Official hearing page

2 March 2022 – Sarah Osolinski, John Bowman, Christian Clement, Paul Harry, Helen Brown, Janice Adams, Lawrence Bailey, Pamela Lock and Witness 0281

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(10.00 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Ms Kennedy.

Ms Kennedy: Chair, our first witness today is Mrs Sarah Osolinski.

Sarah Osolinski


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

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

Do you have a copy of your witness statement there?

Sarah Osolinski: I do.

Ms Kennedy: I think it should be dated 3 February 2022?

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: If you turn to the last page, which I think is page 17.

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Is that your signature?

Sarah Osolinski: It is.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read this statement through recently?

Sarah Osolinski: I have.

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

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

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

How old are you now?

Sarah Osolinski: 65.

Ms Kennedy: And how long have you been married?

Sarah Osolinski: 44 years.

Ms Kennedy: How many children do you have?

Sarah Osolinski: Three.

Ms Kennedy: Could you describe for the Chair what types of jobs you did before working for the Post Office?

Sarah Osolinski: Yes. When I left school I joined the Midland Bank. I worked there until I had my first child. I didn’t go straight back. I worked in a nursery school and in Asda supermarket, then I went back to the bank and I stayed there until I was 40 and then we bought the Post Office and the retail newsagent.

Ms Kennedy: What types of things were you doing in the bank?

Sarah Osolinski: Oh all sorts. Working on the counter doing the remittances, sorting out standing orders, direct debits, looking after the computer. All sorts of things.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you decide to leave banking?

Sarah Osolinski: Because it changed. It changed from what I felt was a service industry, which was customers led, to being a sales industry where we were all given quotas about how many mortgages we should try to sell, how many insurance policies we should try to sell and it was not something I enjoyed anymore.

Ms Kennedy: So why did you decide to buy a post office?

Sarah Osolinski: Because that went back to the customer-led type of work that I enjoyed. I enjoyed the interaction between customers. I enjoyed listening to them. I enjoyed helping with problems, because they see you as someone they can come to with their problems, and it was just a different – it’s a whole change of life when you buy a post office and a newsagent. You become part of the community. It’s like having a huge extended family.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you became subpostmistress of Gaer?

Sarah Osolinski: Gaer Park.

Ms Kennedy: Gaer Park?

Sarah Osolinski: Should be “Gire”, for Welsh.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I was going to jump in then.

Sarah Osolinski: Yes, but they all call it “Gair” in Newport.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I’m sure they do, yes.

Ms Kennedy: You said that was in Newport.

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: And was that in around October 1996?

Sarah Osolinski: It was.

Ms Kennedy: How did you finance that purchase?

Sarah Osolinski: We sold our house in Cardiff and we were paying 89,950 and we took out a business loan for 43,000 and paid the balance from the proceeds of the house. We also had to have a business overdraft of £7,500 to pay for stock in the shop.

Ms Kennedy: What other businesses did you run from the same premises?

Sarah Osolinski: It was a retail newsagent with a little store, you know, greetings cards, lots of magazines and basics, kitchen towel, toilet roll, tins, bottles of bleach. You know, bits and pieces, and lots of stationery.

Ms Kennedy: How many assistants did you have?

Sarah Osolinski: Well, all three daughters worked for us part-time when we first moved in when they were in college and high school, and we had one early morning assistant in the shop, and one assistant in the Post Office, and myself and my husband both worked full time.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about working for the Post Office when you took over?

Sarah Osolinski: When I first started, good. It just seemed like a perfect fit but I soon learned that they don’t actually care about their subpostmasters. They don’t give you the care that an employer would normally give an employee because they don’t see you as employees, you’re just – what do they call us – agents. So we’re on our own really. Yes, there was a helpline, but in the early days I have to say there was a line manager but they kind of got phased out and you were left on your own for the majority of the time.

Ms Kennedy: When was Horizon introduced in your branch?

Sarah Osolinski: I think it was late 1999, going into 2000. I can’t be more specific, I’m sorry.

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

Sarah Osolinski: A day and a half in a hotel somewhere and the rest of the – I think my eldest daughter and my husband got a day. I had the extra half day to go through the balancing procedure and then after that we had someone in the office with us to watch that we were doing it properly.

Ms Kennedy: What did the trainers tell you was the right way to balance?

Sarah Osolinski: They specifically said to balance to nil. So you take a snapshot and if you’re short or over, you deal with it and then you actually balance to nil and roll over.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find using Horizon?

Sarah Osolinski: Well, it seemed really easy to start off with. We still had paper, we still had dockets, we still had cheques and it was fairly easy to balance. But once the pension books were phased out, it became a lot more difficult. You couldn’t check back on anything because there was nothing to check back. Everything was on the computer and we noticed that we were getting regular shortages from that time.

Ms Kennedy: What about Horizon Online? Was that introduced into your branch?

Sarah Osolinski: That was the training that we were having at the time of my suspension. We had someone in to do the training during the day and at the end of the day she said can I do a cash check?

Ms Kennedy: How quickly did you notice shortfalls or discrepancies appearing on the system?

Sarah Osolinski: Oh, I can’t be completely specific because I can’t remember the date that the pension books were phased out but it was around that time. It was when the Post Office card account was introduced and we weren’t able to check anything back.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned the helpline a moment ago. How did you find using that?

Sarah Osolinski: Sometimes helpful but more often than not they weren’t able to help. I didn’t ring them that much because I felt quite alone in the office. My husband had had a massive heart attack and I was trying to not explain to him about the problems we were having in the Post Office – excuse me. But the helpline either couldn’t help and just said pay the money in or they’d take you through what sounded like a script and your problem would double in front of you.

So I didn’t call them very often. I called them if there was something that one of us had done by mistake and I needed to reverse it, for them to give me the authorisation. Other than that, I didn’t bother.

Ms Kennedy: What would you do when you noticed a shortfall or a discrepancy?

Sarah Osolinski: Pay it back.

Ms Kennedy: How often would you put money into the Post Office?

Sarah Osolinski: Most weeks.

Ms Kennedy: Can you give us an idea what sums – the range of sums we’re talking about?

Sarah Osolinski: Anything from 90 to just over £1,000 initially.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about this at the time?

Sarah Osolinski: Awful. I dreaded balance day, absolutely dreaded it.

Ms Kennedy: How much altogether do you estimate you paid into the Post Office?

Sarah Osolinski: Oh, I think it’s at least 25,000 – at least.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that you made a list of the payments that you made?

Sarah Osolinski: I did.

Ms Kennedy: Who did you show that list to?

Sarah Osolinski: My Federation rep.

Ms Kennedy: What did your Federation rep say?

Sarah Osolinski: It was when we were going into my return to unit interview after I’d been suspended and I showed her my list, and I’d only been doing it for two years – should have done it for a lot longer – and she looked at it and she said, “Don’t mention this in your interview”. And I said, “Why not? Because it shows there is problem”, because by that time I was suspicious of the system and she said, “No”, she said, “They’ll shut you down straight away”. So I had to go into the interview and not mention the problems I was having, even though I was going down because I had a problem. It was very difficult.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement an audit I think in mid-2000s which showed a shortfall of £230?

Sarah Osolinski: Mmm.

Ms Kennedy: Could you tell us a bit about what that audit was like.

Sarah Osolinski: That one wasn’t too bad because it was a difference that I was used to. They said that some of it was stock. I find that hard to believe because two of us checked the stock. I would check one stock and my assistant would double-check what I’d done and vice versa, but it was around the £200 mark that I was used to paying back by that time so it didn’t surprise me. That audit wasn’t stressful in any way.

Ms Kennedy: I think you go on to mention an audit in June 2010 and that’s after someone came to conduct Horizon Online training; is that right?

Sarah Osolinski: That’s correct, yes – on 4 June 2010.

Ms Kennedy: Could you tell us about what happened on 4 June.

Sarah Osolinski: Yes, certainly. A young woman came to do this Horizon Online training and at the end of the day she asked if she could do a cash check. I said, “Yes, you can but it will be short”, and she said, “Why is that”, and I said, “Because I had a difference in March of £1,872.44 which I wasn’t able to resolve and wasn’t able to repay because I had been repaying multiple shortages before that and I had just run out of funds, my overdraft was at its limit, so I just kept rolling it over, and I had by that time got it down to 1,560”.

And she said, “Okay, I’ve got to phone my manager”. She phoned the manager. The manager spoke to me and said, “I’m suspending you for false accounting”.

Ms Kennedy: I think at that time you mentioned there might have been an explanation for the shortfall to do with a customer who phoned?

Sarah Osolinski: Yes, that was a bit of a red herring. He – well, I didn’t speak to him. One of the assistants in the shop spoke to him and he said that he had been overpaid but I really don’t think that he would have been overpaid by nearly £2,000. It just – I just can’t imagine that that would happen. I can imagine £10 or £20, but we looked everywhere and I was hoping that the Post Office would be able to do some sort of investigation into my accounts, you know, from their end but they never did.

Ms Kennedy: What happened to the branch on 4 June?

Sarah Osolinski: It was closed.

Ms Kennedy: And so you couldn’t go back into the branch?

Sarah Osolinski: No.

Ms Kennedy: I think you then mention audits scheduled for 7 June?

Sarah Osolinski: The Monday, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Who carried out that audit?

Sarah Osolinski: Oh, one chap was called Paul. I can’t remember the other chap’s name. I know they were training officers and they took five hours. I had to be present the whole time and they came up with over £2,000. I then realised that the two women that had closed the Post Office didn’t secure – we had what’s called a combi-till in the shop and I had been in a complete state of distress on Friday when I was suspended but they didn’t check the combi-till and when I went to look there was £2,000 in there and then there was another 200 and something which was the normal shortfall which I paid in cash.

I had already on Friday, 4 June, put a cheque in for 1,560 to cover what I knew was going to be short, so I didn’t actually owe the Post Office any money at this time until the shortage of 200 and something, which I paid them in cash.

Ms Kennedy: What did the auditors say to you that you highlighted there was money in another location?

Sarah Osolinski: They told me not to worry about it. They said, “I’ll watch you go and get it”, and I brought it to them and they said, “That’s great. Thank you, Sarah”.

Ms Kennedy: So what did you think would come of that?

Sarah Osolinski: Nothing. I thought – I had no reason to believe that they suspected me of anything at that time. It was only later and in the audit they pointed out that the notes in the combi-till were all facing the same way.

Because of my banking experience I’m old school. When I count notes I put them all the same way. I’m the same now, in my purse everything faces the same way, right way up, facing out, and that’s how I’d always done it. But they said because the money in the safe which we’d just had delivered wasn’t presented in that way that somehow there was something wrong with the ones that were.

Ms Kennedy: And you say you found this out later. This was the report of the audit; is that right?

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

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

Sarah Osolinski: Hmm, small, guilty, weak.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you feel guilty?

Sarah Osolinski: Because I felt like I’d let everyone down. I felt like somehow I’d got it completely wrong, that maybe the stress of my husband’s illness had made me make mistakes. I knew in my heart that that couldn’t be so because I wasn’t the only one working in the Post Office and we were all checking and rechecking all the time. There was just nothing to find. And I knew logically that I couldn’t be making mistakes for around £200 every week. It just doesn’t make sense.

So I became a hermit for eight weeks. I didn’t go outside the house and the doctor very kindly signed me on to the sick. I have a condition called fibromyalgia which is exacerbated by stress and I was quite poorly for quite a long time, even after I went back into the shop.

Ms Kennedy: You say in your statement you were interviewed by the Post Office later in June, on the 22nd; is that right?

Sarah Osolinski: Yes, it’s called an RTU.

Ms Kennedy: Who interviewed you?

Sarah Osolinski: A chap called Gary Adderley and two others. He had two people with him as far as I know because it was his first week on the job. Worst experience of my life.

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry, could you tell me what RTU stands for.

Sarah Osolinski: Return to unit.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, thank you.

Sarah Osolinski: In the hope that Post Office would allow you to continue your work.

Sir Wyn Williams: So this was an interview with the possibility of you going back to work. This wasn’t to do with criminal proceedings or anything like that?

Sarah Osolinski: No, I was never prosecuted.

Sir Wyn Williams: No. I follow that, thank you.

Ms Kennedy: Why do you say it was the worst experience of your life?

Sarah Osolinski: Because it was obvious from the outset that they had made up their minds of my guilt.

Ms Kennedy: What representation did you have?

Sarah Osolinski: I had a Federation rep and a trainee Federation rep who was – they were both subpostmasters and the trainee was actually a former police inspector.

Ms Kennedy: How well supported did you feel by them?

Sarah Osolinski: Initially, well. My Federation rep was very experienced. She got very high up in the Federation eventually and she seemed quite confident that I would be back in my office.

Subsequently, when I went for my appeal hearing, it was just the trainee because the Federation rep had gone off to have an operation and he was good too but it was – once my contract was terminated, it was just abandoned, they don’t ring to say how are you or how are you coping, nothing. You don’t get anything.

Ms Kennedy: What did the Post Office ask you in the interview?

Sarah Osolinski: What I’d done with the money? Why was I false accounting? I explained that I did the work as they’d instructed me to do and they told me no what I was doing was false accounting, and that the correct way to do it was X, and they just badgered and badgered and bullied and bullied, and I just felt pummelled.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned your contract being terminated. I think that happened on 28 June?

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What was the reason given for your termination?

Sarah Osolinski: False accounting.

Ms Kennedy: You mentioned you appealed?

Sarah Osolinski: Mmm.

Ms Kennedy: What was the outcome of that appeal?

Sarah Osolinski: Same.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about the impact that all of this has had on you. First, looking at the financial, what happened to your business?

Sarah Osolinski: Well, the Post Office asked if I wanted the Post Office to stay open and I said yes because, you know, the community was relying on it. So they installed a relief company called New Rose. They came in and did their own audit and found discrepancies in the audit that the Post Office had carried out and paid me some money back, and they appointed my assistant as manager. And the first week that she was in charge she had a £900 shortfall which she was told she had to pay back.

And they paid a nominal rent to us, about – well, just under half of what the rent on our lease was, so we struggled on for a while but because – people avoided the Post Office because I wasn’t in there. They thought they were supporting me by not supporting the Post Office but of course if they don’t come to the Post Office they don’t use the retail. So we got to the point where we couldn’t afford to keep going, so our lease was actually up by then, so we took the decision to walk away. So we lost any sale proceeds that we would have had for the business and obviously future salary.

Ms Kennedy: What about your future – I mean, what would you estimate you lost in terms of earnings?

Sarah Osolinski: Something over 600,000. I was on 51,000 a year at the time and I was 54, I think. So I had many, many years ahead of me.

Ms Kennedy: How long did you intend to run the Post Office?

Sarah Osolinski: Oh, forever. I imagined myself as a little old lady you know behind the counter. I just enjoyed it, you know. It was just part of our lives by that time.

Ms Kennedy: You also mention in your statement a bank overdraft.

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Could you tell us about that please.

Sarah Osolinski: Yes, it started off at 7,500 and by the time we walked away from the business it was 25,000.

Ms Kennedy: What about your home?

Sarah Osolinski: Well, we let it out initially, moved in with our daughter and son-in-law and their two children. And then that was just too stressful, so we sold the house and used the proceeds to pay off our debts and some debts that our younger daughter had accrued, and then we were lucky enough to be given a Housing Association bungalow which we now live in.

Ms Kennedy: What was the impact of all this on your reputation within the community?

Sarah Osolinski: Our community was nothing but supportive. Nobody – well, I say nobody. The vast majority of people didn’t believe that I had stolen money. I’m quite sure that there were people out there that avoided us and thought we were guilty but, yes, it makes you put your head down. It’s an awful, awful feeling and it stays with you for a long time.

Ms Kennedy: You’ve also mentioned the impact that this has had on your health. Could you tell us a bit more about that.

Sarah Osolinski: Yeah, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia the year after my husband had his heart attack. Apparently it can be caused by a shock and he was only 48 when that happened to him and it left him quite disabled and he’s had many, many interventions since and he’s, you know, quite disabled now.

And fibromyalgia has multiple symptoms. You have chronic pain, you have depression, you have anxiety, you have burning sensation in your muscles and the fatigue can be overwhelming. There are days when I can’t get out of bed and when this happened, I just went into free-fall with it and it took me eight weeks to just get myself together enough to go back into the shop. And the support we received from the community was what kept me going.

Ms Kennedy: How was your sleep affected by the shortfalls and –

Sarah Osolinski: I either slept 24 hours in a row or not at all.

Ms Kennedy: What was the impact of this on your family?

Sarah Osolinski: They were all – we’ve three daughters and one grandson at the time who was four. Obviously, he was oblivious and he kept us all going.

Our girls were just quite traumatised to see their mother treated in that way and they still now can’t – they’re quite angry and two of them suffer with mental health issues and I’m sure that that was exacerbated by the way that I was treated.

Ms Kennedy: What about the impact on your relationship with your husband?

Sarah Osolinski: Well, we separated for a time but when he had his heart attack we reconciled because I just couldn’t see him like that and we’d been married for a long time by then anyway and there was too much love there. But, yes, it wasn’t easy for quite a while because I wasn’t easy to live with.

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

Sarah Osolinski: Restitution. I would like a personal apology for everyone. I would like a written personal apology for everyone because saying yes, there is a problem with the computer system when you’re forced to do so because the courts have proved it is not really an admission that you knew there was something wrong and that you had been cruel and vindictive to so many people and ruined so many people’s lives. I’m not broken but there are a lot of us who are broken.

We all need help financially now. Nobody is living the high life. We’re all struggling and we shouldn’t be. It’s not fair.

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

Sarah Osolinski: I have a short statement, Chair, if that’s okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course, yes.

Sarah Osolinski: Thank you for the opportunity.

I can only speak for my own family when I say this whole experience has been a living nightmare. For 12 years we have watched Post Office and Government prevaricate and throw money at preventing us from achieving justice and I know many of us have suffered for much longer.

No-one at the top of Post Office has properly apologised or faced prosecution for the lies they have told. They have all received large bonuses when they moved on whilst we were left to survive on benefits or low paid jobs, our characters ruined and confidence crushed. Whilst this Inquiry may get us answers to some of our questions we need help financially now.

How long can Post Office hide from the responsibility of paying proper compensation to us all? Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: On that last topic, I think you were one of the Claimants in the Group Litigation.

Sarah Osolinski: I was one of the 555.

Sir Wyn Williams: Like everyone else who has come before me who were Claimants you received some compensation.

Sarah Osolinski: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: But it doesn’t compare with what you think you properly should get.

Sarah Osolinski: No.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s it, in summary, isn’t it?

Sarah Osolinski: That’s the bottom line.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Thank you very much.

Sarah Osolinski: Thank you so much.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you for coming. Don’t rush away.

Sarah Osolinski: I’m sorry.

Sir Wyn Williams: Just for the moment, let’s find out what’s happening next.

Ms Kennedy: Our next witness is Mr John Bowman who is going to be a remote witness.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay. So we will take a ten-minute break since we have gone through this lady’s evidence reasonably swiftly, so we will take a ten-minute break and thank you again for coming.

(10.28 am)

(A short break)

(10.41 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Good morning, Mr Bowman. Can you hear me?

Sarah Osolinski: Sir Wyn, yes, thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Can you see me?

Sarah Osolinski: I can.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, that’s very good. I will now hand you over to these ladies who will take you through your evidence.

Ms Kennedy: Mr Bowman, I’m just going to hand you over to the usher, Jane.

John Bowman


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Mr Bowman, as you know, my name’s Ruth Kennedy and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Could you confirm your full name please?

John Bowman: John Anthony Bowman.

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

John Bowman: Yes, I have.

Ms Kennedy: It should be dated 7 February 2022; is that right?

John Bowman: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: And if you look at the last page, which I think should be page 14, is that your signature there?

John Bowman: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

John Bowman: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: And is it true to the best of your knowledge and belief? Sorry, did you say yes?

John Bowman: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Sorry. I’m going to start by asking a few introductory questions about you. What age are you now?

John Bowman: 73.

Ms Kennedy: And how long have you been married?

John Bowman: 53 years in two weeks’ time.

Ms Kennedy: How many children do you have?

John Bowman: We have three children, twins – the oldest two are twins – and younger daughter, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Ms Kennedy: What types of jobs did you do before you became a subpostmaster?

John Bowman: I was a senior production manager at Sony UK, which manufactured televisions and computer monitors, and I was a licensee.

Ms Kennedy: Why were you drawn to work for the Post Office?

John Bowman: We’d been working in the licensed trade for the previous few years which we thoroughly loved. It was mixing with people. We’re both people people. The thing with the pub trade is we were coming up to 50 years of age then, 48/49. The pub trade is a fantastic trade but it’s long, long hours. People don’t see the hours you put in. Although the pub doesn’t open until 11 or 12 o’clock from 9 o’clock you are either at the cash and carry or you’re cleaning lines, you’re working from 9 in the morning until midnight, all weekends, holidays, Christmases, New Year. We now had just had our first grandchildren and we wanted to spend more time with the family, have more time to ourselves work a 9 to 5 job, weekends and holidays away.

Ms Kennedy: Why specifically the Post Office of all the 9 to 5 jobs?

John Bowman: We looked at several different types of – we wanted our own business. We wanted to continue our own business. We looked at several different types. The Post Office, first of all it was the most regular income because you knew roughly what you were going to be earning and we would have the shop on top of that. It was the most reputable of businesses that you could think of. If you were going to work in conjunction with somebody it would be the Post Office that you would want to work with and again it was continuing this idea of working with people being sociable and interacting.

Ms Kennedy: You say in your statement you became subpostmaster of Brynna Post Office. Have I said that correctly?

John Bowman: Good pronunciation, well done.

Ms Kennedy: I might have had a little bit of help. I think you took over that Post Office in around May 1998; is that right?

John Bowman: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Who did you plan to give the Post Office to eventually?

John Bowman: Our younger daughter was going to take over the Post Office eventually. We’d come to an agreement whereby she was saving up and she was originally going to buy the building, the freehold, and she would take over the Post Office. We would continue to have the retail side for a while and after she bought the freehold, when she was in with the Post Office salary, she would then pay us for the Post Office element of the business so she could pay that while she was in the Post Office earning. So it was a way of her – it was the only way she could do it financially to actually do it that way, that she starts off just buying the freehold and then over the next number of years she would pay the Post Office element of it.

Ms Kennedy: So you were planning for many years in the future it sounds?

John Bowman: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Do you remember when Horizon was introduced in your branch?

John Bowman: It was beginning of 2002.

Ms Kennedy: What training did you receive on Horizon?

John Bowman: We went for, basically, I think it was a week’s training. It was either four days or a week’s training in Post Office offices in Tremains Road in Bridgend.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find that training?

John Bowman: It was very basic. It was really all about navigating around the system, showing you where to go from stamps to pensions to navigating, and then explaining you how to up-sell and you were doing somebody’s foreign currency how you would try to sell them insurance at the same time. So we spent a lot of time on that. But basically it was navigating round the system, getting used to the system which was fairly basic, really.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find using Horizon?

John Bowman: The system itself as we were trained, it’s a simple system. It’s very easy to navigate around, it’s all there in front of you on the screen. Problems arose with transactions that you’d done rarely, which in a small Post Office is things like foreign currency and insurance, then you would have to refer to the manual which was provided, which wasn’t very user-friendly. So it did the basics, stamps, pensions, giros, very simple and easy to navigate.

Ms Kennedy: How soon after you took over did you start to notice shortfalls and discrepancies?

John Bowman: Nothing when we took over. It was paper-based. It was back when the Horizon system was introduced.

Ms Kennedy: I’m sorry, yes, quite right.

John Bowman: It was more or less straight away. It was from week 1 we were getting small discrepancies.

Ms Kennedy: What would you do when you noticed those discrepancies?

John Bowman: We made them good as they came up. They were usually from around £100 to £250/300. It was a new system. You expected that there were going to be problems to begin with.

Ms Kennedy: Were you – (unclear: overspeaking)

Sorry, finish what you were going to say.

John Bowman: I was just saying you were told it was your responsibility to make good the losses and you just made good the losses as they came along.

Ms Kennedy: Did you use the helpline?

John Bowman: We did use the helpline. To begin with we found them understanding, not very helpful, not very efficient. They seemed to be just following an algorithm, “Have you done this? Have you tried this? Have you done that? Have you done another balance?” And it was – it didn’t explain anything to you. It didn’t help you. It was just basically saying the things that you have already done, they were querying have you done this, have you done that, and then at the end, “Well, try another balance. That might sort it out”. It didn’t. It usually made it worse.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that your area manager visited you a couple of months after Horizon was introduced; is that right?

John Bowman: Yes. It was – again, I don’t want to tar all the area managers with the same brush. When we first moved into the area, to the Post Office, we had a phenomenal area manager, a young lady, that would visit us every four or five weeks, pop in, have a cup of tea, ask us how things were going, pass on titbits that she’d picked up in other offices as to how to increase sales and salary. She was fantastic.

Once Horizon was introduced, we never seen her again and then we had the problems and next area manager that came out was a new manager we’d never met before. He wasn’t sociable at all. He was very business-like, came in, we explained the problems to him that we were having. He wasn’t really interested. You know, “It’s a new system. You’re obviously making mistakes. Things will clear up. If there is any problems from our end, it will soon be picked up and it will be put right. Just make sure that you keep putting it right, make sure that you balance each week, each month, and roll over otherwise you won’t be able to open your Post Office. If you don’t make good then the Post Office may take some sort of action against you. There’d be consequences if you didn’t.” But it wasn’t in a nasty way. It was in a sort of business-like way that came across.

Ms Kennedy: How did that make you feel, though, when he said that to you?

John Bowman: It made me feel inadequate in some way. My background was – I had a lot of experience in data input. I had a great deal of knowledge of computer manufacture, computer monitor manufacturing, TVs, so I thought I knew what I was talking about to some extent. But he made me feel as if, “Oh, you’re just making mistakes. It’s your fault”.

It was the first – I think it was the first time in my life that I started to doubt my own ability as to, you know, do I really know what I’m doing.

Ms Kennedy: You also mention in your statement that at various points you requested extra training; is that right?

John Bowman: I asked that area manager if I could have some extra training. He agreed to that. He said since we’d initially been trained there had been some new transactions added to the system and that might be where the mistakes are occurring, so he said he would try to get me a new trainer.

The trainer did come along. He was supposed to be with me for three days from the Monday to the Wednesday. On the first day about 4 o’clock he received a phone call and he said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to leave. I’ve got to go to another Post Office who’ve got more pressing needs than what you have. You seem to be okay but I’ll come back and continue the training again”, but he never, ever returned.

Ms Kennedy: How helpful was that training that you received then?

John Bowman: Absolutely useless. He just basically stood behind me and watched what I was doing said, “You seem to be okay”. Didn’t look at anything, didn’t offer any advice, didn’t – wasn’t interested in the problems we’d been having. He was just watching to see whether I was carrying out the transaction correctly.

Ms Kennedy: Did you raise that again with your area manager?

John Bowman: Yes, for a long time we carried on about the fact that we hadn’t had the training we were promised. The shortages were still continuing. We were putting them in.

Again, whereas with the first area you would see – you don’t see an area manager anymore. It must have been nearly 12 months after the Horizon, after the first area manager came in, that the second one had turned up and he was a different kettle of fish altogether.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m sorry, so that I’ve understood this, the very first area manager, a lady, was pre-Horizon. Then you had what I would call a second area manager who was business-like and now you’re talking about a third area manager?

John Bowman: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, fine.

John Bowman: A very different one.

Ms Kennedy: What were you told by your last area manager?

John Bowman: He was abrupt, offensive, aggressive from the first moment he walked in, disparaging of what I had to say to him. He would be saying things like, “Maybe the modern Post Office is not for you. Have you thought of any other options? Have you thought of taking the rural Post Office scheme?” which was a scheme where they were closing down rural Post Offices and giving the postmistress a pittance of compensation for closing the office. “You needed to get to grips with the system”.

He said that, “It appears that you don’t have sufficient knowledge of data input”. At that time I explained to him briefly about my time at Sony where data input was vital. He asked me how long ago was that. I said about 15 years ago and again in a disparaging way he said, “An awful lot’s happened in the last 15 years. Things have changed with data input”. That’s when I said to him, “Yes, things have changed, but in terms of data input they have changed and made things simpler and easier than what they are. Data input is not harder now. The big change is in the hardware, in the system”.

I took him on a journey through my time with Sony about the stock taking procedures that we had in Sony which were vital to Sony, to show him, you know, we built 2,000 televisions a day. In each television there was 3,000 components. That’s 5/6 million components a day going through the factory.

Sony in them days were the first company to introduce what was called the JIT system, just in time, where you didn’t have a warehouse, you didn’t stock your components, your suppliers sent in your components the night before you needed them for the next day’s production. So at the end of each day each operator had to count from their work station what components they had, put it on a form. That would be given to the supervisor. The supervisor would hand all the forms to the manager. That would be inputted into the system, electronically sent to the suppliers. They would send in overnight all the components we needed for the next day’s production.

If we got them stock checks wrong and not enough components came in, then the next day we couldn’t produce the number of TVs we were targeted to produce and we ended up with, as there was then, 3,000 employees reporting to me would be sitting idle, which is expensive. So it was vital that we got daily, weekly, monthly stock checks and the annual audit correct.

It was something that I – it was bred into me for years, so I knew about data input and I knew about the production of circuit boards, which is where I was trying to explain to him I felt the problem lay and why it was there.

(Unclear) interest but I then explained to him how circuit boards were manufactured and why there might be possibilities of problems with the circuit boards, the fact that when circuit boards are produced they come as a bare board, just a piece of plastic, and the components are fitted to the board through little holes in the board.

There’s two means of production, one is what they call auto insert, which is basically a robot. The robot fits the components. That’s the – if it goes wrong that’s the easiest one to sort out because if a robot goes wrong it goes wrong on every board, so you’ve got a fault on every set.

Then the boards go from there to the production line where the operators insert certain components. And that’s where you can have a problem if an operator inserts a component reversed or when pushing it through the hole bends a leg, you don’t get a good contact, you can then have a fault on the unit, and quite often what happens is it’s not a fault that shows up straight away. The computer monitor or the TV can work perfectly well but then will break down later.

It sometimes doesn’t break down until you go out to the customer, and when the customer reports a fault the first thing we do is we don’t send an obnoxious manager out to them and say, “This is your fault. You’re a simpleton. You don’t know how to use an expensive piece of television equipment. Maybe you should get a simpler one.” We take the television away. We repair it. We feed the fault back to the factory. Things are put in process to make sure it doesn’t happen again. A replacement television is given to the customer, an apology. We’d quite often give them some financial compensation or we’d give them a present of a small Sony unit, a Walkman, a Discman, to say sorry.

It’s a completely different way they treated us when they thought there was a fault because they were just telling me – I thought it had to be something like that because they were telling me it was only me, so I didn’t think it was a software problem. I thought somewhere along the line a mistake had been made in the manufacture of the computers, because I used to manufacture them.

Computer monitor manufacturing are done on what we call short production runs, whereas we were producing 2,000 TVs a day, we’d only produce 500 computer monitors a month and they would be done on short runs, so less experienced. So I knew that there was a possibility, if it was only me, which is what I thought, that some operator had made a mistake, a component hadn’t been put in and it was causing a problem.

This was sort of re-emphasised when an engineer turned up to change the board, “At last they’d found the problem”, so he changed the board, went away. It continued. Later, another engineer came out to change the board again. I asked him what do you think the problem is and he said, “I’ve no idea. I’m not an engineer. I was just told to come out and change the board”. At that stage, all the time there’s sort of light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been sorted, but it wasn’t.

We left on not good terms with that area manager. He’s just wasn’t interested and I said, “Look, I just can’t continue to make good these losses. It’s too much now we’re borrowing money to make good. We’re taking from the shop to make good. We just can’t continue”. This guy he just left with more of a threat this time, “If you don’t continue to make good, then the Post Office will have no other alternative but to take legal action against you to recover the losses. It’s in your contract. Just make sure you continue to make good the losses.”

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

John Bowman: I felt gobsmacked. I’d never been spoken to like that by anybody. I had my own ability questioned. I was in a bit of a state to be honest. I wasn’t in the best of moods with him and maybe he wasn’t in the best of moods with me at the time he left and I felt drained. I thought I’m just knocking my head against a brick wall here. I know I’m not making mistakes, not to this extent. I know mistakes have been made in the past. I know Post Office have made mistakes in the past. I knew the software could make mistakes in a new system but not the way it was continuing week after week after week.

Ms Kennedy: You also mention in your statement that there were auditors that came to your branch and I think you say they found a discrepancy of £100?

John Bowman: Just under 100. It was – when they came out, it was shortly after the manager left, a few weeks, and I was convinced he’d sent the auditors out because I’d said I couldn’t afford to carry on and he thought I hadn’t been making good or, if not that, that he was using this as a way to frighten me. I know it’s getting a bit – I was getting a bit, by this stage, edgy and I thought that’s why these have come out. They’ve come out to try and show that I’m short.

They came, but they were nice enough chaps. They told me I couldn’t stay in the office. I wanted to stay with them to see what they were doing because I was hoping again they were going to – we’d been in the office by this time (unclear: connection drop) but we’d never had an audit. First audit that had turned up and I thought they were hopefully going to sort out the problem.

They were nice enough. They went through. I couldn’t be in the office with them. At the end it was short by less than 100, it was something like £80-odd or £90 it was short. They said I had to put it right. I said that’s no problem. I put it right there and then right in front of them and they went away.

Ms Kennedy: How much do you think you put into the Post Office over your period of time as a subpostmaster?

John Bowman: It’s at least £20,000. It’s in the region of £20,000 over that period of time. The worst part of it wasn’t until the end of the second financial year, because it started round about the February/March 2002, financial year finished in April.

The next financial year I suddenly realised not only am I putting all this money in from the shop but I’m also declaring to the tax people and the VAT that I’m taking this money and they are charging me VAT and tax on money that I’d given to the Post Office. I hadn’t even got that money. It was a ridiculous situation. I think that’s what started – brought on the depression that I suffered. At that time we decided we’re selling up. We’re not going to continue. After the auditors we said we’re going to look at selling it.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about selling your business at the time and resigning from the Post Office?

John Bowman: It was mixed because I was getting into a bit of a state. That was the beginning of the depression I went into and I was beginning to get into a bit of a state and I thought this is not fair. I’m 55 years of age. I was 54 then. I’m fit. I’m active. I’ve got a good CV. I’ve done some – I didn’t see a problem in finding another position and I just thought it wasn’t worth the hassle and the cost it was giving us, and I was fairly confident at that time that I would get another position.

Ms Kennedy: I’m going to ask you a few questions now about the impact that this has had on you. You’ve already mentioned making good the shortfalls. How easily did you find another job?

John Bowman: What happened was that’s where my health came in. I started suffering from depression after that auditor came along. My wife for a long time was trying to convince me to go and see the GP. I just ignored her. You know, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not going to see the GP”, and that went on for quite a while until my oldest daughter came in and she sat me down and explained to me the way I’d been behaving and convinced me to go and see the GP.

That was beginning of 2004 when I seen the GP. When I seen the GP he was shocked. He’d seen me six months earlier and we got on very well, me and the GP. We were both football fanatics. We supported rival clubs. We had a chat about it. He knew at 50-odd years of age I was still playing football for the local football team, and when I walked in I’d lost a lot of weight. I hadn’t been sleeping. I hadn’t been eating, and he diagnosed anxiety depression. I’ve got the doctor’s notes there where he actually says I’m suffering anxiety and depression due to the problems at the Post Office.

He then prescribed antidepressants for me, advised that I take a couple of weeks off work, and I said I couldn’t afford to do that but suffering from the depression for the last few months I had been taking several days off work when I couldn’t cope and having to bring in a subpostmaster to take over from me. Which was very expensive. I couldn’t continue doing that. If I took two weeks off work I’d have to again bring in a subpostmaster. I couldn’t do it. So what happened then was my wife had to give up – well, my wife took extended leave to begin with to come into the Post Office. She looked after the quiet days when she worked with a subpostmaster or a substitute postmaster on the busy Monday when pensions came in and on the balance day.

So we sort of were getting through it but then I was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2004. If we hadn’t have been having all the financial problems for the past 18 months it wouldn’t have been a problem. They told me I would go into the operation within the next two weeks and it was six to eight weeks recuperation. I had to completely rest, bed rest.

Without all the problems previously we would have just brought in a substitute postmaster to run it but we couldn’t afford that so, as I say, the wife then took more time off work. She was helping the subpostmaster get through but I made the big mistake then of because we couldn’t afford it I rushed back to work within two weeks, against the doctor’s orders, and I ended up with an incisional hernia. It broke – it had burst open.

They told me that that would be – a waiting list for that might be five to six months for that to be repaired. I wasn’t able to work in that time, so my wife then had to give up her job completely to run the Post Office and I sat in the Post Office to advise her with the tricky bits, which was just making the depression worse.

I’d had to give up all the positions I had in the community. I was Chairman of the Community Council and I was a trustee of Llanharan drop-in centre. I was trustee of the Welfare Hall. I was Chairman of the football club, Chairman of the community centre. I’d given all them up not realising that that was isolating myself even further and making the depression worse.

That’s when we decided we’ve got to sell it quick. When we brought somebody in quickly we were able – luckily, we were able to sell the Post Office. By then the depression was bad. Only for the family I’d have been in a right state. It continued for about two years after giving up the Post Office I was in a bad state and the idea of 12 months before we left that I was in a good position I could easily get another senior position somewhere, here I am being depressed for two years, with a large inoperable hernia. I’d gone through three bouts of surgery by then and then they said they couldn’t repair it. I was stuck with this inoperable hernia for life. I had an inoperable hernia. I’d had two years of depression. There was no chance of getting a job. I’m now nearly 59 years of age with a two-year gap in my CV. And publicity started about what had happened with Post Offices and I tried to explain why I left Post Office. So at that stage, 59, I’d just given up on it.

Ms Kennedy: What impact did your trouble with the Post Office have on your relationship with your wife?

John Bowman: For along time I didn’t know. During the last few months of the Post Office and a couple of years afterwards I was in a bad way. I became a recluse. I didn’t want to come out of my bedroom. It was later on that my children told me how badly I’d been behaving. That I’d become a bit of a bully. My wife was taking the brunt of all of that at the time. They’d seen me go from being a sociable, outgoing, fit, responsible person into a bully and as someone who had never borrowed money in his life, never had HP, hire purchase, never had a credit card, to suddenly borrowing money from his children. To find yourself in that sort of state … before Horizon we’d been financially secure. We went on regular long haul holidays. We went to Hawaii, Mexico, Cuba, Egypt. On two occasions we were able to take the whole family to Florida to visit Disneyland. I was able to do that with my three, now adult, grandchildren. I’ve never been able to do that with my three young school age grandchildren. We haven’t had a decent holiday for the past 20 years. Our life just collapsed from there.

Ms Kennedy: What about your daughter who was going to take over the Post Office?

John Bowman: Obviously, she was – it wasn’t imminent there and then. So it wasn’t a disaster for her. It was something she was looking forward to, something she’d been saving for, something that she wanted to do. She wasn’t too happy in her position at that time. She was – she worked in the Civil Service, Probation Service, and they were going through privatisation, so she wasn’t too happy with – she was looking forward to this, but she got over it. She’s still there, still working.

Ms Kennedy: You also mentioned briefly your reputation in the community. What impact did this have on that?

John Bowman: That was mixed. I mean, when we first left Post Office, we sold the Post Office to another chap and there was a nice article in the parish magazine going through all that we’d done for the community over the years and why I was leaving and everything was hunky-dory.

But then about three months after the subpostmaster sold up, got out, didn’t want to know. The Post Office was moved to the convenience store over the road and that’s when rumours started to circulate then. The majority of people were fantastic but as usual the minority are the most vociferous and the ones that cause the most trouble. And things were being said that we had been involved in something, something had gone on in the Post Office and we’d been sacked.

They were using the fact that because I was suffering from depression I’d sort of gone out of sight, I hadn’t been seen in the area for months, and was sort of putting two and two together and making five. I’m ashamed to be seen in the area. They were just – I don’t know how to really put it.

It became so that my wife again was taking the brunt of it. I didn’t know nothing about this for years afterward, not only was she putting up with me she was putting up with some of the residents and she didn’t want to go explaining to them what my health issues were to strangers explaining why we’d left the Post Office.

So she was taking the brunt of all that and all of a sudden to these people all that I’d done in the community – I mean, just before I’d left I’d raised nearly £100,000 to refurbish – on my own – to refurbish the Welfare Hall that was in a dilapidated state. All of a sudden that’s all forgotten. They just wanted to talk about the fact I’d been sacked from the Post Office. As I say, at that time I didn’t know nothing about it. So it just went on and on.

Happy to know there’s still – although the vast majority who knew me, I’m certain there’s still some out there that still believe something went on, particularly during the era when publicity was around postmasters being prosecuted and things like that. It just generated itself.

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

John Bowman: From the Post Office? I know a lot of people have said a lot of things so I’ll just keep it quite simple.

I’ve got mixed feelings on this. I’ve got to be honest. I wouldn’t like to see any more people going to prison. It would be more innocent people, not them, their partners, their children being affected. I don’t want to see any more innocent people affected by this.

What I would like to see is the people at the top of the tree, they always build a firewall round themselves. No real action ever gets taken against them. But what I’d like to see is the publicity where they would be publicly humiliated, so much so that they wouldn’t be able to get another senior position anywhere else and that the media could make sure that that happens, that they get shunned by society as some of us were shunned by society. People don’t want to know them.

People further down the line, I’d like to see them explain on oath all that they were involved in. They must have known, even the people on the helpline they were telling me I was the only one. They must have been getting phone calls from hundreds of postmasters on the same topic and still they were telling me, “You are the only one”. I’d like to see them on oath explain all that they were involved in, who instructed them to behave in that way that they did and why, when they had become aware of the situation, as they obviously had, they continued to knowingly pursue innocent people.

I would like to see all NDOs, non-disclosure orders, lifted so we can finally get transparency and people can freely tell what they know. I’d like to see some form of asset recovery order in order to recoup all the bonuses that these senior executives were paid and profits the Post Office made were made on the back of people like me and others. They shouldn’t still have that money.

Finally, please pay the 555 the legal expenses that were incurred. It’s dragging on. You have said it should be done. You know it can be done. You’ve got the best legal minds in the country. You have proved that in the past when you chased us, so you shouldn’t find it too difficult in being able to release – I know you are saying in full and final payment, but that was done on the basis of you were dealing with us in good faith, which has been proved that you weren’t, so that full and final settlement should be set aside.

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

John Bowman: I would like to make a personal statement, if Sir Wyn is happy for me to do that.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, of course.

John Bowman: In simple terms the Post Office managed to destroy, in two years, all that I had strived to achieve in the previous 40 years. My reputation, financial security, mental health, well-being, nearly destroyed my marriage and family life. It was my family that seen me through that dark period.

Just for a little background, I’m one of ten brothers and sisters. I had to leave school at 15 with no qualifications in order to financially contribute to the family. Years later at the age of 25, with my wife’s support, I returned to full-time education. At that time we had pre-school twins and Cathy returned to work full time to support this.

After, I was employed at Sony UK as a supervisor. Over the years I worked hard and continued my education of an evening after work at Bridgend College earning my degree from the Institute of Business Managers and then worked my way up the management structure to become the senior production manager with a workforce of some 3,000 reporting to me, with a management team of 20 managers and 45 supervisors.

Later, I became self-employed and in 1998 we brought Brynna Post Office and, as I thought, settled down to see out our working life in a lovely rural village.

At this time I became actively involved in the community activities, chair of Llanharan Community Council, trustee of Llanharan Community Development Trust, trustee of Llanharan Welfare Hall, chair of the village football club, governor of the local primary school. All of this was ripped away from me by a dishonest management team who couldn’t find it within their conscience to admit their mistakes and instead ruined the lives of hundreds of hard working people such as myself.

I also believe that they’re responsible for my now physical ill health in that due to the financial system I found myself in at that time and my kidney cancer diagnosis and surgery, I returned to work earlier than I was directed as I could not afford to continue employing a substitute postmaster at great cost further, which resulted in suffering a serious incisional hernia requiring further surgery which was unsuccessful, and a third one which again was unsuccessful resulting in a consultant determining that there was no possibility of rectifying the situation and I’m now left with a large inoperable hernia on my right side.

To some extent, I feel myself lucky in deciding to sell my office when I did. I was listening to the others, some of whom suffered similar small losses as I did and then, out of the blue, a massive loss. I think this was waiting round the corner for me, an amount that we would not have been able to pay. I don’t know what would have happened if that had occurred.

At the conclusion of this Inquiry, I’m just hopeful that the publicity setting the blame where it belongs squarely at the feet of the Post Office management will finally reinstate my reputation and others in our communities and vindicate what I’ve always said.

I would like to express my thanks to Alan Bates and his team for the phenomenal amount of work that they’ve devoted to this. When Mrs Vennells is finally stripped of her awards, if you politicians wish to make amends, I’d suggest you look no further when it comes from than nominations for this group who gave us all heart, through all the heartache.

And finally, thanks to you, Sir Wyn, for giving us the opportunity to publicly lift this weight off our shoulders.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, the thanks actually, Mr Bowman, are due to you for coming to speak to me. So thanks very much.

John Bowman: Thank you, Sir Wyn.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, we have another live witness, yes?

Ms Kennedy: Yes, that is right.

Sir Wyn Williams: Do we need a short break before that happens? I can see a few nods in the room, so around about 11.30.

Ms Kennedy: Thank you.

(11.22 am)

(A short break)

(11.33 am)

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir. Our next witness is Mr Christian Clement.

Christian Clement


Questioned by Ms Hodge

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

Christian Clement: Okay.

Ms Hodge: Please can you state your full name?

Christian Clement: Christian Clement.

Ms Hodge: You made a statement on 8 February of this year; is that right?

Christian Clement: That’s right, yes.

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

Christian Clement: I do.

Ms Hodge: Please could you turn to the final page of that statement at page 10.

Christian Clement: Yes.

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

Christian Clement: I do, yes.

Ms Hodge: Have you had an opportunity to reread your statement since it was made?

Christian Clement: I have and I’d like to make some amendments, if I could.

Ms Hodge: Please.

Christian Clement: Paragraph 2, just change the date to December 2017.

Ms Hodge: So this is at paragraph 2, are we talking about the first date or the second date, please?

Christian Clement: The second date, October ‘15 to December 2017.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

Christian Clement: And paragraph 27 as well, please.

Ms Hodge: Yes, thank you.

Christian Clement: Where it says I went into the residential premises, I want to change it to went to the retail side of the premises.

Ms Hodge: That’s fine. Are there any other further changes?

Christian Clement: Yes, 47, paragraph 47. To say that I wasn’t hit over the head on this occasion but I was threatened with a gun and then I hit the silent alarm.

Ms Hodge: So in the first paragraph when you said “I was hit over the head”, you said it was a threat with a gun?

Christian Clement: Threat with a gun and then I hit the silent alarm.

Ms Hodge: Okay. Thank you.

Christian Clement: 49, just one word. On this occasion I was “threatened” not “assaulted”.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Apart from those corrections is the statement otherwise true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Christian Clement: It is, yes.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. I’d like to begin by asking a few questions about you?

Christian Clement: Okay.

Ms Hodge: How old are you, Mr Clement?

Christian Clement: 46.

Ms Hodge: Where did you grow up?

Christian Clement: In Manselton, Swansea.

Ms Hodge: What did you do on leaving school?

Christian Clement: I did computer studies in college and then I went on to do a trainee butchery in Welsh cut meats, and then I went to help my father in a post office and general store.

Ms Hodge: When did you first become involved in running a post office branch?

Christian Clement: Not running, I worked in a post office branch because my father, because he had a post office in his premises and that’s where I learnt the front of house when I used to serve customers and just do the general.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when you started helping him?

Christian Clement: I think it was 1998.

Ms Hodge: And you have explained that you – he employed you; is that right?

Christian Clement: That’s right, yes.

Ms Hodge: What was your role?

Christian Clement: Just mainly to do with the shop side of things, just do the buying and selling of the warehouse and bringing stock there and occasionally help out in the Post Office on the counter.

Ms Hodge: Where was that Post Office located?

Christian Clement: In Trallwn.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you assist your father in the branch?

Christian Clement: For almost 14 years.

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

Christian Clement: Well, after my father sold the business I started doing relief work going in other offices, covering them for holidays and whatever, and I had a position in Manselton where they wanted holiday cover. So I went there and they told me then that they were looking to sell so I looked into it and I thought it was good prospects so I thought I’d buy it.

Ms Hodge: When did you purchase it?

Christian Clement: I think it was December 2007.

Ms Hodge: This was that branch in Manselton?

Christian Clement: It was, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry to interrupt but I’m just intrigued, it’s not something that’s vital to the Inquiry but we heard from Mr Kelly yesterday and Mr Kelly told us that he’d also been a subpostmaster, I believe, in Manselton and that’s the Brondeg Post Office so that was –

Christian Clement: No, that was round the corner. I was robbed –

Sir Wyn Williams: Precisely, but there was more than one Post Office in Manselton?

Christian Clement: Yes, there was, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine, thanks.

Ms Hodge: Which products and services did you provide from the branch?

Christian Clement: All pensions, giros, lottery, just all the general Post Office things.

Ms Hodge: And you have mentioned already there was a retail side to the business?

Christian Clement: There was yes, we have the lottery terminal and we just had general, cards, confectionary, some drinks, stationery.

Ms Hodge: Where did you live whilst you were running the Post Office branch?

Christian Clement: I lived behind, upstairs in the flat.

Ms Hodge: So there was some residential –

Christian Clement: Attached to the Post Office, yes.

Ms Hodge: How much did you pay to purchase the business?

Christian Clement: It was about 220,000 I think.

Ms Hodge: Did that cover the goodwill of the business?

Christian Clement: Yes, I had to take out a remortgage on my other house to purchase the premises.

Ms Hodge: But were you – sorry, were you purchasing a freehold property?

Christian Clement: Yes, it was, yes.

Ms Hodge: How much money did you put into renovating the premises?

Christian Clement: About 10,500.

Ms Hodge: How much income did you receive from the Post Office for running your branch?

Christian Clement: 45,000 a year.

Ms Hodge: When was Horizon first installed in your father’s branch?

Christian Clement: 1997/98 I think. I’m not 100 per cent but I think it was around there.

Ms Hodge: What training did you receive when it was first installed?

Christian Clement: We had – well, I had half a day’s training at Aberavon Beach Hotel. We went there. We were just shown the front of office and how to basically serve customers, but nothing in the back office to do with accounts and how you balanced or any of that. I picked that up slowly as I went along.

Ms Hodge: Who provided the training to you at the hotel?

Christian Clement: The Post Office.

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

Christian Clement: It wasn’t adequate. There was a lot of gaps. I picked up as I went along, as I was working alongside other people I picked their brains on how to do things and how to move forward and things I wasn’t sure of. But as for the training, no. It just wasn’t long enough. I think we needed a lot more training.

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

Christian Clement: Not really, no. Not for a while until I, as I said, picked other people’s brains.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any further training when you were appointed as subpostmaster?

Christian Clement: No, we had somebody there for the changeover and that was about it. They just checked everything, all the accounts and all the cash, and then they just swapped us over. I had a number of an auditor who used to – who came to do my father’s office when he swapped over and I took his number so anything I wasn’t sure of I’d ring him to pick his brains to help me if I wasn’t sure of what I was doing.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience problems using the Horizon system when you were working in your father’s branch?

Christian Clement: My father started to have losses but he wasn’t too sure. He thought it might have been staff so he was installing cameras and everything else, but he was having losses but not to the degree I was having.

Ms Hodge: What did you do when shortfalls or discrepancies arose?

Christian Clement: I’d have to put it back in the till.

Ms Hodge: Did you make any efforts to identify the cause?

Christian Clement: Yes. I phoned the helpline. I had a number for Chesterfield. You ring them up to try and find out if there’s anything looks out of place and just trying to trace down what, you know, does anything stand out. But they’d always just say, “No, nothing, everything’s fine. If there is a mistake and we find it we’ll send you a transaction correction and you can just accept it and it will balance the books”, so … but no.

Ms Hodge: Is that what would happen that you’d receive a transaction –

Christian Clement: I never had a transaction correction. It was always only one way, always losing money.

Ms Hodge: When you were employed as subpostmaster how often were you calling the helpline for assistance?

Christian Clement: Several times a week.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that you were told to put the cash in and you would receive a transaction correction to balance out later.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And that didn’t occur?

Christian Clement: No.

Ms Hodge: How would you describe the quality of the assistance you received from the helpline?

Christian Clement: Poor, very poor. It was just as you phoned them and give them the problem you seemed to know more than they did, because it just seems as if they were reading off a script. They may as well have told me to switch the computer off and switch it back on, it will all be sorted. But, no, it wasn’t very helpful. Always passing you from pillar to post and you never really got anywhere, just frustration.

Ms Hodge: You have identified in your statement a number of shortfalls –

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – that you experienced. They are recorded at paragraphs 17 to 25 of your statement. I’d just like to ask you a few questions about those, if I may.

Some of these shortfalls date back more than a decade.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What records did you keep –

Christian Clement: Everything was in my bank statements, everything I paid out that would come out of my pay. So I have got all my payslips with the deductions for all the losses which is how we broke down all this to my accountant, where my accountant would go through and break down all the losses over the decade. That’s why we came up with a figure of what we put in over ten years.

Ms Hodge: So you have explained you were told to pay money in?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you do that?

Christian Clement: We’d have to settle centrally, that’s the only way, because I didn’t have the cash, that kind of cash to pay upfront, you’d just press a button to settle centrally and it would go off to head office and then they’d deduct it out your salary then.

Ms Hodge: So in virtually every case deductions were being made from your salary?

Christian Clement: From my salary yes.

Ms Hodge: And you could record that on your payslip – that would be reflected on your payslip?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: In terms of the figures you have recorded there in your statements at paragraph 17 onwards, do these reflect individual shortfalls that you experienced or are they an aggregate of a number of –

Christian Clement: Individual shortfalls, monthly, yearly.

Ms Hodge: How were these shortfalls discovered?

Christian Clement: Well, basically, we do a cash variance every day, declare our cash every day, it would be up or down a couple of pounds, nothing big, but whenever we come to the main balance the monthly balance it would always kick out crazy figures. Like one time it would be £800. Another time it was £2,500, £5,500 and you just dig out the safe, you pull out all the stamps, you triple check everything to see if you have done a mistake, you have added up something wrong, you check what you have remmed in from outside, as in cash and stamps, to see if you have made a mistake but nothing. Everything seemed to be above board. So we could never – that was the big thing, you could never tell them where it was. It was just you didn’t know, and as crazy as that sounds you just didn’t know. You don’t know why you’re down.

So it was just so frustrating.

Ms Hodge: You have, explained you phoned the helpline on a number of occasions, several times per week you said?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you formally raise a dispute with the helpline about these shortfalls you have recorded?

Christian Clement: Yes, I spoke to my contracts manager to tell him there’s something not right. We even had a meeting and I went there and asked him if I was the only person this was happening to and he said, “Yes, you know, you are the only person this is happening to”, because I couldn’t understand how we kept on losing this money all the time.

It makes you doubt then whether or not you are doing your job properly, even to the doubt where you are blaming the staff that’s working with you, like my sister was working. I’m thinking is she making mistakes, my ex-brother-in-law who was on the lottery system, there was fingers pointed it could be the scratch cards which he was on. So I’m looking at him thinking is he taking money. So it just cast doubt on everybody who was working with you. It was awful.

Ms Hodge: You just explained you raised concerns with your contract manager at the time?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Who was that?

Christian Clement: Colin Burston.

Ms Hodge: How much in total do you believe you paid to the Post Office to make good shortfalls shown by Horizon?

Christian Clement: Over a ten-year period, about 80,000, 88,000.

Ms Hodge: What effect did this have upon your finances?

Christian Clement: Huge effect, huge effect. I think it was one of the main factors with the pressure of constantly being down and losing money. I’ve had to rent my house out, move in with my parents. It cost me a relationship of 17 years because we were always arguing over money and the stresses and strains of everything, just in a bad place, depression, drinking, bad anxiety.

Every day when are you are getting up for work you think is this the last day I’m going to work. Are the auditors going to be outside? And you are just waiting for the axe to drop. It’s a horrible feeling.

Ms Hodge: You have mentioned audits. You have explained in your statement that your branch was audited each year?

Christian Clement: Yes, most years we’d have an audit, yes.

Ms Hodge: Between the date of your appointment and when you ultimately – your contract was terminated.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Correct. You have explained that on each occasion a shortfall was discovered; is that right?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were the shortfalls discovered during the audit additional to the ones that you have recorded earlier in your statement?

Christian Clement: There was – there has been shortfalls with the audit but as long as it was under £1,000 I was told we could reopen and we did. There was a few occasions we were £800 down and we still were allowed to reopen and to settle it centrally. It was just most times the auditors came we were always down by something. There was always a couple of hundred pounds.

Sir Wyn Williams: So can I understand this, Mr Clement, if we just go back to paragraph 17 onwards or 16 onwards where you describe the shortfalls.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Over the years the shortfalls reached quite – well, very high amounts.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: But so that I understand it, what was happening was this, is it: you would see that there was a shortfall?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: You would settle it centrally once you discovered what it was?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So all these deductions were coming out of your wages?

Christian Clement: That’s right, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So that by the time of an audit, the shortfall was comparatively small because you kept paying it back.

Christian Clement: Yes, because it’s already come out of my account.

Sir Wyn Williams: So there were like two parallel lines.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Paying it back so that on –

Christian Clement: You pay this one back and then this one’s coming in.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, fine.

Sorry, Ms Hodge.

Ms Hodge: Not at all. Thank you, sir.

You have explained that an audit of your branch took place in May 2007?

Christian Clement: That’s right.

Ms Hodge: Sorry, 2017, I apologise.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And that audit revealed an apparent shortfall of approximate £6,000?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You said again on that occasion you were required to pay that money –

Christian Clement: Pay it back.

Ms Hodge: – by way of deduction from your salary?

Christian Clement: Went in to see my contracts manager again, went through the same old scenario, and he said this was my last chance. If any other shortfalls after this you’d be terminated, so …

Ms Hodge: So far as you are aware, did the Post Office carry out any investigation into the cause of this shortfall when you raised your concerns with your contracts manager?

Christian Clement: I asked them to but nothing ever came back to me, no phone calls were ever made to me or any paraphernalia coming to me to say they were looking into things. it was just a phone call I never had. I would be on to my contracts manager chasing him up to see if there’s anything happening and, “No nothing, just put the money in, just put the money in”.

Ms Hodge: Was that the final audit of your branch in May 2017?

Christian Clement: No, the final audit was December 2017. That’s when we had the massive loss and I got suspended on the spot.

Ms Hodge: What was the amount of the apparent shortfall on that –

Christian Clement: 43,000.

Ms Hodge: And what action was taken by the Post Office as a result of that shortfall?

Christian Clement: Suspended me on the spot pending an investigation. Took the keys off me and told me they’d be in touch.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned that you were suspended previously from your role –

Christian Clement: I was.

Ms Hodge: – in October 2011; is that correct?

Christian Clement: That’s right, yes.

Ms Hodge: For a period of three months?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained this was the result of an audit which revealed an apparent shortfall of £2,000?

Christian Clement: That’s right, yes.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the suspension have on your salary?

Christian Clement: Oh, salary stopped. I had no income at all. They put some temporary staff into my Post Office and I moved in with my parents until, well, just prior to getting my job back and thank God I did.

Ms Hodge: You said you did get your job back. How did that come about?

Christian Clement: I had another interview with Colin Burston, explained to him that I didn’t hide everything. Everything was declared. I even spoke to him to say that there’s a problem put everything through the system as it was to show that there was a shortfall and just reiterate that there was nothing underhanded going on. I’ve declared everything as it was, so I wasn’t hiding anything and I told you about the shortfall before I was suspended, so …

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, this is in relation to your first suspension?

Christian Clement: Yes, it was, yes.

Ms Hodge: When you were later suspended as a result of the audit in December 2017 –

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – how was that resolved?

Christian Clement: Well, I was with Freeths at the time and I told Freeths about what had happened and they told me not to accept any contact from the Post Office and they’ll deal with them themselves. But I tried ringing my contracts manager to speak to me and because I had solicitors involved he said he couldn’t speak to me.

Ms Hodge: You say you’d instructed solicitors by this point?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Was that part of the Group Litigation?

Christian Clement: Yes, the Group Litigation, yes. I was already in it as I was still a subpostmaster because I was still having losses.

Ms Hodge: Did the Post Office ultimately take any action against you in relation to that shortfall of approximately £43,000?

Christian Clement: No, nothing.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement you experienced two robberies of your branch?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: On the first occasion – you have of course made some corrections.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: But in the first instance, you’ve explained that you’d left your Post Office, the Post Office –

Christian Clement: Side.

Ms Hodge: – side of the premises, to go into the retail side?

Christian Clement: That’s right, yes.

Ms Hodge: Why had you done that?

Christian Clement: At the end of the day we got the lottery terminal there with all the cash so every day you empty the cash out to take the print offs and they put it through the system in the Post Office. So I left the Post Office to go and get the cash and the printouts and on the way back I got struck behind, on the back of the head, and knocked unconscious. But I didn’t lock the door of the Post Office because it’s literally from that wall to halfway through the room, from the Post Office to the lottery counter. And I was held accountable for half the money that went missing.

Ms Hodge: What did that amount to?

Christian Clement: About – I think it was about 50,000 – 46/50,000.

Ms Hodge: On the second occasion that your branch was robbed no money was taken?

Christian Clement: No money was taken, no.

Ms Hodge: What happened on that occasion?

Christian Clement: I had two men come in with bike helmets and poking up against the class and told me to give them the money, where they tried to jar the door open. So I just fell to the floor and hit the silent alarm and just waited for the police to turn up, which they did within about 15 minutes. Yeah, shook up.

Ms Hodge: Did you report that incident to the Post Office?

Christian Clement: I phoned the helpline, told them. They asked if any money had gone missing. I said no, and they said they’d contact me in due course and then I had a phone call then just to give me a number if I felt stressed. But after that I didn’t hear anything else. It was just a bit of a kick in the teeth. I was left in limbo. They actually didn’t care. That’s what it felt like. Just a number.

Ms Hodge: How did your contract with the Post Office come to an end?

Christian Clement: Well, they asked if I – well, I had to sell my premises. Because there was no income I had to do two jobs to try and pay the mortgages. I had to sell my house at a £21,000 loss and then they asked me if I wanted to be reinstated as subpostmaster after all this had gone on but I said I haven’t got premises to use anymore. So they said – what did they say? They’ll terminate my contract and I think they ended up giving me some money to terminate my contract.

Ms Hodge: Just to break that down a little, you said as a result of no income coming in you had to sell the premises?

Christian Clement: I did, yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that because your income, your salary was stopped when you were suspended in December 2017?

Christian Clement: It was, yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: Without that income you couldn’t afford to pay –

Christian Clement: No, I couldn’t afford the mortgage.

Ms Hodge: – the mortgage on the property.

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You sold that property at loss of £21,000; is that right?

Christian Clement: I did, yes.

Ms Hodge: Although you were subsequently asked by the Post Office if you wished to be reinstated?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Before these events occurred, what had been your intentions and your hopes in relation to your Post Office branch?

Christian Clement: A secure future, secure prosperous future. I thought it would all be good. I wanted to reiterate what my father had done with his office and build it up into something special, which I was on the way to doing. We were the number 1 seller of stamps and stuff in most of South Wales, won prizes, and I built it up to a good business and hopefully we were going to go onwards and upwards but it was never the case. It was just always an uphill struggle.

Ms Hodge: In terms of the financial impact on you, are you currently in debt?

Christian Clement: I am, yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: What’s the nature of your debts?

Christian Clement: I owe 21,000 to the bank. I owe 10,000 to HMRC. I owe my father about 25,000. So yeah we’re not in a good place.

Ms Hodge: What efforts have you made to obtain alternative employment?

Christian Clement: I’m now doing delivery driving work at the moment just to try and get ends meeting and pay back some of the bills.

Ms Hodge: You’ve already described the financial pressure this created. It caused you a great deal of stress –

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – and anxiety; is that right?

Christian Clement: Yes, it is, yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any treatment?

Christian Clement: I had some anxiety tablets prescribed to me by the doctor. I didn’t want the antidepressant ones. In terms of – well, I just had some anxiety pills and drowned my sorrows in alcohol.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you – are you continuing to experience problems?

Christian Clement: No, no, we’re on the way out. Still not right. My anxiety levels are terrible, especially in places like this. It’s been hard to come here today but, yeah, I’m slowly getting there. I’ve just got to keep at it.

Ms Hodge: You have also explained it had quite a significant impact on your personal life.

Christian Clement: Yes, it cost me my relationship of 17 years. Just couldn’t – you know, just couldn’t carry on with – because what happens is when you’re down all the time you end up taking your problems home. It’s always on your mind. You’re always down money, always waiting for the axe to drop, and the pressure was just too much, and that was the end of that unfortunately. And my children, you know, it’s obviously put a lot of stress on them as well but we’ve just got to try and pick ourselves up and move forward.

Ms Hodge: Do you still see your children?

Christian Clement: Yes, I do.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained you became a claimant in the Group Litigation?

Christian Clement: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right? How much compensation did you receive when that was settled?

Christian Clement: Not enough. Not enough to clear the debts. Yeah, I just – well, just not enough. I still owe loads of money out and it just didn’t really get me on any firm footing at all.

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

Christian Clement: Disgusting. They didn’t help me at all. They left us out in the cold. I just felt like – well, there was nobody there to help you. Just felt on your own, even though you’re phoning round trying to ask for help from every direction and every phone number, nobody. Just, “Put the money in. Put the money in. Put the money in”, so no.

Ms Hodge: What do you think the Post Office needs to do to put right what’s happened to you and others in your position?

Christian Clement: Make it as if this never happened. I’d – I don’t know. Give us a secure and prosperous future again if they can do that. I don’t know. Give everyone what they deserve and then some.

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

Christian Clement: No, that’s okay. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, thank you, and particularly since it was an effort for you to come, which I fully understand, I’m even more grateful.

Christian Clement: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. I think the next stage is some statement reading; is that right?

Ms Hodge: That’s right, sir. That concludes our oral evidence for this morning.

Sir Wyn Williams: I think Mr Enright is going to read a number of statements.

Do you want to have a short break, Mr Enright, or are you happy to just carry on?

(Comments off microphone)

Sir Wyn Williams: Then that’s fine. So let Mr Enright take the stage and then once he’s completed his reading, we will decide on the timetable for the rest of the day.

Mr Enright: With your permission, chair, I’d like to read some summaries. Yesterday you made it clear that the Inquiry and your legal team have the full witness statements of all CP victims. I will now read you some short summaries in relation to Mr Paul Harry, Helen Walker Brown, Janice Adams, Lawrence Bailey and Mrs Pamela Lock.

Mr Paul Harry

MR PAUL HARRY, summary read by MR ENRIGHT.

Mr Enright: Mr Harry has been the subpostmaster at Treherbert from 1988 to the present day. He’s been a subpostmaster of three other branches. Mr Harry provided employment for 21 assistants across all four branches. Mr Harry experienced shortfalls on the Horizon System in excess of £100,000 across his Post Offices over the course of 22 years. The Post Office deducted 25 per cent of his salary.

Paul was threatened with prosecution if he did not pay the supposed shortfalls. The Post Office audit teams refused to listen to his pleas that they help him and investigate the true cause of the shortfalls, which he told the Post Office were caused by computer errors.

Under threat of legal action Mr Harry was compelled to make good these supposed shortfalls from his own funds. He was forced to borrow money from family members and had to sell his family home. Mr Harry says that he was and remains extremely hurt, frustrated and angry. Mr Harry and his wife became very anxious and depressed. He says it is diabolical that the Government and Post Office have been able to treat them in the way that they did and get away with it.

Mr Harry says it is clear that nobody in the Post Office cares about subpostmasters and how they were treated, in any other private organisation this would not have happened. It is simply because the Post Office is a Government organisation that they were able to get away with it for so long. At this point, the Post Office should hold their hands up, accept responsibility and say that they will put this right.

Mr Harry, like so many subpostmasters, concludes:

“We just want to put our lives back on track and move on.”

Ms Helen Brown


Mr Enright: Sir, I now turn to Ms Helen Walker Brown. Helen Walker was a teacher for 20 years before becoming a regional education officer and thereafter becoming a subpostmistress at Penmaenmawr in April 2017.

Ms Walker Brown experienced problems with the Horizon System in her first three months and experienced numerous shortfalls. Helen found the helpline to be of no assistance. On a number of occasions when she experienced shortfalls, the course of action recommended by the helpline caused the shortfall to double. After a large shortfall, Ms Walker Brown felt her position had become untenable and she resigned in April 2018. Ms Walker Brown was party to the Group Litigation against Post Office Limited that uncovered this national scandal.

Throughout her time as a postmistress, Helen suffered constant worry and stress caused by shortfalls which rendered her business unviable. This affected her family life. Helen felt that she had let down her local community who relied on her Post Office.

After resigning as a subpostmistress, Helen would rarely leave the house. When she eventually did, she would use the back alley as she felt unable to face local people. Eventually, she felt she had no option but to leave her village and move to the next county. Helen says:

“In my view, the Government must repay, or be required to repay, the legal and legal funding costs the subpostmasters and subpostmistresses incurred to pull back the heavy veil the Post Office had drawn over the Horizon system, and their actions against innocent, decent postmasters.”

Helen says:

“It cannot be right that ordinary British people must bear the cost of uncovering a national scandal, particularly one of this scale.”

Ms Janice Adams

MS JANICE ADAMS, summary read by MR ENRIGHT.

Mr Enright: So I move to Janice Adams. Ms Adams was the subpostmistress in Pontypridd from June 2000 until May 2014. She had worked at the Inland Revenue for 24 years prior to this. She was, and is, a meticulous person.

Ms Adams states that the Horizon training “was pathetic and laughable.” She suffered shortfalls of some £5,000, which the Post Office deducted from her salary. Janice says that Post Office auditors were intrusive and unfriendly. They acted in a manner which made it clear to her customers that she was being investigated.

Ms Adams says that when she reported the discrepancies to the Post Office, they told her it was down to her lack of experience. They made her feel like she was stupid and incompetent, even though she knew that this was not the case. She would cry every Wednesday night as she struggled to balance the Horizon System.

Ms Adams suffered from migraines due to stress and the shortfalls caused her to struggle financially. As a result of the issues with the Horizon System, she spent less time at home with her three young children. Her family was not able to go on holidays as they were so short of money.

Janice says:

“I tried to get on with my life and not think about the Post Office, but I think a lot of subpostmasters are struggling. I want to help others and for the public to know all about the Horizon scandal so something can happen for these people who need it. I would like those responsible to be held to account.”

Janice says:

“The people who knew and hid the problems with the Horizon definitely have to be held to account.”

Mr Lawrence Bailey


Mr Enright: Sir, I move to Mr Lawrence Bailey. Lawrence is the husband of Joan Bailey who gave evidence to you on 22 February, sir. I will not repeat the powerful evidence that Mrs Bailey gave you regarding her and Lawrence’s experiences of the Horizon System and the conduct of the Post Office. However, although Mr Bailey shared Joan’s experience, this scandal also affect him personally.

Not only did Lawrence help run the main branch he also travelled 80 miles twice a week to provide Post Office outreach services to smaller communities. The village halls where he did this were sometimes so cold that he would do exercises to stay warm. However, Lawrence thought it was important that those in isolated communities have access to Post Office services.

Lawrence says of the treatment he received from the Post Office, that it:

“ … has and still does cause me great distress. It brought me to the lowest part of my life. I had gone through some dreadful times but I had always come out on top. I had never known fear. I considered myself to be capable of looking after myself with my knowledge of martial arts and having always been an active and strong person in body and mind. However, the Post Office actions caused me to question my own sanity and I was in great despair and considered taking my own life. My wife and son took me to the GP and I was given immediate access to a mental health professional and was classed as having suffered a mental breakdown and was considered to be at serious risk of self-harm.”

Mr Lawrence Bailey says of the Post Office that:

“Their duty of care was non-existent.”

Mrs Pamela Lock

MRS PAMELA LOCK, summary read by MR ENRIGHT.

Mr Enright: Finally, sir, I would like to turn to Mrs Pamela Lock. Pamela Lock became a subpostmistress in Powys in 1974. She is now sadly widowed. She has two children and six grandchildren. She is 73. Together with her late husband she ran a successful bakery business alongside a busy Post Office for 26 years before the introduction of the Horizon System. During those 26 years are she experienced no problems with shortfalls: none.

The Horizon System was introduced in early 2000 and by July 2000 her Post Office Horizon System was reporting a shortfall of over £30,000. Rather than investigate the cause of the shortfalls experienced by this long-serving postmaster, the Post Office prosecuted Mrs Lock. She appeared in the Magistrates’ Court in November 2001. Her case was then sent to the Crown Court. On advice she pleaded guilty. She and her daughter stood weeping in the court. Her husband was silent. Mrs Lock says of her husband:

“He said little but felt much.”

Mrs Lock waited 20 years to have her conviction quashed and to regain her good name. The personal and financial impact on Mrs and Mr Lock was immense.

Mrs Lock’s conviction was splashed across the South Wales Evening Post. People she had known for years shunned her. Mrs Lock and her husband had to sell a part of their retail business to pay back the shortfalls. They struggled to keep their retail business going, as they had lost footfall with the loss of the Post Office and her name had been trashed in the local community. Eventually, they had to sell their business for a pittance.

These terrible experiences continued for 20 years. Mrs Lock lost everything including her reputation. She has said:

“I would like the Post Office to pay for a front page headline in the South Wales Evening Post, showing a picture of me then and now, with the headline ‘Pamela Lock was innocent – Post Office apologises’.”

Diniwed. Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mr Enright.

While I’ve got you here, so to speak, I think the witness this afternoon is a person –

Mr Enright: An anonymous witness, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: I made a restriction order in this witness’s case. And the witness is scheduled, I take it, for 2.00, but given that we’re now at 12.15, we’re either going to have an elongated lunchtime or is there the possibility that the witness will be ready to give evidence a little earlier than 2.00?

Mr Enright: I am hoping he may already be in the building, sir, and I can speak with him and liaise with you very quickly.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, and no doubt you will tell everybody else so that everybody who is interested in hearing that evidence will know when it’s happening.

Mr Enright: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much, Mr Enright. So I’ll wait to be kept appraised of when we meet again. Thank you.

(12.13 pm)

(A short break)

(1.30 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Before we start, I need to say something about the restriction order in respect of this witness. I understand that you have no objection to the branch Post Office in which you have worked being made public. Is that correct?

The Witness: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. So in the restriction order which I made, the publication might have led or it could be construed as leading to the possibility of identifying the witness but in the light of the fact that the witness is happy for the branch to be named, everyone should understand that the restriction order is varied to the extent that I permit the naming of the branch in which the witness has worked and/or is working.

Ms Hodge, is there anything else I need to say or does that cover it?

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine.

Ms Hodge: Sir, we are hearing this afternoon from a witness who as you say has been granted anonymity by order dated 3 February 2022. I’m going to refer to this witness as Witness 0281 which is the reference number for the statement which he has provided to the Inquiry.

Witness 0281

WITNESS 0281 (affirmed).

Questioned by Ms Hodge

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

We know you as Witness 0281. You made a statement on 3 February of 2022; is that right?

Witness 0281: That’s correct, yes.

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

Witness 0281: I do.

Ms Hodge: Please could you turn to the final page which is page 26.

Witness 0281: Yes.

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

Witness 0281: Yes.

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

Witness 0281: I have, yes.

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

Witness 0281: Yes, they are.

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

Witness 0281: I’m 61 years old.

Ms Hodge: I don’t want you to state your full address but can you indicate where in the country you are from.

Witness 0281: In Bristol.

Ms Hodge: You were previously married; is that right?

Witness 0281: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: For how long were you married?

Witness 0281: I was married for ten years but I was in the same relationship for going on to 14 years.

Ms Hodge: You have two children; is that right?

Witness 0281: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: How old are they?

Witness 0281: At the present moment, 14 and 13.

Ms Hodge: What did you do for a living before you worked for the Post Office?

Witness 0281: I was a business person. I had a number of properties. I had a number of restaurants. I renovated property, bought and sold properties, and I was very comfortable and successful.

Ms Hodge: Why did you later decide to apply to be a subpostmaster?

Witness 0281: I was cash poor and collateral rich, in a sense, and I was coming to that point in life that I wanted some regularity, and I had a few friends in the Post Office network and I don’t know why but I started investigating and finding out and it was regular hours and the income varied and I was intrigued and I was looking for a new venture.

Ms Hodge: What did you hope to achieve by working for the Post Office?

Witness 0281: Well, I hoped to be successful and to be stable, which I was already, but successful and that’s what I wanted, to be successful.

Ms Hodge: Prior to your appointment you attended three interviews with representatives of the Post Office; is that right?

Witness 0281: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: Do you know why you were asked to attend three separate interviews?

Witness 0281: I don’t know why but it seemed that that was the way that they were conducting their business and if they wanted to interview me, I was quite happy because I’d got nothing to hide and interviews are there to scrutinise and to find a good character of person, as I’ve done many interviews in my time.

Ms Hodge: In which year did your appointment as a subpostmaster begin?

Witness 0281: My appointment started in the middle of 2006.

Ms Hodge: What attracted you to the branch which you took on?

Witness 0281: There were a number of branches available through the franchise option but I did not want to be having a one counter or a two counter-type business, I wanted to have the income as being the main income and any side business that I had in the premises would be a complementary to the customers. But it was the salary which had attracted me in this particular branch.

Ms Hodge: What arrangements were made in relation to the purchase of the branch?

Witness 0281: That’s a very difficult question to answer because the subpostmaster before I took the premises was already suspended and, in effect, while the branch had a value, there wasn’t a value because there was no goodwill of anything to purchase as I was guided through a number of companions that I had. But I did invest up to £86,000 on renovating the so-called flagship because they were looking to branch out and they were looking for recruitments who were thinking out of the box, who were keen, and the Post Office was looking to re-brand its brand. So my initial investment was £86,000 at the time.

Ms Hodge: What was the name of the branch?

Witness 0281: The name of the branch is Westbury-on-Trym in Bristol.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe that branch to us please, how it was when you took it over?

Witness 0281: Well, it was a very traditional building. It was a very dilapidated office. It was a main Post Office but not a Crown Office. There was only one or two items which we weren’t able to do which separated me from the Crown Office, but it was a dilapidated office with six counters, and it was a busy office because it was the main office in the vicinity.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained it had six counters. It was a relatively large office, was it?

Witness 0281: Yes, yes, compared to the other Post Offices in the area, yes, it was – it was the main Post Office. It was known as the main Post Office.

Ms Hodge: What was the annual turnover of the branch?

Witness 0281: I’m not sure if I’m allowed to answer that question but if the Chair allows me I –

Sir Wyn Williams: What are you concerned about in answering it?

Witness 0281: Well, we live in a blame society and I supposedly have signed a … a contract of information I think, you know, Secrets, the Secrets Act.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, all right. So that we don’t get too bogged down, was the turnover very many millions per year?

Witness 0281: Well, if you allow me, sir, I –

Sir Wyn Williams: The thing is –

Witness 0281: It was well over 30,000 – 30 million.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right, that’s fine, sir.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Can you please describe the type of business that you operated from the branch.

Witness 0281: When I took over, I was still running the same branch as it was traditionally and out of the six counters, they were – four always were open. One was a foreign currency counter which we kept it separate because of the importance.

Sorry, could you repeat that question again?

Ms Hodge: I asked what type of business you were operating from the branch.

Witness 0281: Yes. Mainly it was Post Office business and Post Office products, and there was a stationery business which was the retail part, which was only complementary. It wasn’t the main focus. You know, if somebody didn’t have a pen, didn’t have an envelope, you know, those little things were there to purchase. But my main income was – the driving force was the Post Office products as it was.

Ms Hodge: How many staff did you employ to assist you in running the branch?

Witness 0281: Well, in the middle of June when I took over, I think I had about five or six staff. They didn’t all work full time. The hours varied to their convenience and to the convenience of the business. There was no strict order of – but we had all four counters opening so, in effect, yes, I had four staff in the morning, four staff in the evening.

Ms Hodge: Where did you live when you worked for the Post Office? You don’t need to give me an address but was there a residential part to the premises or did you have your own home?

Witness 0281: The business was operated from a commercial office. I lived away from the business premises.

Ms Hodge: That’s fine, thank you.

In relation to your training, what training did you receive when you were first appointed?

Witness 0281: Well, I think that’s where the problems started. Initially, it was supposed to be two weeks’ office-based training but mainly it was all product driven and that’s all I can remember. There was no specific amount – specifically it was just general because whilst I was there, there were I think four or five other persons and some came, some didn’t. It varied. I can’t remember.

Ms Hodge: Did your training ever cover how you should resolve shortfalls when you were balancing your accounts?

Witness 0281: There was no training about shortfalls because it was assumed that there would not be any shortfalls. We were more taught on what products to up-sell and what was the flavour of the month product and it was on more product training and how to change the till roll and how to feed the printer labels, because it was at the time when labels were coming in and stamps were also being provided at the same time.

Ms Hodge: Did you raise questions about the Horizon System with your trainer?

Witness 0281: I raised a lot of questions at my point of training, so-called training. I raised a lot of questions and I was told that I was asking too many questions and everything would be revealed, and that’s how they operated.

Ms Hodge: How adequate was the training in preparing you to operate the Horizon System?

Witness 0281: It was not adequate because in proportion to the other people were there at the same time being trained, it was generalised because some were having small offices, some were having a convenience shop with one counter and I had a large office. So it wasn’t specifically, it was just general broad-based training.

Ms Hodge: Did you ask for further training?

Witness 0281: I requested and I said I’m not comfortable. You know, you’re asking me to take on something and I was not comfortable. I allegedly spent a lot of time asking questions which didn’t need to be answered because it will all come clear once I take on the office.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any additional training from the Post Office?

Witness 0281: Yes. There was one trainer who was shadowing me. Because I was taking on the branch which was already functioning, which had a stand-in manager or managers – I can’t remember – the staff, all the other staff were – they were already there for quite a number of years. So I was the only one which was being trained and I was being shadowed by a so-called trainer.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned that at the point at which you took over running the branch the previous subpostmaster had been suspended; is that right?

Witness 0281: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: Did you know why the subpostmaster had been suspended?

Witness 0281: No. Again it’s coming back to I was asking too many questions scenario. I just liked to know why, why people left, and why didn’t – what was the reasons? So no, it was never explained to me but the chips started falling down when I took over the office because the staff that I had had already had a history of events which I was updated in the first week of taking over.

Ms Hodge: What were you told?

Witness 0281: Well, I was simply told that the person previous was suspended for a large amount of shortage of money. Why, how it happened, it’s out in the media. There are different ways to look at it but it didn’t concern me and I was told, you know, it doesn’t – I don’t need to know.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience unexplained shortfalls when using the Horizon System?

Witness 0281: Yes, on the very first day, on the very first day of cashing up, things were not right. There was a shortage, if I remember, on my till, a number of other tills. But from my past experience of my own running my business I used to have an in-house daily book, as I like to call it, and I understand that human nature is that, you know, accidentally you give out £1 too much or take in £1, you know, and I had allowed in my own mind £5 a week per person to have a discrepancy, you know, which it was a large office and human error occurred.

So we used to put it down in a name and whether it was a plus or a minus sign, the amount of shortfall or if it was up.

Ms Hodge: What efforts did you make to identify the cause of shortfalls shown by Horizon?

Witness 0281: Sorry, could you ask me that question again please.

Ms Hodge: Yes, of course. What efforts did you make to identify what had caused shortfalls in your account shown by the Horizon System?

Witness 0281: Well, I was restricted by the organisation. Firstly, the first week I had a trainer auditor, whatever they’re called, training me and showing me and he didn’t look shocked to see a discrepancy on my first day on one or two of the tills and it was small amounts which didn’t warrant me to be overly concerned because I was assured that it all balances out at the end of the week. I took that on board.

Ms Hodge: Did you contact the helpline for support when you experienced discrepancies?

Witness 0281: Well, not for the first week or two because I had so-called a trainer and it was a large office. He did most of the checking and there were shortages and he made all the adjustments and enquiries which – but after he left, I was thrown in the deep and I had staff to guide me and I called the helpline which not – shouldn’t be called a helpline.

Ms Hodge: How often did you contact the helpline, do you think?

Witness 0281: Every day. It was a large office and we were or I was brainwashed into that everything has to balance and cashed up by 6.00 or 6.30 when everything shut down. So, you know, there was a lot of pressure that I had to balance, and I think by 7.00 we would balance because it was still the first three or four weeks and I was just settling in.

How often would I call the helpline? Every day, because there were things that I didn’t understand. There were discrepancies occurring which I didn’t understand. The staff were also confused but they were already working the system before I got there, the staff, so they knew some sort of history which they were permitted not to discuss with me for some reason but there were discrepancies from day 1.

Ms Hodge: What was the nature of the advice that you received from the helpline about how to resolve these discrepancies?

Witness 0281: Well, in the very early days, there was a lot of anxiety. The helpline, so-called helpline, was supposed to help us. They guided me to press F1, F3, go on to the next screen and then, you know, and then if there’s a shortage don’t worry, cash up, and it will adjust itself tomorrow.

Ms Hodge: What do you mean by cash up?

Witness 0281: Cash up, meaning at the end of each day the office – because I had a number of staff, each staff had its own unit. So they had their own cash drawer, in a sense. If they started work at 9, finish at 1, then you know they were finished 1 and then they cash up and balance their till accordingly and then they would put their till away into a secure safe-type drawer system.

So at the end of the day we would have three counters and then we close the door and everybody would cash up their monies and there were discrepancies, even a fortnight after the trainer had gone there were still discrepancies.

I couldn’t understand.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described discrepancies arising day-to-day on individual tills. What would happen when you came to the end of a trading period? Did you experience shortfalls at that stage?

Witness 0281: Well, that question needs to be answered in two separate parts. The trading period was always a Wednesday to a Wednesday and the reason why traditionally Post Offices closed on a Wednesday, half day, was it took them the rest of the half day to cash up all the monies because it was paper-based. So traditionally it was a Wednesday to a Wednesday and our first day started on a Thursday morning.

Then that was a weekly cash up – daily cash up, and then there was a weekly cash up, and there was a monthly cash up. So whatever discrepancies you had on a day-to-day basis would roll over into the week and then the Wednesday would finish and then if there was any discrepancies it would roll over into the next month and there were 12 months, and each month had a different Wednesday to coincide with a certain branch.

So my end of the month could be a Thursday but not necessarily the rest of the whole of Bristol branch because we all had an A, B, C, D-type graph, and then we would know which day was our end of the month and everything had to be balanced and made good.

Ms Hodge: And what do you mean by made good in this context?

Witness 0281: Well, made good simply meant that if there was any shortfalls or discrepancies made good, because the Post Office had the attitude that their system was correct and proper and if there was an error it would be a human error and I was responsible for the branch. I was coached into this position unknowingly, now that I know what I know, and made good was if there was a shortfall I had to balance it in order to roll over into the next new month.

But the majority of the time was always a couple of hundred quid loss, which seemed odd but allegedly I’d signed a contract that it was my responsibility to make sure that the Post Office doesn’t – there’s no losses, so that’s what I mean by make good.

Ms Hodge: Did you ever challenge the Post Office about your duty to make good these shortfalls?

Witness 0281: I started challenging the Post Office from day 1. I asked a lot of questions. How can it be that my experienced staff are having discrepancies? At no point did I ever think my staff were stealing because it was, the way I had worked it, it was well organised and very transparent and they were experienced staff.

The staff that come into the Post Office are not in for the stealing. They just wanted comfortable hours and a comfortable job with a start and a finish time and some stability.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned reporting discrepancies to the helpline you have also said now you raised your concerns. With whom did you raise your concerns?

Witness 0281: Well, I raised my concerns with the helpline because they were the only people that I was able to look to or get in touch with. There was nobody else other than my contracts manager. But I didn’t not get in touch with him, I raised with the helpline and made sure that they raise it.

Ms Hodge: Do you know whether the Post Office made any enquiries when you raised concerns about shortfalls and discrepancies?

Witness 0281: I don’t know what enquiries they made because it was always a very hush-hush kind of establishment and I don’t know what enquiries they made.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that you made good these shortfalls. Did you do that by paying money into the till or did the Post Office make deductions from your wages or was there some other method of making good?

Witness 0281: I made good from my own funds, which again there was a retail part of the business and I made good and that’s all the Post Office was concerned, that if there was any discrepancies they needed to be made good.

Ms Hodge: When you say you made good from the retail side, you were using your retail business, in effect, to subsidise –

Witness 0281: Yes, the retail side and also I had some personal monies, a number of properties with a number of rentals coming in and everything else was on my business plan when I put the business plan into the business when I was interviewed. So I made good I can’t remember from which sources but it was either from the retail or from my personal money that it came from.

Ms Hodge: How much do you think you paid in total to make good shortfalls shown by the Horizon system?

Witness 0281: How much money have I made good from the point I started to now? I have spent in excess of round about £90,000 making good of alleged shortages.

Ms Hodge: I appreciate that’s an estimate.

Witness 0281: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you keep records of the shortfalls that you were experiencing?

Witness 0281: Yes, we kept records of the shortfalls but nobody cared. Nobody – nobody cared, nobody wanted to know about – I just kept my own personal records but I don’t have them now. But I remember I was very thorough, you know.

I’m not highly educated in any sense but I know how to plus 1 plus 1 equals 2 and not, you know, some other odd number. Yes, I had a daily record, a monthly record. We kept everything and it was all transparent. You know, any member of staff could come and have a look at the time should they want to and that’s the way I worked.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you some questions now about your experience of working with the National Federation of SubPostmasters.

You have explained that you were a member of the Federation; is that correct?

Witness 0281: Shamefully, I was a member of the Federation of Subpostmasters – shamefully.

Ms Hodge: Did you have any formal role or responsibility within the Federation?

Witness 0281: From the very offset, I was a member from the very first day I started work and I went to a number of meetings when they were held. Then they were localised, and then they were regional areas and then they were central areas. I concentrated more on the local areas and once a fortnight we would have a meeting or once every three weeks we would have a meeting locally.

Ms Hodge: You have described providing support to other subpostmasters. What did they tell you about their experiences of using the Horizon System?

Witness 0281: I was thrown into the role by the so-called Federation and I was happy and eager to help everybody and anybody in the Federation – so-called – and when we went to meetings and there were concerns raised I would try to understand them and just relay my information to the Federation at the time.

Ms Hodge: To whom did you communicate your concerns within the Federation?

Witness 0281: Well, it was all localised, so I didn’t have any specific named role. There was a local chairman, a treasurer, secretary, and I never had a role other than a representative. So I took the information on and discussed it with the general people who were already in the business and just generally discussing issues and events that were going on.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall roughly when you raised concerns with the Federation about Horizon on behalf of other SPMs – sorry, subpostmasters?

Witness 0281: Can I make one little request, please. Can I please ask you to raise your voice because I’m having trouble hearing you.

Ms Hodge: Of course, I apologise.

Witness 0281: But could you ask me that question again please.

Ms Hodge: Yes, it was do you recall when you first raised concerns with the National Federation of SubPostmasters about the problems that you and other subpostmasters were experiencing with Horizon?

Witness 0281: Well, yes, I think, you know, within the first month because there was a role vacant, in a sense, because I was running the main office I was expected to take up a role and which I was happy to take on and it was not an issue.

I raised the questions and issues with the local members who presumably were going to take it further up the line and that was the way the organisation was organised. Everybody had a pigeonhole and they had their boundaries and that’s the way the organisation was formed, I believe.

Ms Hodge: How did representatives of the Federation respond to you when you raised concerns?

Witness 0281: Again, I’m astonished and ashamed to understand how this organisation, who paraded themselves as a caring and willing organisation, but they were under the assumption of no there can’t be any errors in the system and it must be a human error and it was always played down. The issue was always played down.

Ms Hodge: Did you ever speak out to the local press about the concerns that you had?

Witness 0281: Again, I want to champion a gentlemen by the name of Mark Baker who was the south-west representative and I want to champion this gentleman. He was a pillar of strength. I’ve not met Mr Bates but I raised these issues with him. He then supposedly raised them with the Federation further up the chain.

Ms Hodge: I’m going to move on, if I may, to the audits of your branch. You have mentioned that your branch account was regularly audited; is that right?

Witness 0281: Yes, it was regularly audited, always on a Thursday morning, never any other day. The reason for that makes sense because all the hard work would have been done. The person in charge, myself or any other person, they would have cashed up and all the stock units would have been balanced or minus or up or down, either way. So they always came unexpectedly but always on a Thursday morning.

Ms Hodge: What information were you given about the findings of the auditors once they’d carried at their audits?

Witness 0281: Well, in the beginning I think in my role in the first/fourth/fifth month the auditors came, I think there were three members, very intimidating in the sense of, “We are the Post Office”, you know, like, “We’re the police and we are coming here to check”, and it was very relaxing. They did their job. I would not interfere. It was drawn that they had every right to walk in as and when and check whatever and yes so be it. They came, they checked.

And so I was quite accustomed to having at least two audits a year or sometimes three was never an issue. It was what it was and it was what it was at the time. You know, I had a very large safe and there was a lot of money there. Everything was documented. Everything was processed. Everything was there. There was no issue. They came, they checked and then they always said, “We’ll come back to you”. There were shortfalls and then I was to discuss it with the helpline.

Ms Hodge: What would happen in relation to the shortfalls?

Witness 0281: Well, there is no explanation to the shortfalls. There was no explanation. There was a shortfall and the system was so perfect that any errors would be a human error or a hands in the till error, and my staff were the most honest people and there was always – there was always a quarterly shortfall, monthly shortfall, but we had to make good.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement that you took the Post Office to court in about 2009/2010; is that right?

Witness 0281: Yes. I took them to court and I want to emphasise, which is very important, I was taking Post Office Limited to court and not the Crown. But when I discussed that there were these issues and there were a number of issues, they had a blasé attitude of, “We’re untouchable. Do what you want to”. And the thinking at the time was also that I was taking the Crown to court, which was never my intentions or my thought. I was taking a Limited company which did not stand up to what it promised and what it was supposed to do. And I had a number of barristers who looked at it and said, “Yes, we can see. Yes”, but the way it is, it was a climate, it was the way it was and it was even said that, “Take it in front of a judge and you will not win it”, because the mentality was such that it was the British Raj attitude which was the carrying on, you know, that, “We’re untouchables. We are just – we are right”.

I’m afraid I was not successful in that claim, even though there were many good grounds.

Ms Hodge: To what exactly did your claim relate?

Witness 0281: I can’t remember because I don’t have the information. I remember that I took them to court and it was only Post Office Limited that I was taking to court and no other bodies and what claim, I cannot remember now. I …

Ms Hodge: What effect did your action against the Post Office have on your relationship with the organisation?

Witness 0281: Well, the effect was already downhill from day 1 because I was asking too many questions and so the effect was I was already a thorn in their organisation. But all I was was an honest person trying to establish that there is – there’s lots of issues in the system that I’m not qualified but there is issues and it’s not my staff and it’s not myself or my partner at the time, it was – there was a system error. But I could not get through.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned in your statement your contract was once suspended in December 2007; is that right?

Witness 0281: Yes. Yes, it was – it was a shock to my system, degrading. I was suspended. I can’t remember the total reason for it but there was a lot of things going on. Because I was interviewed three times in three different stages and I was taking on a large Post Office, I was suspended for some approximate 10/14 days at the time. I can’t remember for what amount or what reason it was but it was definitely a shock to my system and my morale at the time.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that you were suspended again I think in 2018; is that correct?

Witness 0281: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: After a shortfall was found by an audit of your branch; is that right?

Witness 0281: Yes. In the middle of 2018 I was already having life crisis. I was trying to run a large organisation and my lifestyle crisis were overwhelming and on a happy Thursday morning I had auditors walk in to my branch. I think there were approximately three or four persons, I can’t remember – it was definitely three persons – and they were regular in the sense of they weren’t strangers. I knew of them, that they’d been to my branch. Out of the three, one of them would have been – you know, they were familiar people in their role.

Ms Hodge: And the discovery of the shortfall led to your suspension; is that right?

Witness 0281: Well, before the discovery of the shortfall, I was already telling them that there was an issue of £9,000 of that point, in that period of time, not mentioning about the other losses that have occurred, and before my suspension there was a so-called trainer audit, some clerk came in just to check out and see things and – but on that fine Thursday morning I had an audit and it was still £9,000 short and I was suspended for reasons …

Ms Hodge: There was an issue relating to your personal circumstances as well I understand; is that correct? You need not go into the detail but –

Witness 0281: Yes, and that’s why I paused because, again, it’s very easy for persons to blabber on but yes, I had personal issues, my life was in turmoil and then on top of that I had the audit and I knew there was a shortfall. I knew and I called the helpline and I told them that there was and there couldn’t be, and they were adamant, and then I was given a choice of what I could be suspended for.

Do you want me to relate to …?

Ms Hodge: You need not go into the personal circumstances, thank you. How did your appointment come to an end?

Witness 0281: My appointment came to an end on that fine Thursday morning approximately round about 12.30/1.00/2.00 I had a conversation with my contracts manager and I was given a choice of either (a) or (b) but I was going to be suspended.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, your appointment ultimately was terminated; is that right?

Witness 0281: It was terminated on that day in 2018, yes, by the phone call and then followed by a special delivery letter confirming my suspension and paragraph XYZ dot.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to talk a little bit now about the impact that these events have had upon you. It’s your understanding that your contract came to an end on the day of your suspension; is that right?

Witness 0281: (Pause)

Sir Wyn Williams: Just take a little time. There’s no rush.

Witness 0281: Could you please ask me that question again?

Ms Hodge: Forgive me, I was simply looking to clarify. You’ve explained that you were suspended and I wanted to clarify with you how your contract came to an end but I think it’s your understanding on the day you were suspended, in effect, that brought your contract to an end. Is that right?

Witness 0281: Allegedly, I was given a choice of either (a) or (b). I took the latter (b), and my contract was terminated via the phone talking to my contracts manager who I knew of and was familiar with for the duration of the time that I spent in the Post Office and it came to an end.

Ms Hodge: What happened to the Post Office branch when your contract was terminated?

Witness 0281: Well, this is an area that, you know, the policemen of the industry starts kicking in because the Post Office area, once I was suspended I was not allowed to go into that area, which is called the fortress for the layman, which was a secured area which is where – but the retail side I was free because I was – my retail side. But the Post Office was closed for a week after my suspension.

Prior to my suspension I had been trying to sell the business for a very long time, which was manipulated by the Post Office and it boiled down to that I had to find a suitable person who would be suitable to the Post Office to take over my branch and be gullible. That is the right word – who would be gullible enough to carry on taking the whipping in a way of the organisation.

So when I was suspended it was worthless. But I was suspended and there was a gentleman in the vicinity who was very keen, who spoke to the contracts manager via the phone. I don’t think they ever met, and it was scrutinised and he passed an interview over the telephone because he had already established business in the vicinity and I could confirm that he was a genuine person.

He came into the role to take on. But he was a business person, and business-minded person, who was not wanting to be standing behind a counter all day, “Yes sir, no sir, okay sir, yes sir, yes sir, no sir”, but he was happy to have it staff-managed. So he was already interested in purchasing the business as a going concern but there were so many issues it just delayed and delayed and then I was suspended, it was not worth anything. He was available, he was happy to take on with the understanding quite clearly that I still be available to train him and his staff.

So whilst I was suspended it was agreed that I could still go into the Post Office side to train these two new people in order to keep the flow of the business going but yet I was suspended but I was not allowed to be in the Post Office, but I was there training the new staff and the manager.

You know, this is how you can break rules when you’re a big organisation who don’t care. It was their convenience that it was convenient for me to be there. I was not – it was known that I was suspended by a number of staff because, you know, staff are staff and they were always, you know, the next best thing to the newspapers is staff because they always have their assumption of why, the reasons why.

And as I said, I went for the latter paragraph (b) for my suspension for reasons I’ve explained and – but I was allowed to go in to train the staff and there was another member of staff who was there as well and trained but, you know, she couldn’t be trained then and serving the customers, so I needed to be around and I fitted in, which I was not getting waged for but I was suspended. It was common knowledge I was suspended but it was a local village and the business needs to be opened.

Regardless of what goes on, it was convenient for the organisation to acknowledge I was suspended but still allow me to be there to train the staff so the business can still – and I wanted to help because we subpostmasters have not come into this business to steal, to have our fingers in the till. We have put a lot of time and effort and money and all the subpostmasters, the 99 per cent of the people have been honest, loyal subjects to the organisation who only wanted to serve the community.

So, yes, I allowed for this person to come in. I was advised not to, but I made a personal choice of allowing this person to come in and to keep the Post Office open and still served the general public because the need was there. The people came first. The need of society came first, not my personal lifestyle and I was advised not to open it and not allow it and I went against that advice because I did not want my reputation to become a stigma to follow me, so the doors were opened regardless of what went on.

There were lots of issues going on in my life and I was suspended and I was still working and opening the doors and cashing up and in that very six weeks of the gentleman being there, he was already through £2,600 shortage and I explained to him that at the time he didn’t want to be involved in the organisation. The Post Office was again closed for another five or six days and another gentleman came to take over.

But I went against the good advice that I was given by a good respectable gentleman and I didn’t have the energy to challenge the system but I wanted to keep the office open for the good of the people, for the community, and I failed.

Ms Hodge: How was your – forgive me. (Pause)

Witness 0281: Sorry.

Ms Hodge: No need to apologise.

Witness 0281: I didn’t hear the question.

Ms Hodge: How was your health affected by your experience running the Post Office?

Witness 0281: Well, my health was affected from the first day that I signed the contract, so-called employment contract, because I’ve never, ever saw one. I remember signing two bits of documents which supposedly was my employment contract and another document, the Secrecy Act document.

I was diagnosed as diabetic. Diabetes is in my family which when they were slightly older it was, you know, it was common but I was already diagnosed diabetic and they couldn’t understand why. I was on medication and going beyond into the business, going on, I was advised to be on insulin which I had one jab. Then going on into the business I was advised to have two jabs and I was obese. I wouldn’t eat anything but my diabetes was so bad and I could not explain that to the general public or – and to the doctors of what my situation is because I was – it was a gagging order, in effect.

I was always drummed into whenever, you know – apologies for that.

It was always drummed into I’ve signed a Secrecy Act and I couldn’t discuss my business with anybody outside the organisation. So my poor doctors, they did what they could. I was on twice jabs, insulin. It was so bad that I had – they were saying that I had to go and have my third jab in the routine of every day and I was then offered an alternative operation and I had that alternative operation, and two years for it to settle down and my diabetes is now controlled. I’m still a diabetic via the operation I had and – but there were other medical issues occurring which was part of the job stress I was under.

But there was nobody I could talk to. I had the Post Office so-called managers who just wanted to push their specific product of the month and they came in and I have chased a few managers out of the office because I know I have to get up at 7.00 in the morning or 6.00 in the morning and I have to get changed and ready to go and open those doors. I know I have to serve a number of people. I know I have to close at a certain time and I know I was self-employed. But these so-called managers who came from fancy jobs previous and were hired, which is fine, but when I asked them, “Can you explain to me how this shortfall or this has occurred?”

“Oh well, we’ll take it up with the helpline and they’ll get in touch.” They were not interested. They were only interested in pushing their flavour of the month product and I’m pleased to tell you that I was – I have chucked a few of those managers out because they had no knowledge of customer service, they had fancy roles but there were a number of managers – there was one particular manager who said – and I said to him, I said, “Look, let’s be on the level. What is it you are chasing? What product are you looking for? What’s the flavour of the month”, and he wanted this, this, this and I said, “I can do that for you”. And his figures had doubled or raised and his figures were going up, he was a happy bunny, but in return he had made a comment on he could not understand why I was labelled as a difficult person to work with.

All I was trying to do was cry out for help to an organisation who didn’t want to listen and I’m telling them that there’s a problem in the system that I could not explain and I could not work. From day 1, there was a problem and I raised the problem up and I took it to all the levels and there was nobody there until a point of 2010 when the – another organisation of the trade union organisation, under another gentleman, who is a very respectable gentleman, came in and I moved – I was a member of both organisations, the Federation of Subpostmasters and the new TUC or union. But I was allowed to be a member of both organisations.

But I championed this other gentleman who supported me and who knew and he had a voice that he could speak from a different platform and he was being challenged by the Federation. He was already the black sheep. He was already.

Ms Hodge: Who are you referring to?

Witness 0281: I’m referring to a gentleman by the name of Mark Baker in the organisation.

Sir Wyn Williams: We’re very familiar with Mr Baker. We’ve heard a lot of evidence about him from –

Witness 0281: I have great respect for the gentleman. He’s been taken through the tumble drier. His health has been affected but he never – he never let anybody down. He was a pillar of strength and I want to champion this gentleman.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the stress you experienced have upon your relationship with your family?

Witness 0281: I’m very sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you.

Ms Hodge: I apologise. You asked me to speak up before.

Witness 0281: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the stress you experienced have upon your relationship with your family?

Witness 0281: Well, the stress was divided, because I had this operation I was not able to work and go into the Post Office and my partner and my wife at the time was running the business, and then you would have these fancy managers with fancy names pushing their product and emphasis on, you know, what a nice person she is, and she is a nice person, and what great staff that I had and they couldn’t understand why I was so difficult to work with.

But my staff were not paying the bills, my staff were not up late thinking about how am I going to find that shortfall and knowing that there’s going to be another shortfall on the next period, on the next new month, and the organisation had a lot of influence on my partner and my staff because I was portrayed as a difficult person and a thorn and they couldn’t understand how I got wonderful staff and I do agree I have wonderful staff and wonderful people. But I was the one who was carrying the issues which were not getting resolved by the Post Office Horizon System at the time.

The managers were just – they were just happy to come in and push the flavour of the month because they were going to get an extra bonus regardless whether they came in to work or not, they were going to get waged. I know how it’s like to put bread on the table.

Ms Hodge: What steps have you taken to obtain compensation for the losses that you suffered, the money that you paid in to make good shortfalls?

Witness 0281: I’ve made the same steps as everybody else and I’m part of the 555 group, and whatever was divided was divided, and – but there was no other avenues to me that I could get my compensation because this was a big organisation, and I was already ill health.

Ms Hodge: How much did you receive in compensation on the settlement of the litigation?

Witness 0281: For personal reasons, I don’t want to answer that question but it was the average amount that everybody else had received.

Ms Hodge: Did it cover the amount that you’ve explained already you paid in?

Witness 0281: No, not even – no, it didn’t. It was the leftover of the 555 group and whatever everybody else received, I received that proportion of the proportion.

Ms Hodge: How do you now feel about the treatment you received from the Post Office when you experienced shortfalls shown by Horizon?

Witness 0281: Well, I’ve been abused by the organisation, so-called Post Office Limited. They interviewed me, they found my vulnerability which was I was keen to work hard and to be successful. That’s what they were looking for. I joined the organisation. As soon as I joined the organisation, this organisation was not what it was – it was said to be. It was a very close-knit organisation, a very tight-lipped organisation.

And they have – they have mentally abused me throughout my being with the organisation. They’ve emotionally broken me down. They’ve emotionally broken my marriage, knowingly because it was not – I allegedly was the only person who had issues in shortages. Out of 11,500 offices, I was the only one and I know I was not because I was in the forefront of the local organisation where there were people who were scared to bring up the conversation openly. But they were telling me that they were suffering discrepancies – they would not discuss how much or amount, and I can’t remember – but I have been abused by this organisation and this is not what I signed up for.

Ms Hodge: What do you think the Post Office needs to do to put this right?

Witness 0281: Sorry?

Ms Hodge: Forgive me. What do you think the Post Office needs to do to put this right?

Witness 0281: Well, there are two organisations that need to put things right. Firstly, the Post Office had an attitude of “We are the police in our organisation”. What they say is what happened and what they say is going to happen and there was no – there’s no challenge abilities.

So what needs to be done, it needs to be an open forum. Everybody should have accountability. As I’d said earlier on, when I started the business it was transparent. Everything was laid out. I had booklets, I had daily records, I had monthly records, everything was transparent. My staff knew exactly what was going on, you know.

And the organisation was very arrogant and abusive and it held on to their positions. That needs to be broken down because the managers who became managers were the guys who were posties or they were on the shopfloor and because they were nice people and they were nice to the managers, they moved up and got promoted. Nobody had any qualifications. If you’re a manager, you must have manageable skills. If you’re an accountant, if you’re an auditor, you need to have some accountability skills. But most of the organisation and auditors were just pals of a pal who knew there was a job vacancy and applied, and it was a close-knit organisation.

The other part on the Federation of Subpostmasters, for too long they’ve all been under the same – under the same quilt. How can you have an organisation funding another organisation to fund their products? The Federation of Subpostmasters was not a Federation, it was a boys’ club, and I was a thorn because I was asking too many questions and I was – but the Federation could only be a federation because it was funded by the Post Office. It was common knowledge that whatever the Post Office whispered was going to be sanctioned by the Federation.

Yes, we had conferences, they had different meetings and they – everybody had a role and everybody had a beer or a glass of wine and – it was just from the outside, because I am an outsider looking in, it was a boys’ club funded by the big boy who’s going to say, There you are boys, you’ve got your money, you’ve got your funds, now go and enjoy”. And the Federation would sanction everything that the Post Office had agreed months ahead.

But I and another gentleman, and a lot of other people who I consider as outsiders, not only myself and Mark Baker, there were other a number of people who stood up and said, “No, this is wrong”. But the Federation was on a– they’re all puppies on a lead. And I challenged and I challenged and I was broken. They have broken me and they had abused me. (Pause)

I feel abused. If there’s a category somewhere, it should be for the people, the subpostmasters and their families, where they were emotionally abused by this mother organisation who had a free fall and could make any decision it wanted to.

Furthermore, I’d like to ask questions because nobody’s ever answered any of my questions. How is it that out of 11,500 stores there are only 555 subpostmasters standing up and saying, “Yes, there was a problem, there was a system issue”? All the other subpostmasters were hushed up. And I know that from first-hand experience and some of them were too nervous for all their personal – that they didn’t have the time, energy to challenge the organisation and they just rolled over.

And I’m sorry, I was not going to roll over because I came into this business to work hard, to achieve. And I was an honest person but they portraited me of being a difficult person.

And how can you have shortages? And the very most important thing that nobody’s ever brought up in this forum is the Horizon System, as I’m to understand, was bought from NatWest Bank because, going back in 2002 or ‘4, NatWest Bank went through a renovation and these units were bought second-hand from NatWest Bank and they were installed in the Post Offices.

So the main base, what we call the tower – in my office, I would have five different towers. Those towers were already old, as old as I was at the time. The reason I called this out is it’s important to be established because when I had the Horizon engineers come over and they would come to see me at least once a month because the printer would get jammed; the screen would freeze up; the base unit, as we call it, the base unit would not function, so I already knew what to do because I had to switch off the base unit, wait 30 seconds or a minute and reboot it. But we were already handed out second-hand item. And it was quoted – I quote a specific engineer who – a number of engineers came and they were all, “Hello, my name” and I already knew them by first name. “Yeah, come on in. That unit’s not there working, that’s not working, that screen’s not working”. And it was common knowledge that it was already second-hand equipment. All they upgraded was the screen and the printers were upgraded.

And I’m just amazed on the amount of money that the organisation Post Office Limited have spent. But they went out and bought second-hand equipment. I’m saying this out loud because it needs to be going on record that I was informed by the Fujitsu engineers numerous times that this was already chucked out, and it was bought over by Post Office Limited.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. I have no further questions for you. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Witness 0281: There’s a lot of things I’d like to add. But it all boils down to, sir, if I may, please be thorough and please have Post Office Limited and its organisation and its people to be accountable, and if you have the authority and the ability to reorganise the Federation, because they were just puppies on a leash.

And I champion this gentleman Mark Baker because he, like I and like many others who stood up as a group of 555, as we’re known, who stood up and were able to challenge, if you can break this foundation and tell them to – everybody should be qualified. A manager cannot be a school-leaver who has been school leaving and then suddenly become a manager. Unless he’s gone into training, got some – but majority of the people were just friends of friends who knew there was a vacancy, pal of my pal, and it was that kind of organisation.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Well, thank you very, very much for your evidence. I’m pleased that you were able to come and explain all these things to us. I’m going to leave in a moment and everybody else will leave, and then you can leave last, so to speak, all right. So thank you again.

Witness 0281: I thank you.

(2.59 pm)

(Adjourned until Wednesday, 9 March 2022)