Official hearing page

23 February 2022 – Mujahid Faisal, Suzanne Palmer and Kevin Palmer

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(10.30 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Good morning, everybody.

Ms Kennedy: Good morning.

Sir Wyn Williams: Over to you.

Ms Kennedy: This morning our first witness is Mr Mujahid Aziz Faisal.

Mujahid Faisal


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Hello. My name is Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Have you got a copy of your witness statement there with you?

Mujahid Faisal: I do, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think it should be dated 11 January 2022; is that right?

Mujahid Faisal: It is correct.

Ms Kennedy: Is that your signature on the last page?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes, it is.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Mujahid Faisal: I have, yes.

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

Mujahid Faisal: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Just starting with a couple of introductory questions about you, how old are you now?

Mujahid Faisal: I’m 46 years old now.

Ms Kennedy: How long have you been married to your wife?

Mujahid Faisal: 15 years –

Ms Kennedy: How many children – sorry?

Mujahid Faisal: – September 2006.

Ms Kennedy: How many children do you have?

Mujahid Faisal: I have five – five daughters.

Ms Kennedy: Where were you born?

Mujahid Faisal: I was born in India.

Ms Kennedy: What did you come to the UK to do?

Mujahid Faisal: Initially I came to do like pursue my further education in computer science, which I did successfully, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What types of jobs did you have prior to working for the Post Office?

Mujahid Faisal: I had numerous jobs but mainly providing IT support, which – I was self-employed and I was providing IT support, building computers, installing hardware, computer softwares, building networks, dealing with the internet issues, like taking off viruses and malwares, internet security. And also I have helped many people in web designing and also office product like Microsoft Word, Excel, and also I have designed a smart database for the people, yes.

So that was my – probably, as well, I was earning from there as well.

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

Mujahid Faisal: The reason being, me and my missus were always – because I was self-employed most of the time and I wanted to do a business where I can earn very smart but – and also the main reason was there was a guaranteed income from the Post Office side. Before, like, buying the Post Office I have enquired or I did my investigation regarding the businesses and I found this was the best business because there was a guaranteed income coming from the Post Office side, and, meanwhile, I could build up my, what you say, retail business as well, beside which –

And I also had in my mind that the basic cost of the business would be covered from the Post Office side and I can earn, I can save the money from whatever I will – whatever money I’ll be earning from the retail side, that was my main objective.

And also there’s no doubt that Post Office is a Government organisation and it is a trusted organisation and I felt that working with the reputed organisation would be, like, very beneficial for me and my family.

Ms Kennedy: Which Post Office did you buy?

Mujahid Faisal: 409 Herries Road in Sheffield.

Ms Kennedy: I think was that called Norwood Post Office?

Mujahid Faisal: It is Norwood Post Office, yes.

Ms Kennedy: When did you buy it?

Mujahid Faisal: It was in September 2015 but it took a long process to buy that. I initiated to buy that one in 2014 when I came back from visiting my Mum from India.

Ms Kennedy: So you applied in 2014 and it took some time for the process to complete?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What services did you offer in your Post Office?

Mujahid Faisal: My branch was a main Post Office, so I had passport checking service, withdrawal, cash withdrawal, cash deposit, insurance, stamps, travel insurance – like, all sort of – DVLA, all sorts of services, basically, yes. And also my Post Office is being chosen for BRP cards, the people they come from – for work or for studies, we issue their BRP cards down there, so it is one of the selected Post Offices in a wide area.

Ms Kennedy: What training did you receive when you took over your Post Office?

Mujahid Faisal: It was three days’ training near Manchester – Stockport – and, in there, we were told about some of the – some of the – sorry, excuse me. Like, DVLA, we were not fully explained about those products, yes, or other products. It was mainly they gave us training, like, how to use Horizon system, basically. Some of them, like, if somebody wanted to withdraw cash, then we can, you know, how to deal with that or sending parcels or sending mails, you know, measurements – parcel measurements, like how big it should be or how small it should be and if it’s not parcel, it’s a large letter or …

So many, you know – sorry, I’m getting away from your question. Your question was what training did they give?

So it was a minimal training, basically, about some of the products, which mainly it is daily like daily transactions, basically. Most of the customers, what they will be dealing with, like withdrawing their pensions, sending emails – sending letters or parcels, things like that.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find using the Horizon system for those things?

Mujahid Faisal: The front screen was okay but the back office was pretty much (unclear) because we were not trained for how to print a report – like, how to print, what you call, statements, like if I want to see the losses or if I want to see how much my business has done, all those reports I was not trained for that, no. It was only they trained us like end of the day declaration and the reports come automatically, and those are things – I can’t remember much of because I learned most of the components of the Horizon when I was there on the actual job and, most of the time, like, I had the previous staff there so they taught me.

Ms Kennedy: What shortfalls or balancing issues did you start to have?

Mujahid Faisal: On the first very – like, the first I remember it was £400 in the first week when I – when I was getting trained in front of the trainer we had that shortfall, £400 shortfall, and we seek the help. We couldn’t understand what it is. So my trainer could not even help us to find out where the shortfall is, rather something strange happened on that day.

Ms Kennedy: After that, how often did you notice shortfalls or discrepancies?

Mujahid Faisal: Like, every now and then. Every week, I could say, because most of the time we had to put money, like, between £50 to £100, now and then, we used to pay – because there was no option of the Horizon system. Sometimes, you know, it gives us a chance to declare it centrally. Sometimes it don’t say that I have to declare it centrally, it just asked us to make up the payment.

So if there’s big loss, then definitely we used to have that option: declare it centrally or, you know, make it as a good cash or send them a cheque or something like that.

But it was every week I used to have that sort of losses, yes. And I haven’t – like, I have seen the losses £1,000, £3,000 even, similar to those amounts as well, but they were not every time. They were, like, on the – a few times they were but mostly I had 600, 500, 300, 200, between these range. Most of the time I had, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What use did you make of the helpline?

Mujahid Faisal: Pardon me, could you …

Ms Kennedy: The helpline, what use did you make of the helpline?

Mujahid Faisal: We used to – initially, we call them but, you know, on the first day, the first week of our work, when we lost £400 and we seek the help of the trainer, she could not identify what happened and the point I want to mention is here. You know, we were nervous and she said – she opened her bag and she showed us, like, I am not taking any money with me, and that gave me a very bad impression, you know, because our trainer, if she is doubting that we are doubting her of stealing money, that is not acceptable. She should have helped us to locate that money.

So after that, I thought, like – in my mind, it was, like, even – if this trainer cannot help us, nobody can help us. So I did call – my missus, she was basically – most of the time she was in charge of the Post Office side, and because I was looking after the shop side and customers and I was serving customers both in the shop side and the Post Office side as well.

So she used to make most of the calls to the head office and they used to always say, “You have to tell me” – at one occasion they told her, “You have to tell me where that money is” and usually they say – when I spoke to the office, they always told me, like, “Look, you might have, you know, miscounted it” or even sometime they say, “It will come, you know, if it is – like, if it is down today, it could be tomorrow it will be okay or next week, when you balance, it should be okay”. These sort of answers, like, I used to get.

And because I had previous staff with me, so they helped me a lot as well, you know, and they knew that this money never come back, you know. My staff they used to check all those – like, we used to compare, like, where this money has gone, we used to take out all the reports, check – even we used to check our camera. We might have given somebody, you know, like mistakenly somebody has – we have given about more money or something like that. We checked entire system but we were not successful. We could never, ever find where the money’s gone.

It can happen only one time, twice, you know, like, “Okay, my mistake, we have given some money to” – but not every time or every week.

Ms Kennedy: I think you previously mentioned that most of the shortfalls were for smaller amounts but you mentioned one incident in your statement with your wife, a shortfall of £3,700. Would you tell the Chair about that, please.

Mujahid Faisal: She had – we had a massive loss of 3,700, so we were very afraid, like, where this money has gone and my missus, she rang the Post Office and they said – the person, he was, like, way aggressive or way rude to my missus and he said, “You should be telling us where that money is, rather we tell you. You are running the Post Office” – in a similar tone.

So, from that, we were put back, like, from whom we can get the help. There’s no help at all available to us. And, later on, when I heard that, because either my staff or my missus, whoever is, you know, working with me, should not be – should not be dealt like improperly or, do you know, somebody should not raise their voice over my staff, yes.

So in the next – like, after two or three days I spoke with someone on the phone because I had some problem, you know, a problem with something, or maybe I was ordering stock, or something like that. Then I clearly told the person on the other end that, you know, my staff was treated, like, not well, like how they should be treated. So then, after that, I never heard that complain, like my staff is being treated unwell over the phone.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention also that in 2018 a senior postmaster came to visit you and you told him about the shortfalls. What did he say?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes. We told him, like, you know, we are having big losses, we are having big losses. So, basically, he told us to keep an eye on the staff firstly. Secondly, he asked me to, like, keep an eye on the staff and, you know, like, he told me to clear – sorry, to clear the screen after every transaction, so that you don’t have any other transaction, which we knew already, yes.

When he told me to keep an eye on my staff, I said, “No, this is not right” because my staff, one of the staff he went for three weeks to – like, he was on holiday for three weeks. In between that time, I had £1,000 loss and also £700 loss in the stock – stamps.

So, like, I don’t know whom to trust, like – I know my staff very well, you know, because I know them very well because they are just like family to me, and I have – because I was going to that Post Office, I knew, you know, the previous postmaster and their family as well. Like, there was no family connection but I knew them because I used to, you know, go to the Post Office. So there was no – like I can’t doubt on my staff, yes, because I knew what’s going on. I have checked many times, numerous times the camera, yes?

And also – so he suggested me all those and he also told me his story about, you know, about his staff, and stuff like that. But I said – I thought that it’s not, like – it’s not true, basically.

Ms Kennedy: How much do you think that you paid the Post Office to make good the shortfalls in total?

Mujahid Faisal: What I have recorded was most of the time we had to pay £50 or £100 from our pocket, so I don’t have those records. But 29,000, around 29,000 I have paid to Post Office and, like, big amounts like 1,000, 3,000, 4,000, around £10,000 more on top of that, I can say. So 39,000, which I can say, yes.

Ms Kennedy: You were audited in February 2016; is that right?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes, it is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: How many auditors attended?

Mujahid Faisal: There were two auditors.

Ms Kennedy: When did they arrive?

Mujahid Faisal: They came around 10.00, yes, because we were already open. Our staff was working and they just came and they showed us their ID and they said, “We want to check your cash”. We said okay. So they took about two hours, over two hours to check our cash and I was, like, I was calm. I said, “Okay, then” but my colleagues – not colleagues, like the previous staff, they were just a bit shaky and I could notice what is going on, so I couldn’t understand what’s going on.

Then, yeah, so for two hours they were there, yes, checking my cash.

Ms Kennedy: What were you told was the result of that audit?

Mujahid Faisal: They told us – because I was in the front – I was in the front side of the shop and everybody was there because they said, you know, they cannot come in, and stuff like that. So they told me that, “You are missing – your branch is missing £3,000 or you are short of £3,000”. I said, “How come? It cannot happen”.

And then my colleague, she realised that they might have not counted some of the money because we bring the money for, what you call – like, you know, we don’t keep all the cash with us. We keep only limited cash with us for one hour or two hours and then we bring – if we need, we go and bring the cash from our main safe.

So, basically, my previous – my staff, they showed him, “You are miscounting because we have this cash as well, £3,000” and then they counted again all the cash and they said, “You are right”. But still they said, “You are £200 short” and they warned us, like, “If you are, like, couple of thousands or £1,000 short, then we could have prosecuted you”.

When I heard that, like, I couldn’t believe my ears, like, what’s going on? Why are we likely to be prosecuted? And there was no apology, nothing, from them. They just went.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about that?

Mujahid Faisal: That was then – I discussed that one with my previous colleague, you know, they have worked there for ages. After that I was shocked, I was very nervous, I was numb. Then, do you know, we were very, very careful. Like, we were careful before as well but, after this incident, because we were short of £200, I was very careful when they warned me. I was, like, my – me and my missus we were very, very careful, like, money should not go anywhere, you know, like, and also – I forgot.

Sorry, just one moment, please.

Basically, I was very nervous. I thought, you know, they can come any time and, even my colleagues just told me they can come any time, they can check your cash and if it is short they can penalise you, and all that stuff, I heard. And then I went deep into these investigations, like, what is going on, what had happened to other postmasters? And I learned most of the stories and I was very nervous. I was, like, taking a lot of precautions after that.

Ms Kennedy: Just to be clear, the audit that you just described happened in April 2016; is that right?

Mujahid Faisal: It was February or April … February, I think.

Ms Kennedy: You say in your statement you were initially audited in February and then in April, but it was all around the same time in 2016, was it?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes. Things – do you know, Post Office, basically – working in the – every day I have to – like, our Post Office is so busy we have customers between 200 to 300 customers every day. It’s that busy Post Office. Like, I have described everything in my statement, yes, similar to that. We had two audits, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Then I think you were audited again in September 2019; is that right?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes. That was a very big blow on me because we – I knew that – I knew that my Post Office is balanced correctly, everything is fine because the previous experience I had and I never wanted to face any kind of prosecution. But, still, when they came, they found out that I was 7,000-something, 7,000-plus short in my branch, yes. And, mainly, it was from scratch cards on the lottery system and they wanted to prosecute me for that and I said that I was not trained for the lottery system.

I got this training from my previous staff. I was declaring every fine, everything like how it should be but I don’t know how they’ve found I was short of 7,000-plus in the scratch card or lottery machine.

Ms Kennedy: What did they ask you to do?

Mujahid Faisal: They asked – they asked me to pay it immediately or they told me that they will suspend me or you cannot operate the office, and I was really panicking at that time. Like, if they take the key I have like – because I have taken …

One moment, please.

Because I have a hefty loan over my head, and the lease was in my name because that building, that Post Office was – I was paying rent, it was not my own Post Office. I mean, I was paying for the premises a hefty loan. I have borrowed money from my family and friends on numerous occasions to run this Post Office.

So they told me you cannot – and, do you know, like, suddenly I was – and I had in my mind from the previous, like, they would prosecute me and I knew that they could prosecute me and, like, I was very panicking. I said, “Whatever you want I will just give it to you” because I don’t want that tag on me, that I went to prison or something like that. You know, it was coming in my mind.

And I said okay. Then I went home, I got my cheque book, wrote a cheque to them and that money was also not my money because it was – I was – I was … sorry, one moment, please. I’ll just –

Ms Kennedy: Close the blinds. I noticed. Please take a moment.

Mujahid Faisal: Sorry about that.

So I went home, came back with the cheque and gave them the cheque, and I think they realised that I was not aware of that – those machines, you know, the scratch card, and then they did not prosecute me or they said, “Okay, we’ll give you this chance, you can operate the branch” and, yes.

And also, after I gave them cheque or before I gave them cheque, or something like that, I can’t remember, but I overheard that they were speaking about £10,000 up in my system, which means that the £10,000 is mine and, like, my ears became like elephant, you know, when you hear good news, that, “Oh, I’m up”.

Then I enquired. I told that auditor, “Is it up by £10,000?” He said, “Yes”. And I could not have a chance because I was so much frightened in what system it is coming up with either it is in my cash, either it is in ATM cash or it is a stock cash, and I still regret I should have asked where that – you know, where that money was coming from, like my system was up by £10,000.

Ms Kennedy: What did you decide to do after that audit?

Mujahid Faisal: It was very painful, you know. On the same day, they went about 2.30 and then – okay, I will tell you one thing – thank you – on that audit day, I was – I had to close all my shop. I lost earning of that day. My employees they turned up, I had to pay them for the whole day, okay. That I lost, okay.

I had to pay Post Office £7,000. That I lost, okay. After 2.30, they were there, or 2.00, I can’t exactly remember, me and my former colleague we counted all the cash and we were not short. We were not short, okay.

Then I was so much, like, I was traumatised, basically. I was in shock. And then I did not work the whole day, I send my staff – I said, “Just go, let me relax”, and then I put the shutter down and went back to the house.

Also, on that day, so many people were outside when they saw that label, you know, you can operate other – you can go to other Post Office. So people were, like, complaining, people were shouting saying, “Why are you keeping our money in your Post Office, we need our money”, and things like that, “We need our services”. Even people they came far away to collect their BRPs, and we had to send them back.

Do you know, there’s so much of disruption when these things happen and, as soon as I – like me and – I went home and my missus – I discussed with my missus all these things and we said immediately, because – immediately, “We have to sell this Post Office by hook or by crook”, because previously we tried, we knew all this situation, we tried. We were not able to get that – that, what you call, like, that price. And, soon after this, 2019, we said, “We have to sell it anyway, even – if we can’t sell it, just dispose it of, just put the shutter down and go”. Today, it is, like, one day it was 200, the next time it is 7,000, and we are also injecting cash from our own pocket and third time, do you know, I end up in jail. So we never want – because my – I only have one brother in Sheffield and my entire family is in India or in Saudi Arabia because I grew up over there.

So I have five kids to look after, I have five kids to look after and I could not run the whole business and even after – you know, like, I had so many worries in my mind and also I want to mention, during those days after 2019, I started watching on YouTube those stories of inmates and, you know, what happens in the prison and all those I was watching. Like, I was very frightened because if they put me in jail how – what my family will do? I have very young kids and I am a graduate from university. These all sort of things went in my mind.

Sorry, I’m going too much …

Ms Kennedy: No, please don’t apologise.

Mujahid Faisal: Please ask me some other question, sorry.

Ms Kennedy: How much did you sell your business for?

Mujahid Faisal: Before selling that, you know, I wanted to just give the business to one of the colleagues for free. I said, “Just you can run it”, and he said no. He knew all this. And then I just wanted to put the shutter down. So he said, “Don’t do that because if I do that, everybody will be on your shoulder. Bank will come to you, people will come back to you for your money and also the lease”, which was in my name.

So the lease was in my name, so, “They will be coming for you. So at least sell it for some – like, don’t dispose this or don’t give it for free, sell it for some money, which you can at least pay to Post Office and the lease in your name can be transferred to some other. So you are at least safe from one side”. I said, “That’s a good – like, good thought”.

So, in haste, I tried, you know, from 120 to even 60,000, 120,000, then I tried selling it for 60,000, tried even 45,000 and then, in the end, I had to sell it for 15,000.

Ms Kennedy: How much money did you lose as a result of that?

Mujahid Faisal: Like if you want – sorry, could you repeat your question please?

Ms Kennedy: How much money did you lose as a result of selling your business for £15,000?

Mujahid Faisal: I lost a lot of money. Like, if you ask me investment money then, clearly, 120, take away 15. So it is 105. 105,000 initially from the investment and I lost a lot of money, like, in putting cash and all those and even start – you know, in a buying process money was involved in there, you know, broker fee, and stuff like that. So if you ask me investment money, then it is £105,000.

Ms Kennedy: Who needed to approve the sale of the Post Office?

Mujahid Faisal: Pardon me?

Ms Kennedy: Who needed to approve the sale of your Post Office?

Mujahid Faisal: Who needed to approve?

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement the Post Office had to approve the person you would sell the Post Office to; is that right?

Mujahid Faisal: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, like new subpostmaster, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Yes.

Mujahid Faisal: In – like, I had two occasions. One a buyer, he just said, “I don’t want to buy”, and one buyer he was appointed as a postmaster and, later on, after hearing all this news, he said, “I don’t want to buy the Post Office”. So that was two occasions, and one – and the other one, in the end, you know, like, Post Office agreed the other subpostmaster who bought it for 15,000, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I’m going to ask you some more questions about the financial impact this has had on you. You mentioned loans you took out. Could you tell us –

Sir Wyn Williams: Ms Kennedy, before you do that can I just interrupt for one second because I want to understand the context a little more, if I may, Mr Faisal.

Mujahid Faisal: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: I think that it – later on in your statement, you’ve said that you became one of the Claimants in the Group Litigation, yes?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Can you tell me were you a member of the Group Litigation from the outset or did you join as the case was going on?

Mujahid Faisal: No, in the beginning I joined, because –

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s all right. So you were a Claimant from the time that it joined?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry, from the time that the claim started?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So does it follow that the audit which you had in 2019, when you told me you were being threatened with prosecution unless you paid on that day, was at a time when you were a litigant in that litigation?

Mujahid Faisal: I was, like – yes, I was, yes. I want to tell you one thing why I joined this litigation –

Sir Wyn Williams: Just stay with me for a moment and then Ms Kennedy can take over again. I just wanted to be clear that you were a Claimant against the Post Office –

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – complaining about Horizon –

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – at a time when, in effect, your evidence is that they were threatening you with prosecution unless you paid up on the day?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s right, is it?

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, thank you.

Yes, Ms Kennedy.

Ms Kennedy: You have mentioned loans you took out. Could you tell us a bit more about the loans you took out?

Mujahid Faisal: I had to take loans on numerous occasions because I could not concentrate on my – on the shop side, even Post Office, I had to pay Post Office a lot of money, I had to pay wages and rents, and other things like insurances – around £25,000, I owe people, yes.

Ms Kennedy: How are you now financially?

Mujahid Faisal: Still I am struggling financially, though after selling the Post Office in 2020, September 2020, since that, you know, I am very depressed, I have a lot of high blood pressure. I am working here and there to support myself, yes, and also I’m preparing myself to go back to IT, which is very difficult at my age.

Ms Kennedy: The Chair’s already asked you some questions about the Group Litigation.

Mujahid Faisal: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: How much money did you receive as a settlement in that litigation?

Mujahid Faisal: It was 7,500, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What impact has all of this on your mental health?

Mujahid Faisal: Honestly speaking, every … you know, I can, like, my short-term memory is lost. If you ask me some question, I’m very nervous. I can’t answer you, you know. Things like this happen. People ask me my name and I’m just looking, staring at their face. I will tell you incidents like I drive car and on the signal I just stop, whether it is the green – you know, sometimes it is green but I’m not going. I just go – you know, like, I’m driving, my signal is green but still I am stopping there. I don’t know where my mind is, you know.

So I get horn from the – you know from the other drivers, even my missus, my kids, they say, “Baba, why are you stopping there? It is green, go” and then, you know, I realise that why am I stopping.

I am – I’m having level 3 of high blood pressure. I’m taking like 10mg of different sort of medicines. My – I’m – my … just one moment, please.

I have anxiety. Doctor has diagnosed that I have depression but I don’t want to be on those antidepressant pills so I ask them, like, “If you can treat me differently”. So they have given me some medicine for anxiety, to reduce anxiety. And also I can’t sleep because I have sleepless nights. I have – do you know, you might find a ghost every day, every night walking in my house, from checking all the doors. Every night, I do this for five/six times. I only hardly sleep three/four hours sleep in whole night and always confused because there’s a hefty load on my shoulders.

It’s not my money, it’s public money, which I have borrowed from the bank or from the people and I have to clear – and, honestly, I’m so much depressed.

Let me please mention one thing because I follow my religion, yes, and in my religion, if I die without paying my debts, my funeral should not take place. You know, I should be buried without taking the funeral. This is – like, when I feel those things, you know, like, because I – I feel very sad, you know, if we don’t know when – like I don’t know when I’ll be in this departing from this world. So, before that, I need to clear all my debts and I swear by our God, you know, I never keep anybody’s money in my pocket, no.

So any incident that happened in the Post Office like people sometimes forget, you know, to take change, and I told them, “This is your change”. Even once I, like, there was £50 he – okay, a customer came to us and he took the money, those foreign cash, and he went away without taking his £50 back, and my colleague he told me. So after three weeks I saw him in the – he never came to me for three or four weeks. I saw him in the pizza shop, and I told him, “Did you come to my Post Office for – like, how was your journey? He said, “Oh, yes, it was fine, how do you know”. I said, “I work in the Post Office, you came to collect the foreign cash”. “Oh, yes, I remember that, thank you very much for remembering me and this”. I said, “Brother, I know your face, I have checked in the camera, and you did not take your £50 back”. He said, “Oh, is it? Oh, thank you for telling me that”, and then he came back after two or three days and I gave him the –

Similarly, in the shop side as well, when people sometimes they, do you know, they forget their change they’re just in so much hurry. So I remember and then I keep it in a small bag, you know, those Post Office bags, money pouches, and I give them. And if you go in the Post Office everybody knows me, everybody knows my nature.

I would also say sometimes people they forget their cash in the cash machine, yes, and machine is beeping and sometime, you know, I go there and the money’s, you know, like money comes back. Sometimes people, they hand me with cash saying that somebody left it there and I write the time and everything and then ask – if somebody comes, then I say, “You know, this is your money”. This happened about two or three occasions. I returned their money.

So, like, I’m very clear, like, I don’t want to keep anybody’s money with me. I’m sorry, I’m just going too much –

Ms Kennedy: Please don’t apologise. What impact has this had on your family life?

Mujahid Faisal: Let me start with a very sad occasion. Do you know, we – because most – I used to run, you know, Post Office. My timing was from – there were different timings we changed many times, the timings.

So we closed the Post Office, we had like a large discrepancy, and we were coming back, all of my kids and my wife. So I was so aggressive and I said, “Why don’t the death come to me and take me?” And my kids are in the back. I’m speaking in my own language, like, Urdu. And my missus, she says, “Why you? Let it come to me and I will go”. I said, “Then who will look after the kids?” She said, “You”. I said, “No, I will go and work and I’ll have to find, you know, a source of income and I have to get the money to look after my kids”. You know, conversation going from here and there, and why we are thinking all those, you know, about death and stuff, and my kids are sitting in the back.

And my missus, she laughed and I said, “Why are you laughing”, she said – she told me that we have kids in the back, you know, and there were many times – and when we stop talking about this in front of the kids – every time, like, family life, she say, “We don’t” – like, we were not sleeping together because, first reason, we end up in argument for three or four hours we just speak about the Post Office. So I was sleeping, you know, on the sofa downstairs and my kids they also got very disturbed. They always asked me, “Baba, when you are working so hard, Mum and Baba, you are working so hard, when you have like 12 hours working in the Post Office, why can’t we go on holidays, why can’t we have good house, why can’t we have good car”, things like that, these questions were always in our ear.

What I have discovered, my eldest children they – when we go for shopping, they always see the price tag. If they like something they just don’t want to buy because of the price and, even they tell my other kids, like, their younger siblings, “Mama, Baba cannot afford this one because we don’t have money, they don’t have money”, and my other kids when she’s just in nursery, and the other one as well, so they just keep the things and then, after some time, I have to go and get those things for them because I know they are not too expensive, like £3 or £4 or £5. Even £5, it is too much for them.

Ms Kennedy: What would you like from the Post Office now?

Mujahid Faisal: I have written some of the things which is on my paper, please let me read.

I know it’s Horizon’s fault or IT fault, which they knew that there is a fault in the system and, because of this, most of the Post Office they have suffered, some of the Post Office, they even took their own life. I would say, Ms Kennedy, if a person is a thief he will never end up like – he will never take his life, yeah. He will try to run away. We all are innocent and I understand like people they have to declare false declaration because I was in that situation. I used to make up the money, put it in and declare it, make the books right.

But a stage came when there was no money for me and, honestly speaking, I said, “I am not putting shop side money in the Post Office because my shop does not balance then”. I don’t know where the shop money because my accountant says, “Where this money has gone?” and I say, “It is gone”. So he write it in my wages then.

So … sorry, excuse me.

So, basically, I want fair compensation from the Post Office because I have hefty loan on me. I have to pay bank, utility bills, credit card bills, I have borrowed money from my friends. I have worked there like a bonded labour. You know, like, if I tell you it was my business, no, it was not my business, the reason being, if I want to go holiday, I cannot take off from the Post Office, I have to employ someone. So I am paying on from my own pocket to keep the Post Office running. I was following all the restrictions and rules of the Post Office.

So, basically, I have worked for them. So, for five consecutive years I did not take any pleasure from there or any money from there, yes, as my wages or my salary or my income. So I need that one as well. And I bought this Post Office, like, I will retire on there and like my retirement money’s also gone.

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

Mujahid Faisal: Thank you very much, my Honour, for listening us. Most of the things I have covered but I would like to address for those seven years or these seven years my Mum, she wanted to see my kids anxiously and I had no money, basically, to take my kids to my Mum. In those five or six years, I only visited my home in 2019, before the pandemic, for ten days only, because my Mum kept me saying “When are you coming, you always promise and you do not come”.

When I went to her, when I was hugging her she refused. She refused. I could feel that. I could feel that she refused me. Then she accepted me. It was about 3.00 or 4.00 in the morning and – and then I stayed with her for ten days. Then I had to come back again. She told me so many stories, so many – do you know, so many things, so many poetries she read for me, and she always wanted to see my kids. She said “Are you bringing your kids? I want to see them”.

She passed away last January, 27 January, it was Sunday. She passed away. I was looking on her on my brother’s camera, like, on WhatsApp. I could see her, like, mouth open, and all those things, and the day before she spoke to me and she said, “Beta, I want to see your kids”, I had – I can’t tell her that I don’t have money to bring them.

On one occasion in 2019, when I was going to see her for ten days, I also took – like, I applied for the visa for my daughter as well and, later on, I had to drop – me and my daughter we got visa but eventually I had to drop because I had no money to you know buy a ticket for my daughter. So this is very painful moment. I was called a businessman but I was a zero man and I was working for this big organisation, I had no money to even take my kids to my Mum. She want to look like she want, like she want to physically touch them and hug them. This moment I will always, always remember and I feel guilty, sometimes, I think that I would have taken more loan from my friends or family and took them but …

And also, your Honour, I want to read a few lines in memory of my Mum, to all the postmasters, please, if you allow me.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Yes, please.

Mujahid Faisal: It’s a poetry written by Javed Akhtar. He is a lyricist in India. He says – one moment please:

“My heart may be unsuccessful, my heart may be unsuccessful but it’s not despair;

“Even though evening of grief is long, even though evening of grief is long but it’s only an evening;

“This journey is exceedingly hard, this journey is exceedingly hard, this night of tiring is about to pass, this darkness of sorrow is about to dissolve;

“It may take some time but don’t be sad, my friend, these difficulties shall not always be with us; our destination is just around the corner.

“Believe me, believe me my dear, some day, some day this caravan shall find, some day this caravan shall find that new land, that new sky which is being searched by our wounded eye.

“This journey is exceedingly hard, this journey is exceedingly hard but don’t be sad, don’t be sad.”

This has been dedicated to all my subpostmasters and for my Mum.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Faisal, thank you very much for reading that very moving poem and thank you very much for coming to give evidence and explaining the difficulties you’ve suffered. Thank you, again.

Mujahid Faisal: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Shall we take a short break now, Ms Kennedy?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, perhaps for ten minutes, until quarter to.

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly, yes.

(11.34 am)

(A short break)

(11.48 am)

Ms Kennedy: Chair, our next witness is Mrs Suzanne Palmer.

Suzanne Palmer

SUZANNE PALMER (affirmed).

Questioned by Ms Kennedy

The Witness: I’m really sorry. It’s just it’s 15 years and one month exactly to the day that I had a policewoman stand behind me and I thought I was going to prison, so I’m really nervous. I’m sorry.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, don’t be nervous. We’ve got plenty of time. Ms Kennedy asks the questions and in a nice relaxed manner and, if it happens I want to ask one or two, I’ll be the same. So just relax, all right.

Suzanne Palmer: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: It’s easier said than done.

Suzanne Palmer: Yeah, okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: But I’m sure that you’ll be fine.

Suzanne Palmer: Okay, thank you.

Ms Kennedy: As I think you know, my name is Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Chair. I think you should have two witness statements in front of you.

Suzanne Palmer: I have, yes.

Ms Kennedy: So turning to your first witness statement, which I think should be dated 26 January 2022?

Suzanne Palmer: It is.

Ms Kennedy: If you look on the last page, which I think should be page 20, is that your signature?

Suzanne Palmer: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Suzanne Palmer: I have.

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

Suzanne Palmer: As much as I can remember, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Turning then to your second statement, which I think should be dated 9 February?

Suzanne Palmer: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Again, is that your signature on the last page, page 9?

Suzanne Palmer: Page, sorry?

Ms Kennedy: 9. I think it’s the last page.

Suzanne Palmer: Yes, it is. Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read this through recently?

Suzanne Palmer: I have, yes.

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

Suzanne Palmer: That is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I’m going to start by asking you a few introductory questions about you.

Suzanne Palmer: Okay.

Ms Kennedy: How old are you now?

Suzanne Palmer: I’m 62.

Ms Kennedy: How long have you been married?

Suzanne Palmer: A long while.

Ms Kennedy: How many children do you have?

Suzanne Palmer: I have two boys and they’re 43 and 33.

Ms Kennedy: What jobs did you have before you started working for the Post Office?

Suzanne Palmer: Well, when the boys were growing up I did school dinners, you know, things that fitted in with the boys and then, as they got older, I worked for a cleaning company and I was the area supervisor, make sure that the staff did what they should do and then I go to the bank managers and find out, just check, that they were happy with the staff.

Ms Kennedy: So how did you end up working in a Post Office?

Suzanne Palmer: Because banks are cleaned early mornings, late evenings, I’d call into the local shop and used to chat to the owner and he just said one day “Why don’t you come and work for me?” I only lived in the next Street. I’d lived there 22 years and, prior to that, I’d lived two streets the other way to the shop for 11 years. So I knew him and – yeah, I thought, yeah, okay.

Ms Kennedy: I think that Post Office was called Swallows Post Office –

Suzanne Palmer: It was, yes.

Ms Kennedy: – at the time. Do you remember when you started working there?

Suzanne Palmer: I don’t remember the year but I just – I remember working there. I was just a counter clerk and it was the old fashioned, you know, the stamp – I da-da, like this, you know, that’s how we used to account. And then the Horizon system arrived there. But, again, I was only a counter clerk, just did, you know, everyday pensions and giros and never did any balancing or anything, just three mornings a week. So quite happy with that.

Ms Kennedy: Then you went to, I think you say in your statement, work at another Post Office?

Suzanne Palmer: I did. The postmaster where I worked, he was – he was suspended, so I went to work at another local branch, within walking distance of my home, so I went there.

Ms Kennedy: I think that was at Hambro?

Suzanne Palmer: It was, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Then you also worked at another Post Office for a while, the Bridgewater Drive?

Suzanne Palmer: I did. When the postmaster went from Swallows, as it was then, a family member of his took over and then, because it was close to home, I’d still pop in there, and his brother-in-law needed help at Bridgewater Drive. So he said would I be interested to go in there, so I was quite happy to. Like – loved my job, went to work at Bridgewater Drive. And then – and then he taught me a lot more, you know, he started to show me the end of day balance and things and then he’d leave me and I was quite happy, like, there. And then we heard that Swallows newsagents was up for sale.

Ms Kennedy: That was round 2003; is that right?

Suzanne Palmer: A bit before that I think. I can’t remember. So in any case, one day, Jay, he said to me, “Why don’t we buy Swallows newsagent, you run it and I’ll be a silent partner?” So I went home and told my husband, and I loved my job, so he just said to me … “If you want it, I’ll buy it for you”. Sorry.

So he did.

Ms Kennedy: When you took over, I think, or maybe slightly afterwards, you changed the name to The Grange Post Office?

Suzanne Palmer: I did. Mr Patel, as soon as I said I’d buy and I gave him a deposit, he left. And I wasn’t the postmistress but, obviously, I knew how to run the Post Office, I knew how to run the shop, loved the shop. I took on the ongoing staff who had been there a long while. When I took over, there was an elderly gentlemen in the shop and he’d been there I don’t know how long, long, long time. I never told people I’d bought it. They always thought he owned it and I just let them carry on thinking he owned it.

Because I’d worked there before, my boys went to school around there, we knew everybody, I’d lived there, like, all my life, the majority of my adult life. So we just knew everybody. It was just nice.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned your husband bought this for you.

Suzanne Palmer: He did.

Ms Kennedy: How did he finance that?

Suzanne Palmer: Well, we had savings and then we put in half in cash and then I got a business loan but, in order to get the business loan, because I’m quite methodical, I got a Pinder report, which is an old fashioned thing that just tells you that your business is worth what you’re buying. So I did that and went to the bank and produced – you know, asked them, and they were quite happy. They came, saw the business, didn’t need, you know – we had the other half.

So, yeah, bought the business. It was – the loan was secured against 105 London Road, which was Swallows, so, yes, everything was fine. I knew I could afford it because – I don’t know how this sounds, I hadn’t really had money jobs, so when I became the postmistress, I knew I could afford the loan, the shop, and the Post Office paid the loan and the business, and my husband just carried on running the home as he’d always done all our lives, you know. It wasn’t – it was just that’s the way it was. The shop ran the shop and my husband ran the home.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about becoming a subpostmistress, was it exciting?

Suzanne Palmer: Yeah, of course it was. I loved it. I loved the shop. I always opened the shop, always. I loved it. Loved early mornings because I’d always done that. Yeah, and then I’d go home for – like, when my youngest because he was – you know, he was a teenager but he still wanted his Mum there when he got up and, you know, sort him out, and yeah. And then I’d be home or he could come in the shop from school or – you know, and then I did the Post Office. I had staff in the shop and staff in the Post Office. It was fine. Everything was fine.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned that you received some training on Horizon when you were a counter clerk.

Suzanne Palmer: I did, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What training did you receive when you took over as a subpostmistress?

Suzanne Palmer: I had – it was when – I was in the process of buying the shop and then they had a three-day training up in London, so I went up and did that but that was just basic – it wasn’t really balancing, it was more to do with the general selling of the products and because I’d already been there for like – I’d been in other Post Offices, I obviously knew and they didn’t really – although I was there to help, like, the other people were saying you know, “How do you do that, and how” – you know, it was just general – but yeah it was okay but it wasn’t the balancing. It wasn’t.

I’d – the outgoing postmaster, he left me a manual. You used to have Counter Weekly for everyday things and then he just left me a manual that I followed.

Ms Kennedy: How adequate did you think the training was?

Suzanne Palmer: Well, if you were brand new to it and you didn’t know what you were doing, then I suppose that’s adequate. But if you’ve already done it and then you’re doing the same thing, then it wasn’t adequate for me because I needed more – more to be the manager, do you see what I mean, to do the end of day – not the end of day balance, the weekly balance and the monthly, roll over.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find using the Horizon system?

Suzanne Palmer: Yeah, okay, yeah. It wasn’t a problem.

Ms Kennedy: I think you then mention in your statement you started to begin noticing some shortfalls; is that right?

Suzanne Palmer: I did. This was before I was subpostmistress and, yeah, first of all it started like smaller amounts, and it was £100, £200, and I’m going to the staff “You’ve really got to be careful this week”, you know, try – I wasn’t accusing them and just saying to them, because I’m the way I am, just saying to them, you know, “Please be really careful because it’s cost me 500 this week”. So we’d balance, look, check all the stamps. But I’m quite methodical so before we put anything on the system, I always had a spreadsheet and I always accounted for everything, everything always every night had to be counted. All the change, all the cash, had a spreadsheet and it was all put on there and then we didn’t ever put that on the system until we’d checked, double checked, and the staff did. If I wasn’t there in the shop or at home or wherever, everybody knew that was the way we run the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: Did you use the helpline at all?

Suzanne Palmer: Yeah. I think they were on my Friends and Family, I rang them so often, because I just – because I was new and because I wasn’t really – well, I was in charge but I wasn’t the subpostmistress – I just thought, “What am I doing? There’s got to be something I’m not doing”. So I rang them and I just said to them, “I need help. Can you send somebody down to help because”, I said, “I don’t understand this”. I said, “I’m trying to work through it”. We were really careful. Everybody was. I mean, they were really good, you know. I was trying not to accuse them but – but I suppose, in a way, I was just saying to them, you know, “Be really careful”.

And when I rang it was like they were reading from a manual like, “Oh, well, that’s question 3(b), oh yeah, that’s the answer”, and tried to … and I just said to them, “But you’re not answering my question. How can I – if I’ve put everything in correctly, how is that not balancing with what you’ve got? What is happening – there’s something happening in between”. So I said, “Get somebody here”.

Ms Kennedy: What did they say to that?

Suzanne Palmer: They said, “If you put the money in, then it will probably come back as an error or transaction correction”. So they take a while to generate and they don’t come back. So, obviously, I’m then putting in more and more money.

So then, I don’t like to say really, but then obviously I’m having to reduce the staff because then I’m reducing the risk and I’m … this sounds awful, but – so I was trying to minimise what was happening because I thought: if it’s just me and Mo and Bill, who have been with from the beginning, I thought if you – then you’re minimising what’s happening. Sorry.

Ms Kennedy: No, don’t apologise.

I think in your statement you mention a number of the bigger shortfalls that you noticed?

Suzanne Palmer: Yes, I do. I had a 1,200 discrepancy, so I rang my husband I went “You’re just not going to believe today”. So because he’s busy working and he came after work. We literally took everything out, we counted every single stamp, everything that was there, it just didn’t tally. It just didn’t.

So I rang the helpline, they told me “I’ve got to put it in”. I said “I’m not putting it in, unless you can show me where this is wrong. This is wrong”. So, because I always did a spreadsheet, I did the 10s, 20s, blah, blah, blah, and then, in my final column, was “miscellaneous” and Scots and newsagent. So I didn’t inflate the figures or I didn’t – I accounted for it but not with my actual cash, do you see what I mean? At the end, I accounted – okay, I’d accounted for it. I didn’t put it in because it was such a large amount.

And then a few weeks later, lo and behold, 3,200. So, by this time, I’m really not happy with the helpline. So I said “You get somebody here now”. So, did anybody arrive? No. They sent me reams of paper “It’s to do with your scratch cards, it’s because this, this”. I said “If you can explain it to me, I’ll put it in but I’m not putting it in until you come and you show me where I’m going wrong”, because, at this time, I’m thinking “Okay, I’ve only just taken over, I’m doing it”. You know, I felt inadequate, I felt – I just thought “I can do this, and Mo and I would do this together, so …

And then they sent the auditors in.

Ms Kennedy: Just before we get to the audit –

Suzanne Palmer: Sorry.

Ms Kennedy: No, don’t apologise. I think you mentioned in your statement there were a number of smaller discrepancies?

Suzanne Palmer: Yes, lots of them.

Ms Kennedy: What would you do when those arose?

Suzanne Palmer: Just put them in. Up until the 1,200, the months prior to that, I was just – because, as I say, I was new to it, I’m thinking – I’m reading from a manual to balance, so I’m thinking I’m missing – I’ve got – it’s got to be me. I’m missing something here.

Ms Kennedy: As you mentioned, I think the auditors arrive in around October 2005?

Suzanne Palmer: They did, yes.

Ms Kennedy: How many auditors were there?

Suzanne Palmer: Two.

Ms Kennedy: What notes at that stage had you made of the various discrepancies and the shortfalls?

Suzanne Palmer: On the spreadsheet and on the Horizon system but, as everybody said to you before, you get all the paperwork and then we put it all in an envelope and out the back, in the stock room, I kept everything and every time I would wrap that spreadsheet around the money so if anybody ever – if I wasn’t there, somebody came in, everybody could always see what I’d done, why I’d done it and why, because, as I say, they didn’t come and they didn’t explain it, and I said “Until you do, I’m not putting that money in”.

Ms Kennedy: What did the auditors say to you when you told them about these notes that –

Suzanne Palmer: “You can’t do that”. So I said, “No, I know I can’t do it, but what was I supposed to do? Perhaps you can explain it”. So they just said to me – they counted everything, they said “There’s 9,000 missing and we’re taking your Post Office”.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement that they called someone else as well, the area manager?

Suzanne Palmer: Alan Lusher, yes.

Ms Kennedy: You were suspended then?

Suzanne Palmer: There and then, yes. Well, that evening but they – obviously, I was panicking by then. I felt like I’d been hit with a baseball bat. So I’m thinking: okay, I’m running the shop, I’ve got a Post Office, I’ve got staff. And they said that they’d let my assistant take over. She could become the postmistress, providing I guaranteed them I’d never go back in the Post Office. So obviously I agreed because I needed that Post Office open. It was part of the shop, part of the business, but I lost that salary instantly.

Sir Wyn Williams: Just so that I’m sure I’m following your statement correctly, when you talk about that assistant, and you mentioned the lady, Mo, is that Mrs M Upton.

Suzanne Palmer: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What did they say to you at that time in respect of prosecution?

Suzanne Palmer: Well, they didn’t really, they just said that they were going to sign it over to Mrs Upton, did she want to take it on. So she looked like, you know, rabbit in headlights but she said – for me, because we’d always worked together, she said “Yeah, okay, if we can keep the business open, yeah, that’s fine”, because she understood. I mean, everybody who worked there always knew, like, what I’d done.

So, yeah, so – and then the next morning, obviously I was doing the newspapers, wasn’t allowed in the Post Office and a lady from the investigation team came and I’m not allowed in the Post Office, so she took me out the back. This is the Friday. I showed her everything I’d done, so she said – she sort of understood what I’d done but she said “It’s not the correct way of doing it”. So then she said “We’ll have to interview you”, which was on the Monday.

So my husband took me up to Enfield and there was the investigating lady and another lady and I had a taped interview.

But with me, over the weekend, I’d said to my husband – because they said it was 9,000 missing. So I said to my husband “They’ve said that there’s 9,000 missing” and – she did say to me on the Friday “If you correct it, the chances are they won’t prosecute you”. So on the Monday, when we went to London, I took the money in a carrier bag. I had the money with me, because I just thought – discussed it with my husband, he said “Just give them the money, Sue, give them the money. You know, it will come back, it will – once you’ve seen – had the interview” – and then I had to see the area manager – “they’ll understand what’s happened, they’ll understand that it’s – there’s something, somewhere, they’ll send somebody and it will be sorted”.

So I – we decided that I just took the money. So she said “Well, you can’t do that, go back and put it in the” – so next morning I took it back and Mrs Upton put it through the Post Office. So they said if I did, then the charge – they wouldn’t prosecute me.

So I then had an interview with Alan Lusher. He –

Sir Wyn Williams: Not too quickly, if you would.

This suggestion to you that if you repaid the money or paid the money, you would likely not be prosecuted.

Suzanne Palmer: Likely not be prosecuted.

Sir Wyn Williams: That was said to you in the interview on the Monday, yes?

Suzanne Palmer: On the Friday. So I took the money up on the Monday.

Sir Wyn Williams: So you took the money.

Suzanne Palmer: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Was that repeated to you on the Monday or was that not said?

Suzanne Palmer: To be honest, I wouldn’t like to say 100 per cent because they taped the interview, it was a long time. Obviously, they asked me if I wanted somebody with me or a rep, so I said no, I’m fine. So I went and did the interview. Carried on running the shop, Mo ran the Post Office. I said to her “Any discrepancies it will be sorted”, so I know that they’d made her temporary subpostmistress but I said “The responsibility’s still mine”. I didn’t want her to worry. So anything that happened –

And then three months, I think it must have been three months later, I was waiting for a letter to say that, you know – oh, I went and saw Alan Lusher, sorry. I had the interview with him, was waiting for a decision on what would happen and then I’d got a phonecall and she just said to me, out the blue, “I’m sorry”, she said, “It’s not good news for you, they’re going to prosecute you”.

So I rang Alan Lusher and I said “They’re prosecuting me”, so he said it’s – “The prosecution is decided by an outside body. It’s separate to the Post Office, I think”. It’s – I can’t remember. But because he said, although I’d done it wrong, it wasn’t malicious or I didn’t – it wasn’t like I’d inflated the figures. I hadn’t – I’d accounted for it but accounted wrongly. I know what I mean but that’s what I meant, in any case.

So that was in the – I think the April. I then had to go to Basildon Magistrates’ Court.

Ms Kennedy: Just pausing there, how did you feel when you found out you were going to be prosecuted?

Suzanne Palmer: Oh my God, I went – she rang me in the morning. By the afternoon, I was at the solicitor’s because I said to them “I have done nothing wrong”. So I told them everything, went through everything with them and, really, they dealt with the legal side. I didn’t tell my boys because I thought the misunderstanding at the Post Office would be sorted. So I didn’t … sorry.

I didn’t actually tell them until they told me they were going to prosecute me. Sorry.

Ms Kennedy: Please, don’t apologise.

Suzanne Palmer: So my oldest son – I mean, I sound like a tragic case but, because of the stress, my husband couldn’t deal with it and because – when you see somebody you love going through something horrendous, he had a heart attack. So he then couldn’t really deal with everything and so my eldest son, who was absolutely brilliant, he never left my side all through – he said “Just get everything Mum, it will be sorted, don’t worry”.

So I went to Basildon Magistrates’ Court, they said they were going to transfer it to the Crown Court, which they did. I had a date just before Christmas and they adjourned that and then I had a date of 23 January 2007.

Ms Kennedy: Prior to your trial, what were the Post Office or their lawyers saying to you?

Suzanne Palmer: I didn’t have any correspondence with them at all. Everything was dealt with through my thing. It was only at the court that they said to me “If you plead guilty you’ll get – the chances are, you’ll just get community service. If you don’t plead guilty, we will put you in prison”. I said “I’m not pleading guilty because I’ve done nothing wrong”. So they said – my sons and my husband said “Stand there, Mum, stand proud and you tell them you’ve done nothing wrong”, and that’s what I did.

So they put me through a three-day trial, I was found not guilty on all charges, took about ten minutes to decide – in fact, we went out the courtroom and my barrister and my solicitor said “Go and get a cup of tea, it could – takes a while”, and then they said “Palmer to Room 2”, or “Mrs Palmer”, or “Palmer to Room 2”, and I walked back in and, as I walked into the dock, the policewoman come and stood behind me. So I thought “Oh my God, I’m going to prison” and they found me not guilty on all counts.

So, you can imagine, I was – it was unbelievable. So I was really happy, went to – the usher lady came up and she hugged me and so she said “We’re just so sorry”, she said, “that you had to go through that”, she said – and then as we left I saw two of the jurors and they said they knew within like ten minutes/half hour that I just hadn’t done anything.

Luckily for me, while the trial was on, one of the jurors said she wanted to ask a question and they said “Mrs Palmer rang you and asked you what she was supposed to do because she didn’t agree with the – you know, with the error, the discrepancy”, and the barrister turned to the Post Office, who were there, and they couldn’t answer either because they couldn’t actually tell me what I was supposed to do while it was sorted out. So, obviously, then I was found not guilty.

So here I go, I’m happy, off I go home, walk in the shop, I’ve looked at the girls. So I’m thinking: well, at least look happy for me, you know, here I am. And they held the newspaper up: “Postmistress guilty of stealing the money”.

The newspaper had pre-empted the verdict for the Friday because you sell more newspapers – back then, you know, it was jobs and cars and that in the local paper, and it was bigger news on a Friday, but she hadn’t waited for the verdict. So then she put that I’d – I was police interviewed, that I’d stolen lottery charitable money because I took it home. You name it. They wrote parts that I’d had – when I was in the shop – because, you know, I thought it was a lovely friendly place, and the girls in the front of shop they started to do a petition for me. So we had 600 signatures. But I said to them “Don’t put just put your signature because if they want to check”, I said, “they can then ring anybody and check that – if you put your phone number or your address they can check that I haven’t just made up these people, you know, imaginary people”.

So, yeah, about 600 signatures, and all them people – they supported me, right the way through, the customers. It was lovely – not lovely because I was being prosecuted but, do you know what I mean? It wasn’t – people stood by me. Of course, once the newspaper put “postmistress guilty” … you can imagine.

Ms Kennedy: I think you also mention in your statement that the person who took over your Post Office for you, your friend who had been working with you, she came to court with you?

Suzanne Palmer: Oh, I forgot that, yes. Well, I didn’t forget but tried to forget.

Ms Kennedy: What happened there?

Suzanne Palmer: Mo came to – I had a local businessman, Swallows Aquatics, which was a big customer, business customer. He came and gave evidence for me. Bill who worked with me, and Mo, because she was my manager. My husband, he was at the court with us, and they went up and they said if she gives evidence on my behalf they will prosecute her as well because she knew what I was doing.

So she was beside herself and my husband said “Sue wouldn’t expect you to”. I mean, she had young children. Mine were old but – or older but we wouldn’t expect her to do that. So my husband said to her, “You know, we wouldn’t want you to do it”.

So after I was found not guilty and that, not long after, a few months after, she left me because …

Sir Wyn Williams: When you say “they”.

Suzanne Palmer: The Post Office barristers, or Post Office.

Sir Wyn Williams: So I’d like you to be as precise as possible.

Suzanne Palmer: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: I know it’s a long time ago. But was it an employee of the Post Office, as you understood it, or was it one of the lawyers who said –

Suzanne Palmer: It was the legal team.

Sir Wyn Williams: One of their legal –

Suzanne Palmer: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Was it said to a member of your legal team?

Suzanne Palmer: Yes, to my legal team.

Sir Wyn Williams: So it was lawyer to lawyer?

Suzanne Palmer: Yes, and then they said, because they tried to – because obviously, you can imagine, I was in a right state. They tried to keep it all away from me, my son and my husband, and they like said to Mo, “It’s up to you, but Sue wouldn’t expect you to do that”. I wouldn’t want anybody to be go through what I’d been through, you know. So, yes, so it’s really difficult, and yeah.

Ms Kennedy: After that, I think you say they terminated your contract, the Post Office.

Suzanne Palmer: They did. I don’t really remember it because, at the time, because of the trial and we thought everything would be – I’d be reinstated because, in my book, not guilty means not guilty so I thought they have got to reinstate me, okay, and when they didn’t, because of the stress and that, my husband was really ill again and then he had to have a triple heart bypass.

So I was dealing with him up in Bart’s, the shop, life – it was a nightmare.

Ms Kennedy: What payment did you receive from them on your termination, the Post Office, that is?

Suzanne Palmer: I didn’t. Oh, they paid me – I think when they audited me, which was October – I forget which date it was, I can’t – I honestly can’t say. I think I got a few days’ pay and then obviously the remuneration went to somebody else. But, yeah, instantly. So then I’ve got a husband who can’t work, obviously. I’ve got a shop I can’t pay the bills on, I’ve – my whole world’s come in. But we were –

I mean, my husband worked really hard and we had nice things, so we sold them, whatever – just to keep the business going. We sold the car. I mean, I lived – I worked and lived within walking distance, so sold the car, it’s only a piece – you know, it’s only a car. My husband – we bought a new van, we paid cash for, but obviously he couldn’t go to work, so that was surplus. But we didn’t have any credit, no credit cards, all the wholesalers I always paid cash, because that’s the way I am. The shop paid for itself, as I say, and the Post Office salary paid the loan, the bills.

But then, of course, I’ve got no income at home either, so I’m trying to make everything go everywhere, and that’s not happening.

Ms Kennedy: How much would you estimate your overall financial losses were caused by – how much was caused by all of this, your losses?

Suzanne Palmer: What, you mean the loss of my home, the loss of the business, the loss of my family? You put a price on my family then.

Ms Kennedy: We’ll come to your family but, just at moment, just your financial losses, because –

Suzanne Palmer: Well, I paid 150,000 for the business and then stock at value, we put in a new Post Office for them that my husband built that, obviously, he did for me. Thousands, wiped out.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that you were made bankrupt, you were forced into bankruptcy?

Suzanne Palmer: We tried – as I say, I had my husband – I mean, I was lucky. My husband had bought me nice jewellery, nice things, we had a nice car, we had a nice van, we had a nice home, the boys were grown up. You know, life – didn’t even need the business. I can’t – sorry. I’ve gone off track.

So I sold everything, everything I had, sold. They’re things, aren’t they?

Ms Kennedy: When was the bankruptcy discharged?

Suzanne Palmer: 2016.

Ms Kennedy: Where do you live now?

Suzanne Palmer: Well –

Ms Kennedy: In terms of – sorry, to be clear, you previously mentioned in your statement about the big house that you lived in?

Suzanne Palmer: I had a lovely home, my husband had put an extension on it, we’d lived there 22 years. That was my family home, and we even decided to sell the house. We just thought, the boys aren’t there, sell the house, you know, we’ve got the – I needed an income, so the shop was the best option to keep; keep the shop. So sold the house – well, the estate agent came round at 9.00 in the morning on the Wednesday and by 3.00 it had been sold.

So, you know, a weight off your mind, thank God for that. A customer in the shop he had a bungalow that he said we could move into until he sold it, so that – you know, I had somewhere to go.

The solicitors got in touch with me, sent me a letter. The bank had attached the loan from the business onto my home. So, obviously, I had no way of paying that off and couldn’t afford the mortgage then, couldn’t afford the loan, and they repossessed the house. But moved into the bungalow, and then the guy there he was selling and we were homeless. He issued us with a section 21 and we were homeless. But my boys had bought me a little – so the council gave us this. It’s not a flat, it’s a studio. But my boys 12 years ago bought me a little Westie, a little dog, and they wouldn’t let me take him. Sorry.

So I had to give him up, it was our dog. Do you know what you have taken literally – sorry. You’ve taken everything from me.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your second witness statement that you were a member, I think, of the Group Litigation?

Suzanne Palmer: I was, yeah.

Ms Kennedy: How much compensation did you receive for that?

Suzanne Palmer: I got a bit but, like everybody – like me, or I don’t know if I’ve just got this cloud above my head, we get the first – we got a small payment everybody and then they settled the rest from the, you know, what was left after the costs and, you know, all that. So I just thought: oh, at least we’ll have some money, and my son, which I’ll come to later – my son who had taken over the business, he got five times more than I did.

So I went absolutely mad and I got in touch with Freeths and I said, “Well, now, perhaps you can explain this to me then”. So then I had to fight for that as well.

So they did up the amount but because I was a bankrupt by then, they took administration and then 42 per cent, so minimum.

Ms Kennedy: I think you have also recently written to the Minister, Paul Scully, about obtaining further compensation?

Suzanne Palmer: Oh yeah. I told you, I’ve got this black cloud above my head because, in the August, after the Freeths and all that, and Alan – I mean, I wouldn’t be here today without Alan, and the group, you know, they’ve done everything they could for us. But on the news comes “Postmasters compensation”, they’re overturning the things, you are going to get an interim payment and 100,000 as an interim payment.

So I’m thinking – so people are texting me, ringing me, “That’s good, Sue, because you’re” …

So I rang Howe & Co, I spoke to David Enright and I said, “Oh, I was prosecuted by the Post Office, how do I go about claiming for my interim payment?” and he said, “When was your conviction overturned?” So I said, “No, I wasn’t convicted. I pleaded not guilty and was found not guilty”, and I’m not entitled to that. I said, “How does that work then because I’ve lost everything”. So I then wrote to Paul Scully and I asked him politely why I wasn’t included and then I got a letter in December, and he said, “You’re part of JF” – you know, blah, blah, blah, the group. So I said, “Okay”.

So then I said, “I want a face-to-face meeting with you then because I want to tell you why I’m not as important as everybody else, because you dragged me through the courts. I didn’t even owe any money when I went to the court. I’ve lost everything. So I want you to explain to me why I’m not as important as everybody else”.

Don’t get me wrong, anybody who went – I’ve listened to the stories and my heart breaks for them but I’m fighting for me here, I’m fighting for me and my husband, and then I got a letter – I can’t remember the dates, I can’t remember but “Dear Mrs Palmer, [blah, blah, blah], you are included in the compensation, even if you were the people who were prosecuted and have had their convictions overturned, included are the people who were prosecuted, even though they’re not found guilty”, and I have that letter in black and white from Paul Scully.

I tell you, what I’ve never been so happy. We was up all night, I couldn’t – David Enright, he couldn’t get in his office quick enough. I don’t think he’d even taken his coat off before I was on the phone. I’m ringing him, euphoric. I’ve told everybody, at last. Oh no, this black cloud above my head, three weeks later, I’ve misunderstood him. The letter was, “You’ve misunderstood what I put in the letter”. So I wrote back and went, “There’s no misunderstanding, you’ve backtracked on what you’ve said to me”. So no, I’m not entitled to the compensation.

Ms Kennedy: How do you feel about that?

Suzanne Palmer: Well, I think that shows, doesn’t it. I’d – how do you explain, how do you – I’ve fought for myself and my husband and my boys, and now – and through the JFSA, they won’t give the compensation that’s due, we can’t have the costs that are due. I mean, so much was taken from that and, now, I’m not entitled to this. I just think: oh really? Sorry, go on.

Ms Kennedy: Please don’t apologise. I’m now going to ask you some questions about the impact this has had on your family, which we’ve touched upon before.

Suzanne Palmer: Okay.

Ms Kennedy: Perhaps first, if you could tell us about the impact it’s had on your relationship with your husband?

Suzanne Palmer: My husband supported me with whatever I’ve done but it broke him, and that’s not why he’s not here today, because we got the letter from Paul Scully, and we thought: it’s going to be put right. And it’s not, is it? And I know, Sir Wyn, you can recommend but it’s not going to get me the money, is it?

Ms Kennedy: What about the impact on your relationship with your son, Kevin?

Suzanne Palmer: Oh, right, okay. Going back to the shop, I told you that Kevin was with me, you know, 100 per cent. Without him, I’d have probably crumpled as well but he was so good. And then, once they wouldn’t reinstate me, the Post Office had put in a temporary subpostmaster, but he turned up at 9.30, if he liked, shut for lunch, go home when he liked once he balanced. And I rung Alan Lusher and said, “He’s ruining me. My customers are used to that Post Office being open at 9.00 until 5.30. They rely on us”.

So, obviously, Kevin knew what had happened. He had a really good job in the City, I mean, a really good job, and he gave it up to come to work for me. He said, “I’ll run the Post Office, Mum”. My husband didn’t want him to and his future wife didn’t but we’re so close, or were, that, yeah, he gave up his job for me.

Came, took over, but I just couldn’t keep it going. As I said to you, I sold everything, I did what I could but, obviously, he’d given up a job committed to the money, the Post Office salary had to – you know, he did what he could to give back to the shop but everything was based on the Post Office, because it was like, you know, quite a large remuneration. My business plan when I bought the Post Office, I had to have a business plan. It all included the Post Office salary and, in the end, I was trying to pay this, pay that, as I say, I sold everything.

Then the wholesalers, as I say, I’d always paid cash. I just – and then because I’d been at the wholesalers so long, they were really good to me, they knew about my husband because it’s all friendly, you know, even though it’s up in – you know, we’d gone so often. For years, we’d just gone up and everybody knew him, he’d do the buying sometimes or we’d go together, and they let us have credit.

But then, of course, then the shop’s not making as much as it should because of the impact of what’s happened and then I’m paying this bill, paying this bill. I’ll pay this this week and this this week. And the landlord wasn’t particularly helpful. One month – one quarter, he said, “I’m going to lock the door”. So managed to pay that. Then the next quarter, I just – I was drowning, trying to keep it away from my husband because, obviously, he’s trying to recover. Kevin and I are arguing because, obviously, he needs the shop stocked in order to get the customers in, in order for the Post Office – it was just snowballing out of my control.

Then the landlord, he said he’d – if I didn’t pay – I was a bit late paying that quarter, and he said he’d padlock the door. My youngest son went and borrowed the money from somebody, gave it to me and I just pushed it back to him and I went, “The end, this is the end”. No, we’ve never borrowed, this is it.

And I said to Kevin, “I’m going to sell” and things went downhill from then.

I felt I ruined his life because if I sold he’d be jobless, and so relations between us broke down and the next thing I know, we barely spoke – well, we did speak, but I don’t really want to discuss it. And I had a letter that from the landlord that I’d be liable for the rest of the lease, even if I gave the keys back, I would be liable for the lease until the lease run out. So Kevin said he’d take over the lease.

So I signed the business over for nothing and then he took the Post Office and, as you’ll hear this afternoon, the same thing happened to him. But that’s his story.

But yeah, I have – for 33 years, I had a perfect son. I don’t even know who he is. My granddaughters, I don’t see.

Ms Kennedy: What would you like from the Post Office now?

Suzanne Palmer: What would I like? Well, somebody must be accountable because when they took me to court they’d already prosecuted lots of people for the same thing, so they knew when they took me. So I think that they need to be accountable. They need to be accountable for what they did and because I won they had to pay all the costs, which was 78,000. I felt they made – they told me it was just me. It was like they were making an example of me because at the court I wouldn’t – I mean, they did pressurise me and I was scared and, if I’d have listened to these stories that I know now from all these other people, I’d have probably pled guilty because, I tell you what, if I’d have pled guilty, I’d be better off than I am now, not emotionally but financially. I’d be okay.

But I’m not okay because I stood for what I believed.

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

Suzanne Palmer: I think he’s heard enough, bless him.

Sir Wyn Williams: It’s not often I get blessed, so thank you very much.

Suzanne Palmer: Well, I just – I’m just so passionate about it. I just – they should put it right. It should be right. Like Nick Read says that he’s sent out 2,500 letters and people haven’t replied because they’re scared. He’s got 555 in front of him, right in front of him. I’m standing here. Where’s my compensation because he don’t want to pay me, does he? Why? It’s just another way. I just feel – I don’t know. I just – where’s the justice? And all I ever think is: what did I ever do? I bought a Post Office or my husband did. That’s it.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, do you have any questions?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, thank you. Thanks very much.

I think what we’ll do is – Mr Stein, I think at some point you have a statement to read; is that correct?

Mr Stein: Sir, that’s right.

Sir Wyn Williams: So if we just adjourn for maybe not much more than five minutes, do you think you could fit that in before lunch or do you want to do it this afternoon?

Mr Stein: Sir, yes, I think I can. If I did encroach into lunch, it would only be a few minutes.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s fine. Unless anybody is objecting, what I propose is that we just have a short break and then we’ll hear from Mr Stein and then break off for lunch.

(12.41 pm)

(A short break)

(12.48 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you for providing us with hard copies of the statement, Mr Stein. Over to you. RITA THRELFALL, statement summarised by MR STEIN, QC

Mr Stein: Thank you. Sir, as you know, I’ll be reading a summary of the statement of Mrs Rita Threlfall.

Chair, Mrs Rita Threlfall was due to give evidence to you today. She greatly wished to do so but she has found that it was impossible to speak about her experiences without breaking down.

Rita Threlfall has been married to her husband for 48 years. Before becoming a postmistress, Rita worked in the finance department for a large engineering firm for 22 years. Rita and her husband wanted a change of life and decided after research to apply to run a Post Office. They invest the £105,000 into the Post Office and shop, £35,000 from their savings, as well as a loan of £70,000.

Rita became the postmistress of the Ford Post Office in Liverpool. She ran it from 15 January 1998 to 16 August 2010. Rita received a mere one-and-a-half days training on the Horizon system.

Rita experienced problems with the Horizon system a few years after it was introduced. She says that she cannot remember how many times she called the helpline. Rita says:

“The helpline didn’t want to do anything. I was just told to wait until the issue went away or to call back the following day.”

Problems began to arise in approximately 2004. During her time as a postmistress, she paid – or Post Office Limited deducted from her salary – in excess of £9,000. However, the Post Office also pursued Rita for further large shortfalls and brought criminal charges against her.

As a result of large shortfalls arising on the Horizon system, Rita was suspended in July 2009 and interviewed under caution the following month by a Post Office fraud investigator.

Rita is disabled and cannot walk. Upon arrival for the interview under caution, she was left in a hallway. She asked for a chair but one was not brought. Rita had to sit on the stairs.

The interview room was upstairs. Rita told the Post Office investigators that she could not climb the stairs and she was placed in a tiny parcel lift to be carried up to be interviewed. Rita says the interview was horrendous.

Her contract was terminated and the Post Office prosecuted her. Rita received a summons to attend the Magistrates’ Court on 20 December 2012, where she was charged with theft and false accounting. Rita pleaded not guilty and the case went to the Crown Court. Rita believed that she would go to prison. She could not think how she would cope in prison, given her disabilities. Rita thought she would die if she went to prison and she considered suicide.

Her health was in serious decline. Rita’s solicitors contacted Alan Bates of the JFSA who spoke to the Post Office on her behalf. An expert report was commissioned and that report concluded that Rita was unable to attend court. Eventually, the Post Office dropped the charges against Rita.

Rita says that the consequences of being required to make good the shortfalls were that she and her husband lost their business and their livelihood. Rita says that they used everything they had to cover the shortfalls, including borrowing money from family members. She says that her children would bring food around to feed her and her husband and that her children helped her pay the bills. Rita says she was left with absolutely nothing, not a single penny and had to file for bankruptcy.

Rita lost her home and had to move away from her life-long Liverpool home as a result of the damage to her reputation. Rita now lives with her daughter and son-in-law because she cannot afford to pay rent for a home of her own.

She says that her health has suffered immensely. She cannot walk more than 10 feet and any doctors that need to see her have to come out. That’s because she cannot leave the house to attend doctor’s or dental appointments and cannot attend routine screening checks.

Rita says that she suffers from severe anxiety and depression and has no social life outside of her family.

She says: “I don’t live, I exist.”

Rita’s husband says in her statement:

“Seeing my wife being a pillar of the community and watching her to be brought to her knees through lies and false allegations by the Post Office absolutely destroyed me. I have stood by my wife and always will but on more than one occasion I thought I would lose her.

“The scandal almost got both of us. What they did was so wrong. They gave me sleepless nights and complete hopelessness for our future. Seeing Rita lose weight and the will to live brought me to my knees. All I could do was stand by and try to support her but the Post Office nearly caused our marriage to break down.”

Rita has, in addition, asked that I read the following comments to you and I will try to do so.

“Dear Sir Wyn, I left my home in Liverpool, a place I love, seven years ago leaving behind my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews who are an integral part of my life. They all supported me physically and emotionally through the darkest days of my life. I could not cope with how my life had changed. I had turned into a virtual recluse, afraid of everything and anything. I had to get away and that was at the cost of only seeing those members of my family occasionally, whereas it would be daily. I now know that was a sacrifice too far. I miss them so much.

“Both of my children made the move, my husband and myself uprooting their own young families. They have been amazing in supporting us but that leaves me with enormous guilt. So in September 2014, we boxed up our belongings and our life and moved 50 miles away where no-one knew us. We brought only clothes and sentimental items. The majority of those boxes are as they were when we packed them and have never been opened.

“The Post Office took so much from us but they also took my identity. I don’t recognise myself anymore. I have lost Rita Threlfall. I want to open those boxes that are stored away and have our personal items around us once again. I want to put the photos of our grandchildren back on the walls and all the things that make a house a home that we gather over the years. I want my son and daughter to have their homes back. I want my family to have peace and do the things that we did as a family when ours was a happy family. I want to look in the mirror and recognise myself, the person I once was, not the shadow that looks back at me now.”

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mr Stein.

Mr Stein: Thank you for the opportunity of reading that.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Well, that’s very good timing and we will start again at 2.00.

(12.57 pm)

(Luncheon Adjournment)

(2.00 pm)

Ms Hodge: Good afternoon, sir. Our next witness is Mr Kevin Palmer.

Kevin Palmer

KEVIN PALMER (affirmed).

Questioned by Ms Hodge

Ms Hodge: Mr Palmer, as you know, my name is Catriona Hodge and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Please can you state your full name?

Kevin Palmer: Yes. Kevin Palmer.

Ms Hodge: You made a witness statement, Mr Palmer, on 3 February of this year; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: That’s correct.

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

Kevin Palmer: I do.

Ms Hodge: Could I ask you, please, to turn to the final page at page 19.

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you see your signature there at the bottom of that page?

Kevin Palmer: Yes, I do.

Ms Hodge: Have you had an opportunity to read this statement since it was made –

Kevin Palmer: I have.

Ms Hodge: – on the 3rd, and is the content true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Kevin Palmer: It is.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

I’m going to begin by asking a few questions about you and your background, if I may. How old are you now, Mr Palmer?

Kevin Palmer: I’m 43.

Ms Hodge: Are you married?

Kevin Palmer: I am.

Ms Hodge: For how long have you been married?

Kevin Palmer: 16 years.

Ms Hodge: Do you have any children?

Kevin Palmer: I have two, two girls.

Ms Hodge: How old are they?

Kevin Palmer: They are 12 and 8.

Ms Hodge: You currently live with your wife and your two daughters; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: I do, yes, that’s correct.

Ms Hodge: Before you worked for the Post Office, you had a career in investment banking; is that correct?

Kevin Palmer: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you come to work in the banking industry?

Kevin Palmer: Basically, growing up, I always wanted to work in the money markets. That was always my dream as a child and I didn’t go to university. It was at a time when you could apply for banks and get jobs without degrees. The area that we lived wasn’t the most affluent and I wanted out of that, so I always thought, if I work hard, I could make my way up into the City. So I applied for jobs, I got one with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, started off as just an accounts payable filing clerk, and I worked my way up through the bank from there.

Ms Hodge: I think you’ve described spending four years with Deutsche Kreditbank; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: And a further four years at the Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken. I may not have pronounced that quite right.

Kevin Palmer: SEB as we abbreviated it.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Can you tell us a bit more about what your work in the banking industry involved, please?

Kevin Palmer: Yes. So, basically, I started off in accounts, accounts payable, accounts assistant. I then took my CIMA exams. I then – as I worked my way through the bank, I moved to SEB, as it was better opportunity, obviously better pay. From there, my boss at the time, Jacqueline, she was very encouraging and I worked my way through the accounting system. And then I was given the project leader of designing the new accounting package for the whole of our Nordic region.

So I was then sent to Denmark, Finland, Sweden and, obviously, our London offices. I was part of the project team that set up the new accounting package to then – for expenses or the accounts that we did and wrote procedures on that and what I call the “dummy files” of how you can run that system.

And then I was also given the opportunity of working within the back office, and I took on the role of not only accountancy but the back office with the traders, and working alongside the trading floor.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described working in the development of an accounting system. Was that an electronic system?

Kevin Palmer: It was, yes, yes, electronic, yes.

Ms Hodge: You also spent a year in Taiwan?

Kevin Palmer: I did, yes. Sorry, that was in between. So when I went from Dresdner, I was offered the opportunity to go and work in Taiwan. So I went out there as financial adviser to expatriates, worked for a company called Mondial Taiwan. I was there a short tenure; the markets out there crashed, so the expats were leaving and the investments weren’t there, so I came back, and that’s when I started with SEB.

Ms Hodge: Why did you decide to leave your career in investment banking?

Kevin Palmer: It was a very, very tough decision but my mother at the time was running a Post Office and newsagents. She found herself in trouble, which we wasn’t aware of, me and my wife, at the time, and when I found out I felt it was my duty to do everything I could to help the family, as the eldest son.

When I told my managing director – well, actually, I pre- – I go back a little bit, if I can. I was being headhunted by a Russian bank to go and work there. They’d seen what I’d done with SEB and they wanted to bring me into the Russian bank and I turned that opportunity down after I found out what was going on with my Mum because I felt she needed the support and not that I want to say that my Dad and brother weren’t there for her, of course they were, but I felt it was my duty to help.

So when I told my managing director at SEB I was leaving to run a newsagents and Post Office he was bewildered and asked me, “What the hell are you doing, you have worked your way up to do what?” I said, “It’s for my family”, and that was it. The bank were very good because while the trial was going on with my mother, they gave me the time off to be with her. I was at every trial hearing that she had. My Dad, step-dad, however you want to say it, wasn’t too good at the time, so I felt like I had to be the one that stepped up. So that’s why I left the City to go and help the family, and I thought I’d come back up here one day.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned your mother. Is that Mrs Suzanne Palmer –

Kevin Palmer: It is, yes, sorry.

Ms Hodge: – who we heard from this morning?

Kevin Palmer: Yes, yes, you have heard from her this morning.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

Which branch had your mother been running at the time?

Kevin Palmer: So she was originally Swallows, the newsagents, which was The Grange Post Office. So when I came on board, it was The Grange sub-post office.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe how you came to be appointed as the subpostmaster of that branch?

Kevin Palmer: Yes. It was basically, we didn’t know what was happening with my Mum. After the trial, obviously, we didn’t know if my Mum was going to get that shop back. I thought: if she’s not guilty, surely they’re going to give it back to her. I don’t know the legal jargon, I didn’t know – I was in a different world then. And hindsight’s a wonderful thing but I came in, said to Mum, “Look, if I’m going to do this, I don’t want to be working behind a newsagent counter, I’ve got to run the Post Office”. So it was suggested by Post Office and my Mum that I apply for subpostmastership because at least it was on the financial field, in that respect. So that’s why I applied for the postmastership.

Ms Hodge: When were you first appointed?

Kevin Palmer: 2006/7, around that time, I think. Sorry, the dates …

Ms Hodge: Not at all. You said in your statement it was around 1 February 2007. Does that sound about right?

Kevin Palmer: That’s about right. It was after Christmas.

Ms Hodge: Did you anticipate remaining in the role for very long?

Kevin Palmer: No, not initially, no. I honestly thought we were saying to my Mum about appeal, appeal, appeal. Again, we don’t know the legal ramifications of everything but we thought she appealed, she’s been found not guilty, she’s been let go, they’ll give it back to her. So we didn’t want anybody else going in and taking that business, it was a very profitable – it was a great business.

We had lived in the area all our lives. I was a paper boy at that shop before my Mum and Dad owned it. Everybody knew us in the area, a lot of friends, we lived there, and I felt that she had a great business, to let someone come in and take a chunk of it would be sacrilege. So I thought, at least if we can keep this in the family, if Mum gets it back, she steps back in as subpostmistress, I apply to come back up here, whether I have to take a step down from what I was doing, that’s fine, but I knew in myself I could work my way back up.

Ms Hodge: Who owned the branch whilst you acted as that subpostmaster?

Kevin Palmer: Technically my Mum owned the branch. It was a leasehold premises but it was my Mum’s and then I came on board and the accountant made it so that it was S Palmer and K Palmer under The Grange, so it was kind of like a joint venture.

Ms Hodge: Did there come a time when you took over the branch from your mother?

Kevin Palmer: Yes. So, obviously, I applied to the subpostmastership and I got subpostmaster and my Mum was running the newsagents but we fell out over certain things. Obviously, I saw things different to how my Mum saw things. I was from a younger perspective, saw things in a technical age, my Mum, bless her, if I can say, is very old school.

So it was all the old books, like the old paper book was a massive book, which you tear out the tickets. And I thought, “We’ve got to go digital, Mum, we need a till that we can just press a button”, and coming from a finance background, I wanted to move the business forward.

And I think where my Mum had lost the Post Office salary and, in hindsight, I was using the Post Office salary as well for myself, I had a family, you know leaving a massive job in the City with a good salary and bonuses, I needed to have some income.

So we tried to work it as best we could but we fell out over money, vision, and it wasn’t a nice time.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned your salary as a subpostmaster. How much was that?

Kevin Palmer: When I left when – when I left, that’s the wrong word. When I did leave, I think it was up to around about, on average, 62,000 a year, I’d built it up. So it started on around about 46/47, but I saw the opportunity. EBay was huge at the time and a lot of the mums from the school I could notice were coming in and doing parcels, and I tapped into that market. So I went out and we had guys that come in with like 100 parcels and the queue would be out the door and I always say to myself: there’s got to be a way of streamlining this.

So I came up with a vision that we could take those parcels off the businesses, I could separate a counter, have a member of staff there, we can get the line going quick because the queues were out the door, we can process the business. The businesses were coming in, they were giving us their business, we were processing all their parcels, but it was also making good customer service for Doris down the road who wanted just her pension.

So I tried to streamline things and make things more proficient within the business, and that was the vision I saw at the time, that we could really grow this place and then I was offered – because it was a subpostmastership, I’d grown the sales and I was offered a mains contract and the Post Office came in, offered me the mains contract, refit, work alongside us, we then refit the shop to match the Post Office colours.

And I thought: I’m doing all right here, this is going well. And, yes, I’d given up a career in the city but I now saw this as an opportunity to build this business.

Ms Hodge: Can you please explain for the benefit of the Chair what you mean by a “mains contract”?

Kevin Palmer: Sorry, yes. So under a local contract, you would get paid a salary, so you’d get, on your remuneration, a basic pay, and then you’d earn a little bit of commission on everything you sold. With a mains contract, you didn’t get that. It was all commission, but I knew with the business contacts I was making and the queues going out the door and the people I was bringing in and people were bypassing other Post Offices to come to us, because of our customer service, it was an opportunity.

And I grew the sales and we then took on – I took on an ATM machine, and I had an ATM machine installed. We didn’t have car tax at the time when my Mum was there, and I managed to get it so that we got car tax in, so more footfall came in. The only service we didn’t offer was passports because the one in the high street was given that. But car insurance, home insurance, MoneyGram, foreign currency, everything. I had all the local schools. So I’d go to the schools and say to them, “Look, you got any trips coming up, you do know across the road we do all your currency”. So I was tapping into the business markets in the area and just growing and growing the business.

It became my forté.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned staff? How many did you employ?

Kevin Palmer: At the height, so I had seven staff working in the shop, as long as me, so eight, and then I had five paper boys and girls working there as well, not that they worked in the Post Office, obviously, but collectively, we had – and the staff worked both sides. So they worked retail and the Post Office because then – again, streamlining, if people were on holiday, people were sick, we could swap staff in and out. So it wasn’t like someone had a set job. Everybody knew the ropes, how to do everything.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you a bit about your experience of the Horizon system now. Did you receive any training in Horizon when you were appointed as a subpostmaster?

Kevin Palmer: Not initially, no. The training, ironically, was given by my mother, which sounds ludicrous considering what happened to her but, obviously, it’s a glass area and my Mum would stand outside the glass area and point through the glass saying, “You need to do that and do this”, because it was the old Horizon system then. Later on, it got upgraded.

So, initially, my Mum was showing me what to do and then I went on like a three-day course that I was sent on, and the first day it was how to sell a book of stamps and we seemed to spend hours going through the same routine of how to spend … and I was bored. This wasn’t challenging enough. I was, like, there’s got to be more to this system than selling this.

So day 1 went. Day 2, I went back and then we did parcels, and we did weighing and the scales and a little bit of health and safety. And in the end I was going round and saying to people, “Look, you do it like this, you do it like that”, and I was helping the guy that was training, and he said to me, “Don’t come back tomorrow” and I said, “Is there nothing more left to learn. Is there, like – what about the banking side of it or the insurance side of it?” No, we wasn’t going to learn that.

So it was a case off I went back to my Post Office and learnt it myself.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any training from the Post Office in relation to how you were expected to balance the accounts?

Kevin Palmer: No.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience problems when attempting to balance the branch accounts?

Kevin Palmer: Yes. So, obviously, I was aware of what had happened to my mother and when I used to work – I’m going to go back a little bit, I used to work in the City. Me and my wife – because we never really used to see my Mum, I used to work long hours up here or I was travelling. So the only time I’d see my Mum is that I knew on a Wednesday night she was balancing because it was late night and the lottery was open until 7.30.

So my wife and I would often get off the train, we’d go and see my Mum and she would often ignore us which, at the time, you thought was quite rude but she was in the process of a balance and she’d say, “I can’t talk to you, we’re trying to sort something out, I can’t talk to you”.

So we’d leave and go back. Then when I obviously got involved in the Post Office I could see why, because you’d go to do a balance and you’d press the button to do the end of day and it would take 45 minutes to an hour to roll over and you was like “This is ridiculous”. We’d go and clean the shop and stuff, while we were waiting for this system to roll over. Coming from, not an IT background but doing systems, I was, like, this is so antiquated, this is so backward but it’s the system I was given.

So, yeah, it was kind of I learnt on the job.

Ms Hodge: When doing your balancing did you encounter discrepancies in the accounts?

Kevin Palmer: Yes, sorry. Yes, I went off on a tangent there. So, basically, it would be smaller discrepancies, so it might be £5 here, £72 here, or £100, or something like that. Now, I knew from my Mum’s thing and from the contract you were given, that – not that we read the contract, it was this thick (indicated) but the gist of the contract, when you was asked to sign it, was: any discrepancies come out of your pocket and go in.

Now, I fully understood that, so I would just – there’s a discrepancy, we can’t find it, I’ll take the money out the sales from the shop and we’ll put it into the system to make sure it comes back to zero, we can continue the next day.

I saw that as normality. Actually, it’s ridiculous that it should come back to zero. Then I’d phone the Horizon system, sometimes. If it was £70/£80, you’d think: I can’t find this, it’s not in the stock, it’s not in the cash, where is it? You’d phone the Horizon system after doing everything and they’d say, “Oh well, it might come back or it could be your currency for today, it could be a fluctuation in currency”.

I’d dealt with currency in the banks, big currency, you know, I used to phone up the banks and get the daily trading figures and stuff and I’d think you wouldn’t have that much of a discrepancy on a foreign currency exchange between the Euro and the pound. It’s not going to be £80. So I knew straightaway that I was just being fobbed off, basically.

So what did I do? Put the money in, continue trading the next day.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned calling the Horizon system, I think, is that the helpline.

Kevin Palmer: The helpline, sorry, the helpline. Horizon help desk.

Ms Hodge: How often do you think you did that?

Kevin Palmer: Twice a week, three times a week. Sometimes you’d phone them and they’d only talk to you if there was a customer in front of you, because it had to be a customer query. You’d be like, “Well, this isn’t, this relates to balancing or this relates to another” – we was given when I first arrived, like, folders and you’d get like a weekly, like, newsletter, as it seemed, and in there it would give you the new things that were coming in, the new products and that kind of thing.

And we had these folders, I can remember it now, red folders all the way across the a back of the thing. Obviously, coming from an accounting background, I know about keeping records, keeping accounts, keeping everything in the same place, so you can refer to it if you need to. And it felt like, if ever you’d phone, they were just reading off these bits of paper. They weren’t giving you the extra information. They weren’t in the nitty-gritty of how you controlled that system. They were just reading it.

I was like, “You’re not giving me any information that’s not here in front of me and this isn’t helping. I’m phoning you because you’re meant to be the experts”, and they couldn’t answer the questions.

Ms Hodge: What enquiries did you make to try and identify the cause of these apparent discrepancies in the accounts?

Kevin Palmer: What did I do personally? So, obviously, learning from my Mum, I suppose, that, you know, you had to bring everything back to zero to roll over to the next day. So if there was a discrepancy, again, me being methodical from a finance background, you always thought: it has to be there, it has to be within these figures. So you would print off the daily transactions and sometimes I’d print off every counter’s daily transaction, so I could see exactly what everybody had sold that day, whether it be a 62p stamp, as it was then, or whether it was foreign currency that we done or a car insurance, whatever. I could see every single itemised thing off every counter.

And I’d sit there until 12.00/1.00 in the morning, crossing them off: it isn’t that, that agrees, that agrees. And you’d think the discrepancy is going to pop out, it’s going to show, and it never did.

Of course, by then, you phoned the help desk the next day and say, “Look, I’ve been through all my logs, like you told me to, where else can it be?” and it was always, “Oh, there will be a transaction correction, that will come back”. That was the answer.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described paying money in to cover some of the smaller shortfalls that were shown by the system?

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you afford to do that?

Kevin Palmer: As I said, the shop – talking about when my Mum – this is after my Mum had left. So I turned the shop around with the – so after we’d had the refit, the Post Office had made us a mains Post Office. I had to build that reputation back up that my Mum had lost. That’s how I felt. So I’m going back a little bit now.

No, that’s why being there was kind of saying to the public and saying to the community, “Look, my Mum did nothing wrong, her son has been given the Post Office, so there’s nothing within the family because lightning ain’t going to strike twice, as they say”.

So when discrepancies happened, the shop was doing really well. The Post Office salary I was getting was great for a newsagents and Post Office on the parade we were in, in the town we were in, sometimes I would be like: this money we’re earning here is great, there’s a great opportunity here. So I’d either use – you know I’d get my remuneration at the end of the month, and use my own money from the remuneration or I’d use the shop takings, and I’d put the shop takings in to cover it.

Ms Hodge: How much do you think, approximately, you paid in to cover these apparent shortfalls?

Kevin Palmer: Over my tenure, 20,000-plus.

Ms Hodge: In addition to smaller shortfalls, you’ve described experiencing some larger ones.

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that correct? You mentioned in approximately August 2007, you experienced and apparent shortfall of £2,700; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: Yes, and that should have been my red flag, from that day, because when the auditors came in and I was under the impression – you know, I was fully aware auditors can walk in at any point, they can close you down and do an audit. That’s fine, I’ve worked with auditors when I was up here in the City, we had yearly audits. I’m used to auditors, I’m used to working alongside them and working with them and giving them everything they need. I totally understand that.

So when an auditor would walk in, that’s what you do. When they told me it was £2,700, I said, “It can’t be, that’s physically impossible, what did does it relate to?” All they could say to me was, “It relates to scratch cards from a couple of years ago”. And my first reaction was “But I was working in the City of London a couple of years ago, nothing to do with me then, is it?” They said, “Well, no, because you are now the subpostmaster and it has come up on your system so therefore you’ve got to put it in, as per your contract”.

But I argued my case and I was like, “There’s no way I’m paying for whether that was my mother’s doing”, because again, at the time – hindsight’s a wonderful thing. If my Mum had had an error and it hadn’t been cleared and now that transaction correction, or however it came on the system, is now mine, I said, “I didn’t even work here”. I said, “That can’t relate to me at all”.

So obviously I knew what had happened to my Mum so I was panicking a bit and they said, “It’s okay, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to take it out of your remuneration over the following months”, and there was nothing I could do. So when my remuneration slip come through, they took a deduction every single month until it was paid back.

Ms Hodge: So you have explained that particular audit was – sorry, that particular shortfall that was shown on Horizon had been discovered during an audit; is that correct?

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel about the manner in which that audit had been conducted?

Kevin Palmer: There was two ladies, and I still remember them to this day. I don’t remember their names but I can envision their faces. One – it was kind of like good cop, bad cop. One was jovial, nice, “Oh, it’s okay, we’ll sort this out, don’t worry, you’re new, these things happen”. And the other one was very stern. “This is wrong, you’ve got to put the money in”. I was like, “Whoa, calm down, what’s all this about?”

She was very aggressive, very arrogant, obviously she didn’t know my background, so whether she just thought I was just some little layman. Back then, I was a bit more arrogant, cocksure of myself. I’d like to think I’m quite a clever man, the way I’d worked myself up, and I didn’t like her tone at all. And I told her in so many terms that I wasn’t appreciating the way she was talking to me.

Ms Hodge: How did you resolve your complaint about her?

Kevin Palmer: So I made a complaint. I did write a letter in and complain about her, not the other lady because, like I said, she was okay, and then within a matter of weeks, this lady that I’d made a complaint about came back on her own and she was there to do a cash deck reconciliation. And, again, like I said, worked with auditors, so I thought, okay, but she didn’t close the shop down that day. We could still trade, so my staff were still trading, she just was printing off a few things and counting the cash, and just making sure the cash that was in the safe agreed on the system, which it did.

But then I was sent through a kind of like a questionnaire: how did that auditor do? So she came back and her mannerism had changed but it was clear that they’d only sent her back so that I would tick the boxes to say, “Oh, yeah, actually, she’s all right”.

Ms Hodge: Now, after that audit in August 2007, you went on to experience a very significant shortfall; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: That is correct.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe how that came about, please?

Kevin Palmer: Yeah. Doing the normal balances, as per normal. Like I said, we had an ATM machine installed then and we were the only ATM machine in the parade. That was extremely busy, that ATM was holding, at some points, over £120,000 or £100,000. We had, like, I think it was six or eight canisters full of money that would go in.

Now, when the Post Office installed that, we had to fill that ATM machine, which again was ludicrous. You had to do it after hours, obviously you couldn’t do it while the shop was open. So when the shop closed at 7.30, after the lottery or whatever, that money that was in the cash machine down the front of the shop, we transferred from the safe to there, and it was, you know, you then had to balance on the tills back in your Post Office. So you’d have a different stock unit for the ATM for your stock, or for whoever was working.

Then one day the system balanced, and it was £60,000-odd different, and my instant reaction was, “It’s got to be to do with the ATM, has to be”. You know, we haven’t – there’s no way someone – one of the staff has made an error of that – and I certainly haven’t – magnitude. We printed off the list, as I explained earlier, you’d have seen £60,000 standing out like a sore thumb, so that you could see if somebody, maybe, say someone come in for their pension and it was £600, somebody would overwrite the system and put 60,000, maybe, or something like that.

But we couldn’t find it. So we took all the money out the ATM machine, and me and my staff, we sat on the Post Office floor, we counted every single note that was in those canisters which we had to do before you put it in anyway. You had to count the money, so the REM would turn up, you put in the safe, then when you went to load, you take the money out and you’d count to make sure that money that was in those bundles was correct. So we did and then we had a log sheet of what was in and we put it on the system.

So when this error notice came through, I was like, has to relate. So we run the ATM stock, drilled down the figures, wasn’t there. Backwards and forwards I was like: this can’t be right. Phone the Horizon help desk, “What do I do?” They said, “It’s not possible, has to be to do with your ATM, has to do with your stock, it has to be your cash in hand”.

As I said, I built that Post Office up to be very busy, so we could hold a bit of cash in the tills, you know, at any one point, in the safe, and often you’d go on the system, and so REM would come on a Wednesday. On a Tuesday night, before you’d close, you go on the system and it would tell you how much they wanted you to send back. So it’s like they could see what you held and then they would say, right, you print off a thing and say, “Okay, you, need to send back X amount of money”. So you’d bag it up, you’d REM it out and it would be collected on the thing.

So, like I said, when we got the transaction correction for that – not transaction, when we got the thing come through and it didn’t balance, I was like: this is impossible. This is physically impossible and I felt physically sick. They just said to me, “It’s an error, it will come back”. For £60,000, just going to come back? Ridiculous.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, one point I want to clarify. You said that the REM would come on a Wednesday?

Kevin Palmer: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: Can you just explain what you mean?

Kevin Palmer: So REM is your transit in and transit out of stock and cash. So you know the big red trucks that you see driving around, the armoured vehicles. You never knew what time they were coming obviously, for security reasons, but we always knew it would be a Wednesday at some point. So that’s why I said the staff, if it was a lunch break or they were on their break, somebody always knew how to take in that REM. It wouldn’t always just be me. Everybody knew how to do that job.

So they would come in and you could continue serving but you’d have to close one side, one counter. So we’d close one counter it would normally be the closest to the hatch, so that they could pass the money – very quick transaction, they’d lock it in the box.

So it was always the one furthest from the customer and always closest to the safe. Always. You didn’t do it any other way, and it always went through the hatch. So the REM was – so at Christmas they’d send you all the Christmas stamps or every week you’d go on the system and say, “I need 400 first class stamps or 60 postal orders”, whatever you needed. And that would come in via the REM, and then they’d also send to you what they thought you needed for your ATM machine.

So it’s like they controlled what was being sent to you and they’d control what you had to send back. So you’d have to agree and then when you scan it in the system, when you scanned the bag, you’d put a receipt inside the bag, confirming – say, it was £50,000, that receipt says 50,000, obviously when it goes off they open the bag and check that it agrees. So that’s what the REM was.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. When this apparent shortfall of 60,000 arose you explained you contacted the helpline at the time –

Kevin Palmer: Yes, straight away.

Ms Hodge: – and the advice you received was that an error notice might arise or the error lay with you and your staff; is that correct?

Kevin Palmer: Yes. Well, the first thing was “Check your figures”, that was the first – and I said, “Well, I have, I’m not – you know, of course we have, you know, you’re our last point of call. We’ve done everything that we know in our knowledge to find it”. And this kept going on, week after week. I would just – they’re going to see a discrepancy, obviously we had to declare, in order to – I think other people have said the same.

In order to open your post – when you did a balance, it had to agree to zero or you couldn’t roll over to the next trading period or next balance period so therefore you couldn’t serve your customers the next day, so we had to declare that night that that £60,000 was there and I was, like, but it isn’t but I’ve got to put it in the system.

So we had, again, something that my Mum used to do, but we kind of followed suit with it, and it just stayed. We used to have, like, these spreadsheets printed off, and you’d right the denominations and any discrepancies you’d put on the side and think: we know what that is, we’ll put it in the system under miscellaneous, we can come back to it and try and find it.

So if it was a balance period, you could do it and it would roll – so it was balance period over four or five weeks. That figure of 60,000 would sit at that top of your list, so every week I knew that there was a discrepancy, and then when you got to the trading period end, which was normally week 4, that had to come back to zero, in order to roll to the next trading period. I know that probably sounds a lot to explain, unless you have worked on the system, it’s hard to explain that.

So it was like a four-week balance period to go into a trading period. In order to get it to the trading period, we had to declare it was there and it wasn’t, and every week, every trading period, I’d phone up and say, “Somebody, please, come and have a look at this because I can’t fathom where this is”.

Ms Hodge: An auditor did come eventually; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: They did come eventually.

Ms Hodge: In November 2015?

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall who conducted that audit?

Kevin Palmer: It was the – one of them was the same lady who came previous, who I explained about earlier. It was two ladies that turned up to do the audit.

Ms Hodge: Were you present at the branch when they arrived?

Kevin Palmer: No, that was my day off that I’d taken. Obviously, like I said, you didn’t know when auditors were going to turn up. They could turn up at any time, which I was aware of, but it was my day off, the staff were running the shop, I was at home with the children. So I had to get them sorted because I was aware that they couldn’t start an audit without the subpostmaster on the premises. So I turned up about – I don’t know, I think it was about 10.30/11.00 by the time I’d found childcare, before I could get to the shop.

But the staff hadn’t gone into – the Post Office – they were all just standing outside because they were waiting for me to turn up. And then when I turned up I said, “You’ve come to do an audit, hopefully you are going to help us find that discrepancy”, and that’s when the snowball effect happened.

Ms Hodge: Did you tell them how much this discrepancy was?

Kevin Palmer: Straightaway, yes. I said, “I’m glad you have come, hopefully you are going to find that discrepancy”. They said, “How much?” I said, “It’s around 60,000”, and they just looked at each other, and they looked at me, and they said, “If you’d just like to sit there, we’ve got to make some phonecalls”. And then they went off, made some calls, came back, told me I was suspended, and if I didn’t put the money back there and then I’m going to prison for 10 to 15 years.

And my whole world just fell, because of what had happened to my Mum, and my life just flashed, and I was like: this isn’t happening. You know, lightning – as I said, lightning doesn’t strike twice, it can’t. This has got to be an error, this has got to be an error. And they just said, “Have you got it?” and I said, “No”.

And my staff were looking at me, everyone’s looking at me, the staff are looking at me, as if to say “What the hell’s going on?”, and that was it. They made their phonecalls and they said, “We have to do an audit”. I wasn’t allowed in while they did that. They went into the Post Office I had to sit outside and I wasn’t given any, you know – I couldn’t go in and ask any questions. They weren’t communicating with me, nothing. I was just sitting there dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to do.

Ms Hodge: What did you do when they told you you had to repay this money?

Kevin Palmer: They said to me, “Can you pay it back?” and I said, “No”, and they said, “If you can pay it back now, we don’t have to make phonecalls to the police and you won’t go to prison”. Now, my – obviously, I’ve missed a bit out that my Mum and I weren’t talking at this point. My Mum and I hadn’t talked for a couple of years, which I won’t go into, but I had no support network, I had no family – I had no family I could turn to.

My wife was at work, so I phoned my father-in-law. He’s an affluent man, he worked his way up, he worked in the City, he was the director of an insurance company and I had to phone him and say, “Can you help me, can you come down here?” and he came straightaway. And he says, “What’s going on?” and my mother-in-law was at home, and father-in-law came down and I said, “Can you give me the money to put back in”, and he asked the auditors what for. He wanted to know what the hell was going on before he handed over this kind of money and they wouldn’t tell him. So he refused. He said, “I’m not giving you a penny until you can explain how and why”.

Of course, I was away with the fairies, so to speak, you know when people are talking and you can’t really process what was happening. He refused and, at the time, I was just like, “No, just give it to them, I’m not going to prison”.

Ms Hodge: What action did the auditors take before they left your branch that day?

Kevin Palmer: They suspended me there and then straightaway. They told me that I obviously couldn’t go in the Post Office, they took the keys to the Post Office, we couldn’t trade, obviously, and they just said, “We will be in touch in due course”.

Ms Hodge: You’ve said they took the keys. Were you allowed back into the branch after the audit finished?

Kevin Palmer: Yeah, they did an audit and then, basically, they left, and I was allowed to run the newsagent side. Now, obviously, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. It’s not like I – maybe I could have done or should have done. It’s not like I could phone my Mum and say, “What happened in that situation with you, Mum, what did they do, what’s the next step, what’s the next process?” I was just literally left and they just said, “You won’t be running your Post Office, you’re suspended now, will your staff run it going forward?” All these questions were flying by and I’m looking at my staff, “Can someone run it, can someone take it over, we’ve got customers coming in the morning, Betty needs her pension tomorrow”, all these things are going through your head.

So the next morning, I had to open the shop with no Post Office and then, obviously, we were a busy place, and the questions just kept flying, “Why ain’t it open? Why aren’t you in there? What’s going on?”, and I wasn’t allowed to say a thing and they said I wasn’t allowed to say a thing either.

Ms Hodge: You’ve said the auditors told you they would come back and they did; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: That’s, yes.

Ms Hodge: Three days later, correct?

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Why did they come back to your branch?

Kevin Palmer: They came back and said that, basically, there was an interim company that was going to run the Post Office. I was to keep the shop open so that that interim company could run the Post Office and they wanted to use my staff to run it. So nobody from Interim came, they were from up north somewhere.

So one of my staff took it upon herself to be acting manager because they knew the systems and, you know, how that made me feel? That I had to stand there while they still wanted to trade, they still wanted their money going through their tills, and I had to keep my door open and take the flak, “Why aren’t you in there, Kev? Why aren’t you doing this?”

So they had to do an audit, obviously, to sign her in. They did an audit, they didn’t finish it, they had to come back. And this is the crazy part. Obviously, they took the keys, so we had – none of the staff or I had access to the Post Office, the safe, the ATM, nothing, just the front door so I could open the newsagents to do the newspapers.

They did an audit, they didn’t finish it, they came back and when they redid it, it was another £200 short. And I said to them, “We ain’t been in there. So you explain that to me then, you explain how another £200 is not in the system, and you’ve got the keys in your handbag”. And she said, “Well, it’s part of the discrepancy, you have to sign this to say it’s part of your outstanding balance”, and I refused. I said, “Not in a million years”, and all my staff were there at the time and they refused as well. They said, “We’re not signing a thing” and that’s how it was left.

Then Interim Enterprises came in. I thought I had to do the right thing, all manner of things are going through your mind, so I kept the front door open so that they could trade. And then – I don’t know if I’m getting ahead of myself here – in time, I found out that the shop three doors down had heard a rumour, they applied for the Post Office and the Post Office kept my – wanted me to keep my shop open while this Post Office in my shop was still trading, so they could build another Post Office three doors along, to take it from me into there. And I had to deal with that.

Ms Hodge: Do you know whether the Post Office made any other investigations into this apparent shortfall of £62,000?

Kevin Palmer: Not that I know of, no. I was never – I was under the impression that there would be an investigation but nothing ever materialised.

Ms Hodge: What support was available to you from the Post Office, to try and resolve this significant discrepancy?

Kevin Palmer: Nothing at all really. The only thing you’ve got is the Subpostmasters’ Alliance, like – what you call it, a union kind of thing. I can’t think what the name of it’s called now. So, basically, I was told to get in touch with them and they would advise what the next steps were and that’s when I started getting letters about going for interviews, about my contract, about what was happening, who was taking over, and that kind of thing.

Ms Hodge: During your suspension, you’ve mentioned that your staff took over the running of the Post Office.

Kevin Palmer: They did, yes.

Ms Hodge: Did they experience issues with the system?

Kevin Palmer: They did. They still experienced shortfalls and this was the ironic thing. When the auditors came in and gave them the Post Office to run, to keep it going, and they said to them, “What do we do if there’s a problem”, they turned round and said, “Ask Kev”. Ask me, what, the guy they just suspended? So if my staff didn’t know what to do, as in any other time, they’d come and ask me but now I’ve been suspended, the Post Office is still saying to the staff who are running it, and I’m not allowed in there, “Oh, just ask him what to do”. So that’s what they did.

So because I wasn’t doing this for Post Office, I was doing this for my staff, so they didn’t lose their jobs, I was doing it for the community who wanted their pensions, and everything else, and I’m trying to save face, thinking this is going to be a mistake, there can’t be this discrepancy. You know, they’re going to give it back to me. So we tried to keep everything normal.

But, yes, my staff still experienced shortfalls and I think at one point when she was doing the ATM she experienced a shortfall and said, “What do I do?” and I said, “You’ve got to talk to Interim Enterprises, I can’t help you on that”.

Ms Hodge: What effect did your suspension have upon your salary from the Post Office?

Kevin Palmer: It was gone, from that moment. I mean, you know some months my remuneration was £5,000, £6,000 a month at Christmas £8,000. I was – at Christmas time, they’d queue out the door and down the street to get in our Post Office. We were doing thousands of stamps at Christmas, parcels, hundreds, it was a very, very good Post Office. I built that place up, and it was taken like that, and I defy anybody in this room to lose that kind of money a month, and then try and survive as well.

So I tried to keep the business running with what we had on the retail side and it was kind of – I always run the retail to break even and the Post Office salary was then used as my remuneration.

Of course, when that happened, it was never going to survive. It was just a case of it was a matter of time before – I could probably see the writing on the wall but I just kept going, thinking: things will turn.

Ms Hodge: You were invited by the Post Office to attend an interview under caution; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: That’s right.

Ms Hodge: Did you agree to attend?

Kevin Palmer: I did, yes.

Ms Hodge: Who conducted that interview?

Kevin Palmer: I don’t know the name of the person. Again, this is all a blur. My solicitor at the time, who I just found online, a company Bark & Co, they’re up here somewhere, a lady called Sabrik, who was fantastic. She cost me a fortune but she was good. She came with me to the interview in the Chelmsford and we went to a Post Office in Chelmsford, and upstairs, above WH Smith’s, it was conducted there, and that’s where they just interrogated me all morning, and my solicitor just said to me, “You just reply ‘no comment’”, because what they were then accusing me of, the charges didn’t agree to what they originally accused me of. So, originally, it was theft for 60,000-odd and then, by the time we come to do this interview, they were saying it was all these different transaction corrections that I hadn’t processed.

And I quickly spoke to my solicitor and I said, “That’s physically impossible, if you quickly calculate that, that would mean I would have had to do transaction corrections twice a day for about 34 days on the spin, somebody at Post Office would have known that”. So what they were saying in the first instance and the second instance didn’t corroborate. So my solicitor said just no comment to every question.

Ms Hodge: You said that their position changed?

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: When were you first accused of stealing 62,000?

Kevin Palmer: From the first moment the auditors walked in that was kind of the tone that I was given, that I’d stolen the money.

Ms Hodge: You said that the interview took place at the Chelmsford Post Office; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Was it conducted by employees of the Post Office to your knowledge?

Kevin Palmer: Yes, it was, yes.

Ms Hodge: In addition to your interview under caution, you attended a meeting with your contract manager; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: When did that meeting take place?

Kevin Palmer: So that was after this initial one. So after the one in Chelmsford. So I think it was after, and they sent me what I call a “fluffy” letter “Please come along for a conversation about your contract”. It was nothing to do with police, under caution, you can bring your representative from the subpostmasters’ thing, who came with me, my solicitor didn’t have to be present, it wasn’t going to be taped. It was a general – and I thought: okay, you know, it’s going to smooth over, we’re going to talk about my contract, how I can get this Post Office back. And that’s why I initially thought the interview was going to be about. I honestly did think that is what it was about and what the process would be.

And when we got there, the representative from – well, he went in first and left me outside and talked to the lady. When he came out, the first thing he said was, “You should resign to protect yourself”, and I was like, “What? What do you mean?” He said, “Resign to protect yourself”. So I was like, “Okay”. And then we went, and they said, “Do you want this interview taped?” and I said – and I’d already spoken to my solicitor about this, and she was fine, she was like, “Look, from the tone of the letter, it’s not going to be interrogating, it’s just going to be a general chat”. And when I was in there, “Where’s the money? What have you done with it? What have you spent it on? Where is it? Have you been on holiday, got a new car, been away?”

I was like, “Whoa, this isn’t what we’re here for”. And the guy who was meant to be representing me didn’t intervene, didn’t say a thing, just let me take this abuse, as I was thinking of it. So I stopped and said “This is not what I’m here for. If you want to speak on those terms you need to go through my solicitor”, and I left.

Ms Hodge: You described being represented on that occasion, that is to say the meeting with your contract manager. In your statement, you said that the representative was from the National Federation of SubPostmasters; is that correct?

Kevin Palmer: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: What was your impression of the support that you received from your representative on that day?

Kevin Palmer: None at all. Absolutely none at all. I could have taken a random guy off the street and he probably would have said more than this guy. And the ironic thing is, after all this happened and I was still trying to run the business, he was obviously a postmaster himself, I saw him at the wholesalers and he completely blanked me, because he knew. He knew what they’d done to me and he completely blanked me and just – as if I wasn’t even there. Yet, this was the guy that was meant to be representing me. This was at Booker’s wholesaler in Southend.

Ms Hodge: How did your appointment as a subpostmaster ultimately come to an end?

Kevin Palmer: Basically, from that day that they said I was suspended. That was the end, and that was it. That was my tenure with the Post Office over.

Ms Hodge: Did you – you have mentioned in your statement that you sought to resign ultimately. Is that –

Kevin Palmer: Sorry, yes. So after the representative said I should resign, so I sent a letter saying “As per the representation, [blah, blah, blah, blah], I resign from Post Office”, and they sent a letter back saying “You can’t”. So I was like, “What do you mean I can’t? Either you want me to work for the Post Office or you don’t want me to work for the Post Office”, and it was a kind of their dig of saying “You can’t resign, we’re terminating your contract”, and that’s what it was.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when your appointment was terminated?

Kevin Palmer: Sick to the stomach. I’d given up everything to take that role on, to help my family and build up my family’s reputation. My Mum went through a lot. I’d lost the support of my Mum and my step-dad and my brother. I had no family connections. I only had my wife to stand by my side, and her family, who are very good. And losing the Post Office, after I’d built it up, and brought business in, they offered me mains contract, they even offered me – which I haven’t mentioned, but there was a point that they asked me if I was going to go and help them run another Post Office at Hambro round the corner, because the gentleman was going to retire through ill health, would I be interested in taking that one on as well.

So, in my eyes, I was doing everything I could. Yes, my career in the City had come to a head, me being a subpostmaster wasn’t my dream as a child. It wasn’t the career path that I wanted to take. I still want to work up here now, but I did it for my family and then we got so deep into it and I got so deep into and I actually loved the job. Once I got it, I loved it. The first couple of days, when I took it over, I remember my Mum saying to me, “Do you think you have made a mistake?” because it wasn’t the hustle and bustle of up here.

So it was then that I thought, “We’ve got to make the best of this opportunity”. So I did and I grew the business. Like I said, I was given the upgrade I was asked to run another Post Office, the sales are good, the remuneration was good everything was great. And I actually thought this is my career path until retirement.

Ms Hodge: Just for clarity, you have mentioned more than once working “up here”?

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you mean the City of London?

Kevin Palmer: The City of London, yes.

Ms Hodge: You have explained that the branch was ultimately moved to another location nearby; is that right?

Kevin Palmer: Three shops along.

Ms Hodge: What action did the Post Office take in relation to the alleged shortfall of approximately £62,000?

Kevin Palmer: Nothing. I was waiting months: am I going to get a letter for prosecution? Are they going to send me to court? What is going on? And every day, the phone would ring or the post would come, I’d run to the door: is this it? Is this the letter? What’s going on? What’s happening?

Then what happened was they took the Post Office and moved it. So everything was – they were building one three doors along, while still having my one running, they wouldn’t tell me what was going on with the prosecution, it was like they were waiting for that one to be built, up and running and then they were going to come to me, and that’s what they did.

In that time, they offered us – it wasn’t a plea, like other people have had when they’re at court, but they kind of said “If you pay it back, no further action will be taken”, and that’s when I found out about Freeths and the 555 Group, as they’re called now, and, initially, I didn’t think I had a leg to stand on or a case that I could join the 555, and they did, and Bark & Co, who were representing me, saw the letters from Freeths, saw the evidence from the others, and said, “We’re going to let you go and it’s free – you know, you’re not paying” – they were costing me – to get that lady from Chelmsford to come and see me cost me £5,000 for her to get on a train and come and stand here and say to me “No comment”, that cost me 5 grand. But I thought: if that’s what I’ve got to do, that’s what I’ll do.

But even they saw, when the case was building, they let me go to Freeths, and that’s when I joined Freeths, and that’s when – when I joined Freeths, they kind of said, “You won’t be signing into any agreement with anybody”, and it just dropped and then I was just – that’s kind of like the end, as it’s been, and I’ve never had anything since.

Ms Hodge: You have said that the Post Office told you that if you repaid the amount – or rather if you paid what was alleged to be owing, they wouldn’t take any further action.

Kevin Palmer: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What did you understand that action to involve?

Kevin Palmer: At the time when the auditors came in, I thought: if I put that money in right now, they’re going to let me walk back in there and open up as normal. That was my first reaction. Then, obviously, further down the line, as the months went on, my initial reaction was: if I still give them the money now, they’re not going to send me to prison.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to move on to talk about the effect that these events have had on you, Mr Palmer?

Kevin Palmer: Okay.

Ms Hodge: If we deal first with the financial impact on you and your family. What was the effect on you of making good these apparent shortfalls that were shown on the Horizon system?

Kevin Palmer: Well, initially, you put it in because you think you have to. Obviously, that’s taken a hit on sales in the shop, so then I couldn’t go and buy those box of Mars Bars that I needed that week, or we couldn’t fill up the new card section coming up to Valentine’s Day, because the money that I’d used for that was going into Post Office. So, in a way, your bottom line was always getting smaller because I’m putting money into a system and really I’m earning it there and it’s just going straight back in there.

So, obviously, it became tough. I had to cut back on staff hours, I had to do longer hours myself. I tried to keep staff on as long as I could, for as many hours as I could, because, although I’d lost the subpostmastership – and this was the weird thing, they were working in the Post Office, but they were also working on my retail side. So they kind of had two jobs, working for two different people, and me being – I just did everything I could to keep the staff going, and keep the shop going, and keep our lives going. But the more you kept putting in, the harder it got.

Ms Hodge: How did these problems affect your relationship with your staff?

Kevin Palmer: It was tense. It was tense. Because, obviously, if I’m cutting hours they got used to – you know, they got used to working those certain hours. I was then cutting hours and then they thought it was favouritism, why was I giving that person more hours than that person. And I tried to explain, “We’ve got to make up shortfalls”, and, in the end, you had to bite the bullet and let people go.

Ms Hodge: What happened to your business after your contract with the Post Office was terminated?

Kevin Palmer: It kind of went into a spiral of free-fall, really. The Post Office was the baby of the shop. It was the mechanism that drove the shop. It drove the footfall to the shop. It was a great atmosphere in there. It was the hub, we were the centre shop in the parade and everybody knew it and everybody knew us. So the Post Office brought people in. I’m not denying that the Post Office brand, as such, doesn’t do that. It does help the sales in your shop.

But when that’s taken away and you’re not the face of it and people expect you to be the face of it. And my staff were great, I’m not – you know, but they’re not me. So they weren’t the ones going round Betty’s house and helping her with her washing, or they weren’t the ones doing the charity events at the school, they weren’t the ones going to talk to the businesses; that was me.

So those people came to that shop for me because I was behind the Post Office. And when you took me – I hate talking about myself. When you took me out of that, the draw isn’t there. So then it was less footfall coming into the shop. And if they look at the sales when I was in charge and after, I guarantee my sales were a damn sight higher than when I wasn’t in charge.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the loss of your Post Office salary have upon you and your family?

Kevin Palmer: Massively. I was the breadwinner. I’m a proud man. Maybe it’s too old school, I don’t know, but I felt I should be the breadwinner. My wife has a great job but she was bringing up the children. It was my responsibility to look after the family and the children and give them the life that I wanted them to have. So when you take away a massive chunk of that salary, I then become half the person that I am. Whether that’s right or wrong, in my head I’d let my family down and I hadn’t done nothing wrong.

Ms Hodge: What is the current state your finances, Mr Palmer?

Kevin Palmer: They’re in ruins. I’ve got a second mortgage in my home, I’m on a debt management plan, my credit rating is at zero, I …

This is the God’s honest truth: this morning coming here my card declined at the car park to pay for the car parking before I got on the train this morning, and I had a decision to make of to leave the car there and hope I don’t get a fine so I could get here in time to say this, but I managed to scramble round and find the money in the van and I’m here. But I didn’t even have £2.60 to put in the meter this morning. We are living day-to-day, trying to survive.

Ms Hodge: How does this contrast with your situation when you were working in investment banking?

Kevin Palmer: Massively different. Like I said, when I first started up here, I wasn’t earning a lot. I can tell you, I don’t care: I was earning £12,000 a year but I worked my way up and I was earning around 80,000 a year bonuses. When I used to get flown to Sweden or Norway, I had a car and a chauffeur come and pick up and take me to the airport. I flew business class. I was a something. I bought my wife a sports car with a bonus. We had a lovely home. We then got married and raised children.

The contrast for what I am now to then, second to none.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe your standing in the local community before your suspension and termination.

Kevin Palmer: Yeah. I thought it was good. I don’t like bigging myself up but we had to build the reputation of the family and the shop when my Mum was obviously suspended. A lot of the community, some believed, some didn’t. And then there was an article – I haven’t seen my Mum’s interview this morning, sorry, so if I repeat something, I apologise. There was an article in the newspaper. After she was found not guilty, the paper printed she was. So of course people’s reaction was: well, she must be then; there’s no smoke without fire. I remember we put on the front of the shop “not guilty” but people believe what they want to believe.

So when I came in, I felt like we had to build this reputation up. If my Mum’s there and I’m there, they’ve given the postmastership to me, there is no smoke without fire, it’s been defused. It took a while but we worked hard on that shop together in the initial stages. We won window display of the year. We was given a shield by the Mayor at the Christmas lights turn on. And then after my Mum left, I had to build the reputation of the shop up. But I did. I went to the local businesses. I lived in that area all my life. I knew a lot of people. So I knew people in the pubs or the restaurants and I knew people outside and, like I said, we’d go and help people round their houses if they needed any help. I remember helping one old lady get her BT line back on. That’s just what you did in the community. We helped at the school charity events.

My standing in the community was good. I remember my wife at the time (and if she was here, she’d laugh at this) but where we lived, if we went to our local Sainsbury’s, we’d get stopped. “Hiya, how you doing? What you doing today?” and my wife would get annoyed with it. She’d be like, “All these people just keep – we just want to do our shopping” and I used to say, “But if they didn’t, that means they’re not using the shop and if they’re using the shop, you can afford to shop in Sainsbury’s”. So it went hand-in-hand.

And then we’d been – we was at restaurant once and someone come up, “Excuse me, Kev, you couldn’t – I’ve got a parcel to send” and she’d be like, “Really? We can’t even go for a meal?” But it felt great that people wanted to talk to me. It was like people had forgot what had happened to my Mum and we built that reputation back up, and I built it up after my Mum had gone and I continued and I thought I was doing okay.

And then this happened.

Ms Hodge: What effect did your suspension have on that reputation?

Kevin Palmer: The stalwarts, as I called them, or the older generation, they were very nice. They stuck with me. They’d come and stand in the shop just to chat to me. One lady (who’s not with us, bless her), she’d bring me sandwiches on a Saturday because she didn’t know if I was eating or not.

But I also had people set up a hate campaign about me on Facebook. One of my friends got in touch and said, “Kev, have you seen what’s online what they’re saying about you?” and my solicitor at the time said I wasn’t allowed to respond to that online vilification.

The shop was damaged. At one point, my daughter was working behind the counter with me, she was younger at the time, and a man come in and shouted and screamed in my face that I should be in prison and then walked out. And of course my younger daughter said, “What was that about, Dad?” I said, “Don’t worry about it. Just a nasty man.”

So I had – my reputation was in tatters. I didn’t want to go into the high street. I didn’t want to go to those pubs and restaurants because I felt like I was being judged and daggers were in eyes looking at me.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe what effect this had on your mental health.

Kevin Palmer: I’m not the same person I was. When I was up here, when I was younger I was cocky, I was arrogant a little bit because I had to be to work my way up. I was the guy that when I went to football I was the guy that they came to to organise the coaches, the hotels, the tickets. I was the guy that they came to. I was the one at the parties getting everyone up and dance or making a show and – I was a confident person.

Not now. I don’t go out anymore. My solicitor, we had an interview and my friends were texting me saying, “When you coming back out? When we going to see you again? Are you coming for a drink?” I don’t want to go out anymore.

I go out with my wife and my children because I’ve got them close, they’re with me. If they’re there with me, everything’s all right. But if I’m in a situation where I’m in a public space, I feel like people are judging me. People are looking and they’re talking about me, they’re judging everything I say. Even now talking to you and everyone listening here, I feel like you’re all judging me and I – I don’t like the person I’ve become.

Ms Hodge: Have you sought any help for the problems you have experienced?

Kevin Palmer: No, because I’m just trying to get on with it day by day and I’m trying to forget everything that happened and I try and just work through it.

I mean, like I said, I gave up my season ticket at the football because of the finances. I don’t go to the football anymore with my friends. I don’t go out. They invite me every week to the Curry Club and I turn it down every week because I don’t want to be in that situation where I’m out in public. I find it very difficult to be in a room with people now. But here has been … I’m gripping my hands so tight – you can’t see under this table – because I find it very difficult.

Ms Hodge: How has your relationship with your wife been affected?

Kevin Palmer: At first, I thought she didn’t believe me. I thought my in-laws didn’t believe me. I find it very hard to trust anybody now. And of course she had questions because she didn’t know what was going on, she didn’t understand. But she was brilliant. And there were days when I didn’t get out of bed, I didn’t go to the shop, the staff just run it, and I thought, “It’s going under. What can I do?” She was the one that made me get out of bed. She was the one that made me go to that shop, stand behind that counter and she said, “If they see you and you smile, put a brave face on it, how can you be accused of something because if you’ve been accused of stealing that kind of money, you’ll be in prison. If you’re there behind the counter, what can they say?”

She was the one that backed me. She’s been brilliant. I owe her a lot.

Ms Hodge: What about your children, Mr Palmer? Have they been affected by these events?

Kevin Palmer: My youngest one knows. She was too – my youngest one knows. She was too young and I used to talk to her because she couldn’t talk back and she didn’t understand. So I’d say, “Daddy’s got a problem at the shop and I don’t know what to do sweetheart” but then she’d give you a cuddle and you’d think everything was all right.

My eldest one kind of had an inclination obviously when the gentleman came in the shop and spoke to me like that. I think now (she’s 13) she understands why I’m here today. She knows the importance of me being here today, even though she knows I don’t want to be here today. And she’s very introvert herself, like me now. My youngest is full of confidence but my eldest is a bit introvert and I don’t know if that’s because your children read off your body language; so for a few years that body language wasn’t there for her. So has it affected her? Maybe.

Ms Hodge: Are you currently working, Mr Palmer?

Kevin Palmer: I currently have a balloon business. So I work from home and I sell balloons. I do free local delivery to earn a little bit of income, but it doesn’t bring in any money. It doesn’t bring in anywhere near what we do. My wife has gone back to work full-time, so I’m kind of the house husband and that suits me because it means I don’t have to go out.

I did apply for a couple of jobs recently. I am – I thought all this had finished and gone away and obviously when the Inquiry came up and I was asked to speak, that’s been very difficult to get my head round that I was coming here to do this today. And I know I’ve got to and I know I’ve got to get back to that guy that was up here, that worked up here, and that’s the guy I want to get back to being.

And it’s small steps and the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken on – my daughter’s a swimmer. She’s a very good swimmer in swimming club and I’ve just taken on a role as a volunteer as the club secretary because at the pool when I was going (she swims six days a week and we’re there all the time), I sat in the corner to watch her swim on her training sessions and I didn’t talk to anyone. There’s one lady who I speak to but everyone else I ignored. And it got me thinking with the Inquiry and speaking to the people who are representing us and seeing other people come forward that I can’t let this keep me down for the rest of my – I can’t.

So I took on that role and it’s a way of me engaging with people again and building my confidence back up to speak to people. Yes, a lot of it is online: I can send emails, I can hide when I want to. But I’m at the pool and I’m speaking to people, it’s bringing me back out to the person that hopefully I can become again.

Ms Hodge: What steps have you taken to try and recover compensation from the Post Office?

Kevin Palmer: Well, I’m part of the original 555, so I don’t think I’m going to get anything more, to be honest with you. But I’m here today that if it helps others come forward, speak out; if they’re like me, was hiding away; if this helps other people, and it helps those that can get the compensation, then yes. If there is more for the 555 and it helps the 555, that’s why I’ve turned up today.

Ms Hodge: How much did you receive as part of the settlement?

Kevin Palmer: I received an amount that will never compensate for what I had to put in and what I’ve lost. It’s – even if I tell you the figure, to me it’s irrelevant.

Ms Hodge: How do you feel now about the way you were treated by the Post Office?

Kevin Palmer: Anger, I suppose, because when it happened to Mum, she was told she’s the only one, and we’ve heard it all. They tell you, “You’re the only one this is happening to, this doesn’t happen”. They couldn’t say that to me. They couldn’t use that line with me because they knew it had happened to my Mum. So that was never said that to me because they knew they couldn’t.

They have ruined so many people’s lives and they’re just trading and getting on with it. But what they don’t understand is we, the people in those shops, in those Post Offices, we are the ones who bring that business in to them. Without us people like we are, they haven’t got a business.

And then to treat us how they have is unbelievable. It’s unbelieve – you can’t treat somebody like that. They’re the people – we’re the ones standing at the front of the counter, taking the abuse from the customers, to put money into the Post Office to make them the global brand or the big brand that they are, and then they hide behind everything. Yet we, the little people, we’re the ones that actually bring the business in. It’s not the big fat cats in the Post Office standing behind there getting them bringing the money in; it’s me, Marge, Jo, whoever, the lady down – normal people. Yet they treat us like we’re criminals. It’s unbelievable.

Ms Hodge: You said the Post Office has ruined peoples lives. What do you think they need to do to put that right?

Kevin Palmer: As people have said, apologies ain’t worth the paper they’re written on because we’ll never get those years back. I’ll never get those years back with my children when I wasn’t there. You’ve heard from other people who have lost loved ones. They’ll never get that time back. How can you put a price on that?

The only thing they can do in my eyes is make their lives smoother and easier going forward into their retirement ages, as a lot of people are now becoming. And they need to get people those houses back. People lost their homes, people lost their businesses, their savings. Well, that wasn’t down to them, that was down to what the Post Office did to them; so surely the Post Office should then give them those houses back, give them their savings back, give them their pension pots back. They should be the ones to make their lives easier into their retirement ages and that’s the least they can do. That’s the least they can do.

These people shouldn’t have to worry or I shouldn’t have to worry if a bailiff’s going to knock on my front door, if I can pay the electricity bill with the rates going up. We wouldn’t have had to because we saw this as our future and we also saw it as an extension of what we’d maybe done in the past, and we thought we was working with a brand that was going to make our lives nice, and it’s all been ripped away from us. But they’ll continue. The Post Office will still continue. It will still trade after I’ve gone.

So we’ve got to live our lives now, have we, for the next 20/30 years with what? Nothing. That’s not fair.

Ms Hodge: I have no further questions for you, Mr Palmer. Is there anything you would like to say that we’ve not already covered?

Kevin Palmer: No. To be honest, I had a bit of a summary but I think I just did it.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

Sir, do you have any questions for Mr Palmer?

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

Mr Palmer, it’s obvious this has been a considerable ordeal for you. I’m very grateful to you for putting yourself through it.

Kevin Palmer: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: And thank you for your evidence.

Kevin Palmer: Thank you very much for giving me the time to speak.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir. That concludes our evidence this afternoon.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. 10.00 in the morning. Thank you.

(3.13 pm)

(Adjourned until 10.00 am the following day)