred to become a mains office and then I took it on.

But yes, the fact I had no training wasn’t good. We will talk about Horizon later, but the paper-based system worked very well and we had minimal losses at the time, all ticked along quite nicely.

Facilitator: Okay. So picking up on what Sandy is saying there, Tim, how did you sort of feel prepared, and tell us a little bit about those earlier days of training or introductory times.

Tim Boothman: Yes. When I took over, I was very fortunate in the previous owner, Brian, he let me work in the post office a month before I took over, so I did round and about four weeks and he just taught me everything really that he possibly could.

There were two aspects to it really. I had got to get used to the job, actually running a post office, and also I was starting up in business for myself, so not only did I have to sort of learn all accountancy and HR for staff and employing staff and all the legislation that goes with it, there were two aspects and, to be honest, it was quite overwhelming.

The paper-based system was actually a complete nightmare to fathom and get my head round. The – my – Low Moor was a very, very, very busy pension and allowance – we were doing something round and about 2,000 dockets per week of pension allowances which was an incredible amount of money to be paying out and also taking money back in through banking and bill payments.

I also did quite a lot of postage. We were a three-position counter and those three positions were going flat out, five days a week, and two of us could probably manage Saturday morning.

To try and make things easier, it soon became apparent that there was actually a computer programme called Richard Jackson. Now, Richard Jackson was a postmaster at the time, somewhere over in Rotherham, and he had actually developed a computer programme called “Balancer”, which you ran on just your normal PC, and I believe it was a MS-DOS programme and what you would do is all your paper dockets, whether it be pension allowance dockets or telephone dockets and things, you would go to the back and you would enter them and, at the end of the week, it would produce a cash account, as you would, instead of having to write the actual manual with figures, this would do it for you and the Post Office accepted like a print-out from it.

What it also helped you do is, on balance day, which was a Wednesday, you could start entering your bulk stock and cash long before you actually closed, so you would start entering all those figures and so when you actually closed at, say – I think we closed at 1 o’clock or 12.30 on a Wednesday, which was like a half day, you had nearly done everything and, as soon as I went on that and got used to it, everything improved massively and the sort of errors that came back, they were – in them days they used to call them error notices and, to be honest, you had the confidence that if you made a mistake, if you had – for instance, the giro in payments, the form – some of the forms were badly laid out and so a customer could bank cash and cheques but there would be a grand total in a box and a common mistake was for you to enter the grand total of cash and cheques and not just the cash. So, therefore, you would find yourself at the end of the day, you know, quite a way out.

If that happens, you always had the confidence that the post office would write to you and give that money back and that was quite evident and, you know, I made loads of mistakes in those early days but, as soon as I went on Richard Jackson Balancer, it really cleaned everything up and we were more efficient, more slick and it just made the job easier. I never actually did get my head round the manual, you know, writing everything out by hand.

Facilitator: Right, okay, that’s interesting. Thank you for that.

So obviously that was all before Horizon –

Tim Boothman: Yes.

Facilitator: So let’s think about when things started to – particularly on the accounting side – started to go not as you would hope.

So Gary, just talk to us about your – you know, when things started to go a bit wrong for you accounts-wise.

Gary Brown: Well, it were after about two years, I think, since we had been there. I mean, little bits were going missing and sometimes it were over for a couple of years, but, after that, it just seemed to escalate and nothing seemed to be coming back. It were all losses, losses – we had this thing what we had that the trainers told us to use for overs and unders. If you were over you put money in it, when you were under you took money out of it to put into the account system. But, after a couple of years, there were nothing over, it were always under and it seemed to get gradually worse and worse.

Facilitator: Okay. So in that – when would that have been, those couple of years then?

Gary Brown: That would have been about 2002, 2003.

Facilitator: Right, okay. So at that period, the two years that you just mentioned, what did you sort of attribute those errors to then, or those –

Gary Brown: Myself.

Facilitator: Pardon?

Gary Brown: Myself. It was just me that was not up to doing the job. I often said to Maureen, my wife, and the assistant, what gave me the audacity to think I could run a post office, and that’s what I used to say often because every week it seemed to be short.

Facilitator: Right.

Gary Brown: And there were no – I checked everything, but there were no – no way I could find anything.

Facilitator: So if you take yourself back to that period, how did it feel? Because, obviously, Sir Wyn and I have never run a post office. How did it feel to be in that position of having those –

Gary Brown: I were on edge all the time. When I was serving people I were double checking myself just to see I hadn’t made a mistake and I did make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes but not to the extent it were building up to. I was just feeling anxious all the time. I were in 14 years and 12 of those years it were murder.

Facilitator: I will come back to what you did next in a moment, if that’s all right, Gary.

Gary Brown: No problem.

Facilitator: Sandy, when did things start to appear wrong for you, accounts-wise?

Sandra Brocklehurst: When Horizon went in, in about 2000/2001, we started getting small errors – when I say small, £50/£60 – and I was told that for an office of that size that was quite normal.

As time went on – we were fairly lucky, actually. I only had two unexplained losses over that period of time, but the machine would do weird things and I lost faith in it, to be honest. On a Friday night we would count all the cash and it was always a Friday night that we did this particular thing. The girls would count all the cash, I would enter it on Horizon and it would come up that I was £360 short. So after the girls had gone home I used to recount the money and then my husband who worked on the retail side of the shop would come in, he would recount the money and then we would recount it together, and every time it was £360 short.

And I would end up having a sleepless night worrying about this and, on the Saturday morning, I would go in, operate the post office as usual, close-up at 12.30, count the cash, and it was perfectly right and that happened on more than one occasion, so I would be – I lost faith in Horizon.

And being a branch secretary, I had also started hearing of people having a few problems so, you know, I was really worried that it could happen to us.

Facilitator: So how often were you getting – was this every week or every balancing period or –

Sandra Brocklehurst: No, it was intermittent. It would come up one week and then it wouldn’t happen again for a few weeks but then it would happen again. When it happened for the third or fourth time, I just started ignoring it. I thought, “Well, this has happened before and by tomorrow it will be right”, but you still lie in bed worrying “What happens if it isn’t?” and “What happens if it had been 36,000 and not 360?” It was a worry.

Facilitator: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: Can you just try and put an approximate year when this sort of thing first started? We know that Horizon was installed, depending on your particular post office, around about 2000, so which year are we in now, do you think?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Probably 2000 and – it was intermittent right the way through. 2004 onwards, really.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay, thanks.

Sandra Brocklehurst: It didn’t happen every week. It would – once in a while.

Facilitator: Right, okay then.

As you said, it was enough to make you lose sleep, you mentioned, at that time.

Sandra Brocklehurst: Mm-hm.

Facilitator: Okay. So, Tim, how did these stories reflect what you were experiencing?

Tim Boothman: I – if you go back to when Horizon was actually installed, I would imagine in Low Moor in Bradford round and about the year – some time the year 2000. We had gone on a few training courses and, actually, I was really looking forward to it because I thought it would probably revolutionise how we worked on a post office counter and, to an extent, it did.

The main thing is the – on the day of installation, obviously engineers would install it and then you needed to be closed for that, obviously, but when it came to setting up some sort of audit, people and trainers would turn up and they loaded everything onto the computer and you had your FAD code and all your transactions, somehow everything got migrated and you would set-off.

In hindsight, what I should have done, or probably should have been advised by the Post Office to say – I had three positions. They should have been set up as individual stock units and, instead, it was done as one big stock unit. So, in other words, if somebody made a mistake, you hadn’t got a clue who or where or how, or at what time or anything. I mean, currently what I do – I have still got three positions in Chapel-en-le-Frith, all of them is their own – in effect, their own small little post office and they declare their own cash three times a day and, if a mistake has been made, right, you’re going to know and you don’t have to look so far and you can actually, to a point, remember who you have served and what you have served, because it’s only, you know, like a short-term memory thing.

But we – we carried on with this one big shared stock unit and I didn’t really know there was a function of having individual stock units. I knew that, in the back office – the actual user interface, in other words like the EPOS system to serve customers, was very, very good. The back office bit was just a mass of icons that meant nothing.

The balance snapshot that would be printed out, which was, in effect, the equivalent of the ledger, like your cash account, was a great big long thin piece of paper that came out of the counter printer and was just gobbledegook.

Facilitator: I – sorry, did you want to say something, Sir Wyn?

Tim Boothman: I will carry on, if –

Facilitator: I was just going to ask, given you are describing the situation, I just wondered what sort of training or support or resource of any type all of you had to ensure that you had Horizon working as it was intended to.

Tim Boothman: I believed it worked okay and the reason for which is that I carried on with my Richard Jackson, despite the fact I was on Horizon and I did that for at least two years. I was still very – I was still very sceptical because it seemed to me that there used to be this egg timer – a great big egg timer in the middle of the screen that used to spin for ages, and ages, and ages, and I used to think “Why is it taking so long to work out a few figures? Why – is it short of memory, is it short of hard drive, is it short of” – I don’t know.

So I was always very sceptical but, to be honest, when you do your balance on a Wednesday afternoon, the Horizon figure always matched the Richard Jackson, so I had no reason to believe there was any faults in the system, but there might have been, I don’t know.

Facilitator: Okay. So Gary, what did you get in terms of specific support or training, or resources to help you use and understand Horizon?

Gary Brown: I had a really good trainer, Norma Beresford(?). I had her for just under two weeks but it still wasn’t long enough.

The main business in our post office were pensions, so that’s what we were doing most of the time, but once you got off that and Norma had left, and you started to do something else, I hadn’t got a clue. I hadn’t got a clue what to do, apart from gas bills, electric bills, the simple things. But I used to phone the help desk every day to try – you know, to try to get me through things.

Like the stock units, I never even heard of them. I didn’t know anything about them.

Facilitator: Right, so you were literally ringing every day?

Gary Brown: Yes, yes. I did a Freedom of Information about a year ago and the Post Office told me I rung 54 times over 14 years. Now I had estimated 54 times in under a year. I had a customer come in, in the early days, and she said to me, “Do you phone the helpline a lot?” I said “Yes, why?” she said, “Because my friend works on it and she says you’re phoning every day”. I thought, “God, where is the Official Secrets Act? I thought they weren’t supposed to give things like that out”.

So that’s how often I was phoning. I just didn’t have a clue. I would say it were about two years before I was reasonably confident.

Facilitator: Right, okay.

So Sandy, you mentioned the challenge of going to the bigger branch and working with staff and things. What was your sort of sense of how well prepared you were to run Horizon and to solve any problems or identify issues and things?

Sandra Brocklehurst: The training for Horizon was inadequate, as far as I was concerned. We were shown how to sell a stamp and a few other bits and then given a manual and we literally had to learn the job as we went along. That was it, really.

The whole system was not user-friendly at all. It really wasn’t. But we trundled on with it and managed it. On the odd occasion – well, the odd occasion we phoned the helpline but they were completely hopeless and, in the end, I instructed my staff not to use the helpline under any circumstances because the information they gave was inadequate or totally wrong.

Facilitator: When was that again?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Fairly early on, probably within about the first year of Horizon going in. I told my staff not to use the helpline.

Facilitator: Right, okay.

Sandra Brocklehurst: We worked – I mean, my staff had been in that office quite a while before I took it on, so they knew what they were doing. When Horizon went in we helped each other with things. So if somebody didn’t know something, one of the other staff did or I did, so we worked that way. So if a problem came up we worked it out ourselves, rather than ring the helpline because I knew of these problems where subpostmasters had phoned and the error doubled, and I didn’t want that happening in my branch. So I just said to the staff, “Don’t use them, don’t use them at all”.

Facilitator: So you had three terminals at that point, did you, in the branch?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Yes, we had three. Well, we had three on the counter and the back office one.

Facilitator: So imagine going back to that time, if something is going wrong, what would you advise me to do if I had a shortfall in my branch? What was the process?

Gary Brown: Sort it out yourself.

Sandra Brocklehurst: Basically, that’s what the helpline would tell you to do. Pay –

Facilitator: How would you – okay, so you have told me – so I’m ringing you up, I say “Okay, I’ll sort it out myself”. How do I do it? What’s my first step to resolve a discrepancy?

Sandra Brocklehurst: It is very, very difficult. You had to go through reams of paperwork, wasn’t easy. Once you got your head round the system, if you thought you had created an error – let’s say of £100 – you were probably looking for something on the system that was 50 that you had put on the wrong side of the account, if you get my meaning, because it would double it.

So you learned how to find discrepancies but, luckily, we didn’t have too many. I’ve got very good staff and I think the fact they didn’t use the helpline was a great help. Yes, we worked things out ourselves but the Horizon accounting system was absolutely useless for a subpostmaster. You couldn’t find what you were looking for. You would reel off a transactional log, which was like a long, little, narrow piece of toilet roll, if you like, and you could spend ages going through that and comparing it to other things, and still not find the discrepancy.

So if you ended up with a discrepancy, in order to carry on the next day you had so make good the loss, or – there was never any surplus – or put it into what was a suspense account, which deemed, basically, if you put it in there, you were going to pay it.

Facilitator: So how often would you say were you having to make good the loss or to put it in the suspense account, Sandy?

Sandra Brocklehurst: We used to – the money used to come out of the retail business so we made up the losses quite regularly. If it was a large amount, my husband used to record it. We’ve got – still got the paperwork here now. I had two, what I consider fairly big losses, one of 600 and one of 400, and we paid that by cheque into the post office, we covered it, but we never got an error notice for that, so no, we just had to accept it.

I think what – it sounds terrible but I think we were fairly lucky insomuch as our losses over ten years were about £6,000, so I have given the Post Office 6,000. But some of those small mistakes were probably human error, someone had sold a Second Class book of stamps and given out a First Class or something, so there would be a small loss there but, on the whole – well, I maintain we were fairly lucky.

Facilitator: So if you exclude those human errors, what sort of sum are you thinking was attributable to Horizon errors?

Sandra Brocklehurst: The main one came to over £1,000 but the rest of them were like £50, £100. Personally, because I have no faith in Horizon, I would attribute quite a lot of them. Anything other than a small amount I would say was Horizon generated.

Facilitator: Okay, so I will go on to the other two in a moment, but so you never got to a point of being audited or investigated for any losses?

Sandra Brocklehurst: I wasn’t. I was never investigated. Audited, yes. The auditors used to turn up when they knew I was going to be away at conference. Nearly every time they turned up I wasn’t going to be there.

Facilitator: We will come back to that in a moment then, if that’s okay, Sandy.

Sandra Brocklehurst: We will come back to that later.

Facilitator: If I can move across the room to you, Gary. Can you just tell us about those experiences with discrepancies and where you thought they came from and just sort of tell us the story of what happened?

Gary Brown: The main ones – for instance, we were £1,000 short, so when I were balancing I phoned the helpline up and they told me to do different things on the computer. I did it, and while they were still on the phone, it instantaneously doubled to £2,000 and that happened twice, from what I can remember.

All the others, or most of the others, I just put it down to myself not being able to do the job. That’s how they made me feel. They made me feel that I just wasn’t up to doing the job.

Facilitator: Okay, so you were describing before your very frequent calls to –

Gary Brown: Yes.

Facilitator: – the helpline. Were those predominantly about shortfalls or were they about other operational issues as well?

Gary Brown: Mostly operational issues, to start with, but later on it was about money going missing, and things like that, yes.

Facilitator: So if we focus on the money going missing calls, how does it feel when you’re ringing them and you see the screen doubling, and so on?

Gary Brown: It makes you feel sick. It really does make you feel sick, because you knew – they didn’t seem to know what they were doing themselves. They were just suggesting you to do things but they couldn’t put their finger on anything at all. So, towards the end, I just stopped phoning. It was a complete and utter waste of my time because you could be waiting an hour trying to get through.

Facilitator: You know the way Tim described he had the parallel IT system he was running, what did you have to help you resolve or understand the causes of the issues?

Gary Brown: Nothing really. I used to do what the others used to and go through the till rolls to see if there was anything there, but, as Tim said, it was gobbledegook. You had no way of finding out any losses really, apart from counting everything, which we used to do. My wife used to come and help me count everything, stamps, everything, but it just weren’t enough. Everything – whatever you did, there was nothing you could do to get it right, not in my circumstances anyway.

Facilitator: Right, okay. So you have talked about the helpline all of you, I think, and what alternative sources of help or support did you have to try and get to the bottom of it?

Gary Brown: Well, I phoned my – I don’t know what they call them, line manager or area manager. All the time we were there, in 14 years, I think I had two. I saw the first lady twice, that were to tell me off, one of the times because I hadn’t put the lozenge up, a new lozenge and things like that.

The second lady, Diane Hoyles(?), she were really nice but she were no help at all. When I told her about the discrepancies she said, “Well, if I do get the auditors to come in they will just close you down and you will have to pay the money back”. I said “I would do that anyway”.

Facilitator: What sort of amounts are you talking about here?

Gary Brown: Hundreds of pounds a week. A week.

She did get an auditor to come in who was one of her friends and it were off the record and he spent nearly a week with me. He went through everything, couldn’t find anything wrong.

Facilitator: Right.

Gary Brown: It were just demoralising.

Facilitator: Right, and just as I was saying to Sandy, did it get escalated? Did you get investigated or –

Gary Brown: Only when I called them in at the end, after 14 years.

Facilitator: Right, we will come to that in a second then.

So, Tim, you have heard what your colleagues are saying there about the helpline and the area manager and things. How does this match with your experience, would you say, of shortfalls and handling them?

Tim Boothman: Yes. The helpline really was very limited to what it could do. You will know – you may have had IT problems yourself with completely other systems – with completely – you know, let’s just say that you had a problem with some kind of programme that did your accounting and say if you rang QuickBooks up, you can actually press a button and put a code number in and that operator at the other end can actually take control of your mouse and your computer and things.

Now, I’m not saying that the Post Office should be given access to that, but there was actually no way of knowing, from their perspective, that the advice that they were – there’s two things really, right? It’s whether the operative at the other end of the phone understood what you were saying to them correctly and you were understanding and pressing the right buttons at your end. So the operative couldn’t have – there’s no way, right, could the person at the helpline know if you had followed their instructions exactly.

So there’s a bit of ambiguity there really.

I have always steered very, very well clear of suspense account and the reason for which, if you put it – if you put an amount in suspense, you have put it on the wrong side, right, your error will double. Your actual discrepancy will double. Not only that, as time went on, transaction corrections used to come out and these were like automatic transaction corrections, where not only would it correct the transaction you had done incorrectly but it would automatically take – remove that figure from the suspense account.

Now, let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that you had not entered the figure correctly or not put it on the right side of the suspense account, and they send the transaction corrections, if you get your head round it, yes, your error would double, so I have always stayed very, very well clear of using the suspense account.

I mean, all these things, you know, I was very – I was very sort of keen at the beginning. I loved it. I loved the computer system so much that it soon became apparent from my retail line manager that they were being overwhelmed with problems, you know, during the roll-out loads of people had loads of problems and nobody really knew how to use it and they actually offered me a job.

I was given the title “Balance support officer” and they paid me an hourly rate and they gave me mileage and on a Wednesday afternoon my – I had finished mine and done for 1 o’clock, and I used to go out on a Wednesday afternoon and I would support sometimes three other offices to balance on a Wednesday afternoon.

And I can remember one of them, it was somewhere up in Huddersfield, and the gentleman had been there 30 years, I think, or it could even be 40, and to expect him to start using this computer system without additional support was just ludicrous. And so I think I went there every single Wednesday afternoon for six weeks, among others.

I must have supported at least a dozen other branches before the Post Office kind of pulled the plug on it when I actually felt that these people needed more support.

Facilitator: Right, so from your recollection of that, how much of those balancing problems were caused by Horizon and how much would you – or were you able to deduce from what you were doing?

Tim Boothman: That’s very difficult to say. I, at that time, was not aware that the Horizon System couldn’t put two and two and make four. I never particularly saw anything that would suggest that, you know, two and two make five, but, again, because you couldn’t look into the back office, there’s no way of accessing it and there’s no way of accessing it in a way that you could look easily at the figures. There’s just no way of knowing. You had got a screen in front of, you couldn’t see behind, you couldn’t see the workings of how the system added up the figures.

Facilitator: Right, okay. So in your personal case, Tim, how serious did the losses and discrepancies get to?

Tim Boothman: In my own branch we had quite a number of losses, but usually – usually, they were all round and about £20. Now, you know, I could – you could attribute that to somebody giving the wrong change out. You’ve got to appreciate that in a post office, unlike a shop – if you work in a shop or a pub or any retail, you’re just taking money in and that’s it, it’s all one way. In a post office, right, sometimes you’re giving money out and sometimes you’re taking money in. You can soon get confused and I have done it so many times myself, that I have just, you know – you can just deposit money into somebody’s account, instead of paying it out, or vice versa, so you really needed to be right on the ball and with a queue out down the street you really needed to be, you know, on top of your game and your staff as well.

Facilitator: So over the time you were there, up until now, I guess, what sort of amount do you think you have had to put in to make up –

Tim Boothman: I think I have put probably round and about £3,000 or £4,000, if you added it all up, but to be honest, if I looked – when we tried to investigate that, and I would do with staff, usually, right, the most probable cause was user error because we would look through a transaction log, especially once I got on individual stock units, and we would look “Can you remember that customer?”

“Ah yes”, you know, the – it’s very, very easy to, say, put £100 in somebody’s account, instead of 10, especially, right, when the “00” button is right next to the “Enter” button. Your finger can soon catch that “00” button and the Post Office keyboard, for instance, is not like your standard QWERTY keyboard. If you look at your standard QWERTY keyboard, it’s a decimal point button next to the enter.

I have actually seen pictures of postmasters getting a knife and lifting that double note key off, so they can’t press it by accident. Just bad design on the Post Office keyboard, to be honest, you know.

But to go back to your original point, I don’t believe, personally, that I have ever had a problem with bugs and glitches in the Horizon systems that I have used.

However, right, I have no way of knowing that. I might have had and not known, so I don’t actually – in all probability, I think I’m one of the very lucky ones.

Facilitator: Okay, right. Thank you, thank you, Tim.

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry, just before we go on, you mentioned carrying out an activity on a Wednesday afternoon, which I haven’t heard very much about, in other words, you going out to assist other people, all right?

Tim Boothman: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Can you give me some idea for how long that continued?

Tim Boothman: I would say round and about four months. It’s difficult to remember because, say I was in Bradford, the rollout – they wouldn’t just do Bradford all in one week. They would space it out and, usually, the retail line manager, a very good gentleman called Peter Leskovac(?), I think he kind of realised that I was one of the ones that kind of got my head round it and he would send me out and – probably, on and off, for about a year.

Sir Wyn Williams: I take it that this was proximate in time to when Horizon was rolled out?

Tim Boothman: Yes, yes. The offices I went to had just had it installed and I usually went to them every week for around and about six weeks to a month – sorry, for two months, or until they felt competent, you know. Some of them after three weeks they were fine.

Sir Wyn Williams: Then you hinted – and I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but you did hint that this programme or process may have come to an end a little too soon and I just wanted to be clear that I understood you about that. Do you think this sort of process should have carried on for longer or not?

Tim Boothman: I believe so. I believe that they had not – they had certainly not intended to do that right from the onset, the Post Office. It was, shall we say, a knee-jerk reaction after they had rolled it out and realised that the retail line manager couldn’t go round visiting all the branches that they could. So I think there was a few of us, quite a number of us, because we did go on a little half-day’s training to becoming a balance support officer, and there were other postmasters there.

So we all got a little bit of training on doing that and we all got a badge and sheets to fill in and that sort of thing, but yes, I think it should have gone on for longer, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much.

Back to you, Mr Norris.

Facilitator: Do you know if that was an original initiative or was it something that was around the country, as far as you were aware?

Tim Boothman: As far as I’m aware – certainly – it certainly was – I think, like, the head office where the retail line managers in my area worked for was in Bradford, Darley Street Post Office, which was a Crown Office in Bradford. It definitely was round and about in Yorkshire, sort of, Keighley, Bradford and Leeds. I don’t actually know about the rest of the country. I don’t know.

Facilitator: Right, okay. No reason you should, I just wondered. Okay, right, thank you, because, as Sir Wyn said, I hadn’t heard of that role before.

Sandra Brocklehurst: We had two balance officers in our branch that went out in Somerset.

Facilitator: Okay, so it was, yes. Okay, thank you.

Gary Brown: Can I just say something about the training?

Facilitator: Can I just come back to you, Gary, sorry just one second, can I just finish that – Sandy, so were they specifically coming out at a similar time to what Tim described when Horizon was rolled out?

Sandra Brocklehurst: That’s right. They were two subpostmasters – one was a subpostmaster and one was a subpostmaster that did relief work and they had a little bit of extra training, they seemed to get their head round the system and they went out and assisted.

Facilitator: To what extent was it explicitly because Horizon was new or because Horizon was causing problems?

Sandra Brocklehurst: I think, at the time, it was because Horizon was new and we had one or two more elderly subpostmasters that just couldn’t understand the computer system.

Facilitator: Okay, fair enough, thank you.

Sorry, Gary, you were going to say about training, let’s come back to you.

Gary Brown: When I went for the interview, there were no exam. Now, I would have thought if anybody who is going to take on a post office, they should have had some sort of examination because I’m no good at maths, I never have been and I mentioned this to the interviewer. I said, “When will you let me know if I’ve got the office?” he said, “I will let you know now, you’ve got it”, and I said “What, no exam?” he said, “No, all we’re interested in is if you’ve got enough money to last two years in business, money behind you”, and I thought “Fair enough”.

And I thought that was brilliant, I didn’t have to take an exam, but what I thought is they don’t take into account your experience. I had never even opened a computer before. I had no technical experience. I was always a manual worker, so why don’t they – why didn’t they take into account different people’s abilities, instead of just throwing you in at the deep end and saying “Get on with it”, and that’s how it was.

Facilitator: Right, okay. I would like to sort of build on that then. I’m interested in how you were kind of monitored and managed by Post Office Limited then. So we have talked about the account managers supporting you, and so on, but let’s talk about how they responded when you had shortfalls or discrepancies – apparent shortfalls. What was the – just tell me about the process and what happened?

Gary Brown: They weren’t interested. They were not interested at all. More often than not, they would just say “You will have to put money in”. As I said earlier, Diane Hoyles said to me, “If I call the auditors in and tell them about the discrepancy they will just close you down”, and that was the top and bottom of it.

Facilitator: Right and when would that have been, sorry?

Gary Brown: That will have been mid-2000s, maybe a bit later.

Facilitator: She was your area manager, was she?

Gary Brown: Yes.

Facilitator: So she told you that. How did you feel then and what did you do on the back of that advice?

Gary Brown: Well, you have just got to keep putting the money in, which I did, thousands of pounds worth of money, just to keep going.

Facilitator: How much of those payments that you have made in did you ever declare or make the Post Office aware of any way?

Gary Brown: I would say about four or five, and then they deducted it from my wages. That’s after they told me I were the only one.

Facilitator: Yes, so tell me about those conversations. I’m just interested in the actual process during those four or five.

Gary Brown: Well, when you’re short like that – we had run out of money to put in so that’s when I started phoning the helpline up. Say it were £1,000, they would put you through to another department, I don’t know which it was, and it were always a nice lady and I would say, “Am I the only one what’s having problems like this?” and you would always get that answer saying, “Yeah”, and it made you feel so – it made you feel inadequate. It were a horrible feeling.

Facilitator: How many times do you think you asked that, Gary?

Gary Brown: About four or five times.

Facilitator: This was always to this extended phone line.

Gary Brown: Yes, yes. And then you would get a phonecall back from your contracts manager, which mine was Andy Carpenter, and you went through everything with him and he would just say “There’s somebody stealing”.

“No”. He said, I have been through this so many times, there’s somebody stealing”, and I said “There’s only me and my wife and a lady that comes in now and again”.

“Well, there’s somebody taking it”, and that were the answer.

Facilitator: All right. So from what you’re saying you never moved to a suspension or an investigation in a formal sense? No.

Gary Brown: Only in 2014, at the last one. I never got suspended. I resigned. I was advised to resign.

Facilitator: We will come on to those in a second.

Sandy, just tell us about what the Post Office were doing to understand your losses, either in a supportive way or an investigatory way?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Didn’t have – they didn’t investigate anything. If you put it into the suspense account, you were agreeing to pay, quite honestly. But I didn’t – I said I didn’t have too many large discrepancies anyway.

We had one where a counter clerk had made an error. I can’t remember the exact details, but it was quite a large sum of money and we notified the helpline, got a reference number and then, about a week later, I got a phonecall asking me if I was putting the money in, and I said, “No, there’s an error notice due out on this”, and explained it all again. And then about a week later the audit team turned up.

We explained – I explained to them the situation, gave them the reference numbers, told them what had happened, they checked the stock and cash, were quite happy and went away.

So I – I never really had any major problems in that respect, personally, but I met subpostmasters that did.

Facilitator: Right, okay.

Tim, you were saying you never really got to the stage of having an investigation or anything at all? It was all in-house, as it were, was it?

Tim Boothman: Not as such. It was always made very clear to me that you had got to put the money in. You just thought you had made a mistake or a member of staff had made a mistake, so you just used to put the money in.

However, if I may, I may tell you about one occasion where I arrived at my office, and it would be around and about October 2004, and an audit team was waiting there at 8.30, so we got there and they introduced themselves as audit team. I think there were three of them and I thought nothing of it. I thought, “Well, you know, I’ve been audited before, not to do anything, just let them get on with it, I don’t think they will find anything wrong.”

So they did the – they got about halfway through the audit and they counted enough for me to open and I opened and started serving customers, and round and about 10.30, two gentlemen turned up who introduced themselves as security investigation, and I can remember it very vividly because my legs turned to jelly and my first thought was, “Well, I know I have not done anything wrong, maybe me staff have”, or maybe – I don’t know, so they asked if they could come in, they came into the secure area and they took me into a little back office and, basically, accused me of stealing £2,000.

And they went on to explain that every week we used to send green giros away, so somebody would come in with a green giro and that figure could be – well, it could be for anything, it could be for a tenner or it could be for £350, and so, obviously, you used to pay that money out and, at the end of the week, you would bundle them all up and send them in a green and white striped pouch to Bootle, where they went back to the DWP.

And so they explained that a pouch in August 2004 had never got to Bootle, but the difference was – is that my weekly average green giros amounted to £8,000, but, on this particular week, they added up to 10, I had claimed for 10, and so they straight out, with no – they were extremely aggressive. They accused me, right, of stealing £2,000. They said that, “You had ghosted the £2,000 of dockets and thrown the whole pouch away”, and to which I informed them “Why on earth would I do that? What would be the point? £2,000? Yes, it’s a lot of money, but not worth, you know” –

And so they went on to explain that the average weekly number of pouches that never got to Bootle was nine out of round and about 13,000 or 14,000 post offices, and I had had one in March of that year, and what they explained is that lightening cannot strike the same place twice, to which I explained, “Well, actually it can”, because if you think about it, if there’s nine a week go missing, right, and it’s just like putting your numbers on in the lottery every week, and so they were absolutely adamant.

They turned the place upside down, they went through all my paperwork – first thought is “Did I – probably had I not sent them off?”, and I had put them in my weekly papers that you file away for five or six years. But the whole thing, they were aggressive and actually –

And then another auditor turned up, and so there were five of them, altogether, and they had actually turned up mob handed and, I believe to this day, they had turned up mob handed to actually suspend me and the whole thing was, actually – I mean, I’m a very different person now to what I was then. I was extremely traumatised, and traumatised for some point afterwards, because I thought, well, what had I done wrong and all they were asking me to do “Can you explain why it’s 2,000 more than your weekly average? Why? Why? Why?” And, at the time, I couldn’t, and it’s one of them things, it came to me after they had gone I managed to – I managed to persuade them that, no, I have not stolen any money, but I did actually manage to realise why.

In 2004, the then Chancellor Gordon Brown introduced a new – something called pension credit, and pensioners, who used to cash a Group 13 docket, their retirement pension, got this pension credit backdated and it was paid in the form of green giros. So that week and a few other weeks, there were – I did pay extra money out but I couldn’t think of it at the time.

I did actually – I did actually – through some slightly informal channels – I think it turned out to be – the pouch was being intercepted by a dishonest person on the way to Bootle. I don’t really know exactly. It’s just what somebody said but they – the whole thing is – the reason I want to share you this story is it’s actually got nothing to do with Horizon but everything to do with the culture that existed in Post Office Limited. They came that day, right, to suspend, which could have led to termination and myself and my mother’s investment in that business would have gone. And, obviously, in 2005 I had – they did pay me compensation, but no suspended postmaster ever received any compensation.

So I became – I was very near, right, to losing my reputation, my livelihood, or whatever, and you have heard plenty of people who have, so I just felt that that is a story that’s very, very pertinent to the Inquiry.

Facilitator: Right, thank you.

So Gary, how does this compare with what you have been through and do you want to, sort of, tell us the story of your – the progress and process of the shortfalls and things.

Gary Brown: Well, they just seemed to be getting worse over time until 2014, when I recorded £16,000 going missing. But when the union rep turned up it were 32,000, or thereabouts, not exactly.

Facilitator: Okay, so just take a step back. You did your balancing – was this the end of a trading period, was it, the end of the month?

Gary Brown: Yes.

Facilitator: So you had a £16,000 discrepancy?

Gary Brown: Not in all one go, no.

Facilitator: Right, okay.

Gary Brown: I was audited in September 2013 and it were £300 over and, from then, it just started building up and I didn’t declare it, the loss, because we had no money left, no money left at all to put in, so when it got to February 2014, when I did the £16,000, I thought, “I can’t do it any more, I have just got to come clean”. I phoned my union rep up and I said “Can you come in?”

Facilitator: That was the local regional rep, was it?

Gary Brown: National Federation rep, yes. They were in an office about five miles away.

Facilitator: Right, okay. Just before you – what communications had you had with the Post Office before you called the Fed rep?

Gary Brown: I didn’t. It was a complete waste of time. No, I had no faith in phoning the helpline up or anything, so I had stopped phoning them a couple of years before.

Facilitator: Right, okay. So when it got to 16,000 were Post Office Limited aware of that discrepancy?

Gary Brown: No, no. I covered it up with adjusting the cheques.

Facilitator: Okay, right. So tell us a little bit about the Fed rep conversation and where it went from there then, just so we can, sort of, understand what process happened?

Gary Brown: I phoned him up on the Tuesday and he came on the Saturday, because he couldn’t get away from the post office, and he came about 5 o’clock, I think, evening, and he checked all the money and I think it were him that said it was 32,000 short, or thereabouts, and his answer to it was “Tell the” – he said “You’re going to get the interrogation team in. Tell them that you have been stolen. You left the door open and somebody has been in and stole it”. Like a fool – I were in that much of a state, I were – I didn’t know my mind, so, like a fool, I told the interrogators that under caution.

Facilitator: Can I just pause there one second? So you rang the Fed rep on a Tuesday night – or Tuesday.

Gary Brown: Yes.

Facilitator: Did you explain to him on that call it was about a 16,000 shortfall?

Gary Brown: From what I can remember, yes.

Facilitator: In a sentence or two, what was your state of mind between then and the Saturday?

Gary Brown: Well, I had a breakdown – on the Tuesday when I phoned him, I just seemed to know the game were up and I couldn’t falsify it any more, and I – my wife came downstairs and she said “You’re going to have to go to the doctors”, so I went to the doctors and he said, “You’re in the middle of a breakdown. When was the last time you slept?”

“I can’t remember”. He gave me some sleeping tablets and some anti-depressants and I were just – I was away with the fairies. I had just gone completely. So from Tuesday to Saturday, and after that, I mean – when he came, I was physically sick, when he confirmed the money had gone missing.

Facilitator: Right, so – just so I’m clear, sorry, you went through the books, or through the system for the 16 and then it appeared to be 32,000.

Gary Brown: Yes.

Facilitator: On that Saturday, right, okay. Who was this – so this was the local Fed rep, local regional rep?

Gary Brown: Yes. I can’t remember his name.

Facilitator: Right. So what were your feelings? You said you were away with the fairies, understandably, but tell me about the sort of processes – the thought processes and the action that you took?

Gary Brown: I wasn’t – I just weren’t thinking. I didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing. I were drinking that much as well. I was on bottles of whisky a night, one bottle of whisky a night, just to blank it all and get some sleep, along with the sleeping tablets. So my mind just wasn’t there at all.

Facilitator: All right, so his advice to basically conceal it, or lie about it, I guess, did he give you other advice around that point about, you know, what you should do in relation to the investigation or what happened there?

Gary Brown: No, he advised me to resign. He contacted the auditors to tell them to come in, which they did the following Tuesday, and then, from then, they took over. They closed me down.

Facilitator: Right, okay. You were open between then and the Tuesday?

Gary Brown: Yes. Do you want me to tell you about the auditors?

Facilitator: Yes – can I just pause?

Sandy, if you think about this in terms of process, do you have things you want to say that kind of meet the same point in the journey that Gary is describing?

Sandra Brocklehurst: No, I’m just appalled at how the Federation dealt with it.

Facilitator: Okay, well I’ll come back to you in a second on that then.

So keep telling us what happened then, Gary, if that’s okay.

Gary Brown: The auditors came on the Tuesday and they were fine, they were pleasant and I got the feeling that they believed me and, excuse me, because I’m going to swear in the next couple of minutes. When they were leaving, one of them took me by the hand – well, both shook my hand and one of them took me by the hand and he looked round, and he said “Tear this fucking cage down, Post Office fucked, start selling something but start making some money”, and that’s what the auditor said to me, and they wished me and my wife well.

And I said to my wife, they believe that I hadn’t done anything wrong. They seemed so friendly and nice and – I don’t know, it just didn’t seem – it just didn’t seem right.

Facilitator: Right, okay, and so then what happened next from that –

Gary Brown: Something else was said as well. I must have been looking really worried, and the one that said that turned to me and said “Don’t worry about it, you will be laughing about this in three months time”, but I wasn’t and I’m still not laughing about it now.

Facilitator: No. So you were closed down on the Tuesday by – no, tell me about that, so the auditors left –

Gary Brown: On the Saturday. We never opened again after the Saturday after the rep had been there. We tried to keep the shop running but it were a waste of time.

Facilitator: Right, okay. So tell us about what happened when the auditors left? What was the next event?

Gary Brown: I’ve got some phonecalls or a letter saying that the – I don’t know what the correct name is for these interrogators. They wanted to interrogate me but they didn’t have anywhere to do it, so I invited them to my house in the spare bedroom and that’s where they did it, and I could bring a solicitor or a friend or whatever, so I plumped for the National Federation rep, a different one, and from the Rotherham area, I believe, and he told me, if they found me guilty, I will be going to jail for two years and, within an hour –

Facilitator: The Fed rep said that, sorry?

Gary Brown: The rep said that, I will be going to jail for two years and, within an hour, one of the interrogators said exactly the same to me, off record, “You’re going to jail for two years”.

Facilitator: Okay, right, so what did happen next, Gary?

Gary Brown: I were interviewed under caution.

Facilitator: In the spare bedroom?

Gary Brown: In my spare bedroom. They said it lasted 63 minutes when I did the Freedom of Information, but it lasted far longer than that.

I did the Freedom of Information to get the copy of the CD, which I didn’t get. They said they would give me one and they didn’t, but I never even got a CD from the Post Office, I got a heavily redacted transcript of it.

Facilitator: So what’s your recollection of the process between them arriving in the bedroom and the caution – telling you you were under caution?

Gary Brown: Well, before and after the interrogation it were lighthearted – not with me because I didn’t want any part of it. I would just keep myself to myself out of the way with the Federation rep. They were laughing and joking about football and I thought “There’s something” – I don’t know, it just didn’t seem right. And then when I was under caution being given the interview, the rep tried to speak up and I do apologise again, one of the interviewers shouted at him – pointed his finger and said “And you can fucking shut up”.

He never spoke again from what I can remember. I were just left by myself. It were a waste of time him being there.

Facilitator: Can you remember specifically which team or unit they were from, the investigators?

Gary Brown: They were from Manchester somewhere, that area. They were like good cop, bad cop. One was nice and the other was just accusing me all the time “What have you done with the money? You’re guilty”, and that sort of thing. Part of it I weren’t feeling well and they said “Do you want to stop”, and I said “No keep going”, so …

But it lasted far longer than the 63 minutes, and then they searched the house and garage and cars. They even went through my wife’s underwear drawer. It were just humiliating.

Facilitator: Right. Then the outcome of this was what? What happened next?

Gary Brown: I resigned, or were told to resign. I was advised by the union rep to sell my house to pay them back. He said if you do that it might stop you from going to jail and being prosecuted, going to jail. So we put our house on the market. We explained to the estate agent the position. The house were valued at £350,000 on business, and it eventually sold for 225,000. So we lost 125,000 like that. That’s just so I didn’t go to jail.

Facilitator: Yes. So what was the – I will come back to – no, just finish off then. What was the legal process that you went through?

Gary Brown: I didn’t go through none, no.

Facilitator: You (inaudible) –

Gary Brown: I had a letter and a phonecall from Andy Carpenter(?) and he said they’re not going to take it any further, so that were it, that were finished, but I were hounded and hounded – that was February, until we moved out in July – by phonecalls from one of the investigators “Where’s our money?” and that’s all they were bothered about “Where’s our money?” Even when we were exchanging contracts, I got a phone call “Have you exchanged contracts yet”.


“Well, can we have our money straight away”. I said “I will send a cheque off tomorrow” and that were it.

Facilitator: So you sold the house, you paid back the 32, was it, in all?

Gary Brown: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Which year was this, please?

Gary Brown: 2014.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, thanks.

Facilitator: Okay, and so was that the end of that process then, effectively, from what you’re saying, was it?

Gary Brown: Yes, that were it finished, yes. Yes.

Facilitator: Sandy, could I come to you just to describe some of your process because you mentioned about the POID and the Federation. Perhaps if I could give you a few minutes to – let’s start as Gary was talking about the investigation. Do you just want to tell us about your experience and views on the POID then?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Yes, sure. First of all, there is something I would like to say that Sir Wyn may or may not understand, all right?

Branch secretaries in the Federation were volunteers. We weren’t trained. The most help we got was a little leaflet saying “This is how to organise a meeting and give your local subpostmaster some support”, but it didn’t really explain what that meant.

When I took the job on I started doing what I assumed all the branch secretaries were doing and that was I organised meetings and if anyone had a problem, I dealt with it, whether it be going to help them check that their balance was right, and if a postmaster in our area ran into trouble they knew to ring me straightaway, and I used to tell them “Make no comment to the auditors and let us know when the POID interview is”.

And I would attend that interview as a friend or as a Federation rep, but we were not allowed to say anything. We were there, we could be there to oversee what was going on but we were quite categorically told we were not allowed to intervene. So I could only give my subpostmaster advice before he went in and support when they came out, and I sat in on many an interview where it was extremely harassing. They were quite brutal at times, that’s the word I would use.

I know they had a job to do but, on two different occasions, I actually stopped the interviews – I wasn’t supposed to – because the subpostmaster was in such distress and I insisted that we had a break. I mean, they really were – it was good cop, bad cop but they were quite nasty about it. So I want to mention that fact because a lot of the witnesses have said, “Oh, the Fed rep didn’t say anything”. As I said, we were not allowed to.

If we had a – we were called to help with what’s called an RTU, which was Reasons to Urge interview, Reasons to Urge to get the postmaster reinstated, that was normally with a contracts manager. The Federation representative could make representation to the contracts manager on behalf – you know, supporting a subpostmaster, and I did that on a number of occasions as well. So, you know, when I hear about these people that didn’t seem to get the benefit of help from the Federation, it does annoy me because, at the time, I was quite a proud member and I was a branch secretary for 16 years and, in all that time, I only had one case that I couldn’t deal with and that was because he got himself a solicitor and, if they did that, we weren’t involved any more.

All the other cases I dealt with with the Post Office, and got on extremely well with most of those personnel. I seemed to have a rapport with them in the end. In fact, sometimes, POID would phone me up and say, “We’re suspending this person this morning, maybe you would like to contact them later”, they would tell me in advance what was going on.

The one thing I did notice was the fact that there was no consistency from branch, or area to area, in the outcome of these suspensions. In one area, the subpostmaster could be reinstated, in another area they were booted out and I could never understand why, why that happened. They could lose their job for £500 in one area and, in another area, they’re being reinstated although there was thousands of pounds supposedly missing. I could never understand that.

Facilitator: Which areas of the country were you the branch secretary?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Most of Somerset. Most of Somerset. But the other thing that I found annoying was the fact that, as I said, the branch secretaries didn’t really get any training. The executive officers were supposed to help us and, to me, they were like an old boys’ club. I would phone them up for advice and they would go, “Tell him to ring the Samaritans, tell them we can’t help them”.

And this I must tell you. I was at the – I think it was the Llandudno conference, on my way in, and Alan Bates, of the JFSA now, was stood outside handing out leaflets and, as I went to take one, my executive officer walked by and in a very loud voice he said “Sandy, don’t take any notice of him, he is a thief”. And that’s how the executive of the Federation thought of people that were in trouble. The minute they were in trouble, they were guilty, and I never took that view. I took the view you were innocent until you were proved guilty and I worked very hard to try and make these subpostmasters – if they weren’t reinstated, they would have time to sell their office, so they didn’t lose their investment and things like that.

But I feel so sorry that, in other areas, the branch secretaries didn’t do that as well.

Facilitator: So how often were you typically in contact with the executive officers, Sandy? Just sort of describe that communication for us.

Sandra Brocklehurst: Well, as I said, they weren’t much help. I had my very first case – a subpostmaster phoned me up and he was in a desperate situation, was talking about suicide, and I spent 40 minutes on the phone talking him out of it, and I put the phone down, walked back into our house, it was connected, and my husband said “Are you all right?” and I burst into tears.

I had never had to experience anything like that, so I phoned up my executive officer for some advice and he said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, tell him to phone the Samaritans or put the phone down on him”. And I thought “That’s not what an organisation that is supposed to be representing subpostmasters is supposed to do, surely?” And we didn’t get any help from the executive. As far as I was concerned, they were like an old boys’ club, no help.

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry, you said that you were a branch secretary for 16 years. Can I try and pin down the period we’re talking about, from when until when?

Sandra Brocklehurst: 1990 until about 2007, and then I became branch president.

Sir Wyn Williams: How long did you hold the position of branch president?

Sandra Brocklehurst: A couple of years until we sold the office. I took the presidency on so that I could help nurture the new secretary in but he was well up to it anyway.

I was very lucky in my branch because my branch president was ex-police, so if we heard of a postmaster in trouble we would both go along and interview him ourselves and we would come away and say, “Well, what do you think?” and if we thought he was guilty, the best I could do was get him time to sell and let the Post Office deal with him.

If I thought they were innocent I would fight the case.

Sir Wyn Williams: Just one more question from me. You have stressed that when you attended interviews under caution you weren’t allowed to say anything. Just tell me how that kind of instruction came about? Was that something said at the beginning of the interview by the investigators or was that something that was just known throughout the business, so to speak?

Sandra Brocklehurst: I think it was known throughout the business but, to my knowledge, the first few I attended it was, funny enough, always the same interrogators. We would go in, sit down and he would look and say “You’re here just to see fair play, you’re not allowed to say anything”. Then we would have to give – they would start the tape and we would give our names and who we were, and so it would roll.

Sir Wyn Williams: As far as you can remember – and, please, if you can’t, that’s fine – at these formal interviews under caution, was anything ever said by the investigators about the right to legal representation?

Sandra Brocklehurst: No.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Ms Brocklehurst.

Facilitator: Is your understanding that there were similar experiences for other branch secretaries, so when you went to conferences, did you share these experiences with others and things?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Some of them were very good, they would do their very best to support the postmasters, but others just organised meetings and if somebody – a subpostmaster phoned up who was in trouble they would say “What do you expect me to do about it?” and put the phone down.

I had a phonecall from the – one of the retail managers of a post office and she said to me, “Sandy, we have had to suspend someone in Devon. I know it’s not your area but the branch secretary put the phone down on them. Not expecting you to do anything but she might need a shoulder to cry on, will you ring her?” So I rang this lady up, had a long chat with her. Cut a long story short, in the end, POID phoned me up and said, “We’ve got no lady investigators available on that day, are you going to be representing this lady?” and I said, “Yes, I’m coming down”. They said “We will pick you up and drive you down then”, so I said “Fine”. So I went down with them. They promised me lunch on the way back.

Anyway, I had a chat with my lady before she went in. She admitted to nothing. When they came out POID turned to each other and said “There’s nothing we can prosecute this lady on”, and we went, got in the car and, as I said, they promised me lunch on the way back. Well, his idea of lunch was a sandwich and a can of coke from the local garage because I think they were a bit annoyed, because he turned to me and said, “Was that lady really stupid or was she well coached?” and I didn’t answer him because she had genuinely not done anything wrong.

Facilitator: So, in the period after Horizon was introduced, was this a common experience for you as branch secretaries collectively to be dealing with Horizon issues?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Yes, that and training, that and the training issues with Horizon, and generally. I mean I had another case where a subpostmaster – new subpostmaster was closing at lunchtime on a Wednesday and he was still trying to balance at midnight, so my husband and I went over and we showed them how to balance and how to use the system, which really the Post Office should have done in the first place.

Facilitator: Yes. When you were ringing the executive officers up – you mentioned earlier about calling the executive officers for support or advice, were you telling them, “You know, there’s a Horizon problem here or there”, or whatever, and what were their reactions?

Sandra Brocklehurst: That was – well, the executive officers were normally in attendance at our regional meetings and these subjects came up and they just said, “No, no, no, it’s robust, nothing wrong with it”.

Facilitator: When would that have been, sorry?

Sandra Brocklehurst: They followed the same line as the Post Office all the way through: nothing wrong with the system.

Now, I understand why, to a certain extent. Obviously, if they had admitted – if the Post Office had admitted there was a problem they might have risked losing clients, if it they thought there were bugs in the system but, at the same time, there were subpostmasters being prosecuted for things they hadn’t done.

Facilitator: Yes. I want to spend the last half an hour talking about the impact of all of this on all of you, but do you have any other information you want to share with us about the processes you went through, the way that you were treated or anything at all that Sir Wyn hasn’t heard about the actual events.

Tim Boothman: If I can come in, is that okay?

Facilitator: Yes, please.

Tim Boothman: Yes, the other sort of small story I would like to say is, it would have been round and about in 2017, that day I was serving on the counter – by this time I had two branches and I had got a manager in each, and I was serving on the counter, and I served a young gentleman with an HGV licence tax and it was £1,800, and I did the transaction and, to the very best of my knowledge, put the cheque in the drawer, he paid with a cheque.

Now, at the end of the day, what you do is you process the cheque deposit envelopes, which are people putting cheques in their bank accounts, and also remit the cheques out to a processing centre and fill a batch control voucher in and send them off in an orange and white pouch, and they would get there the next day and they would do whatever.

Now, on that particular day, what must have happened is I must have inadvertently sent the cheque to the Post Office without remitting it out and without a batch control voucher, because my member of staff the day after had run off a cheques listing and there was a cheque there for £1,800 that obviously wasn’t in the drawer. And so he asked me what I thought had happened, to which I can’t remember, and then we sort of pieced it together. We rang the helpline and the helpline advised that to just remit the figure of £1,800 out and your system will be right and don’t worry about it, it will be fine.

Because there were one or two scenarios that either by mistake given the cheque back, right, to the customer, or sent it off, like I have just stated.

So thought nothing else of it, until about three weeks later I got a transaction correction wanting £1,800 from me. In other words – and at that point I was, “Gosh, that’s going to be quite a large – to put in”, you know, because we always had to put money in.

Now, as fortune would have it, later that day, that gentleman came in again to tax another lorry. They obviously had, I think, a fleet of about 50 lorries and I recognised his face and I explained to him the story and he said, “No problem, come up – come and see my dad, he is very amenable, we will see if we can sort it out”. And, sure enough, I went to see the gentleman and he got out his bank statements and sure enough, the cheque had been cashed, right, the cheque had been cashed.

So I came back and phoned the helpline up and told them this and they said “Well, you didn’t send a batch control voucher off, we have no way of knowing, you have still got to pay the £1,800, but the only way that you can get round this is if you go and get the cheque number, the sort code and account number”.

So I went back to this haulier and he rather kindly took me down into the bank branch in Buxton and we got a photocopy of the cheque. I came back to the post office and phoned the helpline up again and said, “Here, right, here is the cheque number, here is the sort code, here is the account number”, and their reply was, “Yes, we did cash that cheque”. And my reply was, “Well, why did you want another £1,800 from me then?” and it was a case – it was a case of she laughed, right, her first thing was she laughed, “Well, you didn’t remit it out and you didn’t send a batch control voucher, so it’s tough”. And I said “You cashed it, you had had the money”.

So the way I understand it works is the Post Office must have some form of client suspense accounts and so, in that particular one, right, it might be it happened daily, it might happen weekly, it might happen monthly, the DVLA will know exactly how many tax discs were issued, and how much the amount of money and the Post Office will owe them an amount of money. Well, if they had had my £1,800 as well, that client suspense account would have been in surplus, so what would have happened to that money? Did it just sit there forever? Would it have just sat there forever? Or would it have found its way somewhere else, like Post Office Limited’s profit and loss account?

I, to this day, can’t really understand why New Scotland Yard has not walked into Finsbury Dials and turned the place upside down, and that is just my opinion, to be honest. And, you know, I – obviously, I have followed all this Horizon IT scandal all this time and, you know, I think a lot of the time that it’s not a case of a loss, the money has been misappropriated. So, for all intents and purposes, the money is somewhere else, not where it should be, but I was extremely fortunate to recognise the gentleman when he came in to tax another lorry because, if I hadn’t have done, right, I would have been £1,800 out-of-pocket, and that money would have sat somewhere in Post Office Limited for God knows how long and – well, I just don’t know. That’s something, you know, for me – for me, the Inquiry needs to ask that question of Post Office Limited. Thank you.

Facilitator: Thank you, Tim.

Gary, I would like to come to you. Obviously, this is a human – part of this is the human impact and I would just like you to describe – you talked before about the health problems that you were having at the time. I just wonder if you could tell us just a bit more about the impact all of this has had on you, whether it is financial, personal, or whatever, just tell us your feelings, please?

Gary Brown: Well, we lost everything. We lost our home, to start with, our business. My health is shot to pieces. I’m on that many tablets a day to keep me going, it’s unbelievable.

I’m still having panic attacks with it. About two or three years ago I found myself in the local cemetery at 3 o’clock in the morning, just sat on the bench looking at the graves. I don’t know how I got there. I don’t even know how I got back but I just remember being in the graveyard. It’s things like that. I have had Bell’s palsy with it, all brought on by stress. Three months of walking around with my eye closed and my mouth disfigured like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I was, so – I mean, when your daughter looks you in the eyes and asks you not to kill yourself, that were the biggest one for me, but she didn’t realise that about a month before I had already tried.

Facilitator: What age was she then, sorry?

Gary Brown: It were 2012, so she would have been 25. 25 years old, yes. So, yes, it has just been awful.

Both of my children went to university. We couldn’t afford to give them money. Couldn’t finance them through to university, and that was so embarrassing and degrading, and they have never complained about it once, that’s the thing. It has just been horrendous. I wish I had never – I wish I had never ever set foot in a post office. It’s been terrible.

Facilitator: We’re obviously talking about some of those serious impacts then and, from what you’re saying, they still continue now.

How would you sum up the changes that have happened to you?

Gary Brown: What do you mean, mentally or physically?

Facilitator: Just everything really, from how you were, from the person that you were describing at the start?

Gary Brown: Well, I used to – when we first went in, I was 45 years old, so I weren’t a spring chicken then but I used to work 12/14 hours a day, and, yes, I was tired, it was long – but now, I haven’t worked since I left there. I can’t work. I got up this morning and I thought to myself, “Hey you don’t feel bad, only my knees are hurting”. Within an hour, I were laid down again, just the condition what I’ve got. I was just laid down and I didn’t get up again off the settee until coming in here at just before 1 o’clock.

It’s just shocking. I mean, the – I don’t even think they’re interested what damage they have caused, the Post Office. I don’t really – there’s been nothing there at all.

Facilitator: If I have understood you, you have not worked since you closed the post office?

Gary Brown: No, no.

Facilitator: So what age would you have been then?

Gary Brown: I were 58 when we closed. 58, yes. So I’m 66 now, so, I mean, this should be when we’re enjoying ourselves, me and Maureen, but no.

Facilitator: You mentioned your daughter. Do you have a partner, a wife?

Gary Brown: Yes, Maureen.

Facilitator: How would you describe the impact that she has experienced?

Gary Brown: Maureen ended up on antidepressants as well but we have been solid, we haven’t argued about it, about what’s happened or anything, we have been really, really solid. I can’t fault her for it. She has been fantastic. I’m really proud of her.

Facilitator: Thank you, Gary.

Gary Brown: Okay.

Facilitator: Sandy, you were nodding in agreement to some of what Gary was saying. Do you want to tell us a bit about the impact that all of this has had on yourself?

Sandra Brocklehurst: Luckily, none whatsoever, to be honest.

I mean, the last three years of having the post office, I wanted to get out, I had had enough, I wasn’t happy with Horizon, I wasn’t happy with the Post Office, to be quite honest. So it took us three years to sell it but we managed to. The day we walked out of there we decanted to a hotel and I sat and cried. I was so relieved to have got shot of the Post Office, if you like.

I don’t think people realise that when they take on a contract, you’re immediately under the thumb of the Post Office. You open the hours they want you to open, you transact what they want you to do. You’re just – you’re stuck with it and it’s not the sort of job where you can hand in your notice and leave after a month if you don’t like it. You’ve got all your money tied up in it, so you have either got to make a go of it and make it work, or, you know, hang on and sell.

I mean, I did over 20 years for the Post Office. If I had my time again I wouldn’t go near one, absolutely wouldn’t. We sold our house originally to buy a village shop and then we took the post office on. We have never got our original investment back. Those houses are worth twice as much as the ones we are living in now, that we could afford to buy when we sold the last post office. Our investment went down, even though the post office – the mains office I ran – I mean I increased the remuneration from about 45,000 up to nearly 80.

But when it came to sell it, we just didn’t get the market value it was really worth, what with – they were right in the middle of transform – Network Transformation, or whatever name they gave it, and we had to wait to get a letter from the Post Office to say they were confirming that we weren’t a branch that was closing. And we had to wait for that, but, you know, it was – I wouldn’t want another post office ever again and I have – I had to say, I have actually recommended people not take them on.

Facilitator: Thank you, Sandy.

So, Tim, how would you sum up all or any of the impacts that these events have had on you then?

Tim Boothman: You would have to split it into two, really. There’s obviously – we have talked about the human impact and the other aspect is looking at it from a business person’s point of view.

From a human impact, right, day to day, week to week, year to year, it’s an arduous task running a post office, right, arduous. It is harrowing, it’s – you are in a constant battle, you’re in a constant state of alertness that something might happen and that can be, you know, through customers, or it could be the Post Office, because nothing’s ever easy with the Post Office.

A simple task – a simple task, what you would think is a simple task is – can seem just beyond the Post Office’s comprehension, and I will give you a little example, something that’s happened this very week. They have changed all the banking screens on the user interface on the Horizon System in the last fortnight.

Now, as you will know, the icons – it’s a touch screen and there’s icons, but in the bottom corner of each icon is a two digit number and some users choose to use those numbers, instead they use the keyboard, so I will give you this example of what’s happened this week. The withdrawal icon used to be number 42, so my counter clerk has always pressed number 42, it’s a withdrawal. Guess what they have changed it to, right? The icon, yes, it’s in a different place, but icon number 42 is now deposit.

So a customer came in this week, right, and asked “Can I withdraw £600, please?” So reverting back from years, and years, of using Horizon, the counter clerk has pressed number 42, £600, and must have actually done it twice because that’s one thing that they have improved, for a deposit, you have to confirm it twice, and mistakenly put £600 into this lady’s account instead of withdrawing it.

Now, we realised the mistake at the time and this lady said, “Well, it’s your mistake”. We rang – the counter clerk’s phoned the helpline and I gather everything will be sorted, but, you know, it very much depends on the honesty, right, of that customer, because I think the Post Office writes to the bank and then the bank writes to the customer and the customer has to give permission for that £600 to be taken back out.

If they’re not honest, there’s very little I can do about it.

Now, only the Post Office, right, could make that kind of error. That just shows a complete lack of understanding of what it’s like to actually serve on a post office counter and I will bet – I mean, I have not heard of it yet, I will bet there’s lots of mistakes being made at this – while we speak, for that very, very reason and that is how it is for – that’s how it’s been for years, and years, and years.

Looking at the other aspect from a business person’s point of view, I, seven years ago, started a little microbrewery, and I have now actually bought a little micropub as well, and I’m starting to think along the lines that do I want myself and my business and my limited company and my family having anything to do with the Post Office? It’s – you know, its reputation, right. It must have gone right down with all this – what’s going on.

To be successful and to continue to be successful in business, do I want to be associated with the Post Office any more? I’m sure it will come, it won’t just be yet, but that’s from a business person’s point of view: does the Post Office have any future?

Going back to the human impact, right, if you look at everything closely, right, everybody that’s ever owned a post office, certainly in the 24 years that I have owned one, right, we’re all victims, for the very, very simple reason that we have done – we have not enjoyed the post office that should have and could have been. So we’re all victims and I know there’s a massive variation in, you know, in some of the people that have actually, you know, been prosecuted, et cetera.

But sure – you know, sure enough, we’re all victims because we have all had to suffer in one form or another because the Post Office has not been the organisation it should have and could have been.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Boothman, can I ask you, while it is on my mind – and I apologise to Jerome if he was about to ask it – but you, of course, are still currently a subpostmaster?

Tim Boothman: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: There have been many public statements made by very senior Post Office personnel to the effect that they really do wish to improve the relationship between the Post Office and subpostmasters and those statements have been made, obviously, particularly in the light of the ending of the litigation.

What’s your experience of the last two or three years in terms of general relationships with the Post Office?

Tim Boothman: Right, that’s a very good question. Could be about three years ago they reintroduced area managers, so every single post office, regardless whether we were only a small post office, a large post office, has been given an area manager, and I have to say the two that I have had have been brilliant and I’ve never heard a wrong word about any of the other 90 others neither, so that has been a very, very, very positive step.

But do I think a leopard can change its spots? No. What I actually think has happened is the Post Office has moved their spots and is hiding them. It comes forward and says that it wants to reset the relationship – I actually did ask Nick Read, “What do you mean by resetting the relationship? What relationship are you trying to reset?” And his exact words were, “There wasn’t one”.

And the way that I see it is they are making all the right noises and they like people to perceive that they have totally changed but, actually, right, if you dig down deep enough, they have not changed at all. There’s like a hierarchical structure within, you know, the higher end of Post Office Limited that, actually, no, no. I – as I have stated, as a businessman and a contract holder with them, you would be extremely foolish to ever trust them again for what things that’s happened to me and other postmasters.

So there’s plenty of evidence that they will suggest and, yes, things – little bits of things have improved like, you know, a dispute button when it comes to balancing and this, that and the other but, actually, you know, what’s the Post Office’s plan for the next five years? What do they actually intend to do? Are they being as transparent as they should be? Probably not.

You know, I – you know, as I have stated that my mother – my mother gave me a substantial amount of money to buy my first post office and I feel very lucky that that sort of investment is still intact as we speak, but whether I will ever see that money again – you know, could I ever sell this post office? That would be a bit of a different story. I think I would struggle to actually sell it.

So I’m open minded, but I think that the Inquiry should look at actually – actually dig deeper. There’s an awful amount of rhetoric out there and it’s like a hazy cloud, it’s speculation. The newspapers are full of it. There’s loads of things on Facebook and Twitter and all that and I just think that actually what the Inquiry needs to do is it needs to really dig deep and dig really down to find out actually what’s actually happened and what the Post Office and Government’s intent for the network is going forward.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Facilitator: Gary, just before we finish I wonder – you are probably aware that Sir Wyn is going to be talking with the other key players in these events. I wondered what would you be asking him to ask them?

Gary Brown: The Post Office?

Facilitator: The Post Office, the Government, whoever, Fujitsu, individuals, whoever.

Gary Brown: The culprits? I would just – I would ask Sir Wyn to get the truth out of them: why they did it. I think we know why they did it, but why did they punish us like they did, for no reason? I mean it’s heartbreaking how many people have been affected by it, not just the 555, but the hundreds and hundreds of people and the communities as well what they’ve had their post office closed down because of it.

I’m sure Sir Wyn is going to get to the bottom of it because he seems a very trusted man and I just hope he can do it. Just ask them some delving questions, which I know he is going to do, and I would like to say thank you to Sir Wyn for all he is doing.

Facilitator: Thank you, Gary.

Sandy, have you got any questions you would like Sir Wyn to raise on your behalf?

Sandra Brocklehurst: I would like to know what the Post Office did with the surpluses that were in the suspense account because I was told at one stage it was quite a large amount of money.

Now, after they balanced all their clients’ complications and sorted that out, there must have been a substantial amount of money sat in there because subpostmasters were paying in 30,000 here and there. What happened to that money? Did it go into the Post Office’s bottom line profit, or what? But I would like to know what happened to that.

I would also, to a certain extent, like to say that I think it would be very nice if the Post Office and the Government finally gave the subpostmasters a reasonable amount of compensation. What I wouldn’t want to see is lawyers and accountants arguing for years about how much they give someone because their husband killed themselves and how much do you give somebody if they lost their house and how much do you give them because they lost their job ten years ago. I think across the board the compensation should be a reasonable amount of money, X amount to each one of them, end of story, so we can put a closure on it. These people are desperate. They need the money now and that’s got to be sorted.

As for the Post Office personnel, I think I can understand why they did what they did. I would like to know whose instructions, and if they came from the top, where Post Office personnel were told to tell subpostmasters “You’re the only one”. That must have come from somewhere and that’s it really.

I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak today.

Facilitator: Thank you, Sandy.

We are coming to the end of our time. Do any of you have any other final things you would like to bring to Sir Wyn’s attention before we pass back to him? Anything you haven’t been able to say that you wanted to?

Tim Boothman: Can I just say, just in reply to Sandra and Gary, just following on: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I think if you were to straw poll the vast majority of postmasters, that’s the answer you would get. People just want to know what actually happened.

Sandra Brocklehurst: Yes.

Facilitator: Thank you very much. It sounds like a good time to hand back to Sir Wyn, but I would like to thank you for your time this afternoon and for your openness. It has been a privilege to hear what you have to say, thank you. So I will pass back to you, Sir Wyn.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, obviously the first thing I must do is to thank the three of you for participating in this afternoon’s session. We have now done a number of focus group hearings, as they are called, and each one of them has been extremely informative in their way, and this one has been no exception, because in each one of them I learn things that I didn’t know and that is really the reason why we’re holding them, so a big thanks from me.

Some of the things you have said to me, all three of you, haven’t been said to me before and you may know that many people have made witness statements about their experiences. I stress that I am not going to compel any of you to make a witness statement if you don’t want to, but it may be that in the course of the coming weeks members either of the Secretariat or my legal team will contact you and ask you whether you are prepared to make witness statements about some of the things you have told me about and if that does happen I would be very grateful if you would give that careful consideration, but I repeat, nobody is going to force you to do it, only do it if you want to do it.

So on that note, and with my repeated thanks, we will bring this session to an end and I will wish you all a good afternoon, so bye from me.

Tim Boothman: Thank you very much.

Sandra Brocklehurst: Thank you.

(4.01 pm)

(The session concluded)