Official hearing page

24 February 2022 – Thomas English, Thomas Brown, Malcolm Simpson and Gordon Martin

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(10.00 am)

Ms Hodge: Good morning, sir. Can you hear and see us?

Sir Wyn Williams: I can indeed.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Our first witness this morning is Mr Thomas English.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Thomas English


Sir Wyn Williams: Good morning, Mr English.

Thomas English: Good morning, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much for coming.

Questioned by Ms Hodge

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

Thomas English: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Please can you state your full name?

Thomas English: Thomas Edward English.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. You made a statement, Mr English, on 9 February of this year; is that correct?

Thomas English: Yes.

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

Thomas English: Yes.

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

Thomas English: On the back, yes.

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

Thomas English: Yes, that’s my signature.

Ms Hodge: Have you had an opportunity to read that statement since it was first made?

Thomas English: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is its content true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Thomas English: Yes.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to begin by asking you a few questions about your background, if I may?

Thomas English: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How old are you now, Mr English?

Thomas English: 69 now, 70 this year.

Ms Hodge: Are you married?

Thomas English: Yes.

Ms Hodge: For how long have you been married?

Thomas English: Since 1979, September ‘79.

Ms Hodge: Do you have any children?

Thomas English: I’ve got two daughters.

Ms Hodge: How old are they?

Thomas English: 37 at the weekend, and 35.

Ms Hodge: Can you please tell me about your career before you went to work for the Post Office.

Thomas English: Yes. I was schooled in Middlesbrough and then I left Middlesbrough in 1969 and joined the Royal Marines as a 16 and a half year old boy, stayed there until 1 April ‘77 and then on 4 April ‘77, I joined the Metropolitan Police and served at Stoke Newington police station here in London.

I then transferred up to Leicester because a girl I’d met, still my wife, didn’t want to live in London and so we went to Leicester where she came from, and I spent 20 or so years in Leicester and then I left the police force through a medical problem, and then we decided on settling for a Post Office to make a living because my daughters at that time were only 12 and 13, and we needed more money than my police pension was paying me to survive.

So I’d got problems getting a job because of a blood disorder I’ve got, which is genetic, and I settled for the Post Office as a way of survival.

Ms Hodge: What had attracted you, firstly, to your role in the Royal Marines and the police force?

Thomas English: Well, I suppose I’m – I was a natural competitor. I’ve always been sport mad, sport-minded, as a kid, always out playing football, played rugby for 15 years and it just seemed a natural progression that I leave Middlesbrough. I didn’t want to go in the steelworks and I felt, well, I’m going to go and I’m going to leave, and I made the biggest train journey of my life from Middlesbrough, all the way down to Deal in Kent, on my own, and – I mean I had to get my Mum to sign me into the military because I was underage, technically – and off I went, and spent eight years there.

Ms Hodge: Did you enjoy it?

Thomas English: Oh, yes. I just got into sport again, didn’t I, and I enjoyed soldiering. It was me, really.

Ms Hodge: What attracted you to working for the Post Office?

Thomas English: Well, I tried – after I left the police force, I tried to get jobs with them and I don’t know what happened at the time but it seemed that they’d put a little line at the bottom “If you don’t hear from us within a month, then you’re not successful”. And I thought I’ve just given you 20 years of my life and you can’t even write to me and say, “Sorry, Tom, you’ve been unsuccessful”?

So, as time went on, I thought, well, I’ve got to make a move because the girls are getting bigger and they’re getting older and I need some stability. I can’t go round, you know, hunting for jobs because of my illness, which nearly killed me. I thought I’ve got to survive.

So the next best thing is I’ll go down this avenue of being self-employed and work at that.

Ms Hodge: What did the process of applying to be a subpostmaster involve?

Thomas English: I wrote to the Post Office, I went for an initial interview at Bishop Street in Leicester, which was their Crown Office. I then sat some exams there and I was successful. I then had to go away and write – I’ve still got it to this day – a study of the business, of what I would do if I was given an office and how I would make it better.

So I wrote this business document and submitted it to them and they said, “Yeah, that’s fine” and then I went for an interview at Derby with Nigel Trumpton, who turned out to be my line manager. There was another lady with him – I can’t remember her name, but she was a subpostmistress – and they interviewed my wife and I for four hours in Derby.

Then, at the end of it, he said, “You’ve got the job”. [… redacted …]

Ms Hodge: I was about to ask you which Post Office you ran but it’s the Great Haywood –

Thomas English: Yes, Great Haywood Post Office, yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you acquire that branch?

Thomas English: I purchased it. I looked at – I went all round the country – I mean, Norfolk, Devon, the north-east and we settled for that because I just thought, “Position, position, position”. It’s a Grade II listed building, which was part of the Lord Lichfield’s estate, Patrick Anson, it was part of his estate many years ago, and it’s such a nice building, built about 1790-ish, nobody seems to know exactly, and I thought I’ll never lose money on this place, and we decided to take the office.

And I didn’t want too big a business because I didn’t want to neglect my daughters because, as I say, they were 12 and 13. We’d uprooted them from Leicester, from all their friends and we went there and we did get a bit of flak like that initially from them, you know, “You’ve taken us away from our friends”, which is to be expected, and – but they soon settled down at the local school and it – you know, it was a good move that way.

Ms Hodge: How much money did you invest in the business?

Thomas English: About £66,000, bearing in mind removal costs from Leicester over to Stafford. Then I had to buy the business as well and normally you paid two to two and a half times the salary for the business. So the salary when I took it on was about £22,000 a year and that was 3 February ‘99. As I say – so that would have been somewhere in the regions of £44,000 I’d paid for the business and then there was some modernisation to go on, and removal and purchase fees, those kind of things, which added up.

Ms Hodge: Did the purchase price cover the premises itself, the cost of the premises itself?

Thomas English: No. What I did was I took out a £50,000 mortgage on the premises as well, because I think the premises cost in total about £140,000-odd then, which was a considerable sum. It’s a considerable sum now but, having said that, we did some repairs and renovations and that’s where the money went.

Ms Hodge: When did your appointment as a subpostmaster begin?

Thomas English: Oh, I moved into the premises on 3 February ‘99 and the next morning we were open for business.

Ms Hodge: What support did your wife provide in running the business?

Thomas English: Everything, everything. I mean, she was a bit disheartened at first because, with the children and with everything in boxes all around us, and we were expected to trade and she’s thinking, what about the kids’ dinner, what about getting all these boxes, and making a home and – I mean, it took quite a long time and I think it got her down a little bit and I mean, once or twice she said, “I wish we’d never come, we should have stayed in Leicester”, you know. I said, “No, it will pan out, just keep going”.

Ms Hodge: Not long after your appointment, there was an attempted robbery –

Thomas English: Yes. As I say, I became an official subpostmaster on 4 February ‘99 and then it was a Saturday morning on – in August and it was 9.20 on a Saturday morning, and it was a bit quiet, and I thought, well, I’ll just flip through to the paper, you know, at the desk and have a read. And then the door opened and in come these two lads, all dressed in black and they rolled their balaclavas down and all you could see was their eyes and I thought – well, I won’t tell you what I thought but I thought, “Here we go”. One of them stood in front of me and said, “Give me your money and I won’t hurt you”.

The other one had a rifle and a cover over it and I could see the metal barrel of the gun and I thought, hmm, okay, and I just went up in the air, basically. It was just action and reaction. I just exploded, pressed the alarms, which panicked them, because they are very, very loud, and I then ran through the house – because the entrance to my house was the entrance for all the public. I mean, I got a thousand people a week through my front door.

And I ran through the kitchen, through the back room, through the living room, opened the door into the Post Office from my living room, and then ran out into the street, and they had a stolen car outside with a getaway driver. So they jumped in and just got away and then I got the number, we rang the police and the police were in the area and eventually they went over to Abbots Bromley and they were caught trying to do something over there.

But, prior to that, they went to Fillybrook Service Station up near Trenthem Gardens. They were a pair of thugs, really, because they hit the young girl at Fillybrook Service Station, which is a garage – it isn’t now, but it was – and they hit her for 20 cigarettes and I thought, well, they were particularly nasty fellas these and one of them, apparently, in the paper had previous for hitting his Mum. I thought, well, you’re not a very good advert for a manhood if you’re going around belting your Mum. So they got their desserts and they went to prison.

The Post Office, we rang them up and said, “We’ve had a robbery” and all they said was, “Well, how much did they get?” and I said, “Nothing”. “Oh, okay, just close the office”, and, well, my wife fell apart a bit after that, through the shock. It was just latent shock, I suppose, and they didn’t even send her a bunch of flowers. They didn’t even do anything. And I thought “Oh, hang on a minute, that’s not very good”, and I’d only been in position eight months. Well, if they’re going to treat me like that, what are they going to do to the others who’ve sat here in this chair? Their attitude is not very good.

Ms Hodge: When was the Horizon system first installed in your branch?

Thomas English: About 2004. I was a latecomer to that because of my appointment was in ‘99 and they’d already had a roll-out but we were all paper-based. Everything was worked out on a proper chart, which we submitted to the Post Office and, obviously, everything had to balance, and you could cross it along and check it up, down, left-hand, right-hand side, the lot and everything was paper-based.

Ms Hodge: What training did you receive from the Post Office when Horizon was installed?

Thomas English: When – gosh. The Post Office isn’t like – a lot of people think it’s glamorous, you open at 9 and you close at 5. It wasn’t like that at all. It was seven days a week, non-stop. Because you’ve got your ancillary business and we chose this business because it wasn’t too big and we could still spend time with our daughters, and our ancillary business probably only gave us about £7,000 or £8,000 a year, which we kept – you know, we fine-tuned it to that, because we used to go out every Thursday and every Saturday and Sunday around warehouses ourselves looking for things we could work out to sell in the shop. And then you’d take them home, unbox them, work out a price for them, put the price on the item, store it or put it in the shop.

So, basically, the whole job was 24/7, really, because you were open Saturdays for the Post Office anyhow, and you closed about 1.00, by the time you’d cashed up and declared all your cash and things. So it was busy.

Ms Hodge: How did you fit training in around that?

Thomas English: Well, what we did was they sent us these CD disks or DVDs. So we had a DVD and we put it in and you had to self-teach, and we sat for hours in the evening after we’d had our dinner and we’d sit until like 10.00/11.00 at night looking at these videos trying to learn a computer from a video. And we did that for many, many hours.

Then we went for some training, and I can’t remember where I went in Stafford for it but we did it separate, because Bren had to run the office and I had to go to training, and it was a week’s training and we had this Canadian fella – I’m sure he was Canadian – and he said, “Look, about this system, the Post Office have told me not to tell you this, but there are problems with this system; they have experienced problems”. And one of the lads – because I wasn’t really computer literate, and one of the lads, about my age, he said, “Yeah, but this is a second-hand system, this is not a good system” and I thought, “Oh”.

Then, with what the instructor said, “This is not a good – and they have had problems with it”, so that’s within five years of roll-out, I thought, oh, be careful because this thing can bite you, and that was always in my mind.

Ms Hodge: Were you given an opportunity to use the Horizon system during your group training?

Thomas English: I’m going to say no but I don’t remember sitting there with a computer in front of me. I just can’t remember that, and that’s the best answer I can give.

Ms Hodge: What training did you receive from the Post Office after it had been installed in your branch?

Thomas English: We had a very nice lady come to stay with us – not live with us, obviously – but train us for about four days or so, and then she left us on our own and we thought, “Oh, this is it now”. And you just get on with it, and you just try and remember what you’ve been taught and what you’ve been told and, as I say, just hope it pans out okay from you from there.

I would say about a year, before I really knew what I was doing.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, I was going to ask how suitable do you think the training was in preparing you to run the branch?

Thomas English: I don’t think it was adequate. No, I don’t.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience problems when using the Horizon system?

Thomas English: Oh, yes. Yes. You had problems with communication, ie from the internet, from – and I think part of the problem was – I went and spoke to the Post Office engineer who was at the green box outside one day. I says, “What’s going down?” He goes, “Well, the problem is we’re using copper wires”, he says, “and they snap and they break and they break the connections”. And I thought, “Oh, I wonder if this is causing some of the problems that people are alleging they’re having”.

And eventually they changed things to the fibre optic. But you still had problems. I mean, these problems that people have reported – and we knew it because we used to go to subpostmasters’ meetings and we’d sit there and – the average age of a subpostmaster was quite old, you know. The average age of somebody going into the Post Office was quite old. It was certainly mid-40s. And, after these meetings with the Post Office, because we’d browbeat them, we’d sit there and have a pint and something to eat, a cob, and we’d talk about, “What do you know”, “What do you know”, and we’d all question each other and say, “Well, I know this, I know that”.

And a story would emerge. And because we weren’t, sort of, all together all the time, we were spread out, you learnt that things were not hunky-dory.

Ms Hodge: You’ve just described attending group meetings with the Post Office.

Thomas English: Yes, with the Post Office.

Ms Hodge: Where would those be held?

Thomas English: Well, the Garth Hotel doesn’t exist anymore. That’s now houses but we had – we went up to a hotel in … oh, I can’t remember the name of it, 10 miles, 12 miles away from us, and there was other premises where we went to and had meetings.

Ms Hodge: How frequently would these meetings be held?

Thomas English: Well, you had one about every six months, or so, and then they started to drop off and I don’t know why. But it was a way you could quiz them and air your problems – Stone is the place we used to go to the hotel in Stone.

But there were other premises. We could air our problems and, hopefully, they’d be listened to and then they’d tell us where the Post Office was going and what was happening and what was in the pipeline.

Ms Hodge: Who was in attendance at these meetings on behalf of the Post Office?

Thomas English: People up the food chain. That’s all I can say. People in the know – not terribly, terribly high but, you know, man managers, area managers, these kind of people.

Ms Hodge: Did you –

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr English, sorry to interrupt, because this is quite interesting to me. Were the subpostmasters who attended these meetings essentially from your area around Staffordshire or did they come from all over?

Thomas English: They didn’t come from all over, sir, no. They were Staffordshire lads and, I mean, you know, within sort of 10 or 15-mile radius.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. So I’ve got the picture, it was a kind of area –

Thomas English: Yes, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: – meeting.

Thomas English: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – at which area managers/managers of the Post Office would be there, subpostmasters would be there –

Thomas English: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – and in those discussions, am I right in taking from your evidence that problems with Horizon were discussed?

Thomas English: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, thanks.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall any specific issues being raised?

Thomas English: Just balances and the fact that some transactions were going wrong and nobody could account for why they had problems. I would bring up issues and just say – in fact, when they accused me of theft, I just said to everybody at the meeting, “Look, fellas, please be aware I’ve been accused of theft and fraud from the Post Office and what’s happened is this”, and I explained it to them. I says “I’m not ashamed”, I said, “I’m ashamed they’ve accused me”, I says, “but please be aware that, you know, you could be next”.

Ms Hodge: On a day-to-day basis, to whom would you look for support when you experienced a problem balancing transactions?

Thomas English: On a day-to-day basis, it’s the helpline and you could get good people at the helpline. I suppose it depended on their experience and how long they’d been doing the job for. If you get a newcomer, you know, they’re not going to have the experience of somebody who’s been there a while. And they could only do so much, and if it’s a problem that they couldn’t solve, they would pass it on up the line to Chesterfield to the accounts department, and they would register it there. And then, invariably they’d be in touch with you or they might be in touch with you – sorry, you might be in touch with them.

So that’s how it worked.

Ms Hodge: How often would you say you contacted the helpline?

Thomas English: Oh, quite regularly, yes. I suppose it’s this thing, going back to training, this can bite you on the bum time, and you’re thinking, “I’ve got to be cautious here because” – I’m one of those people that, if I’ve got a problem I’ll come and tell you about it, and that is my safeguard because, you know, you can’t say to me, “Oh, well, you have hid this away, you haven’t said anything to anybody else”. I’ll say, “This has happened, that’s happened. What we going to do about it?”

Ms Hodge: In your statement, you’ve referred to an incident in December 2005.

Thomas English: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe what occurred on that occasion?

Thomas English: Right. Where are we on the statement?

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, this is on page 5, paragraph 26. It relates to a problem with the personal banking programme. Would you be able to explain what happened?

Thomas English: Yes. What happened there was – again, it’s this copper in the telephone lines problem, I think. The Horizon would crash and you couldn’t carry out transactions. So you’d ring them say “My system’s gone down”. They’d go “Oh, we know, yes. Well, keep the office open and do what you can”. “But the system’s gone down”. “Ah, but you can still carry out certain transactions”. “Yes, but what happens if they want to pay by cheque and credit card and cash”, because you could pay transactions using all those methods and you could interchange among those three to pay one bill.

And you say, “Well, if somebody wants to come in and pay a bill and say ‘Tom, I want 500 quid’, I can’t give them 500 quid so they can’t pay their bill”. “Oh well – I says look, best thing is to do, close the office, we don’t get any mistakes then. We know where the crash has happened, we know when it’s happened and hopefully everything’s backed up and you have saved everything”, and that’s what we’d say to them.

What I said there, yeah, accept payment in part cash and card and cheque – I mean, people would pay their bills out of their pensions. Well, if I can’t give you your pension, you can’t pay your bill, so what’s the point of keeping the office open? Because you can’t transact. So you close the office and that’s what used to happen.

I mean, once it went down for four days and I thought, “I’ve got four days. What am I going to do?” So my brother-in-law and I went out and we bought a load of wood and we ripped the bedroom floor up and installed a new floor in the bedroom, which pleased my wife but … and we used the four days that way. And then we got back online and opened the office again.

I mean, it’s so sad because when you live in a village everybody knows you. Everybody knew me. Everybody knows me now and I’ve been there 23 years, and we closed eight years ago, and I’m “Tom from the Post Office”, and it’s quite embarrassing.

“When are you going to open? What’s happening? What’s going on here?”

“I don’t know, it’s down to the Post Office, I’m very sorry”. You’ve got a note on your door:

“Sorry, not open”.

Ms Hodge: Did you report the issues you had experienced to the helpline?

Thomas English: Oh, you ring them. You just ring them and say “Look, the line’s gone down”. Well, they know your computer’s gone down. They know it’s crashed. Sometimes it would be a local thing, sometimes it would be an area thing.

Ms Hodge: Were there occasions when you had errors and problems which the helpline helped you, to resolve?

Thomas English: Yes. Sometimes you could resolve something that had gone wrong and sometimes you couldn’t, and it was referred up the food chain to Chesterfield, and sometimes Chesterfield weren’t very nice to you.

With one document, a docket, it was, a pension docket, and I forget how much it was for. It was about £127. It’s in the statement somewhere. But, off the top of my head, we – when you take a pension docket, the person comes in, gives you your book “Here you are, Tom”, and you open the book up to the date and you stamp it twice, once on the stub, once on the docket, so you rip the docket off, and then you would scan the book and then insert the amount that’s on the docket into the Horizon system, and then it would come up, and you’d pay them accordingly.

And you would take that docket, which is not a lot bigger than that (indicated) and you’d have a box with sections in it and the dockets were different kinds of pensions, like 1, 2, 3, 4 to 12, or whatever it was, and you’d put them in value order. So smallest value first, highest value to the end, in each of them sections.

Then what you’d do at the end of the day, you would get all them dockets out and you would make sure they’re in the right order, with the right sequencing, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and then you would add them all up. So I would go – my wife had a calculator with a printer on it. We went out and purchased it ourselves because you had to do that.

Our stamps – because they had the old fashioned stamps with the ink, but we went and bought these Ludwig things, which cost – I mean, two of them cost me 250 quid and, even though I paid for mine, they weren’t my property, they were the property of the Post Office. But because I purchased them I was responsible to Ludwig’s for their repair and replacement should anything go wrong. And, basically, I can understand to a degree why, because that stamp is official, it’s a governmental thing, you know, the Government own the Post Office and it’s their baby, and we did it because it was cheaper than inking up pads and doing that all the time, the old fashioned way.

So we had them and we’d tot all the dockets up at the end of the day and then Brenda would – I’d just sing out how much they would and she’d go item 1, item 2, and then you’d have a full total at the end. Well, we did about 35,000 quids’ worth of pensions every week to the old folk in the village, and that was that.

At the end of the week, we’d put all these together so the dockets and the till roll that we’d printed off and the Horizon roll – because it’s on the Horizon as well – as long as them two figures matched and all the dockets were on there, that’s done, and we’d parcel them up in a bag and then they’d go off to Lisahally in Northern Ireland.

Then one day, a few months later, I got this message that I was £127 or £147 down. I thought, no, I’m not. “Oh, you didn’t put a docket in the system”. I says, “Yes, I did”. And they said “No, you didn’t”. I said, “Well, prove I didn’t”. They says, “Well, I can’t”. I said, “Well …” So, you know, there’s an impasse. “I said I’ve done it, you said I haven’t. Why at Lisahally – have they lost it at Lisahally, because”, I said, “when my wife and I did it, it was there”. I said, “Not only is it there, it’s on the till rolls and it’s in the Horizon”.

So I said, “I’ll tell you what, this is a mechanical transaction – it’s electronic transaction. It’s bar-coded. I’ve scanned the bar-code, tell me who that bar-code relates to”. “Oh no, that’s too long and complicated”, they said. I said, “Well, that’s not my problem. You are accusing me of losing £147 or thereabouts”.

So I says, “It’s an electronic transaction. You can trace it”.

“No, we don’t want to do that. You just pay us the money or we’ll take it out your wages”.

I says, “Well, that’s not very nice, is it”, I says “because I’ve registered this docket. You tell me who it’s to, I will know who it belongs to and I will go to their house”. “No”.

So I thought, I know what I’ll do, I’ll ring up the DWP. So I rang up the Department of Work and Pensions, and I said – a lady says, “Oh, yes, it’s entirely – yes, you can trace exactly who owns this”, she said, “and they should be able to do it”. I said, “But, they won’t”. She says, “Well, I can’t do it because I don’t know” she say, “but they’ve got the information”.

So, basically, I ended up having to pay that money, much against my will, and I said – they couldn’t prove I’d not done it and I couldn’t prove they’d lost it at Lisahally. So I said, “No, I’m not happy with this. You’ve got your money. It’s in the system. How can you say I’ve taken it or lost it or – all you’re talking about is a little missing piece of paper, about that big (indicated) but the transaction is on the accounts”.

So we paid that money and then you just think, mmm, things are going downhill.

Ms Hodge: You experienced further discrepancies in your accounts?

Thomas English: Oh, yes.

Ms Hodge: You have described two separate shortfalls of £250.

Thomas English: Yes. Well, we balanced and we used to balance every month then and we did the balance and we’d go, “We’re 250 quid down. How can we be 250 quid down?” So you’d get all your cash out and all your stamps and all your stock again. And what I used to do is get an A4 piece of paper and then I’d put on it the week – the account week, the dates from and to, the week it covers, and I’d put all my cash, 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, every bit of cash I had, down to the noughts, and then in the middle I’d put all the stamps 1, 2, all the stamps in the middle, all your milk tokens, all your foreign currency, and everything, all your other stamps, like presentation packs and things like this, and your presentation envelopes, and you’d count them all up again and you think, right, so if that all tallies …

And then you look at the previous weeks because you can balance that against stock in and stock out and what you’ve sold, you’re thinking, hang on a minute, that 250 quid, I must have given it to somebody over the counter. That’s the only thing you can say in the end, and go, “But you don’t give 250 quid over the counter”. So we thought, “Oh”. So letter in the envelope, where you send all your accounts away in the big brown envelope, letter in there, “We’ve got a £250 discrepancy”, you’d back that up by making a telephone call to the helpline and go, “We’re 250 quid down but we don’t understand why; is there anything you can help us with?” “No”.

So we’re looking at each other. And then, a month later, 250 quid again, and I’m thinking, “Hang on a minute, it’s 250 quid, twice in two months? The same amount? What’s going wrong?” And I know my wife wouldn’t do it, I know I wouldn’t give out the 250 quid. I mean, that’s a lot of money to give away. And, even if you give it out in fivers, imagine how many people you would have to pay, 40 or 50 people in fivers to make that money. I’m thinking no.

So you tell the helpline again, “Look, I’m another 250 quid down. Why is that?” “No”. So you’ve got to put the money in. So that was that one.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you about I think it was the largest shortfall you experienced of £3,873?

Thomas English: Well, it wasn’t really, was it? It was like £4,000 because what happened is, initially – and I’m not referring to my statement – off the top of my head again, I was – and the lady came in and it was that one where I stamped her Severn Trent Water bill, it was, and I thought, right, stamp the water bill, scan it through, get the receipt from the Horizon, staple it to it, and give her it back. So, “Here you are, thank you very much”.

And then when I did my giros on the night, I thought, “Oh, no, Tom, you’ve made a mistake, you didn’t take the stub from the bottom of the form she brought in”, because you’ve got the rip-off stubs, haven’t you, at the bottom. I thought, “I’ve made a cock up”. So I thought, “Right, I’ll just go and see the lady because I know what where she lives”. So what I did is, when I sent my giros off daily, you have got like an A5, half an A4, and it was a black – I’m sure it was a black, because you had a black one and a red one, and I’m sure it was a black one that I did daily, and then you’d put them in a blue envelope for giro bank, and then I looked at it and I thought, right.

I had the money in the system, I had the Horizon receipt, it showed on the Horizon screen, and I left the money in the system. So what I did, I got this piece of paper and I thought, “Right, I’m going to test them now”. And it says “Do not staple or put anything”, so I thought – “to this thing”. So I thought, “Well, I’m going to do it”.

So I thought – I wrote a little letter, saying, “I’m very sorry, I’ve made a mistake. I did not take the lady’s stub off the Severn Trent Water bill, it’s for this. The money is in the account, it’s in the system, and you can see it’s there”.

I just clipped it to it with a stapler in the top left-hand corner, put it in the envelope and sent it off. I thought, “Somebody’s got to look at that and they’ve got to detach it from that slip so I’ll know I’ve got their attention”. And I thought, well, they’re not going to rip it off, because they’re not going to rip an official piece of paper like that, so they’ve obviously took it off with one of them staple removers. Because when I asked for the evidence, they sent it back to me and there it came – and they’d enlarged it and there was the two holes in the top left-hand corner. I thought, well, they’ve had the message because they have taken it off, they’ve detached it.

So they sent me an error notice. I thought, okay, fair cop, I didn’t take the stub so they have given me an error, but the money is in the account. And then I saw the lady, I got the stub and then I put it in the following week or the following month’s account. Now, this was the October time and I thought, right, I’ll do it again. So I stapled another note saying, “I have recovered the said amount. I am not including it in this account because you have already had the money. Please rectify”.

So they sent me another error notice. So I rang them up. I said, “Look, one balances the other out. I’m being honest. I told you I didn’t take the stub. What you doing?” They said, “Oh no, you’ve got to” – I says, “Well, I can’t. I couldn’t do it that way because I made a mistake. I didn’t take any monies. The money’s there”.

So, anyway, it got sorted by Christmas. So it took about three months. So I thought, okay. Christmas came and went, New Year came and went, and then I logged on one February morning about 8.30, on a Saturday morning it was, because I was preparing the office then ready for 9.00. I looked at it and I thought, “What the hell is this on the computer?” It was like a message with no punctuation marks, no full stops, no nothing, no capital letters, and it was just like ticker tape. I thought, “What? Somebody having a joke?”

So then, like an email, you start to decipher it, you’re going, “What’s all this?” And I’m going, “You’ve been accused of fraud and theft from the computer?” I thought, don’t talk so stupid. And that I had taken 100 and – which was the sum of this Severn Trent Water bill that belonged to the lady, I thought, “Well, they know I haven’t taken it. They’ve had it. It said in the accounts”. We spent three months hammering this problem out – and it was somebody called Nicky Moore, I think her name was – and I thought, “Oh”, and I went ballistic.

Because, I mean, when you consider that I run the village Post Office, everybody knows me and everybody knows my wife, and when things like this come out and people go, “Oh, he’s been thieving money”, and people have said that in this chair before me, I’m quite well aware of that. And you think, “Well, hang on a minute, I’m an ex-policeman”. People know me. People all round the United Kingdom know me because I was in the Marines with them, because I served in the Metropolitan Police with them, because I served in Leicester with them and the villagers know me because I run their Post Office. And they’re going, “Oh, well, he’s bent, he is. Wonder what he did in the police force? Was he bent then?” And you’re thinking this is a real stain on my character, this is.

So, anyway, I says. “Look, I haven’t taken any monies. I want to speak to Nicky Moore”. “Well, you can’t”. I said, “I’m telling you now, if she’s going to accuse me, I want to speak to Nicky Moore”. I said “Get her on the line”. And they said, “Well, you can’t speak to her”.

I says, “Well, don’t accuse me of theft”. I says, “If you want to do it, come and see me or get Nicky Moore to ring me”, I says, “and I want to know the day, the date, the time, the place, which computer it was from, is it my wife’s terminal, is it my terminal, what time of day it happened, how many attempts were made to take this money out of the computer”. I says, “Because it’s all electronic, you can tell me what I’ve done and when I did it”. They said, “No, we’re not going to do that”. I says, “Well, forget it, because I ain’t going to pay you”. So they said, “Well, we’ll just take it out your wages”. I says, “Don’t threaten me”. I said, “I am not going to cave in and pay you”, I says “not this time, because you are really running me down now”.

So, anyway, I made several calls to Chesterfield and I was getting nowhere and then they came back to me and said, “Ah, we’ve done a further investigation. We’ve found that you’ve stolen more money”. I said, “Pardon?” “You’ve stolen” – whatever it says in there £4,300 or thereabouts. So I said, “No, I haven’t” “Ah, but we’ve done” – “Well, produce your investigation, day, date, time, place, the usual things I’ve asked you”. They said, “No, you will pay us”. I said, “I’m not going to pay you while I’m in dispute with you”. I said, “This is an official record on my Horizon system. I’ve kept my accounts to cover this period. I’ve got the whole account”.

Because what I did every week is I get an A4 envelope and put everything that I’d done that week in that envelope, all the till rolls, all the balances, the cash, and you could do a stock-on-hand check and I’d press a stock-on-hand check, and so you could work out – just in case things went wrong, you can say, “Well, hang on a minute, this is where it happened”.

So I said, “I’m on terra firma. Everything’s legal”. I says, “You can’t accuse me of theft”. “Well, we’ll just have to do something to you. We’ll prosecute you or take it out of your money”. I said, “No, you won’t”. So I said, “and I want to still speak to Nicky Moore”.

Eventually, I got a lady. I rang up one day and she says, “Nicky Moore doesn’t work here anymore, Mr English”. I says, “You what?” “She doesn’t work” – I said, “What do you mean she doesn’t work here”. I said, “I clear up this giro thing in October to December and there she is in February accusing me”. “Oh, well, she left the business in October, the previous” – so I said, “She left the business when I had the first accusation from you of £147, or whatever it was, and 12” – but what would you want to pinch 12 pence for, for god’s sake? You don’t nick £142.12 or £3,700.10, do you? You don’t do that. You round it up, for god’s sake.

So, anyway, she goes “Nicky Moore left the business in October”. I said, “So what’s she doing in the February of the following year accusing me of theft and false accounting or whatever?” No comment. So I said, “I still want to speak to Nicky. I want to speak to somebody about this because I’m not having it and I am not paying you”.

So they – I mean, when you look back at the initial treatment from when I had the armed robbery, you know, and they say, “How much did they get?” You’re thinking, “I’m being treated in the same way”. There’s no empathy, there’s no sympathy, there’s no, “Well, yes, we can see where you’re coming from, and we can see it’s here”. They just said, “We’ve conducted investigations”. No, you haven’t. You’re just accusing me but you don’t want to prove it, hoping I’ll roll over.

So, basically, it went on and you’re thinking, well, if this comes out I’m going to – people are going to go “We know Tom”, and they’re going to look at me and think, “What a prat. What’s he playing at? Why did he do that?” And I didn’t do it and I’m convinced a lot of these other subpostmasters didn’t do it because, once you report something – I mean, I am aware that there’s some fantastic sums of money come through in this room and we were always treated in isolation. It’s as though: you’re the only one, there ain’t nobody else, pal. And I’m going, “No, that’s not true”. But when you think of how long did it take that Asian gentlemen, who I saw on the telly, £208,000. I’m going, “He’s not pinched that. Something’s wrong in the system”.

If they did a full and complete audit of your office – now, in 15 years of being a subpostmaster I had three audits in my office and on one of them they said ,”This Post Office is run on very tight lines”. Now, my wife used to work doing accounts. She was the NAAFI manager for the commando training centre at Royal Marines, that’s where I met her at Lympstone in Devon and she did the NAAFI accounts. Now, there’s 3,000 men on that camp. That’s a lot of vittles going through the premises to feed 3,000 Marines, when they went to the NAAFI. And I mean beer, sandwiches, you know, you think about it. Milk, because all the recruits, even me, when I was a recruit, you just drank milk and Mars Bars.

And that was about the size of it, and I’m thinking, “She’s not daft. She worked in hotels and did accounts as well”. And you’re thinking, “No, they’re right, we did run it on tight lines and we were really scrupulous about what we did”. And it’s your honour, at the end of the day. You don’t want to be labelled and people look at you out of the corner of their eye, “He’s a lad, he is”, and they besmirch you and they don’t treat you very nicely, the Post Office, whereas they should have gone in and conducted a thorough check.

As I say, I had three in 15 years and never had a problem with when the auditors – because they just knock on your door, you know. They didn’t say “I’m coming round to see you in the morning”. They’ll go [knocked on table] “Come to do your accounts”. “Oh, okay”, let them into your house and you stand there while they tot up all the monies and the stamps and everything else “Yeah, that’s fine” and off they’d go. You would be closed for a good hour, hour and a half, you wouldn’t be able to open on time. I’d have to put “Closed” on the front door, so I was losing trade, anyhow.

So it wasn’t very nice that way and it wasn’t very nice in other ways, where they decided they wanted us to sort the mail for them. So they said “What you’ll do is you’ll put batons around your walls and you’ll hang mail bags on”, first class mail, second class mail, parcel mail, you had your Special Deliveries and you’d sort the mail for them. And then what you’d do is you’d tie it up with a nylon tie at night and you’d put a label on it saying whether it was first or second class, so I’m thinking, “Hang on a minute, I’m doing their job for them here and I’m not being paid for it”.

So I got in touch with them and I said, “Oh, I’m not doing this” and they said, “Well, you’re in breach of your contract”. So I said, “What contract?” They said, “Your Post Office contract”. I said, “Never had a contract”.

“Yes, you did”. I said, “No, I didn’t”.

“You signed” – I said, “I did sign a piece of paper saying I would get a contract”, I says, “but that’s a bit disjointed, isn’t it? You’ve given me the job and put me in position, then you want to impose a contract upon me that I know nothing about and nobody’s discussed with me and I’ve not been able to see a solicitor to have it vetted to see if it’s a good or bad contract?”

But that was their favourite get-out. “Like Horizon, you’re in breach of” – I says, “Hang on a minute, I took office in ‘99 before the Horizon system I got in 2004. You can’t impose that upon me”. I said, “I’m not going to sort your mail” and so I get an audit one day, and the lad comes in, I think I called him Kevin, and he goes – I says, “What you doing taking photographs in my house?” He goes, “Oh, well, we’ve got to be able to prove that” – I said, “Look, if I tell you my daughters are both nursing and out of the back of my Post Office, you go straight into my kitchen, and I haven’t got the facility to hand mail bags on the walls and separate them, then I suggest you take me up”. I said, “After all, this is a house”. It’s a 12 by 12 room I traded out of with my Post Office and, I mean, I was handling about £5 million, £6 million, £7 million a year in cash for them.

Ms Hodge: Mr English, could we return to the error notice in February 2012. How was that particular discrepancy resolved?

Thomas English: Well, what happened there was, we – it sorts of eats you up. It’s like a roundabout and it’s whirring around in your head and you’re going, “What’s my next move? Why aren’t they giving me the information? What do I do next? Who do I see?” And then – and all the time you’re driving or you’re shopping, and you’re thinking – all the evidence is going round in your head and it consumes you because you’re desperate for survival, really. I can imagine some people it’s going to eat them up bad but I suppose I just get angry and I just think all the time, “I’m not paying, I haven’t done nothing wrong. I’m going to write to Paula Vennells”.

So I wrote to Paula Vennells and said, “Lots of evidence, you’ve got a problem. Who in the Post Office is stealing money from me and other subpostmasters?”

So I waited, waited a few weeks, didn’t get a reply. I thought that’s strange. So I ring them up I says, “I’ve written to Paula Vennells”.

“Oh, she didn’t get your envelope”. I mean, this was quite a thick tome, really, of what I put together. I said, “Well, I sent it Recorded Delivery. I’ll do it again”. So I photocopied the whole file and sent it Special Delivery. And then they wrote back and says, “Oh, yes, we’ve received your envelope and we found the one before it as well”. I thought, “Well, that’s really convenient.

And then eventually I got a letter from the Post Office and they said they were apologising and I thought, “No, you’re not”.

“If the subpostmaster would keep his accounts and records straight” – I thought, “There was nothing wrong with the accounts and records. Just say who’s stealing from me and who’s stealing from the other subpostmasters because the money must be going somewhere”.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall roughly when that was that you wrote to the chief executive?

Thomas English: It was well into it. Probably a couple of years down the line, even.

Sir Wyn Williams: In your statement, you actually give a precise date for the recorded delivery – sorry, the – well, let me get it right. I think at paragraph 60 you say we sent the Recorded Delivery documents on 21 April 2012.

Thomas English: Yes, you have rescued me, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s all right.

Thomas English: Because I was just – I haven’t gone through my statement – everything’s from the top of my head. I knew what I did.

Sir Wyn Williams: I understand that but I just wanted to establish because it’s quite important, because this is quite late on in the Horizon saga, that you were providing this information.

Thomas English: Yes, I did, sir, yes. And, as I say, I did that and then I got this letter of, sort of, apology. I wasn’t very happy with it.

Ms Hodge: Who was the author of that letter –

Thomas English: To be honest, I can’t remember. It’s in the system some way. I’ve not seen all the evidence I provided way back to Alan Bates from – because I was one of the original 150 complainants, and then obviously Freeths escalated that to about 550. So I can’t – I can’t – because evidence is now in the system somewhere, either with Second Sight or Alan Bates or Freeths. I would think they have copied it and set it to Howe & Co, I hope they have, but I haven’t seen any of the original evidence at all for years.

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

Thomas English: It came to an end – they wanted to close me three times and then they kept me open, and then a second time, and at the third time, I thought – “We want to close you and it’s definite”. I thought, “Well, I’m 62 years old, I’ll call it a day. I can sort of retire”. My daughters are working and my wife was drawing her old age pension then, because she’s 18 months older than me. [… Redacted …]

And I just said “Right, that’s it”, and then we closed on 14 January 2014, and that was the end of it then.

Ms Hodge: Can you estimate how much you believe you paid in to make good shortfalls shown by Horizon?

Thomas English: Well, actually, only over £1,000, or so. See, what happened is the Post Office engaged Second Sight, Ron Warmington’s firm, and others, and they established that it wasn’t the subpostmasters that were at fault, it was the Post Office. And then the Post Office cut them out of the equation, terminated their contract, and wanted all the information back, and I understand that he wouldn’t give it to them. I mean, I suspect what would have happened to all that evidence, it would have been shredded probably.

But, having said that, he said “No, I’m not giving it to you”, and it was referred on. Then the Post Office came up with a set of forensic accountants that we could go to, and I chose, I think, it was PAVER (sic), Bill Cleghorn up in Edinburgh and I went up to see him, personally, and we had a chat and we were then going to go to arbitration with the Post Office and they sent us a letter. “Why do some postmasters think that arbitration is a case to talk for more money?” I thought, “Well, that’s what unions do, isn’t it?” And they said, “Well, it isn’t. You know, there will be no more money on the table”.

So I said to Bill, I said – he says, “They want a meeting with us in Manchester” I think it was. So I said, “Okay, we’ll go to Manchester”. He says, “I’ll meet you there”. So I says, “Well, I’ll tell you now I’m going to bring a tape recorder”. He goes, “You what?” I says, “I’m going to bring a tape recorder. I’m going to put it on the table” and said, “If this is good enough for me as a police officer, it’s good enough for all you Post Office investigators, so we can have everything out and then we can publish it, if we have to”. He says, “Don’t do that”. I said, “Why?” He says “Because somebody tried it before and it didn’t go down very well”.

So they want to arrest people, take them to police stations, interview them under caution on a tape recorder and get them to cough to something they probably haven’t done because there’s a plea bargain going on, “Well, if you plead to this charge, you won’t get done with this, this is the more serious charge. You plead to this one, you get less time or, you know, you get less of a penalty”. I says, “Well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me, and I will bring a tape recorder”. So he said, “No, no”. I said, “Well, call it off, I don’t want to go”. So I didn’t go.

But they offered me – he says, “Oh, they’re offering you 1,500 quid”. I says, “Okay”. I said, “1,500 quid, you’re joking?” He goes, “No”. He said, “The distance between us”, what they said in the letter was “is £1,000 and then we’ll give him £500 compensation”. I says, “You’re joking, not after what they’ve done to some of these other people”. I says, “No, I’m not having that”.

So he says “But there’ll be a non-disclosure on it”. I says “What, for 1,500 quid non-disclosure?” I said “No”. I said “because I’m not taking the money and I’m not signing a non-disclosure”, and that’s me and the Post Office finished.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you finally a bit about how the problems you had with Horizon affected you and your wife. What was the impact upon your health?

Thomas English: The impact – constantly tired. You constantly think you’re being worn down. You’re constantly thinking about your next move. You’re constantly thinking about: how am I going to get information to prove what I want to prove? Why aren’t they helping me? Like I said earlier, it’s like this merry-go-round. You can get on but you can’t get off, and you’re thinking: well how can I stop it to get off, so I can go back to leading a normal life?

Because, after I closed, this was still going on and, I mean, I thought I’d spend more time with my Mum in Middlesbrough, but we closed in the January and she died in the May. I mean, she was 88 but sadly I thought I’d spend more time with her, because I did leave home in ‘69 when I was 16/17 years old but I always went back to Middlesbrough to see my Mum. And you’re thinking: well, Mum’s gone. And then ten months later my wife’s Mum was gone. My Mum was in the north-east, Brenda’s Mum was in Leicester, and you’ve got this going on and you’re commuting around trying to clear up the estates and the houses.

I mean, they were quite simple because we’re council house kids, my wife and I – not that that’s bad, that’s good.

But having said that – and then my wife’s brother died in Brighton, he just died, and you’ve got – my wife’s aunt died, my wife’s cousin died, and you’ve got all this going on, and you’re trying to clear all these things up, because they had, you know, nobody to do it for them and it’s all added pressure and it does your head in, really. You’re thinking: I’ve got to do this but I’ve got to do this as well, and I’ve got to prepare all these statements, and I’ve got to get all this stuff out and write something that’s coherent. And you’ve got a timeline to it.

Very tiring, very confusing, quite distressing. It plays on your kids as well because you think: if this comes out my kids are going to get hell because that’s the way kids operate.

Ms Hodge: How did the time you spent resolving these issues affect your relationship with your wife and children?

Thomas English: We didn’t let it get to us, let’s put it like that. We just kept plodding on and just keep fighting and that’s what happened. We just kept fighting and I wasn’t going to let go of the bone, so to speak.

Ms Hodge: You have referred to Mr Alan Bates and the Group Litigation.

Thomas English: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you a participant in that?

Thomas English: I said, I was participant from the outset.

Ms Hodge: How much did you receive by way of compensation?

Thomas English: About £4,000. I can’t remember the exact amount of money but it was about £4,000/£4,500 I received from – because, I mean, most of that money – and we couldn’t have got where we were without the backers, if you like, which they took about 46 million, didn’t they, I think, the people who backed it. And I’m not decrying that because, without their help, we wouldn’t have got this far, and then the money was split up. I don’t know what they split it up on but they obviously had an algorithm if you like and that was it.

As I say, that’s what I received.

Ms Hodge: How do you feel about the way the Post Office treated you and other subpostmasters who experienced problems with Horizon?

Thomas English: I don’t think they treated any of us very well. They went at us like – they were judge, jury and executioner. They had the power, they were this big organisation up there, they had all the answers and I just felt that they felt they could do with you as they wished, what they will. And that’s basically how I felt about them. No empathy.

And the robbery at my office bears it out. Not a bunch of flowers for my wife, or anything. “How much money, did they get?” “Well, they got nothing”. “Oh, that’s all right”.

Then, as I say, that sort of continued throughout. “Oh, we’ve lost a docket”. “Well, you’ve had the money but the docket’s missing”. “Well, I’m sorry, I put the docket there”. “Oh, I didn’t take a bill. Yeah, but I’ve sorted that out”.

And it’s sort of they want to bite you all the time and, even when they know they’re wrong, they won’t admit they’re wrong. When you look at it, I mean, I’m an ex-Royal Marine, I’m an ex-police officer, you are what you are, you are the subject of your environment and your upbringing, and I was a council house kid, born in west Hartlepool, and raised in Middlesbrough, schooled in Middlesbrough, played rugby for 15 years, very competitive at sport and I’ve always been a forthright person.

I mean, I was told I don’t suffer fools lightly, and I suppose I don’t, and I wouldn’t suffer the Post Office in the end, when they were trying to do me for that money. And I just feel as though if they had carried out correct and proper audits, with stock in, stock out, they could find a lot of this money and think: well, he’s not taken it, where’s it gone?

When you think of, as I say, my background, I’ve always been a bit tenacious and I can be very fiery, which is why I exploded at the robbery at my office, it’s just action and reaction. And I feel threatened by the Post Office and, if I feel threatened, then some of the people who have sat here before certainly felt threatened, because they suffered a lot more than I did. They went to prison, they had babies in prison, they tried to save their reputations and they were trashed, basically, by the Post Office. They didn’t care about trashing your reputation. They just cared about themselves.

When I reflect back, I had to pay the first – 25 per cent of my first year’s salary went to the Post Office, free, gratis. So out of about 22 grand a year, I gave them 25 per cent of my salary – for taking a Post Office on. That money was non-returnable. And you’re thinking: when you’ve made an investment like that, when you have got 25,000 subpostmasters now about 11,000, we were paying and our investments – I mean, our investments in the Post Office as subpostmasters must have been £100 million or more, quite easily.

And you are thinking: well, I’m paying part of their wages. I’m paying part of their pensions because they’ve got a job because I’ve invested in the Post Office; the biggest investors in the Post Office were the subpostmasters. And, on one occasion, they refused me access to my line manager. I thought I was doing about 5,000 or 6,000 car taxes a year, and then the Post Office up the road, because I’d paid for that as part of my business. I bought that as part of my business. They give it to another chap up the road, and I took umbrage. I says “Why didn’t you discuss it with me?” “Well, because we don’t have to”. “Well, hang on a minute, that’s not nice”. And push came to shove, this big area manager come to see me and he says “I think you should consider your position”. I says “Pardon? I pay part of your wages”. I says “If I wasn’t here, would you be there? If the network was smaller, would you be there?”

As I say, if they’ll do that to you and they’ll threaten you, I can understand why some others might cave in but I certainly wouldn’t. As I say, I think I’m a man of substance and, because of my background, I will be argumentative and questioning. I’ve been, as I say, I’ve been a subpostmaster for 15 years, I did have my armed robbery and the Post Office made their stance and, from the word go, I felt that was their stance: “How much money did they get?”

Now, when these robbers came into my office they wanted money off me. Now, the Post Office have just done it another way. They didn’t use a gun. They just threatened you through the back door and over the telephone, and then say “Well, you’ve got to plead guilty to this. We’re going to have the money off you”. But they haven’t – they haven’t carried out due diligence. Law can only work if we all acquiesce to it and go: that’s fine. Once that stops, then you get lawlessness and I think the Post Office were quite lawless because they did not act diligently.

There’s little wonder that we are where we are and a lot of people have fallen by the wayside. What is it, 33 deaths? Not good. Some of it could have been stopped.

I just feel as though the trust you think you’ve got in a big organisation fails when they fail and I think the Post Office failed, sadly.

Ms Hodge: Mr English, I’ve got no further questions for you. Is there you would like to add?

Thomas English: No, I think I’ve said everything now.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

Sir, do you have any questions for Mr English?

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

Thank you very much, Mr English, for coming to give evidence before me and, to use a word I think you used about yourself, being so forthright about it all. I appreciate the way in which you sought to give me as much detail as possible. So thank you very much.

Thomas English: Thank you, sir.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, Chair. It’s now 11.15. Our next witness, Mr Thomas Brown, will be appearing remotely. To allow for the necessary arrangements to be made, shall we resume in ten minutes time, at 25 past?

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly that’s fine, yes.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

(11.16 am)

(A short break)

(11.28 am)

Ms Hodge: Hello Chair. Hello, Mr Brown, can you see and hear us?

Thomas English: Yes, I can see and hear you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Ms Hodge, Mr Brown and I have already had an introductory chat, so it’s over to you.

Ms Hodge: Mr Brown, the usher, Jane, will take you through your affirmation.

Thomas Brown


Questioned by Ms Hodge

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

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Please can you state your full name?

Thomas Brown: Thomas George Brown.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Mr Brown you made a witness statement on 11 January of this year; is that right?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you have a copy of that statement –

Thomas Brown: I do, yes.

Ms Hodge: Please could you turn to the final page? It’s page 12.

Thomas Brown: Yes.

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

Thomas Brown: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: Have you had an opportunity to read your statement since you first made it?

Thomas Brown: Yes, I’ve been reading it, yes.

Ms Hodge: Is the content true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Thomas Brown: It is, yes.

Ms Hodge: I would like to begin by asking you a few short questions about your background. Forgive me, can you hear me clearly?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Where in the country are you from?

Thomas Brown: I was born in a town called Houghton-le-Spring, it’s in County Durham. We’re a little village, outside of Houghton-le-Spring called Philadelphia, not in America I might add.

Ms Hodge: How old are you now, Mr Brown?

Thomas Brown: Pardon?

Ms Hodge: How old are you now?

Thomas Brown: 76.

Ms Hodge: You were married for many years; is that right?

Thomas Brown: I was married until my wife took ill in 1999 and she died in 2003 with breast cancer.

Ms Hodge: You currently live with your son and grandchildren; is that right?

Thomas Brown: Yes, we do, yes.

Ms Hodge: Please can you tell us about your career before you joined the Post Office?

Thomas Brown: When I left school, I started – I went to college for a year and I got a job as – I got an apprenticeship with the National Coal Board as an apprentice electrician. I mean, the first year I was at college for a full year, and you had to be qualified, you know, you had to pass certain exams, and I served a five-year apprenticeship. It wasn’t the mines, it was an area workshop, which did all the repairs for the mines and I served my time as an electrician.

Ms Hodge: What did your wife do before you purchased a Post Office branch?

Thomas Brown: She worked in a company called the Caterpillar Tractor Company and she worked in accounts. Yes, she worked in accounts.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

Thomas Brown: She did the wages, I think, for the employees of the Caterpillar company.

Ms Hodge: Why did you decide to become a subpostmaster?

Thomas Brown: Well, it started in about 1979/1980. The wife was made redundant because the company was closing, so we decided to buy a Post Office, a little tiny village Post Office, in Chester Morton, by Chester-le-Street in County Durham. So we bought that and we sold – the money she got off the redundancy, and the house we sold, we paid for the little Post Office, which had a three-bedroomed house with it as well, and we – the wife worked in that. But I also – when she got – I’ve jumped the gun a little bit.

When she went for the interview, I had to go for the interview as well, so we both were interviewed for the Post Office. But, at that particular time, I was still working. But we worked for – she had that about two year, and we decided – actually, we got offered a big Post Office, a bigger Post Office in a little town called Fence Houses, which is in County Durham, which had – it was a bigger Post Office and it had a big general dealers. So we bought that.

And then I decided to take my redundancy, while I was there, so I could work full time in the Post Office with her, because it was a lot bigger Post Office. So that’s what I did. I took my redundancy and we worked in the Post Office together.

But then we were offered again to put in for a Post Office in Gateshead in Birtley in Gateshead, which was smaller in premises but it was a much, much bigger salary. So we bought that one and we were there until 1999, when the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. So we sold it and we bought a Post Office – sorry, we sold the Post Office and we bought a house.

Then I applied for a job for Finlay’s north-east, which was a big (unclear) and it had a few Post Offices and I was manager of a couple of Post Offices for them. And I was working there until, what, 2008. And one of the Post Offices which I was looking after came up for sale and they offered us it for 150,000, so I decided to buy that. But I had to get a mortgage for it and I got a mortgage for it and that’s when the problems started. But the problems would start, really, when I was looking after it. We were having shortfalls in the Horizon system.

Ms Hodge: Mr Brown, forgive me, you may have said but, to clarify, which branch was it that you purchased in 2008?

Thomas Brown: North Kenton in Newcastle.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. So before purchasing that branch you had, for quite a number of years, worked for the Post Office?

Thomas Brown: Oh, yes, yes, and I used to look after Post Offices, because we had plenty staff in the Birtley one. I used to go to different Post Offices, looking after them if people had gone on holiday or even when some of the postmasters had been finished. So I used to – I looked after quite a number of Post Offices in Durham at the time.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that the branch came up for sale. Was that in and around February 2008?

Thomas Brown: Yes, it was February 2008 I purchased it, yes, I bought it, and –

Ms Hodge: I think you have –

Thomas Brown: – it had four counters. It was a really big Post Office. It was one of the biggest in Newcastle. It had four outlets and it was a massive shop side as well. It was a newsagents and general dealers.

Ms Hodge: So there was a retail side to the business as well as the Post Office business?

Thomas Brown: Yes, complete retail.

Ms Hodge: You have explained that the purchase price was £150,000 –

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – which you financed by placing a mortgage on your home; is that correct?

Thomas Brown: Yes, on my home and my flat. I had a flat as well.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described it as a large branch? Did you employ staff to assist you in running the branch?

Thomas Brown: I had three girls working for us in the Post Office and two girls working in the shop side, because it was really busy.

Ms Hodge: What was your –

Thomas Brown: I mean, we didn’t work every day of the week but on the busy days there was – on the real busy days, we had four counters going.

Ms Hodge: What salary did you receive from the Post Office for running the North Kenton branch?

Thomas Brown: 48,000.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you run that branch?

Thomas Brown: Until – it would be December 2008, when I had the audit, and it came up £85,000 short. But I was keep phoning the help desks here and saying “I was short”, and it got to the stage where they were just saying “Put it in the suspense account, it will come back”, but it never did come back. And when I got the audit, I was £85,000 short and I got suspended on that day.

Ms Hodge: This was on 25 November 2008; is that right?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: An audit of your branch was carried out.

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe what happened that day, please?

Thomas Brown: Well, they did the audit and when they first came and I says “Mind, you do realise I’m going to be short because there’s money in the suspense”, they just ignored and they did the audit and said “You have 85,000”, and they just shut the Post Office at that particular time, even when there was customers standing, waiting to be served.

So what they did was they closed it for about four days until they got their own staff in and put it in but then I decided I’ll try and keep the shop side going and I worked in the shop side, and they kept one of the girls on that I employed because they didn’t have enough. I think there was two chaps what the Post Office put in and they kept one of the girls that I employed for the busy days and the funny thing about it was the first week she came up to me and she says “I’m nearly £2,000 short”.

So it was going on, I assume, every week, even when those took over.

Ms Hodge: Coming back to the day of the audit on 25 November –

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – from what you have said, it didn’t come as a surprise to you that a discrepancy was found?

Thomas Brown: No.

Ms Hodge: When had you first started experiencing discrepancies in your accounts?

Thomas Brown: Well, within – there was always shortages, even – small shortages but, on the busy days. I mean, even though it went – when the change over came, when I bought the Post Office, we were £3,000 short that week that day I took over as subpostmaster, and the company had to – Finlay’s company had to pay the 3,000 in. But it had been happening every week and Finlay’s was putting the money in.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described, I think, contacting the helpline, is that right –

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – about the discrepancies you were experiencing?

Thomas Brown: Yes, and they just said “It will come back, put it in the suspense account”.

Ms Hodge: What did –

Thomas Brown: I got no help from them. I got absolutely no help from the help desk. So, at the end of the day, I never bothered after that, just hoping it would come back but it never did, and it went on for, what, seven/eight month like that until it mounted up to £85,000, until I got the audit. But it was still going on after these people took over, I think – well, it did. It did for a couple of weeks after, so …

But even when the court case came, I said that I think the reason why they didn’t press any charges was because the same thing was happening to them.

Ms Hodge: Had you experienced any problems using Horizon before you took over the branch?

Thomas Brown: Well, yes, there was a fault on the – what they call the base unit on the computer system. It said there was a fault on it and the engineers came out and they changed the base units. So, I mean, I don’t know what the problem was but they said there was a problem with it, and they changed the base units.

Ms Hodge: When you first started experiencing problems with Horizon, having taken over the North Kenton branch, what did you suspect was the cause of the discrepancies?

Thomas Brown: Well, I thought it was – originally, I thought it could have been the lottery because the lottery was in the shop side but it was linked to the Post Office. You had to transfer money in and the scratch cards, you had to charge the lottery for the – the Post Office for the scratch cards. The money went backwards and forwards and I thought, this could be the problem that was the Horizon system. But, obviously, I found out later – it was the – sorry, the lottery system but, obviously, I found out it wasn’t, it was the computer itself.

It couldn’t take – when I got my first solicitor, he said – he got a computer expert. I mean, obviously he couldn’t look at the computer but he said – the way he explained it to us, he thinks the memory of the computer cannot compete with the footfall that’s coming into your office and, obviously, what’s happening is when you’re doing some transactions and you’re paying them out, it isn’t going through the computer. Therefore, it might be giving the customer a receipt but, at the end of the day, you’re that money short. If you paid somebody £100, but it wasn’t going through the computer, you’re £100 short.

Ms Hodge: What was the footfall – sorry, what that it is footfall like that the North Kenton branch?

Thomas Brown: The two main days it was horrendous. The chaos was up the street. Because it was a little shopping centre and I was next door to a huge comprehensive school. So it was really, really busy, you know. You’re talking about maybe nearly £1,000 – 1,000 people in one day – well, in a couple of days, in the two main days. It was really, really busy.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that when you contacted the helpline you were advised to roll the sums over; is that correct?

Thomas Brown: Yes, into the suspense account.

Ms Hodge: What effect did that have on your monthly balancing?

Thomas Brown: It just went haywire, you know. It was way out of control. I had to – I had to do false accounting saying the money was there but I had no other choice. What could I do? I mean, I got no help whatsoever from the Post Office. They didn’t help us at all. The only …

It was just horrendous, really. I was short every week.

I mean, one of the area managers came but he was no help at all. I was explaining the situation to him but all you got off the Post Office, “It will come back”, but nothing ever came back.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained the audit on 25 November 2008 identified an apparent discrepancy of more than £85,000.

Thomas Brown: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: What were you told had been the cause of that discrepancy?

Thomas Brown: I’ve taken the money, and they shut the door and – they just shut the Post Office and then when the Post Office charged us with theft and I had to go to a police station, they put us in a prison cell for an hour because the Post Office enquiry people weren’t there and they shoved us in a cell for an hour.

And what happened – because the Post Office – the police weren’t – were not questioning us, it was two people from the Post Office that were questioning us and had to wait for them coming in, when they did come in, you know, they just simply accused us of stealing the money and I said, “I’ve never touched a penny”. So what they said was, after the questions they said, “We want to come through to your house and search it”, and at the time I didn’t think they were allowed to do that. Anyway, they came to the house, followed us through to my house and they searched – went right through the house but, obviously, they didn’t find anything. I said, “You going to look for £85,000 lying in the house?” It was unbelievable, really.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel about your house being searched?

Thomas Brown: Absolutely horrendous, that. It was your privacy invaded, you know. I mean, absolutely – and they just walked about there, looking in cupboards and opening drawers. And you had no pride; they just took over, basically. Anyway …

But they didn’t find nothing, which I knew they wouldn’t, like, but …

Ms Hodge: You have explained – sorry, Mr Brown.

Thomas Brown: Then when the first case – when the case came up to the Magistrates’ Court, they give us the date for – the charges was theft and it had to go to Crown Court and they give us the dates for the Crown Court, but that’s when I – it was – the date was, for the Crown Court, was 17 June 2013, that was the official date of the case but my solicitor got a phonecall saying that they were fetching it forward a fortnight. We had to go into court, the Crown Court a fortnight earlier.

And the solicitors said, “There’s a rabbit up here. I think they’re going to drop the case” and, sure enough, when we got there their – the Post Office barrister said that “We are dropping the case, we’ve got no evidence to bring”, and that was it.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Brown, I’m sorry to interrupt you but I want to get the chronology right, if I may. Ms Hodge has established with you that the audit which led to you being charged took place in November 2008, yes?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: But you just told me that the Crown Court date is June 2013, which is getting close to five years afterwards and that surprised me. So I’d like you to explain what was happening –

Thomas Brown: What happened was, because I got another little job, I lost my house and I got a little bungalow through the Housing Association, and I got a little job driving a van, but the Post Office didn’t press the charges until 2012.

Sir Wyn Williams: So let me get this straight: the audit is 2008?

Thomas Brown: And they didn’t press the charges until 2012. I got a letter through the post saying that we are charging you with theft.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, okay. In the meanwhile, did they try to get the 85,000 alleged shortfall from you?

Thomas Brown: No.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, okay.

Sorry, Ms Hodge. I just wanted to get that clear while it was in my mind.

Thomas Brown: After the court case, the court case after the – sorry, after they closed the Post Office, I tried to run the shop but it wasn’t viable. I couldn’t afford to keep the premises going. So I closed the shop as well, and I sold the stock, and I got a little driving job just to try and tide us over.

But then I got a letter, a letter came in the post from the Post Office, round about nearly 2012, I think it was, that they were charging us with theft. Then that’s why the court case – I went to the Magistrates’ Court first, then the charges in the Magistrates’ Court sent us to Crown Court and that was it.

But there was a gap of a few year. It wasn’t immediately after I’d been finished. I couldn’t understand that, right, because I thought it was over and done with.

Ms Hodge: Mr Brown, you’ve described attending an interview and your home being searched.

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: In terms of the chronology, can you recall when those events took place?

Thomas Brown: When the, what? Can you repeat?

Ms Hodge: Yes, your interview at the police station and the search of your home.

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when they took place? Was it closer in time to the audit or to the point at which you were charged?

Thomas Brown: Oh, it was – it was about – oh, it was long after the audit. Yeah, it was long after – I can’t remember the dates, it was that long ago, really I can’t. But it was long after the audit.

Ms Hodge: You have explained that, as a result of the audit, you were suspended; is that right?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Who was responsible for running your branch during the period of your suspension?

Thomas Brown: The Post Office put – I don’t know who they were but they put – it was two people they put in to run the Post Office but, I mean, obviously I didn’t know who they were. And they kept one of the girls I had working for us, they kept her on as well. But, I mean, I only worked for another couple of month then I couldn’t keep the office going – the shop side going, sorry. So I closed the shop side and sold the stock and I gave the keys to the Post Office for the shop premises, and everything.

Then I don’t know what happened. I think they just closed the Post Office altogether, and I think it went into one of the shops above in the shopping centre. I think they gave it to one of them. I really don’t know. I never went back.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described, I think, that, during the period of your suspension those who were running the branch continued to experience apparent discrepancies?

Thomas Brown: Yes, that’s what the girl was – the girl who used to work for us came up and said “We’re short” – this was the first week. She said “We were nearly £2,000 short”.

Ms Hodge: Following your suspension, how did your appointment as a subpostmaster come to an end?

Thomas Brown: I couldn’t work. They just suspended us and they said I had to resign. So I had to resign. Why they said that – I mean, and I just – they wouldn’t allow us to go anywhere near the Post Office.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the closure of the Post Office – you’ve described a little the circumstances in which your retail business closed but can you explain what effect the closure of the Post Office had upon your retail business?

Thomas Brown: It meant that I lost – I lost all my income. I tried to get a little job but it was a little driving job but it was – actually, it was working for Amazon, delivering parcels, but it was too much I was too old for that. Then I went – and I couldn’t afford to pay the money for the mortgage for the houses and the flat, and my son got a loan out, trying to help us, because his name was on the mortgage as well. Anyway I mean, we couldn’t afford to live in the properties we had and we both went bankrupt.

Ms Hodge: What effect did your bankruptcy have on the properties that you owned?

Thomas Brown: I mean, we just lost them altogether and I had – we were made homeless and the people that had the properties took the properties, gave us a week in the house to find another place to live but, luckily, a Housing Association gave us a little two-bedroomed bungalow. But it was horrendous, it just crippled me … our world for all our lives, lost …

Sorry, sorry.

Ms Hodge: Please don’t apologise, Mr Brown. Would you like to take a short break?

Thomas Brown: No, I’m fine, fine.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe the current state of your finances, please?

Thomas Brown: Well, I’ve got a mine workers’ pension and a little state pension. My son works full time, so we’re managing, you know, we’re not rich. And when I got the money from the – what Freeths got for the – there was only 11 million to be shared between 550 but the problem was I got, I think, £30,000-odd but 51 per cent of that money I received had to go to the bankruptcy people. So the money I had left and the bills I had to pay, outstanding bills I had to pay, I had hardly anything left, you know, really.

Ms Hodge: So just to break that down, you participated as a Claimant in the Group Litigation; is that right?

Thomas Brown: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: You received a share of the settlement?

Thomas Brown: Yes, but they took – the bankruptcy people took 51 per cent of it off us. But, I mean, that bankruptcy’s finished now, though, apparently. Because I didn’t realise that, after the seven years, it still goes on five years after the bankruptcy, apparently. I didn’t know that. Anyway they took 51 per cent off us.

Ms Hodge: So that left you with about £15,000?

Thomas Brown: Yes, yes, exactly. So, a lot of it out for the money I owed certain people.

Ms Hodge: You explain that you had invested £150,000 in purchasing the branch, in the first instance?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You lost your home and your flat?

Thomas Brown: Lost my home, my flat.

Ms Hodge: To what extent does that £15,000 compensate you for the financial losses which you suffered?

Thomas Brown: It was like by the time I paid bills to the people I owed money, you know, companies that I owed money, you know, to pay bills off, we were left with about £5,000. So all that for £5,000 by the time I paid all my debts. The good thing about it is it paid my debts off, what I had left, so at least I’m in no debt now. That’s the only good thing about it.

But, I mean, I must have lost, if you take the value of my properties, my bungalow was worth about 230,000, my flat about 105. But when the bankruptcy people took it over, they didn’t sell it on the open market. They just put it on for auction, and only got 150,000 for the house and 50,000 for the flat. Well, I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t put it on the open market, but still …

Ms Hodge: I’d like to return briefly to your prosecution, if I may, just to clarify a few points. You’ve explained to the Chair you were charged in 2012 –

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – with an offence of theft; is that correct?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you also charged with false accounting?

Thomas Brown: False accounting as well, yes. Yes, I forgot to mention that. It was theft and false accounting. But the false accounting was why I – it’s because I was putting did into a suspense account.

Ms Hodge: And you put it in the suspense account because that’s what you’d been advised to do?

Thomas Brown: Originally, yes, but I just carried on doing that, you know. But at the end of the month you couldn’t – you couldn’t keep it in the suspense, you had to say it, right, that money’s there if you know what I mean. But the Post Office wouldn’t – I mean, strictly speaking it was false accounting right until the end but, I mean, what could I do? The Post Office were doing nothing. They said the computer was fine.

Ms Hodge: You pleaded not guilty to those charges; that’s right, isn’t it?

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: As a result of which, your case was transferred to the Crown Court?

Thomas Brown: Crown Office, yes, yes. And they recalled us a fortnight earlier before the proper trial had to begin and that’s –

Ms Hodge: Sorry, you were told that the Post Office weren’t proceeding with the prosecution?

Thomas Brown: They said they were pressing no evidence. That’s the very words: the Post Office is not pressing any evidence against us.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall what, if anything, the judge said to you?

Thomas Brown: Yes. He says, “I’m sure you’ll take this further, Mr Brown”. He said why you not – “I find you not guilty, Mr Brown, but I’m sure you’ll take this any further – I think you’ll take this further”.

Ms Hodge: Have you taken any steps to recover compensation in relation to your prosecution?

Thomas Brown: Well, I mean, I’ve got to be – Alan Bates that started the subpostmasters, I think he’s done a tremendous job. And, I mean, I’m still in that but, I mean, obviously I’m with Howe & Co. But, I mean, Alan Bates is the person to thank for really for as far as we’ve got now because if it wasn’t for him, we would be nowhere near.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when you were told originally that the Post Office would be bringing criminal charges against you?

Thomas Brown: Well, I says, “No matter what, even if I go to prison, I’m not pleading guilty. I’m not pleading guilty to something I didn’t do” and that was it. I mean, it was a horrendous time.

Ms Hodge: Mr Brown –

Thomas Brown: I mean, what gets me is it’s taken the Government and the Post Office to wait nearly 20 years after inquiry and inquiry after this, and they know exactly what the problem is. Why don’t they just pay the people? I mean, some people haven’t even lived to see the end of it. They’ve died. I mean, it’s true that most of the subpostmasters are not very young people. They’re either middle-aged or getting older and, what, they going to wait another 20 year when, say, half of them are all dead? The Government’s got to pay it out now really or they’ve got to sort it out.

Ms Hodge: Was your prosecution reported in the local press, Mr Brown?

Thomas Brown: Oh, it was horrendous, yes. Yes, it was – the funny thing about it is it was all over the Northern Echo and the Newcastle Chronicle, but when I was found not guilty and that there was a little paragraph in the Evening Chronicle. So it’d never – I mean, people still think you took it. I mean, you know, there’ll never be peace about it really. People still think you took the money. I mean, I’ll never, ever get over it.

Ms Hodge: What effect did these events have on your health, Mr Brown?

Thomas Brown: Well, I had basically, really, a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t – I mean, that’s why I packed this – I couldn’t cope with the – it was because we had – we couldn’t live, we couldn’t – we couldn’t – we had no money. We were destitute. We weren’t getting – all I had was a small mineworkers’ pension to live off. And my son worked but he had kids. You know, it was just horrendous.

And it’s all due to the Post Office having a system that was faulty and they knew that.

Ms Hodge: You have described – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.

Thomas Brown: They knew the system was faulty. They really did.

And … something should be done about the Post Office people at the top. And they must have known about it, you know. Anyway, I make no rate of it now. It should be compensated really compensated.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described receiving support from your son –

Thomas Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – who took out –

Thomas Brown: I couldn’t do without my son. My son’s been my saviour, and the grandkids.

Ms Hodge: What effect did this have on your son?

Thomas Brown: Well, he’s stood up to it better than I did but, I mean, he’s – I mean, he had – he’s got two/three grandkids to look after, so he had to look after them. I mean, Andy works mainly nights so I mean he works hard and – I mean, it’s hit him hard. He lost all his money, all his savings everything just to help me.

Ms Hodge: How did it affect his relationship with his wife?

Thomas Brown: Well, they separated. I mean – but, fortunately, he’s got the grandkids, the two lads, and the girl’s away at university now but, I mean, he’s got the two boys living with us.

I’ll never get over it – never, ever get over it.

Ms Hodge: You’ve said, Mr Brown, that you think what needs to be done now is that proper compensation is paid; is that right?

Thomas Brown: That’s right. I think – I mean, the compensation we were offered in the first place 57 million for – I mean, that was just ridic- – what we need is everybody should be sat down and put down what exactly what we’ve lost and they should get compensated for that, whatever they’ve lost plus their salaries.

I mean, they’ve lost their livelihoods through no fault of their own through a system that wasn’t good enough to cope with the system they had. The Post Office bought the cheapest equipment, so I’ve been told, you could buy and it wasn’t good enough to do the job it was supposed to be doing. Anyway, I’m not a computer expert, so … that’s what I’ve been told. The computer wasn’t up to standard for the system that they needed it to do. And I heard that the very first week it happened that a chap who was a computer expert never looked at it but he just quoted what they found out, what he said in the beginning has turned out to be completely true, that the computer couldn’t cope with the footfall of your office, and that’s as simple as that. It wasn’t (unclear) and all other payouts, so consequently when you came to do a balance you were short. Simple as that.

Ms Hodge: Sorry, can I just ask you to clarify. Who came up with that explanation that it was to do with the computer?

Thomas Brown: It was a computer expert that my first – Michael Henderson solicitors had, he was my first solicitor, and he just asked a computer expert what he thought, and then he said that the way they’ve explained it to us the footfall he’s getting and the computer couldn’t compete with the footfall and by the time he was paying it out and the people are coming in, it wasn’t going through the memory of the computer or something like that and consequently he would be short. The person would get the money but it wouldn’t go through the system saying he’s paid it out. Therefore, he would be short of that money. He would be short.

Ms Hodge: Did this expert produce a report?

Thomas Brown: Oh no, no, it was just an opinion – no, no, nothing like that. It was just his opinion when we explained the doing. It’s just his opinion.

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

Thomas Brown: No, I think that’s – I think I’ve said enough really. I mean, I’m a little bit too upset now.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Well, it’s been very good to hear from you and you can rest assured that I’ll be taking close attention – paying close attention to what you have told me, as I will of course with all the other subpostmasters who have been good enough to make statements or give evidence before me.

So thank you again, Mr Brown, for taking the time and trouble to explain all this to me.

Thomas Brown: Thank you.

Ms Hodge: Sir, it is almost 12.15. That concludes our witnesses for this morning’s session. I wonder if we were to take an early lunch and see if we could resume a little earlier this afternoon.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Well, let’s say we won’t start before 1.30 but if we can start at 1.30, you can send me an email to alert me to that and I’ll make sure I’m on the screen, all right?

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much.

(12.14 pm)

(Luncheon Adjournment)

(1.29 pm)

Ms Kennedy: Good afternoon, Chair.

Sir Wyn Williams: Good afternoon.

Ms Kennedy: Our first witness this afternoon is Mr Malcolm Simpson.

Malcolm Simpson


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Sir Wyn Williams: Good afternoon, Mr Simpson.

Malcolm Simpson: Hello, Sir Wyn.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you for being prepared to give your evidence a little early so that we can keep running smoothly.

Malcolm Simpson: No trouble.

Ms Kennedy: As I think you know, my name’s Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Chair. Have you got a copy of your witness statement there?

Malcolm Simpson: I have, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Then it should be dated 15 January 2022?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes, it is.

Ms Kennedy: If you turn to the last page, which I think should be page 14?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Is that your signature there?

Malcolm Simpson: It is.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Malcolm Simpson: I have.

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

Malcolm Simpson: It is indeed, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to start by asking a couple of introductory questions about you. How old are you now?

Malcolm Simpson: I’m 60.

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

Malcolm Simpson: We’ve been together 25 years and married, yeah, nearly 20 years.

Ms Kennedy: How many children do you have?

Malcolm Simpson: I have two sons from my first marriage and Lesley has two children from her marriage, so we have four considered as one family, four, and five grandchildren, one on the way. So family’s ever-growing.

Ms Kennedy: What types of jobs did you have before you bought a shop, could you describe for the Chair?

Malcolm Simpson: When I left university, I was working in the forestry industry for a few years and then I had a small back injury and decided it was time to not be hanging on to a chainsaw the whole time. So I joined B&Q. I was with them for 12 years, as an assistant manager and a manager in a number of stores. Then I was a project manager for the last two years with B&Q.

Then we took a year out to look for a shop and that’s when we found Boxgrove.

Ms Kennedy: So I think you bought the Boxgrove village store in 2003; is that correct?

Malcolm Simpson: That’s right, yes.

Ms Kennedy: There was a Post Office in your store already?

Malcolm Simpson: There was. There was an existing Post Office with a subpostmaster in situ, and he stayed there. We took the business over. We were quite happy with that arrangement and it allowed us to focus on the retail side. The shop was quite run down, so we – that was our skill-set, if you like, at the time, was to boost the shop. We introduced loads of different things.

Ms Kennedy: You ended up taking over the Post Office. Could you just describe how that happened?

Malcolm Simpson: Of course, yes. The subpostmaster who was there, he had to leave for personal reasons and it seemed – we’d been there four or five years then by then. It just seemed an obvious transition, really, for me to take over being the subpostmaster. It was a busy Post Office. The salary was attractive. So that was the decision that was made.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about the prospect of taking over a Post Office?

Malcolm Simpson: I can’t say I was 100 per cent. It’s not something I – it wouldn’t have bothered me if we’d bought a shop without a Post Office but it was there, it was an asset to the village, and it seemed the obvious thing for me to do it. But, yeah, I wasn’t 100 per cent happy about it.

Ms Kennedy: I think you took it over in around 2007?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes, that’s right, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you lived on the premises as well. Is that right?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes, the shop we bought had a house and the shop was all one – the shop was next door, if you like, of the house. We bought it freehold, so the whole thing was ours. We split the title, soon after we got there so the shop and the house were separate titles. Just you never know, when you work for yourself, you have to protect yourself a little bit. So we wanted to protect our house, in case anything went wrong. Ironic really.

Ms Kennedy: When you took over as subpostmaster, what training did you receive?

Malcolm Simpson: So there was – it was a two-week training course, for want of a better word, over two lots of Monday to Friday in a Crown office in Bournemouth, and there was about 10 or 12 of us there, and there was all sorts of different people. There was a chap who was buying a big Post Office, there was people who were just going to go and work in Crown offices as counter clerks, and there was a couple of people like me who were sort of one-man band.

Ms Kennedy: I think you then had some in-branch training as well?

Malcolm Simpson: Well, the two-week training was – it was very much slanted towards, sort of, front office, so selling, and it was a time when Post Office was very keen for you to speak to every customer every week about insurance, mortgages, and things that – when most of my customers were coming through, they were pension customers. They weren’t interested in insurance and telephone systems and mortgages. But that’s what they pushed very much in that two-week course.

We did do a couple of balances and, sort of, back office work but nobody was that confident with it, nobody was that happy with it, and nobody balanced in the training. The trainer implied that that was normal and that, yes, sometimes it will be up, sometimes it will be under, but don’t worry, just keep a pot of money in the safe and that will allow you to put it straight each month.

And then, yes, after that training, when I went into the Post Office, a lady came – this was early December – a lady came for a week. The local Post Office the next one over from us which was in a Co-Op or Tesco – Tesco – the subpostmistress there closed it for the whole of December because she was suffering from stress.

So we picked up all the business that would have gone to them that everybody was coming to us, and we were queued out the door from 9.00 until 6.00 every night. So the trainer didn’t really train. She wasn’t next to me, she was on the other terminal serving customers because the demand was so high. So it wasn’t adequate training.

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

Malcolm Simpson: At that time, I wasn’t the most computer literate person and I find it quite a confusing system. It wasn’t – it wasn’t logical to me and it was – some of the procedures were painful and I didn’t do – some of the things I didn’t know how to do. Fortunately, most of my business was postage, pensions, and we did a lot of car tax. Most of the car dealers from Chichester came out to us, and we did – I did a lot of car tax. But I didn’t find the system that friendly.

Ms Kennedy: How quickly did you start to notice shortfalls or discrepancies?

Malcolm Simpson: The first – before that first Christmas. So two or three weeks in. A trainer came for one Wednesday evening to do my first balance with me and I think we were £150 short, and he said “Oh that’s the way it is, go and get the money out of the shop till to balance”, as if it was normal.

Ms Kennedy: Were they all sums like that initially?

Malcolm Simpson: Initially, they were in the low hundreds or a bit lower. Very occasionally, it was a little bit over but I can hardly remember a time when it was over. It was always under and they were in the low hundreds to start with.

Ms Kennedy: What help did you make of the helpline – what use, sorry, did you make of the helpline?

Malcolm Simpson: At first, I was quite facetious about it, because – and I called it the “unhelpful line” because they weren’t of any help at all. It was always “Oh, you will get a correction through, just put the money in” or “used the manuals”. There was a whole shelf of manuals which weren’t up to date and, again, weren’t user-friendly, to my mind.

Ms Kennedy: How much do you think that you paid into the Post Office to balance?

Malcolm Simpson: In total?

Ms Kennedy: Yes.

Malcolm Simpson: £2,500, £3,000.

Ms Kennedy: I think you were first audited in October 2008 around that time; would that be right?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: How many auditors attended?

Malcolm Simpson: That first one, I think there was two, and that’s when they found a shortfall of about £2,500 and I made arrangements for that to come out of my salary because I didn’t have that sort of money. It was all right taking a few hundred pound out the till, now and again, of the shop but I didn’t have that sort of money.

Ms Kennedy: I think you call that in your statement a payment plan, is that –

Malcolm Simpson: Yes, that is right. Yes, they dressed it up as a payment plan, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think then you are audited, again, in September 2012; is that about right?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: How many auditors attended that audit?

Malcolm Simpson: In total, there was – at any one time, there was four there, but they changed. They were there for four days and they changed a couple of times. There was two that were there all the time and then there was a couple of people came and went. A couple of them spoke to us and two of them didn’t speak to us at all. They were – it was quite a hostile vibe coming off them.

We’re always very welcoming of everybody who came into our shop and the kettle always went on, you know, straightaway and it was the same with these guys, you know. I almost felt like I was pleased they were there because I thought we could get to the bottom of the balance and, naively, I thought, to start with, for the first hour, we’ll get the office straight, we’ll draw a line in the sand, move forward. You know, the payment plan was in for that money and we would go forward.

But no it didn’t.

Ms Kennedy: Did the atmosphere change over the course of those –

Malcolm Simpson: After about an hour, yes. Yes, they – well, I’m sure you’ll get on to the area manager’s call in a minute but, yes, they changed after about an hour/hour and a half.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel after they left?

Malcolm Simpson: Shell-shocked, absolutely floored, to be honest.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that they called you later to inform you of their findings; is that right?

Malcolm Simpson: After an hour and a half, one of them called me over – I wasn’t allowed to go into the office. We were the old style of fortress Post Office. I was the other side of the screen, and he said, “It’s not good”. He didn’t say why it wasn’t good, just said it wasn’t good, “I’ve now got to ring Nigel Allen, the area manager, and he’ll need to speak to you”. That was after an hour and a half.

I felt like they already knew the way it was going to go in that short time.

Ms Kennedy: What did they tell you that they’d found, what shortfall?

Malcolm Simpson: They didn’t – oh – no, they didn’t put a figure on it, they just said it wasn’t good. It was that vague.

Ms Kennedy: Then later, I think, you received a phone call; is that right?

Malcolm Simpson: No, that was after an hour and a half, this Nigel Allen person came on the phone, and his first comment was, “It’s not good, you may as well resign”. That was the first thing he said. By that time, I felt I was a bit on the ropes, to be honest, and my first thought was, going back to my B&Q days, “Hang on, this feels like constructive dismissal” and I said that to him and he very quickly wound up the call, and he said, “You’re going to be suspended”, and then he hung up, and that was it. Sorry, go on.

Ms Kennedy: No, no, you go on.

Malcolm Simpson: Okay. So then they just carried on with the audit. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near them. I wasn’t allowed to speak to them. Lesley was still making them cups of tea and it progressed for the rest – well, three more days.

Ms Kennedy: When were you suspended?

Malcolm Simpson: I think on the second day. It’s vague but I think Nigel Allen rang back just to say “You are suspended because of what the auditors found”.

Ms Kennedy: I think you gave the Post Office a cheque for what they said was the existing shortfall of around £7,000, later; is that right?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes. That was – we then started having correspondence from Elaine Ridge, who I understood to be Nigel Allen’s boss, and, verbally, she spoke to Lesley – by this time I wasn’t in a fit state, really, to talk to these people and was struggling to do that without bursting into tears, to be honest. So she spoke to Lesley, and she said “That’s the money that’s missing, you need to replace it now”, yeah.

Ms Kennedy: I think during that investigation, what representation did you have at the time?

Malcolm Simpson: So the NFSP area rep came that first week, in the evening, with her son, primarily not to help me or to represent me. September was starting, believe it or not, to build up for the Christmas rush and we were very conscious it was a very busy time for this office and we wanted the community to have a Post Office through Christmas. So they came really to arrange for her son to come and be a stand-in postmaster in the office.

Once that was all agreed, in this meeting in the evening, she then said, “I can’t come with you to any meetings. I can’t represent you because my son’s working here. You’re on your own”. That was the words she used. So, to answer your question, there wasn’t any representation.

Ms Kennedy: I think, instead of attending hearings, you made written submissions.

Malcolm Simpson: I did. I was in no state to go and defend myself, by this time, and I also felt that it was completely stacked against me and I didn’t see any point in going to – I think they wanted me to go to Southampton, just to – I knew – inevitably, I knew I was going to lose my job, so I just didn’t want to put myself through that.

Ms Kennedy: What points did you make in your written submissions to that investigation?

Malcolm Simpson: I – that I felt the whole thing was a sham, really, that there were things that had happened in the office that I hadn’t had any help from. The help desk hadn’t been any help.

One of the things we didn’t do in this office was foreign currency, very often. We did the occasional one for somebody going on a skiing holiday or whatever and their currency would come, I’d order it, it would come in an envelope, and then it was basically just scan a bar-code and then it would work on the system.

A few weeks before the audit, I think it was £12,000 worth of Euros were delivered to the office, and I didn’t know how to put that onto the system. I couldn’t get an answer from help desk. I tried them three or four times. So I tried to put it on the system but I wasn’t convinced it had gone on properly, so I put all this into the letter about these Euros, which was a significant amount of money, and I think I mentioned – we used to have quite a lot of power cuts, and things like that.

So, even then, I felt it was a system error. I knew I hadn’t done anything malicious, so – yeah, that’s where I was at, really, with that submission.

Ms Kennedy: What response did you get to those submissions?

Malcolm Simpson: Just lip service, really. I complained about Nigel Allen’s manner on the phone. That was ignored in the first response I got back from Elaine Ridge. The second one, she said “I’ll speak to him”, and that was just lip service.

Ms Kennedy: Then they write to you to – the Post Office write to you to terminate your contract on, I think, 17 October 2012?

Malcolm Simpson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Who did they ask to run the Post Office for them in the interim?

Malcolm Simpson: Can I go back slightly?

Ms Kennedy: Of course.

Malcolm Simpson: Earlier that year, I think it was in the summer, we’d all – all the local subpostmasters had been invited to Portsmouth football ground to a presentation on a Sunday morning, and it was about the network change process, and there was a lot of anger in the room. A lot of the little one-man band guys, like me, didn’t like what they were hearing. There was a talk of salaries going and everything being commission only, and we came away with three options. We were given three options.

The first one was to go with the change, take out the fortress Post Office and have an open-plan Post Office in our shop on our counter; the second one was to stay as we were; and the third option was to leave the Post Office, and have the Post Office taken out.

I opted, after discussion with Lesley, to stay as we were, and you had to just fill in a box on the computer. It was pre-email – not pre-email. Anyway.

So I opted out and, within weeks, the auditors had come. So I felt it almost felt like a closure programme. The next village to us Tangmere, the pub had just been bought by the Co-op and we were convinced that they wanted to put the Post Office in there. Co-op refused, and so – I don’t know the timescales but it wasn’t very long. Elaine Ridge rang Lesley one day, out of the blue, and said “Would you be prepared to take on the Post Office and be the subpostmistress?”

The response wasn’t great to be honest because there was a lot of anger at the Post Office and she was told in no uncertain terms, “No, we’ll have the Post Office here until after Christmas with the temporary subpostmaster but, after that, we take it out. It’s a freehold property, we don’t want the Post Office in here anymore”.

She then said, “You can’t do that we’ll decide when it comes out”, and Lesley said, “No, you have got until the last Friday in February, if it’s not out by then, your equipment will be on the pavement”. “You can’t do that, we’re Post Office was the response”. However, there was two guys there, three days before the deadline, and they took all the equipment out.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about that behaviour by the Post Office?

Malcolm Simpson: I just thought it was just arrogance beyond words, really, and just not understanding the situation and the damage they were doing. And then to come back and ask my wife to take over the Post Office, after what they’d put us through? No, it was just unbelievable. But not surprising, in the same way, because we’d got used to them by then.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned previously the temporary subpostmaster.

Malcolm Simpson: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement that he found something in the Post Office.

Malcolm Simpson: This was the first full week he did. Somebody must have met him from the Post Office to give him the keys because, obviously, we weren’t allowed the keys, and the code to the alarms and things, on the Monday and they did an audit – they did a balance on that Monday. And the Wednesday was balance day so he did a second balance on the Wednesday, and then, on the Saturday morning, Les and I were in the shop, we were serving customers, and his mother had come to work with him in the Post Office and we heard a lot of banging and crashing and whispering, and then at 12.30/1.00 when they closed, he came out with a big envelope stuffed full of stamps. He says, “I’m really sorry but we found these stamps. They’re going to have to go on to the deficit you owe the Post Office, there’s about £4,500 worth of stamps here”. Fortunately, one of us, and it wasn’t me, was really on the ball and Lesley says “No, hang on, you’ve had two balances since you took over. They are not our responsibility, those stamps”. And she was not happy – I forget her name.

Anyway, she was not happy with this. She says “Well, we’ll be speaking to Nigel Allen over the weekend”. That struck me as strange, that they had access to Post Office executives over a weekend but, anyway, the son came in on the Monday and didn’t mention the stamps and, in the end, I thought: I’m going to have to find out what’s going on here because there’s 4.5 grand hanging over our heads. I went back to him and he said, “Oh, Nigel says don’t worry, we’ll – just don’t worry about it”.

So it was just hushed over, just swept under the carpet. But the stamps did appear again in the February – when that last week, he came out with this bundle of stamps and I assumed it was the same stamps. It must have been the same envelope, the same stamps. He said, “There’s £4,500 worth of stamps here. You may as well sell those on Ebay”, which was just gob-smacking, really.

Ms Kennedy: Did you think those stamps might have been what may have caused –

Malcolm Simpson: It was a similar balance to the stamps they said we were short, yes, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I’m going to ask you some questions now about the impact that all of this has had on you. Firstly, I’m going to ask you about the financial impact. You have already mentioned the money that you paid into the Post Office but could you tell the Chair about what other financial losses you have suffered as a result.

Malcolm Simpson: So once the Post Office salary had gone, we had two ladies who worked part-time in the shop and we had a lad who came and helped with the paper rounds on a Saturday and they had to go the same week that I came out of the Post Office. And it’s important to put names to these people and, especially, Jan and Debbie who worked in the shop, because they were – Jan, especially, she had been there a long time. She worked with three – yeah, three owners, including us, so 30 years, I think, she’d been in the shop. So that was tough for her and for Debs and, you know, the little lad, on Saturday, he was a nice lad but he understood we just couldn’t pay anybody anything. It was just us and family when they could help out. So there was that impact. So it just wasn’t the impact on us it was them as well.

We would have stayed a lot longer if the Post Office had stayed and was manageable, we would have got to a stage where we perhaps could have had somebody to work in the Post Office and we would have stayed until – I was, what, 50 – yeah, around 50 then, and we loved Boxgrove, they loved us, it was something we would have done until I retired. So there’s all that was lost, financially.

Ms Kennedy: What about your salary? What job do you do now?

Malcolm Simpson: Now? I work part-time for a company called Cook who sell frozen food meals and I deliver for them three days a week.

Ms Kennedy: Did you have to borrow money from anyone?

Malcolm Simpson: So the initial payment to Elaine Ridge, in that first week, I went to my parents because we didn’t have that sort of money to pay them, and we paid them straightaway. Dad gave me the money and we paid.

Ms Kennedy: How did it feel to have to borrow –

Malcolm Simpson: It’s humiliating. 50 years old, going to your Mum and Dad, it’s just not right.

Ms Kennedy: I understand that you were part of the Group Litigation group. How much money have you received by way of compensation?

Malcolm Simpson: We had two payments from Freeths, and I – I think about 18,000. I don’t consider that compensation really.

Ms Kennedy: How are you doing now, financially?

Malcolm Simpson: The driving helps. I’m probably not fit enough to work five/six days a week. When we were in the shop we were both doing 80 hours a week but it’s your lifestyle, it’s your social life, it’s everything but I had two strokes, so …

Yeah, I’m not – a bit broken.

Ms Kennedy: I was going to ask you about the impact this has had on your health. You have mentioned your two strokes. What other impact has this had on your mental and physical health?

Malcolm Simpson: (Pause) Sorry.

Ms Kennedy: Please don’t apologise and do let me know if you need a break.

Malcolm Simpson: No, I’m okay, thank you.

Just cautious and scared. I’ve always been somebody who respects authority and expects people to treat you as you treat them and in everything I’ve done work-wise it’s always been – that’s always worked until you come up against the Post Office and they just – the same rules don’t work.

They don’t care about anybody and that makes you anxious and scared all the time when you’re working for them, and there’s no support, there’s no – excuse me, there’s no – they don’t care. They just don’t – you know, you’re just a number, and that – I couldn’t cope with that. I’ve always worked in teams and with people who there’s mutual respect, and there just wasn’t any of that and it just grinds you down. You just feel so alone.

And now since, yeah, I’m not as confident as I was. It’s little things, like I don’t like talking to people on the telephone. I’d rather be face-to-face. Yeah, you just – it just breaks you.

Ms Kennedy: You said a moment ago that you loved Boxgrove and they loved you. What was the impact on your reputation in the community?

Malcolm Simpson: Okay, so there’s two ways you can go about this when this happens, and our attitude, from when the auditors were already there, was to tell everybody what was happening and how – I hadn’t done anything wrong, it was the system, it was the way the Post Office worked. And we told everybody, and Lesley says the same.

She must have bored people senseless because everybody who came in the shop – I mean, those first few days I wasn’t really to be seen. I’d get up early, we used to start about 4.00 in the morning, you’d get up early and do the papers but I wasn’t really in the shop the first few days but, even going forward, when the temporary subpostmaster was there, we told everybody and we weren’t ashamed. We weren’t – because we didn’t see that we’d done anything wrong.

We went to the Parish Council meeting, we told them what had happened, what our plans were going forward, because we desperately wanted to keep the shop going, you know.

It was just one other thing, just with this temporary subpostmaster there, it felt as if we had an enemy in the camp, really, and they were listening to everything. So we weren’t shy in coming forward about saying how poorly and shabbily we felt we’d been dealt with by the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: What was the response of the people that you were speaking to? Was anyone –

Malcolm Simpson: They were appalled, most of them. The only negative, we had a friend of ours, one of the builders used to come in every morning, he’d heard a lady in the garage, which was literally at the end of the road, running me down and saying that I’d obviously stolen the money, and I wasn’t allowed to go and speak to her.

But Lesley went down two or three days later once she’d cooled down a bit and, as she walked into the garage, the woman stepped back, she knew she’d stepped out of line and Lesley just told her what had happened, in quite a forthright manner. That was the only negative that we knew of.

Consequently, when we came out, when we sold the shop, we were still living in the house next door and, yeah, we’ve still got lots – we don’t live in the village anymore, we moved last June, but we’ve still got a lot of friends and I’ve had emails and texts the last few days wishing me luck today, so …

Ms Kennedy: What about the impact on your marriage?

Malcolm Simpson: We – she’s the strongest person I know. You know, she just … just gets on with it. It’s probably even stronger, our marriage, through all this. I can’t look at her now because I will be crying.

Ms Kennedy: Was there any other impact on your family?

Malcolm Simpson: Yeah, of course. You know, they all know me, they know I’m not a villain, I’m not a bad person. It’s distressing to see your Dad, your brother, in this position, but they all stepped up, they all worked in the shop when they could, you know, when other – when their jobs weren’t coming first and, yeah, they have been tremendous. We now live in an annex of our daughter’s house and, you know, they’re tremendous everyday. But you know we get to see one or two of our grandchildren every day as well, so that’s a bonus.

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

Malcolm Simpson: I’d like significant compensation paid to all the victims, including the 555, and paid now, plus the costs that are owed to the 555. It will never bring back loved ones lost or replace all the lost years but it will allow every victim to move forward with some sense of security and with less stress, anxiety and hurt.

I’d like the Post Office to start behaving with honesty and integrity, providing full and open disclosure going forward. They will never extinguish the deeply embedded toxic culture that still exists, until there is root and branch change.

This change will only come through closing this devastating chapter fully, by coming clean and admitting all the lies and exposing all the guilty at all levels of the organisation.

On a wider note, I’d like to see national recognition for Alan Bates, Nick Wallis, Karl Flinders, Ian Hislop and Private Eye journalists, Lord Arbuthnot and others because, without all of them, we would not be sat here today and this scandal would have been buried by the Post Office and other in Government forever. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

That’s it on the Post Office. I’ve got a couple of other bits I’d like to say. Is that all right?

Ms Kennedy: Please.

Malcolm Simpson: So these people, they take away your sense of worth, your sense of self. There’s no need to invest in the individual, to nurture, to develop, no desire or culture to help people grow, to make them feel valued. Instead there are just lies, indifference, aggression, all take, demands for total loyalty to the brand and blind acceptance that Post Office is always right.

The reality is the complete opposite. The only people within the whole Post Office structure who are held accountable for every action, every stamp, every penny are subpostmasters and that accountability is managed by a totally corrupt computer system, which is not fit for purpose, and a system that’s policed by a corrupt hierarchy who spout the party line over and over:

“Horizon is robust and works very well. You are the only person in the whole network who’s having problems.”

Nigel Allen told me that. Auditors arrive, turn your business into a crime scene, provide no written evidence, get the contracts manager on the phone after just one and a half hours and his first statement is, “Well, you need to resign”. When I reacted to this, he just hung up. He knew he didn’t have to argue with me. Everything is stacked in his favour. He knows I’m going to crash and burn. After all, subpostmasters are totally expendable.

You are belittled by the whole process. You can’t prove your side of the argument, you can’t defend yourself, there is no support, no honest fair process. You’re alone.

As we’ve already heard this last couple of weeks, it’s too much for many. You feel abandoned, tainted, and that is what they want, a quick cull grab some money, move on the next victim, leaving heartache, anguish and devastation in their wake.

If you’re lucky, and I was, someone steps up, trusts you and guides you through the calmer times. They carry the whole burden until you recover. Eventually you dig in, start afresh, reinvent and move on. But the hurt and pain is always buried deep, suppressed, but always eating away.

After a stroke you’re known as a stroke survivor. I’m lucky enough myself to consider myself a Post Office survivor as well. But they damaged me and tried to damage my self, my worth, my family, my business and my community.

Last bit. I fear for this Inquiry in the long run because the actions of the Post Office previously all show that they will do anything at any cost to protect themselves. The civil case was fought in the most aggressive manner by Post Office and when they attempted to recuse Judge Fraser and tarnish his reputation, it showed everyone just how low they were prepared to go.

Be careful, Sir Wyn, and your colleagues here at the Inquiry. Post Office will try every underhand, dishonest and evil tactic to destroy any threat and they have powerful friends who will back them all the way. They don’t want the truth to come out and if they carry on as they are, I fear for all your reputations and well-being.

Messrs Scully, Kwarteng and Read, through your delaying and blocking of proper compensation for all the victims of this scandal, you’re as guilty and complicit as Vennells, van den Bogerd, Elaine Ridge Nigel Allen, and all the others who bullied and terrorised so many. Sort it out now. Do the decent thing for once and put the victims first.

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

Malcolm Simpson: No. Thank you.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to turn to the Chair now to ask if he has any questions for you.

Chair, do you have any questions?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, thank you.

But I would like to thank Mr Simpson, first for his witness statement, next for his oral evidence, and then, thirdly, for taking the time and trouble to write what is really quite a formidable speech that you gave me right at the end, Mr Simpson. So thank you very much.

Thank you for introducing me to Mrs Simpson, who has obviously been a great source of support to you. So thanks very much.

Malcolm Simpson: Thank you, Sir Wyn.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, our next witness is Mr Gordon Martin, whose is appearing remotely. I propose we take a short ten-minute break and perhaps come back at 25 past.

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly, fine.

(2.14 pm)

(A short break)

(2.27 pm)

Ms Kennedy: Our next witness is Mr Gordon Martin.

Sir Wyn Williams: We’ve already had a chat. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that, Ms Kennedy.

Gordon Martin

GORDON MARTIN (affirmed).

Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Mr Martin, I think you know my name is Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Have you got a copy of your witness statement there?

Gordon Martin: I have.

Ms Kennedy: I think it should be dated 20 January 2022?

Gordon Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Kennedy: Is your signature on the last page, page 14?

Gordon Martin: Page 14, yes, it is my signature.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Gordon Martin: Yes, I have.

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

Gordon Martin: Yes, it is.

Ms Kennedy: You’ve also provided us with a chronology and I understand that that’s currently being turned into an exhibit. So thank you for that.

Gordon Martin: Okay.

Ms Kennedy: I’m going to start by asking a couple of introductory questions about you. How old are you now?

Gordon Martin: I shall be 78 next week.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a little bit about your family?

Gordon Martin: I’m on my second marriage. I have a son who lives in America, who has decided to estrange himself, and a granddaughter that I’ve never met. I have two step-children. One lives locally with two granddaughters, and a step-daughter who lives in Queensland in Australia with two grandsons.

Ms Kennedy: Prior to working for the Post Office, can you tell us about the types of jobs that you had.

Gordon Martin: I left school and joined the Civil Service as a temporary job because my main aim was to join the Royal Air Force. I wanted to be a photographer and it was one of the cheapest methods at that time of achieving a qualification. I served nine years during the Cold War, a very awkward time. I came out because my son was due to go to school and we didn’t want to go to school in the area that we lived.

We moved to High Wycombe and I took a job in the film industry. I worked for Rank Films at Denham studios, producing rushes overnight. My family, or my wife’s family, were talking of moving to Cornwall to find a small business and there was a pause in their seeking of an option, but we made the move first and my wife moved to Cornwall with my son, whilst I tried to sell the house. At that time, the housing market collapsed and it took me 12 months to sort that out.

I eventually moved to Cornwall and my wife had a small boutique, and it didn’t really pay enough money so I took a job in security. Having been in the Air Force and security cleared at very high level, it was very easy for the security company to get me through their books.

Difficult times over nine years. I had to learn on the job, I had no experience whatsoever. I dealt with security for major companies, so I knew everybody’s cash movements, I knew their security measures, and it was a trusted job. I was promoted and moved to Bristol but my wife didn’t really fancy moving to Bristol and the only other option, really, was to move on.

I took up an option which was to prove quite difficult and that was selling microcomputers. At that time, there was next to no dealerships in microcomputers. Everybody was into mainframes and, really, there were only toys on the market. So I got involved in selling, I got involved in programming, training, I was a sales director and we had a very, very successful two years, at which point Fujitsu bought out the Japanese company that we were dealing with and immediately closed our options on equipment.

This left us with no option but to move out of the business. For a few weeks, I hesitated as to what I was going to do with life and I did quite a bit of computer consultancy work and also ordinary business consultancy work, helping new formed companies.

Then I got involved in retail with a Tandy franchise. At first, I managed a franchise and we were so successful that the owner of the business and his wife had too much work to do because I was performing too well. So they decided that they were going to sell the business, and I purchased it. I did a deal with them. The lease was up so we moved to premises, we got involved with Tandy, we had a thing called Photo Stop which was a one-hour photo processing business. We ran a cyber café, we ran a games room, we got involved with selling games machines. We set up a web design company, and everything was going very, very well.

And then Tandy pulled out of the UK, sold off to Carphone Warehouse. Carphone Warehouse didn’t want the Tandy set up, what they wanted, really, was the shops that Tandy owned to set up phone shops.

So I was left with a building with a lease, for which I was going to be responsible, and no business. I spoke to friends who actually pointed me in the direction of running a pound shop (this was before most of the big pound shops came on the market) and we were a fairly new innovation and it was very successful. And my main wholesaler had had a problem with one customer that he had who was not paying his bills and he took it over and suggested that I should run it for him. So I took over the second shop, which was in the sorting office at the Post Office in Falmouth, in Cornwall. It was some distance away from home.

After being there a very short while, the Post Office sent a message through to me via the agent from my landlord: did I want a Post Office? I didn’t really take it very seriously at the time. I was working 16-hour days, along with my wife, and we were absolutely shattered at the end of every week. We didn’t really want any more responsibility. So if you want to ask questions from then on, really.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you. So at that stage, the Post Office has approached you and is asking if you are interested. You have described why you weren’t. How did you end up then running a Post Office?

Gordon Martin: It was a matter of attrition really. The Post Office – I didn’t know it, because we were in there too early in the morning and working too late at night, we didn’t realise that the Crown Office in Falmouth was going to be sold off to a private supermarket and the Commercial Workers Union and the staff, and the NUJ, between them, set up a campaign to try to gain back their work. It was a loss of jobs and all the rest of it and the unions weren’t prepared to accept that. They ran a campaign out in the square with boards. I never even realised it. I hadn’t even given it thought.

They won. The Post Office pulled out their offer to the supermarket on safety grounds. So this left with a problem. They didn’t own the building, they had sold that in previous years, and had a lease running out, which was going to be – to the building was going to be redeveloped, unknown to me, and they were going to have to either sign a new lease or pass on the business. They made the policy decision that they would sell on the business.

18 months they haggled with me, I kept on saying no, they kept pushing up the offer. It started out at 75,000 to run the office and it ended up at £125,000 a year. It was a large office. We’re talking about a dedicated currency exchange, a seven-position Post Office with fortress, and in a very, very desirable trading position.

In the end, I had to make a decision. My business was going to close anyway because the landlord was going to redevelop the property. So we decided that we would go for broke. We’ll go for it. At that time I was 62. We were only three years off retirement, and a friend of mine said “You do realise that if you have got 125,000 salary on a Post Office, plus a retail business that’s got a footfall of over 1,000 a day, it’s going to be a fair old business to sell on and you can retire comfortable on that”.

So we decided that that’s what we would do. We’d go for broke. Our daughter in Australia was struggling, so we promised her that, at 65, I would retire, I would sell the business and we would move out to try to support her.

That wasn’t to be.

Ms Kennedy: What were the terms of the deal with the Post Office in the end?

Gordon Martin: 125,000 a year. They insisted that it had to be an open plan office, this was the new idea, an open plan office with a small – what we call a fortress position. My wife always dreamt of a café. We opened the front of the building up as a café, we put our retail in the middle of it and the Post Office came up with all sorts of requirements. I didn’t have the time. I was working too many hours a day.

So the business manager who was speaking to us actually produced all the cash flows, without referring to me. He also produced a business plan, without referring to me, and he announced that we’d won the franchise and that we could go ahead. There were various promises of supplying safes and all sorts of other bits of equipment, and it would be a walk-in/walk-out, so as their staff walked out, we would walk in and take over with whatever equipment and office furniture that was available.

Ms Kennedy: How was this financed?

Gordon Martin: Right. Well, we decided that, seeing we were going to disappear off to Australia, what we didn’t want to do was end up, three years down the line, I’d have to try to find a buyer for the house. So we put the house on the market. 60,000 of that went into the business, 20,000 went into the bank to try to support ourselves for the next few years. 80,000 was paid to us by the landlord, because we were going to have to give up our leases, and he paid us compensation of 80,000.

The Post Office introduced us to the bank, who promised us a good working overdraft, which when the business – when the shop had been redeveloped and we were back in that building, they would convert that to a business loan and still leave us with a small overdraft facility.

After we moved in, it was chaos, absolute chaos.

Ms Kennedy: How many members of staff did you have working for you in your various businesses?

Gordon Martin: We had 24 staff in total.

Ms Kennedy: When you took over the Post Office, what training did you receive?

Gordon Martin: I was supposed to go on a training course, which turned out to be talk of how we would transfer the business, all the things that needed to be done on day 1, all the things that we need to put into place. I had ten staff who were ready to move in to the Post Office. I had interviewed them. We were still waiting for the Post Office to verify that they had checked them out, right up to the last minute. So there was a bit of a panic going on.

The week before we took over the Post Office, the Post Office took a room in a local hotel, where they set up a dummy system and they operated there for a week. They came out on the Friday and they had two days off to sort themselves out with uniform, this, that and the other, and then we took over on the Wednesday.

Ms Kennedy: The Post Office that you took over, you were guarantor of the Moor Falmouth?

Gordon Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Kennedy: That was from 20 March 2006; is that right?

Gordon Martin: That’s correct.

Ms Kennedy: How soon after starting to run the Post Office did you start to notice shortfalls and discrepancies?

Gordon Martin: Well, for the first two weeks, we supposedly had four trainers with us, also the assistant manager from the original Post Office was due to retire in four weeks time, so they kept her on in the Post Office as part of the training team. At the end of the first period, the roll over had to happen, my staff had been given no training on the roll over of the branch. She knew that. Without talking to anybody, she automatically went out and did the roll over and announced that everything was fine.

I was quite surprised that it had even been done, bearing the size of the branch, I can’t believe that she did it in the time. Bear in mind that, even the vault was a room 10 by 10, lined with shelving full of foreign currency, and money and coin. I can’t believe she even checked it.

But, anyway, she announced that was all done and we rolled over.

The next trading period, all the training staff had gone, had left. In fact, most of them left after a couple of days. They couldn’t take the strain of the takeover of the branch. So that period, our staff were left in the dark as to how to do the roll over. When you take this down to the machine and try to check your transactions, it’s a piece of paper just over three inches wide, bearing in mind that we have six positions open most of the time, for 14 days, there’s thousands and thousands of transactions. It was like ticker tape, paper absolutely everywhere.

The first thing you do is you check all your various stock. Each member of staff has their own private stock that they are responsible for. They each balance their own stock. That stock then goes into the safe and then you are left to do the foreign currency and the vault, and you have to then do your balance.

All those stocks individually balanced. The vault was correct. The foreign currency was correct. When they tried to roll over, it came back with a 2,000 deficit. Nobody could explain it.

The manageress that I had employed was pulling her hair out. We had a problem in that, because it was in the old Crown Office, we were still under the control of the Post Office security setup, which meant they controlled the time locks on the safes, they controlled the alarm system and the monitoring system, and at 8.00 we had a deadline: we had to close. At that point, we hadn’t found it.

The help team – huh! The help team. They decided that we should roll over; irrespective, we had to close. We didn’t have any choice. If we didn’t roll over at that time, we couldn’t open the next morning.

So, on their advice, we rolled over.

The next morning, I got in touch with the help desk and they said “Well, if you’re £2,000 short, I’m afraid you’re going to have to put it in”. Easier said than done.

So I contacted the business development manager, he promised me he’d come back and tell me what was going to happen. He never did come back.

I, contacted Chesterfield, they said to me “Put the money in, simple as that”. When I said, “Well, I can’t find out where the money is. There’s no deficit on any of the stocks, there’s no deficit in the safe but we’ve ended up with this shortfall of £2,000”. So they agreed that they’d put it into a suspense account and I was going to argue black with blue that this wasn’t going to happen, that they weren’t going to take £2,000 off me, not for all the tea in China.

This set up a rather bad relationship between me and the Post Office. They didn’t like people answering back. They were in charge, they were running the show and, basically, you do as you’re told.

Ms Kennedy: Did you continue to notice further shortfalls?

Gordon Martin: We had another shortfall on the currency desk. We had a cruise ship come into Falmouth, full of Americans, thousands of them, or it appeared to be thousands of them, and their next port of call was somewhere in Europe, so they were all coming in changing dollars to Euros, pounds to Euros, dollars to pounds. And the Post Office was absolutely rammed that day. It was busy. I decided to help out by going onto the foreign currency desk, which was a dedicated desk, and we still had one trainer with us at that time who sat with me and we went through the process and they just couldn’t believe the amount of business that we were doing. He kept on going off and having cups of tea and cigarettes and things.

At the end of the day, we shut desk down and I ran a balance on the desk, and we were £800 down. I said, “What do we do now?” So he said, “You have to put the money in, simple as that”. I said, “There’s got to be a reason for it. You have sat here, you have watched me, you’ve done transactions with me, nothing strange has happened. Why should there be a deficit of £800?” He said, “Well, it’ll come back, don’t worry about it, it will come back”. I didn’t understand why but he said it would come back.

So I went next door and robbed £800 out of the daily takings. I’d bought, effectively, dummy currency, £800 for nothing. It never did come back.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about not being able to solve the problem or find what went wrong?

Gordon Martin: Well, I’m used to computers, I’ve done programming, I’ve done training and, to me, there seemed something very amiss with – if there was something wrong with balancing, then there should have been an error message or something that would come up on the system but nothing ever did. There had to be something else going on and when I enquired about it, “Nobody else has a problem with the system, it can’t be the computer, we’d know about that”. After that, silence. Communication cut down. No matter who I tried to speak to, they were in meetings. Everybody’s in a meeting. We always said that if the Post Office cut their meetings down they’d probably cut their staff in half.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that you had four audits during your time with the Post Office. I think –

Gordon Martin: Yes, I think it was four. The first one was my request, when we couldn’t find the £2,000. I can’t remember how long after it was, but we had three people turn up early one morning. We weren’t allowed to open and they went through and they came back and said “There’s £2,000 missing”. I said, “I know that, I’ve told everybody that, everybody knows we’re £2,000 down, it’s in the suspense account, I was rather hoping you could tell me where it was”.

They said, “Well, no, we can’t, we don’t have the power to find that. All we can do is come and count your money”. Rather a waste of time, really.

Ms Kennedy: Then the second time they come back, I think in your statement you say it’s around February 2007, and you mention that they threatened you with legal action. Could you tell about that?

Gordon Martin: Yes. That was after – when – after we’d been in the main Post Office for a while, we were supposed to have – as they developed the building, we were supposed to move units around within the building and stay in the same building and, in the end, the Post Office agreed that, under health and safety rules, they didn’t want their customers in a building site. So, along with my landlord, we found up the road there was a charity shop, which was going to be moving, so we gave them a donation, and we did a refit. The total refit costs were only estimated by the Post Office to be 80,000. We spent more than that putting the charity shop to rights to open up as a temporary office, and we hadn’t been in there long when the audit team turned up.

Again, there was three of them. Two of them were bean counters and the third guy didn’t really say very much. At the end of the bean count, the guy came and he said “That £2,000 is still missing”, and I said “I know, it’s in the suspense account. I have an agreement and I won’t pay it, and not until you can tell me where the £2,000 has gone. We haven’t got it. I trust my staff. There must be a good reason for it”.

Then the third guy got involved and said, “Well, it’s quite simple really. If you don’t really pay the £2,000, then we’ll have to look at your contract. We’ll have to look at whether we can put you back in the new building that’s being developed”, which was a bit self … a bit of a problem for them because they wouldn’t have had a Post Office left at that time, so I didn’t understand that line. And then they said “Well, the only other action is we’re going to have to take legal action against you to pull back the money”.

So, at that time, I had that much money invested I couldn’t really afford to let it go, so I took the cheque book and gave them a cheque for £2,000.

Ms Kennedy: I think just after that second audit, in around May 2007, you say you emailed the CEO of the Post Office Adam Crozier at that time; is that right?

Gordon Martin: Yes, I did. We had all sorts of problems going forward. Whenever the Post Office staff turned up, which was quite regularly, there was always something else we were going to have to buy, and the money was disappearing out the door like nobody’s business. We’d moved into the new building by this time, and we’d refitted that, we put our pound shop back in place, we put a café back in place, and we’re now running a cost of getting on for 250,000. I had to sell my first shop. I had to sell it really for a pretty low figure but we maxed out some credit cards and we now had got two years before retirement. So we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth.

The business manager turned up and said to me about – she thought things were getting a bit tight, were they, and I said “Yes”, and I confided in her that we’d spent a lot more money than we’d anticipated and, really, we could do with some help and maybe a little bit less of the Post Office demanding so much from us. And I didn’t get any answers and, no matter who we spoke to, we couldn’t get the answers out of anybody. The £2,000 got in my craw.

It was – under the scheme of things £2,000, when you have invested 250,000, is not a lot of money, but it was the principle that they didn’t want to investigate what the problem was.

So one day, I got so fed up, I took hold of my laptop and I managed to find the email address of Adam Crozier, who was the CEO, and I fired off an email and I put down the branch number and all the details and underneath it I put “Lots of questions, people are listening, but we’re not getting any answers”. Next day, I had a visit from an area manager who said to me “You can’t do that. Nobody talks to Adam Crozier”. I don’t suppose he even saw it. I’d probably find one of his minions took the email anyway. “We don’t talk to Adam Crozier, he’s in charge of the business. He doesn’t have time to talk to people like you. What you are doing is you’re setting up a problem for yourself and somebody’s going to look at your contract”. This was a theme that seemed to go on: “We’ll look at your contract”.

Ms Kennedy: Then I think after that you had a third audit that passed without issue; is that right?

Gordon Martin: That’s correct. Yes they came in, they were perfectly satisfied, it was the same two guys. They were happy with everything, carried on.

Ms Kennedy: Then the final audit happened in February 2008. Can you tell us about what happened then?

Gordon Martin: Right. Well, after I paid the £2,000, within a few days of the £2,000 we were getting ready to go back to the old building and the Post Office had put a deadline on us to actually have the Post Office open, and that was going to be four weeks to completely rebuild a Post Office, and people lined up ready to do that.

And then we had a problem the builder, or the developer, went bankrupt and we were left with a building with no electric, no water, no ceilings, a multi-level of floors, pillars left in places that weren’t supposed to be there, and I contacted the bank and said “Look, you offered us at the time that you would convert our overdraft to a business loan” and they said “Well, we hear your contract is a little in jeopardy. Maybe we ought to rethink this and we’ll just leave you with an overdraft”. We were a little bit shell-shocked, to say the least.

A fortnight later, we moved into the new building and the Post Office were all over us. We had their staff telling shopfitters what to do, spending my money left, right and centre. I had the area manager actually ordered, on my behalf, digital scales, another bill to cover. Then we found out, or I found out afterwards, that they had changed the uniforms and part of my agreement was that my staff had to be in uniform. We’d only just recently spent God knows how much money buying all the uniforms and now she, without contacting me, ordered all new uniforms for my staff. I wasn’t given the option.

So now we’re beginning to really run out of money and things are getting really tight. So I put the business on the market. We went to Daltons, and another organisation which I can’t remember. They valued it 650,000 plus stock, was the valuation. We had one initial enquiry which didn’t want the Post Office. All they wanted was the shop because of its good trading position and it’s size, a bit longer than 3,000 square feet, and I felt that was wrong. We had staff to – we’d nurtured and trained and they didn’t deserve to be out of a job. So I turned them down.

Then we had another enquiry from the Midlands. A chap had been down, he’d actually put a deposit on a house, and was looking for a business and he really pushed for the Post Office. He was going to run that, his wife was going to run the shop, and his daughter was going to run the café. Looked the ideal marriage to me. Everything was good, he was happy with the money.

He contacted the Post Office, the Post Office came back and dropped the salary from 125,000 back to the original starting figure that we spoke of of 75,000, which is totally unviable. The wage bill was 100,000 a year for the Post Office staff. Just not viable.

They also told him it would probably take six months to set up any form of contract with the amount of work that had to be done. So he pulled out.

The bank became aware that I’d got property on the market and, just before Christmas, phoned me up late December and demanded to recall the overdraft. We had just been paid by the Post Office, and I paid their salaries and – backtrack a bit here. Back when we first moved in and I was falling out with staff, we had two people arrive with the area manager, who was being shown around the shop, but I didn’t know who they were. I’d just come back from the warehouse and they were introducing the two people to my staff and I said “Who are they?” They said, “Well they run an organisation that actually runs failed Post Offices”. Very strange. “They’re currently running over 70 Post Offices”. I thought: this is stupid, how can you run 70 Post Offices for an organisation? They are funded by the Post Office. I asked them to leave. They were upsetting my staff. My staff wondered what on earth was going on, so I asked them to leave.

So, in the January, things got very tight, business goes quiet in January after the rush of Christmas, we moved into February. I put my last 10 grand in to keep the business running over Christmas, to preserve the business ready for the new people who wanted to buy, before they’d decided to pull out. We moved to the end of the month, and the Post Office were nagging me on a daily basis. I was getting so cheesed off. I’d always run my own business, I’d always been in charge of my business but this felt as if they were running the business and I was having to just pick up the bill all the time. It was problem after problem.

So I threatened to close the doors. The moment I threatened to close the doors, all hell broke loose. It was the Monday that I threatened to close the doors and on the Wednesday the audit team turned up. The audit team turned up. We weren’t allowed anywhere near the counters. My staff had to stand outside. They found a surplus, not a deficit. They found a surplus. They wouldn’t tell me how much. The manageress had been ferreting away a few surpluses in case we had a deficit again and to allow for any error notices that came back.

At the end of the audit, these two people walked back in again, who had been in previously, and introduced themselves. They were ex-Post Office managers from the Midlands. The main audit man came out and asked for the keys. So I said, “What’s the problem, you got a problem?” No, no, no, no problem. We just think that your contract needs to be looked at and these two people have come in to run your branch”.

So I sat down with my wife and a couple of the staff to discuss what on the earth we were going to do. And, okay, we couldn’t run the place, obviously, at that time, because they didn’t want us to run the Post Office now. We decided, okay, we’ll run the café, we’ll run the shop, and we’ll fight it. We were then informed by the audit team that, because it was an open plan office and the security systems were dependent on the whole shop, and not just part of the shop, we should pick up our coats and leave.

We never went back.

They ran that office for, to my knowledge, three years on the equipment that we had paid for and installed. They ran the café, they ran the shop, until they finally moved the Post Office back into the shop that the Post Office first wanted to put it in some years before, and they never had the decency to even forward my mail on to me.

Ms Kennedy: How did all of this make you feel?

Gordon Martin: I lost everything. I was up to my neck in debt with credit cards, who were beginning to push me now. We had a visit from a bailiff because the rates bill wasn’t being paid. I had a visit from the tax office who wanted to know why there wasn’t a return and I explained all my records were in the Post Office. I wasn’t allowed in to get my records. My computer with all the wage information, everything was on it. I didn’t even know where it was.

He picked up his mobile phone and phoned his head office, explained the situation, and he said – the message came back “Could you estimate how much you owe us?” I said, “My estimation is nothing at the moment”. I gave him a cup of tea and he sat there for a while, thinking about it, made a few more phone calls. He phoned the VAT office and told them what had happened. He had a word with the PAYE office, told them what had happened. We never heard another dicky bird from them. We never heard anything more from the bank. We heard nothing more from the Post Office until August when we received a termination of our contract.

Ms Kennedy: I think you also mention in your statement that the Post Office tried to reclaim sums from your insurance; is that right?

Gordon Martin: When – I don’t know if it’s the same with postmasters in little sub-offices or whether it only applies to the crown offices but what they try to do is to claim back a percentage of your salary to insure all their property and money in the shop. Now, I already had a very good insurance from a broker, who I’d worked with for years, he knew the situation, he knew exactly what our liabilities were, accepted that and our insurance carried on. Absolutely no problem.

When we closed the Post Office, the Post Office decided that they were going to come back now and give me a bill for two years’ insurance, even though I was insured. They never, ever accepted that I was fully insured.

Ms Kennedy: Turning then to the financial consequences that this has had on you, I believe you were declared bankrupt; is that right?

Gordon Martin: We were declared bankrupt in the August. My wife had several credit cards, and I had several credit cards and a personal loan at the bank, unsecured. We had no choice. We were being hounded left, right and centre, life was becoming a misery. My wife at one stage, at the height of all the problems, had a stroke. She was in no real fit state to fight anybody. She lived dreading a knock on the door. She didn’t want to answer the phone. She had become a recluse.

I brazened it out. I’ve always been a bit shouty, prepared to defend myself. But she couldn’t do that and her health was suffering.

So I decided the only answer, really, was to go bankrupt, which we did, and then we had to go through the whole shenanigans again with the receiver.

Ms Kennedy: What about any further employment? Did you get another job?

Gordon Martin: I went to the Job Centre and they said, “How old are you?” and I was – I think, I was about three days off being 64, and the young lady just smiled and looked at me and said, “I don’t think so, not at 64. I think you’d better consider that it’s early retirement. I don’t think anybody would query benefits. I suggest you go home, sit on your bum”.

Ms Kennedy: What happened to your retirement plan?

Gordon Martin: Well, that went out the window, which really broke my wife up. I didn’t find out until six months ago that she came – her doctors were quite concerned about her and sent her to the mental health team and I found out for the first time that when life was tough she had threatened to take her life.

Ms Kennedy: How did that make you feel?

Gordon Martin: Very inadequate.

Ms Kennedy: What about the impact that all of this has had on your health?

Gordon Martin: Until recently, I didn’t think it had really affected me. I buried it. Two weeks ago, when my name appeared on the schedule for this Inquiry, somebody queried who I was. My name hadn’t really come up in anything. I kept my head down. And I had a call from the JFSA, as I was part of the litigation, and Alan Bates said to me, he said, “I’ve had a call from the Sunday Times. They want your story. They don’t know who you are”. I thought about it for a while and I thought: do I really want to go through it all again? So I contacted David Enright and David said to me “If you can do it, we would appreciate the fact that your story is out there”.

So later that night, I took a phonecall from the Sunday Times, nice young lady, who probably spent the best part of an hour and a half with me, and she gleaned enough information to write a story. And I pictured it would probably be on page 20 or buried somewhere in a corner. They sent a photographer down to photograph me in the local area, managed to catch me standing beside a postman, who just happened to be there. I don’t know she knows she’s in the Times at the moment.

The article came out on the Sunday and I had various phonecalls from people saying, “What’s all this about? I didn’t know you were involved in this”. But the headline that hurt me: “The Post Office … had taken away … my chance to be a grandfather”. Sorry.

Ms Kennedy: Please don’t apologise, and please let me know if you’d like a short break.

Gordon Martin: No, it’s okay.

Ms Kennedy: Turning to your family in Australia, what impact has this had on them?

Gordon Martin: They have had tough times. My son-in-law puts in fibre optics into houses as a subcontractor. The main contract changes hand from time to time and each time she seems to be on the wrong end of somebody going bust, and not getting money. So my daughter is a very strong character and she goes out and digs holes with him. To dig holes was in the middle of the day in Queensland in temperatures 30 degrees takes some guts. The family has had great difficulties, obviously, with her working with two growing children. They were in need of us and we weren’t there.

Ms Kennedy: Turning to the community, what impact did this have on your standing in the community?

Gordon Martin: I don’t know. We’ve never been back to Falmouth.

Ms Kennedy: Because of this?

Gordon Martin: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement that there was an issue with your staff’s pay; is that right?

Gordon Martin: There was. When these two guys took over the running of the Post Office, the terms were that they would honour holiday agreements and a few days of overtime that was due. We paid the staff right up-to-date. They didn’t lose anything.

A few weeks after we left, they reneged on that deal and said to our staff, “You’re owed money”. They’d brought in a person from the Citizens’ Advice and they sat them down and asked them how much they owed. They all inflated their figures. I know the figures were nothing like the figures that they were quoting. And they took it to small claims court. They were people we’d helped, employed, nurtured, looked after. And they were taking us to court.

Ms Kennedy: How did that feel?

Gordon Martin: It broke my wife. She’s never got over it.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that you lost some friends over this; is that right?

Gordon Martin: Well, the staff were our friends. We’d helped them. One young lady had had a window smashed by her daughter’s boyfriend in a fit of temper. She hadn’t got the money. We paid for a replacement.

Another one had got problems paying rates and they were going to end up in court. We paid them.

Another one was on the breadline with young children and we gave her money to help her out as a loan, which we never saw back, and there she was taking us to court.

Ms Kennedy: You also mention in your statement that you had threats made. Could you tell us about those?

Gordon Martin: I don’t want to be specific about that. That’s … I can’t face that.

Ms Kennedy: How did it feel to be threatened?

Gordon Martin: I’ve never been threatened in my life – apart from on the East German border.

I’ve always got on with people. Being a salesman at heart, you learn to accept people as they are, see their better side. I’ve never been involved in anything like it in my life and, after 65 years of being on this planet, I certainly didn’t expect it then.

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

Gordon Martin: Well, there’s the obvious things. I’ve made copious notes over the last fortnight. I’ve heard so many people on this Inquiry come forward with their requirements and their needs but they all say the same basically, so I’ll just read what I’ve put here.

Apart from the obvious (that is compensation), all subpostmasters – I can’t see a thing now – subpostmasters need their compensation in full without prolonged negotiations and individual interaction, so eliminating more grief and trauma for all concerned.

Fujitsu: apart from the police investigation, the company should be held partly responsible for financial redress towards the bill for compensation – I don’t believe the taxpayer should really take the full hit – and they should have to do that for sitting on their hands for so long knowing exactly what that situation was.

The Post Office: apart from individual accountability, maybe like-for-like action; maybe they should sacrifice their pensions; maybe they should do community service. I can’t believe any of them are going to end up in prison.

Also, there needs to be a clean slate and a clear out at the top of the Post Office to put it back on track to regain its rightful status.

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

Gordon Martin: Yes.

Thousands of people have invested their life savings believing the Post Office to be a true and trusted brand. When Horizon went wrong the Post Office hid the truth and banked the proceeds of their crime. And when the unexplained windfall appears in suspense accounts, instead of finding out why, they transfer the proceeds to the bottom line and, as a result of it, top executives are showered with bonuses and honours.

The words of Nick Wallis still ring in my ears when he looked around the High Court during the Group Litigation and noted that all those present were earning a wage, apart from the victims.

Now I see the Inquiry. Nothing’s changed: everybody being paid, apart from the victims.

Ms Kennedy: I’m just going to turn now to see if the Chair has any questions for you. Do you have any questions, Chair?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, no thank you, Ms Kennedy.

You won’t be surprised to learn, Mr Martin, that I read the Sunday Times article about you. I had, of course, by then read your witness statement but newspaper articles are also informative in a more nuanced way and now I’ve heard from you directly, so I have a good deal of very relevant information about you and thanks for taking the trouble for coming to give evidence.

Gordon Martin: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Sir Wyn Williams: Now, just one formality. Ms Kennedy mentioned the fact that you’d made a timeline or a chronology this afternoon which is going to be made an exhibit. I don’t want you to worry about that formal status of that document, but can I just ask you: I take it that that document was prepared from documents in your possession and that’s where you get the dates from?

Gordon Martin: I prepared it because when I was interviewed to make my statement or my witness statement, the order in which the questions were put were not relevant to the timeline.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, okay.

Gordon Martin: I got a few things round the wrong way, so I had to get in my own mind the actual timeline. So some of those timeline entries appear to be a little bit disjointed with witness statement.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s all right. That’s something we share in common because whenever I prepare for a case, I love to make myself a chronology. So there we are.

Gordon Martin: It’s an age thing.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m not going to divulge whether I’m younger or older than you. Right, thank you, Mr Martin.

Gordon Martin: Thank you, Sir Wyn.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s it for the day, is it, Ms Kennedy?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, that is right.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, okay. So we start again at 10.00 tomorrow morning?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, thank you, Chair.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Thanks everyone.

Ms Kennedy: Sorry, Chair, I’m being told 10.15.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, okay. Of course, and that’s to take account of the fact that there might be a fire alarm exercise.

Ms Kennedy: Exactly, exactly.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, all right. So I’ll see everyone at 10.15 in the morning. Goodbye everyone.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you.

(3.23 pm)

(Adjourned until 10.15 am the following day)