Official hearing page

11 May 2022 – Vinod Sharma, Peter Worsfold, Louise Dar, Keith Macaldowie, Mary Philip, Philip Cowan, Ian Orr, Frank Holt, Alan Riddell, Carol Riddell, Jean Smith, Aaron Cossey, Brent Whybro, Darren King, Francis Maye and Geoffrey Pound

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(10.00 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, good morning, everyone. It’s very nice to be in Scotland. It’s a country that I’ve visited on many occasions, but never for work purposes before. So that, in a sense, is slightly unfortunate. However, it’s very important that my colleagues and I come to take evidence in Scotland, because I know that many people in Scotland were adversely affected by the Horizon IT system, as were people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, so I’m very grateful to everyone in Scotland who has made a witness statement and I’m very grateful to those who have made a witness statement who have agreed to come to give oral evidence, having been invited by me to do so.

So with those introductory words, I will now hand over to Mr Beer, QC, who is counsel to the Inquiry, who will begin today’s proceedings.

Mr Beer: Good morning, sir –

Sir Wyn Williams: Good morning.

Mr Beer: – and your assessors. Can we hear first, please, from Mr Vinod Sharma, may he be sworn.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Vinod Sharma


Questioned by Mr Beer, QC

Mr Beer: Please take a seat, Mr Sharma.

Vinod Sharma: Thank you, thank you.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Can you tell the Chair your full name, please?

Vinod Sharma: My name is Vinod Kumar Sharma.

Mr Beer: And in front of you there should be on the table a document entitled “First Witness Statement of Vinod Sharma”.

Vinod Sharma: I have with me, yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you. And can you take that up and look at the last page?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, I have checked the last page, and that’s my signature, and I’ve signed it.

Mr Beer: Thank you. And can you tell us whether the contents of this statement are true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Vinod Sharma: Yes. The contents of the statement are true to the best of my knowledge, and my feelings, of course.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

Now, can you tell us how old you are, please, Mr Sharma?

Vinod Sharma: I’m now approaching 75.

Mr Beer: And can you tell us something about your family, please?

Vinod Sharma: My family obviously – for the background, I came to the UK in 1957 with my father, and we moved to Ireland and stayed there for about four years, and my father was financially struggling, obviously first immigrant in the country, and we then moved to Glasgow in 1961, where he got a job on the buses, as you know. A lot of immigrants worked on the buses. And from there I was – I was then about 16. I was 10 and a half, 11, when I came to this country and probably missed the primary education, which is probably the basis of a good education. Although I was in school in India, I was quite good at mathematics, or arithmetic at that time as it was known, and I progressed there. And at 16 I went to an engineering college, David Hill Engineering College. I did a year at the college and served as an apprentice, and got an apprenticeship and served as an apprentice at what they called an armature winding. It’s an –

Mr Beer: Armature winding?

Vinod Sharma: Armature winding. It’s an electrical motor that produces electricity or power, any kind of motor, and these have coils in it that sometimes get burned down and needing repaired. So I was in the engineering section of electrical engineering, and I did that as a trade.

Mr Beer: Okay. And are you a married man?

Vinod Sharma: I’m a married man with two boys.

Mr Beer: How old are your boys?

Vinod Sharma: One of my boys is approaching 50 in September, and the other one is 48. One stays in the US, in Arizona, and the other one stays in Glasgow, just in a suburb of Glasgow.

Mr Beer: And how long have you lived in Glasgow?

Vinod Sharma: I have lived in Glasgow since 1961.

Mr Beer: Now we’re going to hear that you became a subpostmaster in 1977.

Vinod Sharma: I became a subpostmaster in ‘77. Obviously after I did my apprenticeship, family finances were still reasonably tight and decided to get a shop, as most immigrants did at that time. I got a small shop; progressed from there to another shop.

Mr Beer: Was that a newsagents?

Vinod Sharma: That was a newsagent. And then in 1977 – where I lived, just about 400 yards, there was a sub-post office, the postmaster was retiring and I had an opportunity to go for that post office.

Mr Beer: Whereabouts was that?

Vinod Sharma: That’s in Bishopbriggs, just – the post office is in Balornock, Glasgow, and I stayed in Bishopbriggs, which was just across the road, and the post office was in a deprived housing scheme. I –

Mr Beer: So there came a time in ‘77, when you decided to move from the newsagents/convenience store to –

Vinod Sharma: – to a post office and a convenience store attached together.

Mr Beer: And why was that; why did you decide to become a subpostmaster?

Vinod Sharma: Well, you know, I was a young lad, just in my 30s, I was 30 years old, and I was obviously looking to progress and make a financial background standing for my family, obviously my immediate family, but also my related family because we lived in a joint system because we were the first immigrants in this country and there was an opportunity there to acquire the post office, which at that time was a reasonably good salary, you had to work for it, but also a business which was generating income as well.

Mr Beer: Okay. So there was a – the possibility, obviously, of achieving a steady income?

Vinod Sharma: A possibility of achieving a steady income, yes, definitely so.

Mr Beer: And what about the fact that it was a continuation of part of the employment that you got already, ie running a store?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, well, this was a part of – obviously it’s the way the post office model worked mostly – you have a convenience store and a post office – and there was a remuneration paid by the Post Office for the transactions that you did, and this is how we were paid.

Mr Beer: And what was your view of the standing or status of subpostmasters at that time?

Vinod Sharma: At that particular time, the public perception of working for the Post Office was really high. As I soon learned, you are well respected so long as you worked with the community and helping the community – because the local community has its own local needs, so a subpostmaster was involved in the community. He got respect, he was respected, people came on to them for any issues that they had, and obviously at the same time you were making a steady living from the Post Office and the shop.

Mr Beer: So you became the subpostmaster of 48 Broomton Road in Glasgow?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, I became the postmaster in 1977, September; I think it was September 1977.

Mr Beer: And how – tell us what kind of post office was it? How big? How many counters?

Vinod Sharma: This was a very small post office. It only had only one main counter at that time, and then a retail shop to it.

Mr Beer: Now we’re going to hear that from September ‘77 until your retirement in August 2015 –

Vinod Sharma: It’s over –

Mr Beer: You worked as a –

Vinod Sharma: I think it was August, September; yes, yes, 2015, yes.

Mr Beer: You worked as a subpostmaster, so you gave 38 years, by my calculations, of your life to the Post Office?

Vinod Sharma: I gave 38 years of my life to – which was definitely, originally, a good way of earning a living and a reasonable financial living, initially anyway, working in the post office.

Mr Beer: Who else worked in the post office?

Vinod Sharma: I had – in the post office I had an assistant, my wife, and I had a shop assistant in the retail side.

Mr Beer: So in the post office side, how long did the assistant work for you?

Vinod Sharma: The assistant worked for about 24 hours – four hours a day, six days a week.

Mr Beer: Okay. So 24 hours a week –

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: – rather than a day?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, and I did the rest, yes.

Mr Beer: Okay. And for how many years did he or she work?

Vinod Sharma: Well, I had various assistants, but the first one worked with me for about 15 years.

Mr Beer: And was there always an assistant throughout the 30 –

Vinod Sharma: There has always been an assistant because obviously I had a retail shop to look after, I needed to get away from the post office counter to do my chores on the retail side in order to go to Cash & Carries, et cetera, and get goods, provisions for the shop, so that I always wanted an assistant. And sometimes if she couldn’t be there, my wife would mind the post office.

Mr Beer: When you became a subpostmaster in 1977, was there an existing subpostmaster who handed over to you?

Vinod Sharma: There was an existing subpostmistress who handed over the post office to me, yes.

Mr Beer: And did they run an accounting system?

Vinod Sharma: The accounting system we ran at that particular time, which was carried on myself, was more a manual system, whereas every transaction was noted down or a docket is produced for every transaction, and it was noted down and obviously compiled for the weekly accounting.

Mr Beer: So by a manual system, you mean with paper and a pen or pencil?

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: And can you just explain shortly, if you can, the way that the manual system works?

Vinod Sharma: Well, the way the manual system worked, you had – at that particular time the Post Office only had – it didn’t have a lot of diversification as the Post Office has today. It basically – all you did was making payment for the Government, whether through giro or pensions or pension credits, et cetera, and also selling stamps in the Royal Mail. That was the main work at that particular time. And as we were making payments for the pensions, you were presented a pension book. Obviously you look at the pension book and check that you know the person has got the right pension, but you know the person is genuine or that belonged to that person. You date stamped the pension –

Mr Beer: It’s my fault for a bad question. What I meant was how would you, using the manual system, make the books balance?

Vinod Sharma: Well, basically we would take all the payments, all the dockets for the payments, write them all down on a sheet, add them up on an adding machine, and attach them together as total payments made, and then we did the same with the giros.

Mr Beer: Yes.

Vinod Sharma: And the postage stamps were – obviously they were all postage stamps, they weren’t labels you used. You had an opening stock in the postage and you took stock of your postage again with the closing stock and that gave you the figure for the total postage used.

Mr Beer: How frequently would you balance –

Vinod Sharma: We would balance once a week, every Friday, it was at that time, Friday night.

Mr Beer: And when you did you the balancing, did you ever encounter any shortfalls, this is using the manual system?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, definitely when we did the balance at that time we had shortfalls.

Mr Beer: What kind of order of shortfalls?

Vinod Sharma: Maybe £30, £40, something like that, and – or – but quite often you found, or you may be left with what they call a tear-out docket out of the book which you wrote down you had left it in the book by mistake, and the following day when the person would come in you would say, “Oh, there it is, there is a docket, she’s had her pension.” She’ll say she’s had her pension: “You left the docket in the book”, so you would take that and then reclaim that, that particular week, that would make up the losses, and the post – so sometimes you probably maybe did occasionally paid out £5, £10 too much. That could easily happen when you’re handling cash all the time, especially – a post office is a very cash-intensified business, because especially in the housing schemes, it can seem like you’re just handing out money all the time and you did occasionally make mistakes, but you carried the mistakes, that was fine, that was part of life.

Mr Beer: When you say you carried the mistake, do you mean you –

Vinod Sharma: You made good.

Mr Beer: – you made good?

Vinod Sharma: We had to make good. That was a definite understanding that you were responsible for all the cash that wasn’t there.

Mr Beer: But under this manual system, they were always very small amounts of money?

Vinod Sharma: Very small amounts of money, yes.

Mr Beer: Did it ever happen the other way around, that under the manual system there were excesses?

Vinod Sharma: Oh yes, sometimes what actually happened is you could probably make a mistake in your accounting for postage more than anything else – not anything else – and the following week you would probably say, “Well, listen, I was £12 over last week, but the postage is, it’s now adjusted itself and it’s worked out fine”, so that was it.

Mr Beer: When you were using this manual system, did the Post Office ever conduct audits of your branch?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, originally the Post Office, they audited once a year, but over the years it dwindled down to once every five years, four years, you hardly ever seen anybody unless it was a really –

Mr Beer: And under the manual system, were ever any issues identified in the course of these audits?

Vinod Sharma: Not really. There was no great issue because it was quite straightforward, you know, you had a docket, you had your postage, you had your giro payment, and your counter and everything, there was really no – it was a faultless system in a way (unclear) because we were – the work wasn’t diversified either so the manual system was quite good.

Mr Beer: Can we turn then to the introduction of the Horizon system?

Vinod Sharma: Sure, yes.

Mr Beer: Can you remember when it was introduced into your branch?

Vinod Sharma: Well, the Horizon system was introduced in 1999 or thereabouts. By that time the pension books had started having a barcode, so when a customer came in, you got your gun and you scanned the barcode. That particular person’s name came up and you punched in the amount and you still took the docket out, and you handed it, and that carried on for about three or four years. And after three or four years, it became more sophisticated. There was no pension books, people had – the card system was introduced, money was going into people’s card accounts, everybody was asked or forced to open a card account with the Post Office, and they came in with a card like the chip and PIN card, and they operated – that’s where I felt we really lost everything. There was no way of reconciling what you’d paid out in terms of individual payments. You had to take the word of the machine or the computer programme when it says what you should have left at the cash at the end of the day and what you’ve paid out.

Mr Beer: And when the system went live in 1999 for you, before then did you receive any training on the use of the Horizon system?

Vinod Sharma: We would have had two days of training on Horizon, which was quite inadequate.

Mr Beer: Whereabouts was that, was that in-branch or out –

Vinod Sharma: In-branch.

Mr Beer: In your branch?

Vinod Sharma: In-branch, a girl would come in for about two days from half 8/9 o’clock until 5/5.30 and –

Mr Beer: Did you think it was inadequate at the time, or is it now, looking back?

Vinod Sharma: At the time it was definitely inadequate because obviously with systems like that you have to work at it to get to know it. I mean, although, on the tail-end of it you balance up quite quickly because you were used to the system of the way it was working, but initially you would spend hours at night trying to balance up, trying to work the system, and the procedure you had to go through to balance up, it took a lot of time. But –

Mr Beer: By the time the system went live, did you feel qualified to use the system?

Vinod Sharma: No, it took about a year and a bit to say, yes, I could do the balance with the system with confidence, rather than, you know, “God, what’s happening here, what’s happening here, is that right, is that right, or am I doing the right step? Let me phone somebody else up and see if I’m going through the system right, and doing it.”

Mr Beer: Were you trained what to do if the system showed a shortfall?

Vinod Sharma: Well, you weren’t trained; you were just told to phone the helpline.

Mr Beer: That was the solution?

Vinod Sharma: That was the solution.

Mr Beer: Anything else?

Vinod Sharma: No.

Mr Beer: You say in paragraph 12 of your witness statement:

“It was expected that any shortfall would have to be paid out of my own pocket …”

Vinod Sharma: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: Who said that to you?

Vinod Sharma: I don’t physically remember anybody saying it to me early, but it was quite clear over the years of practice that any shortfall was the responsibility of the subpostmaster. And I think you’ll find any subpostmaster in the country will tell you that any shortfall the system shows is the responsibility of the subpostmaster, and you have to make it good.

Mr Beer: And so this wasn’t something that was specifically said in relation to Horizon; this was just a continuation?

Vinod Sharma: This was a continuation since 1977.

Mr Beer: You go on to say:

“… I was always told that there was no error …”

And then I think:

“… and no error could be made while using the Horizon System.”

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: When was that said?

Vinod Sharma: I think that was said at the beginning, way back in 2003, 2004, when it all went live, totally went on the – when the books were abolished, the pension book, the card account came in, we were led to believe that the system is – it’s faultless, it’s been tried and tested. I think – I’m not sure whether it was the Australian post office tried that system first.

Mr Beer: And in what context was this being said to you, that there were no errors, or errors couldn’t be made?

Vinod Sharma: When you maybe got a shortfall of maybe £100 or £200, you would phone the helpline and say, “I’ve looked through all this. I can’t find it. I’m £112 short.” And they say, “Listen, for some reason something is wrong. They’ve either paid out, the money has gone missing, you have to make it good, the system – there is nothing wrong with the system.”

Mr Beer: You go on to say in that paragraph:

“I was told that the system was working properly.”

Was this when you raised shortfall issues with the helpline?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, yes, that’s right, yes.

Mr Beer: And was that the message that you always got back from –

Vinod Sharma: We always got that message, even through the Federation. I mean, you’d be surprised – I mean, I did used to attend certain Federation meetings and it was the kind of stories you’re hearing now was never aired in any of the Federation meetings that they’re having problems with the system, never aired.

Mr Beer: And so for those not as familiar as all of us with what you mean by “the Federation”, tell us what the Federation is?

Vinod Sharma: We had what they call a SubPostmasters Federation. It was really the Post Office Workers’ Union, the people who run a post office, and obviously I’m in Glasgow, I’ve been in Glasgow since I was 11, Clydeside, strong union links, not necessarily leftist views, but people standing up for their rights, and I was – so I was always in favour of a union, because we could – if we had certain demands, whether it’s pay demands or working hours, we could go through the union and go through the Post Office, but unfortunately it was pointless. The Federation was there in name, but it was definitely not there for the subpostmasters.

Mr Beer: So in this context, the issue of the operation of the Horizon system and shortfall –

Vinod Sharma: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: – are you saying they told you as well that the system was working properly?

Vinod Sharma: Well, I mean it was not – nobody actually clearly said, when we talked to people on a one-to-one basis they said, “No, the system is fine, it’s gone missing, somebody has stolen it or somebody has paid out too much”, and basically you were left with, you know, “That’s it.”

Mr Beer: Now after the introduction of the Horizon system in your branch, you experienced shortfalls?

Vinod Sharma: Well, I experienced shortfalls, maybe not to a great extent but sometimes maybe a few hundred pounds.

Mr Beer: But how soon after the introduction of Horizon into the branch was that?

Vinod Sharma: I think – well, it happened sort of intermittently, but it started happening about maybe every so often. I mean, I can’t really put a time to it. You did occasionally have losses, or the system showed that you were carrying less cash than you should be, which was considered a loss.

Mr Beer: And so just to explain that, again for anyone watching that doesn’t realise, would it show where the loss occurred?

Vinod Sharma: It would just show cash would be short.

Mr Beer: So there would be a bottom line –

Vinod Sharma: Bottom line. You would look at the cash and you would look at the cash you’ve entered in – that you’re holding in stock in the system, and when you look at the system to see what you should have if the two didn’t marry up, you were short.

Mr Beer: So there was just a bottom line which said, “You should have £10,000”?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, bottom line, and then if you had what you were holding and it showed you were short, if you were balanced it should maybe – I mean, you could never get the system to balance perfectly, there was always 10 or £15 this way and that way, but you carried that. We used to – this in 1977, and we used to be carrying this, so this is what happened. If it’s short, you were to put it in.

Mr Beer: By “carry”, you don’t mean carry over to the next?

Vinod Sharma: Sometimes, if you had a large shortage, maybe 400 or £500, £300, you would phone the helpline. They would say – it used to be on a Friday night, we did come to a bit of a Wednesday balance, but on Friday night, you know, ordinary folk maybe would want to shut shop and go home. But you as a subpostmaster would be sitting there raking your (unclear) at 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock on Friday night and couldn’t get anywhere. You’d maybe phone the helpline earlier on and they would just say, “Well, listen, if it’s not there, you could leave it and maybe it will show up later in the system”, where the system would maybe show that – it would correct itself. You wouldn’t really see a physical input of cash, but it would correct itself. It would show up and that would correct the error, but if it didn’t come through, hence six or eight weeks later you got a notice through, what they call an error notice, you got an error notice through, “Please make good for week 12, £270.” And there was no right of recourse, you just had to put it in.

Mr Beer: So there you’d put your hand in your pocket and make good the £200?

Vinod Sharma: Well, obviously you’d put your hand in your pocket or you’d take your chequebook out from your account and you’d put it in and say “Well, that’s it gone.”

Mr Beer: Did, as a result of any calls that you made to the helpline, anyone ever come to the branch to investigate?

Vinod Sharma: Not immediately, no, never.

Mr Beer: You say in paragraph 16 of your statement:

“I was led to believe by the Helpline that any error was a mistake on my part.”

Vinod Sharma: That’s what we were always led to believe, not on my part in particular, but part of my office, which we were responsible for.

Mr Beer: So it was down to you in the branch?

Vinod Sharma: It was me, down to my branch, and I, as the subpostmaster, was held responsible for all that.

Mr Beer: Now we’re going to speak in a moment about a very large shortfall.

Vinod Sharma: Sure.

Mr Beer: Some £28,845.

Vinod Sharma: That’s right, yes.

Mr Beer: That was shown as a shortfall on the system in June 2015.

Vinod Sharma: That’s right, yes.

Mr Beer: Before then, before June 2015 in the large shortfall, had you ever experienced any such large shortfalls?

Vinod Sharma: No, nothing like that, maybe £100, £200 would sometimes it occasionally did happen, you just swallowed the pill and made it good and moved on; moved on in your daily routine and say, “Well, if it’s not shown up, you’ve got to put it in and move on”, but on that particular occasion … shall I?

Mr Beer: We’re going to come to that now.

Vinod Sharma: So that’s okay, that’s fine, yes.

Mr Beer: Tell us about the occasion of the very large shortfall. Were you in the branch at the time?

Vinod Sharma: I wasn’t in the branch.

Mr Beer: Where were you?

Vinod Sharma: I was on holiday in America.

Mr Beer: And for how long had you gone away for?

Vinod Sharma: I had originally planned to go away for four weeks. My son, who is married and settled in America, I hadn’t seen him for a number of years, I had built some annual leave up and had decided to go to America, at the beginning of June, and I had left my girl in charge. She had made herself available and she was very competent. As I said, she was 100 per cent competent.

Mr Beer: And at that stage how long had that lady worked for you?

Vinod Sharma: Oh, she’d worked for about 24 years – 24, 25 years.

Mr Beer: Okay.

Vinod Sharma: I mean, to be honest I think she was more competent than myself on that system, you know, she was really clued in, she knew how to do it, she could do her work and finish in a reasonable time, and she was very confident.

Mr Beer: So now you said you got a call. Who called you?

Vinod Sharma: Well, my son originally called me in Arizona and said, “Dad, we’ve got a problem with the Post Office” and I said,” Oh my God. Has there been a hold-up?” He said no.

Mr Beer: You mean a robbery?

Vinod Sharma: A robbery. He said, “There’s a shortage in the system. It’s showing a shortage of about £29,000.” I said, “That can’t be right.” I said – he said, “What do you want to do?” So I phoned my personal friend who is a secretary of the Federation of our particular branch –

Mr Beer: Just before you come on to your contact with your friend in the Federation –

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: – before you went away to Arizona –

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: – was there a shortfall showing then?

Vinod Sharma: There was no shortfall showing. It was done at the end of May and there was no shortfall showing there.

Mr Beer: Okay. And so it hadn’t been building up and building up and building up?

Vinod Sharma: No, nothing at all, no.

Mr Beer: This came out of the clear blue sky?

Vinod Sharma: This came out of the blue sky, yes.

Mr Beer: And at this time, by the time you had gone to Arizona in June, had you already made a decision to retire?

Vinod Sharma: I had made a decision to retire – the Post Office in the last maybe 10, 15 years have been what they call rebranding. They call it rebranding, but basically what they were doing was paying people off, buying their contract and getting replacements to come in who were, I could say, fool enough to come in for a lower remuneration than you were paying before. Although they maybe changed some of the signs, they were calling it rebranding, but that was the way they were working forward. There was an ad two weeks before it, so I had put in for retirement. I said, “Listen, I want to retire, and the person who now runs the retail side of the shop is willing to take over.”

Mr Beer: And had you got an estimated lump sum pension in mind by then?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, by that time, over the years of service, the way they calculated it, they calculated the lump sum was based on the last three years of salary, which I felt a wee bit aggrieved because over the years the salary remuneration had come down every year, you know. Rather than going up, it was coming down, and they would always say, “Well, the retail side should …”, what do they call it, the filling station, retail petrol, filling stations, the petrol retailing doesn’t make any money but they expect the shop to generate the money to support the filling station. And the Post Office was using the same analogy, expecting the shop to support the post office.

Mr Beer: In any event –

Vinod Sharma: In any event –

Mr Beer: – you’ve got a figure in mind, what was the figure?

Vinod Sharma: The figure was about £22,000 – sorry, £52,000. That was my retirement figure for –

Mr Beer: For a lump sum payment?

Vinod Sharma: – for a lump sum payment, and that was being paid to me because the present owner of the retail side was willing to take the post office over, obviously at half what I was getting for it, and in terms of salary.

Mr Beer: And had you planned to retire, as we know you did, in the August?

Vinod Sharma: So I’d planned to – I had applied for retirement maybe about a year before that, and my turn came to retire that year. We weren’t sure about the exact date, but it was quite imminent that by June, when I was going away, I was going to retire in the next couple of months.

Mr Beer: Anyway, you got this call, you’re in Arizona –

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: – from your son saying, “Dad, there is £29,000 shown as a shortfall” –

Vinod Sharma: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: You were telling us that you contacted a friend in the Federation.

Vinod Sharma: I contacted a friend, who is also a branch secretary of the Federation, of the branch – of the particular branch in Glasgow.

Mr Beer: What was his name?

Vinod Sharma: His name was Sunil Sood. And also he was a friend with another colleague who was an ex-subpostmaster, whose name was Vijay Lakhanpal. They went into the branch, and as like an auditor, they just did an audit, and the sums showed nearly £29,000 short.

Mr Beer: You’re still in Arizona at that time?

Vinod Sharma: I was still in Arizona. They phoned me and said, “Vinod, the money is not there as is shown.” So that particular time they said, “Well, the only place – somebody has taken the money.” I says, “£29,000 in used notes, not 20 and £50 notes, it’s a bundle that size. It just can’t disappear.” They said, “Well, as far as the figures show, your post office is £29,000 short.” So, and that’s where this – so there I immediately decided to cut short my holiday, and returned to Glasgow.

Mr Beer: Now, in your witness statement, in paragraph 21, you say:

“In shock and worried because I was abroad, I contacted my union representative, George Thomson to look into the issue …”

Vinod Sharma: Sorry, it should probably say “through the branch secretary, contacted the union secretary”.

Mr Beer: So who did you contact first?

Vinod Sharma: I contacted Neil Sude who was a branch secretary in Glasgow.

Mr Beer: Yes.

Vinod Sharma: He, as I said – he, with VJ Lakinpal, went in and did the audit, found the money was short, and then immediately decided to return to Glasgow. There was nothing I could do, nothing I could say, there was no evidence where the money could have gone, but we did have a CCTV in the shop.

Mr Beer: If we can just come to that in a moment.

Vinod Sharma: Sure.

Mr Beer: What had George Thomson got to do with it?

Vinod Sharma: Well, George Thomson was – I had a meeting with George Thomson after I’d come back to Glasgow.

Mr Beer: Was he a Federation representative?

Vinod Sharma: He was the president of the Federation. So after I came back to Glasgow, my union rep, Sir Neil Sude (?), president – sorry, secretary – contacted George Thomson, who had agreed to come and meet me within a couple of days –

Mr Beer: Yes.

Vinod Sharma: – of me coming to Glasgow.

Mr Beer: So just to be clear, you terminated your holiday early and came back –

Vinod Sharma: Oh yes, definitely terminated my – I bought a fresh ticket for £1,100 because on the spot, when you go and buy a ticket through the way, they charge you an arm and a leg. When I was going over, I only paid about £500 for return; a single cost me £1,100 at that time. I had no option except to pay that.

Mr Beer: So you came back, I think in your statement you said after about 10 days?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, I came back about after 10 days of being on holiday, yes.

Mr Beer: And you had been told by your two colleagues that their audit of the system had shown indeed the shortfall?

Vinod Sharma: There was a shortfall.

Mr Beer: You had a meeting with the president, George Thomson?

Vinod Sharma: No, they didn’t; I had a meeting with the president.

Mr Beer: Yes. What happened at that meeting?

Vinod Sharma: Well, at that particular meeting I met George Thomson. It was in one of the hotels in Glasgow, and I had met him once or twice before, but not one-to-one basis but I knew of him. I don’t think he knew of me. He probably said, “Well, okay, that’s the postmaster from Broomton Road sub-post office.” So we sat down and we talked about it. I said, “George, that’s not possible. The money isn’t – it can’t be short. I have watched 10 days of CCTV, and that kind of money did not leave the post office. I spent hours watching CCTV to see if there was any activities that could go on.” Well, obviously you’re under suspicion of anybody and everybody, and George Thomson said, “Well” – he says, “Basically, what’s going to happen, Vinod, they’re going to come” – the Post Office was never very, very – you know, you would think if there was £30,000 short they’d be down the next day; they were never that quick. They took their own pace. He says, “They’re going to come down 1 August to suspend you, because the money is short. As far as they’re concerned, you’re responsible and you’re showing around about £30,000 short. They’ll suspend you.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “They’ll suspend you and close the office”, but he says,” The scenario for you is if they suspend you and close the office, they’ll never open the office again. This thing will drag out so far. In the end you will lose your pay-off, and they will pursue you for the money.” He said, “They’re quite relentless”, and he says, “Basically if you’re prepared to go all through that and they’ll have the police on their side, they have their own force, they’ve got their own legal teams, they’ll just sue you for the money and you may be convicted and charged, and you’ll lose your pension – you’ll lose your retirement lump sum you were going to get.” He says, “I can’t offer you anything else. I can’t suggest anything else. If you can afford to put it in, put it in, then at least you’ll get your retirement sum.”

Mr Beer: So in the face of the suggestion that you would be suspended, you’d lose your –

Vinod Sharma: Very much so, and it could happen most places, when people have a large shortfall, they’re suspended, but my case was I could be suspended, I could be taken through a third degree by the police, by the Post Office investigations team, this, that and the other, and in the end, if I’ve got the money, they will still pursue me for the money whether they could prove it or not because I’m responsible for the cash. But the fact was that they would close the office, I would lose my retirement pension; my retirement pay-off.

Mr Beer: So, there was the suspension, there was the being sued for the shortfall, and the loss of the retirement lump sum?

Vinod Sharma: That’s right, yes.

Mr Beer: Faced with those three, what did you do?

Vinod Sharma: Well, basically I went home, I was in a state of shock. I’ve been through a lot in life, in terms of working, finance, whatever, and I said to my wife, I said, “Well, that’s it.” Local people, obviously when the post office is closed for a day or so, the word does get out, no matter how hard you try to keep it in. Nobody ever suspected that Lorraine or myself had taken the cash. But that’s not enough for the Post Office. So I said to my wife, I said, “Look, we know Lorraine hadn’t taken it, the money has disappeared, we don’t know how, but I’m not prepared to go through the third degree of inquiry with the police, with the investigation team, turning the whole place upside down, turning the whole house upside down, and then still having to put the money in.” So I decided that I would gather in the money from my resources, my mother and father, and my brother helped out as well, and put the money in, and just call it part of life, it’s happened in life, there is nothing I can do about it. The only redeeming factor was there was a lump payout – lump sum coming in the immediate future, and I would pay that back to the people who I had borrowed money from, which eventually I did.

Mr Beer: But you lost more than half of your retirement sum?

Vinod Sharma: Yeah, I lost about 30 – well, 30,000 – then the audit, sorry –

Mr Beer: We’re going to come to the £700 in a moment.

Vinod Sharma: Yes, sorry. So I lost more than half of it to that – my lump sum, you know, my retirement lump sum to that shortfall.

Mr Beer: If you just take open your witness statement, please, and look at page 5, it’s paragraph 24.

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: You say:

“I was led to believe that I had no alternative but to pay the shortfalls …”

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: Who led you to believe that you had no alternative but to pay the shortfalls?

Vinod Sharma: That’s probably an understanding since 1977, since I took the post office, because any shortfall you were responsible for. I mean, I can’t categorically say somebody said for that particular, but it was always the case. Well, obviously before it was small amounts, maybe £100, £200, maybe £70 over every so often, but that was always a led belief, and we accepted that anything; most postmasters will tell you that they were held responsible for the shortfall. But the fact – the way the Post Office auditors’ team and the legal team and their investigating team go in to the subpostmaster – because you hear some stories, how they go in, how they’re ruthless, and they make life quite miserable, but in the end the people still have to put the money in.

Mr Beer: You say in paragraph 26, and I just want to concentrate on some of the language you use –

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: –

“I’ve repaid the Post Office in full for this shortfall from my bank account.”

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: Of course, you were not repaying money at all, were you –

Vinod Sharma: Well, I –

Mr Beer: – because the money had never been paid to you in the first place, had it?

Vinod Sharma: Well, basically, as I said before, you’re led to believe you’re responsible for it –

Mr Beer: Mm.

Vinod Sharma: – so because I’m responsible for it, I have to repay that into my – pay it into the Post Office to balance my books.

Mr Beer: And is that how you saw it, that you were repaying, even though you –

Vinod Sharma: – I never took it, yes.

Mr Beer: – you never took it in the first – you were never paid it in the first place?

Vinod Sharma: I never got paid for it, but the system said I should have it, so I had to repay because I had – because the system showed that there was a shortfall in the cash.

Mr Beer: I think subsequently, ie after you paid the sum of £28,845 –

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: – there was an audit conducted?

Vinod Sharma: There was an audit conducted about five or six days afterwards, two girls came to the post office. As I said, it wasn’t as – if there was a shortfall shown in the system, somebody would come down the next day, or even in the afternoon the next day, and say, “Listen, shut the post office, we want to do an audit and see what the situation is.” They turned up about five or six days later; two ladies came from the Post Office and did an audit. I knew them both, I knew them both. One actually helped me out sometime in the past when I was stuck for staff, and they used to call me Victor, and so they did the audit.

Mr Beer: Why did they call you Victor?

Vinod Sharma: Pardon?

Mr Beer: Why did they call you Victor?

Vinod Sharma: Well, basically, I want to be – don’t take this the wrong way, I worked in a local underprivileged housing scheme and people had got to known you by first names, Vinod was quite difficult for everybody to pronounce, so they just called me Victor.

Mr Beer: Okay.

Vinod Sharma: That’s the way life was.

Mr Beer: Okay.

Vinod Sharma: So – and she said, in fact she goes, “The money has gone. You’re in America. It was balanced up on the end of May, she’s probably taken it”, point – indicating to the girl, who was Lorraine –

Mr Beer: To Lorraine?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, yes, yes. The girl wasn’t there, but she said, “She’s probably taken it.” I said, “Away. It’s just gone.”

Mr Beer: And did you believe that Lorraine had taken the money?

Vinod Sharma: Not at all. Not at all. Listen, Lorraine, as I say, I trusted Lorraine probably more than my family in terms of work ethics. Lorraine was a very hardworking, very sincere person. She has worked for me for about 25 years, and I never, ever had a problem with Lorraine. So much so I could leave her when I go on holiday and she’d be in charge and everything would be fine.

Mr Beer: Now, did this audit, despite the payment of the 28,845 –

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: – show another shortfall?

Vinod Sharma: Another shortage of about, I think £700 or something like that.

Mr Beer: £700 you say in your statement.

Vinod Sharma: Yes, £760. Again, they were there, the auditors, they’re the gods, so she goes, “You have to make this good before we go away.”

Mr Beer: So what did you do?

Vinod Sharma: I pulled my chequebook out, wrote another cheque.

Mr Beer: For £700?

Vinod Sharma: £700-odd, yes, and that – the other cheque had been cashed for the £29,000, and the 700 was on hold, made payable to the Post Office. They were quite happy. So that was – as far as they were concerned the matter is closed, there was no case to pursue for the 29,000 because I’d made it good, and subsequently my retirement came a month or so, a couple of months later, and …

Mr Beer: So you retired as planned in August 2015?

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: In terms of the impact that this had on you, you’d obviously lost £28,845 and £700?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: At the point of your retirement, after you had worked for the Post Office for 38 years?

Vinod Sharma: 38 long years. You know, it’s a lifetime, especially, you know – when I was a young lad, a 30-year-old, who had come to this country, struggled, and made – started making a living and suddenly I get this Post Office – I actually believed at that particular time that this was a job with the Government. Little did I know the Government suited themselves. You were self-employed when they wanted you to be, and you were employed when they wanted you to be. You know, totally, a unique situation, because they paid the full national insurance as an employer, which meant you were employed by the Post Office, which was a Government-owned body. But you weren’t employed with the Post Office because as an employee – because as an employee you would have other sort of pensionable rights as well, it never existed. Even today, you still get – maybe not today but you get postmasters of maybe 75, 80 year olds up in the Highlands, they’re working away for a living, for a diminishing wage, which is getting minimal every year. Yes, absolute lunacy.

Mr Beer: So at this time you were in your late 60s?

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did this cause you worry and concern?

Vinod Sharma: It did cause me worry and concern. Obviously, when you’re getting late on in life and you really – you know, nowadays people – well, even I suppose not even nowadays – people, when they get to their 60s, they start saying, “What about my pension? I have not put anything by for my pension”, you know. This happens too late in life. As you know now, people don’t think about this in their 30s. Suddenly you say,” Well, gee, what am I going to do? I’m only going to be left with the retirement pension.” Luckily, because the salary was, and the national insurance was paid by the Post Office, the pension is of a reasonable – the Government pension is of a reasonable level. But there was no Post Office – there was no works pension. So, and then I said, “Well, okay, I’ve got this coming in, the 50,000-odd that I’m going to get before the shortfall, I could probably manage” because I had done reasonably well in life. My house was done by then, paid for, so I had no mortgage. My family had grown up, my boys were not dependent on me, they were moving on in life, so I felt like, “Well, I’m getting to 67. My knees after giving me a wee bit of bother, but I’ll manage.” But then suddenly you’re going to be another 20, £30,000 short. It really left a bad feeling, a really horrible, horrible feeling that you’ve been left with this legacy of a shortfall and you were going to have less cash than you have. But you take life as it comes, and it was okay, yes, I’ll get by.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement:

“The effects of the shortfall had a devastating effect on my life. I spent many months of sleepless nights due to this.”

Vinod Sharma: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that right?

Vinod Sharma: That’s true. I mean, in a small household, me and my wife, and we were sitting there, and suddenly all that money gone missing. It’s not money you can save that easy and you do tend to wake up in the middle of the night and say, “God, what am I going to do? What’s happened? What can we do?” But with sense and good conviction you sort of soldier on, but you do suffer a lot. You know, how could this happen to me, you know, after being in there so many years, and I was quite – reasonably popular with the local community as well.

Mr Beer: In fact, as a result of the action that you took, did this not leak out into the local community that there had been a shortfall?

Vinod Sharma: No; it leaked out to the local community the shortfall – there was a problem at the post office. But people were very supportive of us, and I never – never one person would even say to me that, “Money went from your office, did you take it?” That’s the kind of thing you expect people to say, you know, but nobody – I mean, I could still walk there today, even after being away from there for about eight years, and people would still respect me, and I don’t mean respect, they would bow to me, but they would just hold me in regards.

Mr Beer: Now, you, I think, participated in the Group Litigation against the Post Office that followed?

Vinod Sharma: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: But you weren’t a lead claimant, but you were one of the claimants; is that right?

Vinod Sharma: I was a claimant, yes.

Mr Beer: And as a result of participating, did you recover any money?

Vinod Sharma: Well, as I said, I recovered just under £7,000 from the total losses from the litigation. Again, I felt quite aggrieved at the fact that we had to spend money of our compensation to fight the legal case and pay and prove that the Post Office were hiding and we’d spent millions of our money in doing the work that the public prosecutor should have been doing, because it can’t be right. It can’t be right – I mean, the cost was horrendous.

Mr Beer: As a result of your participation in that Group Litigation, have you been able to make any application under the Historical Shortfall Scheme?

Vinod Sharma: Not at all, because –

Mr Beer: And why is that?

Vinod Sharma: To be honest, there was never –

Mr Beer: Because you were excluded from it?

Vinod Sharma: I was excluded from it. Now, I didn’t even know that the 555 were going on until I had seen it in the news that the police were instigating a case. Because I would – one would expect the Federation to be – if it was a true Federation for the union, for the people of the Post Office who were employees, they would be contacting you and saying, “Listen, this is going on, and do you know about it, or have you done anything about it?” Nobody ever contacted me. The Post Office certainly didn’t – the Post Office themselves were probably quite, “Well, it’s okay, the money is paid, our books are balanced up, end of story.” But nobody ever – I didn’t even hear about that until I seen it in the news that this was going on and I contacted Freeths and said, “This is my story”, and nobody even since after, nobody has ever contacted me either.

Mr Beer: What avenues do you see yourself as open to you now to recover the true shortfall, which is –

Vinod Sharma: The true shortfall can only come through Howe & Co, who I really, really appreciate and I sincerely appreciate the fact that they’ve taken this on to help some of the subpostmasters who have been really hard done to, although them – I’m sorry, we don’t have a leg to stand on. We don’t have the resources to fight the Post Office.

Mr Beer: And now, Mr Sharma, I’ve asked you all of the questions that I wanted to ask –

Vinod Sharma: Sure, sure.

Mr Beer: Is there anything that you wish to say that you haven’t said already in answer to my questions?

Vinod Sharma: Well, I would like to just make a statement on what –

Mr Beer: Please do.

Vinod Sharma: – I feel and the way this could be addressed. I have it written down, so I’ll read it to the best of my ability and hopefully –

Mr Beer: Of course, please do.

Vinod Sharma: So the statement would read: The most important way forward for me to deliberate – sorry; I’m sorry.

The most important way for me to address this deliberate catastrophic event for me is: (1) Full compensation should be paid without delay, taking into consideration all previous losses over the years, working with this imperfect Horizon System, which has caused us all so much grief in our lives. (2) The effect of this imperfect Horizon programme has been really devastating for all the family and close friends. I find it very upsetting when I see the hellish torture endured by decent people who had given their working life to the Post Office and had to endure at the hands of the auditors and the managers, even though they (Post Office) knew they were using a system that was faulty and corrupt. However, they behaved – their behaviour in this manner with decent folk who were the main mechanism of the organisation, taking into consideration that most of them were hardly earning a minimum wage after paying all the expenses of running the suboffice, considering that the officer in charge were given a hefty salary. I urge this commission to recommend that this treatment should end immediately, and they should treat people with respect. And, finally, a full apology for all those who suffered, preferably at the Post Office where this tragic event occurred. Failing that, a total – a local venue where a number can attend and a written apology given to all, along with a press-published apology. That’s what I’d like to say.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, Mr Sharma.

Vinod Sharma: Thank you –

Mr Beer: Thank you very much for your time.

Vinod Sharma: – very much for listening to me.

Mr Beer: Sir, do you have any questions for Mr Sharma?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, I don’t, thank you very much. You’ve answered Mr Beer’s questions with clarity and comprehensively, and I’m extremely grateful to you for coming to give your evidence to the Inquiry.

Vinod Sharma: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Mr Beer: Sir, I wonder whether we might take a short break now?

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course. But given the constraints of the room, I think my colleagues and I will just remain here and everybody else can disappear, so to speak.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much, sir.

(10.56 am)

(A short break)

(11.02 am)

Ms Hodge: Sir, our next witness is Mr Peter Worsfold. May he be sworn?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Peter Worsfold


Questioned by Ms Hodge

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

Please state your full name.

Peter Worsfold: Peter Worsfold.

Ms Hodge: You made a statement on 8 January this year; is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: Do you have a copy of that statement in front of you, entitled “First Witness Statement of Mr Peter Worsfold”?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Please could you turn to the final page of your statement. Do you see your signature before you?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, mm-hmm.

Ms Hodge: Have you read your statement again since it was first made?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

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

Peter Worsfold: Except for add a year to my age, on 82.

Ms Hodge: Is it you’ve turned –

Peter Worsfold: 77 –

Ms Hodge: – you’ve had a birthday in between?

Peter Worsfold: No, no; [redacted] I signed this on the 8th, so it’s …

Ms Hodge: I’m going to ask you shortly about your time working for the Post Office, but before I do, can you please describe what you did for a living before you joined the Post Office?

Peter Worsfold: You’d need a lot of hours to go through my – I’ve done everything from licensees, to a fish farm, construction; you name it, I’ve probably done it.

Ms Hodge: Where were you living before you took up your role as a subpostmaster? Where in the country were you living?

Peter Worsfold: I lived in Ayrshire, South Ayrshire.

Ms Hodge: Why did you decide to move to Inverness to take up a position as a subpostmaster?

Peter Worsfold: I was okay with Inverness, I’d lived there before, and I was a parent with three young children, and I thought that taking up a post office would be a sound base for me to continue to support my children.

Ms Hodge: You served as the subpostmaster of the Muirtown post office in Inverness; is that right?

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: When were you first appointed as the subpostmaster of that branch?

Peter Worsfold: 1997.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you serve as the subpostmaster of Muirtown Post Office?

Peter Worsfold: Until 2002.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe the branch where you worked?

Peter Worsfold: It was a small sub-post office inside a convenience store, and we served the local community, on the edge of Inverness.

Ms Hodge: The premises included residential accommodation; is that right?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, I had a flat upstairs.

Ms Hodge: Is that where you lived with your children at the time?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What type of business did you operate from your post office?

Peter Worsfold: A convenience store.

Ms Hodge: Did you employ staff to assist you in running the branch?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How many?

Peter Worsfold: Up to two in the post office. I employed others in the retail business.

Ms Hodge: Did you purchase the freehold of the premises when you took over the branch?

Peter Worsfold: No, it was a leasehold.

Ms Hodge: And how did you acquire the post office branch and the retail business?

Peter Worsfold: With savings, and I borrowed some money from my mother.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall how much you’d paid for the business?

Peter Worsfold: 65,000.

Ms Hodge: And what other investments did you make in the business at the time you acquired it?

Peter Worsfold: At the time I acquired it, none. It was about a year later we completely refurbished the retail premises and the post office at a cost of £30,000.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when the Horizon System was first installed in your branch?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, in 2000.

Ms Hodge: Had you used an electronic point of sales system like Horizon before?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: When had you done so?

Peter Worsfold: We had a point of sale in the retail business, and also I run a salmon farm before that and we used computers for monitoring the fish, and also for running the accounts.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive training from the Post Office when the Horizon System was first installed in your branch?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Where did the training take place?

Peter Worsfold: It was a cold conservatory on the back of a public house in the outskirts of Inverness.

Ms Hodge: Can you please describe what the training covered?

Peter Worsfold: Basically inputting transactions, sale of stamps, et cetera, et cetera, and then reconciling them at the end, and bringing – and that was – then we were signed off.

Ms Hodge: Were you told how to correct mistakes if balancing errors occurred?

Peter Worsfold: No. There was no training on how to correct any mistakes or how to even find mistakes. There was no data trail or anything of that kind.

Ms Hodge: How long did this training last?

Peter Worsfold: It was about a day and a half.

Ms Hodge: Was that the full extent of the training that you received on the new system?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, mm-hmm.

Ms Hodge: Were you satisfied with the quality of the training that you had received?

Peter Worsfold: Yes. I mean, basically the training was just, and that was what we done on the EPOS system in the shop in any case. It was only, as I pointed out to the trainer, we couldn’t go back and find any mistakes or there was no data trail or anything of that nature.

Ms Hodge: Did you request any further training from the Post Office in light of your concern about how you would access information on the system?

Peter Worsfold: No, no.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall how frequently you were required to balance your accounts at that time?

Peter Worsfold: Weekly.

Ms Hodge: On which day of the week was balancing due to be carried out?

Peter Worsfold: On a Wednesday.

Ms Hodge: Your post office branch had a licence to operate a lottery terminal; is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: How did the operation of the lottery terminal affect your weekly balancing?

Peter Worsfold: Well, the problem was the lottery was on sale until 10 o’clock on a Wednesday, and the post office closed at midday on a Wednesday to do the balance, but we couldn’t finalise the balance because the monies from the lottery were not available to finish the balance until the Thursday morning, and I explained this to the Post Office at the time and they just said, “Carry on what you’re doing, you’re doing fine.”

Ms Hodge: When you say, “Carry on what you were doing”, is that to say you were balancing on the Thursday morning?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, it was balancing. The safe was on a time lock, so once we closed the post office on a Wednesday, the time lock kicked in, and it wouldn’t open again until Thursday morning, just before the post office was due to open, and so the monies from the lottery, which was held in the retail business, were transferred then to the – and we could finalise the balance.

Ms Hodge: Where were you concerned about this delay in finalising your accounts?

Peter Worsfold: Because inevitably lawyers always turned up on a Thursday morning. Lawyers – auditors always turned up on a Thursday morning.

Ms Hodge: Why was that a problem?

Peter Worsfold: Well, because we hadn’t – we wouldn’t have balanced then until we could open the safe and put the monies from the lottery in and balance the Horizon System.

Ms Hodge: Before the Horizon System was installed in your branch, had you experienced any problems balancing your accounts?

Peter Worsfold: No.

Ms Hodge: What system had you used prior to the introduction of Horizon?

Peter Worsfold: Just a paper system, and you could always go through all your dockets and everything and you could always balance. It was – if you was out by an odd amount of £57 or something like that, that would probably relate to a docket for a pension, and so there was – you could easily pick out discrepancies, if there was one, by the amount it was and by checking on your records throughout the week.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience problems balancing after Horizon was installed?

Peter Worsfold: Yes. I don’t think the Horizon System was ever designed to balance, because it was always up or down. It would never come out zero balance, because the computer just fired different amounts to you of what you should hold.

Ms Hodge: How frequently did these balancing problems occur?

Peter Worsfold: Weekly.

Ms Hodge: What did you do to try to resolve them?

Peter Worsfold: Phone the helpline.

Ms Hodge: What advice did you receive from the helpline?

Peter Worsfold: Next to none. Our contract stated that we had to phone the helpline if we had problems. So that was an – it usually took ages to get through, and once you got through it was someone sitting on the other end that was just reading from a spreadsheet, I believe.

Ms Hodge: You said in your statement that you were advised that the discrepancies would rectify themselves.

Peter Worsfold: Yes, that was always said, that you should accept them and let it roll over and then adjustments would be made when the discrepancy came to light.

Ms Hodge: Is that what happened?

Peter Worsfold: No. Inevitably, it just multiplied itself and made things worse.

Ms Hodge: Did you seek any advice from your line manager at the time?

Peter Worsfold: Always. The line managers, they was always on the end of the telephone but they very rarely visited the branch or give assistance in that way.

Ms Hodge: Were you in the Federation or the union at the time?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, yes, everybody was a member of the Federation, but –

Ms Hodge: And did you seek support from the National Federation of SubPostmasters –

Peter Worsfold: Yes, I phoned the local area rep and the audit – when I was suspended, I phoned the area rep and she just said, “If you’ve stolen the money, it’s your fault”, and put the phone down on me.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned in your statement receiving error notices from the Post Office. Can you please describe what these were?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, you used to get an error notice, and then – and instructions of how to correct it or – not correct it, but how to deal with it in the system, and this inevitably made the shortfall.

Ms Hodge: How was the error notice communicated to you?

Peter Worsfold: We just got a note come through in the post. It was an error notice that so much was short and what we should do about it.

Ms Hodge: Did the notice ever explain what had caused the shortfall or discrepancy?

Peter Worsfold: No.

Ms Hodge: What did you do to try and investigate what was underlying these error notices?

Peter Worsfold: As much as you could do, was phone the helpline and ask them for more details, and you could go into the system for a few days and seek – but, you know, invariably you couldn’t find out anything more about it.

Ms Hodge: What did you believe caused this balance, the discrepancies and shortfalls to occur?

Peter Worsfold: At the time, I don’t know. It’s – we was at a loss to know why they was occurring. We was told by the Post Office that it was because of this or because of that, or we made an error, or the money had gone missing. But we had no way of knowing, you know, why we was getting these error notices.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned at paragraph 15 of your statement you came to suspect that your staff might be stealing money from you; is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, after a period, when you continue, you get these – then you do wonder, and, you know, you watch the CCTV and everything to try and pin down what is happening to the money, and in the end, you know, I had to sack two of my assistants, just because I believed that the money was going missing and I hadn’t taken it, so I believed they had.

Ms Hodge: How do you now feel about the decision that you took then to fire your staff?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, no, I have apologised to them profoundly because, you know, I now know that it wasn’t them, it was the Horizon System, and – but we was left with no other options at the time to wonder where the money was disappearing to.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you now about some specific shortfalls that you experienced whilst serving as a subpostmaster. You’ve mentioned in your statement a significant shortfall in cash occurring in the autumn of 2001; is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: Sorry, in 2001? Yes.

Ms Hodge: 2001. Do you recall what the value of that shortfall was?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, it was £20,000.

Ms Hodge: How did you discover this apparent shortfall in your cash?

Peter Worsfold: By an error notice.

Ms Hodge: When were you first notified about the shortfall?

Peter Worsfold: In November.

Ms Hodge: I assume because it was an error notice, it was the Post Office that brought that shortfall to your attention?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What, if anything, were you told by the Post Office about how this shortfall had arisen?

Peter Worsfold: They said that I hadn’t REM-ed it in.

Ms Hodge: What steps did you take to try and investigate what had caused this significant discrepancy?

Peter Worsfold: Well, this shortfall happened in September, but the Post Office didn’t notify me until the November, some three months later. Now, for £20,000 for any business to go missing, and them not notify anybody for three months, that seems totally ridiculous to me, and at that time you could only go back into the system for 40-odd days, so there was no way I could go back and check in the system what had happened at that time.

Ms Hodge: Did you ask the Post Office to carry out some checks for you, some searches of the system?

Peter Worsfold: Yes. They sent me a signed slip which I had signed to receive the money, and so, therefore, I had to accept that I had received this money and it hadn’t been REM-ed in.

Ms Hodge: When you say you had to accept?

Peter Worsfold: Well, because they showed me a signed slip where I had signed for the money in the September.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement that the police became involved in investigating this shortfall. How did that come about?

Peter Worsfold: Well, because the money was missing, so I insisted on the police being informed to try to get to the bottom of it.

Ms Hodge: What inquiries did the police make?

Peter Worsfold: They come in and questioned the staff and myself, and – but then nothing more came of it.

Ms Hodge: How did you resolve the shortfall in cash of £20,000, which had occurred?

Peter Worsfold: How did I?

Ms Hodge: How did you resolve that shortfall of cash?

Peter Worsfold: The Post Office told me to write it off in the accounts. But they deducted the money from my wages, the 20,000 from my wages, on a monthly basis.

Ms Hodge: Did you challenge their advice to you to simply write this sum off and make it good in your – make it good by way of deduction in your wages?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: So you did challenge them?

Peter Worsfold: Sorry?

Ms Hodge: Did you challenge them at the time, when you were told that you were to write this sum off and make it good?

Peter Worsfold: No, I had to accept that, you know, I had – I had received the money and it hadn’t been REM-ed in.

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

Peter Worsfold: Around £37,000.

Ms Hodge: An audit of your branch account was carried out in November of 2002; is that correct?

Sir Wyn Williams: Before we go there, could I just be clear about the involvement of the police. As I’ve understood it, you asked that they become involved so that they could investigate this issue; yes?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, I did, I asked the Post Office.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: And they did investigate, did they?

Peter Worsfold: As far as I know, yes. They came and visited and took questions.

Sir Wyn Williams: And did they take a statement from you and things like that?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So there was a police investigation, but the police couldn’t discover what had happened either, is that what you’re saying?

Peter Worsfold: No; that’s correct, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay.

Peter Worsfold: Sorry, can I add to that?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Peter Worsfold: I’m not sure the police understood the accounting system.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I appreciate you may not be able to throw much light on the extent of their investigation, but what I wanted to understand was (a) that you had instigated it, which I’m clear about.

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: And secondly, you did see some signs of an investigation because they came to ask you about it –

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.

Forgive me, just to return to something you said earlier. You said you had signed a piece of paper in September to say that the sum of £20,000 had been REM-ed in; is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: No, not REM-ed in. I had received it from the courier. It was a slip that I had signed for the courier when he dropped the money off.

Ms Hodge: So it was transferring the sum of cash to you to hold in –

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What you were not able to establish is where the money had then gone –

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Because Horizon was showing that the sum was missing?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: But there were no corresponding transactions to reflect –

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – how the money had been paid out?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: A little later on, in February 2002, an audit of your branch was carried out; is that right?

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: Was that the first audit of your branch since Horizon had been installed?

Peter Worsfold: No – sorry, is that the first?

Ms Hodge: Was that the first audit since Horizon had been installed?

Peter Worsfold: Since Horizon had been installed, yes.

Ms Hodge: On which day did that audit take place?

Peter Worsfold: On a Thursday.

Ms Hodge: Who conducted the audit?

Peter Worsfold: Two auditors.

Ms Hodge: From the Post Office?

Peter Worsfold: From the Post Office, yes.

Ms Hodge: What time did they arrive?

Peter Worsfold: Probably about half past 8.

Ms Hodge: And had you completed your weekly balance by the time the auditors arrived on the Thursday morning?

Peter Worsfold: No.

Ms Hodge: Is that because, as you’ve explained, the lottery takings had not yet been factored into the balance?

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: And how was the audit conducted?

Peter Worsfold: They counted every – the stock and the money, and without me being present, and told me that I was 2,000 to £3,000 short.

Ms Hodge: Did you challenge the auditors’ findings when they told you that –

Peter Worsfold: I tried to explain that there was still monies to be put in and the scratch cards and lottery transactions for the week had not been – sorry, the day before, still hadn’t been allocated to the accounts.

Ms Hodge: So when you say that there was still money to put in, you’re referring to the takings from the lottery terminal?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, that’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you know what, if any, inquiries the Post Office made to investigate what had caused this shortfall at the time of your audit?

Peter Worsfold: No.

Ms Hodge: What action did the Post Office take against you as a result of the shortfall showing on Horizon?

Peter Worsfold: They suspended me.

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

Peter Worsfold: It ceased.

Ms Hodge: After your initial suspension, you were interviewed by the Post Office; is that right?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, mm-hmm.

Ms Hodge: Who conducted that interview?

Peter Worsfold: My line manager, David Duff.

Ms Hodge: Where did the interview take place?

Peter Worsfold: In a temporary office building in Inverness.

Ms Hodge: Were you asked about how the shortfall discovered in your audit in February of 2002 had arisen, during your interview were you asked to account for how that shortfall had arisen?

Peter Worsfold: No. Basically they told me that there was discrepancies and that was why I was being suspended, and that they was going to investigate.

Ms Hodge: You later received a visit at your home; is that right?

Peter Worsfold: Two security officers visited my home.

Ms Hodge: Were they employees of the Post Office, as far as you were aware?

Peter Worsfold: As far as I’m aware, yes.

Ms Hodge: What were you told about the reasons for their visit?

Peter Worsfold: Basically they told me that I was being – they said that they had the same jurisdiction as the police, and they cautioned me, but I don’t know on what authority they cautioned me, and that I was being charged with false accounting, theft and fraud.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel when you were told that you were under suspicion –

Peter Worsfold: I was very worried and devastated by it.

Ms Hodge: Were you questioned by the security officers in your home?

Peter Worsfold: Yes. Yes, they – it wasn’t really questions; they just – they just told me that if I signed a statement admitting to false accounting, and if I paid the shortfalls, then the other charges would be dropped.

Ms Hodge: Was there a lawyer present with you when this proposal was put to you?

Peter Worsfold: No, no, because they wouldn’t allow me to have a lawyer. They said I could have a friend, but they mustn’t speak.

Ms Hodge: Did they caution you before you –

Peter Worsfold: Yes, they cautioned me, but I’m not sure under what authority that was, but they did caution me.

Ms Hodge: What were you told about the sanctions you might face if you were not to admit to false accounting?

Peter Worsfold: If I admitted to the false accounting, they said the other charges would be dropped, and that then no further action would be taken, as long as I paid back the money that was outstanding.

Ms Hodge: But if you were not to admit to the false accounting –

Peter Worsfold: Oh, if –

Ms Hodge: – what were you told might happen?

Peter Worsfold: The other charges would probably carry a sentence of imprisonment.

Ms Hodge: What did you do when you were faced with this option?

Peter Worsfold: Well, I agreed to what they – their terms, and, you know, I was very worried because I’m a – my children, there would be nobody to look after them. So – my mother lived down in the south of England, so, you know, it would have been very, very hard to have to go to prison and nobody to look after my children.

Ms Hodge: How did you raise the money to make good the shortfall that was showing on Horizon?

Peter Worsfold: Well, my mother and her partner sent me some – transferred some money up and I managed to draw some cash out of the bank. They gave me a couple of hours to raise the money to – and then they returned and I paid them over the money and signed the statement.

Sir Wyn Williams: So this is all happening on the same day, yes?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: In a matter of hours?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Where you have to transfer money –

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: And sign a statement without taking any advice about it?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right; fine.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that you were told that if you admitted the offence and paid the money back, no further action would be taken; is that right?

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you given any written record of this deal that you had struck with the Post Office?

Peter Worsfold: No, no.

Ms Hodge: Was that the end of the matter? Were you allowed to return to work?

Peter Worsfold: No, I was – my contract was terminated with the Post Office.

Ms Hodge: What reason were you given for the termination of your contract?

Peter Worsfold: For false accounting.

Ms Hodge: Notwithstanding that you’d been told that if you paid the money back –

Peter Worsfold: Yes, mm.

Ms Hodge: For how long were you suspended by the Post Office prior to your termination?

Peter Worsfold: I think it was about four weeks, four to six weeks, but I’m not – but I can’t remember that.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that your salary from the Post Office was suspended at the same time.

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What had been your average income from the Post Office during your tenure as a subpostmaster?

Peter Worsfold: About £2,000-odd a month.

Ms Hodge: The termination of your contract brought your stint as a subpostmaster to an end, but you attempted to keep the Post Office branch running; is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, there was an arrangement put in place where another subpostmaster, a local subpostmaster, would run the Muirtown Post Office.

Ms Hodge: Why did you try to keep the Post Office branch running?

Peter Worsfold: Basically to keep footfall into the business and to keep – and try to sell the business with a post office.

Ms Hodge: Were you successful in selling the business?

Peter Worsfold: No. There was a lot of controversy at the time about post offices closing, and reducing the number of post offices. I think when I moved to Inverness there was 11 subpostmasters – post offices – and one main Crown Post Office and I think now there is five sub-post offices, and some of them are even part time.

Ms Hodge: Your post office branch was ultimately closed in about 2000; is that correct?

Peter Worsfold: That’s correct. I think the last payment from them was in February 2002, yes.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the closure of the branch have upon your retail business?

Peter Worsfold: Gradually it affected the retail business very badly. It – the footfall fell and it was – I had to take a job to subsidise the post office. The manager of the local co-op supermarket commented to me that his takings had drastically fallen since the post office had closed, because we used to pay about out £40,000 in benefits at the time, a week, and to move that out of an area was devastating for everybody else around, all the other businesses.

Ms Hodge: So in addition to running the retail side of the business, you took on other work, is that right –

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – to subsidise – to supplement your income?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And you’ve explained to us already that you had three children that you were caring for. How were they affected by the hours that you were working?

Peter Worsfold: Well, I tried to shield them as much as possible and I think the burden fell on to my oldest daughter quite a bit, looking after my twins while I was working.

Ms Hodge: How did your lease of the premises come to an end?

Peter Worsfold: I had a 21-year lease and I still had 17 years left on it, so it wasn’t easy to just up and leave. But after a few years, the owner of the property, he understood my predicament and he had looked around and he’d found a different – someone in a different business to take over the lease. But this was not until about 2008 or 2009. But I was able to get out of the lease at that time.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that you made an initial investment in the purchase of the business, and a further investment in refurbishing the premises.

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What happened to that investment when your lease came to an end?

Peter Worsfold: Total loss.

Ms Hodge: How much money did you recover from the stock that you were able to sell?

Peter Worsfold: Well, the stock valuation was about 30,000 and I managed to sell it for about 6,000. The new people coming into the shop, they wanted it empty, so I had to sell off all the fixtures and fittings and completely clear the shop, so it was an empty premises.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe the effect on your livelihood that the termination of your contract as a subpostmaster had?

Peter Worsfold: Sorry?

Ms Hodge: What effect on your livelihood, on your standard of living, did the termination of your contract as a subpostmaster have?

Peter Worsfold: It was totally devastating. I was working all hours to subsidise the shop and keep it running, and I had to cash in my pensions, I had to remortgage my house to pay off all the debts that I had built up over the years.

Ms Hodge: How did these financial pressures impact upon your mental health?

Peter Worsfold: Well, I didn’t think it affected me, but on talking to my children and ex-staff, they have told me that I was very irritable and very – I used to row and shout a lot. So it obviously did affect me, and I even – when running my taxi, I upset customers and they complained to the council. My taxi licence was suspended for six months because I had upset customers.

Ms Hodge: Did it have any adverse effect on your social life and your relationships with your friends?

Peter Worsfold: Well, I didn’t have a social life. I’m sorry, I was working too long, too many hours, so I –

Ms Hodge: So what effect did the closure of the post office have upon your standing in your local community?

Peter Worsfold: Well, I used to get comments from people using the taxi about, you know, that I’d lost the post office and I’d stolen money from the post office. People that knew me, my ex-staff and that, they was fine, they knew me and they knew how I looked after my children and that, so – but other than that, outside, I don’t know what my standing was.

Ms Hodge: Did you feel at the time that you were able to provide for your children in the way that you would have wished to?

Peter Worsfold: Definitely not, no. It’s – you know, I’ve never been on holiday with my children. I used to send them away to my mother’s during the holidays, down in England, so my limit, you know, my interaction with my children was very limited.

Ms Hodge: Were you aware at the time you were experiencing problems with Horizon that there were others like you who were affected by the system?

Peter Worsfold: No, no, and especially being up in Inverness, you are still cut off from the rest of the world, so I think it’s –

Ms Hodge: When did you first discover that there were others like you who had been affected?

Peter Worsfold: I think 2015 I see an article in the Daily Mail, and that was when I got in touch with the JFSA, through my MP and Lord Arbuthnot.

Ms Hodge: Before 2015, did you ever ask the Post Office or your line manager or your representative whether there were others affected like you, who were experiencing problems with Horizon?

Peter Worsfold: No. Whenever we was on the helpline, they would always say, we was the only one – nothing – we was the only one being affected; it wasn’t affecting other post offices.

Ms Hodge: And you decided to join the Group Litigation against the Post Office; that’s right, isn’t it?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, mm-hmm.

Ms Hodge: What, if any, compensation did you receive as a result of the settlement reached?

Peter Worsfold: Yes, we’ve received an interim payment, or what was left out of – after the lawyers’ fees.

Ms Hodge: How much did you receive?

Peter Worsfold: About 30,000.

Ms Hodge: Did that cover the losses that you’d suffered?

Peter Worsfold: No. No.

Ms Hodge: What, if any, avenues are open to you now?

Peter Worsfold: Sorry?

Ms Hodge: What, if any, avenues are open to you now to seek full compensation, that you’re aware of?

Peter Worsfold: None.

Ms Hodge: Looking back on your experience working with the Post Office and using the Horizon System, how do you now feel about what you experienced?

Peter Worsfold: I think the computer system was put in and it was devastating to everybody that ever used it. It’s not a – I don’t think it was designed ever to balance. I don’t know, you know, whose idea it was to use it, but it certainly devastated a lot of lives.

Ms Hodge: I’ve no further questions for you, Mr Worsfold. Is there anything you’d like to say, which I’ve not covered in my questions this morning?

Peter Worsfold: No. I’ve just got a statement, that’s all.

Sir Wyn, I purchased the Muirtown Post Office and store in 1997 as a solid base for me to raise my three children. The business progressed well in the first years and we managed to give the post office and the store a complete refit at a cost of £30,000. This was a huge investment for us, but we were investing in our family’s future. The Post Office accounts were balancing well. We had a successful audit and things were looking good for the future. Then the Horizon System was introduced by the Post Office. We were told it would make the accounting a lot quicker and simpler. However, from the outset the Horizon System was a disaster, with old and outdated equipment, the dial-up internet connections were a joke, with constant outages, on top of the power cuts we experienced in the Highlands of Scotland. With no backup from the Post Office Limited, we were still – who are still – and who were, and still are, only interested in their image. It was nearly impossible to balance the Horizon System. There was always a discrepancy, plus or minus, with no access to the audit trail to be able to check for mistakes or check the cause of the discrepancies.

For the past 22 years my family and I have suffered from the effects of the failure of the Horizon computer system, and the outrageous unlawful treatment meted out by the Post Office. We have been merely existing to compensate the Post Office and Government for their bad decisions and cover-ups.

Since the introduction of Horizon, our lives changed, and running our post office became a nightmare. This consequently had an adverse effect on the rest of my business and family. We were working all hours just to keep the post office account balanced. Even now, after 22 years, we are continuing to have to struggle, just to pay back the losses incurred through the failure of my business due to the actions of the Post Office and their accounting system, Horizon. We have basically been existing and living a normal life. I have been working all hours to reduce the debt. I am 77 years old. I have an interest-only mortgage, which is due for repayment this year. My son still lives with me, which helps to keep the costs down, otherwise I would need to sell the house and move into rented accommodation. I live on the state pension, having had to cash in my personal pension plans to reduce debts.

I did not think I had been affected by this mentally, but on talking to my children and ex-staff members, and the shop and post office, I become a different person, losing my temper and shouting a lot. I also upset several passengers using my taxi, who complained to the council, who suspended my licence for six months. This angry behaviour was completely out of character for me and I now realise this was brought on by the stress and worry from the consequence of the Post Office’s actions. I need – we all need – full compensation, plus interest, plus compensation, for these past 22 years of hardship and existence. I do not trust the Post Office or Government to oversee any scheme to achieve this. We need an independent body to evaluate our claims, to put us in a position as if this never happened. Ideal candidates for this would be Second Sight, who have already evaluated claims while compiling their reports for the PO and Government.

Sir Wyn, we all just been existing for 22 years and still exist near or on the bread line. We all need this to come to a conclusion to allow ourselves to start living again and to enjoy the rest of our lives without this Horizon scandal hanging over us. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Worsfold, have you come down from the Inverness area?

Peter Worsfold: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I know enough about Scotland to know that’s a fair old journey, so I’m extremely grateful for you taking the time and the trouble to come and tell me about all this in person. Thank you.

Peter Worsfold: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Ms Hodge: You may return to your seat, thank you, Mr Worsfold.

Sir Wyn Williams: I think, Ms Hodge, we will have a 10-minute break this time, where we can leave the room as well.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir.

(11.46 am)

(A short break)

(11.58 am)

Mr Beer: Thank you very much. So can we hear next, please, from Ms Louise Dar.

Louise Dar


Questioned by Mr Beer, QC

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

Louise Dar: Mrs Louise Patterson Dar.

Mr Beer: Now, in front of you I know there is a witness statement in your name. If you could take it out, please, and look at the last page. You should see that it’s dated 4 February of this year, and there should be a signature on it. Is that your signature?

Louise Dar: It is, yes.

Mr Beer: And are the contents of that witness statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Louise Dar: They are, yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

Now, can we start with an impertinent question. How old are you?

Louise Dar: I’m 39.

Mr Beer: And whereabouts are you from in Scotland?

Louise Dar: Lenzie, just outside of Glasgow.

Mr Beer: My googling suggests it’s six miles north-east of here. Is that about right?

Louise Dar: Yes, it sounds about right.

Mr Beer: Okay. What is Lenzie like? What is it?

Louise Dar: It’s a beautiful leafy area just outside of Glasgow, a small – well, fairly small, it’s ever expanding, area, and just with a small row of shops. That’s the main centre of Lenzie.

Mr Beer: Are you Lenzie born and bred?

Louise Dar: Yes, I am.

Mr Beer: You’ve lived there for the whole of your life?

Louise Dar: Yes. Well, a short break in the middle where I lived in the centre of Glasgow for six years, but, yes, we returned again.

Mr Beer: Now, can you tell us about your family, if you don’t mind. First of all, are you married?

Louise Dar: I am, yes.

Mr Beer: And what’s your husband’s name?

Louise Dar: He’s Rehman.

Mr Beer: Where is he from?

Louise Dar: He’s from Pakistan originally.

Mr Beer: But I think he’s lived in Scotland for a very long time now.

Louise Dar: He has, yes.

Mr Beer: And how long has he lived in Scotland?

Louise Dar: Over 15 years now.

Mr Beer: And how long have you been married to him?

Louise Dar: 15 years, or 14 years.

Mr Beer: 14 years, okay.

Louise Dar: Mm.

Mr Beer: And I think you’ve got three children; is that right?

Louise Dar: We have, yes.

Mr Beer: Including a young one who you’ve left at home with him today?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Now, before you became the subpostmistress of the Lenzie post office, what work had you undertaken?

Louise Dar: Well, since leaving college, so I was down quite a different route at the time, I worked in hotels and hospitality, front office for a short time, and then I moved into, as an IT analyst for a large hotel chain, and then after that I was made redundant from the hotel chain. And during – I was expecting my first child at that time.

Mr Beer: What, when you were made redundant?

Louise Dar: Yes, so the whole office was made redundant. So then we used the time with the baby, and then eventually we opened the shop in August 2012, my husband and I.

Mr Beer: I think in your first job that you mentioned for the hotel chain, you were an IT support help desk analyst; is that right?

Louise Dar: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: And what did that job entail?

Louise Dar: Supporting live-running hotels who had reservation systems issues. Obviously, the priorities were high because you may have customers standing waiting to check in or check out, different things, so they had to prioritise.

Mr Beer: And did that involve a company-wide IT system?

Louise Dar: Yes, it did.

Mr Beer: What was that called?

Louise Dar: At the time it was Fidelio, but then they created a new reservation system which was rolled out across the hotels.

Mr Beer: And being an IT support analyst, did that give you some familiarity with the operation of large-scale computer systems?

Louise Dar: Yes, I’d say so. I think even before, or should I say out with my work, I was well educated with computers, technology, all these things, but the extent of the work for the hotel company, it obviously broadened my – it educated me that much more on how to troubleshoot things as well, and how to try and resolve problems rather than just in a user sense.

Mr Beer: As you’ve told us, in 2011, I think it was, you were made redundant whilst you were on maternity leave?

Louise Dar: Yes, I was.

Mr Beer: But in 2012 you set up a business with your husband?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that called the Day Today Express in Lenzie?

Louise Dar: It was.

Mr Beer: Was that a convenience store?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Now, I don’t think then the Day Today in Lenzie itself had a post office, that was nearby?

Louise Dar: Yes, there is about five or six doors up, just in the row of shops at Lenzie, just beside Lenzie train station.

Mr Beer: After about two and a half years of running the convenience store, did you and your husband decide to take over and to essentially buy the post office?

Louise Dar: Yes, to take it over. We knew, or my husband knew, at the time the current postmaster and he was saying he wanted a change of career and things, so we thought it was an exciting opportunity to try and keep the post office in the most central location within Lenzie for the community, because there were quite a lot of elderly people in the area as well, all different types of people, so it would just be easy to access and also to be really good for our business as well.

Mr Beer: So it was part to ensure the continuity of a post office for the community?

Louise Dar: Oh yes, because it is particularly hilly as well, and a couple of the different locations that we’d heard or thought could be the only option at the time, they were either almost out of Lenzie or down steep hills, so it could be troublesome for people to access and return.

Mr Beer: It was – it would be a good opportunity to bring people into the shop?

Louise Dar: Yes, it would be.

Mr Beer: It would secure financial stability, presumably?

Louise Dar: Yes. They were imagining the shop would be forever, really, and the kind of thing that you could either pass down the family or somebody can take over.

Mr Beer: And what in your mind at the time was the reputation of the Post Office?

Louise Dar: I thought at the time, well, it’s the Post Office, you can’t doubt it, that’s how it should be; it’s been there forever, in my mind.

Mr Beer: What expectations did you have as the Post Office as an employer? What did you think it would be like?

Louise Dar: I thought really good training, being really supportive. Any issues, they would have somebody right on it to try and sort things out, you’d be high priority.

Mr Beer: Now, I don’t think you took over the branch six doors away in the sense of moving in there; what you did was move that post office to your convenience store?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that a fair way of describing it?

Louise Dar: Yes, because they’d been talking about this local post office model, so they were stopping paying actual salary, so it would just be remuneration; a commission only, in other words. So they were just trying to put it within a business so that we could make it easier to cover cost.

Mr Beer: And so you undertook the process of moving that branch into your existing shop?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did substantial works have to be undertaken to do that?

Louise Dar: Oh yes. It was quite a small shop. It was a long, narrow shop. It’s thinner at the back as well, so there were quite a lot of discussions on how it could be – how we could fit it into the shop. But we did agree on a plan, and eventually we got it all in place.

Mr Beer: And was that paid for partially by you and your husband on the one hand and partially by the Post Office on the other?

Louise Dar: Yes, well, they just really paid for their own equipment and their counter, but everything else to work hand in hand with that, we had to pay for, like a step up – sorry, a wee step up to the level, and a different gate and all the shop fitting and things, so, yes, there were a lot of changes, a lot of money spent.

Mr Beer: And I’ve read about a ramp outside and that kind of thing.

Louise Dar: Yes. Actually, the pavement was quite narrow so we couldn’t have a ramp, but we had a folding ramp behind the counter, but again even the secure door at the back of the shop, all these different things, it was a lot of work and a lot of money at the same time.

Mr Beer: So you and your husband invested your own money in carrying out these physical and security changes to the premises?

Louise Dar: We did, and particularly adding stronger security cameras and all these kind of things. We just had the basic ones before when it’s a shop, but we had to add that as well.

Mr Beer: Was a completion certificate eventually issued by the Post Office?

Louise Dar: Yes, I believe so.

Mr Beer: Did part of the work involve the installation of the Horizon System?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did that include a Horizon terminal and a Horizon pay station?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: And just help us, what’s a pay station?

Louise Dar: Well, you’d have your screen, obviously, of your basic unit; you’d have your printer, which is a multifunctional printer; and then the pay point, the pay stations. That’s where people can pay gas, electricity bills, all the utilities.

Mr Beer: Is the pay station on their side of the counter or yours?

Louise Dar: The keypad is on theirs, so the actual putting it through is on our side of the counter.

Mr Beer: Had you received any training from the Post Office before you went live, in, I think, November 2014?

Louise Dar: We received three days’ training in a crown office in Springburn.

Mr Beer: That was at another post office in Springburn?

Louise Dar: Yes, so like the head office; the back office part within a different area of Glasgow.

Mr Beer: Did you and your husband attend?

Louise Dar: We did, yes.

Mr Beer: Was this all about Horizon training, or was this much wider training about being a subpostmistress?

Louise Dar: No, no, it was three days and there was not a great deal involved. It was quite basic. Part of it didn’t even apply to us. Being a local model, we had this small flip-top till and different types of till for main post offices. There were different things that didn’t even apply to us like different coin counters and different things. It was quite – well, it was very – extremely basic training.

Mr Beer: So this wasn’t just about Horizon, it was about running the post office generally?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was, so far as Horizon was concerned, the issue of troubleshooting addressed?

Louise Dar: I asked that at the end. Some people might find it strange to ask a question like that, but it’s just something you’ve got to be aware of, what you could do, and I did say to them, “What happens if it doesn’t balance? What happens if something goes wrong, would that not be covered?”, and I was just told, “Well, just call the help desk if that ever happens.”

Mr Beer: That was the advice that was given?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: I think there was a test at the end, which you passed?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: How adequate overall did you find the training?

Louise Dar: It was basic training, but it should have been much, much more extensive particularly – my main worry asking was what something goes wrong is because it’s money involved, it’s not whether our money or not; it’s still money and you can’t take a chance with these things. But once we were that far in, I kind of felt alarm bells ringing but then I was reassured so many times that just call the help desk, it will be okay, we’ll sort it out. So it was that kind of false reassurance at that time.

Mr Beer: So this was in, or just before November 2014?

Louise Dar: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: So in the events that this Inquiry is looking at, quite late on in the piece?

Louise Dar: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: Were any, or was any of the training addressed to issues with Horizon that had arisen by then?

Louise Dar: No, they said there weren’t any issues with Horizon.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement:

“I did ask for further training on the Horizon system and asked the trainer who came to do the on-site training. The female trainer said we would have – sorry, we should have had more extensive classroom training … but this more limited training was delivered because of cost cutbacks by the Post Office.”

Is that right?

Louise Dar: Yes, that was the auditor, Margaret Guthrie, that came to open the branch for us. Yes, when she admitted that it was cost cutting, it took my breath away and my husband’s, because you shouldn’t just be chucked in at the deep end, particularly when it’s finances involved.

Mr Beer: You mention Margaret Guthrie. Is she a lady that attended to assist with the first few days of on-site set-up?

Louise Dar: Yes. It was supposed to be the first week, or well business week, so Monday to Friday. But on day 1 she had quite a few hours lost trying to log into the system, even in the first place.

Mr Beer: So you say in your statement she turned up at 8 am on the first day of the on-site set-up –

Louise Dar: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: – but had problems logging in; couldn’t log in until 10 or 11 o’clock.

Louise Dar: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: You say that you stressed that you weren’t comfortable opening the branch without any troubleshooting training. Why were you concerned about troubleshooting?

Louise Dar: Seeing all the – everything coming in, I mean you’ve got your stamps, your stock – and when I say “stock” it’s all other things, like your cash – seeing all of that coming in and you just think “I need to be more confident opening”. I’ve been trained professionally before and you wouldn’t have been allowed to for previously, when I worked for the hotel, they wouldn’t have left you on your own; you would at least have had somebody there to support you until you were confident, until they believed you were confident. I just believe that should be the way.

Mr Beer: What was Ms Guthrie’s response to the issues that you were raising?

Louise Dar: Oh, “It will be fine, it will be fine, we’ll get there and we’ll get things done” and just kind of fobbing me off.

Mr Beer: Did a particular incident happen, actually in your on-site set-up training with Ms Guthrie?

Louise Dar: Yes. She was REM-ing everything into the system, so, in other words, inputting everything into the system, the stamps, the stock, et cetera. And in the first week there was a small kind of local power cut to the pay station area, with the shop telling the post office till where, which was resolved within, I think, 20 minutes or something, just something had short-circuited, so we unplugged a heater or whatever, just to make it okay, and we could get it resolved at a later date. But shortly after, she claimed there was a shortage of £977, and asked me if I’d taken it.

Mr Beer: This is on day 1?

Louise Dar: On – yes. We’ve been together 100 per cent of the time. It’s her responsibility to set this up, and for her to actually have the audacity to turn round and say to me, “Have you taken any money?”, I don’t know how anybody could say that, sorry.

Mr Beer: So what happened?

Louise Dar: She then started kind of grasping at straws: “Oh no, I’ll go over my work”. We went over everything numerous times, because now I know you can’t – it’s almost impossible to see what you’ve done. Then I thought, “Oh, maybe it’s an issue with the power cut, maybe that caused an issue”, so she logged a call with Fujitsu for them to investigate it. That took, I think, three days or something at the time for them to come back and say, “No, it’s nothing”. So that was a sleepless night on day 1. Going home, she was reassuring – “Right, we’ll sort it out, we’ll have – we’ll need to work out what happened. It will come to light – and then came in the next day and then it was, “Oh yes”, making out that she’d fixed it. So we actually bought her a card and a gift to say thank you, because we were so relieved and it’s all sorted. It wasn’t until she was then allowed to leave site, that when we went to do a weekly balance she just shoved it in an expense account. Nothing had been resolved. And it took – we had to pay that. Obviously at the time we were trying to save our business, to say no, because if you say no they don’t let you open, they’ll lock you out the system, et cetera.

Mr Beer: Before you paid the money, did you call up your contracts manager to speak about this issue?

Louise Dar: Mm-hmm, just to say “What is going on? We need this resolved.” I didn’t get much of a response. He had said he’d – that was Brian Trotter – he’d said he would try and deal with it. I think they had long discussions on the phone, making me feel as if I’d done something wrong or taken it, when it’s her responsibility in the first instance just to set up my branch for me, which shouldn’t be too difficult a thing to do.

Mr Beer: And so it wasn’t you operating the system at the time that the £977 –

Louise Dar: No.

Mr Beer: – shortfall was shown?

Louise Dar: No, I don’t think my log in had even been created or I’d even logged in at that point. This was the … do I call her auditor –

Mr Beer: I don’t think at that stage you knew that she was an auditor; is that right?

Louise Dar: No, I don’t think so. I wasn’t really told. I was just told that she was there to set up and support me in the first week.

Mr Beer: But you and your husband paid £977 to the Post Office?

Louise Dar: Yes, because we thought we’ll pay it, it will get sorted out, it will come back to the surface and that will be us, we can move on.

Mr Beer: Did you make any requests after this incident for further training?

Louise Dar: Yes, several times. I asked the helpdesk. I’d phone the helpdesk just to try and chase up, is there anything to see what happened. There was nothing. It went on and on. Nothing balanced. I don’t think I ever balanced to the penny. One of the auditors, John Fraser, I’d asked him at one point when he came on site. I said, “What’s on going on?” Previously – again, I’d refer, sorry, again to my previous job, or working in hotels if you’re even 50p out you need to put your money in the till. You need to be accountable for everything. And he’d said at that point,” No, no, it’s fine. If you’re up or down by 30 quid, you’re laughing.” So, right, it was not good to hear that, because no business, big or small, can afford to keep putting in the till if it’s no fault of our own.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement at paragraph 31:

“This incident of a shortfall that occurred on my first day of trading encapsulates the whole problem with the Horizon System and the Post Office response to shortfalls, even shortfalls that were demonstrably not the responsibility of the subpostmistress.”

Is that how you feel?

Louise Dar: Oh yes, definitely. I mean, they’re trying to say – give you all of the responsibility, with no support, no professionalism in any way, just, okay – they’re desperate just to get you to open the branch. Even from the beginning, at the interview stage when I was expecting my first child as well, the contracts manager was willing to apparently tweak my business plan to get it through; just to get it passed. I would have preferred them to say, “Okay, your business doesn’t look like it’s either big enough or strong enough or profitable enough for whatever reason.” I would have preferred them to say that, but they’re just more interested to get somebody to take it. Because current postmasters, apparently, they need to get – they’ll need to give a year’s notice to get out of anything, and still they’re liable for it until somebody else is taken on.

Mr Beer: Now, I’m going to come in a moment to deal with the helpline specifically, but before I do that can we look at shortfalls. How soon after the training had finished and this incident with the £977 did you experience shortfalls?

Louise Dar: Straightaway. I’d say almost every day. Sometimes it would be up and I’d be keeping a notebook of when it was down – or of any day when it was up, when it was down, and sometimes it strangely – if it was down, two days later it would be up by the same amount. So I thought, “Right, okay, maybe there is something in there. Maybe it’s going to kind of work itself out.” But then it just went out of control. Some days we were having to pay in 20, 30, £100, over £100, to the Post Office in the hope that it would come to the surface eventually.

Mr Beer: And so how frequently did this occur?

Louise Dar: Daily.

Mr Beer: What did you do when a shortfall was shown? You said that you repaid. Was that money from the retail side of the business?

Louise Dar: Yes, it would be. The first –

Mr Beer: Well, you called it a “repayment”?

Louise Dar: Yes, exactly. It’s just money going into a black hole, really; it’s just nothing ever resurfaced. When I was ever short, the first thing I would do is re-count everything, make sure I’m including the safe, the biddy safe, the till, et cetera; just absolutely everything. Some nights I would have my husband there – sorry – or my mum or my dad – sorry – until maybe 11 o’clock, midnight, trying to balance – sorry. Thank you.

Mr Beer: The first thing is, Mrs Dar, there is no need to apologise. The second thing is, you just take your time. If you want to take a break – we know – we’ve read your statement, the Inquiry has, and we know that your mother sadly passed away very unexpectedly, and so speaking about it would be very difficult for you?

Louise Dar: Sorry, yes. These nights we’d be in, and obviously the lights would be on, and it’s not a row of shops that had any kind of late night shops at the time. Customers would come in the next day, “Oh, is that you having problems with the post office again? I saw the lights on.” So I think a couple of times it’s the local driving instructor, because he’s out later at night working or whatever. And it’s like, “Yes. We’ll sort it, we’ll get there.” But it’s just fighting a losing battle and phoning the helpdesk, and they just, in other words, shrug you off, “What are you calling for? We’re not here for balancing”, I said, “So what are you here for?”

Mr Beer: So what you’re describing is nights of stress, worry and anxiety?

Louise Dar: Oh yes.

Mr Beer: Staying up late into the night –

Louise Dar: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: – involving many members of your family –

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: – trying to balance the books?

Louise Dar: Yes. Because we had a young son at the time, somebody had to be home with him, so that’s why quite often my mum and dad, if my husband was at home with my son, getting him to bed or whatever. When we had the shop, before the post office, some nights we might go to cash and carry after closing. But you don’t mind that, because that’s just to prepare, to be organised for the next day, to allow more family time, maybe in the morning, et cetera. But when it’s things like this and you’re just going round and round and round in circles, it just makes you feel like you eventually think have I done something wrong? So that’s why you need – want somebody else to overlook what you’re doing and even to count it for you, and it’s just – it’s nonstop.

Mr Beer: You’ve described paying money from the retail side of the business over to try and cover the shortfalls. Was money also deducted from your remuneration?

Louise Dar: Yes. After the worst audit that they claimed a shortfall of over £10,000, they suspended me at that point.

Mr Beer: We’re going to come to the detail of that in a moment?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: But –

Louise Dar: But that was – they’d taken deductions of £877 a month when we’d staff to pay, not just ourselves. As well –

Mr Beer: In the two years and six months-odd between November ‘14 and March ‘17, when your contract was terminated, ie so for that period when you were the subpostmistress, how much money do you estimate you paid or was deducted from your salary to make up the so-called shortfalls?

Louise Dar: The shortfalls were in the region of £44,000.

Mr Beer: In a two-and-a-half-year period?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did you contact the helpline in relation to the so-called shortfalls?

Louise Dar: Millions of times, and you’re given one phone number for hardware. They think oh maybe it’s an issue with your hardware, but you phone it and – sorry, I’m sniffing – it’s an American phone number and they just want to know serial numbers and this and that and the next thing, so you get nowhere with that. They’re literally just to order new hardware. You phone the helpdesk, and it depends who you get, whether they even entertain you at all, never mind try and resolve anything. But I think the most so-called help that I was offered at any point was somebody giving me a work-around to hide an out of balance, to carry out a monthly balance to then change it back again to try and continue. So I think they must have been well aware of what was going on and they felt sorry, but at the end of the day they’re probably scared to lose their job. So what employee is going to stand up and shout in a dark room almost?

Mr Beer: Was that the occasion when they told you that they shouldn’t be doing this?

Louise Dar: Yes, “Oh, we shouldn’t be doing this, but do this and it will let you get over.” Because if you’re doing your weekly balances, you can carry over any shortages into suspense account, just roll it over. But when you get to your monthly it tells you to either make it good, put your money in, or these – I can’t remember what you call it, like an issue complaint and then they’ll investigate it, but you will be locked out the system. So it’s like what do you do? Do you stop operating, or do you just try and move on? But they gave me a work-around to allow me to continue.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement that the helpline wasn’t at all helpful. They would say that they couldn’t see the system, simply told you to do a re-count and go through the balance again –

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: – which you’d already done?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that the general message that you got back from the helpline in this period?

Louise Dar: Oh yes. It’s the attitude of, “Oh, well it’s only you, you must have done something wrong”, or, “We can’t access the system”, or whatever. Where I think previously to fix a bug in the system they had access, and working in an IT background before, even in those days, that many years ago, you could access with IP addresses and whatever, which I know you would be able to now. But they’re claiming that they can’t actually see it, but surely if it’s their system they would copies, they would have backups for all of these things. But I don’t know what they were there for if they weren’t a helpdesk not there to help.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement that they would say things like, “Oh, that’s strange”, when you were describing what had happened, and acted surprised that this was occurring in your branch. Did they say anything about other people calling in with the same or similar issues?

Louise Dar: No, they said that, “Oh, that’s strange. You’re the only one with these issues. Nothing else has been reported.” I was told that from the helpline, I was told that from auditors at different audits. Even when I asked for support, it was always this, as if they were just programmed to say this script of, “Oh, that’s strange. You’re the only one.”

Mr Beer: You say in your statement that this made you think you were the only subpostmistress in the country having the issue; is that right?

Louise Dar: Yes, exactly.

Mr Beer: We’re going to hear that I think three audits were conducted: One in 2015; one in 2016; and, one in 2017. Is that right?

Louise Dar: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Beer: Dealing with them in turn, the first audit, I think, was conducted on 15 July 2015; is that right?

Louise Dar: That’s correct, yes.

Mr Beer: And how did it come about that you were audited on 15 July –

Louise Dar: Well, I had been away with my two children at that point to visit my mother-in-law in Pakistan. My father-in-law had passed away the year before and she was particularly lonely to see the children. So I had gone away, ensuring that the staff member at the time was confident to be running the branch with my husband while I was away. They had reassured that me that, yes, as we were working every other day, it was good. We had spoken while I was away, et cetera. She’d worked for, I think, eight years in the previous – in the old post office, so it shouldn’t have been any worry, any concern, at the time. Strangely, the day – I think the audit was the day after I returned that the auditor phoned to say that they were coming to do an audit. Surely an auditor would just walk in and do an audit? They wouldn’t need to give warning to any branch. I thought “That’s fine”. I’d gone in early to just tidy everything up and see what was going on and get the gist of things, and she came along and quickly started claiming that there were losses on the system.

Mr Beer: Is this Margaret Guthrie –

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: – the lady that –

Louise Dar: The same one.

Mr Beer: – had the £977 issue on day 1?

Louise Dar: Yes. And it went from there. It started, “Oh, you have a loss.” Any professional person should keep quiet until they’ve come to their final conclusion, in my opinion. So it’s £2,000, and even at that I was “What’s going on? Absolutely not. We’ll need to just re-count everything.” But it went up and up, and then it went down, and then she got her colleague in because she had to have a colleague to witness what she was doing.

Mr Beer: And was she also called Margaret?

Louise Dar: Yes; sorry, I don’t know her surname. It’s another Margaret. And eventually – I think it settled at about £8,000 short, allegedly, at one point. I was just thinking what we were going to do, what was going on. But then they said, “Oh no, no, we forgot about something”, and it’s something that should have taken away from the total of this alleged shortfall, but whatever they did, it added it on.

Mr Beer: And it ended up, as I think, the final shortfall was said to be £10,461.90; is that right?

Louise Dar: Yes. With no – just the – I don’t know, it’s as if it’s almost excitement of, “Oh no, it’s this much. Oh no, it’s this much”, not realising that they need to just get to the final stage and report it. They shouldn’t be chopping and changing their mind. They should be more professional than that, and –

Mr Beer: Was the audit conducted within the day?

Louise Dar: It was, yes.

Mr Beer: Were you suspended that day?

Louise Dar: I think it was the day after. I was locked out of the account straightaway, but it took, I think, a few days –

Mr Beer: Okay.

Louise Dar: – for them to actually officially say that I was suspended.

Mr Beer: And how long were you suspended for?

Louise Dar: At that time it was eight weeks; seven or eight weeks.

Mr Beer: And was a temporary subpostmaster appointed?

Louise Dar: No. They said it wasn’t suitable because of their own choice of local model, because the shop till was a small section right jammed up beside the post office till, so they wouldn’t have anybody standing in the same area as ourselves.

Mr Beer: So you were locked out of the system; the safes were closed –

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and that bit of the shop, the branch, was closed?

Louise Dar: Yes. Well, initially the two Margarets couldn’t work out how to lock me out of the safe. There were instructions in a book somewhere or a folder, and they’d said, “Right, we’ll need to take your fob.” I was like, “You’re not taking my fob. That’s the whole shop. You can’t expect me not to operate.” And I said, “No, we need to continue. We’ve got family, we have a life to try and get through”, at that point. So eventually I had to lock them out the safe. It’s just like – just to add to the awful, awful circumstances, I even had to do that for them, otherwise they wanted to take my shop keys. So I got them locked out of that – obviously they put the new code in, so that I didn’t see it, and then, yes, it just – the Post Office had just put a sign up saying, oh, your nearest Post Office is Kirkintilloch or Bishopbriggs or wherever.

Mr Beer: Were you ever given a written report on the outcome of the audit?

Louise Dar: Eventually I did get some report claiming a breakdown of this and this and this and this was missing, but there was no explanation to it, just this is it. But surely you need an explanation; you need to be told how it’s come about, what happened. I mean, I’ve got security cameras all over the shop. You can see we’re operating correctly, we’re making sure we’re going from the safe to the till, the way we should, etcetera. There is just no explanation at all.

Mr Beer: Was the cause of the shortfall ever set out for you, ie a conclusive cause of the shortfall?

Louise Dar: No.

Mr Beer: Were you required to “repay” the shortfall?

Louise Dar: Yes. What they’d said was, “Well, unless this is made good” – I don’t know how you could use the word “good” – “but then you can’t continue, you can’t operate.” And change is such a challenge for people in many ways, and for a small community like Lenzie to even start accepting the post office moving from a dedicated shop to within our shop is big change, but that was being accepted because we were local – people knew my mum and dad, knew different family, just growing up in the area. But for more change again, and then people to then start wondering what’s going on, making up their own ideas, having to travel completely out of the village or out of the town, is just ludicrous. So we thought, right, we’ll do whatever we can to try and save this; save our future, really.

Mr Beer: So you paid the £10,461.90?

Louise Dar: Yes. Of course I couldn’t afford to pay it just like that, so they said, “Right, okay, we’ll pay it monthly until we get it sorted out.”

Mr Beer: When you agreed to “repay” monthly that sum, was the suspension lifted and you were allowed to return to work?

Louise Dar: Eventually, yes. It did take time at that point, but they did.

Mr Beer: Was there a second audit a year or so later?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: On 17 May 2016?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that undertaken by an auditor called John?

Louise Dar: Yes, I think that was John Fraser, I think.

Mr Beer: Was this a without notice audit?

Louise Dar: I think that was without notice, yes; he just came along.

Mr Beer: And what did John discover or claim to have discovered in the course of his audit?

Louise Dar: Further losses, I think at that point. Sorry if I get my dates mixed up.

Mr Beer: That’s all right.

Louise Dar: I think that was about £2,600 or –

Mr Beer: Exactly right, £2,684.

Louise Dar: Okay. So he was claiming that, but he wasn’t even looking at the most recent balance. He was doing it in the middle of the day. That’s what confuses me about Post Office. Surely you add up what you’re doing at the end of the day, and tally your final figures. You need to do that. But the Post Office say, “Oh, it’s fine, you can find your quietest time of the day and do a balance at that point.” Surely you should just do it at the end of a business day, that would make sense. I pointed that out to him. I said, “Well, how does that make sense?” And he said “See” and he kind of waved it in my face and he said, “Oh, that’s what I use to balance.” I said, “But look at the time on it.” The time isn’t even the most recent, because my husband had opened the shop at 6 o’clock that morning. He walked in, I think, about 9.10, if I’m correct remembering the time. My husband had been serving people. A lot of benefits and pensions et cetera are paid out early morning as well, so he hadn’t even taken that into account.

Mr Beer: I think you explain in your witness statement that it being a relatively affluent area, sometimes large amounts of money –

Louise Dar: Yes, people –

Mr Beer: – could go out.

Louise Dar: Yes, people could withdraw up to £600 a day on a Post Office card, and we did have quite a few people taking that out each day, I think moving to other savings accounts or whatever. So lots of money was paid out from even such a small branch, it would surprise you. But he just didn’t seem to sit and make sure he had the most up-to-date reports et cetera at that point.

Mr Beer: In the course of the audit, did the auditor, John, contact your contracts manager, Brian Potter?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Trotter.

Louise Dar: Trotter, yes. He called him from the back of the shop, just where the safe is, and at that point he said, “Oh, right, right, we can just add it on, we can just continue, it’s just a small amount that one, so we don’t need any further authorisation.” I thought: a small amount. 2,600, it’s not small in my book, but – it just doesn’t make sense. So then my husband and I discussed it and we just said, “Right, what are we going to do? We’ll just need to – we’ll give it another go, we’ll just try.” So it was like, right, agreeing to disagree; just try and continue. So we agreed to have that added on to pay, paying it back monthly.

Mr Beer: To adding on to the debt, as it were –

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: – that you were servicing?

Louise Dar: Yes, which we were just, I think, coming towards the end of.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement that you were told by John that you couldn’t reopen the branch without first agreeing to repay the alleged shortfall, and that you agreed only because you felt you had no choice, when you had already made big changes to the shop in order to accommodate the Post Office counter.

Louise Dar: Oh yes. I mean, the shop was – we started it, it was an empty unit when we first moved in, but that was the kind of labour of love building it between us, and – sorry. Just starting out together and just such lovely memories of family being in there. I’m sorry.

Mr Beer: Was this the occasion that John said that you should be lucky or you should be laughing if you only had a few pounds down?

Louise Dar: Yes. He’d said at the front desk as well at one point, because I had questioned. At one point I relationship managed, so I can’t even remember when, I think it was after – definitely after the big audit, this relationship manager, Jamie Hawkins, stepped in and he seemed to be more honest about things and he said he’s been brought in to try and resolve any communication problems that the subpostmasters or subpostmistresses felt that they had with the Post Office, and he was a good communicator, and he was doing some training with the staff that we had, etcetera. I’d phoned him at one point to say, “Look, I don’t know what to do. Like, we’re just not balancing ever”, and he’d said, “Oh, that’s strange”, here we go again. “Oh, that’s strange”, or “I’ve been in contact with quite a few people and I mean one lady quite local to you, she always balances to the penny.” I thought: all right, okay, just another adding injury to insult. Just yet again –

Mr Beer: Now, you agreed to pay this money there and then. Were you suspended on this occasion, following the second audit?

Louise Dar: No.

Mr Beer: So this gets added to the debt and you pay –

Louise Dar: Yes, they didn’t seem to think it was serious enough to suspend me for at this point.

Mr Beer: I think you were audited for a third time on 3 February 2017.

Louise Dar: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Beer: And were the auditors there called Brian and Caroline?

Louise Dar: Yes, that’s correct. I think Brian came first on his own, and then, like they said previously, it was their – what they had to do if there were any issues or whatever, somebody else had to come along and witness that, and that’s when Caroline was called to come, but she lived locally.

Mr Beer: And so when both of them were in the shop, did they tell you that, again, you had got losses?

Louise Dar: Yes, they were claiming losses, but Caroline actually said to me quietly behind the counter at one point, “Oh, well” – because she seemed lovely; she was a really nice lady, but she’d said to me, “Oh, come on, I know it’s a difficult time”, but something along the lines of “You’ll get there. I mean, there are so many issues with it that we’re aware of.” So that was kind of reassuring me as if, right, don’t worry; it will sort itself out, like we’d been hoping all of that time.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement that you said to Caroline the situation was ridiculous, and she replied that many people had said this?

Louise Dar: Yes, trying to kind of reassure me, as if to say, “That’s the way we’ll get it resolved.” But she was the only person to admit that they knew of any issues whatsoever at that point. They were always categorically saying, “Oh, it’s only you. There are no other issues” or “the system is robust”, the system is this and that and the next thing. When, if you were even out of balance by, for example, I don’t know, a book of first class stamps, unless your numbers were out, you couldn’t work anything out. You’d have to print out a different report for every single item on the system. It’s just – it’s horrendous.

Mr Beer: Did there come a time when they told you what the final alleged shortfall was?

Louise Dar: Yes, they did, eventually, and I just – at that point I just said, “Well, I can’t do it any more. You’ve just drained us.”

Mr Beer: Was that amount £6,870.85?

Louise Dar: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Beer: Had that increased along the way in the course of the audit?

Louise Dar: Yes. I mean, nothing – nothing is clean cut with them, with the auditors or with the Post Office, or whatever, but, as I say, I think it would be a lot more professional in any circumstance to wait until you’ve reached your final supposed shortfall and discrepancy.

Mr Beer: Were you locked out of the safe and the tills again?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: And the Horizon System?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: And were you suspended?

Louise Dar: Yes, I was.

Mr Beer: And I think ultimately your contract was terminated by the Post Office on 27 March 2017?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: Before that happened, did you attend a formal interview?

Louise Dar: Yes, I did.

Mr Beer: Whereabouts was that?

Louise Dar: It was the Post Office building or a post office within a building on Queen Street, but they insisted I went along as – sorry – the day before my mum’s funeral, and my contracts manager didn’t even have the decency to turn up. He sent David Southall, who I had never met before.

Mr Beer: What did they accuse you of in the interview?

Louise Dar: They were just – Brian Trotter, even beforehand, we had to try and sell our car at one point to try and make ends meet after that, and there was Cash & Carry to get to, et cetera, and the children, as you can imagine, it’s the most difficult thing to do to then accept support from family and their car and for different things. But at that point they were just more interested to try and get me to admit something. Brian Trotter said “Probably at least seven or eight times within phone calls. Did you falsify the books? Did you falsify the books?” And I was like, “No, I didn’t.” I’m not going to admit to anything because I haven’t done anything wrong. All I’ve done is put my life and soul into – like we did with the shop. I mean, we were – the shop was thriving and my husband and I just loved doing everything about it, just working together and – I mean, total of six years. It’s amazing. So many married couples couldn’t do that, and we’re proud of ourselves that we could, you know, live together, work together, do everything together, and we are just lucky that we do have each other, and we are that strong. It obviously pressure on our marriage at the time, just with business, money worries; financial worries are just the worst in the world. At the end of the day we’re going strong and we’ve just got such a lovely family unit. But beside that, I don’t know what would have happened.

Mr Beer: Did you try and sell the post office?

Louise Dar: We tried to. We put signs up. We tried to sell it, or we tried to sell the shop – sorry, the post office wasn’t actually to sell as such; it would be to pass on to somebody –

Mr Beer: Yes.

Louise Dar: – but you feel responsible doing that. So we were just trying to sell the shop, but obviously nobody wants a shop that’s got a shell of a post office sitting in it that’s had issues, and eventually –

Mr Beer: So did the post office remain closed –

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: – you tried to carry on running the convenience store?

Louise Dar: Yes, we tried that, but by that point we had a wee tiny till and, like, unit for the post office, and people weren’t kind in any way either. I mean, it got to the point that one customer came in and was racially abusive towards my husband and threatened him, and threatened he was going to return, and I actually went to court because it was that terrifying an ordeal. As it happens, I was standing outside talking to a local man who knew my mum, and he had an elderly mother – my mum wasn’t elderly, but he had an elderly mother, but he was saying it doesn’t matter what age they are, it’s the greatest loss in your life, et cetera, and that man get caught – found guilty because he was shouting that he wanted stamps. Is it worth for him to be so abusive? And he was a teacher of some kind of education. And to imagine he’s screaming about that, about stamps, so that he actually gets a criminal record. And we had to turn up time after time when they’re not ready in court or they’re not whatever. Again, it’s more wasted time. So eventually we just had to plan what we were doing for the future, and I got a job within Glasgow city centre.

Mr Beer: Sorry, just to complete, you closed the shop?

Louise Dar: We did. Well, I got this job, and my husband, it was – he had to work at the shop, like we both did. But I think we were both kind of in denial that, “It will be fine, it will be fine, we’ll try and work with it, work with it, work with it”, but everything was just going downhill. We couldn’t pay our suppliers; we couldn’t pay different people. So I actually got this job and then just said, “Look, I have to do this. We need to – we can’t last much longer”, so kind of against both of our own wills, I had to just get this full-time job working at a call centre in Glasgow and it’s the only thing that could get us through. So eventually, in the next couple of months, my husband tried to sell off the shelves and the stock and the whatever, but you get pennies for it, nobody wants open cases of anything or open pre-bought alcohol or different things, because we’d tried to recover the business in the last, I think, four months, by getting a licence, and it just wasn’t working. People just don’t want to come into a shop that’s got a reputation at that time that it had.

Mr Beer: And had the reputation traveled around the local community?

Louise Dar: Of course, around the kind of shop – it’s always a small world when you work in IT or you work in shops, you work in whatever. Obviously, people hear things through the grapevine, isn’t it, and it’s horrendous. We just couldn’t sell it. We tried posters, we tried it here, there and everywhere, and there was absolutely no interest whatsoever.

Mr Beer: When you closed, did you close owing money, debts?

Louise Dar: Oh yes. I mean, still to this day we owe thousands to HM Revenue. We are paying VAT when we can. There’s tax that’s outstanding. Even at the most difficult time, when we were having money deducted, we most likely probably could have got things like tax credits to help with all the living costs, different things, but the accountant at that time put the deductions through as income, so it looked like we were earning thousands, multi-thousands of pounds more than we were, so it actually cut any financial support from us as well.

Mr Beer: So to this day –

Louise Dar: – any working tax credits disappeared – sorry – child tax credits disappeared. There was nothing and I was phoning and explaining and nobody – everybody thought I was just saying anything to try and get money, because it just took away dad because he’s retired, and he shouldn’t have to –

Mr Beer: So to this day, are you still paying off debt –

Louise Dar: Oh yes.

Mr Beer: – to HMRC?

Louise Dar: HM Revenue. We owe dad an awful lot of money. We owe our accountant. He won’t even finish; like, close up any of the books. We’ve got tax returns still to have done, but obviously owing him so much money, he’s saying, well – so it’s kind of a vicious circle. We owe him the money, and he won’t do the work until I’ve got my money, which makes sense; he’s a small business as well. We used paper, so finally we managed to kind of close up a lot of things. But renting a house at the time as well, it was just such pressure. The rental properties, obviously it’s just a lot more expensive, and I have so many things that we just need to have resolved. We cannot have it hanging over us much longer.

Mr Beer: You told us about the £44,000 shortfall repayments that you had to pay in one way or another.

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: And there are consequentials to that, because it puts you in debt, it means you can’t supply – you can’t pay suppliers –

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: – you can’t run your retail business as you wish?

Louise Dar: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: Aside from the financials, did this have an impact on yours and your husband’s relationship?

Louise Dar: Of course. At the time we were just always worried, always trying to do more, when you think you can’t do any more. Even having your own business, anybody will tell you that it’s your life, it’s – you’re getting up at six in the morning, sometimes five in the morning, sometimes earlier, to get to a Cash & Carry the minute it opens to get your fresh items, get to the shop et cetera. What more can you do? You’re just trying to constantly do something to fix all these financial issues, and with children as well, and it’s horrendous.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement that although he wouldn’t admit it, your husband’s mental health has suffered as a result of this.

Louise Dar: Of course, it’s just – I think more than anything it’s man pride, isn’t it? In a way it’s just – he loved it. He’d always wanted a shop, and his dad had been in a shop before he died. And I think just for that, those memories to be destroyed as well, so it’s having to face people, but fortunately we are getting an opportunity for people to see that it wasn’t any of our wrongdoing of our own, and it’s just a thing that just kind of closed down; I just don’t talk to a lot of people about it.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement:

“I and my family had to take the fall for the Post Office’s wrongdoings.”

Is that how you feel?

Louise Dar: Oh definitely. I actually had asked, probably each audit, just with the kind of investigative head that I’ve got most of the time, that, “What about this or what about that?”, different questions, “Can you check about this shortage or that shortage?” or – obviously they wouldn’t let me into the system to investigate things. They wouldn’t even try and answer my questions. It was just, “We’ll just leave it long enough, we’ll ignore her and then we’ll move on and whatever. “ After the 2015 audit I had – they’d said they were certain. I said, “Well, what about cheques?”, because cheques are posted, sent away, not in a secure way whatsoever, and I think that should be a lot more secure. But then some of these came to light in different things and it’s – my questions weren’t even answered; they didn’t even attempt to answer them.

Mr Beer: The last thing I want to ask you about: you were a party to the Group Litigation?

Louise Dar: Yes.

Mr Beer: And indeed I think you were one of the six lead claimants?

Louise Dar: I was, yes.

Mr Beer: And you gave evidence before Mr Justice Fraser in the High Court in London?

Louise Dar: Yes, in 2019.

Mr Beer: And so we can see what Mr Justice Fraser made of Mrs Dar in paragraphs 329 to 364 of his judgment no.~3 relating to common issues as to your honesty, truthfulness and credibility.

Sir Wyn Williams: He said publicly that he was very complimentary about it, wasn’t he?

Mr Beer: He was, and indeed what he thought of the Post Office’s cross-examination of you.

As a result of your participation in the Group Litigation, did you receive any money?

Louise Dar: I received a few different amounts that has got us by at the time. It didn’t pay off any debt – well, if it did, it hardly touched on it, and it’s not good enough. We shouldn’t be in this position. We don’t want a windfall. People keep saying, “Oh, when are you going to get money?” No, it’s not extra money, it’s not winning a lottery; we just want to get back to zero. We just need to clear off all of that that the Post Office have caused. We just shouldn’t have to be struggling through.

Mr Beer: Have you made any application under the Historical Shortfall Scheme?

Louise Dar: No, because we’re not allowed to at the moment.

Mr Beer: Why aren’t you allowed to?

Louise Dar: Because they have excluded the 555 subpostmasters, which I was one of. I think they’re probably using us as an example probably. We were the ones that highlighted this and brought it to light, and at the moment they’re saying because we had compensation paid out – no, the majority of that was paid for legal fees, and we’ve still got all of this outstanding. So it’s just ludicrous that we were excluded. They’ve now agreed that, okay, they will include us in a shortfall scheme, so is that another fight? Yet another application, yet another year or two or three or four, or five or more to be covered up? Why should we keep having to fight over and over again? It’s difficult enough having to deal with this today when I’ve spent since 2019 trying to deal with it all again, and put it kind of at the back of my mind, thinking: It will come, it will come, it will come. And it’s just embarrassing to the people that we owe money to, and HM Revenue aren’t the friendliest when it comes to owing them money, all of these things. So I’m just lucky that I’ve had support from Alan and his colleague that have helped me write to HM Revenue and try and deal with these things at least to put it on hold. So, yes, we just need to get there eventually, and get things cleared and move on.

Mr Beer: Mrs Dar, they’re the questions that I had to ask you. Are there any other issues that you want to raise arising from questions that I haven’t asked; anything you want to say?

Louise Dar: Can I read out a prepared statement, would that be okay –

Mr Beer: Yes, of course.

Louise Dar: – a closing statement. I don’t think there is anything else because – actually, there was one other small audit, if you don’t mind me mentioning as well.

Mr Beer: Of course.

Louise Dar: Because I was sitting last night just trying to write notes so that I don’t forgot anything and all these different auditors’ names popping up. The most shocking thing is after being physically locked out of the system, can’t open the safe, there is nothing in the till, nothing accessible, I think every audit they would log on and there is a discrepancy. It’s just – you couldn’t make it up, these things. The fact that all of the Post Office staff seemed to just have it drilled into them, make out that they’re the only ones, make it – I mean, to ask me in my first week, “Have you taken money”, I felt like saying, “Well, have you? You’ve been with me this whole time, how is it possible?” It’s just – it’s just disgusting what is going on. As I say, even people at the playground going into school, and people that you chat to, they just – what are they going to say? Like, they would just say, “Oh yes, I heard things have happened”, blah, blah, blah, but they don’t actually realise the full extent of these things, and they will presume. Even some local people, you’ve heard them saying or they’ve stopped talking to you, or they’ve cut you off, or one lady was shouting at my husband across the counter, not realising we’re going through the most difficult time of our lives, yet she’s one of the ones that should have been more caring. So, yes, people just make up their own minds, no matter what. But I’ll read out the statement.

Mr Beer: Yes, please do.

Louise Dar: Okay.

So, Sir Wyn, we as a family were affected directly in so many ways: financially, emotionally and losing our business, all due to the actions – or should I say lack of actions – by the Post Office Limited. It is vital that we receive our compensation for losses and the harm we suffered, but now, without any further hesitation, without any delays, any excuses, any bigger news. At the time I think there was, I don’t know, if it wasn’t football, it was something else, and it seemed to be nothing was in the press. And without any hesitation, fair compensation would allow us, and hundreds of others, to pay off the debts that we incurred due to the alleged shortfalls claimed by the Post Office. It would allow us to try and rebuild our lives and help close this horrendous chapter of our lives.

But one of the worst things to add on was that three years prior to the Group Litigation I was a part of, as we discussed, Paula Vennells, the chief executive officer of the Post Office, received a total of £3.6 million in bonuses, and this money for the Post Office, so that she could look good, make lots of profit, but actually doing this to us. So this did lead to millions of pounds of profit for the Post Office, yet subpostmasters’ remuneration was less than minimum wage when it was calculated, because of the long hours we work, the subpostmasters – sorry, subpostmasters had no support, we had no bonuses, not even any thanks, and profitable services were removed one by one. So with people coming in, we’re trying to get people to come in and pay their bills and do different things to try and make pennies on these to make an income. If that wasn’t bad enough, to top it off, Paula Vennells then appeared on the Queen’s Honours List to receive a CBE the January after the December that the Group Litigation won in the High Court revealing this scandal. I just can’t see why Ms Vennells was given this award by the Queen. I know it has been questioned, but it must be just moving into a different job at the time. It was just so suitable.

But I would like to just finish off by saying if anybody should receive any type of award, any public acknowledgement for his tireless efforts, campaigning, hard work and decades of compassionate investigation, it’s Alan Bates, and he was the one that founded the Group Litigation in the first place, because he identified issues and he has been doing all of this for, I think, over 20 years now.

So I’d just like to say thank you to Alan for all of this hard work, and thank you for your time, Sir Wyn. Thank you.

Mr Beer: Mrs Dar, can I thank you for giving your evidence to us.

Sir, they’re all my questions. Do you have any questions of Mrs Dar?

Sir Wyn Williams: No, thank you.

Mrs Dar, you’ve been prepared to give evidence in a very public forum on two separate occasions now, which is much to your credit, and I’m very grateful for the integrity of your evidence, which is self-evident, and the upset that in part it’s caused you. But thanks very much.

Louise Dar: No problem, thank you.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Sir, could we say 2.10?

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

(1.09 pm)

(Luncheon Adjournment)

(2.09 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Good afternoon.

Ms Hodge: Good afternoon, sir. Our next witness is Mr Keith Macaldowie. Please may the witness be sworn?

Keith Macaldowie


Questioned by Ms Hodge

Ms Hodge: Mr Macaldowie, my name is Catriona Hodge and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Please state your full name.

Keith Macaldowie: It’s Keith Gary Macaldowie.

Ms Hodge: You made a statement on 14 March of this year; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: That’s right, yes.

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

Keith Macaldowie: I do, yes.

Ms Hodge: Could I ask you, please, to turn to the last page of your statement.

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Do you see your signature there?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, I do.

Ms Hodge: Have you read the statement again since it was first made?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, I have.

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

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, it is.

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

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How old are you, Mr Macaldowie?

Keith Macaldowie: I am 49 years old.

Ms Hodge: Are you currently married?

Keith Macaldowie: Separated.

Ms Hodge: Do you have children?

Keith Macaldowie: I have got two boys.

Ms Hodge: What do you currently do for a living?

Keith Macaldowie: I currently work as a pupil support assistance in a high school.

Ms Hodge: You used to serve as the subpostmaster of the Post Office branch on Angus Road in Greenock; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: When were you first appointed as the subpostmaster?

Keith Macaldowie: That was September 2006, roughly.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you serve as a subpostmaster at that branch?

Keith Macaldowie: Until 2011.

Ms Hodge: What type of business did you operate from the branch?

Keith Macaldowie: We had a retail newsagents.

Ms Hodge: You’d worked as a self-employed newsagent –

Keith Macaldowie: Since –

Ms Hodge: – before you took on the post office; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, since ‘97, yes.

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

Keith Macaldowie: Because the post office that was beside us was down, and it affected our profits, it affected footfall into the business because customers had to go elsewhere to get their post office service, so it was sort of to add value to our business, really.

Ms Hodge: What impact had the closure of the post office had on the local community?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, it’s a big impact, as the area that the post office was run is actually one of the largest council housing schemes in Scotland, so it’s a very, very deprived area. So it’s a lot of benefits, pensions, things like that, that we paid out, yes.

Ms Hodge: You mentioned in your statement that one of the factors that motivated you was to keep that post office running for the community; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, that’s correct.

Ms Hodge: What investment did you make in your branch when you took it on?

Keith Macaldowie: We had to refurbish the shop to fit the branch into. It was approximately £20,000. That’s approximately £15,000 for fixtures and fittings, and the £5,000 payment to the Post Office because it was basically a franchise that you were buying into. So it was approximately £20,000.

Ms Hodge: How did you fund that –

Keith Macaldowie: We got a bank loan.

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

Keith Macaldowie: I can’t remember offhand. I’m just checking to see if I’ve got it in my statement.


Ms Hodge: At paragraph 39, you’ve given an estimate of your earnings.

Keith Macaldowie: It was in the region of about £36,000 a year, yes.

Ms Hodge: What training did you receive on Horizon when you took up your role as a subpostmaster?

Keith Macaldowie: They offered me one week’s partial training. I didn’t feel that that would be enough, so I actually fought to get – sorry, initially, sorry, they were only offering a week’s training when we opened the branch, and I wasn’t happy with that. So we managed to persuade them to let me have an extra week’s training before we opened the branch, in a sort of classroom setting which was in Springburn in Glasgow, so it was the main office there – sort of they had classrooms where they taught how to use the Horizon system.

Ms Hodge: What did your classroom training cover?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, it covered day-to-day transactions, end of day, you know, balance as such, end of week balance. We couldn’t do a monthly balance in the classroom, but, sort of – and I discovered then that it was very, very difficult to actually balance to zero the Horizon terminal, and I was told, well, you know, “Oh, that always happens”, you know, “it was only pennies”, we’d be 35p down or up or whatever, you know, when we were doing the daily balance and the weekly balance. But I’d just get told that that is, you know – trying to do a monthly balance and if you’re 35p you’re sort of laughing, sort of thing. Let’s just say I couldn’t really balance to zero.

Ms Hodge: So in your classroom training –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – if I’ve understood you correctly, you’re saying that even then, when you were practising balancing, discrepancies were appearing?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And you were told?

Keith Macaldowie: I was told, “Oh, don’t worry about it,” because, as I say, it was only sort of pennies at the time; maybe about a pound at the most.

Ms Hodge: Were you advised what to do if you experienced any significant shortfalls or discrepancies?

Keith Macaldowie: No. No.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned some in-branch training?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did that take place after the Horizon System was installed?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience any difficulties balancing during your in-branch training?

Keith Macaldowie: Again, it was discrepancies of maybe a pound or so. And during that time we were taken through an end of month balance, so, again, it was – it would be only a couple of pounds discrepancy, so, you know, you’d either – if it was up, you’d put it in the suspense account; if it was down, you’d put the money in the till yourself because you were liable for the shortfall.

Ms Hodge: Who told you that you were liable for the shortfall?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, the trainer, and I can’t remember where I’d heard it. I don’t remember anybody really, you know, saying I was liable, but sort of talking to the other subpostmasters, I think it was common knowledge that you were liable for any money that went missing within the post office, yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel at the time about the quality of the training that you’d received?

Keith Macaldowie: It wasn’t enough. It was, you know, enough to do day-to-day transactions, but there was so much more. Because I remember a few weeks after we opened, maybe a couple of months after we opened, they brought in the MoneyGram, which is money transfers to all over the world that people could do, but I didn’t receive any training in how to actually do the process. So, you know, they were introducing processes and other things for you to do within the post office, but not actually giving you training on how to do it. They’d maybe give you a book to read, but I’m dyslexic, so giving me a book to read on how to do a process is more or less useless, because it takes me a long time to process written information and things like that. Yes, so I mean I will apologise, even, like, taking – having verbal questions, it may take me a while to process and formulate an answer. But that was just – I apologise for that.

Ms Hodge: Please don’t apologise.

Once you were up and running in your branch with Horizon, did you experience problems?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What types of issues arose?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, there would be shortfalls, maybe 20, £30, you know, maybe £100.

Ms Hodge: How frequently was this occurring?

Keith Macaldowie: Oh, maybe once a month or once every couple of months or, you know, maybe £100 gone or, you know – I mean, the short – the small amounts, 10, £20, it’s like, “Okay, I’ve maybe made a mistake”. So, you know, I put my hand in my pocket; £100, that’s a bit more harder to swallow.

Ms Hodge: Did you contact the Horizon helpline when you –

Keith Macaldowie: Oh, you phoned the helpline, yes, but they were more or less useless, because it’s somebody sitting at the other end of a telephone reading off a script, you know? And you phoned up with a problem, and maybe their immediate action was to switch off and switch the system back on, and that should clear the problem or whatever, or, “Well, it’s a shortfall, so you’re liable, you need to put it in.”

Ms Hodge: Is that the advice you received from the helpline?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, basically.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to ask you about some of the more significant shortfalls –

Keith Macaldowie: Mm-hmm.

Ms Hodge: – that you experienced whilst serving as a subpostmaster. You’ve mentioned in your statement a significant shortfall –

Keith Macaldowie: Mm-hmm.

Ms Hodge: – in 2009 –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – when you were carrying out a monthly balance; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: What was the value of that shortfall?

Keith Macaldowie: That was about £5,000 that was short, if memory serves.

Ms Hodge: Were you able to establish what had caused that shortfall in your accounts?

Keith Macaldowie: No. Because I couldn’t gain access to any of the information in the Horizon terminal to go back and see where any of the mistakes – if a mistake had been made.

Ms Hodge: What action did you take when you discovered the shortfall was showing in your branch accounts?

Keith Macaldowie: We remortgaged the house, so we could basically put the £5,000 back into the safe.

Ms Hodge: Why did you not seek advice or help, or challenge, indeed, your liability to pay the shortfall?

Keith Macaldowie: Because any time you phoned the helpline it was your responsibility, “You need to pay it, it’s tough luck.”

Ms Hodge: You simply chose to pay that money?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, I simply chose to pay that money back rather than – you know, because I mean I’d heard horror stories over the years, speaking to other subpostmasters and things like that, you know; if they came in and did an audit, what could happen and things, yes.

Ms Hodge: Another quite significant shortfall occurred in November, or appeared in November 2011; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement that that shortfall was discovered in the course of an audit.

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: But you had been aware of a slightly smaller shortage before the auditors came –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – is that correct?

Keith Macaldowie: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you first come to realise that there was a shortage in your accounts in November 2011?

Keith Macaldowie: That was doing a balance, a monthly balance. So I thought: okay, we’ll try and – what I’ll do is I’ll pay that up. I’ll put money in weekly from the shop to sort of try and cover that balance. I mean, because I didn’t have – you know, I put – I thought it was £1,000; I didn’t have £1,000 to put in straightaway so I thought, you know, I’ll pay it up over the weeks, put it in the safe and that should pay it off and cover it, yes.

Ms Hodge: So when the auditors arrived in November of 2011 –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – you knew that there was going to be a shortfall of about 1,000?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: What did they discover when they carried out an audit?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, they discovered a shortfall of £9,312.81.

Ms Hodge: When the audit was carried out, were you able to investigate the cause of that sum yourself?

Keith Macaldowie: No, no.

Ms Hodge: What action did the Post Office take against you when that shortfall was discovered?

Keith Macaldowie: They suspended me, and so we had to try and figure out how we could get the office – because they closed the office when they suspended me, so I couldn’t gain access. They took all of the keys off me for the post office – the safe and the till – and I was locked out of Horizon.

Ms Hodge: You were invited by the Post Office to attend an interview a short time later; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: That’s correct, yes. That was on 1 December 2011, I believe.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall who was responsible for conducting that interview?

Keith Macaldowie: I can’t remember the names, but I know they were with the Post Office security team. Now, I’d contacted the Federation to get advice from them, and it was an Andrew Gilhooley was appointed from the Federation to help me, or supposed to advise me, and the first phone call that I actually had with Mr Gilhooley, he spent half an hour berating me, “Where is the money?” “I don’t know where the money is.” “What have you done with the money? Where is it?” That’s all he kept asking me. I couldn’t account for where the money had been. I knew I hadn’t taken it, and it was only me that worked in the post office. So, as I say, I had to have a meeting with him before this all went off for the meeting. So I actually had to meet in the services at – between Glasgow and Edinburgh – to discuss what was happening there. My father – who I have brought with me, Sir Wyn, today – came with me for those, and he also came with me to the meeting at Guild Hall in Queen Street.

Ms Hodge: You have explained in your statement that your interview was due to take place on 7 December of 2011.

Keith Macaldowie: 7 December, yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you in fact attend the interview yourself?

Keith Macaldowie: No, I took my father along and Andrew Gilhooley from the Federation. I had two letters, which I don’t have copies of at the moment. I have applied to my GP to – because one of them was written by my GP, and one of them was actually written by a psychologist that I was seeing at the time, stating about my mental health, so they wouldn’t actually interview me at the time. Now, Andrew Gilhooley from the Federation went in and spoke on my behalf, and my father also went in and spoke on my behalf. Now, I can only give you third hand what happened at this – or when they were speaking with my father.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I’m going to stop you there, if I may, and be a little bit unorthodox, but since your father is here, I’m going to ask him if, in due course, I were to invite my legal team to ask him to make a witness statement about what happened, so we have it first hand –

Keith Macaldowie: Okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: – then that would be very helpful, rather than just you give us your version of it, so to speak.

Keith Macaldowie: Sure.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. That’s great.

Ms Hodge: Before you do, Mr Macaldowie, could I ask you to confirm, your father is a forensic accountant; is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, he was a forensic accountant. He was a senior partner with BTO Scotland, so he’s actually given evidence as a professional witness in the Court of Sessions in Cardiff, and the commercial courts in London.

Ms Hodge: And to your knowledge what efforts did he make on your behalf to try and investigate what had caused –

Keith Macaldowie: Well, he asked to see the evidence against me, to be told that we weren’t entitled to see the evidence and that they didn’t like people like him.

Ms Hodge: Do you know who said that to him?

Keith Macaldowie: One of the investigation team, I take it, yes.

Ms Hodge: I think you’ve explained that ultimately it was Mr Gilhooley from the Federation and your father who attended the interview –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – on your behalf?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: I think you were going to tell us how – what your understanding is, at least, of how that interview proceeded?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, well, as I say, my father asked for the evidence, they said no, we weren’t entitled to it, “We don’t like people like you.” Also, my father asked how many other subpostmasters had accepted – had similar problems, shortfalls, to be told that there was no other postmasters that had similar things. Mr Gilhooley eventually, I think, from what I gather, said that we had – that I had taken the money because there was problems with the other part of the business, without actually asking me for permission to say that.

Ms Hodge: Your contract with the Post Office –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – came to an end –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – when you offered your resignation, is that right?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you please explain why you tendered your resignation?

Keith Macaldowie: Because I was told to tender my resignation after being forced to pay the sum of money, which I had to actually borrow from my mother-in-law.

Ms Hodge: When you say you were forced to pay that money –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – why did you feel compelled to do so?

Keith Macaldowie: Because otherwise I was told there would be criminal proceedings, they would come and basically tear my house apart. I would have to account for every single thing that was in my house, including how many pairs of socks I had, how many pairs of underpants I had. I would have to account for all that during the investigation, you know, and mentally I wasn’t prepared to go through that either at the time.

Ms Hodge: You paid the money back?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Sorry, you paid the money in to bring an end –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: – to the matter?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What affect did your suspension and termination have on your Post Office salary?

Keith Macaldowie: That immediately stopped. I got part of the package if I – tendered my resignation was I would get three months’ salary.

Ms Hodge: And did you receive –

Keith Macaldowie: I received three months’ salary, yes.

Ms Hodge: How was your newsagent business affected by the closure of the post office branch?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, the takings went down because we got – the Post Office put us in touch with a temporary subpostmistress. She would only work three days a week.

Ms Hodge: This was during the period of your suspension?

Keith Macaldowie: This was during the period of my suspension and also my – after I tendered my resignation. So, yes, we’ve lost a lot of customers in the business.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you continue to run your newsagent business after the closure of the post office?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, we ran it – ran the business until 2013, I think it would have been. I had another job at the time as well. My wife applied to get the post office, and she was successful in the application to get – of getting the post office.

Ms Hodge: Did she take over the running of your business?

Keith Macaldowie: She took over the running of the post office, yes.

Ms Hodge: And the retail side of the business?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, yes, but I still worked there. At that point in time I was doing night shift in a fast food restaurant, as well as working in the shop until about lunchtime. So I was working from 9 o’clock at night until about lunchtime, then going home and getting a few hours’ sleep, and then back out to work.

Ms Hodge: And you said you effectively brought your retail business to an end in about 2013.

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you able to sell it at that point?

Keith Macaldowie: We sold it to the person that owned the shop around the corner for a pittance, really. It wasn’t what it would have been valued at; it was just to try and cover some of the debts we had.

Ms Hodge: You mentioned at the start the investment that you made in the business –

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – when you first took it on.

Keith Macaldowie: Mm-hmm.

Ms Hodge: Were you able to recover any of that money?

Keith Macaldowie: No, we were still paying that back, yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that at the time of your interview, in late – or in and around late November, early December 2011, you were experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What did you attribute those symptoms to at the time?

Keith Macaldowie: Just the stress of the whole thing. You know, when you are putting in a 12 to 16-hour day to provide a service for another company, basically, along with your, you know, my retail business, and these shortfalls are coming up, you start to question yourself, “Have I made a mistake,” you know, “How is this happening? It’s got to be me”, especially if you’re being told that nobody else is having these problems. So, yes, it took – it did take quite a toll on my mental health, yes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that you – I think at the time you were under the care of your GP.

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive a formal diagnosis?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, I did.

Ms Hodge: What was that?

Keith Macaldowie: It’s clinical depression and I’ve also got social anxiety.

Ms Hodge: What effect did your experiences at the time have on your relationship with your wife?

Keith Macaldowie: Arguing all the time; shortfall – I mean, I felt sort of helpless. I think the Post Office certainly should have done more to assist. Yes, I mean, this has basically brought an end to my marriage, yes, because it deteriorated at that point. As in my statement, I say I came close to suicide; I actually had a noose around my neck at one point. I also went missing for a period of time. I just packed my bags and walked, so the police had to come and find me. I don’t think what I’m saying here is in the statement, but I’m a very private person; I do find it sometimes difficult to talk about personal things. So I’m just trying to put more of a human element on this for you, Sir Wyn, as well as what’s in the statement –

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I understand. That’s fine.

Keith Macaldowie: – yes, so I still suffer. I still suffer with this. I wake up in the morning and I’m actually disappointed that I’ve woken up. The only thing that stops me from acting out on suicidal thoughts is that I don’t want them to be disappointed because of this; my family, my father, my children. Sorry.

Ms Hodge: How were your children affected?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, for several years now they haven’t really had a dad. With social anxiety, I’ve more or less become a recluse. If I’m not out working, I’m in my rented accommodation. So if they have – did come and stay with me, we’re more or less in the flat for the periods of time that they would stay with me. So, really, I didn’t take them out to, you know, kick a rugby ball about or, you know, it’s difficult sometimes for me to go to the cinema with them if they wanted to see a film. I mean, sometimes I manage to, but, you know, a lot of the time, you know, it was just too much for me. So, yes, so I think they lost out on a dad for so many years.

Ms Hodge: How would you describe your current relationship with them, and your circumstances now?

Keith Macaldowie: Well, I see them as much as possible. Their mother and I, it’s less acrimonious. We’ve sort of put away our differences as such, so I mean, you know, we’re talking and things now. I mean, I’ve – I had to sign the house over to her so that she could remortgage to help pay some of the debts off. I’m now – I now work 27.5 hours a week, reduced capability for work. I’ve just, in November there, I got back into work. I was off for several months because of depression and anxiety. I have to rely on the benefit system to help me out, housing costs. I now – yes, I don’t have anything really to leave my kids. You know, you want to be able to leave them your legacy, shall we say, and, you know, I’ve got nothing to leave them if I die or anything like that. So it’s affected my mental health and also, you know, my day-to-day life, because I would have still been running the shop; I would have had the post office until I retired. So, you know, I’m in a low-paid job. As I say, I’ve got to rely on benefits to get by.

Ms Hodge: Have you tried to obtain any compensation from the Post Office?

Keith Macaldowie: I was one of the 555 with the High Court, so I received some compensation, and that went – well, I gave my wife some of that, and the rest went on paying – trying to pay back some debts that I still have.

Ms Hodge: You’re still in debt?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe now how you feel about your experiences of working for the Post Office?

Keith Macaldowie: If I knew now what I knew then, I wouldn’t have applied for a post office, because there is no – they didn’t have any duty of care mentality towards any subpostmaster. I mean, how they could put somebody through what they’ve put every one of us through, you know. I don’t …

Ms Hodge: I don’t have any further questions for you, Mr Macaldowie.

Keith Macaldowie: Okay.

Ms Hodge: Is there anything you’d like to say, which was not covered in my questions?

Keith Macaldowie: Yes, I’ve got a prepared statement, if I may.

Sir Wyn, right, it’s been very difficult for me to come to give evidence to you today. Part of the way in which I cope with these events is to shut down; I’ll shut down, just shut myself away. I’ve given you an account of events; the effects have been huge and are continuing. We cannot change the past, but we can try to do something about the future. What I would like to see happen with the Inquiry is: (1), I would actually like to see prosecutions brought against the people who knew about the failures of Horizon, both from the Post Office and Fujitsu, for, at the very least, perjury because they were going into court giving evidence that there were no problems with Horizon; (2), I would like to see the rule of law re-established.

On the second point, the basis of our legal system is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Now, every Government-owned entity should follow this principle. As the Post Office case has shown, we were guilty from the outset and denied the means to prove our innocence. The Post Office scandal undermines my faith in our justice system. I would like to have faith in that restored by your Inquiry. Thank you very much.

Sir Wyn Williams: And thank you very much. You’ve obviously had to dig deep to reveal some of these personal impacts upon you, and I’m very grateful you’ve done it.

Keith Macaldowie: Thank you very much, Sir Wyn.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: So we’ll have a shortish break while the next witness is made ready. We won’t leave, and then we’ll see where we get to. All right?

(2.49 pm)

(A short break)

(2.54 pm)

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir, if you’re ready –

Sir Wyn Williams: Certainly, yes.

Mr Beer: – call the next witness, please, whose full name is Mary McCrory Philp.

Mary Philip


Questioned by Mr Beer, QC

Mr Beer: You’ve heard me give your full name; in fact I think you’re known as Myra; is that right?

Mary Philip: I’m known as Myra, but my full name is Mary McCrory Philp.

Mr Beer: And are you known as Myra to distinguish you from your late mother?

Mary Philip: My late mother and my late grandmother; there were too many Marys, yes.

Mr Beer: Can you take open the witness statement that should be in front of you there.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: And in particular, look at the last page, which you should see is dated very recently, 6 May.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that your signature?

Mary Philip: That is my signature, yes.

Mr Beer: And are the contents of the witness statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Mary Philip: Yes, they are.

Mr Beer: Thank you.

Now, I think your mother passed away, sadly, on 6 January 2018.

Mary Philip: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: Was she then 83?

Mary Philip: She was just 83, yes.

Mr Beer: And so that was at a time, sadly, before the true nature and reliability of the Horizon IT system had been recognised in the courts, and by the public at large?

Mary Philip: Yes, it hadn’t been exposed by then.

Mr Beer: And so before that exposure, she passed away?

Mary Philip: Yes, she died not knowing that she was correct all along.

Mr Beer: How does that make you feel, that she died before the truth was revealed, or at least some of the truth was revealed?

Mary Philip: I think my mother would have been relieved, probably delighted, to be vindicated, and I’m sad that she died before she found out.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement your mother had been a police officer?

Mary Philip: She was, in her early career, yes.

Mr Beer: And that she was brought up strictly by a Victorian father?

Mary Philip: Yes, her father was quite old, an older father, and one of her favourite stories about her father was that she’d come second in her class at high school and she went home all excited and delighted, and he frowned at her and said, “Yeah, but why were you not first?”, and that was kind of the way she was brought up, to be proud and the best.

Mr Beer: You say that she was honest, proud and concerned with her reputation for all of her life; is that right?

Mary Philip: She was, absolutely, yes.

Mr Beer: We’re here to talk about the joint purchase of a post office by you and your mother in 2001, in Fife?

Mary Philip: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: Now, to save my blushes, can you tell us precisely where it was, please?

Mary Philip: Auchtermuchty.

Sir Wyn Williams: I’m really glad you said that, because I’ve loved hearing people struggle with Welsh place names, so now we’re struggling with Scottish place names.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Excellent.

Mr Beer: And you jointly purchased that, I think, on 19~September 2001.

Mary Philip: That’s correct. It was – yes, and we formed a registered partnership at the same time in the business.

Mr Beer: And you say in your statement that was registered formally in Scotland?

Mary Philip: In the courts, yes.

Mr Beer: The partnership between you and your mother?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: And we’re going to speak about the period between then, September 2001, and the summer of 2006, when your mother was suspended and the post office franchise was passed on to a local mini supermarket.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: So a five-year, also, period.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Before 2001, what had been your career?

Mary Philip: I was a national newspaper journalist.

Mr Beer: Which paper was that?

Mary Philip: At the time I was at the Daily Express. Before that, I was at The Sun and the News of the World, the Daily Record and a few others.

Mr Beer: And I think at this time, September 2001, you were expecting to be made redundant, and therefore the purchase of the post office in a joint venture with your mum was the idea of the next stage of your career; is that right?

Mary Philip: That’s absolutely correct. I thought I’d put the redundancy money into the purchase pot and really get out of journalism, which was declining at that point, yes.

Mr Beer: Were you in fact made redundant?

Mary Philip: No. I carried on. They refused to give me redundancy.

Mr Beer: What role did you in fact then perform after the post office was purchased?

Mary Philip: I became executive news editor, eventually, of the Daily Express in Glasgow; the Glasgow office of the Daily Express.

Mr Beer: It’s my point for a rubbish question: what role did you perform in the post office?

Mary Philip: Oh, in the post office, sorry. I worked – before I went to my normal job, I’d go in and I’d organise the newspaper delivery round, get the bread roll delivery organised. On all my days off, I was behind the post office counter with my mother as much as possible, or looking after the associated shop.

Mr Beer: On the paperwork, however, she was the subpostmistress, and not you?

Mary Philip: That’s correct, she was the subpostmistress.

Mr Beer: Was she given any training on the use of the Horizon~IT system before she became the subpostmistress?

Mary Philip: It was on the job training, when the post office was open, I think they came for five days and trained her live.

Mr Beer: And so that was – when you say on the job, ie in the post office?

Mary Philip: In the post office while it was open, while it was functioning, yes.

Mr Beer: And did she at the time say anything about the adequacy of that training, or not?

Mary Philip: The shortfalls that the system was showing began within weeks, and therefore her immediate thought was that she hadn’t been trained properly and that she was doing something wrong. So she repeatedly asked head office to send people through to observe her, because, as I say, she thought there was definitely something she was doing wrong.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement that from the start she blamed herself.

Mary Philip: She blamed herself at the beginning, yes.

Mr Beer: Did you attend any of this initial on the job training on Horizon, or not?

Mary Philip: Not the initial training.

Mr Beer: I think you attended some training later, I think –

Mary Philip: Yes, some –

Mr Beer: – when they introduced the national lottery.

Mary Philip: That’s right, they introduced the national lottery to lots of Post Office branches in Scotland and I was sent to a day’s training course. From memory, it was in Hamilton, which isn’t really far from here, and I particularly remember it because the following week when all the scratch cards were scanned into the system and all the lottery software was obviously engaged and counted up, there was an enormous shortfall. I can remember my mother and I having a proper argument about it, and her telling me I hadn’t paid attention and me telling her, “No, I did.” And, yes.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement:

“The training given was helpful only up to a point, and certain aspects of the Horizon System remained unexplained, rendering our questions and queries unanswered and misunderstood.”

Can you explain what you mean there, please?

Mary Philip: So the Post Office management eventually told my mother that she was doing nothing wrong, she was on her own; if she needed help, she had to phone the helpline. Now, you would have a query about something – it was a branch that did everything. I did, you know, vehicle excise, licences; it did all sorts of stuff. When you called up and asked a question, a specific question, I would say about eight times out of 10 the people on the end of the phone didn’t know what they were talking about either. And the unexplained part, every Wednesday night, obviously the system did what we called the tally. You know, it did the stocktaking, it told you how much money you should have in the cash drawer, how much money should be in the safe, how many – what your scratch cards should be in the safe, all that sort of stuff. But when it went wrong, there was no way of – you know, there was no paperwork that came out of it, there was – I can specifically remember my mother going back to the old-fashioned way of doing it and doing it all on paper, and then doing it all in the system. And on paper it was correct, and in the system it was way out. So when you asked for an explanation of how it could possibly be going so wrong, nobody could tell you, “You must be taking the money.”

Mr Beer: You have said already that shortfalls started to appear on the electronic system, on Horizon, very shortly after you started up; is that right?

Mary Philip: Yes, within weeks.

Mr Beer: And what level of shortfalls were they?

Mary Philip: It could be anything from £25 to 3,000 or £4,000.

Mr Beer: I think you tallied up on a Wednesday; is that right?

Mary Philip: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: And what were Wednesdays like, or as you approached Wednesdays?

Mary Philip: They became dreaded, they became awful. I used to drive home from work, and I had to go to the branch on a Wednesday night to see how my mother was, because it was upsetting, it was terrifying; it was, “Where are we going to get the money from this time if it’s got a shortfall again?” Sometimes it would show a positive balance, but never anything more than about £100.

Mr Beer: You would run the balancing time and time again, is that right, to try and get it to work?

Mary Philip: Yes. Sometimes we were up through the night, all night, and every time it would come out with a different answer.

Mr Beer: What did you do, you and your mother, as a result of these apparent shortfalls shown on the system?

Mary Philip: Every single time the money was paid in, because that’s what the contract said you had to do. My mother then started questioning the Post Office about the Horizon system. She started telling them there was clearly something wrong with it. They always told her, “No, it can’t be, it’s just you.” She went to the local rep of the SubPostmasters Federation repeatedly and asked if anyone else was experiencing the same difficulties, but they kept saying no, and in the end were basically talking to her as if she was taking money.

Mr Beer: She was taking those – just taking those few things in stages there. You say that the shortfalls were balanced by making payments in.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Where did that money come from?

Mary Philip: The money came from either the Post Office salary, it came from my personal salary, eventually we had to borrow money from family. There was the £20,000 loan given to us from someone in the family with savings, and then there were two other bank loans that were taken out.

Mr Beer: So the Post Office remuneration, your personal salary, takings from the retail side?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: £20,000 loan from a family member?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: And two bank loans?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Have you ever totalled up the amount that you paid in, in alleged shortfall?

Mary Philip: The loans were 56,000, the rest is anyone’s guess. I’ve put a hypothetical figure of 70,000 on it, but it could be more, because it was regular, and it was fairly regular. You know, £100 here and £200 there, it all adds up. There were some months where I was actually struggling to pay my own mortgage at home.

Mr Beer: You said also that as well as making up the alleged shortfalls, your mother contacted the Federation.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: And was that locally?

Mary Philip: Locally.

Mr Beer: And do you remember who it was, or don’t you now remember, or didn’t you know at the time the names of the people?

Mary Philip: I don’t remember the name, it was a male, and I think it was Lundin Links post office that he was based at, but other than that, no.

Mr Beer: And you say in your statement that she asked whether anyone else was having the same problems, but was told that she was on her own?

Mary Philip: Yes, by the Post Office, and by the Federation.

Mr Beer: That’s what I wanted to ask you. Dealing with the Federation to start with, the union –

Mary Philip: Mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: – they said that she was on her own; is that right?

Mary Philip: Yes, they said they had no other reports of it. Some – you know, she was basically on her own and – I mean, I didn’t speak to them, but she did, and I can remember her telling me that she thought they thought that she was taking money.

Mr Beer: That she was taking the cash?

Mary Philip: Yes, mm-hmm.

Mr Beer: And so far as the Post Office is concerned, what contact did she make with them in which they said that there weren’t similar reported issues with anyone else?

Mary Philip: Well, every time she had a shortfall, she would phone them, and obviously she was raising the system as the problem, and every time they said, “Well, nobody else is having a problem”, and they even came up with, “Someone in your family must be taking money out of the safe during the night.”

Mr Beer: I think it’s right that people from the Post Office attended the branch sometimes as a result of her calls –

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: – to the Post Office; is that right?

Mary Philip: Yes, that’s correct.

Mr Beer: And what happened when those staff came to the branch?

Mary Philip: They would observe what she was doing. They would either stay for a day or half a day, or even just a couple of hours, and latterly, as I say, they were making accusations. They said that someone in the family who lived in the house above the post office must be raiding the safe during the night.

Mr Beer: In that context, you say she told the Post Office repeatedly that they needed to check Horizon –

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: – but was told nobody else was reporting the same?

Mary Philip: She was totally on her own, according to them, yes.

Mr Beer: And it was her that was at this stage – this is between 2001 and 2006 – saying to the Post Office that there is an issue with Horizon?

Mary Philip: Absolutely.

Mr Beer: Why had she, or how had she to your knowledge concluded that the problem lay with Horizon?

Mary Philip: She – the Post Office counters, I think, changed into Post Office Limited in the year that we took the post office over, and the old paperwork was still there, it was still in the branch; the branch hadn’t been cleared out properly when we got it. And she got that paperwork out and she did it with, you know, pencil and paper, and then ran it through the system as well. Every time it came out different. The paper system was probably what it should have been, but Horizon was inventing shortfalls.

Mr Beer: You say at one stage that your mother or you, depending on who was holding them, slept with the keys underneath your pillow?

Mary Philip: Correct.

Mr Beer: That was the keys to the safe, was it?

Mary Philip: It was the keys to the branch. There were about three locks to get in, there was an alarm system with a key code, there was a key to the cash drawer, there was a key to the safe.

Mr Beer: Why were you sleeping with the keys under your pillow?

Mary Philip: I had teenage children. I didn’t want them accused of robbing the safe.

Mr Beer: You speak in your witness statement of when matters came to a head, which was early one Thursday morning in, you think, about summer 2006 –

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: – when some auditors arrived at the branch at about 7.30?

Mary Philip: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: Do you remember that?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Can you tell us what happened?

Mary Philip: They arrived, they demanded to be let into the branch through the various keys and alarm systems. I obviously had no option but to let them in. They went straight to the cash drawer. The night before, there had been a £94 shortfall, and my mother had written a personal cheque to cover it, thinking she was doing the absolute honest thing and that she’d sort it out in the morning, rather than stay up all night again, but the £94 cheque was taken as proof of false accounting, and she was immediately suspended.

Mr Beer: And how long was she suspended for?

Mary Philip: Oh, she was suspended and told to resign.

Mr Beer: I missed that.

Mary Philip: She was suspended and told that she’d better resigning.

Mr Beer: And did eventually the franchise get transferred to the mini market?

Mary Philip: Yes, there was a little mini market shop just along the road from the branch, and they obviously had to have the place fitted out for security and counters and the Horizon System. And so I think the whole process took about a month to six weeks, something like that.

Mr Beer: Was anything said at this time as to whether she was going to be prosecuted; and, if not, why not?

Mary Philip: When she was suspended and told to resign, she walked out, very much in her dignity, to go to her car which was across the road in the square where the post office was, and one of the auditors actually chased after her and told her that she wasn’t being prosecuted because of her age, and he did it quite loudly and aggressively.

Mr Beer: How was your mother affected by these accusations?

Mary Philip: She was absolutely devastated. She knew she had done nothing wrong. She knew she had repeatedly reported the Horizon System, totally questioned it. At one point she’d even hired a private investigator to try and find out if anyone else might tell him that they were having the same problem.

Mr Beer: Can you remember when that was?

Mary Philip: Can I remember when it was? It was in about the middle of it all, in about 2003, 2004.

Mr Beer: What did the private investigator come back with?

Mary Philip: He came back with nobody wanted to talk to him about it, but he also came back with the system had been designed by Fujitsu and he offered, basically, to go to England and hang out in the locale of the Fujitsu workers and see if he could find anything out.

Mr Beer: Did that happen or –

Mary Philip: No, we couldn’t afford it.

Mr Beer: So it would have been a further cost for him to do this extra thing to try and get information from Fujitsu employees?

Mary Philip: That’s right.

Mr Beer: And you couldn’t afford it?

Mary Philip: No, we couldn’t afford it because of all the shortfalls.

Mr Beer: After your mother was suspended, I think the branch re-opened with Post Office headquarters staff behind the counter, serving customers; is that right?

Mary Philip: Yes. So the audit was on the Thursday, it remained closed that day, but that was pension day, because in those days there were pension books and they came in and got their little book stamped and you counted out the cash to them. So the pensions didn’t get paid out that day, and then on the Friday they re-opened it, but we had to sit in the shop and watch head office people behind the post office counter – it was all joined on; it wasn’t separate – and listen to the locals, some of whom were very vociferous in their condemnation, because obviously the moment pensions weren’t getting paid out, the village gossip machine started.

Mr Beer: And did the village gossip machine call you and your mother things like thief, fraudster and asking rhetorically “How could you do that, robbing the local village post office?”

Mary Philip: Yes, those are the ones I remember.

Mr Beer: How big is the village?

Mary Philip: There’s probably a population of about 3,500, maybe, not a big village.

Mr Beer: Is it a one post office town?

Mary Philip: It was a one post office town, yes. It was a bank; it was everything, yes.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement, it – the things we’ve just spoken about – was the worst thing that happened to my mother in her long life, apart from the death of my father aged 36.

Mary Philip: Yes, it was.

Mr Beer: Did she ever work again?

Mary Philip: She never worked again, no.

Mr Beer: Had she got work still left in her?

Mary Philip: Oh, definitely. She was bored for the rest of her days. I mean, she had us doing things to try and keep her busy. She decided one Christmas she was a florist at one point. She decided one Christmas that we should make holly leaves and sell them, and so my sister and I became a holly leaf production line, and we still make them. That’s just an example. She was fit enough to work until she was 80.

Mr Beer: Yes, you say in your statement that –

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: – she could easily have carried on working for at least another 10 years.

Mary Philip: Definitely.

Mr Beer: You carried on with your career as a journalist?

Mary Philip: I did, yes.

Mr Beer: So we’ve spoken about the financial losses that the scandal caused you –

Mary Philip: Mm.

Mr Beer: – and the emotional impact on your mother. What about on you?

Mary Philip: I suppose as an example I still can’t drive through the village of Auchtermuchty. I drive round the country roads to avoid it, if I have to go that way at all.

Mr Beer: I want to talk about the Historical Shortfall Scheme?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Firstly, was your mother contacted, to your knowledge, by Post Office –

Mary Philip: Well, when –

Mr Beer: – making her aware of the scheme?

Mary Philip: No. My mother was dead. The house – the Historical Shortfall Scheme claim that they sent the paperwork to my mother’s previous address, obviously – she wasn’t there any more, she was dead. The house had been sold 21 months before.

Mr Beer: So you found out subsequently that the Post Office say they sent a letter to an address that had been sold 21~months previously –

Mary Philip: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: – by reason of the death of your mother?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Have you sought to find out whether they employed a tracing or a detective agency to locate?

Mary Philip: I was told that – I was told by the SubPostmasters Federation in England that they had employed a tracing agency.

Mr Beer: And had they managed to trace you?

Mary Philip: No.

Mr Beer: Were you contacted at all about the Historical Shortfall Scheme?

Mary Philip: No, I wasn’t contacted at all.

Mr Beer: When was the first time you became aware of the Historical Shortfall Scheme?

Mary Philip: I saw an article somewhere, I can’t actually recall where, about the head of the Federation asking for information on Horizon and its failings. And for some reason it actually made me angry, and so I actually phoned the Federation, to be asked, “Do you not know about the Historical Shortfall Scheme?” This was in May.

Mr Beer: May 2021?

Mary Philip: 2021, May.

Mr Beer: Did you make an application under the HSS?

Mary Philip: Yes, the application went in exactly one year and one day ago, May 10.

Mr Beer: So you apply, filling out their form, on May 10, 2021?

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did you get an acknowledgement?

Mary Philip: Not until 17 July 2021.

Mr Beer: And what did that say?

Mary Philip: It said:

“Thank you for your email about the Historical Shortfall Scheme. We are sorry it has taken some time to provide a response but would like to assure you that your enquiry has been considered carefully.

The Scheme was open for 3 months and closed on 14~August 2020. In addition we allowed 15 more weeks for Postmasters with exceptional circumstances to apply. However, this ‘grace period ‘passed quite some time ago and in order to ensure that we are able to progress those applications within the scheme in a fair and timely manner, we are unable to accept any further applications into the Scheme.

We do recognise that this will likely be disappointing news for you but hope that you understand the reason for our position and wish you all the best.”

Mr Beer: What was your reaction to receiving this email?

Mary Philip: Fury, absolute fury. They –

Mr Beer: It may sound a silly question, but why were you furious?

Mary Philip: Why was I furious? Well, first of all, they failed to contact us; failed to contact me. It was clear my mother was dead, so which tracing agency did they use? How much did they pay them not to find, you know – I even have the same name. So I wasn’t informed of the Historical Shortfall Scheme. The Historical Shortfall Scheme was open for three months, and extended for 15 more weeks during a period of extreme lockdown for COVID-19. This was during the time where people were told only to leave their home for completely essential purposes. You’re only allowed to go out for a walk for half an hour. They tell me that they advertised in newspapers. I don’t know when that was supposed to be. I don’t know if they included the Scottish editions of the newspapers, and in any case I mean I was going out once a week to the supermarket and walking my dog for half an hour every day, so I wasn’t buying newspapers. They took money from my mother and I, and I contend they took it with menaces. I would actually contend it was nothing short of extortion. Then to turn round and tell me I can’t even claim it back is just beyond words.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement:

“My stance on this is that they stole our money.”

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: “We were not the thieves, the Post Office was.”

Mary Philip: That’s correct.

Mr Beer: Is that how you feel?

Mary Philip: Absolutely.

Mr Beer: I think you pursued this issue with emails. I’m not going to go through each email by each email –

Mary Philip: I’ve only sent two other emails, one asking – I think I said, “It’s been four months, can you update me, please.”

Mr Beer: Yes.

Mary Philip: Well, sorry, the first one was, “Where did you send the paperwork to?” and then the second one was, “It’s been four months, can you update me”, and …

Mr Beer: I think you got an email on 4 August 2021, saying:

“Thank you … we are looking into your enquiry and will be in touch as soon as we can. Please do bear with us, whilst we review this.”

And –

Mary Philip: But it wasn’t an inquiry; it was an application.

Mr Beer: Yes. And then you got one on 28 September 2021, saying:

“Thank you for your patience while we review your enquiry. We previously confirmed that the HSS has closed so we cannot accept any further applications to join the scheme.”

Mary Philip: Yes.

Mr Beer: And:

“We’re writing to reassure you that we are still reviewing your enquiry. We are sorry that it is taking a little time to come back to you but hope you understand that we do need to work through this carefully to ensure the most effective way forward.

Please be assured that we will be in touch again about this as soon as possible.

Thank you very much for your continued patience.”

Another one on 25 January this year, saying:

“I am sorry that we are not yet in a position to provide a more detailed update, but I must reassure you that we are working to find a fair solution.

It is difficult to provide a precise timescale at the moment, and I do understand your frustration about this. We will be in touch with you as soon as we are able, and thank you again for your patience.”

And I think you involved your MP; is that right?

Mary Philip: Yes, my member of Parliament, Peter Grant.

Mr Beer: And what did your MP do?

Mary Philip: First of all I had a very long Zoom meeting with him – well, Teams meeting with him – where he discussed that he’s on the Commons committee, and I’d been surprised that he didn’t actually have any constituents who had been affected. He has asked lots of written questions in the House of Commons. He raised my case in a subpostmasters’ debate with the minister, Paul Scully, and after that he wrote to Mr Scully, asking again about my case.

Mr Beer: I think you got a reply on Monday this week; is that right?

Mary Philip: Yes, the MP got the reply –

Mr Beer: Yes.

Mary Philip: – on Monday, yes.

Mr Beer: And what did that say?

Mary Philip: Well, to be perfectly honest with you, it doesn’t really tell me anything; it basically says that – he confirms that there were 122 people who were excluded from the HSS scheme, that they’re looking at a mechanism to see whether they can be addressed. He says that 60 of these were taken into the scheme, and that 62 weren’t; however, he doesn’t tell me whether I’m in the 60 or the 62. So I still don’t know if my application has been accepted or not.

Mr Beer: So what’s your current understanding of whether your application to be accepted under the scheme outside the three-month window that the Post Office set –

Mary Philip: I don’t have one. I don’t know. I have never seen so much ambiguous language ever. You know, there is a great big letter there from the minister, you know. He’s repeatedly given me his condolences, but he’s repeatedly not told me whether I can or cannot be accepted into the scheme. I am time barred, as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t know whether to wait any longer to actually take civil proceedings against the Post Office in Scotland or not. I mean, it’s a year and a day today, and really and truly all they’re doing is bringing back all the old feelings of mistrust and horror and – am I not good enough to have some money back? Why?

Mr Beer: Well, you say in your statement that the exclusion added insult to injury:

“I’m the angriest I’ve ever been in my life at the injustice.”

Mary Philip: Yes, I am. They took our money. They hold all the cards. They hold all the evidence of what the shortfalls were in their system, and they were administering the system, they’re now excluding me from the system, and I’m sorry, but how can anyone trust an organisation that has admitted what it’s done and is still excluding people they wronged very badly from any form of compensation? Because compensation isn’t just about money; it’s about them doing the correct thing, and it’s actually about them showing just a little bit of remorse, maybe.

Mr Beer: You conclude your statement by saying:

“Horizon and the Post Office robbed us of our money; they robbed us of our dignity and our name, and they robbed us of the final years of what remained to my mother.”

Is that how you feel?

Mary Philip: That’s exactly how I feel. I mean, I’ve been tearful like lots of other victims, but I was brought up by my mother not to be a victim. I was brought up by my mother to be proud and to stand up for what was right, and she always said, “We all do our best work when we’re angry”, and she had a little Scottish saying “Get your dander up” – and your dander is like a pride thing and a rightful angry thing – “and go out and show them, keep your head up high.” And that’s exactly what she’d be telling me to do if she was here today.

Mr Beer: And is that why you’re here today?

Mary Philip: That is why I’m here today. I won’t stop.

Mr Beer: Ms Philp, they’re the questions that I have of you.

Mary Philip: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Are there any other issues or points that you would like to make that you don’t feel have been covered because of the questions that I’ve asked or not asked?

Mary Philip: I suppose there is one thing that I didn’t put in my statement, and, you know, I’ve thought about it at great length over the last couple of weeks, since I made my statement. There are a couple of things. One is, I think I have come to the conclusion that my mother was targeted by the auditors, bearing in mind that we paid all the shortfalls into the scheme, because she was making such a noise about the Horizon System. I think that the Post Office was so intent on protecting a computer system that they completely disregarded all of the human resources, and that because she was bright enough to work out it was the computer system, that’s why she was suspended and that’s why we lost everything.

The other point, which I know that the Inquiry has absolutely no remit for, is that I firmly believe that the people who instigated all this, they criminalised people and I really think now that they’re criminal themselves. And I hope that, you know, the rightful authorities will look at this and perhaps make them feel how we felt. And that’s all, I’d like to thank you for having me.

Mr Beer: Thank you. Thank you.

Mary Philip: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Sir, those are the only questions I have.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes. It’s not really a question, but I just wanted to be clear that I understand the email chains that you’ve provided. If I’ve got it correct – and I hope I have – your last email to the Historical Shortfall Scheme is 19 January of this year –

Mary Philip: That’s correct, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – in which you make it clear that you have already been waiting four months –

Mary Philip: That’s right.

Sir Wyn Williams: – and that you’ve got legal representatives.

Mary Philip: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: You get a reply within a few days, in effect saying “Please bear with me”.

Mary Philip: Mm-hmm.

Sir Wyn Williams: And that’s it. That’s where it stops?

Mary Philip: That’s what they’ve always said.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mary Philip: And then obviously the minister replied to the –

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, yes, I follow that.

Mary Philip: Yes. And they say that they got in touch with me, but the reverse is true. It was me who actually emailed them.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay, sorry. Yes, I just wanted to be sure I had that right.

Well, thank you very much for your evidence, and obviously all these cases are unique in their own way. So thank you for letting me know something about your mother –

Mary Philip: Mm.

Sir Wyn Williams: – because she was directly in the firing line, and thank you for providing some detail about the operation of the Historical Shortfall Scheme, and so that’s beginning to feature more in the Inquiry. So, thank you.

Mary Philip: Thank you very much, Sir Wyn.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

Mary Philip: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Sir, we have some summaries to be read, I think by Mr Enright now.

Sir Wyn Williams: I can see him getting to his feet and moving forward, so, yes.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Enright, we’ve actually got about 20 minutes before we get to 4 o’clock, so we’ll certainly use that time, if we may. And if you would go slightly slowly in introducing each person, because through, no doubt, my own lack of preparation I don’t know in which order they’re coming, so I need to locate them as we’re going along.

Mr Enright: Thank you, Sir Wyn. With your permission.

Sir, as ever, you and your panel have before you the full witness statements of the individuals whose summaries I’ll be reading to you, and I know that you and your panel have read them very carefully.

The first summary I will be reading is that of Mr Philip Cowan.

Sir Wyn Williams: I have Mr Cowan, thank you.

Mr Philip Cowan

Mr Philip Cowan, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Philip was the subpostmaster at Jock’s Lodge post office in Edinburgh from February 2001 until June 2007. The branch was run by his partner, Fiona McGowan, and an assistant. Mr Cowan undertook a week of on-the-job training prior to taking on the role. He was only shown how to balance the Horizon System once. There was a lot of emphasis on calling the helpline, should there be any problems. Mr Cowan did experience problems, and called the Post Office helpline. He found the advice to be generic, and was only referred to the manual. Any advice given regarding shortfalls was always just to make the shortfalls good.

Mr Cowan always notified the helpline of shortfalls in which, in the most part, tended to reverse themselves. It was only when these shortfalls reached £30,000 that his partner made him aware of the large amount showing on the system. Mr Cowan immediately contacted the helpline, and in February 2004 the branch was audited. A discrepancy of some £30,483 was allegedly found. Mr Cowan asked for time to repay the amount, which was eventually paid following a redundancy payment in 2007.

Mr Cowan, his partner and their assistant were interviewed separately by Post Office investigators. Mr Cowan says the interviews were conducted in an aggressive and threatening manner. They were cautioned and warned to expect criminal charges. His partner and assistant were charged with fraud, but the charges were later dropped. No evidence was provided to Mr Cowan, despite his persistently asking to see some.

No charges were brought against Mr Cowan, his partner or their assistant; however, he was not allowed to reopen the branch, he was eventually made redundant under the Network Transformation Scheme in 2007, three years after his suspension.

Mr Cowan’s suspension and investigation was reported in the local media, resulting in reputational damage. His partner, Fiona, was spat at in the street, which was extremely distressing to her. Verbal abuse and damage to the property was a regular occurrence for Mr Cowan and his family. This affected Fiona’s mental health. She passed away following an accidental overdose in 2009. Mr Cowan blames her death on the actions of the Post Office. Mr Cowan says:

“My life has been completely devastated due to the actions of Post Office Ltd … I would like Post Office Ltd held publicly accountable for their actions and for them to acknowledge the misery they have put people through.”

Sir, I would very much like to turn to Mr Ian Orr.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Mr Enright: Yes. Thank you, sir.

Mr Ian Orr

Mr Ian Orr, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Mr Ian Orr was the subpostmaster of Drip Lane post office in Stirling from 1 June 1999 to September 2005. Mr Orr was a self-employed businessman prior to becoming a subpostmaster. Mr Orr received five days of in-branch training when the Horizon System was installed at his branch. He found the training inadequate, particularly given that they were moving from a pencil and paper system to a complex computerised system, even though he was computer literate.

The training did not cover what to do if a shortfall occurred, which happened on most balancing days, resulting in hours spent trying to resolve the issue. Mr Orr would call the helpline for assistance, but found that they were just as confused as he was and were of no assistance. Mr Orr was specifically told to use his own money to balance the Horizon System. Mr Orr paid in excess of £13,000 in shortfalls to the Post Office. He found himself having to divert funds normally used to pay his mortgage and household bills to pay the shortfalls, creating tensions within the family. Mr Orr says his marriage collapsed as a result.

Mr Orr was advised by the Post Office that human error was causing the shortfalls, and not any computer error. He became suspicious of those around him, and installed CCTV in an attempt to catch who was taking the money. Staff relations deteriorated; the working environment became toxic. Mr Orr decided to sell his business, as the stress of the shortfalls and threat of financial ruin had become too much to bear.

Mr Orr blames Post Office Ltd for turning a young, ambitious and successful businessman into a shell of his former self. His confidence and self esteem were destroyed, and it is only now he is able to begin to get his life back on track.

Mr Orr says:

“What happened to me, happened to hundreds if not thousands of other hard working, decent people who were only trying to make a living and make a positive contribution to their local communities. What was done to us is a disgrace that is beyond my ability to put into words.”

Sir, I would like to turn to Mr Frank Holt, if you have that summary before you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Frank Holt

Mr Frank Holt, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Mr Frank Holt was a subpostmaster in Inverness-shire between 2008 and 2017. Frank ran the branch with his young daughter, Tiffany. Mr Holt bought the business, which included a retail shop, for £245,000, using a mortgage and savings. Mr Holt received just three days of on-site training on the Horizon System during the run-up to Christmas, so it was extremely busy. Mr Holt felt that training was very rushed, he did not feel confident or comfortable using the Horizon System. Mr Holt began experiencing shortfalls and would contact the helpline for help. He was told to make good the shortfalls, to ensure he could continue to trade. He was told that the system would right itself.

Frank began suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, and when his illness was bad, his daughter, Tiffany, would take over the running of the branch. Mr Holt’s branch was audited twice. The second audit revealed an alleged shortfall of some £30,000. Frank was suspended, the keys to his branch were taken from him, and he was told he would not get them back until he repaid the shortfall. Frank refused, as there was no evidence showing he was responsible for the shortfall. His contract was terminated. Frank describes being intimidated and threatened with arrest by employees of Post Office Ltd. Mr Holt was not pursued for criminal offences, but his daughter, Tiffany, was arrested. She was interviewed, placed in a cell and questioned. This was deeply humiliating and frightening for her, however no action was pursued against Tiffany.

Mr Holt was forced to sell the business. Frank feels that the Post Office robbed him and his family of a sound financial future. His personal reputation in the village suffered. He no longer enjoyed a social life, and very rarely went out. His illness worsened. Mr Holt suffered with depression, anxiety and insomnia. He had suicidal thoughts. The events continue to have a damaging effect on his mental health. His daughter, Tiffany, has also been changed by the experience, and is no longer the happy, carefree person she was. Tiffany how has difficulty trusting people.

Mr Holt states:

“Being accused of a criminal offence is by far the worst thing that has happened to me. I do believe the brutal pursuit of the Post Office officials of myself, and one of my daughters potentially facing prison contributed to a significant deterioration of my health. Life for my whole family was on a hold whilst we tried to provide an explanation to the Post Office, but we were blocked at every turn by them, who did not provide documents which could have helped us.”

So I’d like to, if we can within the time, deal with Mr Alan Riddell, Carol Riddell and Jean Smith, whose cases are all very much linked.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. Hang on. Alan Riddell and Carol Riddell, did you say?

Mr Enright: And Jean Smith.

Sir Wyn Williams: And Jean Smith.


Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Mr Alan Riddell

Mr Alan Riddell, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Mr Alan Riddell was a subpostmaster in East Boldon between 2000 and 2013. He took over the position from his wife Carol, who had run the business since 1991. Mrs Riddell had found the business too difficult to run following the introduction of the Horizon System. Mrs Riddell had successfully run the post office prior to the Horizon System, but when the new system was introduced shortfalls began to occur, amounting to some £10,000. Mr Riddell’s wife suffered a nervous breakdown, and Mr Riddell agreed to take on the role, quitting a lucrative managerial role.

Mr Riddell only received training from his wife on taking over the role as subpostmaster. Mr Riddell also experienced shortfalls and would call the helpline, which he nicknamed “the hell line”, due to their inadequacy and inefficiency. The helpline’s advice was often incorrect, and on many occasions increased the shortfalls. Mr Riddell also suffered a nervous breakdown in 2010 as a direct result of the stress of running the post office and the shortfalls that were constantly occurring. Mr Riddell was greatly assisted by his friend Jean Smith, who stepped in to help but who was soon also drawn into the Horizon shortfalls.

Mr Riddell was suspended in 2011, following an audit. He was on sick leave at the time. His position was reinstated, but a temporary subpostmaster ran the branch until he was well enough to return. A condition of the reinstatement was that he sacked members of staff, including his daughter. This distressed him greatly. This also led to his daughter being refused employment, greatly impacting her future.

Mr Riddell was not paid by the Post Office during his suspension, but was responsible for the wages of the temporary subpostmaster. He felt he had no option but to sell the business. He and his wife were both ill, and had no income coming in.

The financial impact was huge. They had to cash in various endowment policies and pension plans to pay the shortages. They also maxed out their credit cards, and to took bank loans and borrowed from family just to keep their heads above water. They sold the business at a significant loss, and entered into an IVA.

Mr Riddell blames the Post Office for the loss of his reputation. The closure of the branch was reported in the local press, which led to speculation and rumour. They eventually moved away from the area. Mr Riddell concludes:

“Because of the Horizon system, my wife and I are much worse off than we planned to be. Instead of a comfortable retirement that we had prepared for we now live out of the village where we had built a life … we both suffered terribly … Post Office Limited need to be held to account for their actions in destroying lives and the Inquiry must recommend proper reparation for subpostmasters like me and my wife.”

Mrs Carol Riddell

Mrs Carol Riddell, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Carol Riddell is the wife of Alan Riddell, whom you have just heard. Mrs Riddell became the subpostmistress in 1992 and ran a successful branch until the Horizon System was introduced in 1999. Up to that point she enjoyed her position, she was happy and confident, and was so respected by the Post Office that she was asked to go into other branches to support them when problems occurred.

Mrs Riddell had difficulties with the Horizon System from the very first day of its introduction. She received no support from the helpline. The constant, unexplained shortfalls took their toll on Mrs Riddell’s health, and in 2000 her husband took over the running of the post office, giving up his own well-paid job to do so.

The shortfalls continued under her husband. He began to suffer with stress and anxiety as a result, and in 2010 Mrs Riddell stepped back into running the branch. Her husband was physically and mentally exhausted as a direct result of the shortfalls, and too ill to continue.

In 2011 he was called to a disciplinary hearing and suspended as a subpostmaster. Mrs Riddell describes being victimised and threatened by Post Office Ltd. Although the suspension was lifted, the couple had lost all hope that they could mentally or physically cope with continuing to run the post office, and they sold it at a loss in 2013. They were left penniless. All their savings and investments had been swallowed up paying the shortfalls. Even a small inheritance left to her by her mother had to be spent. This broke Mrs Riddell’s heart, having to use her mother’s hard-earned savings to pay the Post Office. They felt powerless and defeated. They were told repeatedly that no other Post Office branch was having problems with the Horizon System.

Mrs Riddell has undergone years of mental health treatments and still suffers today. She felt stigmatised in the local community and branded a thief. Mrs Riddell concludes:

“We lost our business and our home. I will never be the same person again because of the actions of the Post Office Ltd. I hope the Post Office realise what effect they have had on my husband and I along with many other subpostmasters. They have ruined lives.”

Mrs Jean Smith

Mrs Jean Smith, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Jean Smith was the manager of the East Boldon post office, owned by Alan and Carol Riddell from 2008 to 2011. She was trained in the Horizon System by her friends, Alan and Carol, who were the subpostmasters of the branch. But Jean found the Horizon System impossible to understand and navigate. Prior to becoming a manager, Jean was aware that Alan and Carol were struggling with the shortfalls. Jean knew them both very well, and is adamant that they were completely honest. Jean believed the shortfalls had to be a systemic problem.

Alan and Carol Riddell’s situation became so desperate that Jean loaned them money to help them make good the shortfalls. Jean loaned them in the region of £8,000 to £10,000. Jean observed firsthand how her friends’ health was affected by the Post Office and Horizon System.

As branch manager, Jean contacted Andy Carpenter, a Post Office official, regarding the shortfall problem. Mr Carpenter continually suggested that somebody in the branch, or a family member, was stealing or otherwise had a drink or gambling problem. These allegations were untrue.

Mrs Smith was present at an audit when a shortfall was discovered. The subpostmaster was investigated and required to attend a disciplinary hearing, at which it was determined that she was to be suspended from her role as a manager. Shortly afterwards, Jean received a threatening call from a Post Office manager, who told her that she could go to prison as a result of what had happened, and that she should consider herself lucky.

Jean says:

“My dismissal from the Post Office was hard to explain to other employers and I was unable to get a good reference. Therefore, I never worked again after leaving the Post Office … The process severely knocked my confidence. Having taken away my sense of integrity, the Post Office’s accusations travelled through our village meaning that my reputation was reduced and I was the subject of gossip.”

Sir, is there time for further reading?

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I was going to ask you, Mr Enright. First of all, have we now completed the summaries of the Scottish core participants?

Mr Enright: There is one for Mr Brian McAuley that has not yet been uploaded to the system.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s fine, that’s fine. Okay. So it’s just one more; fine. So the remainder are people who, in the main, are from England or Wales, although no doubt there would be one or two from Northern Ireland, or maybe. So, yes, if you are prepared to do it, what I’d like to do is to seek to ensure that we read all the summaries in the course of this session in Scotland and the session in Northern Ireland. So if you are prepared to read another five or six, depending on how long they take, that will help us towards that task, Mr Enright.

Mr Enright: Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you.

Mr Enright: I’ll turn to Mr Aaron Cossey.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay.

Mr Aaron Cossey

Mr Aaron Cossey, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Mr Aaron Cossey was a subpostmaster in Backworth, North Tyneside. The post office was installed in his parents’ retail store in 2007. Post Office Ltd was a trusted brand, and his family was extremely excited to be expanding the business. Mr Cossey and his wife were due to take over the running of the store when his parents retired, and so he became the subpostmaster, and his wife the subpostmistress.

Shortly after the branch opened they noticed shortfalls in the Horizon System, originating mainly from the lottery terminal. They got no help from helpline advisers, and in order to continue trading they were forced to put in their own money in to balance the system. A shortfall of over £6,000 was found following an audit in 2014. Mr Cossey had no option but to pay this in instalments. A further audit in 2016 identified a shortfall of over £20,000. Mr Cossey was suspended, and ordered to pay this amount in instalments of £1,000 per month.

In 2017 the branch was audited again, and a shortfall of over £31,000 was discovered. Mr Cossey was interviewed and threatened with criminal prosecution if he did not pay the Post Office the shortfall, even though at the time he was suspended. He again agreed to pay.

His contract was subsequently terminated. Mr Cossey estimates that in total he paid more than £80,000 to the Post Office. Following his termination, footfall in the store declined and word got around that he had stolen from the Post Office. Mr and Mrs Cossey were forced to sell their business at a loss. They lost their home and livelihood. He was declared bankrupt.

Mr Cossey says:

“The Post Office’s actions have destroyed my family. My brothers blamed my wife and I because the Post Office is such a trusted institution and is seen to do no wrong. No one would believe that they were the ones at fault. It was soul destroying. I was blamed for my Mum and Dad having to sell the business. My brothers believed we had taken the money.”

Mr Cossey would like the Post Office to be held accountable, to apologise, and to compensate those affected in a way that could bring some closure and peace.

Ms Baljinder Dhadda, statement summarised

Mr Enright: Sir, I would like to turn to Ms Baljinder Dhadda.

Ms Dhadda has been a subpostmaster for over 30 years. She is the current subpostmistress of Droitwich post office, and at one time oversaw eight subpost offices. During her career with the Post Office, Ms Dhadda also worked as a Horizon field support officer and helped with the migration of the old paper balancing system to the Horizon System during the initial rollout in June 1999. She says that she did not immediately notice problems with the Horizon System, but remembers on one occasion when she was a showing a subpostmaster how to balance the system and the figures just would not add up. She stayed in the office until 1.00 am trying to work out why this was. However, in the end she had to leave the subpostmaster to it.

Ms Dhadda trusted the Horizon System and so ended up paying shortfalls in her own branches, believing that the fault must have been with her staff. She ended up dismissing members of staff for dishonesty, because she believed at the time that the Horizon System was faultless. She was eventually suspended and her contract was terminated at two of her branches for failing to maintain tight measures of control. In 2012 the Post Office sued Ms Dhadda for a sum which one of her former employees had admitted stealing, and for which that employee had been imprisoned. As part of her defence Ms Dhadda’s solicitor collated evidence for the purpose of defending her, to demonstrate that the Horizon System was flawed. The case was dismissed because the Post Office failed to attend the court.

However, Ms Dhadda is afraid to pursue the Post Office for her substantial costs that she incurred in those proceedings, because she fears that her position as a current subpostmistress could be affected. Ms Dhadda says:

“I used to love my job. I was trusted. I was given two of the largest post offices in the country to run. I should not have been treated with the contempt I was. I would like an honest, heartfelt apology for how I was treated by the Post Office, particularly given my long-standing loyalty to the organisation. I was left questioning my abilities and my judgement.”

Mr Brent Whybro

Mr Brent Whybro, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, I’d like to turn to Mr Brent Whybro.

Mr Brent Whybro is the husband of the late Fiona Whybro, who passed away in November 2020. They were married for 36 years, and met whilst they were working as counter staff at a post office in Preston. Mr Whybro’s father was a subpostmaster for some 40 years. They were very much a Post Office family.

Mr Whybro became a subpostmaster in Preston in 1987. Later, in 1999, Fiona became a subpostmistress of Bamber Bridge post office, which she ran until 2 January 2016. It was a large and busy post office.

When the Horizon System had been introduced, Fiona asked the Post Office to send someone to the branch to troubleshoot the problems she was having. The system was found to be so unreliable that on two occasions the Horizon terminal was replaced because, despite everything they did, the system would not balance. Mr Whybro estimates that over 17 years they paid the Post Office approximately £30,000 in respect of shortfalls on the Horizon System. This put a great strain on their marriage. Fiona would try to balance the system every night, rather than weekly, staying at the branch until 9.00 pm and 10.00 pm on Wednesdays, which were balance nights. Fiona would return home exhausted, worried and harassed. Fiona was threatened with suspension and termination of her contract by the Post Office, and she feared legal action. Fiona was not subject to legal action because she paid the shortfalls. However, they felt forced to give up the post office under the Network Transformation Scheme.

Mr Whybro says that Fiona loved her job and serving local people. But she lost faith in her staff because she believed their mistakes were the reason for all the shortfalls. In this way, Horizon damaged relationships with people who Fiona had worked with for years.

Mr Whybro believes that the stress and anxiety which the shortfalls caused Fiona were a contributory factor in her early death. He feels that Fiona lost so much time to dealing with the Horizon issues, time she could have spent with her family and friends. This is time that can never be recovered.

Mr Whybro was due to give live evidence to the Inquiry earlier this year, but the distress of reliving Fiona’s experience was simply too much for him.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Enright, would you read three more, and then I’ll think we’ll call it a day.

Mr Enright: Thank you, sir. I’d like to read Darren King, Francis Maye and Geoffrey Pound.

Sir Wyn Williams: And, by a wonderful coincidence, Mr Enright, those three are next to each other in my bundle.

Mr Enright: A very good accident.

Mr Darren King

Mr Darren King, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Mr Darren King ran the Heugh post office in Hartlepool. Prior to this he was in the armed forces. Mr King undertook five days of training on the Horizon System prior to taking over the role of subpostmaster, and then had eight days in-branch training. He found the training to be inadequate and basic; it only covered routine transactions.

Mr King noticed problems with the Horizon System from the beginning, and would call the helpline for advice. He found the helpline to be of little use, and their basic response was, “Not to worry, the system will sort itself out”, but he must always make good the shortfalls. On occasion, the helpline advice led to the shortfall doubling.

On 28 February 2013 Brian underwent an audit, and a shortfall of some £30,258.21 was discovered. He was suspended immediately and a temporary subpostmaster appointed so that the branch could trade. On the advice of the National Federation representative, Mr King admitted to false accounting. During an interview with the Post Office fraud investigators, Brian had heard that other subpostmasters who had denied the charge were prosecuted for theft. He was intimidated and threatened with prosecution during the interview. He was left in limbo for almost a year, before being advised that no further action would be taken against him.

Mr King lost his investment in the business and his livelihood. He had a restraining order placed on his property and his assets by Post Office Ltd whilst they investigated the criminal charges. He got heavily into debt and fell behind on mortgage payments. His mental health was heavily impacted. He states:

“In all honesty, there were occasions when I was stood on a train station platform and have wanted to step off the platform into one of the oncoming fast trains.”

His relationship ended and his reputation was ruined. He no longer wanted to enter the community he once served.”

Mr Francis Maye

Mr Francis Maye, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mr Francis Maye moved from Ireland to the UK with his wife to run a post office in Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, in 2001, having previously run a hotel in Ireland. Shortfalls in the Horizon System affected him throughout his tenure. He would often stay up all night going through the accounts, trying to figure out the problem. Paying the shortfalls affected Mr Maye’s finances and left him often unable to pay for food and household bills.

The shortfalls grew, and in 2010 he was investigated by the Post Office, who pressured him to resign by threatening him with a complete search of his house, lifting up floorboards and carpets. Mr Maye says:

“I felt isolated and marginalised, and while I didn’t have anything to hide because I had done nothing wrong, I felt I had no alternative but to resign.”

Mr Maye decided to resign, and sold his business at a loss to cover his debts, having to sell at a significant undervalue. Eventually Mr Maye was made bankrupt and lost his home, and now lives in social housing with his wife. Mr Maye had to borrow money from his in-laws throughout this period to try to manage, but he never told his elderly mother or the rest of his family about what was happening, so as to not worry them.

Mr Maye suffered appalling stress from his experience, worsening his psoriasis, and he developed diabetes from stress eating. Mr Maye’s wife suffered a stress-related heart attack in 2003. Mr Maye says:

“Being a subpostmaster was not just a job but a vocation for me, I loved looking after people and was looking forward to spending the rest of my working days as a postmaster, a pillar of the community. This was all taken away from me by the Post Office’s actions and I will never get it back. I used to take satisfaction from helping local people from disadvantaged communities in accessing services, this vocation was taken from me.”

Mr Geoffrey Pound

Mr Geoffrey Pound, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: And finally for today, sir, I’d like to read Mr Geoffrey Pound, who you may know.

Mr Geoffrey Pound has been a tireless campaigner on the Horizon scandal matters. He was a subpostmaster of Lynmouth post office in Devon from around 2005, to around in December 2007. Mr Pound encountered problems with the Horizon System. When he contacted the helpline about unexplained transaction corrections, he was simply told to make them good, or that the discrepancies would resolve themselves.

Mr Pound experienced numerous shortfalls, but specifically remembers a £2,500 shortfall in late 2007, which he was unable to pay and had to roll over. Mr Pound was audited in December 2007, and discrepancies of approximately £3,000 were found. When he was unable to pay this amount he was immediately suspended. Mr Pound’s contract was later terminated. He has never seen any evidence from the Post Office in support of the actions that they took against him.

Mr Pound lost his business and was made bankrupt. He was stigmatised in his local community. Mr Pound’s mental health deteriorated. He attempted suicide and was admitted into psychiatric care. He and his family became homeless as a result of the Post Office actions. Mr Pound says:

“I left the village of Lynmouth under a cloud of suspicion. I cannot and will not go back there to live until I am able to go back with my good name restored … the debt I owe still stands at almost £40,000; which I doubt I will clear before I die unless the Post Office and Government does what is right, and does so urgently …”

He continues:

“One obvious way for the Post Office and Government to show that they are sorry and wish to make good would be to repay to me and the other 554 claimants in the Group Litigation the legal and funding costs we had to bear in that litigation …

I consider that we performed a public service by bringing that case, as without that action it is unlikely that the true extent of this scandal would ever have been exposed.

I would like to see the Post Office and Government volunteer to repay those legal and funding costs now. Alternatively, I hope that this Inquiry will recommend that this is done, and done urgently.”

Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much. I believe we begin at 9.30 tomorrow with a remote hearing? Yes? Fine. See you all then, as they say.

(4.15 pm)

(Adjourned until 9.30 am the following day)