Official hearing page

16 February 2022 – Harjinder Butoy, William Graham, Gillian Howard and Karen Wilson

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(10.00 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Before you start, Mr Blake, can I just tell Mr Butoy, in particular, but all other witnesses that when I’m sitting remotely, as opposed to being in the room, they can only see part of my upper body so that when I’m looking down or things like that, I want to reassure them that what I’m doing is reading their witness statements or writing notes about what they are saying, all right?

I can see Mr Butoy is smiling but I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding about that. So thanks very much.

Harjinder Butoy


Questioned by Mr Blake

Mr Blake: I’m Julian Blake and I’m asking questions today on behalf of the chair. Could you give your full name, please?

Harjinder Butoy: Harjinder Butoy.

Mr Blake: Mr Butoy, in front of you, you should have a witness statement and that is dated 31 January of this year, is that right?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can I ask you to turn to the back page or the final page and there’s a statement of truth there and that should have your signature; is that right?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

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

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much. I’m going to start by asking you questions about your background. Can you tell us how old you are?

Harjinder Butoy: 45.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us a little bit about your family life?

Harjinder Butoy: I’m married with three kids.

Mr Blake: How old are your children?

Harjinder Butoy: 22, 21 and 17.

Mr Blake: It’s not a memory test.

What did you do for work before you joined the Post Office?

Harjinder Butoy: I was a production supervisor in a food factory.

Mr Blake: How long did you do that for approximately?

Harjinder Butoy: I did that for nearly 12 years.

Mr Blake: In January 2004 you bought a Post Office branch. Where was that?

Harjinder Butoy: Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

Mr Blake: How much did you pay for that?

Harjinder Butoy: I bought it for just shy of 60,000, I think it was.

Mr Blake: How did you afford to pay for it?

Harjinder Butoy: Borrowed some money off my brother and had some money left over from my redundancy.

Mr Blake: So your brother lent you some money for it and you also had some of your own money?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

Mr Blake: Why did you want to own your own Post Office?

Harjinder Butoy: I was – I worked as a production supervisor for a long time. When I left school I started to work my way up in there and my eldest lad was quite ill with glaucoma and then I was taking a lot time off work and it didn’t feel fair to have all that time off, so I decided to look for a business and the Post Office came up and I took the opportunity.

Mr Blake: On 22 January 2004 you became a subpostmaster; is that right?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: I’m going to ask you about problems you experienced with Horizon. Did you receive training on Horizon?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

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

Harjinder Butoy: It was a one-week training. I went to Leicester for training. It’s like a little classroom, they had the tills there and they were just training us on them. It wasn’t live or anything, it was just internal thing, inside that room.

Mr Blake: How did it go? Were the figures correct?

Harjinder Butoy: Inside, yes, they balanced.

Mr Blake: They balanced?

Harjinder Butoy: We didn’t do major balancing, it was just simple, very simple, basic.

Mr Blake: Was there any other training in your branch?

Harjinder Butoy: When I took over the Post Office it was on a Wednesday. I had a trainer with me Wednesday to Wednesday standing behind my back all the time, every transaction.

Mr Blake: Did that balance?

Harjinder Butoy: No, not on my first week.

Mr Blake: So while the training was taking place, the figures didn’t balance?

Harjinder Butoy: No.

Mr Blake: Did you have a discussion about that with the trainer at all?

Harjinder Butoy: Well, I asked him when we balanced, I said “Well, what do I do now?” He said “You’re £500 short, you have to put it in”. And I looked at him, thinking nothing much of it then, and I said “Why do I need to do it, you’ve been watching me every transaction”, and we did the balance together, virtually – well I was doing it, he was watching me and he admitted there’s nothing wrong with it. He goes “Yeah, but the system says you’re short 500, you have to put it in”.

Mr Blake: What did you think about that?

Harjinder Butoy: Now – then, it was like I was a bit confused and I was thinking “Okay, then”, he said “Put it in, put it in”, but I didn’t know all of it, how it actually balanced, you see, and I thought I might have made a simple mistake, and he said “Maybe next week, you’ll find that 500”. But he didn’t help me to say: let’s have a look what’s happening.

Mr Blake: We know that you had the problem audit in 2007 but between 2004 and 2007 did you have any issues with Horizon?

Harjinder Butoy: No. With the audits or the Horizon?

Mr Blake: Yes.

Harjinder Butoy: With the …

Mr Blake: With the audits.

Harjinder Butoy: No, the audits were fine.

Mr Blake: How was Horizon working for you?

Harjinder Butoy: Horizon was up and down every week.

Mr Blake: When you say up and down, do you mean –

Harjinder Butoy: Discrepancies.

Mr Blake: Were they big or were they small?

Harjinder Butoy: At the start they were like £10, £5, then we just used to keep the money on one side, if it was up because I knew the following week wasn’t going to be very promising. So going up to like £100, £200. We did ring the help desk a few times but I might as well not ring them. They weren’t interested.

Mr Blake: When you say they weren’t interested, how did you form that opinion? What were the discussions between you and the helpline?

Harjinder Butoy: The voice on the phone as well. I mean, some days we used to roll over – I don’t know what the system’s like now but then, when we used to roll over, it used to take half-an-hour, 40 minutes for it to roll over after you’d done your stocktake, and then some days you have to roll it over again, because there was some discrepancies and then you have to go and check it again.

By that time it could be 7.30/8 o’clock and then they are moaning because “Why you ringing now for, we’re closing in a bit”, you know. They weren’t interested.

Mr Blake: So moving to the audit and investigation in 2007, you’ve said that the audits were okay up until that point?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes, I even had an audit one week prior that.

Mr Blake: So one week prior to the problem audit, you actually had another audit?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes, and he said everything’s fine, signed me off.

Mr Blake: The problem audit, I think, was 24 April of that year?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us a bit about that day. How many people turned up?

Harjinder Butoy: There’s four people turned up and he walked inside and he says – they identified themselves and they said “We’re doing an audit”, and I was like “You just did one last week”. And he goes “Yes, we’re just doing another one”, and I didn’t think nothing of it. I said “Get on with it”. I don’t like the audits because they shut your Post Office down while they do the audits, so you’re losing customers there automatically.

So I let him carry on with it but then I went back to him about 20 minutes later and says “Why are there so many for?” They said “It’s a full audit and a security audit”.

Mr Blake: So were they all auditors or were some of them security people?

Harjinder Butoy: There was two security people and they said they’re doing the security audit. When they said that I thought they just like checking the security of the premises.

Mr Blake: Can you describe the conversation you had with them?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s it, after that, and then I just let them get on with it.

Mr Blake: Did there come a point where they gave you a figure for how much they thought was missing?

Harjinder Butoy: About two hours later, two and a half hours later they come in to my house with CID standing there, and I was thinking what’s going on here and they says “There’s £208,000 missing”, and, like, I was just shocked.

Mr Blake: So you said they arrived with CID, with the police, is that?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

Mr Blake: That was the investigators?

Harjinder Butoy: Yeah.

Mr Blake: Did the auditors give you a different figure, though? Did the auditors – I think you have said in your statement, you referred to, I think, around £2,500 that was missing?

Harjinder Butoy: That was one of the counts.

Mr Blake: Yes.

Harjinder Butoy: Then they said in total there was 208,000.

Mr Blake: That was the investigators that gave you that figure?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: At some point, you ended up in the police station, I think?

Harjinder Butoy: They arrested me straight away. I didn’t even get a chance to talk. It happened so quick, I was just confused.

Mr Blake: You say they arrested you. Did you go in a police car?

Harjinder Butoy: No, I was in a plain car, CID that came to arrest me, and they come to arrest me and they says, while they were walking to the car, they said “We’re not going to handcuff you, we’ll take you to the car”, and then when they sat me in the car they said “We don’t know what’s happening, all we’ve been told by the Post Office is to arrest you, take you to custody, and then you’re going to have to wait for them to come”.

Mr Blake: Were you on your own at that time?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

Mr Blake: Did anybody see you being taken away by the police?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes, customers.

Mr Blake: And how did you feel?

Harjinder Butoy: I felt quite ashamed, truthfully.

Mr Blake: How long were you at the police station for?

Harjinder Butoy: I was there virtually all day. They arrested me about 11 o’clock. I think I got home about 6.30/7 o’clock in the evening.

Mr Blake: Did you have a lawyer?

Harjinder Butoy: I had the duty solicitor.

Mr Blake: At some stage you were interviewed. Who carried out that interview?

Harjinder Butoy: The auditors.

Mr Blake: How was the interview for you?

Harjinder Butoy: It [was] quite terrible. They were just chucking questions on me that I couldn’t answer straight away because I didn’t know what was going on and I kept telling them “Please go back and check the audit because it’s too much money to go missing”, and I kept insisting “I had an audit the week before that but your date’s past that”. I said “I had an audit before that, they said everything was okay”.

Mr Blake: After that experience in the police station, I think you went home. What had happened to the home and your shop?

Harjinder Butoy: While I was that the police station they said, right, they put me on bail, and they didn’t say anything else after that. I went home and then that’s the time when I realised, when I went home, that they shut the whole Post Office down, took everything out of there and closed it, and then they searched my house, took money from my house, took bank statements from my house that I didn’t know anything about until my wife told me when I got home.

Mr Blake: By that time, you had been told that the shortfall was about £200,000?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: That’s a vast figure, certainly bigger than some of the figures we’ve heard about. What seemed to be the issue? What were you thinking about that figure?

Harjinder Butoy: I was just confused because – I know I had problems with the Horizon system but the figures was nowhere near that figure.

Mr Blake: Were you given any justification for that figure, any reason for it?

Harjinder Butoy: No. They kept saying that – in the interview they kept saying “Have you got it, have you got it, can you put it back in?” I’m thinking “No, I haven’t got it”. You know, “I can’t put it back in and I don’t know what you’re talking about, to start off with”.

Mr Blake: I’m going to move on to the prosecution. You were summonsed to appear in the Magistrates’ Court on 10 October 2007. Can you tell us what you were charged with?

Harjinder Butoy: In the Magistrates’ they were trying to charge me for 11 counts of theft and I pleaded not guilty.

Mr Blake: What did you feel on receiving that summons to court?

Harjinder Butoy: Sorry?

Mr Blake: Was it a surprise for you to receive the summons?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes. That’s when I started panicking.

Mr Blake: I think around that time you had been suspended already from the Post Office?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: It went to the Crown Court, and which Crown Court was that?

Harjinder Butoy: Nottingham Crown Court.

Mr Blake: You are entered a plea there. Again, you pleaded not guilty. Your trial was in September 2008?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: You had been suspended and terminated, I think, for about a year by then?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: What did you say about Horizon in your case?

Harjinder Butoy: I was asked – all the way through I was asking the question with them “It’s not me who stole the money, are you sure that Horizon’s correct?” I kept asking and pushing that all the way through.

Mr Blake: What were you told by the Post Office?

Harjinder Butoy: There’s nothing wrong with Horizon; 100 per cent robust.

Mr Blake: Did you seek disclosure?

Harjinder Butoy: We asked for it. That’s why my court case got delayed by a couple of weeks because they wouldn’t give the evidence or the paperwork to my solicitor. And then eventually they just brought a spreadsheet out saying, here, and it meant nothing.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard over the past couple of days about plea bargains or offers of lesser pleas. Were you offered one?

Harjinder Butoy: Second day in my trial I was offered it. My solicitors took me to one room. I just shook my head at him and saying “I can’t believe you come and ask me this, how can you plead guilty, when you ain’t done nothing?”

Mr Blake: What was the offer?

Harjinder Butoy: I think it was 25 per cent off my sentence if I pleaded guilty.

Mr Blake: To which offence? Was it false accounting or …

Harjinder Butoy: To theft itself.

Mr Blake: Okay. You were found guilty. How did you feel when the verdict came in?

Harjinder Butoy: All the way through the weeks I kept telling my wife that “Don’t worry, everything would be all right, hopefully the jury would be on my side”. That’s all I kept saying to myself. That’s the only thing I was relying on because I couldn’t prove myself because they were insisting that the Horizon was amazing and it was just – even on the day I woke up, went down and thought “I’ll be okay”. And then when the jury come out and the first count they said “not guilty”, I was really happy but then they started to say, second count, “guilty”, third count, “guilty”, and I just fell apart.

Mr Blake: Had you prepared yourself for that verdict?

Harjinder Butoy: I weren’t prepared for it.

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

Harjinder Butoy: Three years, three months.

Mr Blake: Three years, three months. And that conviction was overturned in April of this year?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: Of last year, sorry. Over three years – I mean, is that one of the larger sentences you are aware of in relation to Horizon?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: Were there other orders like a confiscation order?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes, there was a confiscation order.

Mr Blake: Do you remember what that was about?

Harjinder Butoy: I think it was about just over 60,000.

Mr Blake: That you had to pay back?

Harjinder Butoy: That even confused me. If they’d charged me with 208,000 and they only wanted 60,000 back – I couldn’t figure that out.

Mr Blake: I’m going to ask you about your experience in prison. I appreciate it may be difficult. When you were taken down to the cells in the court house, how did you feel at that stage?

Harjinder Butoy: Life got torn apart. As soon as they says “You’re guilty, guilty”, and then they handcuffed me and took me down, I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t even know where I was. I didn’t know where my mind was. I was just falling apart.

Mr Blake: Where were you taken at first?

Harjinder Butoy: To Nottingham.

Mr Blake: To Nottingham?

Harjinder Butoy: Prison.

Mr Blake: What category prison is that?

Harjinder Butoy: A/B.

Mr Blake: How long were you there for?

Harjinder Butoy: I was there for six weeks until I got sentenced.

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

Harjinder Butoy: It was terrible, especially when you ain’t done nothing. All I kept saying is, “How did I end up here?” just thinking about the family.

Mr Blake: Was that in between the verdict and your sentencing that you were in that prison?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes. Then I stayed an extra three weeks after I got sentenced for them to move me to a different prison.

Mr Blake: And at some stage you were transferred to an open prison?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: Which prison was that?

Harjinder Butoy: HMP Boston.

Mr Blake: How was your health in prison?

Harjinder Butoy: It was terrible. I lost just over six stones in weight. I was just stressed every day.

Mr Blake: And how were your family dealing with the situation?

Harjinder Butoy: Not good. The day I got sentenced, we shut the business straight away and my wife and the three children moved to Chesterfield with my parents because we had no business left. It was gone. She wouldn’t be able to run it on her own.

Mr Blake: So your wife and family had to move away out of the home?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

Mr Blake: I’m going to talk about the impact or ask you questions about the impact, both financial and personal. I’ll start with financial. You’ve said that there was a confiscation order, I think, in the region of £61,000. How did you pay for that?

Harjinder Butoy: I had some money in the bank which the Post Office seized and I kept telling them that isn’t the Post Office money. I sold a property for that. In Derby I sold a property and I was going to pay my brother back with that, but they weren’t interested. Then my father and my mother helped me with the rest of the money towards it.

Mr Blake: At some stage, I think you declared bankruptcy; is that right?

Harjinder Butoy: That’s right.

Mr Blake: And why did you do that?

Harjinder Butoy: Because while I was running the business, I had VAT and tax people coming after me. They even sent me a letter to prison and I couldn’t afford to pay it. I had nothing left.

Mr Blake: We heard yesterday about some other difficulties people experienced with bankruptcy. Did you experience any differences with, for example, a bank account?

Harjinder Butoy: Everything, yes. I was bankrupt for 12 months and then the liquidators took me back to court and they wanted to bankrupt me for another further 12 years, but the judge said, “12 years is a bit harsh, we’ll do ten years” and I thought even ten years was harsh. And I says to him, “Why you doing this for?” They says, “Because your crime”. I says, “But I know I haven’t done” – you know, my crime, I was not guilty. They said, “Yes but the court found you guilty, so ten years is fair”.

Mr Blake: Could you have your own bank account?

Harjinder Butoy: I used to have a bank account, I used to have a business account, but then when the Post Office seized it, I actually – when I came back out of prison, because I was signing on I needed a bank account, and I went to my old bank, Lloyds TSB, and they says – I asked them, “Can I reopen up a new bank account?” and they says, “No, not in this branch” and I was very shocked.

Mr Blake: You said earlier that you had to borrow money in order to actually buy the Post Office.

Harjinder Butoy: Yes.

Mr Blake: What happened to the money you owed your brother?

Harjinder Butoy: I’ve not paid him back yet.

Mr Blake: And the Post Office, what happened to that? Did it close? Did you sell it?

Harjinder Butoy: We sold it as a non-running business at a complete loss.

Mr Blake: How about a job? Could you get a job afterwards?

Harjinder Butoy: I’ve been applying for jobs ever since I left prison but there’s no luck at all.

Mr Blake: Moving on to personal impact, what’s been the psychological impact on you, do you think, of all this experience?

Harjinder Butoy: Everything’s just fallen apart for me. I got no confidence in myself anymore.

Mr Blake: Do people know about the conviction?

Harjinder Butoy: Yes, everybody did.

Mr Blake: Was it in the newspapers?

Harjinder Butoy: In the newspapers, local newspaper. I’m originally from Derby, so it went to that newspaper as well, and it covered from Derby to Derbyshire, including Nottinghamshire. Everybody knew about it.

Mr Blake: How were you treated by people?

Harjinder Butoy: They just all talked behind your back, “He’s been found guilty, he’s done it”.

Mr Blake: Could you stay living where you were?

Harjinder Butoy: No, we moved out. I lost – I had a very good reputation there. The Post Office, I actually enjoyed working in there on the shop side. It was a run-down business, we brought it all up. Me and my wife worked very hard with it. We had a very good reputation with the public and then I just lost it by a click.

Mr Blake: Can you describe the impact on your wife and on your children?

Harjinder Butoy: It wasn’t safe for them to stay there after I was found guilty. So we decided to shut the business down straight away and my family helped my wife and kids move out the same day.

Mr Blake: And what about the impact of you going to prison on them?

Harjinder Butoy: Same with me and them. We all got destroyed. We all fell apart.

Mr Blake: A question that’s been asked of other witnesses is what do you want from the Post Office?

Harjinder Butoy: I want somebody to be charged on their side. Why can’t they be? The evidence has come out and it’s there. Why did they hide it all? Even if they come out with they found the problem ten years ago, say there was a fault, they should have come out then. It didn’t need us lot to keep fighting and try pushing them for the evidence. They should – they knew it was there. Why didn’t they tell us? I want somebody to go in prison.

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

Harjinder Butoy: No.

Mr Blake: Sir, do you have any questions?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t, thank you very much.

Mr Butoy, I’m very grateful for you having come and answered Mr Blake’s questions. I know how difficult that can be certainly in parts; so, again, thank you very much.

Harjinder Butoy: Thank you.

Mr Blake: Sir, the next witness is Mr Graham. Perhaps we’ll take a ten-minute break.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, certainly.

(10.24 am)

(A short break)

(10.41 am)

Mr Blake: Thank you, Chair. We’re going to hear from Mr Graham now.

William Graham


Questioned by Mr Blake

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

William Graham: Yes, it’s William David Graham.

Mr Blake: Mr Graham, as you know, my name’s Julian Blake and I’m asking questions today on behalf of the Chair. In front of you, you should hopefully have a witness statement that is dated 12 January of this year; is that right?

William Graham: That’s correct, yes.

Mr Blake: Can I ask you to turn to the final page of that witness statement and that should have your signature on it; is that right?

William Graham: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: Is it true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

William Graham: It is.

Mr Blake: I’m going to start by asking you a little bit about your background. Probably the most difficult question first: can you describe your personality before this all began? What kind of person were you?

William Graham: I was happy-go-lucky. Yeah, I was sort of, you know, enjoyed a party, enjoyed my family, had – you know, I was life and soul of the party, you know.

Mr Blake: Where did you grow up?

William Graham: In Newcastle.

Mr Blake: What did you do for work before the Post Office?

William Graham: Well, I trained to be – I trained at the Newcastle College of Art and Technology to become a chef. However, I went down the other side of it where I was on more the food service side and did various jobs.

Mr Blake: You got married in 1996; is that right?

William Graham: I did, yes.

Mr Blake: Did you have children?

William Graham: I’ve got two children. They’re now 23 and 19 on Sunday, the second.

Mr Blake: You have an interesting background, in that we spoke at the opening, Mr Beer’s opening, about people who had a close association with the Post Office.

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: You started as a trainee at the Post Office in 1992; is that right?

William Graham: That’s correct, yes. I worked at Bexleyheath counter, worked in a main branch office, you know, just general serving. I used a computer system there, which was an old computer system but it was more of a sort of an adding machine, basically. It was just ins and outs. It was called Echo.

Mr Blake: At one stage you became a training manager; is that right?

William Graham: I did. Yeah, I became – I worked my way from the office, I went to become an agency trainer, which is training subpostmasters, and then applied for a job as a training manager, which is basically to manage a group of trainers and also to teach people counter skills for new entrants coming into the Post Office.

Mr Blake: I think we heard from the last witness that he received training both at the Post Office but also in branch?

William Graham: Mm-hm.

Mr Blake: Where did you carry out your training?

William Graham: Well, when I was an agency trainer, I carried out my training on the job in the office. We used to spend two and a half weeks with the postmaster in the office, back in the day. Obviously, as far as I’m aware, that’s shorter now. But you used to sit there behind them at the counter and, as people came in, you taught them how to process a particular transaction. But that was all predominantly on a manual system, on a paper-based system.

Mr Blake: Did you train on Horizon?

William Graham: I did, yes. Towards the end of my work for the Post Office, before I took redundancy, I used to do classroom-based training on Horizon.

Mr Blake: Were you aware of any problems with Horizon?

William Graham: Not at that – no. I mean, the system we used in the training office was a non-live situation. It was just a basic – a central processing unit with the program on it, which was cleared down at the end of every session. So it was never reported anywhere. It was just – it was a tool to show people how to produce reports.

Mr Blake: How did you end up working in a Post Office branch?

William Graham: What, you mean, as in this office branch?

Mr Blake: Afterwards?

William Graham: Yeah, I took redundancy from the Post Office. They were offering a fair deal for people to take and then I was approached by an area manager to say that a subpostmaster was due to take over this office, it was a brand new office, and would I be interested in managing it.

Mr Blake: I think that was 1 November 2002; is that right?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: Which Post Office branch was that?

William Graham: That was Riverhead Post Office Sevenoaks.

Mr Blake: Did you have a salary from that job?

William Graham: It was – basically, the Post Office paid the subpostmaster and they paid me the salary of the office. So whatever the office was getting in, I was paid. He was getting – obviously, he was making money from the footfall in his shop, and that sort of thing, and he was happy, he paid for the refit of the office but the actual salary of the Post Office came to me.

Mr Blake: Was that around £54,000?

William Graham: It started – when I first worked there, it was – it started about 12, and over the years I built up the business and went around, sort of, local businesses sort of inviting them to do their work with us, you know, got a good rapport with a lot of the businesses. So we, you know, increased the business from 12 grand a year to about 54/55 grand a year.

Mr Blake: What training did you receive on taking up that job?

William Graham: I was – I was – wasn’t given any specific training because I’d just come out of the Post Office itself. So I knew – you know, if I needed training, there’s a problem with the Post Office because I was a trainer. So I basically – I had someone there for a couple of days just to oversee the transition, the opening of the office but, other than that, I just carried on.

Mr Blake: Was that Horizon offline?

William Graham: The first Horizon, yes.

Mr Blake: At some point it transitioned to Horizon Online, in your branch?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: I’d like to talk about the problems you experienced with Horizon. Do you remember approximately when the problems started?

William Graham: It’s difficult to say because I don’t – there was losses – you know, you always – it was never – you never balanced to zero, you know. There was always a little fluctuation, you know, because I’ve added some stamps up wrong or you’ve done something – put something in wrong. So there was, you know, small losses but it’s when the losses are – you know, dates for me, because of all of this have – they’re in there but I they don’t know when to come out. It’s, sort of, 2003/2004 that, you know, there started to be bigger discrepancies.

Mr Blake: When you had the smaller discrepancies, did you call the helpline at all?

William Graham: Not the smaller ones, no. It’s when the discrepancies got larger. The smaller ones, basically it was my agreement with the postmaster that any losses the office incurred, they were my losses because then no-one else has got access to it, they didn’t have access to the actual Post Office, it was just me with the key. So any losses that occurred in the office was all down to me.

Mr Blake: When there was a loss significant enough for you to call the helpline, did it help?

William Graham: Not really because, you know, they’re there – I mean, you know, the helpline are in a little office, I think, in Manchester, in Salford, and they can’t see what’s in the office. You can explain as much as you can but there’s very little. I mean, they can say “Put it into a suspense account and wait to see if anything comes back” but, at which time, if it doesn’t come back, then you are liable to make good.

Mr Blake: How did you pay those smaller amounts of shortfalls?

William Graham: Basically straight out of my pocket, you know. If it was, you know, a couple of hundred pound – I mean, it was – you know, it was a case of if I wanted to roll over into the next balance period, that loss had to be cleared. So it was a case of taking money out of my wallet and putting it into the Post Office.

Mr Blake: I want to take things chronologically in terms of the more significant shortfalls. In 2004, I think you experienced a shortfall of around £5,000; is that right?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: Was that significantly bigger than before?

William Graham: It was, yes. I mean, that was one that I didn’t have that money. I didn’t have that money to pay, although, you know, I mean, the helpline said “It is your office, it is – you know, you are responsible, so you have to pay it”, and I said I wasn’t in the position to pay it and they came up with an arrangement that over a 12-month period they’d deduct X amount from my salary that came through and they’d – you know, to bring the loss down to zero.

Mr Blake: By 2008, you had experienced a shortfall in the region of £50,000.

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: Did you report that one?

William Graham: I didn’t. I didn’t purely and – I know that with that 50 – you know, 50,000-whatever, I was never able I was never going to be able to afford – you know, I mean, that was my whole salary for a year. You know, if they say to me right “We’re going to take the money off over the next 12 months”, I’m screwed, basically, because that was my earnings.

That was how I put food on the table for my wife and children and there was – you know, there’s no way I could report it. So I was hoping that it was just an error, you know, maybe I’d inputted something in incorrectly. You know, I’d done it before. You know, everyone’s done it. You know, when it’s a case of pressing the keypad, it’s easy, you know, if someone pays in, say, £1,000, it’s quite easy to put £10,000 in or £100. It could be either way, you know, and it’s just human error. So that’s what I’d hoped this was.

Mr Blake: As the weeks went by, how did you feel?

William Graham: I just – I was dreading anyone coming in to check my accounts because, of course, I was making the accounts look right because, if I didn’t, I’d lose my livelihood, I’d lose my job, you know, and it was just – at that point it just – it was difficult because, you know, my wife’s at home with the kids. You know, they were – at that time, they was 10 and 6 and I’m wondering how the hell I’m going to get out of this, you know.

You know, what is causing this to happen, you know? Where is the error? The error wasn’t coming back. Normally, if you got an error it came back within two or three weeks or if you’d mis – misinterpreted a figure, you found it the next week. But this wasn’t, just didn’t seem coming back.

The stress of this, you know, I wasn’t sleeping I wasn’t – you know, I was worried about it. Every night I’d go and it was in the back of my head, you know, where is it? What’s going to happen, worrying about if the audit team come in.

Mr Blake: There came a time when you had a knock on the door from the auditors.

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: You were audited in January 2009.

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us a little bit about the audit?

William Graham: Yes. I mean, I actually got – I was sitting outside in the car and I got a phonecall from a guy in the shop saying “There’s two people here from the Post Office”, and bear mind this was the first audit I’d ever had. I mean, I’d been there seven years. They are supposed to do audits every two or three years, but this was the first audit I’d had, and I thought: well, this is it, this is it; they’re either going to find where the problem is or, you know, or they’re going to find me out and that’s it.

Mr Blake: Do you remember how much of a shortfall they identified?

William Graham: I think – I mean, I’ve got it written. It was 65,000 –

Mr Blake: In the region of 65,000?

William Graham: 65,000, yes.

Mr Blake: Can you remember discussions that took place with the auditors about that?

William Graham: Yes, they said to me they’re going to have to phone the investigations team and, within an hour, the investigations team were down there. They had discussions amongst themselves and, at which time, the investigation guy took me to the back of the office to have a chat: “Is there anything you want to tell us? Where’s the money? Why did you take the money? Did you need it for something? Were you in debt?” You know, all these things and these were just sort of questions – this wasn’t any – under any sort of – or, you know, there was no –

Mr Blake: Not under a caution or any formal interview?

William Graham: No, this was just a conversation.

Mr Blake: What did you say to them?

William Graham: I said “There’s got to have been something wrong”. You know, I’ve said it all the way, if you look at my police interview – my interviews with them, official interviews, it was always “There’s something wrong with the system. There has to be because there’s no way have I taken that”. Yes, I inflated – and, as soon as I said that, “Yes, I’ve inflated the figures to make the balance right, I admit to that and that was wrong”. But I found no other way of dealing with it, it was just that’s what I had to do, you know. I mean, for – you know, for the sake of my family, it was just to keep my work, keep my job.

Mr Blake: On 11 February 2009 you ended up in the police station. How did you end up there?

William Graham: Was that for the interview?

Mr Blake: Yes.

William Graham: Yeah. I mean, when they went to – when they done the chat with me there they said they want to come and look at my house, you know, and they came to look – they looked at a couple of rooms, commented on the size of my television, said “That must have been expensive”, and then they arranged with the Bexleyheath Police Station to use one of their interview rooms.

I wasn’t interviewed by the police it was them, the two investigators, and they interviewed me – I can’t – I mean, it must have been under caution but memories of – it was just a blur. They were, sort of, leading me to say – not leading me, they were sort of suggesting that I’d taken the money, you know, “Why did you take the money? You know, you must have stole it because it can’t be any other reason, the money’s not there”.

Mr Blake: Were you legally represented at that stage?

William Graham: I wasn’t, no. I cannot remember whether they – I mean, I think I’ve said I wasn’t given the opportunity but I can’t remember ever being given the opportunity for that.

Mr Blake: How did you feel while you were being interviewed?

William Graham: I was – it was awful. I mean, they were trying to – I mean, I knew these – I mean, I’ve – I knew these people that were interviewing me. I knew the investigators, I knew the – you know, all of them, because I used to work for the Post Office. I didn’t know them personally but it was probably a lot more relaxed than it maybe was with some other people who have had this because they probably have never met them before. But I knew, you know.

But there was – it was just a case of they were egging me to say I took the money, you know, “Might as well tell us now”, you know.

Mr Blake: Did they give you the impression that they knew about your history with the Post Office?

William Graham: Oh, they knew. They knew me, yes. They knew I’ve been in the Post Office for a number of years, yeah.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the actual prosecution, on 27 April 2009 I think you were summonsed to court?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: Which court was that?

William Graham: That was at Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court.

Mr Blake: I think you appeared there on 16 June 2009?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: What were you charged with?

William Graham: I was charged with theft and two counts of false accounting.

Mr Blake: Were you represented at that stage?

William Graham: I was, yeah. Yeah, I had a solicitor.

Mr Blake: You entered not guilty pleas?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: You appeared in the Crown Court on 24 January 2011 –

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: – for a trial?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: That’s a very long period. How was the wait between your court appearance and your actual trial?

William Graham: It was – oh, it was horrendous – I mean, the first – the way – I mean, from when I – when the incident happened and to the first court case, I didn’t know anything. You know, I didn’t know what was going on at any point because the Post Office weren’t speaking to me because I wasn’t the subpostmaster. They wouldn’t speak to me.

Then I got the first summons and then just waiting – I think they delayed it. There was an earlier date but, for some reason, the Post Office – someone in the Post Office couldn’t be there, something like – recollection in the back of my mind, and it was just a case of, you know, they were slowly pulling the knife out. It just felt that. It was just horrendous for me and my wife. My children didn’t know anything about this, at this point.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard mention of plea bargains and accepting lesser pleas. Was that something that was offered to you?

William Graham: It was, yeah. We were sat there – I was sat there in a room with my father-in-law and my wife, and my barrister came in and he basically – he said the Post Office, their witness wasn’t available at the court on that day and they said that they are willing to accept that if I plead guilty to the false accounting they will set aside the theft charge.

I asked what that meant, you know, and he said “Well, they’ll drop that charge and there’s lesser chance of you getting a custodial sentence”. My barrister mentioned the fact that because I worked for the Post Office before, because I was a training manager, because I was a trainer, they would feed off that. If it went to – because, you know, I was wondering whether that was the best way to do it, pleading guilty, but it was said that – he’d advised us to take the plea because “They’ll use the fact that you were a trainer for the Post Office against you because of your experience”, and he said “This is probably the best deal you can get”. He wouldn’t tell me to do it. He said “I would advise”.

Mr Blake: Did you?

William Graham: And I did.

Mr Blake: So you pleaded guilty to false accounting?

William Graham: Pleaded guilty to false accounting and the other (unclear), yes.

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

William Graham: Because of my memory …

Mr Blake: A suspended sentence of imprisonment for 32 weeks?

William Graham: That’s correct, yes, yes. I mean, when that was – I mean, the way they say it in the court, the judges, it was – I can’t remember very much about that day. All I can remember is, when they said the 32 weeks in prison, and there was a gap, I could just hear my wife scream. It was that – I told her I’d never get like this.

I was – because there was such a delay between the two, between him sort of telling me it was suspended, I – both of us thought that I was going down, and then, of course, he suspended the sentence and the relief for me was – sorry.

Mr Blake: That’s okay. Please, there’s absolutely no rush. If you would like to take a break, we can.

William Graham: No, I’ll carry on. I’ll carry on, yes. I vowed not to do this. I tried to be …

Yeah, and it was just the thought of not – you know, the thought of not seeing your kids and, you know, knowing my wife’s going to be struggling to – you know, it was just hell. But I got to go home that night and that was – yeah, I justified the – you know, taking the deal with the fact that I could go home.

Mr Blake: Part of your sentence included an unpaid work requirement.

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: What did you do for that?

William Graham: I got – I mean, I was quite fortunate, probably, because I know a lot of people have to work in the streets and work in the parks and what, but I got a job, I got told to work in a charity shop. Obviously, they knew why I was there but it was never brought up in conversation. They just signed the, sort of, paperwork at the end of the day and I worked in the back, you know, sorting through charity donations, you know, which I didn’t – you know, that wasn’t – it was quite rewarding that I was actually doing something, you know.

But always in the back of my mind, I shouldn’t be here anyway but, obviously, I’d pleaded guilty so, therefore, in everyone’s mind I was guilty.

Mr Blake: I’m going to ask you about the impact on you, the financial impact and personal impact –

Sir Wyn Williams: Can I just ask one or two questions to clarify some ambiguities I’ve got in my mind.

Mr Blake: Absolutely.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Graham, I’d just like to ask you for a little bit more detail, if I may, about the process which led to you accepting a plea bargain, all right?

William Graham: Mm-hm.

Sir Wyn Williams: So I understand that there was a long delay between you first appearing in the Magistrates’ Court and then appearing and in the Crown Court.

William Graham: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: That date in January – I think 11 January – you told me about, was that the day on which your trial was due to begin or was this some intermediate hearing?

William Graham: No, that was ten minutes before – as far as I – I mean, I can’t – as far as I remember, that was the actual ten minutes before my court case was being heard.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, fine. So, essentially, the first time you heard about the possibility of a deal was literally minutes before the case was going to start; is that right?

William Graham: That’s correct, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, and then you obviously discussed it with your lawyers, and I understand that, and you decided to accept the deal. Then, I see from your statement that this was explained to the judge and he took a little while before he approved it; is that correct? You talk about him going into his room and then coming back.

William Graham: Yes, that was after. That’s after I pleaded guilty to the false accounting. He then took quite a while to come back with the actual sentence.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, that’s what I wanted to explore with you. So the sentence actually took place on the same day that you agreed to plead guilty. Have I got that right?

William Graham: That’s correct, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So the whole thing, in effect, one minute you were going to stand trial and maintain your innocence and then, within hours, it’s all over, effectively?

William Graham: Within one hour.

Sir Wyn Williams: Have I got that right?

William Graham: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay. Thank you very much.

Mr Blake: Financial impact. We’ve heard that you received over £50,000 a year from the Post Office.

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: What happened to that?

William Graham: Well, that was gone. It was – I had to sign on because I didn’t know what was happening. It was a case of, you know, because I was so in the dark about what was going on with the Post Office and the subpostmaster because neither would speak to me, because the subpostmaster saw, you know, someone he put in place – he’s been told, and I heard this when I visited the office – didn’t visit the office, we visited the area, they were being fed the line from the Post Office that there’s no other explanation, he stole the money.

So it was a case of, you know, waiting to see what was happening. So I had to sign on. You know, when I signed on it was, you know, you’re signing on ready for work and I explained to them, you know, the situation and they went – well, you know they were basically finding – trying to get me to take a job, obviously, you know, but it was very difficult when I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what was happening in the future.

Eventually, I went on to employment support allowance, which wasn’t a sort of a looking for work allowance, it was an allowance, I suppose – same amount of money but it was when you’re getting benefit but you’re unable to work.

Mr Blake: Having been convicted, did it make it more difficult to find work?

William Graham: Without a doubt. You know, a lot of work – I mean, yes, I’d done catering back in my very early days but it’s not something, you know, 20 years later, you can just drop back into. It’s something you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. So that was no good. It was just a case of doing, you know, looking for work that didn’t require you to have a CRB check.

I got told to go for jobs, like, I was offered at one point to go for a job at Build-A-Bear. You know, that’s a 45-year old man working in Build-A-Bear, I didn’t feel personally comfortable with that and, because I didn’t feel comfortable with it, I actually had, in that month, I had my benefit stopped because I didn’t go for that job and it was a sort of – that was, you know.

It was very difficult. I mean, going from you know £4,000, £5,000 a month to getting, what was it, £180 a fortnight, you know, it’s horrendous. I mean, we got to one point, you know – I remember we had a mortgage, you know, which was being helped, that was actually – the interest of that was being paid for by the DWP, which I’m very grateful for. However, when I went up to Employment Support Allowance, for some reason it stopped, but I didn’t know it stopped. They didn’t write to me to say it stopped. The mortgage company didn’t write to me. I suddenly found myself in debt with the mortgage company.

We had to sell. It was a repayment mortgage and we had an insurance policy with it, obviously to help pay when it come to the end of the mortgage, like an endowment, I think it was called. I had to sell that to raise funds.

Mr Blake: You talk about debt. Did you owe money to the Post Office?

William Graham: I didn’t, no, because the postmaster paid – he wanted to keep the office open, obviously, so he immediately, from what I gather, paid the Post Office that money.

Mr Blake: What about the costs of the prosecution and the –

William Graham: I was – I had, I think, £3,600 of court costs, somewhere in that region, which I had to beg, borrow and steal – no, not steal, it’s the old saying – but beg and borrow to be in a position to pay that.

Mr Blake: Was there a proceeds of crime order in your case?

William Graham: There wasn’t, no.

Mr Blake: Because you didn’t have a contractual relationship with the Post Office –

William Graham: No.

Mr Blake: – is that right?

William Graham: Yes.

Mr Blake: Moving on to the personal impact, what was the impact on your mental health?

William Graham: I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed with depression because – I just felt worthless. I felt absolutely – you know, I mean, I got a wife and child at home. My children – sorry, wife and children at home. I couldn’t provide for them. I couldn’t give them what they – you know, I mean, my daughter’s going through, you know, one – which I’ll not go into, but one has a medical condition and I had to put that facade of being – in front of them, of being in control when, in fact, when they’d gone to bed or when they’d gone to school, it went.

It was – I just – I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how we were going to keep the house. You know, the mortgage company were threatening to repossess the house. They actually had a court date to repossess the house. Thankfully, we got in touch with the DWP because they had stopped the payments when they shouldn’t have, and they agreed – I don’t know if it was two or three days before the court hearing, they agreed to pay that money and they got a suspended – which still hangs over my head now.

I’ve got a suspended repossession order on my house. So if I miss a payment or a couple of payments, they can apply to the court to just take the house and it’s still in my mind now. I’ve not – it’s a repayment mortgage, I’ve got no insurance policy with it so, in four years/five years’ time, when that mortgage is due to finish, I have – obviously, if I get something from the Post Office, then I’ll be able to pay that but, otherwise, I’m going to have to sell the house.

Mr Blake: What about relations with friends? Was it in the newspapers?

William Graham: It was in the newspapers. You know, I went to visit the area with my wife and we were basically told “We shouldn’t be speaking to you”. “We shouldn’t talk to you” or “we shouldn’t be seen to be talking to you”, you know. Anyone I had on Facebook and, sort of, social media, anything like that, immediately went. As soon as I’d been accused of theft, not even found guilty of anything, accused of theft, they’d gone. It was all my old, sort of, customers I had on there and it was, you know, this is the sort of relationship I had with my customers. It was – we were on friends’ list. I had very few people on my, sort of, Facebook-type thing but I had customers on there and, you know, we were – and they just – you know, we were –

I just felt worthless. I felt worthless to my family. I felt, you know, they all saw me as a guilty person and, on paper, I was, so …

Mr Blake: How did your wife cope?

William Graham: She’s stronger than me because, you know, we’ve got two daughters and, you know, one with needs, extra needs, sorry, and if it wasn’t for her, she was an absolute – yeah, I hate to use the word “rock”, it’s what everyone seems to use, but there’s no other term for it. She was – if it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be here now.

I would have – it got to a stage where I felt I just don’t want to be here. I just – I wanted it all gone. If it wasn’t for her and the kids, I just – yeah, I just – yeah, my wife is amazing.

Mr Blake: Did you tell your children at the time?

William Graham: No. This is where it’s been difficult recently. It wasn’t until the – sort of, after the – after the Justice for Subpostmasters – the case in the High Court, and I got, you know, permission to sort of appeal my conviction, it was at that point, because they’re of an age where they understand, you know. So I went through the whole thing again, you know, opened it all up again, you know, but it felt a bit better in the fact that, you know, there was some justification in what – you know, because it – there was a chance that I could have that overturned, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and so I went through it with them.

Obviously, one teenager, “Yeah, all right”, you know, and the other one takes everything in and then has to process it, you know, and she – you know it was more obviously – more difficult for her and – but, you know, we went through the whole thing. I mean, she’s watching this today.

Just saying that, just did me in.

Yeah, I mean, as far as I’m aware, they are okay with it now because since the Court of Appeal last year and I was cleared and when I got home, they had balloons and banners and everything for me, you know, the cake and … oh, it was – you know. That love is what kept me going over the years, yeah.

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

William Graham: I mean, we got a simple – the simple Special Delivery letter I think we got from them saying they apologise unreserved, you know, for the mistakes made and obviously they’ve put things out in media sort of saying, you know, “The mistakes we’ve made, we’re going to make sure they never happen again”.

It’s I want them to find out what went wrong, you know. You know, what has caused these problems with the system, you know, with the – how many billions of pounds was spent on this system, you know? Surely they’ve got to come forward and actually tell us what went wrong, when did they know it went wrong, which I think speculation and things in the press and things that have been released on Twitter and things have sort of told you they’ve known it for a long, long time. And why they didn’t just come out, admit there was a problem, sort the problem out and deal with it, rather than put everyone – I mean, there’s people worse, you know. I mean, I’ve gone through far less than a lot of people that you’re going to hear from and I didn’t – you know, I was fortunate not to go to prison.

But for them people – you know, for all of us, we just want some sort of justice for us, you know. Get the people up here, admitting they’ve made mistakes, admitting they have covered things up, admitting and actually get that down and we can – you know, we can sort of say, you know – I know in legal terms we’re cleared now but it – you know, there are still people that I’ve heard say, oh, there’s got to be something in it, there must have been something in it, I’m sure not all of the – you know.

And I just want the Post Office to stand up and say, “We knew there was a problem, this is when it started, this is what we didn’t do, this is what we should have done”, and get justice for the people that have gone through this pain.

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

William Graham: No, no. I think I’ve – I’m done for now.

Mr Blake: Sir, do you have any questions?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t. Thank you very much.

I’m so grateful to you for coming and so openly telling me about all the things which have happened to you. It’s invaluable evidence which I’ll obviously take into account and treat with extreme seriousness.

Have I detected that from time to time you’re looking to your left as I’m looking at you and is that because your wife is there supporting you?

William Graham: My wife’s here supporting me, my brother-in-law and they are both here today to –

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I’m very grateful for them for coming to give you that support as well because clearly it’s helped you through what’s been a difficult session for you. So thanks to you all.

William Graham: Thank you.

Mr Blake: Sir, Gillian Howard has been scheduled for this afternoon but we can actually hear her evidence earlier. So perhaps we could take a ten-minute break now and then resume at about 35 minutes past or 20 to.

Sir Wyn Williams: So –

Mr Blake: 11.40.

Sir Wyn Williams: 11.40, yes. Perfect, Mr Blake. See you then.

Mr Blake: Thank you.

(11.25 am)

(A short break)

(11.42 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Have you got both Mrs Howard and me on screen?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, we do, thank you. I think we’re going to start the next session of evidence with Mrs Howard.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Over to you, Ms Kennedy.

Gillian Howard


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: My name is Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Chair. Could you confirm your full name, please?

Gillian Howard: Gillian Margaret Howard.

Ms Kennedy: Have you got a copy of your witness statement there?

Gillian Howard: I have.

Ms Kennedy: Is it dated 13 January 2022?

Gillian Howard: It is.

Ms Kennedy: Is that your signature on page 19 of the statement?

Gillian Howard: It is.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Gillian Howard: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Is it true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Gillian Howard: It is.

Ms Kennedy: If I may, I’m going to start by asking a few introductory questions about you and your family. So how old are you now?

Gillian Howard: Oh gosh. 30 … I wish. I am 62.

Ms Kennedy: Sorry, what was that?

Gillian Howard: I was born in ‘59 so, yes, I’m 62. I’ll be 63 in June.

Ms Kennedy: You talk in your statement about your husband. How long have the two of you been together?

Gillian Howard: I think I was 15 – no, not – oh gosh, 14, 16, Graham was 15, I was 13, he was 15. We were at school. We were in high school together.

Ms Kennedy: You have two grown-up children. How old are they?

Gillian Howard: Our daughter is 33. Our son’s 29, and she’s four years older. She’ll be 33 this year.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask some questions about the purchase of your Post Office. Your family bought a Post Office in 2002; is that right?

Gillian Howard: Right.

Ms Kennedy: Can you just explain to the Chair where that was?

Gillian Howard: Yes, in a nice village on a busy junction and approximately about a ten minute – at most ten-minute journey from our own home. It is a lock-up. It didn’t have living accommodation with it, which we didn’t want anyway.

Ms Kennedy: What was the name of the Post Office?

Gillian Howard: New Mill Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you want to buy a Post Office or why did your family want to buy a Post Office?

Gillian Howard: Mainly my husband. He’d worked for the local Vauxhall dealership for 30 years from school at 15. He’d worked there for 30 years and it was moving into the main town, and there was no customer service and he always said, if the day came he didn’t want to go to work, would be the day that he looked for another job and that’s at the time that day came.

And my parents had a business. We had been brought up with that. Not a Post Office, a general – greengrocer’s, general store, and we just saw they’d had a happy life and we just saw – we modelled our life on theirs and wanted to copy it, really, and thought that that would be a good future for us, and –

Ms Kennedy: How much –

Gillian Howard: – we spent (unclear) together and we could continue doing that.

Ms Kennedy: How much did you pay for your Post Office at the time, do you remember?

Gillian Howard: £69,950, plus stock.

Ms Kennedy: How did you finance it, the purchase?

Gillian Howard: We’d been married for ten years, we both had a really good job, we’d been very careful and saved our money and we used that, along with a small loan from the bank on our property. I don’t know if it was a remortgage as much as I think – it was more of a loan but it was assigned to the property.

Ms Kennedy: What was your husband’s role at that time in 2002?

Gillian Howard: In the Post Office? He applied as the position of the – I already had another job anyway and I was a carer for my parents and – my Mum and the children, and the job that I worked in as well, so he applied as the subpostmaster. I did go with him for the interview and I went with him to all the training but he was the subpostmaster. It was in his name.

Ms Kennedy: What role, if any, did you have in that Post Office between 2002 and 2008?

Gillian Howard: I used to be there at the end of the day. You had to open in the morning with somebody else with you and close on a night. I was looking after the children, getting them to school, et cetera. So his Dad went with him in the morning, 6 o’clock they opened for newspapers, and then he moved into the Post Office at 9.00, and I went at teatime. I went to help him lock up and be that second person there.

On balance nights, on a Wednesday, I would be with him and I’d do little mundane things for him, he’d have me sorting the dockets out and matching the dockets with a slip that he gave me. He did everything on the computer side of it but, you know, I would check things, and if there’s something he was having to do a trail on, he would give me things to look through. But he was very much in charge and he was the subpostmaster.

Ms Kennedy: Moving forward then to 2008, you say in your statement that you effectively took over as subpostmistress in June 2008; is that right? Could you just explain to the Chair why that was?

Gillian Howard: Yes. On the Friday, the Saturday morning Graham suffered a massive, massive stroke. It turned out it was a blood clot that had gone from – travelled up his body through his heart. It caused a heart attack, we didn’t know that until later, and it went to his head. He was 19 weeks in hospital and it was only because he was 50 that he survived. They didn’t expect him to survive. They did say to call the family. My brother had just got into Wales on holiday and he turned round and he came back and everybody went to say their goodbyes –

Ms Kennedy: What –

Gillian Howard: – because (unclear) make it.

Ms Kennedy: What help, if any, did the Post Office give you when you took over the role of subpostmistress?

Gillian Howard: On the Monday morning, I phoned Graham’s business development manager, who we had had and was a really very nice lady and very helpful. I phoned her to explain what had happened. She said Graham didn’t have a business development manager anymore, that role had been taken away. She did still work for the Post Office but she was now working, I think it was Chester or Wales. It wasn’t in our area but she still did live quite – well, not local but maybe within an hour away, and she said she would come to me, which she did straight away on the Monday.

She brought me a box of chocolates, she gave me manager’s access because, otherwise, I couldn’t have got on, because I wouldn’t have had, you know – I knew Graham did have his log-on details written down, I knew where they were, I saw him log on, so I were able to get that and I don’t know if she bypassed that but she logged me on anyway and gave me manager’s access.

She phoned head office. She explained what had happened. It turns out they actually recorded it later that it wasn’t the subpostmaster who’d had the stroke, it was his wife, it was me that had had the stroke, and they said that I had to ring each Monday. I had to ring because they transferred Graham from the hospital he was in. They transferred him to another hospital which, on teatime, took me about an hour to get there, and I asked if we could close at 5 o’clock instead of at 5.30, so that I could get there for visiting at 6.00, and they said I could but I did have to ring every Monday to continue that.

Ms Kennedy: To check whether that was okay?

Gillian Howard: (The witness nodded)

Ms Kennedy: What training did you receive at that time?

Gillian Howard: (The witness shook her head)

Ms Kennedy: Sorry, did you say “none”?

Gillian Howard: None – none at all.

Ms Kennedy: Prior to taking over, what shortfalls did your husband experience?

Gillian Howard: Small ones, ones that we would – we had an ATM machine there that was an external ATM and, if he was short, I would go out there, I’d draw the money from our account and we would put it in and, likewise, if it was over, he’d put the money – he had a cotton cash bag that he would put the money in and put in the safe. But, generally, error notices came. I knew there was error notices because Graham would say “We’ve got an error notice”, you know the £200 we had to put in so many weeks ago, it’s come back. It was an error on the lottery, or whatever it was, and, you know, he’d take the money back out and that was it. We got the money back.

So, over the period, I would say there was, in lots of multiples, possibly, we ended up with £1,000 approximately that we never did get error notices for, that we did just put in.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you called the helpline when you experienced shortfalls; is that right?

Gillian Howard: This was when Graham was there. Yes, he called the helpline. He had the helpline. It was open on balance nights – it was open, well, I think it was 9 o’clock at night but that stopped at the point I was – around the point I was taking over they stopped the helpline being available.

We had the lottery, so the lottery we couldn’t close until 7.30, the shop, and then we started to balance. There was nobody there for me to ring, they’d gone. I used to ring another subpostmaster, actually, the next one in the next village, and he was very supportive and he became my helpline, although he didn’t have the lottery and he didn’t have the ATM, so he couldn’t help me with all the problems.

And also, while Graham was subpostmaster, he could ring direct to the helpline. That had changed in this period, that you couldn’t ring. You could only ring and actually speak to somebody if you had a customer waiting.

Nobody’s mentioned this that I’ve seen? You could only ring if you had a customer waiting. If you had a problem that you found, you know, you couldn’t balance, you had to ring, leave a message, somebody would ring you back. They may ring – they would ring you back within – I don’t know if it was 24 or 48 hours. By then, other problems might have occurred. It wasn’t fresh in your mind what the problem was and, if they couldn’t solve it, somebody else would ring you back within another 24 hours and you could go up to second and third line. But if you rang and it wasn’t a customer waiting matter they would not deal with me.

So they would ring back and I might be serving a customer. You know, you were there, it was something you needed to go on to your screen – we only had one screen – and I couldn’t because I was in the middle of doing parcels, or any transaction.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that by March 2010 you had shortfalls amounting to £22,000; is that right?

Gillian Howard: I thought I had. I’ll be honest that I needed to get home to Graham, I needed to – I knew that the only way you could open the next day was to make things right, that – you know, that you had to balance. I thought that I had and we went – it was transferred to Online, Horizon Online, and I thought: this is where we’re going to know what happened now, am I this money short that I thought that I was?

So they came and it was one man to set us up, to transfer everything to Online and when he’d done we more or less balanced, it was – it was a little bit but a really minimal amount, we had balance. So I thought, you know, it was fine. Whatever was wrong, if there was something wrong, it had to be with the system and it had corrected itself. It was good.

I was jubilant.

Ms Kennedy: I think you then say that you were audited on 27 May 2010; is that right?

Gillian Howard: This was when it had all been counted and we were all right, that was in the – and we went on to Online, that had been in the March 2010, Horizon Online – that’s right, was in the March, in the – 27 May was the audit.

Ms Kennedy: Could you just explain to the Chair why you were audited, what your understanding was of why you were audited?

Gillian Howard: Yes. Graham used to get lots of audits because they would ask him to send so much money back. He didn’t – he couldn’t make them understand that we had to owe that amount of money because we had an ATM machine, which I won’t quote on here because obviously it’s public, but it was a lot of money that we held in the safes and we had to fill the ATM machine every Wednesday, balance night. So they was asking us to send money and he had to keep saying “We can’t send this money, I need the money, I need it to put in my ATM machine”.

Ms Kennedy: So that’s your understanding of why you were audited, was because of the money that was being held?

Gillian Howard: My understanding, yes, of why he kept getting audits. But there was never – once, I think, it was pence, it was less than a pound it was out, but at the most maybe £100, and that’s – they’d done a full audit, they’d counted every stamp, every postal order, every everything and we were never a great deal out because if it was wrong we put it in.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about that audit in May 2010; do you remember?

Gillian Howard: When they arrived, I said I had – it is the only lie that I’ve told throughout and I panicked and I said I had a doctor’s appointment, which I didn’t, and it is the only lie that I – the only one was that I had a doctor’s appointment, and I went and I got in the car and I drove.

Ms Kennedy: Why do you think that you said you had a doctor’s appointment?

Gillian Howard: I don’t know. I panicked. I can only say it was panic. I handed the keys over. I wanted them to go in. I wanted an end to everything but I also think I needed – at that point I also considered …

Ms Kennedy: Please take a moment, if you need.

Gillian Howard: At that point also I considered ending my life. I actually drove to a viaduct that one of my customers recently had jumped off and thought he was such a placid lovely man, and I thought: if he can do it, so can I. And I sat in the car, I’d no mobile phone with me because I don’t carry a mobile phone or I didn’t – I still don’t, to be fair – and I talked to myself and I thought about my family and I thought about Graham and I knew I’d got to return and face whatever they was going to find and I didn’t know what they were going to find.

I suspected a shortage but I’d not counted it, I’d just balanced. I’d balanced – well, not balanced. The night before had been the Wednesday, had been balance night, I just said whatever was there was there because I needed to open the following morning.

You did print a sheet off. There were several but you printed one off and you had to sign it to say it was truthful the money that was there, what you declared you had to sign it on balance night. I never signed the balance sheet, never.

Ms Kennedy: Just going back to the auditors, when you returned, how did they treat you?

Gillian Howard: To be honest, very well. Yes, they did. It was two gentlemen and I didn’t return to the office until later that afternoon when my daughter had come and found me. I’d gone to a staff member’s house. I couldn’t come home. I tried to come home and we drove through a little wood and I saw a car park with people in and I thought they were waiting for me. I think it turned out they were Jehovah’s Witnesses that were doing the area. I thought they were waiting for me. I thought every car I drove and I passed with people in, I thought they were waiting to get me. I couldn’t come home.

Evidently they’d tried ringing home, they’d tried ringing my daughter, everybody, the Post Office, this, to try and find out where I was, and said that I’d gone, I’d left the building and said I was going to the doctor’s. My daughter rang the doctor. She rang the hospitals and I let them panic but not deliberately but they looked all afternoon they didn’t know where I was. And then when Hayley found out where I was, she came and fetched me and brought me home, and I went and I went down and faced the auditors.

They said it was too late in the day to do a count, to do an audit and they changed the alarms and they locked up and we had to come home and we had to meet them back there the following morning and that’s what I did. And they did the audit.

Ms Kennedy: What did the final audit show? Can you remember?

Gillian Howard: Gosh, I think it was 48,000, 46/48, it was around that figure.

Ms Kennedy: I think in your statement you say £48,850.05, does that sound familiar?

Gillian Howard: (The witness nodded)

Ms Kennedy: You just mentioned the next day. Could you explain to the Chair what happened the next day and who came to visit you?

Gillian Howard: We had to be present. We took Graham down, you know, with difficulty but we took him and we sat there and they counted everything and then they told us to come home and I had to prepare a statement of what I thought had happened and what I thought had gone wrong. So we came back home and just shortly, I believe, after I’d left Helen Dickinson, the Post Office criminal investigator, arrived at the Post Office. I believe they removed everything that was in there. They took all paperwork, they took everything away, and they spoke to – I did have a member of staff that worked in the Post Office with me that hadn’t done, she was like me, we’d learnt together, and they said that they would be going back to interview her as well. They never did but they said they would be going back to interview her.

Then Helen Dickinson came to our house. She said – she first of all asked Graham if he was aware what had happened and he wasn’t. He wasn’t aware. He didn’t know and he didn’t understand either what was happening. He couldn’t read, he couldn’t write, following his stroke, and he still can’t. She said “Graham, because you didn’t know what was going on I can give you two choices as a subpostmaster, you can either go to” – I’m sure it was Manchester – “and you will have to face a tribunal”, not a tribunal, but that type of thing, “you will have to be interviewed, et cetera, or you can resign now”.

Graham looked at me and we knew he couldn’t – we couldn’t go – he didn’t understand. He couldn’t go to a tribunal. We weren’t allowed to have any solicitor with us, a member of – family member, it was just me and him, and we made the biggest mistake and we said he’d resign, and he signed there and then to resign.

And then she – she introduced herself as the “Police of the Post Office”. That’s how she described herself to me, as the “Police of the Post Office”.

Ms Kennedy: I think a week later, you say in your statement, that you were interviewed by people from the Post Office?

Gillian Howard: Helen Dickinson, along with a colleague, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Could you just tell us about that, please?

Gillian Howard: Again, they wanted me to go to the main Post Office in town. I explained it was difficult for me. I would have to find somebody to come and look after Graham because, you know, he couldn’t dress himself or make a drink of tea, or anything, nothing’s changed.

I explained how difficult it was and they said they could come to my house and do it at my house, which they did. We made a spare bedroom into an office for us to sit at and I told my story, I told them everything that I possibly could, and I think they did three and a half tapes long. But when that interview was typed up, as part of the – I think it was part of the Second Sight, and I got a copy of it, I didn’t recognise – I didn’t recognise what was typed up. It wasn’t – it was as if things had been missed out or had been changed. It wasn’t me that was talking in there.

I brought this up and said but nothing ever happened. I never had a copy of anything or the tape or … I just dropped that, yeah. I do feel that it wasn’t the actual correct every word of what I said.

Ms Kennedy: You were then prosecuted; is that right?

Gillian Howard: I was.

Ms Kennedy: When did you find out that you were being prosecuted?

Gillian Howard: It’s going to be the hard bit.

After Graham’s stroke, as I’ve said he was 19 weeks in hospital. My daughter’s boyfriend, he worked in a hospital, in the operating theatre, and he rang the hospital and asked if he could go privately to see Graham. This was after Graham had started to – he was conscious – you know he was conscious and quite understanding of what he was going to say, and he went to the hospital and he asked if he could marry our daughter. He proposed to her that night and – well, I was there visiting in the evening. They turned up with her flashing her engagement ring, he’d asked her, she’d said yes and, gosh, there was a bit of sunshine in his life and something to look forward to.

They had already been and had a private meeting with the doctor – I didn’t go – to see just what was going on and what was happening with him and they said that whatever state Graham was in, in two years’ time, that that would be – there would be no hope of any improvement beyond two years. So they set the wedding date two years ahead on Graham’s birthday weekend. He had always promised her that she would have the wedding of her dreams. Little girl, she used to dress up and want pretty dresses and, you know, and he always said she’d have that wedding of her dreams but he’d never wear a top hat. He’d wear a flat cap but no top hat.

We had taken advice of the midwife when she was born that we had a daughter and we should start putting money away because there would be a wedding to pay for one day and we took that advice and we had taken out money, a policy, to pay for a wedding whenever that day came. So we set about planning a wedding for in two years’ time. Everything revolved round Graham. It wasn’t just a wedding, it was a celebration that he was still with us. Hayley went for a wedding dress, she chose a dress that wasn’t – that hopefully he’d be able to get her down the aisle, walk her down the aisle. He did walk her down the aisle but my daughter – him with a stick on one side, Hayley holding up at the other, and my brother waiting behind to catch him.

When we went into that church, I had to take my glasses off because I thought, if I can’t see the people they won’t see me, about 100 guests. What none of those people knew is that on the morning of their wedding day, as we were leaving, the cars were outside and we were all ready for leaving, the postman had made a delivery, a recorded delivery, and Hayley said “You’ve got to open it, Mum”. I said “No, Hayley, we know who this is from”. She said “Mum, we can’t leave, you’ve got to open it” and I did and it was the letter to say they were prosecuting me.

Worst day of my life. Not just for me. I was strong I’m not anymore but I was a strong, strong person, and two years in the planning, I think it’s what got Graham through them two years, and we were all robbed of that wedding day, robbed.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that your neighbours thought there was a particular reason for your behaviour that day, which you’ve just mentioned. What did they think the reason was?

Gillian Howard: They all thought that I mustn’t agree with the wedding and that I mustn’t agree with my new son-in-law to be, and he’s the most amazing person, you know. He pushes Graham round now, he pushes him in his wheelchair, and he’ll do anything for him, and for me. He’s the most amazing – we couldn’t have wished for a better son-in-law but yet that’s what everybody thought, they thought that I just mustn’t have agreed.

I didn’t go around greeting guests, I didn’t – I just kept myself away. I just – it was actually two nights. It was in a castle Coleen Nolan got married there. It was a wonderful, wonderful, dream place just like Graham had promised her and I don’t remember. I just don’t remember anything about it.

Ms Kennedy: You were charged with false accounting; is that right?

Gillian Howard: I’ve got that in front of me what I was charged with. A fraud.

Ms Kennedy: Yes. I think you pleaded guilty to false accounting; is that right?

Gillian Howard: I didn’t understand what they were saying. When I did get a solicitor – on the Monday following the wedding, I had to go and find a solicitor, and it did say on here “dishonestly and intending thereby to make a gain for herself or another”. The solicitor said was I guilty and I said “I won’t accept that I was guilty, I will accept I was guilty to false accounting, if false accounting was declaring the money there because I had to do that to be able to open” and – but it was agreed at some point between meetings and going to Magistrates’ Court and then to the Crown Court that I would only plead guilty if the wording was that it was “for no material or financial gain”. And that’s how the wording was, that I was guilty and it was a single count as well. It was not several counts. It was one count of false accounting, a single count.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about going to court?

Gillian Howard: Terrified, terrified. My son went with me to the early ones in Huddersfield and, in some ways, it was better when we moved to Bradford to the Crown Court, because I knew then less chance of people were going to be there that knew me.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that someone from the Post Office told you something at court and said something. Could you just explain to the Chair what that was.

Gillian Howard: Yes. Well, prior to – in between this, the – Helen Dickinson, the lady that I’ve spoken about, she rang me one day and she said “Did you ever receive sick pay for Graham?” Sick pay? We’re self-employed. He didn’t get sick pay. She says “Well, I wasn’t aware of sick pay but”, she said, “I’ve just actually been out to a case where the gentleman was claiming sick pay and he was working”, and she’d gone as the fraud investigator, as the “Police of the Post Office”, she’d been there and thought about us and rung to ask me “Did you claim it?” No, I wasn’t aware. We did try putting a claim in then but they weren’t having it, no, nothing.

But when we got to the – I think that was the first time see was actually in court, she weren’t at the Magistrates’, she was at Crown Court, and she stood and she had a coffee with us. I don’t know if she bought us one or we bought her one, but we stuck together and we had a coffee. And then when we went into the courtroom, she sat along with – they’d taken my husband in his wheelchair, my brother and my son and she sat with them, and when I did come out of the dock she came to me and she put her arms round me and she just said “You should never have been brought here, you should never, ever have been brought here”.

And prior to that, when we did the tapes and it finished recording, she said to the other gentleman “What do you think’s happened here?” And they agreed there was three things: (1) had our member of staff been stealing from us, which she’d not been interviewed, who knows, we would hope not; had I made mistakes; but definitely I’d been let down by the Post Office. And that’s their conclusion that but it was off tape.

Ms Kennedy: What did the judge say to you at your sentencing?

Gillian Howard: He said – well, first of all, he asked the solicitors how much it was that I was supposed to have – if I had taken anything, how much? But I don’t think anybody ever said I did take anything, only this bit of wording here, and they just looked to each other and spoke to each other and they said they couldn’t answer that. He said that because I had pleaded guilty, he did have to give me a sentence but it would be the most lenient minimum that he could, and he was sure it was horrendous what I’d gone through, especially because of my husband, et cetera, and he was sure he would never, ever see me in that court again. I’ve not as much as a speeding ticked ticket or a parking fine, I’ve nothing.

Ms Kennedy: He sentenced you to six months’ probation with six months’ supervision; is that right?

Gillian Howard: Yes, he did.

Ms Kennedy: Your conviction was overturned last year; is that right?

Gillian Howard: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about the impact that this has had on you and I’m first going to ask you some questions about your financial losses.

Can you just describe for the Chair what financial losses you’ve suffered as a result of this.

Gillian Howard: Well, Graham’s salary was £34,000/£35,000 a year, so we lost that. Because I didn’t go into work, I didn’t want to be there, I couldn’t face being there, we had to increase the staff. After several months, it turned out – I’d forgotten but we had taken out an income protection policy on Graham for if ever he did have any illness. In his 30 years’ previous employment he had only ever had one week off in 30 years.

So, suddenly, we didn’t have that money coming in.

Ms Kennedy: I think you tried to sell your business, is that right?

Gillian Howard: We did. Prior to that, what are we going to do? We didn’t have anything at all for months so we’ve got a – we got on with a mailing company and we delivered, we went out. We put Graham in the car with us because I couldn’t leave him at home and we set off and we delivered Yellow Pages, Thomson Directories, Index catalogue, Ikea catalogue, and we also got a job delivering a free paper for 10p for every paper that we put through a letter box.

My daughter and son-in-law, my son done the local ones, and I went with him and did all those that weren’t near to the shop or near to us home, and we just trekked the streets, putting papers and anything through doors, and me – because I did not want to make any of my staff suffer because of the consequences of what had happened. I didn’t want to lay anybody off, make anybody redundant. I wanted them to keep their jobs. I didn’t want to affect anybody else’s life, so we went out delivering magazines and papers and books and, yeah.

Ms Kennedy: I think your family helped you with some money as well?

Gillian Howard: Absolutely, yes. My daughter and son-in-law especially and my brother, Graham’s Mum and Dad, they helped us with money. His Dad’s 90 this year but, yeah. We just used to think: who’s turn is it, who shall we ask now? And my daughter used to dread driving to work in the morning because she knew if that phone rang it was me ringing that I needed some more money.

But we just did without. We just had absolute bare – you know Christmas dinners, we didn’t have a turkey, or beef, or – we just had a normal – I don’t know, egg and chips, whatever. We just were frugal, all of us just spent as little as we possibly could. So, yeah, people helped me out and we were able to save the house. We were able to save that because we were being hounded – hounded by the Post Office for the money. We were hounded for it. But with their help, we were able to keep the house and I’m still here. We’re still here now.

Ms Kennedy: You sold some personal items to pay the Post Office back; is that right?

Gillian Howard: We didn’t pay the Post Office back. We didn’t. They hounded me for the money but, at some point, I’d sent a letter – it was – a solicitor gave me a draft letter to send to them to say “We know there is an issue going on at the moment, will you please leave me alone until this has been resolved”, and this was the general issue, the fact that they had or they were aware of the Horizon, the JFSA, et cetera, and I think it was probably JFSA that put me on to this solicitor to send them a letter that said “We are aware of this, what’s going on, until there is an outcome, will you please not hound me for this money”.

It was just the money we had to borrow was because we’d lost Graham’s income, the Post Office salary. We’d lost it and we had to make that money back up somehow. You know £34,000/£35,000 a year, it was a lot of money.

So we did try – immediately after Helen Dickinson, we did try to sell the business, yes, we did – sorry, going back to what you asked. We tried to sell it and it was valued. We got the same estate agents we bought it from, and they valued it at 90,000. So we agreed we actually signed to say that we would sell the Post Office and we would give them the money that they were demanding, not the money that we owed, the money that they were demanding. And within a week, two weeks maximum, we had a buyer and he contacted the Post Office and applied to buy it and then the Post Office decided it was going to be what they call a Post Office Local, and the salary would be reduced from 34,000/35,000, it would be reduced to I think it was about 13 or 15, and it would have to be open every hour that the shop was open. He backed out.

We had more interest – I think we had over 1,000 people enquiring about it. I know some would be just inquisitive. You knew the (unclear) next door got details of it, the turnover, they had access to everything. A customer came to our house to talk about buying it and then we got the ideal buyer. He actually had taken redundancy from Post Office, Royal Mail Group, he’d worked for them as an auditor, and he knew what was happening, what had happened to us, he was quite aware and he lived in the village. He was a cash buyer and he wanted to buy it on the reduced terms.

So he set up bank accounts, everything, and he did his business plan that he had to do and he got turned down by the Post Office, and the wording was they didn’t think he was “the suitable person to take New Mill Post Office forward”. No, I guess they knew what he knew. We think that he knew too much. He didn’t get it.

Ms Kennedy: How are you doing financially now?

Gillian Howard: I have had the interim payment and I’ve paid back I think everybody now that I owed money to that had lent me money. I want to treat these people now. I don’t – yeah, I do, I want a new kitchen. I’ve got pictures and plans of one. I’m not having it. I’ll have it one day but not until the people that have got me through this, they are the first ones that will be treated. But at least now, you know – I’m looking forward to going in shops again and buying clothes instead of going to car boots and charity shops where not just my things have come from but my daughter’s and my grandchildren’s things, because they have done without as well, and my son. We’ve all done without, not just me.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to ask you some questions about your social life now. What impact has this had on your social life?

Gillian Howard: I don’t have a social life. I don’t go – I don’t go out. I’ve become a recluse because I just feel that the people – I did not lie to anybody but I did – I didn’t feed them the truth of what had happened. All the subpostmasters that passed through the shop, they all believed that they were there because of Graham and his stroke. It’s the first thing I would feed them: my husband’s had a massive stroke. I never told any of them that I was the one that was – that I was involved.

And I feel now my staff, nobody, I did not tell anybody I was involved. I didn’t tell them I wasn’t. It’s what they made their mind up themselves. I do feel I betrayed them. I didn’t, you know, a few weeks ago I had my food delivered – I don’t go out I don’t go in shops here and I had my food delivered, and the lad that came with it, he recognised me, and he said “Oh, all this about the Post Office, were you involved?” I just panicked and sort of said “Well, I’ve heard about what’s going on”, and things like that, whereas only this last couple of weeks this year I’ve decided, no, I’m not hiding anymore, this is what happened to me and I think people need to know.

But because I didn’t go out last June, May/June last year, my daughter and son-in-law remortgaged their property and they bought a static caravan out on the east coast and they bought it for me, not for me personally, for us as a family, and we go as often as we can, most weekends, and when I’m there I can go in the shops, I can go out for a meal, I can talk to people, and I’m fine because nobody knows who I am. They have met – they probably will now tomorrow but, you know. They don’t know what I was accused of and I’m fine. I go in the shops, I go garden centres. I’m a different person, and then I come back home and I lock my door and – and I just can’t go out.

Ms Kennedy: What impact would you say this has had on your health?

Gillian Howard: I used to be a strong person and, now, I suppose I’m a weepy person – well, I’m still pretty strong. I’ve aged. I’ve aged. I don’t go out to have my hair done. My daughter trims it me now and again, you can tell. Normally I have very short hair but I just, you know – I don’t go out and do things. I haven’t been able to afford to do it and now that I can perhaps, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go in hairdressers and things.

So mainly, yeah, that – just the guilt that I live with that I am an honest person, I made my children be honest. I always said to them, I brought them up that if you’ve done anything wrong, don’t lie, tell me, I might not be happy, I might not like it, but tell me the truth. And I felt now that what I’ve tried to bring my children up to do, that I’ve not done it myself because I’ve not been honest with people.

I’ve avoided things, I’ve avoided friends. We’ve been invited to barbecues, parties, everything just this last Saturday night, our nephew’s 40th, didn’t go. So, yeah, we’ve lost practically all us friends. I have a couple that have stayed by me that have known but that’s it now.

My daughter says I’m pinching her friends now because she’s got a bigger circle of friends than I have, so I’m pinching her friends. They are much younger than me. They’ll do me good.

Ms Kennedy: What about your family. You have mentioned them throughout your evidence. What impact has this had on your family?

Gillian Howard: It’s been horrendous, horrendous. I have prepared some things here, when it’s right to tell you about them because, on Monday night, for the first time ever, I actually asked my daughter and my son what this has done to them and I’ve written down here what their response. Is this the right time for me to give it you?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, please. That would be great, thank you.

Gillian Howard: As I’ve already said, my son was still at school but he supported me with the business and at home, and he helped and still does care with his Dad.

What’s – well, my daughter took charge, you have probably gathered that. My daughter took charge of what was going on and did the best to keep the family together, with tireless support from her wonderful husband and my brother, her uncle. But on Monday evening, for the first time in 12 years, I did ask them what effect – how it had affected them.

Now, my son is so laid back, he’s placid. He’s 29 years, I’ve never, ever seen him demonstrate any anger until Monday night, and he said he’d never felt more anger than he does to the Post Office. These were his words, that he’s never felt more anger than he does to the Post Office untouchables, who hide away from questions and have avoided the hell he has seen me go through. He wants them and their families to suffer like we have and that was his brief response but it was heartfelt.

Then I asked my daughter separately and, afterwards, I documented what she said and I quote exactly what she said. She said she felt angry that her wedding day was ruined and her honeymoon in Italy was centred around checking what was going on with the family back home, how me and my son were progressing finding a suitable solicitor and what advice we were being given. She regrets having to return to work from maternity leave seven months early to be able to help support us. This meant she missed out on mother and toddler clubs, forming friendships with other new mums. She missed out on her children’s first words, their first steps, and their first day at play school, et cetera, and, of course, the children missed out too, not being able to participate in social activities.

She’s angry that they haven’t been able to carry out home improvements or take children on holidays they would have liked to, such as the plan they had to return to Italy with the children to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, but having helped to support us financially were unable to do the things they had planned, and I share her sadness at the weight we’ve both put on as a direct result of comfort eating.

I know that my daughter and son and son-in-law and brother will be following me and are by my side today just they have been for the last 12 years. I hope those people within the Post Office Limited who destroyed myself and my family are also listening and hopefully will have taken on board the distress and hardship that their actions have caused me, my family and the other subpostmasters.

Finally, to my family, I say a heartfelt thank you for all the sacrifices you have made for me and Dad. It will soon be time for us all to move on and, hopefully, we will be able to make dreams and aspirations reality. I love you all. Thank you.

Thank you for letting me read that. I needed to do it.

Ms Kennedy: Is there anything else you would like to say to the Chair?

Gillian Howard: No, I think I’ve covered – I think I’ve covered what I needed to say and I needed to be involved in this so much and I think now I can move on. I think I can move on, hopefully, and my family can too.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to turn to the Chair to see if he has any questions.

Do you have any questions, Chair?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t have any questions, Mrs Howard, but my heartfelt thanks to you for coming to tell me about all this. It’s very, very valuable. Thank you.

Gillian Howard: Thank you, Sir Wyn. Thank you for listening to us. Thank you.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: So I think that concludes Mrs Howard’s evidence and I take it the next witness will be this afternoon. Is that right, Ms Kennedy?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, that is right. I think we would restart 2.00.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Well, then, thank you again, Mrs Howard, and now we will have a lunch break and we’ll start again at 2.00. So thanks everyone.

Gillian Howard: Thank you.

(12.34 pm)

(Luncheon Adjournment)

(2.00 pm)

Ms Kennedy: Good afternoon, Chair. May I call our next witness, Mrs Karen Wilson. I think you’re on mute.

Sir Wyn Williams: No. Can everyone hear me?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, we can now. Thank you.

Karen Wilson


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: My name is Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Chair. Could you give your full name, please?

Karen Wilson: Yes, Karen Lynette Wilson.

Ms Kennedy: Have you got a copy of your witness statement there?

Karen Wilson: I have.

Ms Kennedy: Is it dated 11 January 2022?

Karen Wilson: It is.

Ms Kennedy: If you look on the last page, which I think is page 17, is that your signature?

Karen Wilson: It is.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Is it true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to start, if I may, with asking a few introductory questions about you and your family. How old are you now?

Karen Wilson: 67.

Ms Kennedy: You talk in your statement about your husband, who was a subpostmaster. Is that his photograph that you have got with you there?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: It’s right, isn’t it, that he is sadly deceased?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: He died on 26 August 2016; is that right?

Karen Wilson: 22 August ‘16.

Ms Kennedy: 22 August. When did you get married?

Karen Wilson: Live Aid day, 13 July 1985.

Ms Kennedy: What was that day like?

Karen Wilson: Fabulous. It was very, very hot and because it was Live Aid day we screened it for everybody, so we had that going live as well.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about your purchase or your husband’s purchase of the Post Office?

Karen Wilson: Mm-hm.

Sir Wyn Williams: Before you do, Ms Kennedy, could –

Mrs Wilson would you be good enough to hold up the photograph, so I can see it more clearly?

Karen Wilson: Is that all right, can you see it?

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s fine. I would like to get a picture of Mr Wilson as well. Thank you.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you.

I think he bought the Post Office in November 2002; is that right?

Karen Wilson: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Could you tell the Chair a bit about what his work involved before he became a subpostmaster.

Karen Wilson: Yes. Julian was a director of an electrical compliance sign – specialist signs company. To shorten that, if there was a hotel or an airport or a hospital, then he would work with the architects to design all the signs and the lighting, specialist lighting, and he worked action broad in Germany, Italy, Spain and France.

Ms Kennedy: Why did he want to buy a Post Office?

Karen Wilson: I picked him up from the airport one Friday night and he said he was getting a bit fed up of living out of suitcases and really going all over. He’d been doing it for 30 years. So he said “I’m this age now, I’d like to buy a business and make money for me and do it as a pension pot”. It was a light-hearted conversation in the car coming back but he took it quite serious and he found four businesses he’d looked at.

Ms Kennedy: What sort of roles did you have prior to joining your husband working at the Post Office?

Karen Wilson: Myself, sorry?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, yourself.

Karen Wilson: I was an ex-police constable, West Mercia Police. I worked for financial services and HMRC. Yes, that was predominantly my role, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Which Post Office did Julian become a subpostmaster of?

Karen Wilson: It was the one where I was bought up in the local village, Astwood Bank, which is near Feckenham in Redditch, Worcestershire.

Ms Kennedy: How did you get the money together to purchase the Post Office?

Karen Wilson: We took a portion of our savings and we took – because we had a small mortgage – we took some of – the bank suggested, with his business plan, that he took some money out of that, and then we had the business loan to repay it and we did it like that.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that it was about after around 12 months that you joined him working in the Post Office?

Karen Wilson: Yes. Yeah, I was a bit apprehensive at first, husband and wife working together I wasn’t quite sure whether – however, he bought the staff and everybody with it because it had a retail shop, and it meant that, rather him doing like 5.00 until 10.00 every day and Saturdays, what we did – my riding friend, Penny, is a bank manager, so she retired, so he could have Thursdays off, we worked together in there and, yeah, he trained me up and the rest is history, really. That’s how it happened.

Ms Kennedy: When he started at the Post Office, what training – can you tell me about what training he received at the beginning?

Karen Wilson: I can. I had to take him to Worcester for two days’ training. However, when he got there, the Horizon system was down, so they did it on a projection on the wall. So he physically wasn’t able to do hands on and that did concern him.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that you had one employee working for you, who had been there for over 20 years; is that right?

Karen Wilson: Yes, Mrs Robinson, yes.

Ms Kennedy: So she was able to help you with that?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: In your statement – I’m just going to ask you some questions now about the function of the Post Office.

Karen Wilson: Okay.

Ms Kennedy: In your statement you talk about balancing day and you say balancing day was a Wednesday.

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you just tell the Chair what balancing day was like for you and Julian?

Karen Wilson: So because we had a lottery terminal, we were open from 6.00 in the morning until 8.00 at night, so once we closed the lottery at 7.30, he would have closed the Post Office at 5.00, so he’d be busy behind the scenes, getting everything ready, and then he would tell me what he wanted, regarding the lottery. And once he balanced, whether it be £5 or 3 – whatever, we either took it out of the retail till, depending on what size and figure. But when it was getting very problematic and the helpline closed at 8.00, so we would be in there until 10.00 some evenings, trying to sort out why it wasn’t balancing.

Ms Kennedy: What did Julian think about Horizon?

Karen Wilson: First of all, when he started having issues with it, he spoke to other subpostmasters who were having the same issues, rang the helpline and he also spoke to three line managers. He rang the Federation and nobody really took – basically, they would say “It will sort itself out, try this, try that, try something else”, but he did have two thoughts, which he put forward. He felt that either somebody had a fob card and was managing to steal from every Post Office around or, secondly, there was third party access and that was because, if you did a cash declaration at night and closed up at 6.00, when you got in the next morning you did another cash declaration, they were different, and he’d ring and say “These are different”. But he didn’t get any help.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement that he kept records?

Karen Wilson: All the time. He was very methodical and because when he bought the business he took it to a solicitor’s to check everything, check the contract, everything, so nothing would bite him and, yeah.

Ms Kennedy: At one stage, a branch line manager came to visit him; is that right?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What did the branch line manager say about the shortfalls or discrepancies?

Karen Wilson: Well, he went on the system, he’d worked the second system with Julian and he would actually serve customers and then check – and check with Julian. Julian had what they called the Gateway and he would just say “It will sort itself out”. But Julian used to say “But that’s not good enough, I need to know why this system is failing”, because he’s quite good at IT.

In fact, one week Fujitsu came and we had to have three new motherboards in the same week, and he asked where the motherboards were coming from, were they cleansed, because he didn’t want to inherit errors. He got no answers.

Ms Kennedy: I think in addition to that, you mention area managers?

Karen Wilson: Yes, we had three because they changed quite a lot over the period of nine years and none of them gave him any answers.

Ms Kennedy: I believe you were audited in 2003.

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you recall what happened then?

Karen Wilson: I wasn’t working there at the time but I understand that everything was fine. I think there was something like a small discrepancy of £3/£5-something but that was the last audit. He didn’t get an audit after that until the suspension day.

Ms Kennedy: Which was in 2008; is that right?

Karen Wilson: Yes, 11 September.

Ms Kennedy: Do you know how Julian felt about the lack of audits during that period of time?

Karen Wilson: Well, he would compare it to the banks and say, you know, in the banking financial sector or running a business, you would have an audit every – he used to ring, especially on balance day, but they just used to say “We can audit you from behind the scene”. So he said “So you can physically see the pluses, the minuses, everything’s that’s going on”, and when he asked for an audit, they just said “We’ll audit you when we’re ready”.

Ms Kennedy: The audit, I think, took place on 11 September 2008?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you just describe for the Chair how Julian found out that you were going to be audited?

Karen Wilson: Yes. It was a Thursday. He got a phonecall at 8 o’clock from Jane, who had gone in, and said “The auditors are here”, and he said “Well, I’m on my way up”, and actually he was really pleased because he’d got all the figures all ready, everything was ready. I couldn’t go up. I wasn’t allowed to go but I know, from what he told me when he got home, he gave the auditors the figures of 27, how it was broken down, and they generally – the audit is a bit like balancing on a Wednesday night, but he was there from 8 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night with a big sign up “Post Office closed, use another Post Office”.

Ms Kennedy: When you just mentioned a moment ago the 27, I think are you referring to the shortfall that was found by the audit?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that was £27,911?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell the Chair how many people were present at the audit?

Karen Wilson: I believe there were three auditors and my understanding, from the hearsay, were that they hoped he’d get on. He’d been very accommodating, very helpful to everybody that they spoke to. However, they suspended him at 8.00 at night.

Ms Kennedy: On 15 September then, I believe some people came to your house; is that right?

Karen Wilson: Yes. We had investigators. I did ask Julian, you know, to check if they had a warrant or – but he was so – that he’d done nothing wrong, he wasn’t worried about them coming into the house and they did come into the house. They went through everything, the garden shed, everything, and they just kept saying to Julian “Where’s the money, where’s the jewellery where’s the holidays?”

Ms Kennedy: Did they take anything from the house?

Karen Wilson: No.

Ms Kennedy: What happened to Julian after they’d searched the house?

Karen Wilson: After that, on the Friday that that happened, I went up to the Post Office and was greeted by an agency that run them and the lady said to me “Are you Post Office-trained?” and I said “Yes”. She said, “Well, we need you to go into the Post Office at £5 an hour”, but I did comment on the fact that Julian had just been suspended for theft and false accounting and they wanted me, his wife, to go in and run it with one of their staff and it was, “Yes, they hadn’t got enough staff to run it”. So I went into the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: Just to be clear, this is after he’s been charged with theft and false accounting –

Karen Wilson: On that Friday, he had to get – no, it was the Monday, sorry. He was told to get a lawyer and they would take him to the police station. However, because it was short notice, the police weren’t ready for him, so we took a local solicitor, who wasn’t criminal, he did different, but he was prepared to sit with Julian while they had him under caution.

Ms Kennedy: What did Julian say when he was under caution, do you know?

Karen Wilson: Apparently, he said it was all about him admitting that he’d taken the money but I believe – I’ve never heard a tape or seen a script – that he said he just continually said “I haven’t taken any money and I haven’t false accounted”, but he said the pressure was so on for him to admit that he’d taken it.

Ms Kennedy: Eventually, he pleaded guilty to false accounting and the theft charge was dropped; is that right?

Karen Wilson: Yes. He was present at Worcester Crown Court about four times. We had a criminal barrister who said that we couldn’t fight them because they were the Crown and the fact that they didn’t go through Crown prosecution and, because of that, he would have to admit guilt. But he said he wouldn’t do that and, bearing in mind the only thing he ever said at court was his date of birth and his name. What happened on the very last day was they did a plea bargain with the Post Office lawyer. They threw the theft charges out, bearing in mind we’d given them all our accounts, business accounts, personal accounts, they threw that out but they said he would get a custodial sentence if he didn’t admit to two accounts of false accounting.

So it was the worst of two evils. He said he couldn’t go to prison and I don’t think he could have so, regrettably – had to take a suitcase, because he did think he would go to prison, but he was given 300 hours community service. The judge was very – he had half the village there with references and said he was very sorry to see him in court today and he had to clean graves for his 300 hours community service.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about all of this at that time?

Karen Wilson: We sat in the car afterwards and I just said to him “I can’t believe this is really happening”. It didn’t seem like British justice. He had all the evidence in six boxes and he wasn’t allowed to stand up and give any evidence. That’s all he was allowed to do.

So, as my father said: who made them judge, trial and executioner?

Ms Kennedy: Then I think you mentioned previously, but just picking it up again, the agency that was running the Post Office got you to work there for £5 an hour?

Karen Wilson: Yes, I had to do 20 hours a week. I took on another job with financial services in the evening and then I ran the shop in the day, as well as the Post Office, and, after about six months, we all had letters from the agency saying that the discrepancies would no longer be tolerated and that if the branch was short they would take it from people’s salaries.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to ask you some questions about the financial cost. I think you mention in your statement that you had to sell a number of personal items of some sort.

Karen Wilson: Because my parents were very supportive and all the other parts of the family, ie they gave us money because we had a confiscation order on 17 December 2008, and when Julian rang the named person on that confiscation “How were we going to live?”, the reply back was “Live off the money you’ve stolen”.

So with all the assets all frozen, my parents helped. Julia, my step-daughter, helped, my family, my brother, everybody chipped in but you have a certain amount of pride when you’ve never been in debt, so I car booted the house and all my equestrian, and then when I was working at financial services I walked into the town one afternoon with all my 30 years of jewellery and sold it all for £900, I got for it.

I didn’t tell him for a few weeks. He just wanted to know how I’d paid the mortgage and that’s when I said.

Ms Kennedy: I think, in particular, one item you mention is your engagement ring; is that right?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: That was part of the personal items?

Karen Wilson: Yes, everything that he’d bought me over the last 30 years, I just scooped it all up and thought well that’s – I can’t sell anything else other than that and when he was so upset, I just said “They’re things, we’ve got to live through this. They’re just possessions. It doesn’t matter”.

Ms Kennedy: What impact did Julian’s conviction have on your insurance premiums?

Karen Wilson: Everything. I mean, to the point that your driving, everything really, and the premiums were high. So it impacted a lot on him.

Ms Kennedy: How much did you lose from the sale of the business?

Karen Wilson: Well, we purchased the business for I think it was 125,000 and we had to sell it at 67.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about the impact this has had on your health and Julian’s health. Could you describe for the Chair the impact that you thought that all of this had on Julian’s health.

Karen Wilson: A very, very slow decline of waiting. I mean, he did think he would get reinstated but, obviously, when the confiscation order came and the charge – he was a talented musician, conductor. He was chairman of the local operatic and drama society theatre. He did a lot of theatre. He played Topol in Fiddler, and all those main parts. He could play most instruments, church organ, et cetera. After this all happened he just hid himself for about a year. He couldn’t face – I did tell the village he just wasn’t very well, and it impacted on him when it was in the local newspaper and then he decided to do something.

He had diabetes after about three months and then glaucoma, which the GP treated him for. He had to have – they’re injections called lucentis into his eyes, because his peripheral vision had gone. Very keen on sport. He used to go to the cricket, the rugby, the football, all of those. He stopped going to anything.

Ms Kennedy: What was the – or how would you assess his mental health after his suspension and conviction?

Karen Wilson: Not good. He just used to keep saying to me “I’m the one with the criminal conviction, I can’t get another job, do you know how that makes me feel?” and he just went within himself. He still tried to get work. He did try work for a week. They found him a job in – a bit like an Amazon, nights for £140 a week, and he just couldn’t do it. He was working with lads that were about 20 and he physically couldn’t do it and, because of our situation, we’d got the house, he wasn’t able to get anything to help him.

Ms Kennedy: What about the impact on your health?

Karen Wilson: Well, I had a bit of a meltdown, especially after the confiscation order came. I locked myself in the bathroom, cut off my hair off because I didn’t know what to do, because I’m not an angry lady normally, I’m quite calm and collected. So when you’ve got all this misplaced anger you actually don’t know where to put it.

I didn’t want to go on any tranquilisers or anything because I didn’t think that would make me think right. So once I had that, the doctor was really good. He came out. I don’t really remember much about it. I decided after that, that was it. I wasn’t – that wasn’t going to happen again. I didn’t take anything, I just sat down and said to him “We have to keep going, we have to live and eat and we have to stay alive”.

Ms Kennedy: What was the effect on your marriage?

Karen Wilson: Difficult because Julian wasn’t sleeping and because I was getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning I needed to sleep. So I went in one room he was in the other. I used to have to get up because he’d go in the conservatory and just fall apart and talk about suicide.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel when that happened?

Karen Wilson: I just used to say him “No, that’s not going to happen”, because my mother used to say if there’s nowhere to go there is nowhere to go. I said “Your problems won’t last forever, this will eventually end, I don’t know when”. But, of course, what gave him a lot of strength was he played detective and he found out about all the other people, which he knew he wasn’t the only one. This “You’re the only one” was coming out, “and you can’t fight us”.

So when he got together with all the others and found Alan Bates, Alan and Julian became like partners in – Julian would do so much for JFSA and we met up in a little village hall. There was probably about 14 of us and that really lifted his spirits because it gave him a focus to deal with this, to fight it.

Ms Kennedy: You talk in your statement about Julian dying before his conviction was overturned. Do you want to just tell the Chair how you feel about that.

Karen Wilson: When Julian – in 9 January 2016, when we found out that he had bowel cancer, he had a tumour in his sigmoid, so we sat in the car and I just said, arm around, “We can do this, we’ve been fighting, we can do this”, and he said “We can”.

But unfortunately after two lots of chemotherapy the tumour burst. So he was in Worcester Royal for six weeks and after he came out he couldn’t have any more treatment because he was too poorly and running normal life with having this, I kept saying to him “Tell me what you’re thinking about”, but he would just shrug his shoulders. He didn’t complain but he kept saying “If anything happens to me”, and I said “Nothing will happen to you, so you’ll be fine”. He said, “I want you to” – I said “I will, I will carry on, I will carry on”, and that was my promise to him.

But from a wife … and his daughter. He was only 67. I never said that this did kill him but it did massively contribute to his early death, definitely.

Ms Kennedy: You may have heard that we’re asking this question of all our witnesses, which is: what would you like to get from the Post Office or like to see from the Post Office?

Karen Wilson: I had some notes. I want to know the who and the why; why? What was their – when these people were CRB checked to buy these businesses and everybody got good – why did they do it, why did they not listen to the people that were running these businesses? I would like to see – I would like to see some accountability, some faces and people coming out and being – because at the present time there is nobody other than the named people that have been at the trials. Who knew?

I can’t believe alarms weren’t going off between the bottom, the investigators, the auditors, and at the top, the board. Who signed all these prosecutions off? Did nobody ever say: this isn’t right? Did nobody ever do that?

Of course the National Federation. I mean, we paid subs to them every month and all they said to him was “Just sell your shop, you have to pay them back”. So I’d like some answers from that. But, generally, I want people to understand, because I don’t understand why they did this. I don’t. He had worse consequences than if he’d been tried for murder. That’s how I feel, I do. I want some answers. I want to know there are people out there that did know this. Was it money? Was it power? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just me.

But people knew and I just feel that there are people hiding away that need to come out and answer for everybody, everybody that has been through this because it’s not right. It’s not right what they’ve done.

Ms Kennedy: Is there anything else you would like to say to the Chair?

Karen Wilson: No, that’s fine. Thank you very much.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to turn to the Chair now.

Chair, do you have any questions?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t have any questions, thank you.

Mrs Wilson, I would like to say two things to you. Firstly, I’d like to thank you for introducing me to your late husband, so I’ve got a clear picture of him, and I’d like to thank you for being brave enough to tell us all these things this afternoon. So thank you very much.

Karen Wilson: Thank you.

Ms Kennedy: I think that concludes our evidence for this afternoon.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right and I think tomorrow, am I right in thinking we’re starting at 10.30?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, that is right.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right then. So we’ll adjourn now until 10.30 tomorrow morning. Thanks everyone.

(2.28 pm)

(Adjourned until 10.30 am the following day)