Official hearing page

1 March 2022 – Wendy Buffrey, Timothy Brentnall, Anthony Gant, Amanda Barber, Norman Barber, Mark Kelly, Carina Price, David Hedges, Della Robinson, Allison Henderson, Hasmukh Shingadia, David Yates, Vipinchandra Patel, Robert Ambrose and Gail Ward

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(11.00 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Bore da i bawb. It being St David’s Day, Dydd Dewi. Croeso i Gaerdydd. Welcome to Cardiff. Our first witness is a visitor, so very nice to see you.

The Witness: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Now, before we start can I just make a few announcements about today which may be a bit more flexible than we normally are. What we hope to do is to have two witnesses this morning give oral evidence.

If time permits this morning, we will also then read in some summaries of witness statements which will take us up to about 1.00. If that summary reading does take place this morning, we won’t start it after about 12.40 but if we finish the witnesses by about then, we will then do some reading.

This afternoon there’s one oral witness. Very unfortunately, after that witness finishes I have to have a break to have a meeting about an unrelated matter. Then if there are any further statements to be read they will be done after my meeting, so around about 3.45. So I’m sorry there’s a bit more uncertainty than usual, but I’m sure we’ll cope. Over to you.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you, Chair. Our first witness today is Mrs Wendy Buffrey.

Wendy Buffrey

WENDY BUFFREY (affirmed).

Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: As I think you know, my name’s Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Wendy Buffrey: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Could you confirm your full name for the Inquiry please?

Wendy Buffrey: Wendy Vivian Buffrey.

Ms Kennedy: I think you have a copy of your statement there.

Wendy Buffrey: I do.

Ms Kennedy: It should be dated 14 January.

Wendy Buffrey: It is.

Ms Kennedy: It’s 11 pages; is that right?

Wendy Buffrey: That’s correct.

Ms Kennedy: If you look at the last page, is that your signature there?

Wendy Buffrey: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Wendy Buffrey: I have, yes.

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

Wendy Buffrey: To the best of my knowledge, yes.

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

Wendy Buffrey: 62.

Ms Kennedy: And you live with your husband?

Wendy Buffrey: Yes, I do, yes.

Ms Kennedy: How long have you been married?

Wendy Buffrey: 44, coming up to 45 years.

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

Wendy Buffrey: Quite a varied thing, working in retail. Then I worked as a rep for a retail company for Johnson’s Wax. I’ve worked for the Ambulance Service and for St John’s as a volunteer.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you want to become a subpostmistress?

Wendy Buffrey: I’d been repping for ten years and computers came in and it wasn’t the same. We used to go to different shops, cash and carries, et cetera, and take their orders for products and show new products, et cetera, and now that all could be done via computer. So I decided that I needed to look for something that was more conducive to staying at home because I was staying away from home a lot with that, and a friend of mine ran a post office and she said would you like to come and try?

So I went to her post office and I trained. She trained me up a little bit and then I used to do Saturdays for her after I’d finished working where I was and I loved it. It was great. You know, I’m a people person so it was really nice to have people coming, chatting. You know, it was great and I did that for three or four months and then said to my husband, yeah, I think this would be the way to go because I really enjoy it.

So then we started looking at different post offices in the area. Some of them had accommodation, some of them didn’t. And then Up Hatherley Post Office came on to the market so we went and had a look at that and decided that was the one for us.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you think it was the one for you?

Wendy Buffrey: It had – it was a detached property. The Post Office took up the front half of the ground floor. Behind it we had a lovely big front room, kitchen and things and a lovely garden out the back – well, it was lovely once we got at it – and it was, although the shop was there, it was still a very peaceful place to be and the people in the local area were really nice.

Ms Kennedy: I think is it Up-Hatherley Post Office? Is that what you said?

Wendy Buffrey: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you took over as subpostmistress in March 1999; is that about right?

Wendy Buffrey: Yes. Yes, I was interviewed for it in ‘98 and then with trying to sell our shop – our house, to buy it, and the outgoing subpostmistress was also in a chain to buy, it was March of ‘99 before we actually moved in.

Ms Kennedy: Where in the country was that post office, just broadly?

Wendy Buffrey: Cheltenham. It’s in a suburb of Cheltenham.

Ms Kennedy: How many staff did you employ at your post office?

Wendy Buffrey: I employed four part-timers in the shop. They all did different hours to make sure we were all covered, and I employed three people in the Post Office, two of them which did full time but sort of overlapped so we were still covered on a Saturday and one that did the busiest times of the week.

Ms Kennedy: How busy was your Post Office?

Wendy Buffrey: When I took over it, it was – well, the salary was about 26,000 when we first took over it but I worked very hard to build that up and we put in a new counter and everything in and made it four counters and I got it up to about 65,000 by the time I was exited.

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

Wendy Buffrey: I had the training with my friend but when I took over as subpostmistress it was still paper-based. I went to I think it was … I think it was Yate or somewhere like that to go and have a day’s training with all the differed paperwork, which forms were for what, how to fill them in, how to sell different products, and then the day we moved in I took over the Post Office so we were moving everything in and I’m trying to learn what’s happening with the Post Office I was going to run.

I had a trainer that was supposed to be with me for two weeks and after the first week he said I was fine and he just came back for the balance the second week, and that was it.

Ms Kennedy: When was Horizon introduced in your branch; do you remember?

Wendy Buffrey: I can’t remember the exact date but I think it was between 2001/2002. I’m not sure of the actual date it was.

Ms Kennedy: What training did you receive on Horizon?

Wendy Buffrey: We went to a local hotel with a load of other subpostmasters from the area because there was a lot of us that were going live at the same time. There was – yeah, we went – I went for a day with one of my staff, leaving the two to cover the Post Office and then the next day they went. But it wasn’t even really a full day’s training. By the time we got there, done a little bit of how to sell a stamp on the screen, and then stopped for lunch, it was about four hours training in total, and we did a little bit on the balance but it wasn’t – you know, you were showed how to put the stamps in, the stock in, the cash in, but they didn’t tell you what to do if it wasn’t right.

So we used to have a little magazine come through called Counter News every week. We sort of gleaned most of our training from that. We didn’t have any – I’ve heard some of the others say that they had instruction books that they had. We didn’t have anything like that.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find using Horizon?

Wendy Buffrey: I thought it was quite good. It certainly made my life easier to begin with. You know, it just got so that when the shortcomings did start coming, it was more difficult to find because in the old days when we just had paper you could literally look down and see where any discrepancy was or you go and have a cup of coffee, come back and look at it with new eyes and, oh, that’s what it is, and you’d sort it out straight away. But with Horizon you didn’t have that ability.

Ms Kennedy: What shortfalls or discrepancies did you start to notice on the system?

Wendy Buffrey: I didn’t have a lot of little shortfalls. It seemed to be all or nothing with mine. The first one I had was over – I can’t remember the exact amount but I put it into – because we still had the ability to put it into a suspense account then and then when it had been there long enough that they said, you know, you’ve got to pay this off, it came out of my wages.

Ms Kennedy: Is that I think following an audit in around 2004? Would that be about right?

Wendy Buffrey: No. This was a different one during the time. One audit I had and I was over £1,000 down, but one of my staff disappeared off to Greece for a while and I’ve not seen her since; so I think I paid for her holiday because I was held responsible for that. I was suspended and held responsible for that, and if it hadn’t been for her actually ringing the management of the Post Office to see if she was under any suspicion, they wouldn’t have come back to me and said that’s a very odd thing for somebody to do and, you know, so you can go back to work as long as you make good the amount. So I did.

Ms Kennedy: Turning back to the audit that I think you say in your statement happened in 2004, do you remember that audit?

Wendy Buffrey: No, I don’t.

Ms Kennedy: Do you remember how many auditors tended to show up to these?

Wendy Buffrey: It was usually two. It was usually two. I think for the first three audits we had the same two gentlemen for the first three audits that we had, and the fourth audit – I had a security audit in between and then I had the fourth audit that was two ladies.

Ms Kennedy: How did they treat you?

Wendy Buffrey: All was good. They were always welcomed. You know, I had nothing to hide, you know, cup of tea and biscuits, get on with what you want to do. They were fine. One of the audits, I was over a thousand pound out – I can’t remember whether it was just under a thousand or just over a thousand over because they’d sent me three error notices that weren’t mine, but I had to put them through because they were under my FAD code. So I put those through.

So they wanted me to take the money out and I said, well, no, I’m not going take the money out because that doesn’t belong to me. It goes in the tin, in the drawer, ready to go back in next week when you realise you’ve made those error notices incorrectly and it comes back again. So why should I take it out? I’d only be robbing myself. I’m not going to do that. So, you know, it stayed in the drawer.

Ms Kennedy: Did you ever use the helpline at all?

Wendy Buffrey: It wasn’t called the helpline at our office. It was called the “hell line”, not the helpline. Quite regularly. Because we had a lot of freezing of the computers and they would – we’d ring up and they’d say turn it off, reboot it. We’d get one screen go down and then we’d get that back up and running and then one of the others would go down and back up and running. After asking for details of the Post Office of how many times we’d rung the office, they reckoned we rang once a month. Well, that’s not true. We must have rung five/six times a week, sometimes a day if it was a particularly bad day where they kept freezing.

Ms Kennedy: Do you remember the audit that took place before you were suspended?

Wendy Buffrey: You’ll have to remind me which one that was. I’m sorry.

Ms Kennedy: This is the final one where I think you say in your statement the shortfall allegedly found was around 26,000.

Wendy Buffrey: Yes. They came – that was some stamps. I had 700 books of 100 stamps show up on my screen that shouldn’t have been there, and it’s not as if we’d pressed a double button to say that’s how many should be in there. We’d never actually had that many delivered into the unit so I thought, well, they’re not supposed to be there. Perhaps one of the staff have tapped something or even I may have tapped something that put them there. I need to take them out. As soon as I took them out that gave me a loss and I thought, oh God, I’ve done that wrong. So I went and got my Counter News went through it and I did it again and it doubled it. I thought, well, if I ring the helpline I’m going to be – I haven’t got this sort of money. I just haven’t got that sort of money. So I tried again to get it back to the 70 stamps it should have been – 70 books rather than 700 books that it should have been, and all of a sudden I had a loss of £36,000, which there was no way. I just didn’t have that money to put in.

So I made the mistake of declaring that I had that because I was scared of being suspended again and being held responsible for that money. I thought if it is something I’ve done wrong, then I should have an error notice back and I can put it right again as soon as it comes back but, of course, once you’ve done it once, the next time you want to run a roll over, you have to do it again. So I took out a loan, and maxed out my credit cards and I managed to raise £10,000 which I put in.

And then whatever profits I could make from the shop I was trying to put in as much as I could each week but I just couldn’t get that – I just could not get that amount down. The more I put in, it just seemed to keep coming out at that amount all the time.

Ms Kennedy: Was that when the auditors then came?

Wendy Buffrey: That happened in the May and the auditors came in I think it was –

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement December?

Wendy Buffrey: December I think, yes. It was December. I’d got all my staff into individual units and I’d kept the loss in my unit and I hadn’t told anybody about it. I hadn’t even told my husband and that weighing on you for six months is one hell of a pressure. And I let them do all of the staff things and then I told them that they would find a discrepancy in mine but I needed to go through to the house and explain to my husband first before we did what we – they came to do.

I went through and explained to my husband because he’d had to stop work because of ill health and it was not nice. As soon as I told her that it would be a discrepancy, the smiles disappeared and everything else was quite sharp and directed. When I came back in, she’d already rang through to the management and that to tell them that there was a – going to be a loss, and then it was – they actually made the loss up to 28 – it was something like £28,000 but the auditor herself had counted the £10 notes incorrectly and I actually said at the time that’s not right and they came back the next day and recounted and brought it back down to the 26,200-and something. I can’t remember exactly what it was.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel that day?

Wendy Buffrey: Gutted, absolutely gutted, because I knew that a job that I loved was gone. I knew it was gone. I hadn’t signed any of the cash accounts since it had happened because I didn’t – I knew that they were incorrect and there was the one auditor on one side and the one on the other side and they stood over me until I signed them and I didn’t know at the time that I could sign them, that they were signed under duress. So as soon as I signed those that was me done.

Ms Kennedy: When were you suspended?

Wendy Buffrey: I was suspended that day.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you were terminated, your contract was terminated on 2 January 2009; is that about right?

Wendy Buffrey: Yes, that’s about right, yes.

Ms Kennedy: You were then interviewed by the Post Office later in January 2009; is that right?

Wendy Buffrey: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a bit about that interview.

Wendy Buffrey: I got an awful cold. I’d rung the Federation to see if they could – that’s Federation of Subpostmasters – to see if they could help me and the lady on the other end of the phone said that as I’d been suspended I was no longer a subpostmaster therefore they could do nothing for me.

So I rang the local area rep, which was Mark Baker, and he’s now with the CWU, and asked him if he could come as another subpostmaster because they told me I couldn’t take a solicitor. I could take somebody that worked for the Post Office. I couldn’t take a family friend; I couldn’t take a solicitor. It had to be one of those two options. So Mark came with me and he was told right at the beginning of the – before they cautioned me and everything, that he wasn’t allowed to say anything.

Ms Kennedy: Who was there from the Post Office?

Wendy Buffrey: Two investigators. All the way through I was telling them exactly what had happened and how it had happened and they kept telling me that can’t happen, nobody else has had any of these problems, it can’t happen. And I said, “Well, it did happen. I can’t make a story up to say something that fits in with you. That is what happened”. And when I got my statement through in the mediation from Second Sight, when my – they’d written it out, none of that was in that statement. I thought, well, even that, they’ve not put in what was actually said. A lot of it was correct but a lot of it had been missed out.

They went through two tapes while I was there and, you know, it’s like three pages of – three pages of written statement, so I don’t know – I never, ever got a tape or anything so I don’t know what happened to that.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel after that interview?

Wendy Buffrey: Well, to be honest, I was a little bit relieved because at the end of it they said to me they were going to go away and investigate it and I thought, well, great, at least they’re listening. They asked for all my bank details which I gave them with no problem because I’d got nothing to hide. They asked me what sort of car I was driving. I think they were a bit disappointed when I told them a 25-year old Volvo. You know. Where had I been on holiday. I took one holiday from the Post Office where I was relieved by somebody else and £600 went missing and I never had another holiday from the Post Office at all because I couldn’t afford to have a holiday and then have money go missing that I would have to make up.

But they said they were going to investigate it, and then I waited and I waited and I waited and then the next thing I had was a special delivery envelope, one for me and one for my husband, because both our names were on the Post Office property, and we’d bought a buy to let which my son was making good so that we could let that out and that was going to be my pension because I’d not got a pension then.

I didn’t hear anything back. You know, they never said, “Right, we’ve investigated, we found this, we found that”. I absolutely heard nothing from them at all.

Ms Kennedy: At that time in your life, I think you say in your statement that after your contract was terminated you worked for St John’s Ambulance; is that right?

Wendy Buffrey: Yes. I was a volunteer for St John’s Ambulance for probably four years. During my time at the Post Office. I used to help out at a lot of events and I worked my way up so that I could crew an ambulance and actually work for them, for the NHS, at weekends because it was another thing that I loved to do.

As soon as I was convicted I got a recorded letter from them to say I could no longer be a member because it was bringing them into disrepute and would I desist from contacting any of the members.

Ms Kennedy: How did that feel?

Wendy Buffrey: Blooming awful because I’d raised an awful lot of money for them.

Ms Kennedy: You have mentioned your conviction. I think you say in your statement you received a summons to the Magistrates’ Court for theft; is that right?

Wendy Buffrey: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: What did you plead?

Wendy Buffrey: Right through Magistrates, right through up until the day of the court case I pleaded not guilty. I was called to Cirencester court and my barrister said, “You’ll be okay. There’s no cells there. They’ve obviously decided you are not going to prison because you’re going there”.

So I went up to Cirencester court, stood outside with my – some of my family and some of my customers and lots of other people and policemen waiting to go in and it didn’t open. I rang my barrister and she said, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m at Cirencester”, and she said, “Oh no, it’s been changed to Crown Court. You have got 25 minutes to get here or you’ll be held in contempt”.

Nobody had let me know that it was supposed to be at Gloucester. I got the letter the day after the case that it had been changed to Gloucester, so it was almost like an American movie with Burt Reynolds. We were in a convoy down from Cirencester into Cheltenham – into Gloucester and then when I got there the TV cameras and everything were there and I was just – I was zombied really.

I got my keys, I got the car keys, I gave those to my Dad because I didn’t know whether I’d be coming and driving home or anything like that. And then when I got in, my barrister was talking to the Post Office barristers who were being quite disparaging against me not turning up, and then she took me into a room and said, “Look, they’ve offered to drop the theft charge if you’ll plead guilty to the false accounting charge. If you don’t, you are going to go to prison and you will go to prison for about three years”.

My husband was ill and I knew if I went into prison I wouldn’t come out. I knew I wouldn’t come out.

So I pled guilty and then the judge, as soon as I stood up, because he actually passed sentence that day, as soon as I stood up he said, “You’re not going – this is not going to be a custodial sentence. I can see it’s not” – he actually said, “I can see it’s not a case of larceny. It’s a case of not” – I can’t remember the actual word but something like obnoxious contract and he sentenced me to 150 hours of community service, £1,500 costs and all I heard was my Mum and Dad and my son sobbing from the gallery above. And I know I went and saw a probation officer and everything to get everything set up but I can’t remember doing that.

Ms Kennedy: You say in your statement your conviction was overturned last year.

Wendy Buffrey: It was.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask some questions about the impact that all of this has had on you. You mentioned earlier what happened to your job at St John’s Ambulance.

Wendy Buffrey: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think this also had a financial impact on you, didn’t it, as well?

Wendy Buffrey: I’ve been luckier than most. I’ve been able to work since my conviction. I worked for a private ambulance – well, I worked for a private ambulance unit that worked for NHS in between the time that I was suspended and convicted but as soon as I was convicted obviously they won’t allow you to do that with a conviction, so I had to stop that.

Then a colleague of mine was opening a business and asked me to come and work with him because he’d worked with me on the ambulances, and I worked with him for about six months. And then I went to get a cleaning job because I just couldn’t concentrate on anything, I couldn’t … I just couldn’t get my head round doing anything with any responsibility. I didn’t want to do anything that handled money anymore. I didn’t want to even go there. And then I went on to the dole for three weeks and then I got a job as a cleaner because my husband was no longer earning then so I was the only person bringing any money into the house, and I got a job as a cleaner and there was an accident on the site and a person was injured and I assisted with him and then the management of that company asked me to teach first aid for them. So I started doing that, and then I went and got a teaching qualification and I went and got my NEBOSH and the last ten years I have worked as a health and safety consult within aerospace.

So I’ve been one of the lucky ones in that respect that I’ve been able to work and I’ve had some money coming in. So I’ve managed to pay off any debt that we were in and managed to pay off the mortgage because I wanted every penny to go off the mortgage so that we knew that we had a roof over our head.

I’ve lost my thread now, sorry.

Ms Kennedy: That’s okay. I’m now going to ask you some questions about your health. What impact has all of this on your mental health?

Wendy Buffrey: Huge, huge. I went to the doctor’s. He gave me some medication but it didn’t stop me feeling as though I’d let my family down and … I got some tablets and a bottle of water and I went up on to Cleeve Hill, that’s my thinking place, and I was going to take them, and as soon as I got up there, out of the blue, Jo Hamilton rang me and was speaking to me and saying, “You know, you’re not on your own. There’s lots of us”, and that was the first time I knew that I wasn’t the only one that it had happened to because I didn’t realise there was anybody out there, anybody else out there that had gone through this. I had no idea.

And then I realised I was back at the car. I hadn’t taken anything and I hadn’t drank anything. I thought, well, if I’m not on my own, I can do this. And the first meeting that I went to, when I got there, there was about 60 people in the room and Alan Bates – thank God for Alan Bates, he’s an incredible man – and Kay, Kay Burnell, she’s – they are both – we owe them so much to get us to where we are now, and they asked in the room how many people had been told they were the only one and all the hands went up, and I just couldn’t believe that they had tried to separate us so much so that we wouldn’t understand that this was right the way through all of the Post Office.

It’s affected my health in as much that I now have fibromyalgia, which means I’ve got constant pain. I walk with a stick because when my one leg cramps I end up flat on my face and that’s to do with the fibromyalgia as well, and I’ve got that, according to my consultant, because of not being able to sleep. Again, that’s because of the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: When you say you weren’t able to sleep, what do you mean by that?

Wendy Buffrey: Just lying looking at the – before I knew there was anybody else, I’d just keep going over and over and over it in my head, to see whether, you know, if I could think why it had happened and where it had happened and then I’d wake up and I’d find myself going through drawers to see if I’d put money in there. I knew I hadn’t taken it but I was looking everywhere for it and I – you know, I was lucky if I got a couple of hours sleep a night. And then it was back out on an ambulance or whatever again with Wendy being the smiley person and looking after everybody else, and that took a toll because I boxed it off and tried to deal with it inside and I think my body just went no, not having that.

So it means now that I’ve had to give up work because I can’t concentrate and health and safety is obviously quite an important thing that you have to get right and I didn’t want to make a mistake for anybody and get anything wrong, so I’ve given up work.

Ms Kennedy: What about the impact on your family?

Wendy Buffrey: Huge. My Mum and Dad were absolutely devastated for me. I was very lucky with all of my family. Every single one of my family went, “Yeah, right, like you’d take anything”, because they know that that’s not part of the way we’ve been brought up and the way our family – well, my Dad was, “You don’t spit, you don’t tell lies, and you don’t steal anything”.

That was the way we were brought up and that’s the way we’ve always been and for people to think I was dishonest, for me and my family, was horrendous. I mean, it’s had an impact on my husband’s health. He’s definitely the worse for it. Unfortunately, my father’s passed away now and he passed away before my trial was thing and I lost my son in that period as well, one of my sons.

So it’s – I only found out four months ago that my son started a job at a large factory and the day he got there somebody asked him where he was from and he said, “Oh, Hatherley”, and gave the address of the Post Office as to where he lived and I won’t use the exact expletives that were used but they called me a lot of names where he felt that he had to – had to defend me. And his life in that job was made so uncomfortable that that and losing his brother he had a major breakdown.

Ms Kennedy: How does it make you feel knowing that he went through that?

Wendy Buffrey: Horrendous because I didn’t realise he was being bullied at work like that. I just didn’t know and he didn’t feel that he could tell me until just before Christmas.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement that your story was covered in the local press; is that right?

Wendy Buffrey: The day after the court case we had to go and get some shopping and I walked into Tesco’s and where they normally have all the different papers on the wall instead of that, they put the local Echo all over the wall with my face on it saying, “Local subpostmistress escapes jail”, and my husband looked at it and he said, “Do you want to go?” And I said, “No, it will be tomorrow’s chip paper. I’m going to just carry on”. And I’ve tried very hard to keep my head up.

Every job I’ve gone for, anybody that I’ve come in contact where I’ve had to have some sort of, you know, if I’ve gone in to train in a different company or anything like that, I’ve always made sure that management knew exactly what had happened to me and then asked them, “Do you still want me to work for you”, because I didn’t want – you know, I’ve always been upfront and said, like, “This is what’s happened to me”. I did not steal any money and I’ve always made that – you know, so I’ve always done that.

But it’s affected us all in horrible ways, you know.

Ms Kennedy: How did the local community treat you?

Wendy Buffrey: Mostly very, very supportive. I didn’t know at the time but a lot of people had written letters via a councillor, a local councillor, to the court on my behalf, which was very humbling. To know that that many people supported me was lovely.

I did have one man spit at me in the street and I did get spat on when I was doing the community service as well. We were working on the canals and as people walked over the bridge over the canal they would see who they could hit as we were going along there. But some of the community service I actually enjoyed but I didn’t quite enjoy the canal bit.

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

Wendy Buffrey: I’ve got a list.

My manager at the time wrote a letter to the Post Office supporting me. Now, his job disappeared for him two weeks later. Now, I don’t know whether he lost his job because he wrote that or whether there was any other reason, but he was doing really well up until he tried to support me.

The thing that really – you know, from the people on the “hell line” that took all the calls from people telling them that they were short, they were short, they were short, why didn’t their moral compasses get them to move it up to the management there? And if they did, why didn’t that management then move it further up the company? So we’ve got right from people answering calls on the “hell line” right through their management, right through the management that came out to visit Post Offices, up to the Board.

Now, they’re either completely negligent in their jobs and in that case they should have all their bonuses and everything taken off them because they were totally negligent in what they were doing and they didn’t know what was going on in the Post Office, and if they did know, they were complicit. And if they were complicit, I really want them to be charged, Sir Wyn, because it’s wrong. It is so wrong to do what they did to us.

And if those people did hand those things up the line but were told not to do it and then were bullied into keeping quiet, we need to know that as well. We need to know why they did that.

That goes through to the Government as well. The Civil Service that worked between BEIS and the Post Office itself, they had people on the board of the Post Office. If they knew, why didn’t they say something? And if they knew, the postal ministers must have known through all of this time.

Now, either they were completely hoodwinked and they were negligent or, again, they were complicit in what was going on and that has to stop and it has – you can’t leave the same people on the board and expect that Post Office to run correctly. It’s an inbred way that they run everything now.

The last thing I’d like to say is I’m one of the lucky ones. I know after all of that you wouldn’t think so but I was one of the lucky ones. I was convicted which means I will at some point get some compensation. There are other people out there that have lost everything. Now, they may not have gone before a court and been found guilty; they have still lost their homes, they’ve still lost their businesses, they’ve still lost their families, they are still in debt, they’re still bankrupt. They need help from the GLO to get what they deserve and even if it means giving them back what was taken in costs to bring this to public notice with the GLO they need to have that returned to them.

To be honest that isn’t even going to cover their losses. That needs to be looked into properly. Like I say, I’ll be all right because I will get compensation because I was convicted but please, please, help those ones that weren’t convicted and still lost everything.

That’s all I want to say.

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

Wendy Buffrey: No.

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

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t have any questions but my heart-felt thanks to you for coming to give evidence today.

The Witness: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Since we are moving, I would say, slightly quicker than we might have – perhaps we will have a five-minute break just to let everything settle down and then we can start again.

(11.48 am)

(A short break)

(11.57 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, Ms Kennedy.

Ms Kennedy: Our next witness is Mr Timothy Brentnall.

Timothy Brentnall


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: As you know, my name’s Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry.

Could you confirm your name please?

Timothy Brentnall: Timothy St John Brentnall.

Ms Kennedy: I think you should have a copy of your witness statement there?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think it should be dated 11 January 2022?

Timothy Brentnall: It is.

Ms Kennedy: And it’s 11 pages, and if you look at the last page, page 11, is that your signature?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

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

Timothy Brentnall: Apart from the one point of point 6, looking back at it, it should have been 2006, not 2005.

Ms Kennedy: In late 2006?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Other than that correction, it is true to the –

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

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

How old are you now?

Timothy Brentnall: 40.

Ms Kennedy: Where did you grow up?

Timothy Brentnall: I grew up in the village where this Post Office was, in Roch, in Pembrokeshire.

Ms Kennedy: How many children do you have?

Timothy Brentnall: One.

Ms Kennedy: What kind of jobs did you have before you took over a post office?

Timothy Brentnall: I had had several local jobs from a grounds keeper, I worked in the ITVD digital call centre and following the collapse of that company, I went on to work for security companies, firstly Reliance Security and then Group 4 Security.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you want to work in a post office?

Timothy Brentnall: I didn’t particularly have an aspiration to work in a post office, but being from the westest of Wales work was quite – or sort of permanent work was quite hard to come by and I found the work with Group 4 was moving me further and further away from home, so when the opportunity came to purchase the shop and the Post Office in the village that I’d grown up in, I got together with my parents and we decided that we would buy it and it would make a lifelong career for me at home in Pembrokeshire.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement that it was a shop, a post office, and a fish and chip shop?

Timothy Brentnall: Initially, yes.

Ms Kennedy: And I think you say in your statement that you initially had a temporary subpostmaster with you; is that right?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes, when we bought the business it was – the outgoing owner, subpostmaster, left in a personal hurry. So we bought the premises from him but I wasn’t approved to run the Post Office by the Post Office for some four or five months after we bought it, so there was a temporary subpostmistress who ran it for those initial six months.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you took over the role of subpostmaster in late 2005. Is that correct?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What training did you receive?

Timothy Brentnall: I had four days on-site training.

Ms Kennedy: And did you have training with the temporary subpostmistress as well when –

Timothy Brentnall: No, just I had a gentleman come from Post Office on the Monday and Tuesday of my first week. He had to go somewhere else for the Wednesday and then he was with me again for the Thursday and Friday.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find that training? What did you think of it?

Timothy Brentnall: It was more training on sales and upselling Post Office products rather than actually running the office. He sort of – the gentleman that trained me didn’t know how to account for the cash machine or the lottery that we had on site and just said, “Oh, you’ll just have to refer to your operations manuals and follow the instructions in those”.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find using Horizon?

Timothy Brentnall: I never really fully understood how it worked but the trainer said to me, “as long as you’re” – he said, “If you’re honest with it there will – you’ll never balance to zero so they’ll either be a plus or a minus figure, so you either take that out and keep it in a separate pot or put it back in and keep it in a separate pot, but as long as you are honest then you won’t have any problems”.

So I didn’t really – knowing that I was honest, I didn’t really worry about how I was using it because I didn’t understand what it was actually doing when you were balancing was producing accounts.

Ms Kennedy: So when did you start to notice shortfalls and discrepancies?

Timothy Brentnall: I initially had a problem in late 2006, which is when I then had my first audit and there was a shortfall of around £6,000, which, as far as we could tell, had come from transaction corrections to do with the lottery that wasn’t being accounted for properly but the auditor explained that it was in my contract that I was to be held or was responsible for these, so I had to pay that £6,000 back into the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: Did you ever use the helpline?

Timothy Brentnall: I did initially but I sort of despaired with it because you’d ring with a problem on Tuesday and you’d be told to follow these certain sequence of button presses to correct it, and sometimes it would correct it and sometimes it seemed to make the problem double, and then you would ring the next day and say, “Now, this problem seems to have doubled”, and the next person that you spoke to would say, “Oh, I don’t understand why you’ve been told to do that. That’s completely wrong. You need to” – this is every time you spoke to somebody different they gave you a different way of addressing the problem and most of the time it seemed to make this worse.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about that?

Timothy Brentnall: Well, I – because I knew I wasn’t being dishonest it didn’t really concern me because I thought, well, I know I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not stealing and eventually it will sort itself out.

Ms Kennedy: In your statement you mention a big alleged shortfall or discrepancy in 2008 of around £22,500.

Timothy Brentnall: Yes, that arrived as what they call transaction correction one morning which you had to accept before you could open, which is when – that’s what threw me into a panic because I knew from my experience with the previous audit that I could be held responsible for that money. I didn’t understand where it had come from or what it meant, so I just accepted it and decided that if I contacted the Post Office they could well ask for that full amount immediately, which I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay, so I tried to – I declared – falsely declared that I held the cash and tried to pay the money back with the view that once I’d corrected that shortfall I could then go and say, “There’s been this problem and can we find out do I owe you the money or do you owe me the money back? Whose problem is it?”

Ms Kennedy: How much money did you pay back in in respect of that alleged shortfall?

Timothy Brentnall: I’d paid – I got it down to about £16,000 shortfall before the next audit came.

Ms Kennedy: And the next audit you say in your statement was in 2009; is that right?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say that by that stage having paid in the alleged shortfall was about £16,500.

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: How many auditors came to that audit?

Timothy Brentnall: Two.

Ms Kennedy: And what did you say to them when they arrived?

Timothy Brentnall: Well, it was the same lady that had been my manager, Gaynor, originally, and the lady that had done the first audit. So they were friendly. We would have had a cup of tea and a chat and she went through some of her initial procedures, and then when she came to count I took her into the back office and said, “Before you do the full audit, I need to tell you what I’ve been doing because you’re going to discover a shortfall”.

At that point I was under the impression that they would have been there to help me.

Ms Kennedy: Did they help you?

Timothy Brentnall: No.

Ms Kennedy: What happened after you told them about that shortfall?

Timothy Brentnall: Their attitudes completely changed. They immediately – they went outside and called through to their bosses at the Post Office. Before they completed the audit or counted anything further they came back in and told me I was going to be suspended while they found out exactly how much money was missing, in their words.

Ms Kennedy: What happened then? I think you mention in your statement an investigation team arrived.

Timothy Brentnall: No, they – I didn’t see an investigation team for about a week. They completed the audit. Before they left, Gaynor said to me that I was going to be contacted by both the investigation team and the Post Office HR manager and she sort of said to me off record, “Don’t tell them what you’ve told me, that you don’t understand what’s happening because they’ll accuse you of stealing it. Make sure that when you’re interviewed you can provide a reason to where this money’s gone and when you go for an interview with your HR manager, the best thing you can do is go with a cheque to pay this money back so that they don’t accuse you of theft”.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel when that was said to you?

Timothy Brentnall: I – totally lost in the moment because I knew I hadn’t stolen – there was no evidence that I’d stolen anything. I certainly wasn’t living, you know, the high life from ill gotten gains. But I was totally panicked in the fact that I was possibly going to be accused of stealing this money.

Ms Kennedy: Turning then to when the investigation team come a week afterwards, what happened then?

Timothy Brentnall: Well, I had a horrible experience with the investigating team. Initially, I missed a phone call from an unknown number. When I rang the number back the investigator introduced himself as a man called Mike Wilcox and told me that he’s not the kind of person that you miss a phone call from. I said, “Well, you know, I don’t know your number. I haven’t intentionally avoided you”, but that set out his attitude from the beginning.

He called me in. He explained that he needed to interview me but said, “We’re trying to get to the bottom of it and understand what’s going on. It’s just an internal procedure. We need to record it, so we’ll have to do it at your local police station but because it’s an internal procedure you don’t need any legal representation”, so I went without a solicitor.

Ms Kennedy: Who was there when you arrived?

Timothy Brentnall: Mike Wilcox and a lady accompanying him but I can’t remember her name.

Ms Kennedy: What happened at that interview?

Timothy Brentnall: He started off – they started off on the tack of accusing me of taking the money, saying, “Well, how do you afford to have a car”, and when I explained to him the value of the car that I had they said, “Okay, well, clearly you haven’t spent it on a car”. I hadn’t taken any holidays or things like that and I kept repeating to him saying, “I can give you my bank statements. I can give you access to anything to show you that I haven’t taken this money”, which they seemed to me at the time of the interview to accept.

And then the second part of it seemed to be dealing with the balancing procedures and why I had declared on Horizon that I held this cash and I tried to explain the position that I laid out earlier, that I was trying to repay it to avoid having the suspicion of that huge amount of theft because of what had happened with the previous audit.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you paid the Post Office for the alleged shortfall?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes, at my interview with my HR manager which either happened just before or just after the investigation team, I did go with, thankfully, money that I could raise, mostly from my parents’ savings, to pay them that to avoid the theft charge.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement your contract was terminated with the Post Office on 4 December 2009; is that right?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: You then appealed that termination.

Timothy Brentnall: Yes, because – they terminated my contract saying that I’d been dishonest and I appealed it on the grounds that I hadn’t wanted to be dishonest. It felt like I’d been forced into that position. I wanted to have proper training on it and I wanted to continue to run the Post Office. It was not just an integral part of our business providing footfall to the shop but it was the Post Office in the village that I grew up in and I knew personally most of the customers. That’s one of the pleasures that I drew from it was serving the local community and I wanted to be able to continue to do that.

Ms Kennedy: Who heard your appeal?

Timothy Brentnall: I can’t pronounce her surname very well but it’s the lady that has since been in the – Angela van den Bogerd.

Ms Kennedy: How was that appeal hearing? What was it like?

Timothy Brentnall: Totally emotionless. She listened to the reasons as I just said that I wanted to continue and I felt that I hadn’t done anything dishonest. She gave me no indication on the day of how it had gone and within a week I just received a letter saying that it had been denied.

Ms Kennedy: What were you then charged with?

Timothy Brentnall: Charged with false accounting. That’s another point going back to the investigator. When I was charged with false accounting, my mother who was in a previous life a maths teacher said, “Well, we’ll sit down and we’ll go through all the paperwork that we have from the Post Office and we’ll try and understand if they’ve gone wrong or if you’ve gone wrong or what’s actually happened”, but neither of us – the documentation that we had, we couldn’t, when I was a postmaster you couldn’t draw annoying from Horizon to follow what had happened and the stuff that I had from them at interview didn’t make any sense.

So we together rang Mr Wilcox to say, “Do we have to now engage a solicitor to get disclosure from the Post Office about these amounts of money or is there something further that you can provide to us” and he said to us, “Look, you’ve already paid back £22,500 at that office. I could make a case for a further £135,000 worth of shortfalls. If you don’t stop digging, I’ll come after you for the lot”.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement that your case for fraudulent accounting was transferred to the Crown Court.

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What advice did you receive from your barrister about what you should plead?

Timothy Brentnall: Well, still at that point I was determined that I was going to plead not guilty but the barrister explained to me that the actions that I’d taken with the monthly balances and signing them could provide evidence that there was false accounting and, regardless of the intent or not, if I stood in front of a Crown Court with a jury and pled not guilty that the high likelihood is that a jury would believe the Post Office over me, so he convinced me to plead guilty to the false accounting charges because he said if I pled not guilty and was found guilty then I would very much likely receive a custodial sentence and my best option was to plead guilty and hopefully have a suspended sentence, which is what happened.

Ms Kennedy: How did it feel receiving that advice?

Timothy Brentnall: Deflating, because if a barrister either – I didn’t know at the time whether he believed me or not or whether what he said was right, that he couldn’t actually provide any evidence to fight it, but knowing in myself that I hadn’t stolen anything or done anything maliciously, that I was going to end up having to plead guilty to it because I didn’t want to go to prison.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned the sentence you received. What was that suspended sentence; do you remember?

Timothy Brentnall: It was – I think it was a number of months but suspended for 18 months.

Ms Kennedy: And you did some community service?

Timothy Brentnall: 200 or 250 hours.

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

Timothy Brentnall: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about the impact that all of this has had on you. You have already told us about what you paid into the Post Office in respect of the alleged shortfalls.

What other financial consequences has this had for you?

Timothy Brentnall: Well, huge. When we took over the village shop it was a nice little business. In the five years prior to these problems, I was there six days a week minimum with the Post Office and probably there on the seventh day as well. I diversified the shop into several different sales areas as well and we built the turnover, yearly turnover, up to nearly £400,000/£450,000 a year. But following my conviction I not only lost the Post Office wage but also lost any sort of drive or want to be involved with the business and that turnover’s now dwindled to less than £100,000 a year.

Ms Kennedy: How are you now financially?

Timothy Brentnall: Stuck. You know, we bought the business, we maintain and still have the shop. There is a different – we had to fight to keep the Post Office counter in the shop because without it – it drew in footfall from a huge rural area and without it we felt that the shop wouldn’t continue at all. So we allowed the Post Office, after I was convicted, to have another temporary subpostmistress come in and run it and then when the next subpostmaster or subpostmistress took it on they reduced its hours hugely, which had a knock-on effect on our trade in the shop as well.

But we’ve been stuck there now with a business that is only just washing its face as the saying goes, unable to sell it or move on because it’s not an attractive proposition to anybody else now.

Ms Kennedy: I think you also mention in your statements that you had to sell a car; is that right?

Timothy Brentnall: Oh yes, I had to sell. Initially my Mum and Dad paid back – well, not paid back, paid all of the money that Post Office were asking for, which wasn’t in any way their fault at all, so I had to sell everything that I didn’t need to try and pay them back.

Ms Kennedy: And turning then to your family, what was the impact of all of this on your relationship with your parents?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes, they paid the money back and they obviously believed me when I said that I hadn’t taken any money but it did then put a huge strain on the relationship because I’d cost – could have, in their opinion, could have cost them their savings, cost us all our future prospects by getting involved with this mess.

Ms Kennedy: What about its impact on other relationships within your family?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes. It strained every relationship. I mean, my sister was also running a hotel locally and once people found out this had happened to me they sort of tarred her with the same brush that she might be untrustworthy and, you know, wasn’t to be trusted. The stress and strain of the whole situation, I was married at the time and that marriage ended shortly afterwards because, again, it caused trust issues but also obviously the amount of pressure and stress I was under it changed me as a person as well.

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

Timothy Brentnall: Well, if you’d asked – I’ve said this several times – if you’d asked me five years ago, if anyone had asked me, I would have said I dealt with it brilliantly, but when I had the news come through last year that my appeal wasn’t going to be contested, I suddenly had this huge outpouring of every emotion that you can imagine, and then almost slept for two or three days.

Following that, you realise, looking back, how different – you know, you don’t realise sometimes how bad you are until you start to get better and you realise that maybe two hours sleep a night isn’t the normal way that you should be living and the stress and stuff that you’re under.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement a charity that you started to volunteer with.

Timothy Brentnall: Yes. I was – that started with my community service that was spent at the local Mind mental health charity and the first day that I was there the man that was supervising me asked me what had happened and he believed me.

I threw myself into that community service and got a great deal of reward from helping people. It initially started just sort of sweeping the centre and making cups of tea and helping with the cooking and things for people, but following my community service, I continued to volunteer there and they realised and I realised that I was quite good in that kind of field and eventually they offered me a part-time job and I led therapy groups and things, things along those sort of lines.

Ms Kennedy: Why do you think volunteering for a charity like that was so important to you?

Timothy Brentnall: It gave me a sense of purpose again and the purpose that I’d lost in the community at the Post Office because it wasn’t just serving people stamps or sending parcels or fetching them their pensions, it was a real sort of central hub of the community and people would come, yes, to use the Post Office but they’d stay for a cup of tea and we’d talk through people’s problems and it was a real sense of helping people.

Ms Kennedy: How do you feel about yourself now?

Timothy Brentnall: I don’t know. It’s been a long time since it happened and I don’t think – I can’t see how I can ever get back to that excited young man that I was.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement as well that you lost friends over this; is that right?

Timothy Brentnall: Yes. It’s a very rural community where I live. I was fortunate that when I was prosecuted and went to court that – I don’t know why but it wasn’t reported in our local press, but obviously people in the village and the community, you are there in the Post Office, in the centre of the community one day and the next day you’ve just gone. So people were talking – were trying to find out what had all happened and things had gone on and obviously the rumours went round. But I’d visit the local pub and you’d hear, “There’s the fraudster”, or, “There’s the man that stole all the old people’s pensions”, or things like that. So I just stopped going out, stopped sort of socialising.

Ms Kennedy: How did that make you feel to hear people say things like that about you?

Timothy Brentnall: It was horrible but initially I tried to challenge some people on it and put my side of the story but people would always come back with, “Well, you pled guilty. If I was accused of something like that”, they’d say, “then there’s no way that I’d plead guilty to something I hadn’t done”. They couldn’t understand that that was just advice that I followed to avoid having to go to prison. It’s horrible.

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

Timothy Brentnall: I’ve written a little bit.

I know this Inquiry is called the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry and I’ve watched at home most of the hearings in London. Alongside that, I’ve also followed the BEIS Select Committee meetings and last week or the week before when there were questions asked of Paul Scully in the House of Commons. During all of those meetings and sessions Horizon is mentioned all the time as being the main problem.

It’s fair to say that it’s the root cause and that problems started with Horizon, but we’re here discussing the human impact and I think the Inquiry should also be looking at the human cause of these problems.

Myself, as every other subpostmaster you have heard from and probably will hear from, had problems that started with Horizon but those problems did not finish with Horizon. Horizon merely provided the data that showed a shortfall but it was people who chose to believe that data over myself or hundreds of other subpostmasters.

It wasn’t Horizon that prosecuted us. It was the Post Office. It wasn’t Horizon that encouraged us to pay back money under threat of theft charges. That was people at the Post Office.

It wasn’t Horizon that sacked Second Sight when they found uncomfortable truths in their reports in 2013. That was people at the Post Office. It wasn’t Horizon that then went on to shred documents. That was people at the Post Office.

Horizon then did not try and outspend the Group Litigation people, the 555 as we are known, in court as an attempt to deny us justice. That was a Post Office decision. Horizon did then not try and recuse the judge of that trial. That was a Post Office decision.

Horizon did not tell hundreds if not thousands of us that we were the only people having problems. That is the evilest of lies and again that was the Post Office and I hope this inquiry will look very closely not only at Horizon but the people.

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

Timothy Brentnall: No, that’s it.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, do you have any questions.

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

The Witness: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: So I think we’re going to move to the next phase and for those who may not know what’s happening, when these hearings opened in London 11 days ago I think, Ms Kennedy, I said amongst other things that many people would not be giving evidence but who had – but those people had provided detailed witness statements which were very much part of the sources of evidence that I would be looking at. It’s right that those people’s witness statements should be referred to publicly so that it’s known that they gave those statements and so just before lunch when everyone’s ready now what’s going to happen is that summaries of some of those witness statements are going to be read out so that the witness statements themselves and the persons who made them are publicly acknowledged as part of this Inquiry.

So we’ll break off again for a few minutes until everyone is ready for that process to begin and then we’ll do as much of that as people think appropriate and then break for lunch.

(12.27 pm)

(A short break)

(12.41 pm)

Mr Anthony Gant

MR ANTHONY GANT, summary read by MS PATRICK.

Ms Patrick: We’re first going to read the summary of the evidence of Mr Anthony Gant. Mr Gant is married to his current wife and they have been married for 12 years. His wife has a daughter and Mr Gant has three children from his previous marriage. Before working with the Post Office, he was a dealer on the stock market having taken examinations for this role. He’s now a store manager for Greggs.

In June 2003, Mr Gant and his then wife decided to move to Wales as his ex-wife was from there originally. He secured the role of subpostmaster of the Nantoer Post Office branch in Newton, Wales. He owned the property that the Post Office was in and this included a small grocery shop and a residential side of the building where he and his ex-wife lived.

Prior to taking over as the subpostmaster Mr Gant received one week’s training at the Post Office headquarters in Bury St Edmunds and then some on-site training from the outgoing subpostmistress whom he was replacing.

Mr Gant noticed issues with Horizon. Initially, when he noticed those issues he would pay any discrepancies out of his own money. He would pay this any way he could from taking money from savings, to taking money from the pub where he was the lease holder, his retail shop, and from credit cards. However, it got to the point where he had no more money to put in.

He says, “This was very distressing for me”. Mr Gant was undertaking daily cash declarations and then monthly account balances each month. During these balances he would have to inflate the cash on hand figure to cover the discrepancies. He did this by inflating the cash declarations to reflect what he saw on the daily snapshot on the system.

He thought by doing this he was making it look normal. He would then have to declare that he had the cash, even though he didn’t. Mr Gant says:

“I knew what I was doing was wrong but I was too frightened to tell anyone about it.”

He tried calling the helpline when errors were occurring but he never received any support.

On 19 April 2007 an audit was carried out by the Post Office which resulted in a shortfall of £13,000 being alleged. Following the audit, Mr Gant was suspended. He says this was devastating and he felt sick when the auditor arrived at the branch. On 7 May 2007 he was interviewed by the Post Office investigators and was very scared at this time and he was not legally represented.

However, he had a Federation representative present during that interview. Mr Gant was prosecuted by the Post Office after being charged with theft. He had problems sleeping as his situation was always on his mind. He would wake up in the morning thinking about it and go to bed thinking about it. He says it was endless.

Upon advice from his legal representatives he pleaded guilty to false accounting on the basis that the charge of theft would be dropped.

On 26 October 2007, he was convicted of false accounting at the Shrewsbury Magistrates’ Court and given a suspended sentence, ordered to undertake 100 hours of community service and had to pay costs of £960 and compensation to the Post Office of £14,500. Mr Gant believes that his commitment to one of his children who required medical treatment for a physical illness is why he avoided a prison sentence.

Despite earning only £1,000 a month he was ordered to make payments in the sum of £500 a month to the Post Office. This was he says a massive struggle for him and his family and led to him missing payments on other bills.

This got him into, he says, a lot of mess financially and it took him a number of years to get straight again. He had to return to court to reduce the payments he was required to make to the Post Office but in the end he paid back the full £14,500. His wife was then returned – sorry, forced to return to work on a full-time basis despite having a young child to care for. Mr Gant was devastated when he found out that he was being convicted and he recalls thinking:

“I don’t know if I am going to walk out of here. It was sickening.”

Followed his conviction he split up with his ex-wife and his leasehold over the pub that he then held came to an end, meaning he had no source of income. Without income, he could no longer afford to pay his mortgage so the Post Office closed his sub-post office and the property was repossessed by the lender. He lost his stock market credentials. He used to coach children’s rugby and would referee matches. However, following the accusation he made the decision to give this up. He was unable to go back because he knew he would need a clear DBS check.

Mr Gant’s conviction was covered by both the national and local newspapers. One article in his local newspaper the Shropshire Star wrote that Mr Gant took the money for his own gains and in order to live a lavish lifestyle. He says now this was devastating. That newspaper has since published an article about Mr Gant’s conviction being quashed and how wonderful this is. However, the initial article about his conviction still comes up above the new article in search engines. Mr Gant finds this really frustrating. He divorced from his ex-wife following the stresses of what happened with the Post Office and that had had a huge impact on the decision to divorce.

Mr Gant also lost most of his friends. He had one close friend who stuck by him through it all, however, and Mr Gant is very grateful.

Despite being wary of who he makes friends with, Mr Gant has still not lost faith in people. He says:

“I think I’ve been helped by the fact that I’ve been responsible for helping to raise money for the Ronald McDonald children’s hospital.”

Mr Gant has raised around £8,000 for this charity. However, he talks about the impact of the events with the Post Office on his family. His children received some backlash as people would make comments in the community. His children suffered issues at school and his younger daughter would defend Mr Gant and give verbal abuse back.

He still gets comments and sly looks to this day. It will always be with him and there will always be people who say, “There is the guy who robbed the Post Office”.

When he decided to look into matters further and realised there were issues with shortfalls and convictions for others, and not just him, old memories started to be dug up. He was hit hard by the emotions he had been suppressing and suffered a mental breakdown. He felt so low, he felt he wanted to end his life. It was an awful experience. He feels now, and wants to say to the Inquiry, that people can kick him as hard as they want but he will not stay lying down.

That ends the summary of Mr Anthony Gant’s evidence.

I’m going to move to two summaries which will be read together now. Those are the summaries of the evidence of Mrs Amanda Barber and Mr Norman Barber, who were married, and together experienced Horizon at the Thelwell Post Office.

Mrs Amanda Barber


Ms Patrick: First, the summary of the evidence of Amanda Barber.

Amanda Barber became subpostmaster of the Thelwall branch in 2009 when she bought the business using a Post Office loan via Barclays Bank. She worked there with her husband, Norman. Prior to that. Mrs Barber had her bus had purchased a previous Post Office from her father in Lancaster. Her father ran that one before Mrs Barber and her husband took it over. They ran that Post Office for approximately three years. In addition to that work, Mrs Barber and her husband frequently worked for the National Register.

Mrs Barber reported issues with Horizon to the Post Office on a number of occasions. She says the Post Office wouldn’t listen and said that she had to make good any shortfalls. An official audit was done on Mrs Barber’s Post Office on 21 June 2011. She was present at the time. Before they had even checked the balance, they had suspended Mrs Barber and claimed to have found a shortfall. The auditors found a deficit total of £5,631.84 at the store.

Mrs Barber was asked then to attend an interview with Post Office officials at the Warrington Sorting Office. She was charged with fraud.

She was told that she would likely avoid a custodial sentence if she pled guilty. At Warrington Magistrates’ Court, she was persuaded to plead guilty to charges of fraud in order to lessen her sentence. This was on the advice of her legal team, including that there were issues with the evidence available. On 6 June 2012, Mrs Barber was sentenced to a 12-month community order and a requirement to complete 100 hours of unpaid community service. She has been trying to pay back the Post Office. Her conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on 18 November 2021.

Mrs Barber, as a result of her conviction, together with her husband, were also thereafter prevented from working for the National Register which had been another source of income for them both.

Mrs Barber became depressed and anxious and at times felt suicidal. She went to her GP to ask for help, as she didn’t want to be here anymore. She was placed on antidepressants and Mrs Barber still takes these now. She says that she and her husband now live in a caravan due to the lesser expense, and they have done so for many years.

Following the conviction, Mr and Mrs Barber’s family stopped talking to them. Mrs Barber pleaded guilty to avoid a custodial sentence as such people saw them as guilty. They also convicted Mrs Barber’s husband, even though she was the postmistress and he just helped out. Mrs Barber and her husband had had a big role in the wider community, not only within the Post Office and the newsagents, but they had helped with the introduction of Post Offices in WH Smith shops. Mrs Barber’s daughter worked with them in the newsagent section of the business. She, their daughter, was deeply affected by everything that had happened and they had to support her too. The daughter no longer works and feels just as isolated as they do.

Mr Norman Barber


Ms Patrick: We’ll move to the summary of the evidence of Mr Norman Barber.

Norman Barber’s married to Amanda Barber, who was prosecuted by the Post Office and convicted of an offence in relation to alleged missing monies at Thelwall Post Office. Mr Barber was not in a contractual relationship with the Post Office.

In 2009, Mrs Barber became the subpostmaster and Mr Barber would occasionally help alongside his role then at Manchester Airport where he worked on the car parks. They bought the Post Office with a bank loan. Prior to this, Mr and Mrs Barber ran a post office in Lancaster, which before them used to belong to Mrs Barber’s father.

Mr Barber was aware of shortfalls within the system for some time but couldn’t explain them and, at one point, thought the staff members had been dishonest. These problems were reported to the Post Office but they were told to make good any shortfall and problems, as such, saw Mr and Mrs Barber using their own money to make up for these losses. Mr Barber said that when they no longer could afford to put their own money in:

“I used inheritance money to pay back the deficits. We even took out credit cards and loans to try and clear the balances.”

On 21 June 2011, an audit was conducted at Thelwall Post Office and a shortfall found. Mr Barber was aware of the shortfall and he had already organised somebody to buy his car the very next day to try to make it up. The auditors, he says, simply weren’t interested and suspended Mrs Barber on the spot.

Mr Barber says:

“We were suddenly treated like criminals. My wife’s car was searched and we were both interviewed under caution. The whole experience was degrading and frightening.”

Later that day, Mr Barber recalls an agency worker attended the Post Office after turning up in a sports car. Mr Barber says that agent gloated and laughed about how he had been able to make money from these scenarios.

Although Mr Barber was not employed by the Post Office, he was told that he would have to attend the police station to give a statement. Initially, he tried to refuse. However, a police officer turned up at the house and Mr Barber was taken to the police station where two investigators interviewed him. Mr Barber attended Warrington Magistrates’ Court on 6 June 2012 with Mrs Barber and pleaded guilty to fraud. Both pleaded guilty after the legal representatives told them they would most likely go to prison if they didn’t.

Following the guilty plea, Mr Barber received a 12-month community order and the requirement to undertake 100 hours of unpaid work. To pay the shortfall back, Mr and Mrs Barber had to find money from external sources. They used £50,000 of inheritance, borrowed £30,000 from family, and sold their family car. Mr and Mrs Barber had to sell their business at a loss and they also had to sell their home when they could no longer pay the mortgage. Their home then took three years to sell; all the while, the debt they incurred was mounting.

In addition to this, Mr Barber gives evidence as to the detail of their convictions being reported in both local and national press. He says:

“It felt like everyone knew who we were and what we allegedly did. It was very embarrassing for us and as such we avoided going out as much as possible. It was humiliating as people wouldn’t make eye contact with us and avoided us completely. We were very much involved in our local community and knew most of the residents. They suddenly stopped talking to us.”

Mr Barber says his mental health suffered too. He says:

“I became depressed and knew that this was going to financially ruin me and my wife. I put all my efforts into doing as many hours as I could at the airport seven days a week, and my wife and I barely saw each other.”

Mr Barber says his conviction also put a strain on his relationships, including with his family. Prior to the incident, he and Mrs Barber had a big role in the community and were well known. He said:

“Following the conviction, everyone only saw us as guilty and people just stopped talking to us. Even our family stopped speaking and seeing us. It was horrific.”

The only family that Mr Barber speaks to, other than Mrs Barber, is now their daughter. They lost contact even with close family, he says, who saw them as guilty. Their experiences also had an impact on their daughter and she was, he says, “deeply impacted by the way they were treated” and, he says, “since the incident she’s never worked.”He believes it’s had a devastating impact on her and it will be difficult for her to move on.

Whilst Mr and Mrs Barber’s convictions have now been overturned, he says:

“The experience has marked us forever.”

He adds:

“The whole process makes me angry, and I’m still angry now – particularly as the Post Office apparently knew all about this and didn’t prevent it from happening.”

He says he continues to experience these feelings, and adds:

“Having strangers retelling our stories brings back these feelings all the time.”

Sir, I think that may be a convenient time to stop.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much. So the clock in front of me is idiosyncratic, to say the least. What is the time? It’s 1.02, okay. So we’ll start again at 2.00. Fine.

(1.01 pm)

(Luncheon Adjournment)

(2.00 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, Ms Hodge?

Ms Hodge: Our next witness is Mr Mark Kelly.

Mark Kelly


Questioned by Ms Hodge

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

Please can you state your full name.

Mark Kelly: My full name is Mark Francis Brian Kelly.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Mr Kelly, you made a statement on 20 January of this year; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

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

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Please could you turn to the final page of your statement at page 20.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that your signature at the top of the page?

Mark Kelly: Yes, it is.

Ms Hodge: Have you had a chance to reread your statement since you made it on 20 January?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

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

Mark Kelly: Yes, everything is fine, except from the background, number 3. It’s saying part time; it was full time.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, is this paragraph 3?

Mark Kelly: Paragraph 3, yes.

Ms Hodge: You are referring to your work for Lloyds Bank?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You were, in fact, working full time; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. So apart from that one correction is the content otherwise true?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. I would like to begin by asking you a few questions about your background.

How old are you now?

Mark Kelly: I’m 43 years old.

Ms Hodge: And you are married; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Married, yes. Her name is Olga Kelly.

Ms Hodge: For how long have you been married to Mrs Kelly?

Mark Kelly: 22 years, coming up to.

Ms Hodge: After you left school, you studied at Cardiff University; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: What was your degree in?

Mark Kelly: Computer science.

Ms Hodge: What did you do upon leaving university?

Mark Kelly: We went and took over my parents’ Post Office because my Mum had an armed robbery so she had a breakdown from it and she was getting losses which at the time we thought they were to do the fact that she wasn’t IT – so good on IT. So we did a family transfer to keep the office open for the community because in the place there were a lot of old pensioners, there was a day centre, there was a disabled centre nearby.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. You have just explained that you took over your parents’ branch.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: If I can just ask you a first question about that, which branch are you referring to?

Mark Kelly: Brondeg Post Office.

Ms Hodge: Where is that located?

Mark Kelly: In Swansea, in Mandelson.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Before you took over the branch, did you assist your parents in running it?

Mark Kelly: Yes, I used to be a post office clerk.

Ms Hodge: Was that whilst you were working full time at Lloyd’s Bank?

Mark Kelly: That was working like on the weekend and working in between Lloyd’s and at university and things.

Ms Hodge: When did your parents acquire that branch?

Mark Kelly: They acquired it in 1997 and it was paper-based at the time, and they went for the training and I went for the training with my Mum, the initial training, and then I went to a training when I took over the Post Office again.

Ms Hodge: Was your mother the subpostmistress of the branch?

Mark Kelly: Yes, she was.

Ms Hodge: You have explained that your parents’ branch experienced an armed robbery; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when that was?

Mark Kelly: I think that was 1998 and they didn’t take any money because my Dad fought the armed robber. They had a gun and he was in the navy before and he got a medal from the Post Office for it and from all that stress caused my Mum to get sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Ms Hodge: Was it at that point that you decided to take over running the branch?

Mark Kelly: Not straight away. Once we finished university and things and my wife and I got married they did a family transfer, because I think for about a year or so my Dad was a temporary postmaster for health reasons and then I took over then.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when you were appointed as the subpostmaster of the branch?

Mark Kelly: I was appointed 17 January 2003.

Ms Hodge: You have described a transfer taking place.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you just explain what did you pay to purchase the branch?

Mark Kelly: The Post Office was, I think, roughly £140,000 but they did – because we just got married, they did a transfer of 40,000 to my wife and I as like a wedding-type gift, so then we took a £100,000 loan from the bank to purchase the rest.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall signing any documents when you were appointed as a subpostmaster?

Mark Kelly: It was like a two or three page document, not the big 40-page contract. It’s like a – appointment of office I think it was called.

Ms Hodge: So conditions of appointment –

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – you have mentioned; is that right? That’s what you mention in your statement. What did that two-page document cover?

Mark Kelly: It just covered saying like you’re the postmaster of Brondeg Post Office, these are the hours you have to open, et cetera.

Ms Hodge: Were you required to sign any other documents?

Mark Kelly: No, just the only bit was to sign to say this is what the account was when my parents had it and this is the account that I have now; so from that time onwards, any gains or losses are my responsibility.

Ms Hodge: How much income did you receive from the Post Office when you were appointed the subpostmaster?

Mark Kelly: When I was appointed, it was about, I think, 21,000.

Ms Hodge: Did that increase –

Mark Kelly: Increased and goes up to about, in a couple of years, about 30,000.

Ms Hodge: What sorts of goods and services did you provide from the branch?

Mark Kelly: At the very beginning, when we took over from my parents, we had just the Post Office and stationery and greeting cards, but we got rid of the greeting cards and put like a little pet shop in there and, a bit later on, we did DVD rentals as well.

Ms Hodge: You have mentioned a pet shop.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Was that a successful venture?

Mark Kelly: It was successful whilst the Post Office was open, yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you employ staff to help you run the branch?

Mark Kelly: We employed two staff. We employed my wife, Olga Kelly, and the second one was Caroline Butler I think her name was.

Ms Hodge: Before we come to your experience of using Horizon, I’d like to ask you about the two armed robberies that you experienced whilst you were subpostmaster of the branch.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: The first was in November 2003; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: On that occasion you describe being threatened with a gun and a rock. Is that what happened?

Mark Kelly: Yes, a rock, and they used a rock and threw it through the counter and when it was going through the counter we had – I had to move my head so I went away from the counter so I didn’t press the panic button. We went to the back and we called 999 on the phone.

After about I think let’s say £45,000 was stolen or something the Post Office wrote a couple of days later saying we are liable for the whole amount because we didn’t press the panic button. I spoke to Mark Baker at the time and he said that’s very, very outrageous. I wrote a letter to my head of area, Ruth – that’s her surname, I don’t know her first name – and I wrote and said, “If you come to my office, stay behind the counter. Don’t move 1 centimetre, I’ll throw a brick at you. I’ll gladly pay the £45,000”.

After that letter, I went to see Angela, the head of area, and afterwards it was then dropped, that request for that £45,000 for the loss.

Ms Hodge: The second occasion I think was on 16 November 2004; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: On that occasion – forgive me, in relation to the figures you mentioned, the November 2003, you recall the sum of £47,000.

Mark Kelly: Yes, the one that’s on my statement is the more correct one, yes.

Ms Hodge: Right, because I think it was on the second occasion that you have stated a sum of about £40,000 was stolen.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And the police attended your branch on that occasion; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: The police and the audit people came at the same time, yes, and they counted the stock and they confirmed that everything was – the amount was stolen and there was nothing left in the office and they said everything had gone, in other words.

Ms Hodge: What action was taken by the police in relation to the theft?

Mark Kelly: On the police, they did manage to capture one person for the armed robbery. When the police asked the Post Office do they want to claim the losses from the person who did the armed robbery, the Post Office declined and they then tried to claim the loss from us again.

Ms Hodge: Just to be clear, the Post Office were asked by the police if they wished to recover the sum of approximately £47,000 from the person who had been identified as stealing it?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And they said no?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: But they did come after you for the sum?

Mark Kelly: Yes, and the police used blood to find that person.

Ms Hodge: Did you pay that sum?

Mark Kelly: No. We had an argument and then it was dropped.

Ms Hodge: I’ll come back to the audit of your branch on that occasion but I’d like to ask you now about training. You have mentioned already that your parents acquired the branch in 1997 and you attended some training with your mother; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when Horizon was first installed at your parents’ branch?

Mark Kelly: I think it was installed in 1999.

Ms Hodge: And is it correct that you had already begun to assist your parents in running the branch by that stage?

Mark Kelly: Yes, I was – from 1997 onwards I was always in the Post Office, either full-time or part-time depending on the situation, like university and things, and I was there when Horizon was installed and when it was paper-based as well.

Ms Hodge: You have explained you received a day of training; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: With my Mum.

Ms Hodge: Initially?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: In a hotel near to your Post Office?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you briefly describe what that training entailed?

Mark Kelly: It entailed how to use Horizon quickly and also how to like up-sell, but mostly just how to use Horizon, but it wasn’t a live system. It was just a dummy terminal. I managed to pick it up very, very quickly but my Mum struggled with it. She was the last one to leave that day.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall whether you or your mother received any training on the balancing of accounts?

Mark Kelly: Not on that one day training. I know later on my Mum requested a trainer to come to help her balance and I don’t know the result of that balance, did it balance or not, I don’t know.

Ms Hodge: What was your impression of the adequacy of that training that you received at that time?

Mark Kelly: For people who were at that time buying Post Office or running Post Office who were not brought up with IT and things, I thought it didn’t – it lacked very good training because like my Mum she doesn’t use computers and she struggled with it and a lot of other people were struggling from it.

Ms Hodge: When you were appointed the subpostmaster in 2003, did you receive any further training?

Mark Kelly: Yes, we went to – at the time it was, I don’t know if it still exists, it was called Albany Road Post Office in Cardiff, went to training there and they also came to my office as well. At the time, we also told the trainee some things that they were telling people to be wrong. Like one thing was British Gas payments with a smartcard, they cannot be reversed. So you had to make sure the customer’s got a payment before you do the transaction. Whereas other transactions you can reverse it, those ones you can’t. So if you don’t get the money, then if the customer can’t pay you’ll be short because you can’t reverse it.

Ms Hodge: Is this something your trainer –

Mark Kelly: Did not know.

Ms Hodge: Did not know, but which you explained?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: In your view, how knowledgeable was your trainer about that Horizon system?

Mark Kelly: I would say quite average – not that good.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any training in branch?

Mark Kelly: I received like the trainer who came for one balance and sat with us but, see, because she felt that we knew more than her she just didn’t do much. She just watched us really.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any further training from the Post Office after your –

Mark Kelly: The only training we got then afterwards, we used to get these memo books every week or every couple of weeks sent in the post and it would say this is the new product, this is how you process it.

One thing I did tell the Post Office I thought was annoying as a sub-post office we had to open from 9 am until 5 pm five days a week, whereas the Crown Office always had a training time to train the staff which was 9 to 9.30 on a Wednesday, so any new products came in they can train their staff how to run it, whereas we had to do it whilst the customers were coming in and out.

Ms Hodge: If I’ve understood you correctly, you are saying the Post Office communicated changes in products to you via a weekly memo?

Mark Kelly: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you find that helpful?

Mark Kelly: I found it all right for myself but I also think it could have been better for other people like having an CD with a video demonstration and things like that, which they didn’t do.

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

Mark Kelly: I did experience some losses and errors and there was – there were a few losses like on foreign exchange. There was a £200 error notice which was tracked to a customer but it was used a debit card, and because he changed his debit card, we couldn’t get the money back from the Post Office.

Ms Hodge: What were you advised to do? Who were you to contact if you experienced problems with Horizon?

Mark Kelly: I called the helpline. Sometimes they would say contact the customer like on that currency. Sometimes they might say contact Alliance & Leicester at the time or sometimes they would say, well, you’re the only one with the problem at the beginning and it should come and sort itself out like in a couple of weeks time if there was an error or whatever.

Ms Hodge: How often did you contact the helpline? Can you recall?

Mark Kelly: I would say on different occasions, different problems, it would be five times a week.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you about an issue you reported in January 2006 relating to a suspected bug in the Horizon system.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement that you identified a bug relating to the smart post stamp function?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you explain what that is, please.

Mark Kelly: At the time they were just moving from having stamps in the office to having stamps being produced on a label so it creates the stock virtually and – do you want me to explain the bug?

Ms Hodge: Well, please.

Mark Kelly: Yes. What the bug was, when the virtual stock gets generated it allows it to have anything else that is on the stack to be ghosted so it becomes two transactions, so if you had like a £200 BT bill then the system would think there was two times £200 BT bill. But when you do your accounts and stuff the second bill is not shown. If you did a deposit of, say, £400 then it will come up as two £400 deposits. If you took money out of say £300 it would take out £300 times two. It doubles it.

Ms Hodge: Were you able to work out why the stamp function was causing those discrepancies?

Mark Kelly: I couldn’t work out 100 per cent what was causing it but it was causing two transactions, and that’s – the reason that made me look for all these problems was if you go back to the second robbery, after the police and the audit did all my accounts, they told me I had to open the next day, if I didn’t open the next day then don’t bother opening at all.

So once we did the – our account, the system came up and said we were minus £2,000 on the office and I had a big argument with the help desk and I said how can I be on minus 2,000. I can’t give more than what the office have. In the end, it was agreed that it would be put into a suspense account which it stayed until 2006 and that’s why I’ve been looking.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Coming back to the question of this bug that you suspected in the system, what did you do to try to get to the bottom of the problem?

Mark Kelly: I contacted the Post Office help desk, reported it. I also contacted a couple of other offices I know to see if they had the same – if they do the same step would it cause the same problem and they have confirmed it did.

The Post Office then later on referred it to sort of like a third level, which was Fujitsu, who called me up and they said, “We managed to replicate the bug. We know about it”.

I was at the time the branch secretary for the Swansea branch and I said, “Well, are you going to send a memo view to tell people just, for example, if you’re going to do a smart stamp don’t do any other transactions at the same time, just do them separately. That way the bug won’t get triggered”, and they said, “No, we won’t do that. We’ll just let it carry on”. I said, “Well, I will give you 30 days’ notice and if you don’t say anything, I will then make it public at the Federation conference”, at the time.

Sir Wyn Williams: Excuse me, could I just ask you to try and remember this conversation you were having, was it with the Post Office helpline or was it with an employee or employees of Fujitsu?

Mark Kelly: It was both. I called the help desk and later on the Fujitsu helpline called up.

Sir Wyn Williams: So you explained the existence of this bug?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Both to Post Office and Fujitsu?

Mark Kelly: Yes, and the Fujitsu person confirmed they replicated the bug in the internal.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Ms Hodge: You have explained that you told the Post Office that you would inform other subpostmasters if they didn’t. To your knowledge, did they inform other subpostmasters of the existence of this bug?

Mark Kelly: No.

Ms Hodge: Just to be absolutely clear, you have explained that you detected duplicate transactions, in effect, when this smart post stamp function was being used; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: In conjunction with a bank card payment; is that what triggered it?

Mark Kelly: If you use a bank card it brings the bug up so you can see it. If you don’t use a bank card it’s still relevant, it still happens. If you’ve used a bank card, it triggers the other bug that brings up the stack that you can see it happening.

Ms Hodge: So it was the fact of using the stamp function itself which was causing the duplication; is that right? To your knowledge?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You have mentioned that you experienced a number of shortfalls when using – forgive me, apparent shortfalls when you were using the Horizon system. One of them you have dated to 4 January 2006?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: That one you say related to the giros; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you explain what happened on that occasion.

Mark Kelly: Well, because at the time we had DVD rentals and things so we did open late sometimes, and it was something about we put the giros in about 8.00 at night and it turns out something about there’s a cut-off time but they don’t actually tell you if it’s not done by 7.30 it’s not counted or something, but we only found out after the error notice we got told it.

Ms Hodge: And what did you do to report that discrepancy?

Mark Kelly: What do you mean by that, sorry?

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, on this occasion you said you tried to put the giro through the system, is that right?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: But it hadn’t recorded it?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What then happened?

Mark Kelly: We got like an error notice saying there’s a shortfall and we had to pay it back.

Ms Hodge: Did you pay it back?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you do that?

Mark Kelly: Just put the cash into the office.

Ms Hodge: You have set out in your statement a number of shortfalls that you experienced. You have itemised them between paragraphs 52 and 56. I don’t propose to take you through each even every one but I have a couple of questions for you, if I may.

How did you keep records of the shortfalls that you experienced?

Mark Kelly: When I was doing – when I was getting all the documents for the High Court, because we lost our house and my wife did keep some of the documents we could find, when I was going through all the documents I found some of these error notices still within the files. So that’s how I got those actual days and figures and submitted it on to the accounts.

Ms Hodge: When you say within the files, are you talking about electronic records or paper records –

Mark Kelly: Paper records.

Ms Hodge: – that you had retained. Had you printed those off the system or were they handwritten records you had made yourself?

Mark Kelly: No, they were actually error notice from the Post Office or error notice from the Horizon, stuff like that.

Ms Hodge: In relation to the figures you have mentioned, you have said against the vast majority of them that they were repaid in full.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you repay those sums?

Mark Kelly: Normally at the beginning you would put the money into the account and then when you balance it will put it back up or I think later on it would come up on the system saying there was an error notice, do you agree or not agree? You can say yes and then it will adjust itself and you need to put the money in.

Ms Hodge: Were you always putting cash in or were you having money deducted from your salary as well?

Mark Kelly: No, I never did the salary deduction, to my knowledge.

Ms Hodge: You’ve said in respect of many of these shortfalls that you declared them by following the Post Office procedure. Do you mean by that that you reported them to the helpline?

Mark Kelly: They either noticed the error and they sent me an error notice for it or I reported it to the helpline, yes.

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

Mark Kelly: The only one I know on top of my head, the total was the final one of the 13,000. Now, if you add the other ones beforehand, I can’t tell you how much that is altogether, no.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described – we’ve discussed already the armed robbery that you experienced on 16 November 2004. I’d like to ask you a bit more about the audit that took place on the day that – I think it was, forgive me, the following day; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: The audit was done on the day of the robbery.

Ms Hodge: The same day?

Mark Kelly: They came, I think it was the same day. They came with the police and they saw what was stolen and they confirmed whatever amount was stolen at the time and there was nothing left in the office.

Ms Hodge: So the purpose of that specific audit was simply to establish how much money had been taken; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that a shortfall appeared the following day; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Yes, because I had to balance that because it happened on a Tuesday and Wednesday was the day that we had to balance. So we used Wednesday to also get the door fixed and when we did the balance the system came up that we were minus £2,000 short.

Ms Hodge: Now, when the auditor had checked how much was missing the previous day, what had the auditor then done?

Mark Kelly: He just signed on the paper and it was like no money left in the office and that’s why when he came to do the audit – when he came next day to do a balance it came up minus 2,000.

Ms Hodge: Had there been any transactions put through the system between the auditor leaving and you balancing the following day?

Mark Kelly: No, nothing. We were completely closed and they were putting the door in.

Ms Hodge: What did you do when this apparent shortfall of £2,000 arose?

Mark Kelly: I called the Post Office up, the help desk, and I said I’m not accepting this £2,000 shortfall. I said, “We’ve been closed. The day before the Post Office with the police and the audit team counted all the money and they confirmed what was stolen. Unless you’re saying they took the money, I don’t see how it could be minus £2,000 in the office”.

We had a big argument. They said, “You have to accept it if you want to open”. I said, “I’m not going to accept it”, so in the end it was agreed to put it into the suspense account which it stayed until 2006.

Ms Hodge: You ran your branch for approximately three-and-a-half years; is that right –

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: – as the subpostmaster?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How many times were your accounts audited in that time?

Mark Kelly: After Network Reinvention started to become a thing in the network, we start – and after – so there was – in our area there was Brondeg Post Office, there was Robert Street Post Office and there was Cwmbwrla Post Office, and at the time the Post Office wanted to close Cwmbwrla Post Office, which they agreed, and they wanted to close one other office, either myself or Robert Street, and then they were going to put a new office at CK Supermarket down the road.

I didn’t want to close because of the community. We were very close to the disabled centre and things, whereas Robert Street did want to close but he then later on changed. After the first robbery they came back to us and said, “Did you want to close now because you had the armed robbery”. I said, “No, I will still want to stay open because I want to provide the service for the community at the time”. In hindsight, I probably should have closed then but hindsight is a good thing to have.

After that, when I refused it in 2003, that’s when we started to get a lot more audits, to – thinking they were trying to find something to close an office down, and one audit I think was some time in 2004 in the summer. He came in and overall we were about £200 short which we paid it back with a cheque. But he was there for like nearly all day and he was looking through all the stock, all the – all the stock, all the accounts transaction on the phone, like he was looking for something but he couldn’t find it, so then he had to go with that £200.

Ms Hodge: The final audit of your branch was on 20 July 2006; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: By whom was that audit conducted?

Mark Kelly: Initially, the retail line manager said that she’s coming in because a customer complained about the lavender smell saying it was putting her off having a lavender smell in the office, and the fact that we recommended sending a parcel to Russia in a certain way, which we never would have done. She said, “Because I’m here, I will check – I’ll do an audit”, and when she did the audit she was something like – I can’t remember in my head now. I think it was £9,000 short. I did not know where that shortfall come.

There was a couple – there was some money which I think I might have known where it came from at the time but not a £9,000 figure. I can’t remember what it was, maybe £200 or £1,000 shortfall, I wouldn’t know. She said that, “Well, we’re going to now have to close your office”, and she called for an audit team to come down. There’s one guy who had been coming now for the last three years. It’s the same audit person. When he did the audit he found about £13,000 short, so it’s gone up from £9,000 up to £13,000.

At the time the retail line manager said that, “If you resign your position then we won’t prosecute you for false accounting and theft”, so I just said in the end, “Okay, I’ll resign then”, and I called – I called Keith Richards about what was going on. He said, “Well, because you resigned now you’re on your own”.

I called –

Ms Hodge: Who’s Keith Richards, please?

Mark Kelly: He was the Welsh Executive Officer.

Sir Wyn Williams: Of the Federation?

Mark Kelly: Yes. I called Mark Baker and Mark Baker said, “Well, you haven’t been paid your grant, so less offsetting as well”, and also he advised to get a solicitor, “Don’t go with the Federation or go by yourself”. So we got a solicitor.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Mr Kelly, just coming back, you have mentioned that you resigned. Were you suspended before you took the decision to resign from your position as a subpostmaster?

Mark Kelly: Sorry, I was suspended then. Later on I resigned, sorry, yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when you were suspended?

Mark Kelly: I was suspended on that day. It was later on I resigned.

Ms Hodge: Is that the date of the audit?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, you just explained you were advised by Mr Baker to obtain a legal representative; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: That was in connection with the criminal investigation?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement you were invited to attend an interview under caution.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Was that in connection with the alleged shortfall that was found in July 2006?

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Who invited you to attend your interview under caution?

Mark Kelly: The first time the Post Office interviewed me and they wanted to interview me when I was under the Mental Health Act and the solicitor said no, that’s unacceptable because they completely – during the interview, completely traumatised. I couldn’t remember – I just could not answer anything. I can’t remember that part much.

Ms Hodge: I quite understand.

You’ve just mentioned that you were detained under the Mental Health Act; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: When did that happen?

Mark Kelly: After the – when I got suspended the GP gave me tablets and stuff. When I went then to the – the Post Office wanted to interview me and I start to have an interview and I just completely blanked out. What I’d been told by people at the time I didn’t – I could not respond to names or anything and the Post Office said, “Oh, that’s fine. We can carry on”. My solicitors, “No, he can’t. He’s not fit to be interviewed”.

Ms Hodge: So you had a solicitor with you on that first occasion that you attended for interview?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right, with I think you said it was Post Office investigators; is that correct?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall where that interview took place?

Mark Kelly: The first one I don’t remember but the second one was at the police station.

Ms Hodge: And it was during the course of that interview that you experienced a breakdown in your mental health; is that right?

Mark Kelly: On the first one –

Ms Hodge: The first interview.

Mark Kelly: – I had the breakdown, yes. The second one I do remember was at the police station. That one I do – the second one I remember more than the first one.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you receive treatment?

Mark Kelly: Well, I had treatment longer than that but the doctor said I was well enough to be interviewed under caution about six months later and that’s then at the police station.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall for how long you were detained in hospital? You were detained in hospital?

Mark Kelly: No, I was outside –

Ms Hodge: Forgive me. Sorry, please do carry on.

Mark Kelly: I was in the house but the doctor had, like, control of my medication, finance and things.

Ms Hodge: Right. Had you had any problems with your mental health before these events occurred?

Mark Kelly: No.

Ms Hodge: What do you believe was the trigger for these events?

Mark Kelly: The fact that the Post Office was – all the losses, the stress from it, trying to find it all, and no-one would listen, and how they conducted themselves afterwards with all the threats, like on the second enquiry – not enquiry, the second interview, when the solicitor said that we would use the bug that he found as part of the defence and the Post Office then sort of left it, but just before we left it was said, “Oh, we might go for your wife”, and that completely phased me then and I panicked again and I said, “Oh, I’ll plead if you want”, because at the time my wife was on a visa for UK.

Ms Hodge: Just to break that down a little bit, Mr Kelly, I think you’ve explained that after you were under the care of your GP for six months?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right, and he said you were fit to be interviewed again?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You attended a second interview?

Mark Kelly: Yes, and they knew why I was – I couldn’t do the interview the first time. They knew it was because of my anxiety and panic from PTSD from the doctor.

Ms Hodge: On the second occasion you were represented again by a lawyer; is that right?

Mark Kelly: The same one, yes.

Ms Hodge: What advice did your lawyer give you precisely as to how you were to defend yourself against the charges?

Mark Kelly: They said just plead not guilty and if they want to proceed it to court they would use the bug that I discovered as part of the defence to – against the – why the figure was £13,000.

Ms Hodge: When you refer to the bug, you’re talking about that stamp post – sorry, the smart post stamp function; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: Which you had raised back in January 2006?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: What evidence did you have to show that this had occurred and that you had raised concerns about it?

Mark Kelly: I got the screenshots and I called them up. If you told me did I have any call references, I do have but I don’t know where they are now. But I did call them up at the time.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Kelly, I’m not as familiar with jargon about computers as some people. When you say you had screenshots can you tell me what you had done to get those.

Mark Kelly: Well, I did every single step and I took a screenshot.

Sir Wyn Williams: So a photograph with your mobile phone or something; is that what you’re talking about?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, fine.

Mark Kelly: And it showed at the very end the double transaction.

Sir Wyn Williams: So you had a sort of photographic record of what you had discovered in relation to Horizon.

Mark Kelly: Correct, it’s a physical – you can see the step by step the bug getting produced.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, thanks. I just wanted to make sure I had it right.

Ms Hodge: In terms of timings, I know it’s difficult to recall precise dates but we know that your audit occurred on 20 July 2006. So this second interview would have been approximately six months later; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: Roughly.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And you had retained these screenshots you had taken; is that right?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: What had you done with those?

Mark Kelly: I gave them to my solicitor who used that as part of the defence.

Ms Hodge: During the course of your interview?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: Right.

Mark Kelly: They showed the screenshots to those people because what they initially said to her was how are you going to prove this bug exists because she said she knew about this bug and then she dropped the screenshots, and they were surprised and then that’s when it practically terminated.

Ms Hodge: You have mentioned already your first interview was carried out by Post Office investigators?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Who conducted your second interview?

Mark Kelly: The same people, the same two – two men.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained when shown that evidence the Post Office didn’t take any further action against you; is that right?

Mark Kelly: They didn’t take any further action but they also did not say they were not going to proceed anymore. So for years later I just felt like if I – firstly because the Secrets Act, if I did make it more public they would go after me and also at the time I wasn’t well enough.

It was only 2010 I started to become more well and that’s when I discovered about all the other people getting affected with Horizon and people committing suicide, person – Seema, who went to prison pregnant, and I started to feel guilty about all of that and I felt I was partly to blame for it all.

Ms Hodge: You have mentioned already that your wife assisted you in running the branch.

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: Did she herself come under suspicion with the Post Office in relation to the shortfall of circa £12,000/£13,000?

Mark Kelly: She didn’t come – she wasn’t suspected of it until my solicitor presented that bug, the screenshot, and then they’ve said at the end, “Well, we might then prosecute your wife if you don’t plead guilty”, and that completely flipped me up then.

Ms Hodge: You recall this being after you produced the evidence of the bug?

Mark Kelly: Yes, and the solicitor said then, “I’ll sort it out with them”, after I left.

Ms Hodge: You’ve told us already that you ultimately chose to resign your office as a subpostmaster?

Mark Kelly: I resigned on that day, on the second interview, permanently, yes.

Ms Hodge: What led you to that decision?

Mark Kelly: It was too stressful. I couldn’t handle anymore. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t think of anything and I knew I couldn’t – I wouldn’t be able to run it anymore. Even if they said to me you can have the office back I wouldn’t be able to run it then. I was too gone.

Ms Hodge: What had you originally hoped to do with your Post Office business and your retail businesses?

Mark Kelly: Well, we were originally hoping to keep the office going, the pet shop would carry on, it was expanding at the time, and we would start a family because it was a three-bedroomed house, no sorry, four, it was a four bedroom house, which would have been enough to have a family, but after the breakdown and things like that and we lost the house from it all, we thought we couldn’t have a family because we had no house, no stability. And the reason we lost the house was the bank, NatWest, they had on the business loan it had to be a post office, because the post office had got closed they would not take any money to pay the loan and they recalled it instead and they would not give the lease, the deed, to Lloyd’s for it to be remortgaged so it got repossessed in the end.

Ms Hodge: That left you without a home?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: Is that right? In terms of your original investment in the business you’ve explained you were gifted £45,000 by your parents?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: Which you used as equity to fund the purchase of the premises?

Mark Kelly: It counted as a deposit for the loan.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, and you had taken the loan of approximately £100,000?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: In relation to the business?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You have mentioned that the house was repossessed. What then happened to the property?

Mark Kelly: It was sold at auction for about £85,000.

Ms Hodge: And how were the proceeds of sale administered?

Mark Kelly: It was just sold and NatWest kept the money for the business loan, that was it, and the £13,000 shortfall the Post Office said I was liable for, it was offset against the grant they haven’t paid yet because we were supposed to have about £13,000 grant under the network reinvention because we hadn’t been paid for it yet, so it cancelled each other out.

Ms Hodge: So were you allowed to offset those sums?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: That was for an alleged shortfall shown by Horizon?

Mark Kelly: When I got interviewed there was a £13,000 shortfall and I was – there was a £13,000 outstanding grant Post Office hadn’t paid me, so it cancelled each other out.

Ms Hodge: Was the grant the matter that Mark Baker had raised?

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: I think you mentioned that Mark Baker had alerted you for the fact that you would be entitled to a grant under the network transformation programme.

What is the current state of your finances Mr Kelly?

Mark Kelly: Well, everything is in my wife’s name. She’s got the shop because I can’t really now run a business. I don’t trust myself to do it all. I help my wife in the shop until this Covid all started, and I also help with my Mum, I do the care, because she’s now got, sort of – she can’t remember things at all and she can’t move much so I have to be her carer.

Ms Hodge: Have you – you have explained you are caring for your Mum. Were you able to find alternative employment when your appointment as a subpostmaster ended?

Mark Kelly: No, because I didn’t – because one thing is I had all that mental illness, I couldn’t trust myself, I thought, to do things. And also I felt if I contacted the Post Office for, like, a reference or whatever they might say, oh – firstly, they probably wouldn’t give a good reference if they would but also they might have said, “Oh, we forgot to prosecute him” or something. So I just – I didn’t do anything. Just help with my wife, I did, in the business.

Ms Hodge: You’ve told us already what impact the first interview had on your mental health. Can you describe how you felt at the time psychologically to be experiencing repeated shortfalls in your accounts shown by the Horizon system?

Mark Kelly: I got very, very stressed, especially sometimes when the office was not that busy and we still had some big shortfall and … anxious and it was quite irritating to call the helpline and you have to wait, like, until next day for information which doesn’t always help.

Ms Hodge: We know that as a result of your first interview you were placed under the care of your GP.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when you were invited to attend a second interview by the Post Office under caution?

Mark Kelly: Very, very anxious basically, because it was at the police station, and nervous but it’s something that had to be done.

Ms Hodge: What’s been the longer term effect of these events upon your health and your well-being?

Mark Kelly: Well, I’m very, very anxious now and I get stressed quite easily and I got PTSD and I quite often blame myself. I keep on thinking that I caused some of these problems for a lot of people, the fact that I didn’t publish the bug when I could have. I’ve become quite suicidal and a couple of times did try to do it. Yeah.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned your wife Olga and your aspirations, your previous aspirations to have a family.

Mark Kelly: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How has she been affected?

Mark Kelly: She’s been more – she’s been a bit stressed and she’s been a bit recluse-less but she is stronger than me and – yeah, going back to the bit you … I can’t. I lost track of that bit. Never mind.

Ms Hodge: That’s okay. I was asking you about Olga, your wife.

Mark Kelly: Yeah, I know. She thinks we should just, like, carry on but it’s me who can’t. Like it was her who told me to go to the High Court, join the group, which I agree with because I was thinking could I cope with it, opening old wounds and stuff.

Ms Hodge: But she encouraged you to join the Group Litigation?

Mark Kelly: Correct.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the audit and the criminal investigation have upon your standing in your local community?

Mark Kelly: There was a lot of rumours going around because we wasn’t put in the papers, but a lot of people thought, oh, we must have been involved in the armed robbery and that’s – that’s why we’d been closed because they found out that we took the money from the office and things, and that’s why it affected the pet shop as well then because people would not come in.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained you participated as a claimant in the Group Litigation.

Mark Kelly: Correct, yes.

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

Mark Kelly: I think in total 28,000. I think it was like – 19,000 – I think 20,000 for the first payment and 8,000 for the second one, something like that.

Ms Hodge: Did this amount cover the losses and the harm that you suffered?

Mark Kelly: No. It didn’t cover the house, nothing.

Ms Hodge: How do you feel now about the treatment that you received from the Post Office?

Mark Kelly: Not good. I actually think the Post Office were doing this to try to close offices down and not pay compensation. They were looking at ways to close them down because the other thing was, what I found out in the High Court – because I’ve always been wondering how my office got a £13,000 shortfall, and what came up in the High Court was they can do remote access. So it made me think did they went into my account to put a shortfall in there, so I would not be a postmaster to go to the Federation conference with those screenshots to make everyone in the conference aware of that bug at the time.

Ms Hodge: What do you think the Post Office needs to do now to put right what happened to you and other subpostmasters?

Mark Kelly: Firstly, they need to pay the full – not exclude the 555 from the compensation. Even though I agree – as myself, this is – that if we carried on fighting it would have dragged on for, like, another three years and people with convictions would have been waiting for another three years, they still were punishing the 555 that we’re not getting our full compensation. They keep saying it’s full and final.

They also, I think, will need to send like a referral letter that we can give to people we want to work or whatever to say the reason why they’ve not been working for ten years, five years, whatever is because of what we did to them.

And an apology, a sincere apology, in the papers and better training for other postmasters in the future.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, Mr Kelly. I have no further questions I wish to ask you. Is there anything you would like to say which we’ve not covered?

Mark Kelly: Two things which I’d like to say was – the first one is the – I think the law of the … should be activated. It was discussed on the Hillsborough Inquiry, the Hillsborough law, because – and there’s two, I can’t remember what they call it. One was the candid where the public people have to state the truth all the time, they can’t give false information and they have to give information if required.

And the second one was the fact that there is a limit of what they can use to prosecute people. So, for argument’s sake, a postmaster’s legal cover was normally like £50,000. So that would be like the legal budget the Post Office can use to take the person to court, not use millions of pounds to prosecute someone or in a civil case.

The second one which I think caused a lot of this problem was the fact that the law was changed in 1999 under the PACE 1984 where the computer evidence became an absolute proof in courts, unless someone can prove that the system wasn’t robust at the time of the errors, and I can see if that law is not changed somehow – and I can’t say how it would need to be changed – as we get more and more into computers that will be more scandals coming up with NHS medical records or banks and things.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, Mr Kelly.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much, Mr Kelly. Thank you for coming to give your evidence in such a clear and forthright manner. Thank you.

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

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m sorry that I’m now going to cause a delay in proceedings but, as I said, I have to take an engagement which has been long-standing for a little while. But hopefully by about 3.40 or 3.45 we can do some more reading of summaries if that’s acceptable to everyone. I can’t see Ms – yes, I can see Ms Patrick. Is that all right, Ms Patrick?

Ms Patrick: Yes, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: If I finish my engagement more quickly, I’ll let everyone know. But assume it will be about 3.40. Thank you very much.

(2.59 pm)

(A short break)

(3.41 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Whenever you are ready, Ms Patrick.

Ms Carina Price

MS CARINA PRICE, summary read by MS PATRICK.

Ms Patrick: Thank you, sir. We’re starting with a summary of the evidence of Ms Carina Price.

Ms Carina Price was appointed subpostmistress of Sopley Post Office in Dorset in 1999. She was married with two then young sons. She bought the business because it fitted well for her and her family’s needs. The Post Office was in a rural area and they lived in a four bedroom house next door which had a garden for the boys to play in.

Ms Price first received error notices on the Horizon system from 2002 to 2003. From then on, she noticed that the figures were regularly wrong and just wouldn’t balance. She would she says pull her hair out not being able to understand why. At first she thought it was her making the mistakes and she therefore paid for these initial shortfalls. She estimates out of her own pocket she put in £13,000. She phoned the help desk about these discrepancies to which they always said, “It will bounce back”, which she found very frustrating and unhelpful.

An auditor visited and Ms Price recalls them saying that she can’t just leave £2,000 in the suspense account. She was told to take that money and keep it herself. Ms Price said she couldn’t do that as it was Post Office money. Ms Price has various other audits before the audit in 2005 which led to her suspension. Until this audit in 2005, she had paid any shortfall as was shown by Horizon but can’t recall the amount of discrepancies at this stage as it was such a long time ago. Ms Price recalls:

“I would spend until the early hours trying to figure it out and in the end I just had to accept what figures and sign it off.”

An unannounced audit was carried out by the Post Office in 2005 and a shortfall of £13,000 was found. In 2006 she was charged with numerous counts of suppressing a valuable security and three counts of theft. As the case proceeded to court, her barrister informed her that the shortfalls were in excess of £17,000. She was advised to pay it before court but she realised that the loan she took out didn’t cover the shortfalls in addition to her living expenses and her mortgage she says:

“I had to take loan out of £37,784 to cover the shortfall, my living expenses and mortgage, believing that I would be able to work and then repay it.”

She adds:

“The whole situation caused me a huge amount of stress. It made me feel awful and very upset.”

The Post Office told her barrister that if she pled guilty she probably wouldn’t get a custodial sentence but she wasn’t willing to plead to something she didn’t do. She pleaded not guilty. Ms Price was summoned to the Crown Court at Bournemouth on 30 November 2005. After her conviction following trial, she was completely devastated and broke down in tears.

Her whole world, she says, had fallen apart. She never returned to Sopley because she thought her family would be better off without her. She was depressed and had suicidal thoughts. She lost her home, her shop, and her husband. Ms Price says:

“I felt like I wanted to jump under a lorry.”

She visited her GP who was aware of her conviction and she says treated her awfully to the point where she felt she couldn’t go back for treatment.

Ms Price was sentenced on 19 January 2006 to a suspended prison sentence. Her conviction was quashed in July 2021. Ms Price says she had always been the breadwinner of their family. Her physical health deteriorated and she struggled to cope. She was forced to take out a further loan of £20,000 due to financial pressure, pressure put on her to pay the Post Office. Ms Price says:

“I hated being in debt but I had no choice. It was not a comfortable feeling at all. I worried about how I would pay the mortgage.”

At first she says she missed a lot of repayments and the interest kept getting higher and higher. She had sleepless nights because she thought they were going to lose the house. Ms Price is still paying those loans back today and she feels she says like:

“I have spent my whole life living with a huge debt hanging over my head.”

Ms Price says once she had a good relationship with the people in the village. However, they read the articles published around the time of her conviction and decided not to believe her. One local Article suggested she had stolen from vulnerable people. Ms Price left Sopley a few months before her trial and separated from her husband. This involved leaving her sons behind with their father. She hasn’t seen her eldest son for quite a while. He doesn’t speak with her because she walked away. She has two grandchildren who she has never met. Despite trying to reach out, she thinks they do not want anything to do with her.

Ms Price keeps in touch with her youngest son and she enjoys playing games with him once a week. She says she has to live with the stigma and consequences of the conviction which has blighted her life and the lives of her immediate family. She wants to say to the Inquiry not a day passes when she doesn’t think about it.

Mr David Hedges


Ms Patrick: We move next to the summary of the evidence of Mr David Thomas Hedges.

Once Tom Hedges’ children had reached secondary school age, he and his wife looked for a change of lifestyle. After four or five months of looking, he was offered the opportunity to buy Hogsthorpe Post Office. Mr Hedges became subpostmaster of the branch. He says it had been drilled into him from the very start that he would be held responsible for any financial loss in the branch. He simply did not have the money to pay repeated shortfalls.

He made three separate arrangements to pay around £2,000 each time to the Post Office by instalments. It always seemed strange him, he says, that all the Post Office seemed to be worried about was getting the money, not why it had supposedly gone missing. Between 2003 and 2007 the Post Office he says had always dealt with losses in that way.

At the beginning of 2009 a large shortfall of £10,000 occurred. Around this time he borrowed £20,000 to put into the branch. It was, he says, becoming a money pit.

On 5 May 2010 the auditors visited his branch. A discrepancy of approximately £23,000 was found and he was immediately suspended. Following Mr Hedges’ interview under caution his contract was terminated on 14 June 2010 and he was charged with theft and three counts of false accounting. Mr Hedges pleaded guilty as he said he felt he had no option.

He was terrified he would end up in prison. The criminal solicitor appointed to represent him advised that if he agreed to plead guilty and was able to provide satisfactory character references, then his solicitor told him, Mr Hedges recalls, that he was 95 per cent certain that he would receive a suspended sentence rather than a custodial one. Mr Hedges recalls the Post Office was seeking a 4-year custodial sentence. He was subsequently sentenced on 4 February 2011 at Lincoln Crown Court and he was sentenced to seven months imprisonment suspended for 18 months, together with 120 hours of unpaid work and costs of £1,000.

A few days after Mr Hedges was sentenced his older daughter had to go to someone’s house and listen to the owners there going on about the terrible man at the Post Office not knowing that she was his daughter. She suffered 30 minutes of diatribe and vitriol until she got outside, sat in her car and cried for 30 minutes.

Recently Mr Hedges recalls he came home from a shopping trip to find his wife in a confused state. She was so confused that she called him her previous husband’s name. Mr Hedges’ initial thought was that she had had a stroke but on taking her to the hospital it turned out this was not the case. The doctor seemed to think she had suffered some form of mental episode. Mr Hedges told the doctors about the deep trauma both of them had endured with regard to the Post Office and his conviction. They both needed to be very strong to get through all the upset and worry and possibly now that they believe that they are in calmer waters, Mr Hedges believes his wife may have allowed her mind to relax and perhaps it had gone too far.

He says she appears to be getting better but has no memory of about five or six hours on that Monday. She’s now received a formal diagnosis and has been diagnosed with transient global amnesia. This condition can be brought on by stress, even through events which occurred many years ago and which have now eased.

Mr Hedges described the mental toll which followed the audit in 2010 as crippling. He wants to say to the Inquiry that he believes that all of those impacted by Horizon have in common that the experience has left them scarred for life.

Ms Della Robinson


Ms Patrick: Sir, we’re going to move now to the summary of the evidence of Ms Della Robinson.

Dela Robinson was subpostmistress at the Dukinfield Post Office from 27 January 2006 to 27 February 2012 when her contract was terminated.

She and her partner had bought the premises and the Post Office. She said she was given very basic training which she felt was mostly inadequate or irrelevant.

At first Ms Robinson noticed some mistakes occurring for small amounts of money usually £10 or £20. She became confident and challenged these figures as wrong. She would ring the helpline about twice a week for the first three years and she says they were pleasant but not effective. Ms Robinson can recall one time when she returned from holiday to find that there was a shortfall of £36,000. After investigating it fully, it transpired that the shortfall was only £500.

In 2010 they experienced a further shortfall of around £1,500 which she couldn’t sort out and Ms Robinson came to an agreement with the Post Office that she would pay this back at £500 per month out of her salary, her wage, even though it was not her fault. She found this very frustrating and it made her quite angry.

On 24 January 2012 Ms Robinson was visited by an auditor. She was sick at the time and so she was not working, but she received a call to go to the shop and to her amazement it was closed. She describes it as complete chaos. The auditor from the Post Office informed her that they had been counting cash and had calculated a shortfall of £15,500. Ms Robinson recounted it all and the shortfall had risen to £17,000. She was suspended straight away and was not allowed back into the Post Office from that point. She felt as though her world had been turned upside down. The whole experience was awful.

She was interviewed on 9 February 2012. She received a letter from the Post Office dated 27 February 2012 confirming they would terminate her contract. She was charged with false accounting and theft of a sum in the region of £17,000 and she was initially sent to Ashton Magistrates’ Court after receiving a summons.

At court, she was told that if she pleaded guilty to false accounting then they would drop the theft charges. Ms Robinson then went to a plea hearing, again at Ashton Magistrates, when she was advised by her barrister to fight the case at the Crown Court. She remembers she was told by the Post Office that if she pleaded guilty to false accounting they would not pursue her for the money and would drop the theft charge. Ms Robinson then chose to do this.

On 12 December 2012 she pleaded guilty to false accounting. On 18 January 2013 she attended Manchester Crown Court for sentencing. She remembers the solicitors and barristers all spoke amongst themselves and then she was sentenced to 180 hours of community service. She also had to pay £5,000 in legal costs.

On 23 April 2021 Ms Robinson’s conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Ms Robinson says the stress of the whole experience exacerbated her pre-existing epilepsy. She’s now registered disabled and this has resulted in her losing her driving licence. Ms Robinson says she would suffer with nightmares where she relived the experience. She said she put on large amounts of weight, she lost her confidence, her independence, and she’s developed depression. She says she was able to manage her epilepsy before this.

To go from the Post Office being something she believed was giving her her confidence back and a new lease of life and then to have it all taken away from her was, she says, heart-breaking.

She feels now she can’t move forward. She says she has suffered from financial hardship as a result of the Post Office’s actions and also suffered from a health perspective. She’s been diagnosed with prolonged duress stress disorder. She has been recommended to have 20 sessions of psychological therapy, which she is currently undergoing.

She feels that it isn’t just her who’s been affected by her conviction. Ms Robinson’s son, she says, became more introverted. He was worried what people thought. She felt more for what her husband had lost. She says he put their whole life into them. It was his baby as he had done everything toward achieving this. Following her conviction, they had a rental property repossessed. They now have a mortgage. They are in arrears, and living week by week.

When they found a buyer for the Post Office, the Post Office said no and this fell through. It has devastated her to see that her husband’s efforts had all been for nothing.

Mrs Allison Henderson


Ms Patrick: We move next to the summary of the evidence of Mrs Allison Henderson.

Ms Allison Henderson was subpostmaster at the Worstead Post Office from 1997 until 23 February 2010 when she resigned. In the early 2000s the Horizon software was introduced to her Post Office. For several years, she had difficulty in using the Horizon system and often struggled to balance the accounts it showed. She spoke to the helpline and the area manager to seek guidance. From 2006 onward, balances were regularly wrong.

The first time that Mrs Henderson ever saw an error notice on the Horizon system was in 2006. The system generated a shortfall of £1,500 and the Post Office required her to pay that shortfall. However, a while later the system generated another loss of £2,000. The shortfalls kept coming and Mrs Henderson could not afford to cover the amount.

On 10 February 2010, two auditors attended Mrs Henderson’s Post Office. She was hopeful that they would be able to sort out any balancing difficulties. She was shocked when they advised her that there was a shortfall of £18,000. They then returned to her a couple of hours later to say that that amount had reduced to £11,957.78. Mrs Henderson was told that she could not reopen the Post Office and that she would be suspended.

On 22 February 2010, Mrs Henderson received a letter stating that they were considering terminating her contract. She spoke to her local representative at the National Federation of SubPostmasters and on his advice she decided she had no option other than to resign, which she did on 23 February 2010.

This is a decision which Mrs Henderson says she has since regretted. She was summoned to a meeting with Post Office. She was allowed to bring her Federation rep but he was not allowed to speak during the interview. The two men conducting the interview are described by Mrs Henderson as total bullies. Mrs Henderson was under the impression that the purpose of the meeting was to discover where she or the system had gone wrong but all they did, she says, was accuse her of theft.

She recalls they marched her to the car park to take a look at her cheap Proton car to see if it was worthy of being a “recovery asset”. She was subsequently charged with theft and false accounting. Criminal proceedings were brought against her and her case was transferred from the Magistrates’ Court to Norwich Crown Court. She recalls she had never felt so scared and alone in her life.

Her solicitor and barrister provided her with legal advice and advised her to take a plea bargain of false accounting with the Post Office dropping the theft charge. Mrs Henderson felt pressurised into accepting this. She says she could not face going to prison, “… for something that I had not done”. She was desperate to avoid spending any time in prison whatsoever.

She therefore very reluctantly accepted a plea bargain. With the prospect of a custodial sentence hanging over Mrs Henderson she says she felt she had no choice. As part of the plea bargain she recalls she was told not to mention to the court anything about the Horizon system. She recalls she questioned this, she queried it as unfair with her barrister and he says that’s the way it works.

The judge adjourned the hearing and ordered her to pay the alleged shortfall before the case returned to court for sentencing. Mrs Henderson returned for sentencing on 15 December 2010 and was given 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay court costs of £1,400. She also paid her own lawyer’s fees which totalled £7,000. Mrs Henderson felt so ashamed and embarrassed about past events, “… when I have always known that I have done nothing wrong.”

The mental anguish she says has taken its toll on her and still does. She says:

“Being accused of something that you have not done is always a horrible feeling but for it to result in a criminal conviction, the loss of my job and livelihood is something that I think I will never be able to get over.”

Mrs Henderson says she did not attend her GP about how she was feeling at that time that it was all being investigated as she still lived in the village too. She just tried to keep it to herself and not talk about it. She thinks now she should have obtained some professional help and she still needs some professional assistance with the feelings which she has had from when the problems with Horizon started and which still continue today.

The whole affair, she says, has had a detrimental effect on her health and on her family. She’s felt very low in mood, she breaks down in tears and she still lacks confidence. She’s completed a course of CBT treatment which she’s found helpful but she wants to say to the Inquiry that she feels that this is something that will never fully leave her.

Before this whole affair she says she was regarded as a pillar of society and got heavily involved in the community. Mrs Henderson’s husband, she says, had to give up his position as Chairman of the Parish Council to protect the integrity of the council. They moved out of the area in 2016 which resulted in them losing contact with a lot of their friends. However, this was a move that they felt they simply had to make.

Their friends and neighbours in their new area knew nothing of the Post Office saga until after Mrs Henderson’s conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal on 23 April 2021. She says it was a saga in her life she wanted to shut away from people. Mrs Henderson and her husband, she says, had kept everything from their grandchildren until her conviction was quashed. They were doing this to protect them and to avoid any stigma being passed on to them.

She says speaking about what happened to her still upsets her and reduces her to tears, as it does her grandchildren when they speak of these events.

Mr Hasmukh Shingadia


Ms Patrick: We move next to the summary of the evidence of Hasmukh Shingadia.

Mr Shingadia and his wife got married in 1996. He took over the Upper Buckleberry Post Office on 27 October 1998. He remembers having to submit a business plan to the Post Office and he had to apply for a loan to buy the shop.

The Post Office had a flat upstairs which was one of the reasons why Mr Shingadia chose that business. He thinks he and his wife paid around £57,000 and they took a commercial loan out of £40,000. They paid £17,000 themselves and then £7,000 for stock plus legal costs. He says his problems usually arose on a Wednesday after balancing. Initially he didn’t have any idea what these losses might be attributed to.

If there was a small shortfall, for example, a couple of pounds, he would put the money into the system or take it out if the system was over or under. But when the discrepancies began to get larger, Mr Shingadia contacted the helpline. They would take him through the process and tell him the money would turn up the next week. He remembers receiving error notices on the system in 2009 or 2010. He didn’t speak to the managers because he says it was hard to get through to them. He did have a Federation representative in Farnham but he says every time he calling him he was out in India. He says this was very annoying but also meant, he says, he had no support.

Mr Shingadia had an unannounced audit on 26 March 2010 when two auditors arrived at his Post Office. Due to the problems with the system, he was aware at this stage that the discrepancies were around £16,000. On 11 May 2010 he was interviewed at Newbury sorting office and then charged with theft and false accounting. Mr Shingadia could not pay the large shortfall discovered on the audit and he had to borrow from his brother and his wife’s sister. He thought that if he repaid the money that would be the end of the matter.

Mr Shingadia was told that he could receive a custodial sentence so on the advice of his barrister, he pleaded guilty to false accounting. He pleaded guilty to a single count of false accounting on 21 July 2011 at Oxford Crown Court. He was sentenced to 8 months’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. He paid the court costs of £2,269.69 and the legal fees of solicitors and barristers. Mr Shingadia says he was very stressed, anxious, and worried, “… and my mental health began to suffer”.

His wife also worked full-time at the shop and her income was affected too. He worried who would look after his wife and his family if he was in prison. He knew the impact on his wife and daughters would be massive. He says his wife is severely dyslexic and he didn’t want her to be stuck without him and two young daughters to look after.

He says he could not sleep at night. He could not eat and he felt worthless and hopeless. One time he says he went to the local graveyard and contemplated taking his own life. He says he felt there was no point in going on and he considered ways to end his life.

In 2007 they bought a house in Leicester so that they could move there on retirement to be nearer to relatives. This was repossessed when Mr Shingadia could not keep up the mortgage payments. He says this was both embarrassing but also upsetting as this was intended for his retirement.

His conviction also very much had an effect on the village. At first the Post Office closed while he was suspended. He felt a duty to the village as there had been a post office in that village for 100 years. They approached the landlord in 2008 and asked if he would sell the freehold property to them and in 2009 they started negotiations. When they lost the Post Office after his conviction, they lost the freehold. The landlord gave them three months’ notice to vacate. Mr Shingadia pleaded with him and eventually he agreed to let them stay.

Following his conviction Mr Shingadia resigned from the position of magistrate at the local court and as well his position as a freemason. Four years ago Mr Shingadia had major surgery for a trigeminal neuralgia. Prior to that, he was struggling because of severe pain on the right side of his head and face and an inability to eat. He believes this was caused or contributed to by the situation he found himself in.

He has some link to Kate Middleton’s family who lived in the village. When the media discovered that and they were able to link that and his conviction to the area, Mr Shingadia and his family were also further bullied because they had attended the Royal wedding in 2011. His younger daughter who was around 12 years old at the time got picked on and called racist names on her way to and from school. She was bullied by other children. They would say things along the lines of “Your Dad is Paki thief”.

The Court of Appeal quashed Mr Shingadia’s conviction on 19 July 2021. He called his wife over and they all burst into tears.

Although his conviction has now been quashed nothing can undo what he’s been through or the impact which it has had on him and his family.

He wants the Inquiry to know he still suffers from the trauma of what has happened and that it has had a significant impact on his mental health and emotional well-being. It has also affected his wife’s mental health and when his conviction was quashed and it was all in the media again, this brought everything back to her.

Mr Shingadia wants to say that he is so grateful to his wife for standing by him. His mental health problems began when he was accused of dishonesty, and he says they continue to this day.

Mr Shingadia started treatment on 25 November 2021 and he says until it has been completed and he recovers he feels the whole thing “… is still hanging over me”. He believes the Post Office knew from day 1 that there was a problem with the system and he wants to say to the Inquiry what is sad is that management sat and watched innocent people going to prison, losing their livelihoods and losing their loved ones and did nothing.

Mr David Yates

MR DAVID YATES, summary read by MS PATRICK.

Ms Patrick: We move next to the summary of the evidence of Mr David Yates.

Mr David Yates began working as a counter clerk at the Walton on Thames branch of the Post Office in 1979. He progressed to branch manager. When the Post Office decided to close the branch as a Crown office he was offered the job of subpostmaster in 1993.

Horizon was installed and about six to seven months later he experienced shortfalls. Initially, he repaid these himself. He had paid out, he says, around £6,000 to the Post Office by March 2003. In March 2003, the Post Office carried out an audit. The auditors told Mr Yates there was a shortfall of £366,788.67. He told the auditors they would find the shortfall accumulated over years due to the system. He was told no-one else was having problems with the system.

Mr Yates was suspended the day after the investigation from his job as a subpostmaster. In April/May 2003, he received a summons to attend Staines Magistrates’ Court. He was charged with theft, false accounting, and breach of trust. Following legal advice Mr Yates pleaded guilty to all the charges. He was told he could face 5 to 8 years in prison if he was found guilty at trial.

Mr Yates says he was petrified. To hopefully receive a more lenient sentence he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to three years in prison. On hearing the sentence Mr Yates remembers it as a blur. His wife collapsed and his family were very upset. He commenced his sentence on 31 October 2003 and remained imprisoned until December 2004.

Whilst he was in prison the Post Office wrote to say they would be taking, he says, they would be taking our home to pay for the shortfalls at the branch. His wife opened that letter. A Proceeds of Crime Act application incurred further legal fees.

Upon his release Mr Yates was given an electronic tag which was not removed until April 2005. Mr Yates’ conviction was not overturned until April 2021. Mr Yates’ mortgage payment following his conviction increased from £350 per month to approximately £700 per month. His house insurance premium also increased.

On sentencing, Mr Yates recalls being taken in the van to High Down Prison in Surrey, which is a category B prison. He says he was locked in a cell with two other men for 22 hours a day.

He recalls he witnessed various violent incidents between prisoners. He was only supposed to spend a few weeks in this high security prison. However, because of difficulties with his transfer he spent three months at High Down. In the last few weeks before his transfer, he was moved to a single cell where he spent Christmas and New Year. In January 2004 Mr Yates was transferred to an open prison on the Isle of Sheppey. By October 2004 he was informed that he would be released over the following few months.

He says, following his conviction Mr Yates says his parents had to endure significant and sustained ill-will from the local community and he didn’t think that was fair. He says his health has suffered immensely. He collapsed in 2013 and was taken to hospital because he was working too much.

He wants the Inquiry to know that the overturning of his conviction has had a huge impact on his mental health. He became very anxious and suffered with panic attacks. He lost weight, his mood was low and he felt depressed.

He had several episodes in relation to his heart and acute breathlessness. He has lost interest in food and in life in general. He’s been told he developed an acute decompensation in his mental health at the time of the Appeal Court hearing in April 2021. At the time he was suffering adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. Since, he has begun to feel much more positive and his mental health issues have begun to subside.

He wants to tell the Inquiry that the whole situation has been very hard on him and his family. Before his conviction he was heavily involved in his children’s rugby and netball teams. Afterwards he had to stand on the sidelines.

He was a pillar of the community before this happened. Now he says people avoid talking to him in the street. He says it breaks his heart.

Finally, he would like the Inquiry to know that he is deeply saddened that his parents passed away before his conviction was overturned.

Mr Vipinchandra Patel


Ms Patrick: We move now, Chair, to the summary of the evidence of Mr Vipin Patel and that’s full name Mr Vipinchandra Patel. He’s known as Vipin so I’m going to use that in reading the summary of his evidence.

Vipin Patel is of Gujarati Indian heritage. He was born in Uganda and lived there until his family moved to the UK when he was 18 as a result of the political situation in Uganda. He has been married for 35 years and has two children.

He first started working for the Post Office in 1987 as a postal officer on the branch office counter. Over an initial 15 years he progressed to assistant manager, and then to acting branch manager. Together with his wife, he purchased Horspath Post Office, along with the connected village store and apartment. He became subpostmaster of Horspath Post Office in January 2002.

He financed this purchase through a mortgage and by renting out their property in London as a supplementary source of income. Mr Patel had a great sense of pride in this role as his grandfather and uncle had been postmasters in India. He had a great admiration for the Post Office but, between 2008 and 2010, he had shortfalls.

By 2009 he had paid around £10,000 in shortfalls. In January and June 2010 he found shortfalls of 15,000 and 24,000. Following an audit of the branch in December 2010 a significant shortfall was found of 34,673.87. His contract was terminated and he was charged with fraud. He pleaded guilty following advice and was convicted and given an 18-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months, a two-month curfew order and ordered to pay £200 in court costs.

The shortfalls shown by the Horizon system were covered by him at significant personal cost. He had to cash in his Royal Mail pension and cash in investments. He had to sell his wife’s jewellery which had been passed down through three generations. This was very hurtful and he says it can never be replaced.

The shop declined due to the loss of the Post Office and the reputational damage which followed his conviction. His wife has had to run the business with his limited assistance. They own the shop and still live in the flat above, but the Post Office has been closed since 2011.

Mr Patel goes on to talk about the impacts on his health. He suffered, he says, very low mood and from suicidal thoughts and was prescribed antidepressants. He suffered from panic attacks and developed a phobia of touching money. He was made, he says, to feel like a fraudster and a thief. He wants the Inquiry to know that these thoughts persist in his mind all the time.

His physical health has also deteriorated. He has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and is physically disabled. He goes on to speak about the impact upon him, following his conviction, in the community. Following conviction, he says he was shunned by the local community and was subject to verbal abuse, including racial abuse.

His relationship with his wife has been impacted and his family have been constantly concerned about his welfare. He knows his wife often cries when he is not around.

He wants the Inquiry to know his children have also had extremely humiliating experiences. Mr Patel states that despite his conviction now being overturned, the Post Office has ruined his life. He says he’s been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and told that that will likely continue for the rest of his life.

He has been told by a spinal surgeon that he’s likely to become paralysed.

Mr Patel says he always knew Horizon was responsible for what happened but he says he was never listened to. He wants the Inquiry to know he trusted the Post Office and thought he worked for – and this is his words – “one of the most iconic, historic, and pioneering institutions on the planet which helped develop mankind over centuries”. Instead, he says, they were deceitful and deceptive.

Sir, I know that you understand this first tranche of summaries there are two further summaries to read. They are of a similar length to those that we’ve read so far.

Sir Wyn Williams: We are in your hands. If you would like to complete it this afternoon I think that completes your part, so to speak.

Ms Patrick: Sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: We are very happy to finish this afternoon if you prefer. If you want to have a break and try and fit it in tomorrow that’s fine.

Ms Patrick: Sir, I’m very happy to continue or to stop.

Sir Wyn Williams: I think it will probably take up to say ten minutes so I think we’re happy just to finish now – so I mean to carry on to finish.

Ms Patrick: Indeed. Let’s continue. I continue with the summary of the evidence of Mr Robert Ambrose.

Mr Robert Ambrose


Ms Patrick: Mr Ambrose acquired the High Wych Post Office on 5 May 2010. Prior to this, he and his business partner owned a financial advice company giving mortgage and property advice. They were both regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

They were approached by somebody who was looking to sell their Post Office and they both thought – they bought it and moved their financial advice company to the same premises. Mr Ambrose’s conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 19 July 2021.

He says he immediately knew of issues with Horizon as the number of shortfalls were high, as were the amounts. He said he expected that there would be some minor shortfalls in terms of short change but the amounts were sometimes huge and unexplained. He says he was continually on the helpline for Horizon but they denied any issues with the system.

The way the Post Office worked was that it was black or it was white. They denied there were issues in the system and said that Mr Ambrose was responsible for any shortfalls. He said he would constantly live in fear waiting for the auditors or for the police to come as, despite his pleas, the Post Office refused to accept that there were issues within the system.

An auditor came to the Post Office on 9 February 2012. The auditor managed to find discrepancies and they suspended Mr Ambrose and closed the Post Office straight away. At the police station, Mr Ambrose was charged with theft and false accounting.

On 24 September 2012 he appeared at St Albans Crown Court to answer the charges. He was given the opportunity to plead guilty and avoid a custodial sentence. He took it as he desperately wanted to avoid going to prison.

On 28 October 2012, again at St Albans Crown Court, he was sentenced to an 18-month prison sentence suspended for two years and 250 unpaid hours of community service.

At the time of his arrest, he was a director of a regulated financial services company and a financial adviser. This was taken away along with any possibility of working as a qualified financial adviser again. He lost the ability to earn an income through this means. Mr Ambrose then, and still, works in employed roles significantly below his experience, knowledge, skills, and capability. He had to leave one of these jobs after a colleague found an internet article regarding his conviction which led to again him being signed off as unfit for work for six months due to recurring anxiety and depression.

His experience has significantly affected his income as Mr Ambrose was a qualified and experienced financial adviser. Following on from the accusation of fraud and false accounting he became depressed and anxious and had to start on medication.

He says he became completely withdrawn and couldn’t deal with things in the same way. He says he began drinking excessively and wasn’t looking after himself. He wants the Inquiry to know that he was in a very bad place mentally. He was no longer working as due to his mental health issues he was declared unfit for work. He ended up losing his whole livelihood.

In addition, after the audit and the impending arrest, Mr Ambrose’s relationship broke down with his partner who he had lived with and he moved out almost immediately meaning he also lost his home. He says he just wasn’t the same person anymore. Not only did people feel they could not trust him but he felt he couldn’t trust anyone else. He grew tired, he says, of repeating the same story over and over again. The impression was that people just thought he was guilty. He says he lost everything overnight.

He wants the Inquiry to know that money and property and business is one thing but losing your reputation and dignity is another. Having to question the way you feel about yourself and being constantly in a state of self-doubt is something Mr Ambrose says he hopes never to experience again.

He wants the Inquiry to know that now his conviction has been quashed he is hoping that he can move on with his life again. But he says it’s difficult to move on after the last ten years.

The last summary for today is the summary of the evidence of Mrs Gail Lesley Ward.

Mrs Gail Ward


Ms Patrick: Mrs Gail Lesley Ward is 61 years old and lives with her husband and their dogs. She and her husband have three children who have all moved out. At the time of her conviction her youngest son was 13 years old and still at school. Mrs Ward first worked for the Post Office when she was 35 years old at the branch in Swanage. She became branch manager there in 1999. In June 2002, she saw the Priory Road Post Office in Wells Somerset for sale online. She had been looking for a suitable post office and the branch also had a property for her and her family to live in. When she became subpostmaster at Priory Road she had already been trained on Horizon.

Her husband worked with her in the shop for the first two years of their ownership and he received on-site training for Horizon when they opened.

At first, she didn’t notice any issues with Horizon. At the first audit conducted on her branch they were only a few pence out. However, Mrs Ward noticed significant problems beginning towards the end of 2005. She reported these issues to the Post Office but was simply told to make good any shortfalls shown by Horizon. She says she continually phoned the helpline to try to manage the errors in the system and on some occasions she was left in tears.

An audit was conducted in January 2007 which she was very nervous for as she was aware that there were shortfalls showing on Horizon. By this time, she was continually paying money back into the Post Office to cover the shortfalls. She says that she recalls this was hundreds of pounds every week. However, she was relieved that they could now be fixed. Sadly, this was not the case.

During the audit, Mrs Ward says she was told to go upstairs until they finished. She recalls not knowing what was going on. She says instead of helping her make the system right, she was blamed for the shortfalls. Mrs Ward recalls:

“I was told that following the audit they found a shortfall of £12,030.70.”

She says she couldn’t stop crying. She was told to sign something but she was so upset and was crying and she had no idea what it was she was signing. She was informed that she had been suspended on the spot. Her keys were taken from her.

The Post Office investigation continued and she was interviewed twice. Mrs Ward says of the interviews:

“The interviews were degrading and I felt that nobody believed me.”

She was interviewed on 12 January 2007 but she does not recall when she was interviewed on the second occasion. She remembers she told the interviewers that she couldn’t explain the shortages that were alleged. She says she did seek some support from the Federation prior to the interviews but she says they refused to help her.

She says they told her simply – “they simply told me to let them know how I got on”.

She says:

“It was as if they didn’t believe me either. The Federation was supposed to be our union to back our corner but they failed me also.”

Mrs Ward says that she was told that paying back the alleged shortfall amount would help her case. She recalls that the auditor told her that if he was a gambling man putting the money right would prevent this from going further. She says she asked friends and family to help her cover the £12,000 within a week of her suspension. She wants the Inquiry to know she recalls asking for money from people was mortifying.

At the second interview, she was hoping she would be reinstated by the Post Office. Instead, on 22 March 2007 they wrote to Mrs Ward terminating her contract. Despite an appeal the position remained the same. Mrs Ward says of this:

“They wouldn’t listen to me. Despite me stating that there were still financial shortfalls at the same Post Office, even after I had stopped working there.”

Mrs Ward instructed a barrister and a solicitor to represent her at the Crown Court at Bristol on 15 October 2007. In court, the Post Office told her that they would drop the theft charge and she wouldn’t go to prison if she pleaded guilty to false accounting.

Mrs Ward says:

“I had no choice but to accept this and I pleaded guilty to four counts of false accounting.”

She was given an order to pay £500 in prosecution costs and to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work. After the conviction, she tried to sell the shop and the Post Office. She had a buyer approved by the Post Office. However, the Post Office then closed the branch and the buyer pulled out. She lost all her salary from the Post Office and as they had no money to stock the shop, they lost that too.

Mrs Ward and her husband had mounting debts and she tried to sell personal items at car boot sales just to have enough money to buy food. She says, and she wants the Inquiry to know, she was completely traumatised throughout the criminal proceedings and she was terrified, especially when she was told that she could receive a custodial sentence. She says:

“On the day before the final hearing, my solicitor told me to pack a bag and I had to say goodbye by 13-year old son in case I was unable to come back home following the hearing. It was heart-breaking and I had no idea what would happen.”

She recalls collapsing in the dock when she received the sentence from the court, and she had to be helped out by her husband. She says:

“It was a relief I could go home to my children but I still had a criminal conviction to deal with, along with the financial difficulties I had to face.”

Mrs Ward says she knew her conviction was wrong. She was innocent and had tried everything she could to make things right, even at her own financial expense. As a result of these financial expenses, she was forced to declare bankruptcy.

After her conviction, she became socially withdrawn. She says people would be gossipping and saying “there’s no smoke without fire”. She now struggles with trusting people and says she has no confidence socially.

As to her health, Mrs Ward started developing chest pain which was put down to anxiety. She says she used to be a positive person but now only sees things in a negative light. She wants the Inquiry to know:

“We lost everything.”

She stresses:

“The fact that the Post Office was aware of the issues with Horizon, yet criminalised their staff, is something that will always make me very angry and distressed.”

She says since her conviction was quashed, she can now start looking people in the eye again and she says she is no longer a criminal. She wants the Inquiry to know that her memories of this experience will always stay with her. Finally, she says the Post Office prosecution and conviction ruined everything she worked so hard for.

Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, so is it 10.00 in the morning, Ms Hodge? Very well. 10.00 tomorrow morning.

(4.43 pm)

(Adjourned until 10.00 am the following day)