Official hearing page

15 February 2022 – Margery Williams, Damian Owen, Lisa Brennan and Janine Powell

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(10.00 am)

(Proceedings delayed)

Sir Wyn Williams: Can I take it from that that now people can see me as well, Mr Blake?

Mr Blake: We can, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, good morning to everyone and I congratulate everyone involved with the technology in ensuring that we’re starting more or less promptly this morning. So that’s very good. I think we have four witnesses today; is that correct, Mr Blake.

Mr Blake: That’s correct, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Then over to you to get going. Thanks very much.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, Chair.

Margery Williams


Sir Wyn Williams: Before Mr Blake starts, Ms Williams, very nice to see you from afar but I’m listening intently to every word. I’m sure you’ll understand that.

Margery Williams: Yes, thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, Mr Blake.

Questioned by Mr Blake

Mr Blake: Good morning. As the Chair’s explained, I’m Julian Blake and I’m going to be asking questions today on behalf of the Chair. Could you give your full name, please.

Margery Williams: Margery Lorraine Williams.

Mr Blake: Ms Williams, in front of you there should be a witness statement. Can I ask you to look at that witness statement. It should be dated January 11 of this year; is that correct?

Margery Williams: Correct.

Mr Blake: And if you turn to the back page, there will be your signature; is that right?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: And can you confirm that that statement is true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: I’m going to start today by asking you a little bit about your background. Can you tell us how old you are now?

Margery Williams: I’m 55 now.

Mr Blake: Can you tell where you’re from?

Margery Williams: Originally from the Llyn Peninsula but now I live in Anglesey.

Mr Blake: Your husband is here?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: And I believe you have a daughter as well?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: And she’s 21 years old now?

Margery Williams: Yes, yes.

Mr Blake: Before becoming a subpostmistress, what did you do?

Margery Williams: I was a warden for the elderly working for the local council looking after 21 bungalows. I was also fostering with my husband.

Mr Blake: You said you were a warden.

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: Did that involve living in the accommodation as well?

Margery Williams: We had a house, yes, with work and it was like a little estate with 21 bungalows.

Mr Blake: And you became a subpostmistress in April 2009.

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: Where was that?

Margery Williams: In the village – in the same village where we lived.

Mr Blake: And how did you go about purchasing that? How much money did you pay?

Margery Williams: We gave £5,000 towards the subpostmistress that was there just for the goods that were there.

Mr Blake: Can you describe for us the location, what kind of a place it is?

Margery Williams: It’s only a small village. Bus goes through every couple of hours and that’s the only shop Post Office they have.

Mr Blake: In your first few years of operating that Post Office, did you enjoy the job?

Margery Williams: Yes. I loved being part of the community because I used to work in the after school club, in the youth club. So I was very much involved with the village.

Mr Blake: Did you receive training as part of –

Margery Williams: At the beginning before I started and then when Horizon came, I had, like, nearly five days, but it’s a very quiet Post Office, so it was just training if and when customers would come in.

Mr Blake: We’ll move on to the problems that you experienced with Horizon. Horizon Online was installed in July 2010. What did you use before that?

Margery Williams: It was just the ordinary computer.

Mr Blake: In simple terms, can you tell us the difference between Horizon Online for you and what you used before?

Margery Williams: Less paperwork, you know, dockets and stuff like that, less of that. It was all on the computer. So you had nothing to go back on.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard yesterday about shortfalls. Did you experience shortfalls?

Margery Williams: Yes, I did, yes.

Mr Blake: Initially, how often did you experience shortfalls?

Margery Williams: Say, once a month, couple of months.

Mr Blake: What did you do about that? Did you call the helpline?

Margery Williams: I did call the helpline a couple of times. I was experiencing problems with the electricity as well and they said, “Well, it’s your building, you’re renting the building, you’ve got to sort that out”, and I was trying to tell them, well, every time there was a fault with electricity there was – the system was slow coming back on and it might be take half a day before the system was back online.

Mr Blake: Did you find the helpline helpful?

Margery Williams: No, not at all –

Mr Blake: Why not?

Margery Williams: – not in my experience. Because what they were saying it was a fault with the electricity. I was renting a property so, in other words, you sort it out yourself.

Mr Blake: I’m going to take you chronologically through one particular shortfall, starting in February 2011. Do you recall that shortfall and how much it was?

Margery Williams: Briefly. It was between £2,000 and £3,000.

Mr Blake: And on that occasion, did you call the helpline?

Margery Williams: No. From past experience, and I thought it must be there. That amount, it’s got to be there, so I’ll just try looking for it myself.

Mr Blake: By March 2011, what had happened to that shortfall?

Margery Williams: It had doubled – more or less had doubled and, again, the worst thing I did was not ask for help. I didn’t mention anything to my husband, to my family because I thought – I felt stupid because thought it must be me, it must be something I’m doing wrong.

Mr Blake: Did you have any idea what was going wrong?

Margery Williams: No, not at all.

Mr Blake: The audit and subsequent investigation, the auditors arrived in June 2011. Can you describe the conversation that you had with the auditors?

Margery Williams: I remember that morning very well. They just turned up saying they wanted to do an audit and I mentioned to them “I think there is a problem”. It was like a little locked up unit for the Post Office so they told me to go out and both of them went in there and then they came up with this figure and they asked me where it was and I said “I don’t know, I haven’t – you know, I don’t know where it is”, and they just took the keys off me, and suspended me there and then.

Mr Blake: Do you remember, in broad terms, what that figure was?

Margery Williams: Just over 14,000.

Mr Blake: £14,000?

Margery Williams: Yes, just over, yes.

Mr Blake: Just over. You said that you were suspended?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: Again, moving chronologically, on 27 June 2011 you met with investigators; is that right?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: Do you remember where that was?

Margery Williams: Was that the one in Rhyl? Yes, that was the one in Rhyl, yes.

Mr Blake: And where’s that, sorry?

Margery Williams: Rhyl.

Mr Blake: “Tril”?

Margery Williams: Rhyl.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us a little bit about that meeting?

Margery Williams: I had to go on in there and they were just asking me questions, where’d the money gone and if I knew anything about it but, on the other hand, saying, you know, “Don’t worry about it, it will be sorted”. They kept telling me don’t worry.

Mr Blake: How did you feel at that stage?

Margery Williams: I was worried because I thought it’s got to be somewhere but the breakdown they gave me, that was weird because it wasn’t just in cash, it was stock as well and I thought: there’s something wrong here.

Mr Blake: Is that because your Post Office was particularly small?

Margery Williams: Yes, yes.

Mr Blake: You had a further meeting with investigators on 30 June. Do you remember where that was?

Margery Williams: That was in Bangor Royal Mail sorting office.

Mr Blake: Now, we know that, by that stage, 2009, there had been reporting in, for example, the Computer Weekly about problems with Horizon. Did you discuss any problems with Horizon at that meeting with investigators?

Margery Williams: I told them “It can’t be me because I haven’t taken it”. I did say “It must be a problem” – I didn’t actually say Horizon, but the computer system.

Mr Blake: Were you led to believe that there were more people affected or not?

Margery Williams: No, I was the only one. It’s never happened before, so I was the only one; that’s what they kept telling me.

Mr Blake: Things moved on from that location, I think they went to your home after that, is that right?

Margery Williams: First of all, my car was parked outside, they searched my car and then they followed me home to search the home we were at the time. They both came in and I remember – I know it’s a bit daft – but I remember them sitting down and one having a cup of tea and the other one having a squash. They came to look through my house supposedly, they never moved from the living room. They did ask for bank account details and, again, they kept telling me not to worry, it will be sorted.

Mr Blake: Again, did you worry?

Margery Williams: Of course I worried because there was figures and they were trying to say that I’d taken money but, on the other hand, they were saying don’t worry about it.

Mr Blake: In terms of your contract with the Post Office, what was the result of that investigation?

Margery Williams: I think they terminated my contract, was it in July? Yes.

Mr Blake: What happened to your shop?

Margery Williams: Well, I kept the shop going and I phoned the Post Office and I begged them to get somebody in to run the Post Office because I knew how important it was for the village because, like I said, there was only buses going every couple of hours. You had a lot of pensioners who depended on the Post Office and they said they would get somebody in and, because I was paying rent for the building and it was like a little unit, whoever took the Post Office over would pay a bit of rent to help me with – but they never paid me a penny. But I just left it.

And it took them two weeks to get somebody into the Post Office for me.

Mr Blake: Were you still paying for the rent?

Margery Williams: Yes, yes.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the prosecution, October 2011, do you remember what you were charged with?

Margery Williams: Theft. That was in Holyhead, after my first court appearance.

Mr Blake: So your first appearance was in Holyhead?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: What other courts did you go to?

Margery Williams: We went to Caernarfon and I went to Mold and the final one was in Caernarfon.

Mr Blake: Was that the Crown Court?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: You have mentioned in your statement a plea bargain and we’ve heard a little bit about this yesterday. Can you tell us what happened there?

Margery Williams: Well, on my first visit – not visit – to Caernarfon I had Judge Roderick and he read my statement and he looked at me and he said “Money’s gone” – because I was pleading not guilty, and he goes “Money’s gone, go out and have a rethink about your plea”.

So I had to go out and my barrister had talked to the Post Office people and she came back and she said “If you plead guilty to false accounting and fraud they will drop the theft charge and hopefully you won’t go to jail”.

Mr Blake: What did you think about that?

Margery Williams: I didn’t want to go to jail because I knew my friend Noel had been and I didn’t want to leave my daughter and I thought, at least, you know, I’ll be coming home, hopefully.

Mr Blake: So you took that bargain, in effect?

Margery Williams: Yes, because I knew I hadn’t taken the money.

Mr Blake: On 3 May 2012, you were sentenced?

Margery Williams: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us what punishment you received?

Margery Williams: Do you know, I don’t remember a lot of this. I remember being in this cubicle with this lady. My husband told me a bit about what they’ve said. He did say that I was of good character and I had quite a few references and he knew that I’d never be in court again and he did mention, apparently, that he did ask the Post Office people if this was the Horizon system again.

And when he did sentence me, I just turned round to this lady and said “What does that mean?” and she said “It means you’re going home”.

Mr Blake: So you recall the judge actually mentioning the possibility that it was Horizon again?

Margery Williams: I personally don’t. My husband does, because he was …

Mr Blake: Did you think that you might go to prison?

Margery Williams: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Had you prepared for prison that day?

Margery Williams: Yeah, packed a bag, which my husband had and, in my coat pocket, I had a locket with my daughter’s picture.

Mr Blake: How old was your daughter at that time?

Margery Williams: Ten, ten.

Mr Blake: What sentence did you receive?

Margery Williams: It was a 52-week jail sentence, 18 months’ suspended with probation, and 200 hours. But when I went from – after I was sentenced, I was going into another room with the barrister and she said to me “When you go to probation, remember, don’t tell them that you’re not guilty, because if you tell them that they’ll take you back and they’ll put you in jail”.

Mr Blake: So you had regular meetings with probation services?

Margery Williams: Yes, it was supposed to be weekly, then every fortnightly and every month for the time. I was going weekly because I was always breaking down because I was having to lie to them and they thought I wasn’t coping, which I wasn’t coping, but they didn’t know why, really, about it. I was humiliated because they were trying to teach me how to budget money and stuff like that, and it just felt awful.

Mr Blake: Another part of your sentence was that you had to do some unpaid work?

Margery Williams: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Where did you work?

Margery Williams: Well, when I went to probation, one of the ladies there, the first lady I saw, she looked at my case and she said “You won’t be able to go into any charity shops to work or anything like that after what you’ve done”. Luckily, this lady that lives in our village, and she was the HR manager of a charity. It’s a farm on the island that work with disabled people, young disabled people, and she phoned probation place and she asked if I could go and do my hours there with them, and that’s what I did.

Mr Blake: So what kind of work did you do?

Margery Williams: It was just a lot of recycling, looking after the disabled people and it was just working on the farm.

Mr Blake: Now, your conviction and sentence were overturned in April of last year. We’re now going to talk about the impact on you: first financial and then personal. In terms of financial, can you remember approximately how much you had to pay back to the Post Office?

Margery Williams: Think it was, like, 14,660-something.

Mr Blake: So about £14,000?

Margery Williams: Yes, yes.

Mr Blake: How did you manage to pay it?

Margery Williams: Well, we had a little house that we bought in the village but, at the time we bought it, I was the only one that was employed so it was in my name, so my husband had to buy me out. Anyway, I wasn’t allowed to be on the mortgage because I was deemed as a risk and with him being old as well, we had to take – he had to take the mortgage for shorter years, so our mortgage payments quadrupled.

Mr Blake: So if we think about one of the things we don’t often think about, in terms of impact, you actually had to pay more for your mortgage because you were seen as more risky?

Margery Williams: Yes, yes. I wasn’t supposed to be in the house because it was deemed a risk and then my husband had to work all the hours taking overtime because he was worried we’d lose the house if he couldn’t make the payments.

Mr Blake: You have mentioned before that you had a job as a warden. What happened to that?

Margery Williams: I was suspended while the trial was going. I was allowed to stay there and then I was reinstated but, within a month, one or two of the residents weren’t happy that I was still there because I didn’t have a clean DBS, you know the CRB, and it wasn’t a cleared one. So I lost my job in the October.

Mr Blake: So you had lost your job because you had a criminal conviction?

Margery Williams: Yes, yes, and we lost our home as well.

Mr Blake: I was going to say, what was the impact of losing that job because you have told us that you lived on-site?

Margery Williams: Yes, it was horrendous, because it was like a little village for us and my daughter had grown up from the age of one, until nearly 11. Yes, so we had a little house in the village that we were renting out, but it was only, you know, a small little house. Luckily, we had that because the council people didn’t want to know, they just wanted us out.

Mr Blake: Did your conviction impact on obtaining a future job?

Margery Williams: Yeah, yeah, because didn’t have a clean DBS. I honestly thought nobody would ever employ me again. My sister-in-law was at a local pub one weekend on a Sunday, and they were advertising for drivers for meals on wheels, and she said I was looking for work, and these people were good friends with Noel Thomas, so they knew what had happened and they knew the truth, really, and they employed me, to start with 15 hours a week, which ended up doing over 40 hours a week, seven days a week, just to get money in to try and help my husband financially.

Mr Blake: Did you have any other jobs?

Margery Williams: The charity that I worked for advertised a job for a support worker. I applied thinking “Oh, they won’t employ me”, but fair play they did employ me, even though they did have trouble with the council because of my CRB. They were very good with me and I worked there for five years.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the personal impact, what impact has this all had on your physical health?

Margery Williams: I’ve got type 2 diabetes now and I’ve got – it doesn’t look like it but I’ve got scarring alopecia, which means when the hair’s gone, it won’t be replaced. That’s why I’m ages in the morning trying to get my hair just right. I was a recluse, I wouldn’t go out. I still don’t feel I’m the same person and I do get angry at times.

Mr Blake: Psychologically, what’s the impact?

Margery Williams: I just don’t trust anybody anymore. It’s really difficult.

Mr Blake: You have described the local community – some of the local community, the local council especially – taking a different approach to you. What about more broadly amongst friends and –

Margery Williams: No, no. They’ve kept away. They have kept away. I have a couple I used to babysit for. They have backed me all the way and he said to me, “Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what happens now people have made up their minds”.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard that you had a young daughter. What was the impact on her?

Margery Williams: She was bullied in school and she self-harmed as well.

Mr Blake: How about your husband?

Margery Williams: He was obviously – no problems at all, then he was diagnosed with cancer. We’ve had to go through that, all the treatments, and he’s still on treatments.

Mr Blake: Have you received compensation?

Margery Williams: I’ve had the interim payments, yes, but we haven’t touched it. We’ve had advice and we’ve put it – saved it because we’re scared because it says on that piece of paper from the Post Office in little writing that if they decide I’m not – I’ve only been awarded half of this, they’ll want it back, and we’re petrified because we’ve had to struggle financially and we don’t want – you know, we don’t want to touch it at the moment.

Mr Blake: A question that was asked of witnesses yesterday: what would you like from the Post Office?

Margery Williams: This is a very difficult, in a way, question to answer. At first, yes, I want them to go to jail for what they’ve done but then that would be an easy life for them. They’d come out and they’d still have their money. I want them to feel the way I felt and the way we suffered financially.

Mr Blake: Is there anything you would like to add at all?

Margery Williams: I just want somebody to be accountable because it’s just gone on for so long and people are hiding. Somebody’s got to be accountable for this.

Mr Blake: Chair, do you have any questions?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, thank you, Mr Blake. I think you have covered everything that was in Mrs Williams’ statement that I’d like to hear about.

Mrs Williams, thank you very much for taking the trouble to come to give evidence. It’s a long way from Anglesey to London, as I know from personal experience, but I’m very grateful to you for the evidence you’ve given. Thank you.

Margery Williams: Thank you very much.

Mr Blake: Thank you, Chair. We’ll take a 15-minute break now .so we’ll come back at 10.45.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, certainly. That’s fine by me.

(10.27 am)

(A short break)

(10.46 am)

Damian Owen


Mr Blake: Thank you very much. Can you give us your full name, please?

Damian Owen: It’s Damian Peter Owen.

Mr Blake: You have in front of you a witness statement, dated 13 January of this year. If I could ask you to have a look at the final page of that witness statement, is that your signature on the final page?

Damian Owen: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can you confirm that that statement is true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Damian Owen: Yes, to the best of my recollection and belief, yes, it is.

Mr Blake: I’m going to start with your background. Can you tell us where you were born?

Damian Owen: I was born in Wrexham in 1983. Shortly afterwards, my parents moved to Anglesey, where their families lived anyway, where they originated from and just lived in a small village there in Menai Bridge for the first 30-odd years of my life.

Mr Blake: What did your family do for a living?

Damian Owen: My Dad managed a shop and then, for a couple of years, my Mum went to work with him and then she took over a Post Office, which is how I ended up in the Post Office in the end and it kind of went on from there.

Mr Blake: When Mr Beer opened and he mentioned that some witnesses have close connection with the Post Office, yours goes back to your childhood; is that right?

Damian Owen: Yes, yes certainly my teenage years onwards, yes.

Mr Blake: When did you start work?

Damian Owen: I started helping – what Post Office-wise or in general?

Mr Blake: In general. What was the first job that you had?

Damian Owen: I was probably about ten or so. I started working, delivering papers for my Dad’s shop. I delivered papers, I’d clean the windows. You know, by the time I was 14/15 I had enough for a car when I was 18 so that all helped out. I was earning more money at that kind of age than I could spend, which was nice. But I didn’t really have any grasp of the value of the money then, so it was just like, meh, stick it in a pile.

Mr Blake: What did you do after that?

Damian Owen: After that, well, I played a lot of rugby, I kind of – as soon as I turned 18, I went to work in an off-licence, worked in some pubs while I was still studying as well.

Mr Blake: I think in 2010 you got married?

Damian Owen: Yes, sounds right.

Mr Blake: Then, at some stage, you took up the role of branch manager; is that right?

Damian Owen: Yes, yes.

Mr Blake: Where was that and when was that?

Damian Owen: That was in Glanadda Post Office, it was one of the four or five branches in Bangor, North Wales, at the time, yes.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard a lot about subpostmasters subpostmistresses, what does a branch manager do?

Damian Owen: Exactly the same but for a fraction less money and you haven’t got – you’re not directly contracted to the Post Office.

Mr Blake: I’m going to ask you about an audit that took place and an investigation. You were audited in 2010?

Damian Owen: Yes.

Mr Blake: The auditor found a shortfall of nearly £25,000; is that right?

Damian Owen: Yes.

Mr Blake: What was your reaction to hearing that news?

Damian Owen: It wasn’t good. Not words that I would use here, apparently, but I was, like – I was annoyed because two weeks before that we’d had the new system put in, someone had been out, checked everything and I – I would say I was there pretty much couple of pennies to a pound, either side. So I knew it was all there because I spent hours with this fellow counting everything, all the stock, all the cash, absolutely everything, and it was all there, all ticked off and, you know, it all balanced brilliantly.

Mr Blake: You said that the new system had been recently put in. What system was that?

Damian Owen: It was the updated Horizon Plus, or whatever they called it at the time – Horizon Online. So they come in to put that in. So they counted me the night before, switched on the new system. He came back for the next morning, so I met him at 8.00. The branch didn’t normally open until 9.00. It used to be 8.30 before I started working there and I wasn’t really for that.

But then he met me there, done another count of everything with the new system being now online, everything again matched up and, fine, left it at that up until the audit. It was within two weeks, someone came round, a security fellow, and he said we’re here to do an audit.

I thought, okay, well, you know, I’ve got a lot to do, so we’ll just crack on and then, you know, I’ll get open and get sorted. But we never did open again after that – I never did open again after that.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us about the conversation you had about that money with the auditor?

Damian Owen: With the auditor? Well, it’s a branch that we never held that amount of money there. It’s a small branch, small – one of the quieter branches and I was mainly there because there was a lot old people’s homes – not old – like people’s flats on that road, and it was right opposite some of them. So they’d just come in get their pension it wasn’t a massive – there wasn’t a need for any massive cash holding there. As far as I’m aware, the most money that I had in the branch ever was about 13,000. So for him to tell me I’m, like, 25 grand down I’m like, “No, mate, come on, check it again”.

So my parents’ accountant had read something about this in Computer Weekly, as you mentioned earlier, and he said he was more than willing to go and do a forensic accountant –

Mr Blake: So let’s talk about that and the actual investigation by the police. I think you were interviewed at a police station in 2011?

Damian Owen: Yes.

Mr Blake: How was that?

Damian Owen: It wasn’t one of my better days but they woke me up early in the morning. At the time, I ran a community centre, so I was working in the Post Office, I ran a community centre, did a bit of pub work as well. You know, at the time I had a pregnant girlfriend/wife, so I’d work day and night, didn’t really bother me, but I was thinking I want to be as prepared as possible. So my job in the community centre afforded me a flat, so that kept costs down, so anything I was earning then, I could just tuck away.

So early in the morning, I think it was about 6.30/7.00-ish, there was like a bang on the door, like banging, banging, banging. So I’m like “must be important”. So I go down to the door. There’s the police and there’s one of the two security people from the Post Office. The name escapes me but – well, it’s not really important. But they came into my house. They did a quite thorough search, actually. There was an attic and I said to them, “Look, do you want to go up there”, that’s the only place they didn’t search, was the attic.

Mr Blake: Did you stay at your house or did you move on with them?

Damian Owen: I was there until they’d finished conducting a search but they kind of kept me in there, up until they’d finished doing – but I didn’t find out at the time they were also searching, at the same time, my mother’s house next door, which had a Post Office underneath, because she’d had similar issues not six months before when she changed over to the new system.

So, yes, they took me and my mother in at the same time.

Mr Blake: That was to a police station?

Damian Owen: To a police station in Caernarfon.

Mr Blake: You have mentioned the Computer Weekly article that you were aware at that time of some issues with Horizon. Was that something you mentioned to the investigators?

Damian Owen: I didn’t mention it myself because, by the time I’d been kind of picked up on it and taken to the police station, it wasn’t – I hadn’t discussed it in that depth with the accountant but my Dad had.

Mr Blake: What did the accountant offer to do?

Damian Owen: He offered to go in and do a proper thorough, not only computer search but everything search, so that we could ascertain, well, what’s showing the anomalies on the system but they flat out refused that.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the prosecution, can you tell us about your first court appearance?

Damian Owen: Okay, the first court appearance.

Mr Blake: Where was it?

Damian Owen: That would have been in the Magistrates’ Court in Caernarfon. There was two or three times that I went there. My Dad went with me also, so he’s like got cover in his shop and he’s come with me for the day and we’ve got there and we waited all day for our case to be drawn and no-one from the Post Office had turned up at all, and there was two or three cases like that and my solicitor had a pop at trying to get it thrown out there and then because, if they’re not going to bother turning up, how can they possibly – you know, why should I be here.

So that was refused there. I think it was like the third or fourth time that they did turn up and then it was escalated to the Crown Court.

Mr Blake: Which Crown Court was that?

Damian Owen: That was also Caernarfon.

Mr Blake: You had a trial?

Damian Owen: I had a trial, which was in Mold, which is somewhat 40/50 minutes down the dual carriageway from there on a good run.

Mr Blake: So you had entered a not guilty plea –

Damian Owen: I had.

Mr Blake: – and they had fixed a trial?

Damian Owen: Mmm.

Mr Blake: When it came to the trial were people aware that you were being prosecuted in your local community?

Damian Owen: Up until the second day of my trial, no? But on the second day of my three-day trial, I was staying at my parents’ house at the time, I come downstairs through the shop, Daily Post, national – you know, national newspaper of Wales, I was on front of it, a very unflattering picture with “Bangor postmaster steals 25 grand”, or whatever it was at the time, because the figure kept changing each time I went to court. So, well, you know, just trying a figure and run with it, really.

So that day on – so I said to my brief at the time, well, “Are they allowed to be doing this and influencing the jury mid-trial”, you know. So it’s a case of I’m there to be judged by my peers, not based on the story that the Post Office had given to the Daily Post. So I thought that was a bit unfair.

Mr Blake: How did you feel seeing that story where you were living?

Damian Owen: Well, I felt a bit destroyed actually? You know what I mean? Last time I was in the papers it was for good reasons. Before that, I would be you know playing rugby or whatever, or running, or something, you know, I used to be very physically active. The only time in the paper would have been a positive thing. But not from then on.

Mr Blake: You were ultimately convicted of theft and how did it feel to you on receiving that news?

Damian Owen: To be fair, I was prepared for it but I was prepared for it because my original barrister, from the first day I met him in the barrister’s chambers in Chester, he said “Look, there’s no hope, just plead guilty, you know, just get it over and done with quickly and, you know, just take four or five years on the chin and just do that”.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard from previous witnesses about plea bargains but that didn’t take place in your case?

Damian Owen: That didn’t take place, no, but that solicitor then went to the Post Office barristers and said “If he pays the money back what will happen?” Well, (1) I was in no financial position to pay any money back and (2) I was very against that in the first place, just on sheer principle. It was like: I’ve not had any benefit from that money, there’s not a chance in hell you’re getting any money out of me at all. But they said to him “Look, if he pays the money back, he can still do his four or five years”, and then – yes. So there was no kind of real offer for anything, really.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us what sentence you did receive?

Damian Owen: When I went to sentencing, for some reason it was in Chester. I received – I’m pretty sure it was eight months’ custodial. I received that on – my original trial was the start of December, something like the 4th, 5th and 6th possibly. It’s either that or that’s when my wedding day was, but it’s somewhere around that area. So I was sentenced on 23 December.

Mr Blake: So you were sentenced just before Christmas –

Damian Owen: Yes.

Mr Blake: – and presumably you spent Christmas in prison?

Damian Owen: Yes, yes.

Mr Blake: Which prison was that?

Damian Owen: Altcourse in Liverpool, it’s in Fazakerley.

Mr Blake: How was that experience?

Damian Owen: I’d been on better holidays.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us a bit about your experience in prison?

Damian Owen: It’s just not a – it’s not a kind of place I want to be. It’s not somewhere that is – I don’t – I don’t know really. It’s what you make of it, isn’t it?

Mr Blake: I appreciate it’s difficult to talk about.

Damian Owen: Yeah, yeah.

Mr Blake: How did it affect you?

Damian Owen: I lost an awful lot of weight. As you can see now, I’m a nice trim gentleman but, at the time, I was – I was probably about the weight I am now, actually, just about 14/15 stone, and I came out and I was in there, what, ten weeks and in that ten weeks I’d lost four/four and a half stone. Yeah, so it didn’t really – it didn’t sit well with me.

Mr Blake: Could you sleep at night?

Damian Owen: I slept off and on. I just tried to keep myself busy, really. I did a few courses. I don’t know, just – I did what I could to pass the time, as quickly as I could.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the impact on you generally –

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Blake, before you do that, could I just clarify one aspect of Mr Owen’s evidence?

You said, Mr Owen, that when you got the banging on the door early in the morning it was the police and Post Office investigators and then you went to the police station?

Damian Owen: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Was it police officers or Post Office investigators who interviewed you under caution?

Damian Owen: It was two of the Post Office security.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right.

Damian Owen: So following that then, when I went to answer bail at the police station, I was told by the police that any investigations had led to nothing and, as far as they could see, that money didn’t exist in the first place. So I felt done, dusted, until I discovered that the Post Office has powers of prosecution themselves, which was an eye-opener.

Sir Wyn Williams: When you were being – before that interviewed under caution began, were you offered the opportunity to have legal representation?

Damian Owen: I was.

Sir Wyn Williams: Did you take up that offer or did you remain on your own?

Damian Owen: I remained on my own because I felt I was there, they were wasting my time and – yeah, I wasn’t with the whole thing that, okay, they are going to try and manipulate me in any way. I was quite naive. At the time, I didn’t struggle for confidence so I just thought, “pfft”.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Then just one last question. You told Mr Blake already that you were not offered a plea bargain. That simply didn’t arise, did it, throughout the whole court proceeding?

Damian Owen: No, no. The only kind of back and forth we had between them was I wanted to know whether or not they will be chasing the figure for me to pay back.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes. So the only discussions between your lawyers and their lawyers related to whether or not there should be a repayment, not whether there would be a plea bargain.

Damian Owen: Yes, to which case they said that, no, they weren’t going to be seeking any, what’s it called, malicious – prosecution – proceeds of crime.

Mr Blake: Yes, proceeds of crime.

Sir Wyn Williams: So even though you were convicted of theft, of quite a large sum of money, they didn’t actually seek to recover the money from you; is that correct?

Damian Owen: That is correct, to me, which I thought that spoke volumes at the time, the fact that – if someone stole from me, one way or another, I’d be getting it back from them, whether or not I go down the courts route or take it into my own hands I would seek that back, which made it quite clear that they knew something was wrong.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Thank you very much, Mr Owen.

Sorry to interrupt, Mr Blake. Back to you.

Mr Blake: Not at all. It’s right to say you weren’t a subpostmaster, so there wasn’t a contract between you and the Post Office?

Damian Owen: No, there wasn’t, no.

Mr Blake: On impact, generally, what was the impact on your mental health? I think you have received a diagnosis of some sort; is that right?

Damian Owen: Yeah, yeah. I can’t remember exactly what – I don’t think I read his whole report but it didn’t – it didn’t reflect too well on my mental well-being. I’m not sure if you have got the report there.

Mr Blake: I don’t have the report. We don’t need to go into –

Damian Owen: No, good. Yeah –

Mr Blake: You have sought help and you have received a formal diagnosis?

Damian Owen: Yeah, yeah, and they sent me for more counselling following that, which, over the whole Covid thing, was all Zoom meetings and – there’s only so many times someone can ask you over a Zoom call “Well, how did that make you feel?” before you’re like “Do you know how that made me feel? Gone, that’s how it made me feel”. I just kind of sacked it all off.

Mr Blake: I’m sorry to add to that today. What about your job prospects?

Damian Owen: Now or then?

Mr Blake: Then and now.

Damian Owen: Now, since – they’re looking up as of kind of last April when I got my conviction overturned, but the last ten years have all been the most menial of bottom of the rung jobs because who else is going to employ someone with a criminal record for theft, or whatever it was?

Mr Blake: How about your relationships with other people? Did it affect your family relationships, your brother, for example?

Damian Owen: Yeah, yeah. Well, we haven’t spoken in – since about this time. There’s been some friction there and, yeah, you know, just kind of brought it to a head and there are times where I can be quite fiery, so you cross the line and, that’s it, I’ll be off. And, yeah, so he brought it to one of them stages and we don’t speak and, as far as us not speaking, for example, my daughter’s turned 11 at the weekend. She’s 11, and she found out – she found out something last summer, wasn’t it – she found out last summer that I had a brother because we were staying at my Mum and Dad’s house and his kids were there and she was like “These kids are always here, who are they?” I said, “I don’t know”. But then she found out then that they’re her cousins and, yeah, I had a brother.

Mr Blake: How did that affect your daughter, finding out that you were going to prison?

Damian Owen: She didn’t – she doesn’t know. The part of the story I’ve told her is that I worked for the Post Office, it didn’t end well and I’ve come here today. So that’s – she doesn’t know about the whole story and I think that’s probably something I’m going to try and put off for a couple more years, if I can.

Mr Blake: The local community?

Damian Owen: Well, I don’t live where I used to anymore. I live in Stafford now. Local community, I suppose on the whole, mostly to my face, were fine but it’s that little village kind of thing, you know. When I go back now, I get very positive – well, you know what I mean, kind of “Oh, well, you were right after all”. Well, I know I’m right but what gets said in small village life, I suppose Noel will know, it’s kind of that thing, isn’t it, where everyone talks about everyone anyway, so you’ve got a reason to talk about you, it’s just going to perpetuate the situation.

Mr Blake: How do you feel now your conviction’s been quashed?

Damian Owen: I think it’s good it’s been quashed but, for me, since it has been quashed, I haven’t really done an awful lot of anything because of medical things, anyway. So I’ve literally been stuck at home anyway. So I haven’t yet done anything that I couldn’t have done prior to it being quashed.

Mr Blake: What do you want from the Post Office?

Damian Owen: I would possibly – just that end one …

I would like an apology for what they’ve done to me and then this rubbish from Tim Parker. It is the most feeble apology I’ve ever received for anything in my life, which I did – I did seek him out, actually. It says at the end of this:

“If you have any questions about this letter or there are any other matters we are able to assist you with, please feel free to contact me”, of which there are – there are no contact details on this.

So being quite single-minded, I sought him out and I’ve contacted him personally with a copy of this to elaborate on that – what that further meant for him, which is nothing, nothing at all. They will not do anything to, kind of, help in any way and they don’t want to assist in any way.

He’s now left, hasn’t he, last week? Tim Parker? Yeah? I would like a proper apology. I would like – I tell you what, I’d like – I’m not going to beat around the bush, I’m going to say I want a decent amount of money out of them. I spent ten years doing menial jobs, which, I’m an educated person, are massively beneath me. Sounds big-headed but, well, it’s true. It’s true.

I can’t spend the rest of my life doing that and I can’t bring back them ten years and, yeah, I want some decent money, decent apology and I want – I have said that I want there to be convictions, not only for the people who have perpetuated the – I’ll call it what it is – the whole conspiracy inside the Post Office. You know, everyone from the top down that knew and were still pushing charges. I want – I want charges against not only the people in my court case that came to give their “evidence”, who have lied under oath, I want each of them to receive a perjury charge.

I don’t know. I do feel as well, seeing as there’s quite few people from the media here today but, as well, I want it to be given a proper, thorough account of what has actually gone on. Nick Wallis has done an awful lot. He’s been brilliant in his radios, his TV programmes and his book, which is a good read.

But it almost seems like a lot of these media outlets here have been too afraid to put anything in their – anything out there. I’m wondering why that is. I’m wondering has there been pressure from somewhere else? If not, why? You know, it’s – correct me if I’m wrong – is this not the largest miscarriage of justice in British legal history? And, what, there’s like a page every day or two, every week or two, very month. I think we deserve better. I think we do.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, Mr Owen.

Chair, do you have any further questions at all?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, thank you. I asked the questions that I wanted to already.

So it just remains, Mr Owen, for me to thank you for taking the time and trouble to come to give evidence to me. You will have heard me say yesterday or no doubt will have been told that I attach very considerable importance to all of this evidence, so a special thanks to you and everyone else who’s coming to give this evidence to me.

Damian Owen: Thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

Mr Blake: Thank you, Chair. We’re going to be back at 1.30. We’re going to take an early lunch and we’re going to come back at 1.30 to hear from Lisa Brennan. So this afternoon’s witnesses have been brought forward by half-an-hour.

Sir Wyn Williams: I understand that and I’m very glad that you are able to operate so flexibly, Mr Blake, and I think that one witness this afternoon is giving live evidence in the building with you and the second one will be remote like me, so to speak.

Mr Blake: That’s correct.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Well, we’ll reassemble at 1.30 and thanks very much to everyone.

(11.16 am)

(Luncheon Adjournment)

(1.28 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Good afternoon everyone. I can see Ms Hodge has taken over from Mr Blake, so welcome to everyone this afternoon and I’m ready when you are Ms Hodge.

Ms Hodge: Sir, we can hear you but we can’t see you yet. So I think if we just wait a moment for that connection to resume. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: It’s very deceiving, Ms Hodge, because I can see myself so that makes me assume that others can see me but obviously that’s not a justified assumption. (Pause)

Ms Hodge: Sir, we can see you now.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, better late than never, eh? All right, over to you, Ms Hodge.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir. Our first witness this afternoon is Ms Lisa Brennan.

Lisa Brennan


Questioned by Ms Hodge

Ms Hodge: My name is Catriona Hodge. I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Lisa Brennan: Okay.

Ms Hodge: Please could you state your full name?

Lisa Brennan: Lisa Margaret Brennan.

Ms Hodge: Ms Brennan, you should have before you a copy of your witness statement –

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – that was made on 14 January 2022; is that correct?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Could you please turn to the final page of your statement, which should be at page 15?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that your signature which you can see there?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: When you made that statement on 14 January of this year was it true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Lisa Brennan: It was.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. I’m going to start by asking you a few questions about yourself.

Lisa Brennan: Okay.

Ms Hodge: Where did you grow up?

Lisa Brennan: In Liverpool.

Ms Hodge: Both of your parents worked; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes, they did, yes.

Ms Hodge: What did they do?

Lisa Brennan: Mum worked in a tights factory and Dad was a supervisor in the gas board, British Gas.

Ms Hodge: You had siblings, I believe?

Lisa Brennan: I did, yeah. I’ve got one sister, Kim.

Ms Hodge: Was your childhood a happy one?

Lisa Brennan: I had a lovely childhood, yeah, really did.

Ms Hodge: You started working at the Post Office as a counter clerk at the age of 16; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: I did.

Ms Hodge: Can you recall which year that was?

Lisa Brennan: Would have been 1984.

Ms Hodge: Could you please describe for us what the role of a counter clerk was at that time?

Lisa Brennan: It was just serving the pensioners in the local area. I worked in the local Post Office called Childwall Valley, where I grew up. My Nan was one of my pensioners and Grandad, Nan and Grandad, they used to come in and get their pension off me. Yeah, it was just a local shop where I worked until I was 21.

Ms Hodge: So the first branch you worked at was Childwall Valley?

Lisa Brennan: Yes, Childwall Valley.

Ms Hodge: How long did you stay working there?

Lisa Brennan: I was there until I was 21. So five years.

Ms Hodge: By the time you’d left what role had you obtained?

Lisa Brennan: I was the officer in charge. I’d been promoted to it for the last year to – well, just overseeing the Post Office, it was, sort of the like, a little manager role that the subpostmaster made for us. We were just called officers in charge, so we did all the balancing of the books and everything for them. So, yeah, that was basically it.

Ms Hodge: When you left Childwall Valley, you went to work for the Crown Post Office?

Lisa Brennan: I did, yes, passed the exam and went into the Crown Post Office on my 21st birthday, I think it was, the following week, I passed the exam and got into the Crown Post Office.

Ms Hodge: Where were you initially required to work?

Lisa Brennan: I was known as a floater. So we did our training on the Wirral and then we just floated around different offices. So I’ve seen the majority of Post Offices all over Liverpool. I worked in most of them.

Ms Hodge: You later came to work at – is it Huyton?

Lisa Brennan: Huyton.

Ms Hodge: Huyton Post Office, thank you. When did you first start working there?

Lisa Brennan: It was about ‘95. Something around ‘95. Not long before Jess was born, my daughter.

Ms Hodge: You were working as a counter clerk there, as well?

Lisa Brennan: Counter clerk, yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you enjoy your work for the Post Office?

Lisa Brennan: Yes, I loved it. That’s all I can say. I did, I loved it. I love my job.

Ms Hodge: You received a salary –

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – for your work. Do you recall how much that was?

Lisa Brennan: I don’t know. In my head, because it was 20 years and I’m just – I try and remember in my head.

Ms Hodge: Don’t worry.

Lisa Brennan: It was around 300 or 400, maybe, a week or something like that. I can’t remember the exact amount. I’d forget.

Ms Hodge: It’s fine, thank you. Were you eligible for a pension?

Lisa Brennan: Oh, I was, yeah. Used to pay into a pension, yeah.

Ms Hodge: Would you have regarded yourself at the time as quite comfortably off?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, I was, yeah. I had a good life, yeah. Lots of friends and a really good life, a nice house, husband, daughter in school and, yeah, life was lovely, lovely.

Ms Hodge: You mention in your statement that you had received awards and bonuses?

Lisa Brennan: Yes, we used to have mystery shoppers. So I’d won them quite a few times when they used to come round and you didn’t know who they were and they’d come in the office and get served by you. If you were polite and offered them all the upsales and what not they’d go back and you would get a, sort of, recognition for it, for the staff in the office. So yeah, I won that quite a few times.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned your husband and daughter. You were married whilst working in the Post Office?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Your daughter is here today to support you.

Lisa Brennan: Jess is with me now, yes.

Ms Hodge: In which branch were you working when the Horizon system was installed?

Lisa Brennan: Would have been Huyton.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any training when Horizon was installed?

Lisa Brennan: Not that I can remember. It was just sort of all set up and on you go.

Ms Hodge: Without any training, how did you manage to operate the system?

Lisa Brennan: You just got on with it. We all mucked in together. It was like ten staff in there so we just, sort of, probably helped each other out. It’s hard to remember because it’s ages ago. It’s 20 years ago. I wish I could. I wish could remember everything but didn’t think a day like today would come when I’d have to remember everything, and I wish I did.

Ms Hodge: How many staff – can you recall how many staff were working at the branch at the time?

Lisa Brennan: Probably about ten staff and a few management. It was inside – it was connected to a sorting office in Huyton. It was a big office, yes.

Ms Hodge: Was there just a single Horizon terminal there or was –

Lisa Brennan: No, we all had our own. We all had remote ones that you worked on, different ones each day.

Ms Hodge: How did you record who was working on the terminal at any time?

Lisa Brennan: It’s a long time ago. We just used to log in, I think. From what I can remember, we just used to log in. I just wish I could remember. We all had our own log-ins, I think.

Ms Hodge: What would happen if discrepancies arose?

Lisa Brennan: We just carried over to the next day. If anybody was short or over. I think if we were sort of like a fiver out, more than a fiver, you would have to go through all the dockets and count them all and everything, so you’d be there until whatever time, until it was all done. If someone was like 70/80 quid out, or whatever – whatever amount, you’d have to just keep checking the dockets until hopefully you find it all, hopefully you didn’t find any more mistakes, which was quite often that you would find these mistakes.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you about an audit that occurred in your branch on 2 June 2002. Was it unusual for the branch to be audited?

Lisa Brennan: No, it was randomly. They used to come round – you know, you’d expect the auditors to come periodically, you know, throughout the year.

Ms Hodge: What occurred on this occasion on 2 June?

Lisa Brennan: They came in, we all turn up at the office, they’re there before you. No-one can go near the drawers or anything, and then they started doing the audit and then, the next thing I know, my life got turned upside down.

Ms Hodge: What did they find when they carried –

Lisa Brennan: That I had a shortage in my till and then I was interviewed.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall what the amount of the shortage was?

Lisa Brennan: I can’t. I can’t remember what it was.

Ms Hodge: Would a figure of approximately £3,000, does that sound about right –

Lisa Brennan: I think I’ve said that in my statement but I really can’t remember. I don’t think it was that much but it – well, it was something like that in the end I think when they checked everything because he went over things, he carried on looking – sorry, I’m jumping ahead here. He carried on looking, the fellow, who was looking into –

Ms Hodge: You mentioned being interviewed?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you allowed any representation?

Lisa Brennan: I could take a friend in with me. I took a friend, Maureen, who I worked with, in with me and she just sat with me because we didn’t have a clue what was going on. It was frightening.

Ms Hodge: Were you offered the opportunity to consult a lawyer?

Lisa Brennan: No.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described the interview being conducted by two men; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe how you felt during the interview?

Lisa Brennan: It was horrible. They were just, you know – they were quite derogatory’’s the word. It was – you know “Got a car, have you?” you know. This is how they spoke to me and I was sitting there thinking – “Got a car, oh, look at the earrings you’ve got in. Bit of a big girl, do you like going out for meals? Have you got lots of money”.

It would be sort of along them lines, and I was sitting and I was thinking “What are they getting at here?” because I didn’t understand this was going to be the beginning of the end of my life, because that’s what it was from that day and from that moment.

Ms Hodge: Did they ask you what had happened to the money that was shown to be missing?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, in the end, after saying all those things, it was sort of – I think it was a case of, you know, “You’ve got this money, haven’t you?” and I was like “I don’t know what you’re on about”, and I didn’t know what they were on about.

Ms Hodge: What happened after the interview concluded?

Lisa Brennan: They said I had to leave, so they escorted me out of the building, and that was it. I just stood outside Huyton Post Office thinking “What the hell happened back there?”

Ms Hodge: Were you suspended from your role at that point?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, yeah.

Ms Hodge: What did you do when you were told that you’d been suspended?

Lisa Brennan: I just went to my Nan’s. I got the bus and went to my Nan’s, and my Uncle Joe was there, trimming Nan’s hedges and he said “Oh, you’re early”, and I just said “I think I’ve lost my job, they’re accusing me of stealing?” “Did you do it?” I said “No”, and then I just went into my Nan and –

Ms Hodge: Did you return home later that day?

Lisa Brennan: No.

Ms Hodge: Why not?

Lisa Brennan: I felt ashamed. I just – I wasn’t expecting my day to go like that and the day just – was just horrendous, that day was just horrendous and, yeah, it was just like the end of the world to me.

Ms Hodge: I’m going to ask you some questions now about the prosecution that was brought against you. You were charged with 32 counts of theft; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You were sent a summons to attend Liverpool Magistrates’ Court; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: On what day did the summons arrive?

Lisa Brennan: The Magistrates, I think that was Christmas Eve.

Ms Hodge: How did that make you feel?

Lisa Brennan: Awful. It’s not that I’d lost my job – they’d had sacked me from 2 August, so that was it. Then I had nothing, I had no job or anything from 2 August and then, on the Christmas Eve, I got this – it just come out the blue, because I thought it was over and that was it, I was sacked and that was it. But then I was summonsed. Then it began.

Ms Hodge: When you received your summons, did you seek any support from a union or trade association?

Lisa Brennan: I’d been going to the union periodically from the August until then, asking them to try and get my job back for me because I just wanted my job back. So I kept going to a union rep, I can’t remember, I think his name was Steve. I kept going to see him, saying “Do you think they’re going to give me my job back”, because I really did think I was going to get my job back.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall which union that was, which organisation?

Lisa Brennan: The Post Office union.

Ms Hodge: Was it the Communication Workers Union?

Lisa Brennan: CWU, yeah, yeah. Yes, I was with them. They were trying to get my job back. I think I was a lost cause in the end.

Ms Hodge: You obtained legal representation, is that right, from a firm of solicitors and a barrister? How did you plead to the charge of –

Lisa Brennan: Not guilty.

Ms Hodge: As a result of your not guilty plea, your case was transferred to the Crown Court at Liverpool?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right? Did you change your plea at that stage?

Lisa Brennan: No.

Ms Hodge: Why not?

Lisa Brennan: Because I wasn’t guilty.

Ms Hodge: Your trial commenced, I think, on 2 September 2003; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: It was listed to last for three days. Who attended court with you?

Lisa Brennan: My Mum and my step-dad.

Ms Hodge: What evidence of your character did you produce?

Lisa Brennan: Well, I got a lot of letters off the girls from work and people who knew me but they were told that they couldn’t have any contact with me after that. So I, sort of, kept hold of the letters that they had sent me originally and took them in with me but then they were told “You can’t speak to Lisa anymore”, so I lost all contact with them.

But I did take letters in from them and from, yeah, lots of people. My brother-in-law’s a policeman – he’s passed since – but, you know, letters from himself and that, and I took all them in and the judge had all them, Judge Phillips had all those letters to read. I had a good – yeah, they were good testaments for me.

Ms Hodge: On the final day of your trial you had a conversation with your young daughter –

Lisa Brennan: Yeah.

Ms Hodge: – is that right? Can you describe that conversation, please?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah. Sorry, Jess.

If they were going to send me to prison, I wasn’t going to – I was going to take my own life. I couldn’t have gone to prison. I couldn’t. I just – I felt ashamed my life was just ruined and – I’m sorry.

Ms Hodge: Is that what you told your daughter on that morning?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How old was she at the time?

Lisa Brennan: Six.

Ms Hodge: You were found guilty by the jury –

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – and convicted of 27 of the 32 counts of theft, correct?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe for us the reaction in court when your verdict was read out?

Lisa Brennan: I had – well, that wasn’t then. The court clerk cried because she’d been sitting with us and we thought it would just be not guilty, really sincerely, we just didn’t think it was going to be a guilty verdict, because she used to sit with us the court clerk, and she just had tears in her eyes.

The judge was – I felt like he was gobsmacked. He turned round and said – you know, when they said “We want the money back off her”, he said to them “Stick a penny on a stamp”.

Ms Hodge: Was that when the Post Office asked for their legal costs?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, and he said “Put a penny on a stamp, you won’t get nothing from Lisa”.

Ms Hodge: So no order was made for costs against you?

Lisa Brennan: No.

Ms Hodge: How did it make you feel to be convicted of theft?

Lisa Brennan: Awful, awful. Just the end of the world. To me it was just the end of the world. That was my life. All I’d known was the Post Office from 16 and then just to be told “You’re a thief”, is horrible, because I wasn’t and I hadn’t took anything. Just …

Ms Hodge: The sentence you received was one of six months’ imprisonment, is that right –

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – but suspended for two years?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: That meant you were able to return to your daughter?

Lisa Brennan: Yes, to go home to Jess.

Ms Hodge: What conditions were imposed on you as a result of your conviction?

Lisa Brennan: No-one really reached out to me. I didn’t know what I had to do. I went with my Mum a few times for probation and I had to go to a place called NACRO, with people – criminals and everything.

Ms Hodge: Is that a charity which helps ex-offenders?

Lisa Brennan: Yes, something that helps you get a job, apparently, and they’re probably really nice people but I just didn’t think I should have been there but I was, so I did go because I had to.

Ms Hodge: Your conviction, of course, was overturned last year.

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Before we come back to that, I’d like to ask you some questions about the impact this has had upon you and your family.

Sir Wyn Williams: Ms Hodge, can I just interrupt?

Just one question from me, if I may, Ms Brennan. We’ve heard quite a lot so far about people being offered plea bargains or plea deals.

Lisa Brennan: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: Were you ever offered a plea bargain?

Lisa Brennan: No.

Sir Wyn Williams: You obviously never sought to suggest that you’d plead guilty to a lesser offence because you were maintaining your innocence.

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’ve got that right, yes?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, thanks very much.

Ms Hodge: Ms Brennan, dealing first with the impact these events on you and your mental health and your emotional state, you’ve described in your statement that the impact was severe.

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: When you were first suspended and accused of stealing, you have explained that you attempted to take an overdose; is that correct?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you seek any help or support from a doctor at that time?

Lisa Brennan: I’d gone to the doctors and he put me on beta blockers for a short while but I had a criminal record. Nobody really cared. I think, nowadays, you get more help for your mental health. Back then, there was just nothing. There was no-one. No-one reached out. I just had a criminal record, and it was just – I was just left. I was just left. There was nothing.

It was a long time ago. And there was nothing, there was no help. I was a criminal and that’s all I knew, and that’s all I’ve known for 20 years, that I’ve got that criminal record and it’s only now I’m not, it’s – it’s – it was just so different back then.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience problems with alcohol at that time?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, I used to drink a lot.

Ms Hodge: How much were you drinking?

Lisa Brennan: Vodka, wine, anything – anything just to numb it.

Ms Hodge: For how long did that go on?

Lisa Brennan: Probably a good few years.

Ms Hodge: Before you were suspended from your position as a counter clerk, you had shared a home with your husband and your daughter.

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve told us that you felt unable to return home after you were suspended.

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What impact did that have on your marriage?

Lisa Brennan: Well, we split up. I just never went back home. I just went to Mum’s and I had no job, I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage so had to sell the house and sofa surf with Jess, when she was a baby – well, a little girl, and we just sofa surfed. I just felt ashamed and couldn’t go back there. Everybody knew me. I was popular. Everyone knew me, so …

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that the Post Office terminated your contract on 2 August –

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – 2002. What effect did that termination of your contract have on you financially?

Lisa Brennan: Couldn’t afford to pay for things. I had no money, I had no job.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that you and your husband had owned a family home together?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You said you ended up homeless.

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did that come about?

Lisa Brennan: We had to sell the house. Couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage.

Ms Hodge: Is it right that you were declared bankrupt, as well, at this time?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Where did you and your daughter live after you were forced to sell your home?

Lisa Brennan: Stayed in Mum’s and just stayed on the couch, and Jess had the little spare room, and then we were waiting for a council flat, or something, to come along, which luckily we did get a council flat in the following year, yeah.

Ms Hodge: What did you do with your possessions when you lost your home?

Lisa Brennan: If anybody wanted them. I couldn’t take them anywhere. I had no storage. I couldn’t afford to pay for storage, so I just said to people “Help yourself”, just left it.

Ms Hodge: Without any income, how did you pay for food for you and your daughter?

Lisa Brennan: We used to rely on Mum and Nan a lot and my Dad, and had to go to the Salvation Army as well. They were helpful. Back then they didn’t – I didn’t ever recall food banks or anything, otherwise I’d have used things like that. But there didn’t seem to be anything like that at that time, so Salvation Army were not far from where our flat was, so made friends with a lovely lady called Fiona who prayed with us and helped us along our way.

Ms Hodge: Were there times when you went hungry?

Lisa Brennan: Yes, so Jess could eat.

Ms Hodge: Some time in 2003 you obtained a council flat; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe to us what it was like to live there?

Lisa Brennan: Very different from a three-bedroom house but, you know, it was a home for me and Jess. Cold, metal windows, they were due to be demolished. Quite a bit of antisocial behaviour. Just different but I had to – well, we had to fit in.

Ms Hodge: How did you and your daughter get by whilst you were out of work?

Lisa Brennan: I was on benefits. I think it was about three or four years before I could – you know, before I got a job with my cousin. So, yeah, we just got by with help from people, really. You know, that was it.

Ms Hodge: You made efforts, I think, to obtain another job –

Lisa Brennan: Yeah.

Ms Hodge: – is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah.

Ms Hodge: What challenges did you face, as a result of your conviction, when looking for work?

Lisa Brennan: Well, CRB checks. It couldn’t be a job that I’d have loved to have down, which was the Post Office or banks or anything like that. I couldn’t go applying for jobs like that. It was more shop work, not that there’s anything wrong with it because that’s what I’ve done for the last 20 years or so, worked in shops. Any type of work that I could get where they wouldn’t do a CRB check.

Ms Hodge: Did you at one point want to train as a teacher?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, I did. I actually – well, when I was out of work I took a teacher training course and I passed that with flying colours and then went to work in Jess’s school helping out, voluntary, and then I passed, so they kept me on there, and then they did a CRB check and then they said, “Sorry, Lisa, you’ll have to leave”, because I had a criminal record. So I thought “What did I do this for?” Pointless, pointless, but …

Ms Hodge: You did ultimately find some work in retail?

Lisa Brennan: I did, yeah.

Ms Hodge: There came a time when things improved and you were promoted –

Lisa Brennan: Yeah.

Ms Hodge: – to a manager; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You were later approached by a customer, I believe, who offered you a job; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Are you still working there now?

Lisa Brennan: I am, yeah, yeah. And I can actually tell them the truth. I actually told them on 23 April that I’m free and then everyone was like “How’d you keep that a secret for 19 years?” I just said “I had to because, otherwise, I’d never have got on in life”, you know. People now, if they see this, there’s still people that I’d love to have told, friends that I’ve met along the way. They never knew me. No-one knew me. And now I can be me and it’s lovely.

Maybe I was a happier person but I haven’t been able to be and now I can be, and I’m happy and that feels really bad that I’m happy, because I’ve been so sad and so angry for years, and now I’ve turned a corner. It’s lovely.

Ms Hodge: You mentioned, previously, Ms Brennan, that you were eligible for a pension with the Post Office?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the termination of your employment have upon your pension?

Lisa Brennan: They took it away. In court, I think they said something about “We’re taking the pension back”, so they took everything, so …

Ms Hodge: Are you eligible for a state pension?

Lisa Brennan: I think so. I presume I would be, yeah.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe the impact that your conviction had upon your young daughter at the time?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, she’s seen it all and I’m truly sorry but it happened, and why it happened to us, I don’t know, but it’s really affected Jess.

Ms Hodge: You and your daughter receive a lot of support from your mother; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, yeah.

Ms Hodge: How did your conviction impact upon her?

Lisa Brennan: On Mum, just tragically, you know. Mum’s only got one lung, as well, and she’s been my best friend and, yeah, she just looked after us and she had me with a criminal record, and my sister lost her husband ten years ago, he was a policeman and, you know, he died in active service, so it’s very sad. Mum’s had to put up with that and it’s – yeah, it’s hard.

Ms Hodge: As you have mentioned, very happily your conviction was quashed in April?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Not all of your family members lived to see your name cleared –

Lisa Brennan: No.

Ms Hodge: – did they?

Lisa Brennan: No. My Dad and my brother-in-law and my Nan. They believed me and they know but, yeah, they never, ever got to see it happen for real.

Ms Hodge: You mention in your statement that your father had fallen ill after you were convicted; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah.

Ms Hodge: Were you able to care for and support him in the way you hoped to?

Lisa Brennan: No, and I feel like that was stolen away because if I’d had still had my job and if it had still been for the Post Office and everything, I’m sure they would have given me compassionate leave, but I had to be grateful for what I had. So the jobs that I were in, and they didn’t know about my criminal conviction, I couldn’t say to them “Oh, can I have compassionate time with Dad”. My Dad had several cancers and dementia, so my sister had to do all the caring and I’d just do it on my days off because I was terrified that they’d find out.

Every job I was in I was terrified they’d find out that I had a criminal record and I’d lose my job. That was always – that’s just the way I’ve been for a long time, for years.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned relationships with friends. Your conviction impacted on those as well; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you continue to socialise with your friends after you were convicted?

Lisa Brennan: No, no, partly for myself. I just – I couldn’t face people, so I sort of built a wall and just – yeah, it was just me and Jess against the world, and that was it. I don’t do social media or anything. That’s why I’ve never done anything like tell my story. This is the first time I’ve ever really spoken about it, knowing that there’s people here and I know I’m getting filmed, it’s quite scary but it’s time. It’s time.

Ms Hodge: You have mentioned that your colleagues weren’t allowed to support you during your prosecution.

Lisa Brennan: No.

Ms Hodge: Did you lose touch with those colleagues and friends?

Lisa Brennan: Everyone, everyone, yeah.

Ms Hodge: Do you know if your conviction was reported at the time in the press or –

Lisa Brennan: It was in the Liverpool Echo.

Ms Hodge: How did it feel for you to see it reported like that?

Lisa Brennan: Horrible, but I was guilty – I was found guilty. There was, you know – as far as I was concerned, until all the, you know, Alan Bates and all the Justice for Subpostmasters came along, I think I’d still be in that situation. It took me a long time to join up with them. It was up to like Jess and my Mum and my sister, you know, “Get yourself on board there, Lisa”. I was terrified to bring it all up again but thank God for them because, without them, this all wouldn’t have happened. So yeah, hats off.

Ms Hodge: As you have said things have improved a lot –

Lisa Brennan: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – since those early years, post conviction. You have a new partner; is that right?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, Andy.

Ms Hodge: You have a job that you enjoy?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah, I do, yeah.

Ms Hodge: How do you feel now looking back about your experience with the Post Office?

Lisa Brennan: Oh, it’s just scandalous. Just – it should never have happened. I wasn’t the only one and every one of us say the same thing “You’re the only one”, that’s what we were told: “it’s only you”. I just remember them saying that to me in the room, “It’s only you, nobody else is making these mistakes, it’s only you”.

Ms Hodge: Sorry, who told you that?

Lisa Brennan: The – when we were in the interview room, back in the June, “It’s only you who’s doing it”, and it wasn’t only me.

Ms Hodge: There are no further questions that I wish to ask you, Ms Brennan. Is there anything that you would like to say?

Lisa Brennan: Just thanks. Thanks for listening and, yeah, just thank you.

Ms Hodge: Sir, do you have any questions for Ms Brennan.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I haven’t got any questions, Ms Brennan, but I wonder if I could ask for your help, all right?

Lisa Brennan: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: Because you’ve just told me how difficult it was for you to get on board to have your conviction quashed because you felt that, you know, things might go wrong or it might be too difficult.

Lisa Brennan: Yeah.

Sir Wyn Williams: You’ll probably be aware that the number of people who’ve had their convictions quashed is significantly less than the number of people who are actually convicted on the basis of Horizon?

Lisa Brennan: Yeah.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m wondering if you could help me by explaining to them, however difficult it is, it’s much better to come forward. So what made you come forward in the end?

Lisa Brennan: Persistence from my Mum. My Mum, my sister Kim, Jess, and Andy, they said, you know, “Go for it, Lisa”. I said, “Well, say it all falls apart and then I’m out there and I lose this job?” It was always the terrifying – and it was terrifying going up against the Post Office again.

You know, I was scared and I can imagine that people would be scared. Coming here today, I felt scared. I felt like I was coming up against the Post Office again until I met all the people and I was eased. It’s like coming up against them again.

Don’t be frightened. Do it. Do it. You know, you’ve got the likes of Jo and Alan. You know, everyone will help you that – you know, just talk to them. I joined a WhatsApp group with Jo and some of the ladies and it’s just lovely to know you’re not on your own. Please, you know, talk to someone, get some help.

You know, it’s out there now. They’re wrong and it’s out there.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I hope that’s very helpful to some people who are listening but who haven’t yet come forward. So thank you very much, Ms Brennan.

Lisa Brennan: Well, thank you and I hope they do. Thank you.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. You are welcome to return and sit with your daughter. Thank you very much.

Sir, our next witness is appearing remotely, Ms Janine Powell. I wonder if we may take a short break to get her connected and let everybody have a brief rest.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s fine. Thanks very much, Ms Hodge.

Ms Hodge: Shall we resume at 2.15?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, that would be fine.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

(2.04 pm)

(A short break)

(2.15 pm)

Janine Powell


Ms Hodge: Ms Powell, my name is Catriona Hodge. I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Please could you state your full name.

Janine Powell: Janine Marie Powell.

Ms Hodge: Ms Powell, you made a witness statement on 14 January of this year; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you have a copy of that statement before you?

Janine Powell: I don’t, no.

Ms Hodge: Sorry, if we just pause a moment, we’ll make sure we get one to you. (Pause)

Janine Powell: I’ve found my copy, sorry.

Ms Hodge: Not at all. Thank you very much. Could I ask you, please, if you can, to speak up a little to ensure that your evidence is heard?

Janine Powell: Okay.

Ms Hodge: Thank you very much. So that statement before you was made, I think, on 14 January of this year; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Could you please turn to the final page of your statement. It should be page number 16.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you see your signature in the middle of that page?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: When you made the statement on 14 January, was the content true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Ms Powell, I’m going to begin by just asking a few questions about you, if I may. How old are you?

Janine Powell: I’m 50.

Ms Hodge: You’re the mother of three children, is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Are they grown up now?

Janine Powell: They are.

Ms Hodge: Before you worked for the Post Office, you had worked in retail for a number of years; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You also spent some years out of work caring for and raising your young family; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Please could you describe to us the circumstances in which you came to work for the Post Office.

Janine Powell: I’d seen the job advertised as a counter clerk, just applied for it and –

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when you saw the advert?

Janine Powell: (Shook head).

Ms Hodge: I think in your statement you dated it to around 2005 or 2006, is that –

Janine Powell: Yes 2005/6, yes.

Ms Hodge: That was for the role of the counter assistant. Do you recall in which branch?

Janine Powell: Cowleymoor Post Office.

Ms Hodge: Was that to support the subpostmaster of the branch?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What attracted you to the role of counter assistant in that particular branch?

Janine Powell: Just being back in work. I enjoy working and I’ll try anything.

Ms Hodge: The Cowleymoor branch is in Tiverton, is that right?

Janine Powell: It is, yes.

Ms Hodge: In Devon. Is that where you lived at the time?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: So it was located in your home town?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: It would have afforded you a chance to work in your community?

Janine Powell: Yes, and it was within my area of where I was living and with the children at school, in the same area so it was all convenient.

Ms Hodge: You describe – you say in your statement that, at that time, you were a sociable and confident person and enjoyed interaction with the public.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were these qualities that you felt made you suitable for that role?

Janine Powell: Yes, I’ve always believed in good customer service. I feel I can give that.

Ms Hodge: To whom did you apply to take up this role?

Janine Powell: I just – I just went to the Post Office and then just filled out an application form and just went from there.

Ms Hodge: Were you required to attend an interview?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when you took up the new role? Roughly when that was? Was it in early 2006?

Janine Powell: Yeah, I believe it – I think it was about August time but I can’t –

Ms Hodge: You cannot now recall?

Janine Powell: Yeah.

Ms Hodge: Was Horizon installed in the Cowleymoor branch when you first started working there?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any training on the system when you began work?

Janine Powell: Just – yeah, just your basic –

Ms Hodge: Who trained you?

Janine Powell: – training. It was the postmistress that was there at the time. There was only, like, one other member of staff.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall how much training you received? Was it a day or two, or more?

Janine Powell: It was a couple of days. It was just like when you went in, when you come across things and different things at different times, just –

Ms Hodge: Did you feel confident using this system after the training you’d received?

Janine Powell: For the basics. I felt I could do the basics, the daily, you know, serving the customers, selling a stamp, you know, paying out the benefits.

Ms Hodge: Whilst you were working as a counter assistant, did you experience any discrepancies in the branch accounts?

Janine Powell: As just a counter assistant? No, because I didn’t have any dealings with anything else, the cashing up or anything. It was dealt with by the person that was in charge.

Ms Hodge: So the subpostmistress was responsible and dealt with that?

Janine Powell: At the time, yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement, you didn’t stay in the role of counter assistant for very long; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you explain how you came to become the subpostmistress yourself of the branch, please?

Janine Powell: The previous postmistress had handed in her notice and left and it just – I was the only one there and just sort of got left.

Ms Hodge: Did you apply to be the subpostmistress of the branch?

Janine Powell: No, no.

Ms Hodge: Were you asked to take up that role?

Janine Powell: I think when the area manager had come to visit, I think it just sort of led into me taking over the role.

Ms Hodge: Can you remember how soon after you started working as a counter assistant that you took on this new role as the subpostmistress of the branch?

Janine Powell: It was within weeks. I couldn’t give you an exact time.

Ms Hodge: Did you know why the previous subpostmistress had resigned?

Janine Powell: No. She’d been there for a number of years and just …

Ms Hodge: How did you feel about taking on this new responsibility?

Janine Powell: I was happy. I enjoyed my work but I did feel there was very little training, but just tried to get on with it and do the best that I could.

Ms Hodge: When you accepted the role, were you required by POL to sign any contractual documents?

Janine Powell: Not that I recall. I really can’t remember what.

Ms Hodge: Did you employ anyone to assist you in running the branch when you took over?

Janine Powell: The area manager, yes, employed another counter clerk.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience accounting discrepancies after you took over running the branch?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What action did you take to try to resolve these?

Janine Powell: I would quite often interact with the area manager and head office to try and work out where the problem was lying.

Ms Hodge: Did you yourself check the accounts?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned you liaised with your area manager.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What action did your manager take, to your knowledge, when you reported these issues?

Janine Powell: If it was something we couldn’t really resolve over the phone, he would come to visit and try and work out where the problem was lying.

Ms Hodge: Was the manager able to work out what the source of the problem was?

Janine Powell: In some instances but it wasn’t always the case.

Ms Hodge: Were you required to pay back any shortfalls in that initial phase?

Janine Powell: No.

Ms Hodge: Did you ever contact the helpline for advice or assistance?

Janine Powell: Yes, when I say I contacted head office, it would have been the helpline.

Ms Hodge: How many times do you think you contacted the helpline to seek assistance?

Janine Powell: I couldn’t say because it was such a long time ago and …

Ms Hodge: More than once?

Janine Powell: Yes, yes, it would have been more than once.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall what advice you received?

Janine Powell: Again, it was just trying to resolve the matter over the phone to see, you know – but it wasn’t always resolved and then that’s when the area manager would also come back in.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you some questions now about an audit of your branch that took place in early 2007?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Where were you living at this time?

Janine Powell: I was living in a flat above the Post Office.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe what happened on that day that the audit took place?

Janine Powell: I received a phone call asking me to go down with my keys, which I did. I was asked to hand over my keys and that I was being suspended, pending further investigation.

Ms Hodge: Who asked you to hand over your keys?

Janine Powell: It was the area manager who was a different one to the one – she had just recently taken over.

Ms Hodge: Was an audit carried out of your branch, to your knowledge?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you present when that audit took place?

Janine Powell: No.

Ms Hodge: What were you told as to the reason you were being suspended?

Janine Powell: That there was a big discrepancy. I mean, I couldn’t tell you exactly but I think I was just, like, shocked to hear what I was hearing and the fact that I was being suspended.

Ms Hodge: You said it was a large discrepancy.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: In your statement I think you said it was approximately £74,000. Does that sound correct?

Janine Powell: I think it was 71,400 and …

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when you were told that you were suspected of stealing that money?

Janine Powell: Numb. I just – I can’t explain how I felt.

Ms Hodge: Were you given an opportunity to explain to the auditors, to put your side of the story forward?

Janine Powell: No. I was next called by Post Office investigators to attend an interview at the police station.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall now when that interview took place?

Janine Powell: No, but it was – I believe it was just like days after being suspended. I couldn’t put a time because it’s …

Ms Hodge: You were asked to attend a police station, you said.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Who conducted the interview at the police station?

Janine Powell: There were two Post Office investigators.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe the interview for us, please?

Janine Powell: Just – they read me my rights, they just kept repeating “Quite a discrepancy”, and what had happened and if I’d taken the money or if I could explain where it had gone.

Ms Hodge: At some stage, you have explained you were suspended on the day of the audit?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Some time later, your contract – you were effectively terminated as the subpostmistress; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you try to obtain work after your contract was suspended?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you successful in doing that?

Janine Powell: I was, yes.

Ms Hodge: In September 2008, you received a summons to the Magistrates’ Court; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You’d been charged with theft of £47,000?

Janine Powell: 71.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, you are quite right. You said 71. I think your statement says 74, but you recall it as being 71,400?

Janine Powell: Something like 71,400 and …

Ms Hodge: How did you react to receiving that summons?

Janine Powell: Devastated. Absolutely devastated.

Ms Hodge: How did you plead to the charge of theft?

Janine Powell: Not guilty.

Ms Hodge: Your case was transferred to the Crown Court as a result of your plea; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you legally represented at your trial in the Crown Court?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What advice did you receive?

Janine Powell: They’d actually advised me to plead guilty to a lesser sentence because if I pleaded not guilty it would be a higher sentence.

Ms Hodge: Were you offered a deal by the Post Office?

Janine Powell: Not that I recall.

Ms Hodge: What action did you take on receipt of that advice, that is to say to plead guilty to the lesser charge?

Janine Powell: I refused and said no.

Ms Hodge: Why did you reject their advice?

Janine Powell: Because I did not want to plead guilty to something I hadn’t done.

Ms Hodge: Although you pleaded not guilty, you were convicted after your trial; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You were sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when your sentence was read out?

Janine Powell: Broken.

Ms Hodge: Had you prepared yourself for the possibility that you might be sent to prison?

Janine Powell: I think I had to. I had to think of the worst case scenario.

Ms Hodge: Once your sentence had been read out, you were placed in handcuffs and lead out of court; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You had a son and daughter living with you at this time, didn’t you?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What was the immediate effect of your sentence upon them?

Janine Powell: It was hard. It was hard knowing I had – I was going to have to leave them. Sorry.

Ms Hodge: Not at all. Would you like a moment?

Janine Powell: No, no, fine.

Sir Wyn Williams: Ms Powell, if at any time you feel too upset, please don’t be afraid to ask for a break, all right?

Janine Powell: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: But it’s obvious this is very upsetting and probably best, if you can, just to get on with it, yes?

Janine Powell: Yes, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine.

Ms Hodge: Your elder son, who had been living with you –

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – he was forced to move into shared accommodation; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Because you were sent to prison?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And your daughter, who was ten years old at the time; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes, nine/ten. Yeah, she was just turning nine, I believe.

Ms Hodge: I think you said she turned – I think you said in your statement she turned ten two days before you were sentenced?

Janine Powell: Sorry.

Ms Hodge: No, not at all. So she’d just turned ten?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You were going immediately to prison and she went to live with a friend; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Because she had to move, she was forced to change schools; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve said in your statement that there was some coverage of your case in the press; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Where was it reported?

Janine Powell: I believe it was in the local papers, on the news. I didn’t actually see it myself. It’s just what I’ve been told people had seen it – social media.

Ms Hodge: I think you’ve explained that some of the initial reporting was before your conviction, so after your first hearing in the Magistrates’ Court, and then there was further reporting upon your conviction?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel about that initial reporting of the charges against you?

Janine Powell: It’s hard because you – you’re walking down the street, I was sat in a café waiting to go to another day in the court and there’s people reading the paper and looking over at me and staring, and just – it’s hard knowing that. Sorry.

Ms Hodge: Not at all. No need to apologise.

You have explained that your sentence was of 18 months’ imprisonment. How much of that sentence did you serve?

Janine Powell: It was six months in prison and then six months on the tag.

Ms Hodge: Where were you initially taken?

Janine Powell: Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire.

Ms Hodge: When you were sent to Eastwood Park, where did you spend most of your time during your day in prison?

Janine Powell: In the cell.

Ms Hodge: After about two to three weeks, I think you were transferred; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes, to Downview in Surrey.

Ms Hodge: What were the conditions like at Downview Prison?

Janine Powell: It was a lot harder because you were – they were short-staffed, so you were in your cell more often, like 23 hours a day. You know, it was over Christmas, it was – again it was short-staffed and you had the snow, so they were short-staffed again, because people couldn’t get in, so you were basically spending a lot of time in the cell.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall how much time you spent out of your cell during the weekends, for example?

Janine Powell: At weekends you would have an hour association.

Ms Hodge: Were you able to maintain contact with your children whilst you were in prison?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were they allowed to visit you?

Janine Powell: Yes, but not very frequent because of the distance obviously from Devon up to London.

Ms Hodge: What impact did your transfer to Downview have upon your children’s ability to visit you?

Janine Powell: It was hard. Like I say, they couldn’t visit as regular due to the distance and having to rely on people to bring them to visit.

Ms Hodge: I think you mentioned you were released from prison and upon your release you were required to wear a tag; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: For how long were you made to wear an electronic tag?

Janine Powell: If I recall, that was – again, that was between four and six months – I think it was six months. It’s something – I do forget days and times because I’ve tried to just block it out and move on.

Ms Hodge: In your statement, you’ve mentioned a period of three months. Does that sound correct?

Janine Powell: Right, yeah. Again, it could be three months. It’s just something I’ve just – dates and times are not my strongest point.

Ms Hodge: Did having to wear the tag cause difficulties for you?

Janine Powell: Yes, it was constantly going off at – they had to keep coming round to check that I was in because it was saying that I was not in the building. They would be knocking on the door at 12/2.00 in the morning. Again, it restricted me from going to my daughter’s parents’ evenings and school plays.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described in your statement the efforts that you made to obtain work after your release from prison. What effect did your ability – forgive me, what effect did your conviction have upon your ability to find work?

Janine Powell: It had a big impact. You have to declare obviously that you’ve got a criminal record and then when you try to explain it, you know, it’s a no-no straight away. I couldn’t work with – I wanted to go into midwifery. I’d done my access course. I couldn’t get work in a hospital because of the conviction. I’ve applied for jobs with the elderly, care work and, again, it’s restricted.

Ms Hodge: You eventually left your home in the south-west of England and moved to Durham; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe how you felt at the time when you moved to Durham.

Janine Powell: I just felt like I needed – I needed to get away from everything and start afresh but it just meant I had to leave my children again behind, but I just felt it was for the best.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to, if I can, explore a bit more with you the impact that these events had upon you emotionally and psychologically.

You’ve described in your statement suffering from depression and anxiety; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You have also stated that you did at times self-harm and experienced suicidal thoughts; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You have explained that your young daughter turned ten just two days before you were sentenced.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What impact did these events have upon her?

Janine Powell: A very big impact. She – some of her friends at her new school had discovered that her Mum was in prison, and I didn’t discover it straight away but after a couple of years she’d been self-harming and – yeah, also had a big impact on our relationship.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe how your relationship was affected by your conviction and sentence.

Janine Powell: We were all very close and we just felt like we were just – I think she blamed me for leaving her. We just got to the point where we would just be arguing all the time and falling out and, again, it was just hard to get that relationship back on track. Sorry.

Ms Hodge: Please don’t apologise. Your younger son was not living with you at the time that you were convicted but it appears from your statement you were very close to him.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right? You have explained he was preparing to take his GCSEs when you came under investigation and the prosecution was brought against you.

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And that that caused him considerable distress and worry; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe, please, what the lasting effect of these events have been on your relationship with your younger son.

Janine Powell: Again, we’re not – we’re not as close as we were. We’re not.

Ms Hodge: Your elder son was living with you at the time. He was aged 18; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Because you were sent to prison, he was forced to move into shared accommodation; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: He didn’t return to live with you after you were released; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What impact did this conviction have upon your relationship with him?

Janine Powell: We were still very close but, again, it was hard because he went through a lot and people were attacking him in the street verbally because of – because of me. And, again, he was also – there was also times when he tried to self-harm himself. I had a call because he’d taken an overdose and he was crying to me on the phone.

Ms Hodge: Did you feel that you had been able to support him in the way you would have liked?

Janine Powell: No, because I wasn’t (inaudible).

Ms Hodge: Your conviction was finally overturned on 22 November last year; is that correct?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did that make you feel?

Janine Powell: Relieved. So much relief. I can now or my children can now all move forward and …

Ms Hodge: You have started to move forward; is that right? You’re working as a bar manager in a hotel now?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Which you enjoy?

Janine Powell: I do.

Ms Hodge: And your children have grown up and started to form relationships of their own; is that right?

Janine Powell: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is there anything you would like to say to the Chair which we’ve not covered in the questions I’ve asked you and the answers that you have given this afternoon?

Janine Powell: No.

Ms Hodge: Sir, do you have any questions for Ms Powell?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, no questions for you, Ms Powell, but clearly this has been very difficult for you to come and tell me all this, and I’m extremely grateful that you’ve done it because it is crucially important that I hear from people who have been so badly affected as you have. So thanks again, all right.

Janine Powell: Thank you.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir. That concludes the evidence that we’re going to hear this afternoon.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. I take it we’re going to start again tomorrow at 10.00; is that right, Ms Hodge?

Ms Hodge: That’s right, sir, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Well, thank you everyone who’s helped to facilitate these hybrid hearings as lawyers call them, though I’m never quite sure what the word “hybrid” is supposed to convey in this context. But it is very important that people like Ms Powell who would prefer to give evidence away from the hearing arena has that opportunity. So I’m grateful to all those who have made it possible. We will meet again tomorrow. Thank you.

(2.53 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10.00 am the following day)