Official hearing page

12 May 2022 – Edward Brown, Catrona Brown, Chris Dawson, Donald McLean, Nancy Chant, Brian Macaulay, Joanne George and Peter Holloway

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(9.30 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Ms Hodge, before we get going with Mr Brown, can I suggest the timetable, Mr Enright, because part of it will involve you. We are going to hear from Mr Brown, and then have a summary of his wife’s evidence read, as I believe, and then there is one further witness scheduled before lunch, which, in the normal way of things, would take us to, I don’t know, maybe 11.30, quarter to 12. So I’m proposing that we have lunch whenever we finish, effectively, and start again at 1 o’clock, if that’s okay, if your witnesses will be ready by this afternoon at 1 o’clock, and at any point which is convenient to you, we understand that the remaining Scottish summary is now on the system, so that summary can be read, and if you would read four more of your choosing, then we will have a comparatively limited number to read in Belfast and we’re all on track, so to speak. So if everybody is happy with that, that’s how we’ll proceed.

Good. Over to you, Ms Hodge.

Edward Brown


Questioned by Ms Hodge

Ms Hodge: Good morning, Mr Brown. My name is Catriona Hodge, as you know. I’m going to ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Please can you state your full name.

Edward Brown: Edward Brown.

Ms Hodge: You made a statement, Mr Brown, on 7 February of this year; is that correct?

Edward Brown: That is correct.

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

Edward Brown: I have.

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

Edward Brown: Yes, I do.

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

Edward Brown: Yes, I have.

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

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You worked as the subpostmaster of the Cardonald post office on Paisley Road for approximately 21 years; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Before you became a subpostmaster, you’d worked in the fibreglass industry; is that correct?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You were – then later assisted your brother in running his newsagent; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Where was that located?

Edward Brown: At Cardonald, just about 200 yards away from where the post office now stands.

Ms Hodge: For how long did you work with your brother in his newsagent?

Edward Brown: Probably about five years.

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

Edward Brown: The opportunity came up and it seemed a good business.

Ms Hodge: In which year were you appointed?

Edward Brown: Oh, oh, well, I might come back to there. Hold on; see if I’ve got it here. I was only 19. It must have been; I probably should have had that worked out.

Ms Hodge: That’s okay. I think you’ve said February 1989 – does that sound correct?

Edward Brown: That sounds right, sorry.

Ms Hodge: That’s all right.

Can you describe the branch?

Edward Brown: It was – when we first took over it was like a big hut. It was run down. We bought the land the hut was on, eventually knocked down the branch, built a couple of shop units, and the post offices were in temporary units, and I took over temporary, 28 year ago.

Ms Hodge: You ran the branch with your wife; is that right?

Edward Brown: I ran it with my wife in the old hut, and then we moved into the new premises.

Ms Hodge: How did you divide the work of running the branch between you?

Edward Brown: She done the work. I done anything else. Really, she’s a better accountant than me, so – at the very beginning it was very labour intensive, and I’ve not got an attention span, so she really done the work and I done what I had to do.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned moving premises. When did that take place?

Edward Brown: I think we were only in the old premises for under a year, probably six months.

Ms Hodge: When you moved premises, did you purchase the new property?

Edward Brown: No, it was a leasehold on the building.

Ms Hodge: What changes did you make to the premises when you took over the lease?

Edward Brown: As I say, the old hut was on the land, and we knocked that down, built five units – well, my family built five units, and we put it temporary into there, so it’s a brand-new unit. So in there we had to fit it out with kind of a slat wall and we had to pay towards the bandit screen, if I’m right; it was about £20,000. So it was a very shiny office to start with. But at that time, that only at the beginning, the post offices had been kind of reinvented, so it was a nice shiny office compared to what was available at that time.

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

Edward Brown: It was mainly post office. We did start to do stationery and some – but it was auxiliary; it was only really part of the service, rather than a real business.

Ms Hodge: Now, the Horizon System wasn’t introduced until almost a decade after you were appointed; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you balance your business accounts in the years before Horizon –

Edward Brown: It used to be on a Friday night, you had an old-fashioned ledger and you put all the figures in, calculated it at the end of the day; the difference between the two sides of your ledger is what you were short.

Ms Hodge: And can you please describe how your branch accounts were reconciled at the time with the post office accounts?

Edward Brown: Well, you normally – you started off with an opening balance. You paid out money, you took in money, anything else out and in, and by the end of the day they had to balance with the opening figure and the closing business against what you sold or what you didn’t sell. It left you with a difference, and you were liable for that difference.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned in your statement that as part of the balancing process you would send paperwork to the Post Office accounts team in Chesterfield; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes, we used to send a big black – a big brown bag at one point, with loads of – all of the duplicate bits of paper that you had ended up at Chesterfield.

Ms Hodge: When Horizon was introduced, that system came to an end?

Edward Brown: It came to nil, aye.

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

Edward Brown: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: Forgive me –

Edward Brown: Oh, the time? Well, I think it was just – it was either early 2000, or just 1999. It’s not exactly an exact date.

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

Edward Brown: Yes. We went for two days in the Piping Centre in Glasgow. There were some units there that weren’t online. They were working units but not online, and they showed you what we thought was a fantastic system, like it was going to save you all this time. In theory, it looked as if it did save you all this time, but in the long run it wasn’t right.

Ms Hodge: Did you have an opportunity during your training to carry out a balance on Horizon?

Edward Brown: No. No, they just showed you how to input transactions, and I don’t even think we had – would have had a terminal each. It was like a kind of group session, so they really inputted the stuff, showed you how wonderful it was, and at the end of the figures tallied, but we weren’t actually doing it.

Ms Hodge: Were you satisfied at the time with the quality of the classroom training you received?

Edward Brown: I have to say yes, because we thought it was all new. It wasn’t good, and they weren’t any more than – as it looked fantastic, the system, it should have done what it said, but it didn’t.

Ms Hodge: How confident did you feel using the system when it was first introduced?

Edward Brown: Once again, computers were a new thing to everybody so nobody was confident in using the computer itself. The system, I thought, was going to work, but it just didn’t work, it just didn’t work.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive any further training from the Post Office after Horizon was installed?

Edward Brown: No, not really, no.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned in your statement that some trainers came and attended your branch. Do you recall that?

Edward Brown: I think I remember that. We were actually the busiest post office in Scotland at one point, so we used to have, like, six tellers. So we were quite close to the Post Office at that time, and I can remember them sending – it wasn’t usual for them to send trainers into the branch for it, and I’m sure we had two. One, I can’t remember her name, but I’m sure we had two, but how long, I think it was only a day or maybe a half day.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall carrying out a balance whilst the trainers were with you in branch?

Edward Brown: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe what happened, please?

Edward Brown: Well, we got to the end of the night and they were – it was new to them as well, but they were good, but it was new to them, and they couldn’t balance. So we spent more time trying to re-input the stuff, and we ended up with £100 shortage. But that fault wasn’t seen at that time, and they thought it was wonderful.

Ms Hodge: What efforts did your trainers make to try and help you get to the bottom of what caused that shortfall?

Edward Brown: With hindsight, not a lot. All we did was just keep redoing what we had already done in case we had done it wrong, and it still came to £100 short. So they didn’t know how to fix it.

Ms Hodge: What were you told to do to resolve that discrepancy?

Edward Brown: Simply write a cheque.

Ms Hodge: Is that what you did?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel about paying money in to cover a shortfall which you could not explain?

Edward Brown: Well, I was from a newsagent background, we don’t have shortfalls, so £100 was, it was just – it cannot happen, but it did, so I wasn’t happy.

Ms Hodge: Had you experienced shortfalls and discrepancies when using your paper-based system?

Edward Brown: Yes, but most of them you could either see that a teller has done something wrong; you have done something wrong. You might never have got it back but you had a bit of paper there, you could see where it went wrong. It made you feel a bit better, but you still had to put something in.

Ms Hodge: So you described some classroom training and then some further training in branch for a day or two. Was that the extent of the training you received?

Edward Brown: Yes, that was it.

Ms Hodge: What other guidance did you have available to you to help navigate the system?

Edward Brown: The helpline. I think they had an A4 binder, what was really brain surgery if you looked at that, but it wasn’t much help. That was good for referring back to when the helpline was talking to you, but really it was the helpline that was the major assistance.

Ms Hodge: Did you continue to experience problems in balancing your accounts after that first shortfall?

Edward Brown: Yes, it became kind of normal. You could have periods where you had nothing, and then it became normal to have a shortage (audio distorted).

Ms Hodge: How frequently would you say these shortages arose?

Edward Brown: Oh, it was a long time ago, but it became – if you didn’t have a reasonable shortfall every month, you were doing really well. A reasonable shortfall being in the hundreds.

Ms Hodge: What steps did you take to try to resolve yourself what had caused these shortfalls?

Edward Brown: Well, at the beginning we just – you blamed yourself. So you were more accurate, you had people double-checking what you had actually just done; you double-checking other people’s stuff. We put CCTV in, pulled more staff in. There was just nothing else you could do. We originally thought it was down to ourselves because, according to the Post Office, it worked, so it must work, so any mistakes were really on us.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned contacting the helpline. Did they assist you to get to the bottom of what had caused these discrepancies?

Edward Brown: Well, the helpline, as I say before (audio distorted) at the time, but I know for a fact, because I knew some of them on it, that they were counter staff that had just been introduced to the system as well, so they weren’t any wiser than us. Helpful, but no real help.

Ms Hodge: What were you told by the helpline to do to resolve the shortfall?

Edward Brown: It depends on the case, but really a lot of times you roll over and something would come back, or make it good. It was more make it good than roll over. Roll over was if you could actually think you had something that might come back, they told you you had to roll over the next morning or not open the branch. But most of the time it was roll over.

Ms Hodge: When you were told to make good the cash, did you accept their advice and pay the money in?

Edward Brown: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: Why did you do that?

Edward Brown: Well, my belief is that in my contract I was liable for anything between my opening balance and my closing balance, which seems fair if I make a mistake. But if it’s not my mistake I shouldn’t be responsible for it.

Ms Hodge: Did you believe that you were responsible for it at the time?

Edward Brown: Yes, I have to say we did. I believed that somebody was responsible, and it could only be somebody in that building.

Ms Hodge: How did that affect your relationship with your staff at the time?

Edward Brown: It put strains on it, because everybody knew they were working with a – if you’re working with a cash business, they know it’s a wee bit harder because you have to have a certain type of mentality for it, but it made the staff apprehensive, it made us apprehensive.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained that your wife, Catrona, was managing the branch, in effect.

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did it affect your relationship with her?

Edward Brown: It became strained at times because somebody has to be responsible, and I’m not touching it, it’s not my mistake, I’m only the one that’s putting it in, but somebody has to get blamed and maybe we blamed each other.

Ms Hodge: You’ve described on one occasion experiencing a shortfall of £9,000; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And do you recall when this apparent shortfall arose?

Edward Brown: Oh, I couldn’t put a date on it, it was that long ago.

Ms Hodge: Did you contact the helpline for assistance in relation to that significant shortfall?

Edward Brown: Yes. Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did they help you get to the bottom of the discrepancy?

Edward Brown: No. They said they would contact Chesterfield and contact (unclear) units. I’m not saying they didn’t contact the (unclear) units, but they were no help to – we were told to roll it over. You believed if you had a small shortage it just went over the counter. £9,000 couldn’t go over the counter in a mistake, so that had to come back, in your mind at that point, but it never came back.

Ms Hodge: What happened to that shortfall at the end of your trading period?

Edward Brown: I think we carried it for four weeks and then the Post Office set up a repayment out of salary. Over what period, I can’t remember, but it was normal – I had to do that a few times, and normally it was over the year.

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

Edward Brown: Oh, it’s nearly – yes, my accountant has worked out £85,000. It’s 85-plus; but 85 I can guarantee that’s what I lost in the accounts over the years.

Ms Hodge: You were using Horizon for approximately 15 years; is that right?

Edward Brown: It was, yes.

Ms Hodge: Your appointment came to an end in May 2015; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You had been offered a leaver’s payment under the Network Transformation Programme; is that correct?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Why did you decide to accept the offer of this payment?

Edward Brown: It was getting a bit weary. We were having to – the post office had – it wasn’t took over to make big bucks. It was a steady living, and you were only getting a steady living out of it. It was hard work for – hard work and a lot of responsibility for what you got out of it, so we decided to take it and run.

Ms Hodge: What was the effect on your personal finances of making – repeatedly making good shortfalls shown by the Horizon System?

Edward Brown: Well, you done without, it was as simple as that. You done without. Things that didn’t have to be done wasn’t done.

Ms Hodge: Did you get into debt?

Edward Brown: We went into debt but we had to – at one point I took money against my house to pay, so the post office balanced. I think there was a couple of loans on the go at one point as well. Yes, the money – the Post Office had to get the money. The long and short is that if the Post Office didn’t get the money, we didn’t have a post office. If we didn’t have a post office, we didn’t have a business that was sellable or viable.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe how the financial processes you faced affected your standard of living?

Edward Brown: We lived, and that was about it. We went to work and then we’d go home, and we went to work. There was not a – I’m not saying we didn’t have a nice – we made it what it was, but we didn’t have luxuries that we probably should have had.

Ms Hodge: You said in your statement there were times when money wasn’t so tight that you and your wife would visit your relatives in order to have a hot meal.

Edward Brown: Yes. Before the Inquiry, we actually forgot about these times. We actually – it made you rethink it, how many times you went and visited people at certain times. Yes, we did.

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

Edward Brown: On my wife probably worse than me. I’m quite good at getting on with things, but it made life harder, it made life harder.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe how she was affected?

Edward Brown: She probably takes things on board more than me, I can shrug things off and get on with it tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day and I’ve forgot about yesterday. She was upset at the time. I have to say that I wasn’t getting things – she would get things before I got things, and the kids would get things before we got things, but at times that was hard.

Ms Hodge: You said in your statement that running the branch and experiencing these shortfalls put a significant strain on your marriage; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes, yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: After your contract with the Post Office came to an end, you and your wife continued to run the newsagent; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And you’re still running that today; is that correct?

Edward Brown: Yes, we are.

Ms Hodge: What effect did the loss of the post office have on the retail side of your business, your newsagent?

Edward Brown: Well, the newsagents is actually three doors away from the post office, so we were – we’ve still got the – we were relying on the post office being three doors away because that brings the people into the right side. In the post office it’s – the newsagents is still okay, but we do – we know working day-to-day in the post office is a wee bit different than the relationship we used to have when I was in, daily in, to the post office.

Ms Hodge: What are your working hours like today?

Edward Brown: I do about 115 hours a week, but I don’t – that’s the way it is. That’s the way it is.

Ms Hodge: Is all of that in your newsagent, or do you have –

Edward Brown: All of that is in the newsagents.

Ms Hodge: When you took on the post office, what had your hopes been for your retirement?

Edward Brown: Well, everything was planned for 55, because that just – out of the blue, we picked that figure years ago. That’s not going to happen. So it’s had an knock-on effect really. We’ve got nothing to show for all the years.

Ms Hodge: You’ve just explained now the post office branch continued to operate, although you were no longer the subpostmaster; is that right?

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And you’ve explained in your statement that you’ve continued to experience some problems with the Post Office system –

Edward Brown: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – can you describe that?

Edward Brown: My wife would have been better at that one, but the Post Office is very slow to realise anything, so there are still problems with the lottery with the Post Office, and we’ve tried –

Ms Hodge: Do you have a terminal in your newsagent?

Edward Brown: We have – well, a funny set-up, because we have the lottery and the newsagents. On a Wednesday night the post office – we do a balance on a Wednesday. On a Wednesday night the post office shuts at 5.30. I take it that the Post Office accounting system shuts; the computerised side of it shuts down at 6 o’clock at night. We are still open to 7.30 at night. If we do a transaction at 7.30 – at 6.40, that transaction is now took over into the next day. But according to the Post Office they’ve finished all their accounts on the Wednesday night at 6.30, but it throws up errors if we do transactions, and they don’t understand this –

Ms Hodge: You said – sorry.

Edward Brown: – so you have to argue with the helpline every time. If you happen to have that transaction, they want to send you an error for the total of that transaction, whereas you can easily explain there, it’s in black and white, what has happened, but they can’t understand it. They just don’t have the ability.

Ms Hodge: So do you find that you’re continuing to have problems liaising with the helpline?

Edward Brown: We continue to have problems.

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

Edward Brown: No. You see, well before the internet you were on your own, unless you actually had a colleague that you were speaking to, or even going to the Federation meetings where I feel they should have known more about it. They were the hub. They’re 50 postmasters meeting together. They should have been able to pick up on this information. If you failed you were on your own, because you got told it was only you that was making a jacksy of it; everybody else was okay.

Ms Hodge: Who was telling you that you were the only one?

Edward Brown: Well, the Post Office, when you phoned up, but if you were having regular shortages, it just cannot be right. You’re watching the tellers, you’re watching the CCTV, it can’t be right, and you were told everybody else is fine, it’s only you.

Ms Hodge: When did you discover that others had been affected by failings in Horizon?

Edward Brown: Oh, I think we read something in one of the papers at one point, and I made a call to the Federation. They still were very – not taking sides at that point. I’m sure there was just something in the Mail when I realised, how long ago I don’t know.

Ms Hodge: Have you taken any steps to obtain compensation from the Post Office?

Edward Brown: I was part of the 555, but I believe that I’m still exempt from joining the HSS at the moment, so, no, I’ve not made any steps, apart from the original 555.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive some compensation when that litigation settled?

Edward Brown: I received £8,000.

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

Edward Brown: Now that I know that they knew about it, it doesn’t seem fair, and unfortunately I still think of the Post Office as being special, even after what they’ve done, or they should have been special. They’re special to communities. But somebody has to take the blame, or somebody has to apologise, because it just wasn’t fair.

Ms Hodge: There are no further questions that I’d like to ask you, Mr Brown. Is there anything you would like to say on your behalf, or on behalf of your wife?

Edward Brown: I’ve got a closing statement that I’ve been practising, but … right, okay?

Ms Hodge: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Please read it, Mr Brown.

Edward Brown: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: And am I right in thinking you’re going to read something on behalf of your wife as well?

Edward Brown: I’ve got my wife’s as well.

Sir Wyn Williams: Good. Well, you do it in your own time and at your own pace, okay?

Edward Brown: I’ve practised mine; my wife’s I just got an hour ago, so, right, excuse me.

I would like to thank Sir Wyn Williams and the Inquiry team for being so efficient. It made life just that wee bit easier. It is my hope that the Inquiry will not only financially compensate the subpostmasters involved, but will go some way to act as closure for the pain, injustice and unfairness myself and many subpostmasters were inflicted with. No financial compensation can replace the lost time of a young family, time with friends, but with time I’m sure most – sorry – I am sure most will put any compensation to good use, repaying debts and making the memories lost. Once again, thank you for all your team involved in the Inquiry. Thank you. That’s my own.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. Before you –

Edward Brown: Sorry.

Sir Wyn Williams: Before you get on to your wife’s, can I just ask this question while it’s in my mind: you told us quite frankly what you received by way of compensation. Did your wife receive a separate amount, or was that the amount between you?

Edward Brown: No, that was the amount between us.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. Thank you very much.

Mrs Catrona Brown

Mrs Catrona Brown, statement summarised.

Mr Brown: Okay. I’ve got my wife’s.

Right. She started it as if she’s made a witness statement, so: moving forward from this, I would like to think that the Post Office will at best reimburse anyone affected by the mistake they made; maybe even apologise for the lives ruined and severely disrupted by this miscarriage of justice. I think myself very fortunate in that myself, my marriage, my family and my business came through this, although I am angered at the fact that I can never be compensated for the family time lost, the holidays the children did not have – sorry about that – family time lost, the holidays the children did not have and the time we did not spend. Thank you very much to the Inquiry team. Nice and short. Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Short and to the point, Mr Brown.

Edward Brown: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: So thank you for giving evidence to the Inquiry, and sorry your wife hasn’t felt able to do it, but will you pass on my good wishes to her.

Edward Brown: I will. Thank you very much. Sorry again.

Sir Wyn Williams: No, no, that’s fine. Thank you very much, Mr Brown.

Edward Brown: Thank you very much.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, well, I think since that’s a remote session, we’ll have a short break to reconfigure ourselves, so to speak. So my colleagues and I will leave for 10 minutes.

(10.00 am)

(A short break)

(10.21 am)

Chris Dawson


Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, Ms Hodge.

Ms Hodge: Thank you, sir. Our next witness is Mr Chris Dawson.

Questioned by Ms Hodge

Ms Hodge: Mr Dawson, as you know, my name is Catriona Hodge, and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Please can you state (audio distorted)?

Chris Dawson: (audio distorted).

Ms Hodge: Was that 2022; is that right?

Chris Dawson: That’s correct.

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

Chris Dawson: I do, yes.

Ms Hodge: Can I ask you, please, to turn to the final page of your statement. Can you see your signature there?

Chris Dawson: I can.

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

Chris Dawson: I’ve read through it a couple of times, yes, I’m happy enough with it.

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

Chris Dawson: It is.

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

Chris Dawson: Yes.

Ms Hodge: You moved to the Perthshire area when you were 19 years old, is that right?

Chris Dawson: That’s correct, in 1993.

Ms Hodge: What did you do for a living before you took up the running of a Post Office branch in your local area?

Chris Dawson: When I first arrived at (unclear) Loch there, it was as a restaurant manager in one of the local hotels. I then went on to be assistant manager in another hotel.

Ms Hodge: Sorry, could I ask you to speak up a little bit. I think the air-conditioning has just started up.

Chris Dawson: I arrived in Pitlochry in 1993, initially as restaurant manager of one of the hotels. I then went on to be assistant manager of one of the other hotels, bars and restaurant manager in a further hotel, before going back to the second hotel as general manager. And then after the birth of my first daughter, the hours weren’t conducive for family life so I started working in retail up at the House of Bruar just outside Blair Atholl. There I worked for a number of years and then left and went over to help start up a friend – his new business at The Courtyard in Kenmore.

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

Chris Dawson: I hadn’t actually applied to become a subpostmaster. First I was – I had worked at the House of Bruar and then went on to Kenmore, and the local councillor actually approached me, came to my house, and said to me, “You’ve got a good background in retail, a good knowledge of it, you obviously know what sells, there is a good retail space in this post office and the current postmaster is looking to retire, and would you be interested?” Initially, I first thought: What do I know about post offices, but I was told kind of all the training would be given, etcetera. And so I approached the bank and managed to secure a loan. And it basically went from there.

Ms Hodge: You were quite heavily involved in your local community at the time; is that right?

Chris Dawson: I was, yes. I was a member of the Red Cross. I used to go out and do – we would cover first aid for local events, Highland games, cycling events; anything that was going on in the area. I was involved with the local branch of the SMP, and I was also a master of the local Masonic lodge.

Ms Hodge: And you’ve mentioned before you became a subpostmaster you’d had one child. Were you married at the time?

Chris Dawson: Yes, I was married in 1996.

Ms Hodge: And did you and your wife just have the one child?

Chris Dawson: No, no, we went on to have another one.

Ms Hodge: You were appointed, having applied, I assume – you were appointed as the subpostmaster of the Pitlochry sub-post office in April 2007; is that correct?

Chris Dawson: Yes, aye, just before – the Easter weekend.

Ms Hodge: How old were you then?

Chris Dawson: Oh, 33.

Ms Hodge: Only two months later, you took on the Kinloch Rannoch sub-post office as well; is that right?

Chris Dawson: I can’t remember exactly. It was very quickly thereafter, within three to four months, I was approached by a couple of representatives of the community up at Kinloch Rannoch who hadn’t had a post office for quite some time. They had a wee community restaurant, cafe, and they set aside a room for me. It was laid out with Post Office equipment and they didn’t want it run as a full-time operation, it’s a small hamlet run in a village, I would have said, so I did take that on and just provide them with postal services a couple of days a week.

Ms Hodge: So in the Kinloch Rannoch post office you were effectively just operating from a retail premises owned by someone else, is that –

Chris Dawson: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And your Pitlochry post office, did you purchase that?

Chris Dawson: I had to purchase the leasehold from the goodwill of the business. The business – the building itself had formerly been a Crown Post Office that was owned by the Post Office. They had then, for some unknown reason, sold the building to a private landlord and then rented it back at a huge amount of rent that was – they agreed to that contract, and then basically forced the postmaster to then also have to agree to it.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned purchasing the goodwill of the business. How much did you pay for that?

Chris Dawson: It was in the region of £25,000, plus some stock. I can’t remember the exact amount.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall how you funded the purchase?

Chris Dawson: I had to remortgage my house.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe the type of business that you operated from your two branches?

Chris Dawson: Well, Pitlochry, I mean it is basically the gateway to the Highlands. It’s a very touristy town, a very busy town, lots of coach parties, day-trippers, as well as people heading up to the Glenshee skiing in the winter, so, yes, I mean, it’s a busy place. So I did stock it up with gifts, toys. A lot of people in Pitlochry who originate from Pitlochry had family members that lived in South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, they had taken up the sort of £10 ticket back in the ’60s, so we had a good mainstay of people coming in who were collecting their pensions, but whilst they were there they were also buying the birthday cards for the grandkids that lived abroad, presents, parcels to post. So I stocked up with lots of nice, good quality kids toys, cards, but also, for the tourist market, designed my own label incorporating Pitlochry Dam on the label, and Pitlochry fudge, toffee, rock; the sort of usual tourist paraphernalia.

Ms Hodge: What kind of income were you bringing in from the post office and your retail business at the time?

Chris Dawson: The post office, the income was in the region of about 60,000 a year, which basically only paid the rent, the rates, and the electric. I mean, like I said, it was a huge amount of rent that the Post Office were charging us.

Ms Hodge: You said £33,000 a year?

Chris Dawson: £33,000 we had to pay in rent.

Ms Hodge: And £12,000 in –

Chris Dawson: So I mean it was £45,000 before you’d switched the light on. When you were getting paid 3p in the pound for selling stamps, I don’t know how they ever expected anybody to be able to fund that, but that was what they’d agreed to with the private landlord and then –

Ms Hodge: And you employed staff as well, is that right?

Chris Dawson: I did, yes, I had probably about six staff, ranging between full and part time in the shop and in the post office.

Ms Hodge: And you’ve mentioned your income from the post office. What were you able to earn on the retail side?

Chris Dawson: The retail side, the last year of trading was about 122,000; 61,000 of that being profit.

Ms Hodge: So it was a successful business?

Chris Dawson: Oh, it was very successful. It was doing extremely well. I mean, it was only going to get better and bigger.

Ms Hodge: When you took on the branch, you received four to five days of training?

Chris Dawson: Four days’ training.

Ms Hodge: Four days of training. Do you recall who provided that training?

Chris Dawson: I couldn’t tell you the trainer’s name.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe what your training covered?

Chris Dawson: Not a lot, to be perfectly honest. I took the keys to the premises on Good Friday, so it was a bank holiday long weekend, so between the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday I obviously had to get all my shelfing units, stock, repair works, done, into the business and, as you can imagine, the busiest two days of the week for people coming in to collect their pensions, a lot of the local businesses, the woollen mills especially and off-licences, they used – they banked with NatWest, the nearest branch being down in Perth, 25 miles away, but as a partner of the post office, so they could do their business banking at the post office, so when I opened the doors on Tuesday I had everybody in the town that was of pensionable age waiting for their pension; I had all these businesses. So my training consisted of, “Right, okay, start inputting that.” It was probably the busiest day that they could have came to give me training, and it was not taken to the side or taken on to a side till and at a slow pace taken through it. It was mind-blowing, I mean the amount of transactions that can be done on the Horizon System, and I knew nothing about them until the doors opened at 9 o’clock on that Tuesday morning. There was three of us behind the counter, plus the trainers. It was crowded; it was confusing. They were meant to be there to tell me how the system worked, and I basically sat there just giving out pensions and selling stamps, with no real knowledge of the till.

Ms Hodge: Were you shown how to carry out a balance on the system?

Chris Dawson: At the end of the day, yes. I mean, the previous postmaster had very kindly sort of said that he would stay on for a period of time and his two sons who had worked for him – his eldest son in particular worked for me full time, and his youngest son part time. So there was a wealth of experience already there, which in all honesty was to my advantage because I didn’t feel the training had been, so I was learning from them far more than what I was learning from the trainers.

Ms Hodge: What did the previous subpostmaster tell you about his experience of using Horizon?

Chris Dawson: He did warn me that the computer system is not fit for purpose, it was already out of date. There had been rumours of peoples having problems with them. So I mean, I was scared to go over there. I had never worked with computers before.

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

Chris Dawson: I didn’t personally feel as if I was experiencing – I mean, occasionally you would be up £10, down 20 quid, down 50 quid. I mean, in all honesty you were so busy you just thought: If I’ve given somebody £20 too much extra in their pension and you’re having to make it good out of the retail; a couple of times when you were sending money back because it was a big cash-holding post office, because you had all these businesses and their takings, so we were sending cash back every single week, sometimes twice a week, 25, 50, 75 (audio distorted) I mean (audio distorted) £1,000 in that envelope, there was only £950 in that envelope of 50s, and you just had to believe them. I mean, I phoned up a couple of times querying it, “Oh no, well, you have to make it good, your signature is on it.”

Ms Hodge: In terms of making good the shortfalls, how much do you think you paid?

Chris Dawson: I never ever once kept a note of it. I mean, you were balancing every day, and you could be up 10p one day, down 9p the next. I mean, on the wee shelf behind my seat I kept a cup. If I was up 10p one day, it went into the cup; if I was down 9p the next day, it came out of the cup. When it was larger sums, I took it out of the retail side, but we never kept any records of it. I mean, it happened certainly; definitely more than once. I wouldn’t say it happened every week.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned in your statement a shortfall of cash occurring when one of your staff members made an error –

Chris Dawson: Yes, the Horizon keyboard, unlike most keyboards, had a double zero on it, so it was one of the businesses – it was one of the local off-licences, Threshers – had come in to do the banking from the weekend, and it was £4,200, give or take, whatever. Unfortunately, the double zero had been hit instead of the single zero, so it had been inputted into the system as 42,000, rather than 4,200, which left me with an obvious shortfall of, what, 37,800.

Ms Hodge: So Horizon had recorded, in effect –

Chris Dawson: We identified that at the end of the night. I mean, we were able to pinpoint it straightaway, went and checked it with the off-licence, and, one, they had a receipt, so it was easily identified. We phoned it up, we reported it; it was logged. We were told that it would take about six weeks to rectify itself, which I found very strange. I mean, why would it take six weeks? I mean, surely it could have been rectified the next day or at the end-of-month balance. Six weeks just seemed quite strange to me, but that’s the way it was.

Ms Hodge: Was the error successfully rectified by the Post Office?

Chris Dawson: After about six weeks or so I suddenly wasn’t 38,000 short, I was 17,500 short. I thought, “Oh.” By this time I had become quite annoyed, disillusioned with the Post Office as an organisation and as a body. They never even sorted it right. So I thought: Well, it will sort itself out in a few weeks.

Ms Hodge: Did you notify the Post Office that this shortfall remained?

Chris Dawson: I hadn’t notified them that shortfall was there because I assumed that it was part of the original shortfall, and I had already reported that.

Ms Hodge: What did you do when it became apparent that that shortfall wasn’t going to rectify itself?

Chris Dawson: Well, obviously because I had been saying that – inputting it that everything was fine, because I was just waiting on them rectifying it. I became quite worried. I knew that I was responsible for the money, and then it became apparent after a few months that this isn’t going to rectify itself, I made the decision to just start paying it back in myself, £500 a month, whatever I could afford, to pay it back, to make it right, because at the end of the day it wasn’t my money.

Ms Hodge: You’ve explained in your statement that your branch was audited at some point in the summer of 2009; is that right?

Chris Dawson: The auditors arrived. They were there prior to my arrival.

Sir Wyn Williams: Sorry, before we go there, can I just ask you about something which you say at paragraph 17 of your statement, because you talk about the Post Office actually sending you a memo that the 37,000 had been corrected, and I just want to understand this. My understanding of your statement was that on the one hand you get a memo from the Post Office saying the 37,000 has been corrected, but on the other, Horizon is still showing a 17,000 shortfall. Have I got that right?

Chris Dawson: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, fine. So the two are not consistent, obviously, and I just wanted to be –

Chris Dawson: Very, very little was consistent.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, fine. Okay. Thanks. Sorry, Ms Hodge.

Ms Hodge: Not at all.

We were talking about the audit of your branch in the summer of 2009.

Chris Dawson: Yes.

Ms Hodge: At that stage the shortfall was still showing on your accounts –

Chris Dawson: It was, yes.

Ms Hodge: Were you present at the branch when the audit was carried out?

Chris Dawson: I was present when they started it. They were there prior to my arrival. I had to go in – they wanted entry to the building, even before me, and I thought: Well, I have to go and switch off the alarms; you’ll just have to wait there for a minute. So I let them in. They put a “closed” sign up on the front door, I wasn’t allowed to open the doors, which obviously wasn’t good for local business anyway. Once the audit had been conducted, I was told that I was suspended, I was no longer allowed to come behind the post office counter, and I had to hand my keys back in to my staff, who were still allowed to.

Ms Hodge: Were you shown any of the records on which the auditors relied in carrying out their audit?

Chris Dawson: I don’t remember seeing any record. I actually don’t even remember signing anything. I knew that the shortfall was there, and I just basically had to say, “Right, yes, I knew there was a shortfall.”

Ms Hodge: At the time of your suspension, what did you understand the Post Office’s intentions to be in terms of getting to the bottom of this figure of £17,000?

Chris Dawson: I understood – I mean, you’ve got a core belief that something that size, and an organisation that size, are going to conduct a full audit. I mean, because it was a computer system, there was no paper trail. So I mean I’d tried looking for it to see if there had been another input error or if it was related to the original or whatever. At no time did I think that anybody had taken the money. They had all worked for post office counters for years. I thought they would conduct a full inquiry, an investigation, and an audit, and that the money would be found.

Ms Hodge: Is that what happened?

Chris Dawson: No, no, no. I was told that fraud officers from Post Office Limited would be coming to my house, which they duly did, and basically just accused me of taking it.

Ms Hodge: When you were told that you were going to be interviewed, did you try and obtain any advice or legal representations?

Chris Dawson: Yes, I phoned up the Federation of SubPostmasters, who were little or no help at all. Basically their advice was “just admit it and pay it and you’ll be able to trade again.” They – I’d got the real impression that because they were all postmasters themselves, or worked for the Post Office, I got the impression that they actually feared for their own jobs if they gave you other advice. They were just puppets. So, yes, I mean the advice was no good to me at all.

Ms Hodge: You were interviewed under caution; is that right?

Chris Dawson: I was, yes.

Ms Hodge: Where did the interview take place?

Chris Dawson: In my own house, which, again, I found very strange, and very intimidating. Very scary, to be perfectly honest.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall when the interview took place?

Chris Dawson: I don’t remember the date. What I do remember is the doorbell going to – I’m not going to refer to them as gentlemen, because they just were two big burly – I mean, they could have been wrestlers, by the size of them, black suits, black tie, came into the door, told me who they were from, that I was going to be interviewed under caution. I had been advised that I was going to be interviewed under caution and I had asked, “Okay, right, can I have a lawyer present?” “No. You can have somebody who works for the Post Office”, so I could have had the local mailman with me, but I wasn’t allowed a solicitor. I said to them at the time, I was like, “Well, will I receive a copy of this interview?” “Oh, yes, you’ll receive a copy.” I was like, “And then I can take that to a solicitor.” “That’s up to you.” The two men came into my house. I mean, they wanted to go through – they went through my bank accounts, business and personal, joint. They were looking in cupboards – I mean, they basically – the first words that came out of their mouth when they sat down was, “So where’s the money?”

Sir Wyn Williams: Before we get to that, because it’s dawned on me that there may be differences in the Scottish criminal law to the English and Welsh criminal law. So when you say that you were interviewed under caution –

Chris Dawson: Mm-hmm.

Sir Wyn Williams: – am I right in understanding that the first thing that would have happened is that you were told words along the lines of, “You don’t have to say anything” –

Chris Dawson: No, no, no.

Sir Wyn Williams: I see.

Chris Dawson: No, I wasn’t told that at all.

Sir Wyn Williams: So what did you understand they meant by the phrase “interview under caution”?

Chris Dawson: My understanding of “interview under caution” is a record will be taken and passed on to police, Procurator Fiscal, CPS, whomever, for an investigation to take out. The fact that I was denied a lawyer, I pleaded right from the get-go.

Sir Wyn Williams: Carry on, Ms Hodge. No, no, I’m sorry, but it struck me belatedly yesterday, in a discussion with my colleagues, that I need to know what the phrase “interview under caution” might mean to both Scottish and (audio distorted).

Ms Hodge: (audio distorted) it would be –

Chris Dawson: It was, yes. A tape-recording device was set up on my living room table. The two of them sat at one side of the table, I sat at the other; the tape recorder in the middle. It was a twin cassette. They did open up two packages in front of me and place blank cassettes in, just wee mini cassettes, and from there it was – it wasn’t an interview. I mean, my understanding would be that an interview under caution – an investigation, whatever you want to call it – is that they have to look for evidence. They basically just came in and went, “Where’s the money?” There was no presumption of innocence; it was an automatic presumption of guilt. It was horrifying. I mean, the minute they started I felt as though my back was on the wall, and there were two of them. Like I said, they were large men, and it was just horrible. It was repeated, repeated, repeated, “So what did you do with money? Where is the money? Have you hidden the money? Have you given the money to somebody else? Where is the money?” and this just went on. I mean, there was no questions, it was just baiting and badgering for the entire time. And after a period of time, I think possibly about half an hour, I turned around and I just said, “Right, wait a minute here”, I said, “I had £998,000 in my safe that day.” I said, “Do you think I would have been messing about with 17,500?” I said, “If I was going to steal, I would surely have taken the lot and I wouldn’t be sitting here answering questions; I’d be in the Caribbean”, to which their reply came, “All right, so you’ve thought about it. Where is the £17,500?” So I gave up, I was going nowhere with it.

Ms Hodge: So if I have understood you right, it was clear to you that by this point you were being treated as having – you were under suspicion for having stolen the money?

Chris Dawson: I don’t even think I was under suspicion; I was assumed guilty.

Ms Hodge: What were you advised to do?

Chris Dawson: (Zoom screen frozen).

Ms Hodge: … happened, what were you told to do in relation to the shortfall?

Chris Dawson: I was told basically it was my responsibility; it was in my contract. I had to pay it.

Ms Hodge: Did you agree to pay the sum?

Chris Dawson: No. I said to them – I said, “I know that there is a computer error.” I said, “I’ve heard about other computer errors.” Then they insisted, “No, this is just your office, you’re short of money, you’re responsible, this isn’t happening anywhere, there is no computer problem.” And I knew that I’d read about it, but it was basically, “You’ll be hearing from us soon.” And every time I phoned, because I was phoning initially daily and then weekly, just sort of saying, “How is the investigation going? How is the investigation?” – because I was suspended, but I was still having to pay the rent and the rates and the wages. They’d brought in some postmaster from further up north who was reaping the rewards, and getting paid from the Post Office in some of the busiest months, a very good wage, whereas I was receiving nothing except from my shop income.

I was allowed to still enter my shop, but I wasn’t allowed to enter the post office. Now, in a town the size of Pitlochry, 3,500 people, the rumour mill had started the minute that the “closed” sign went up. So I had to stand there in the front of my shop with people looking at me, whispering, asking me outright, some of them, “How come you’re not behind the post office?” It was just – it was just a horrible situation.

Ms Hodge: For how long were you suspended from your role as a subpostmaster?

Chris Dawson: Before I eventually resigned, six, maybe seven months. I couldn’t carry on financially. I mean, I had – for the first few months, even though I was receiving no income from the Post Office, I was still expected to pay that £33,000 a year rent, £12,000 a year rent, to pay the electric bill. Eventually I argued the point, and the Post Office themselves, rather than charging the other postmaster that they’d installed, he paid the wages, but the Post Office, I believe, paid the rent and rates. So whoever that gentleman was made a tidy sum out of it, because he wasn’t liable for the things that I was liable for, but because I’d had to pay them for the first few months, I mean my savings were gone, and eventually – I think it was in the January – just said, “Enough is enough”, and emptied the shop, and had to seek advice on bankruptcy.

Ms Hodge: Were you made bankrupt?

Chris Dawson: Yes. I was made insolvent; I think it was around the end of March, April.

Ms Hodge: And that was shortly after you’d resigned in January –

Chris Dawson: Yes.

Ms Hodge: – 2010?

Chris Dawson: Yes. I mean, just prior to me resigning, and I think it was the final nail in the coffin for me, I again phoned up and asked, “Look, how’s the investigation going?” The reply I got was, “We know it wasn’t you, but you still have to pay it, it’s in your contract.” I said,” Well, it wasn’t me, and you’re saying it’s not the computer, it must have been somebody. Are you investigating anybody else?” “No.” And that was basically the end of the conversation. That, to me, was just: Right, so they want me to pay this money, even though I never took it; they know I never took it, they’ve admitted I never took it, but they want me to pay it. I’m not doing it.

Ms Hodge: Do you recall who you spoke to at that time?

Chris Dawson: It was just some faceless person on the end of the phone. I mean, the helpline – it’s the biggest oxymoron ever, helpline.

Ms Hodge: Did you attempt to sell the business after you resigned?

Chris Dawson: I did try and sell, but obviously because my bankruptcy was looming I wasn’t able to sell it, so I mean they then sold the building. I mean, all the fixtures and fittings that I had paid for, along with the goodwill, the bulletproof glass, the counters, et cetera, et cetera, all of that got sold off as well. The building – the bulletproof glass, I’ve got no idea how much the initial cost of it was because it was put in prior to me taking over, but I know it certainly wasn’t cheap. I mean, that was basically just ripped out and slung in a skip. But at the end of the day it was still mine.

Ms Hodge: What did you hope to achieve from your business before you felt forced to resign?

Chris Dawson: Having looked into the Post Office, and I mean going by advice, I mean, it’s a big institution, it’s been around for hundreds of years, and I had seen the model that some other people had used, take on one post office and then, after a year or so, take on another one. And I knew that some of the other local postmasters were either getting to retirement age or getting to an age where they just wanted to say, “Right, enough is enough.” So the long-term plan was to take over the post offices in the neighbouring villages, et cetera. Obviously, that never happened.

Ms Hodge: Have you made any attempt to estimate what you think you would have earned, had you been able to carry on as you had planned?

Chris Dawson: Well, during the first court case with Freeths, one of the initial conversations had been the fact that I was 36 years old when this happened to me; the current retirement age being 67, so that was 31 years of lost income. I’m basing that on the Post Office wage from 2009, 2010, and the shop profits from the same period. Not including inflation or interest, and it was – they estimated that I had lost 2.97 million.

Ms Hodge: What did you in fact recover from the settlement of the Group Litigation?

Chris Dawson: Sorry?

Ms Hodge: What did you in fact recover from the settlement of the Group Litigation?

Chris Dawson: I mean, negligible. I mean, the first case again was just how it was dealt with, how the settlement was dealt with, the fact that the Post Office didn’t have to pay the legal fees, that it was all swallowed up in legal fees and the 555 received virtually nothing. I received absolutely no satisfaction from that whatsoever.

Ms Hodge: Did you receive some compensation?

Chris Dawson: A very, very small amount.

Ms Hodge: How did the loss of your Post Office salary affect your personal finances?

Chris Dawson: Well, like I said, I had already been paying the rent and rates for a couple of months without having the Post Office salary. So that left me in a state that, as I mentioned, I had to declare myself bankrupt. I could no longer afford to pay my mortgage.

Ms Hodge: You lost your home?

Chris Dawson: My home was repossessed, yes.

Ms Hodge: What about your other possessions, your car?

Chris Dawson: Yes, I couldn’t afford to pay the car, and then after a few months, I mean I don’t believe for a second that any marriage could have coped with that. I mean the stress, I mean I was a complete mess, withdrew into myself, I was very paranoid that people were talking about me. So the marriage collapsed as well and I ended up moving out. The bank allowed – because of our kids, the bank allowed my ex-wife to stay in the house for a wee while until she was rehomed, but the house was eventually repossessed.

Ms Hodge: What did you do for a living after the termination of your contract as a subpostmaster?

Chris Dawson: Well, for the first year, because of the terms of my bankruptcy, I wasn’t able to work at all. I then ended up taking jobs, washing dishes. I mean, at the end of the day I was still living in Pitlochry; a lot of people had an assumption of guilt because would they believe me or would they believe a 300-year-old organisation? So getting a job, especially a job working with money – hotel management, retail, which had been my background – that wasn’t happening, so I ended up washing dishes. I worked as a kitchen porter. One of the other local businessmen that was a good friend and had every faith in me did give me a chance, he trusted me, so I was working front of house in his restaurant, in Drummonds Restaurant, in Pitlochry.

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

Chris Dawson: I’m self-employed as a care-at-home provider, providing care for the elderly and infirm in the community and in their own homes.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned already you and your wife have two children.

Chris Dawson: We’ve got two daughters.

Ms Hodge: How was your relationship with your daughters affected whilst you experienced this financial hardship?

Chris Dawson: The girls have never, ever complained. They’ve never made any – but I personally feel horrible as a father, because I couldn’t properly provide.

Sir Wyn Williams: Don’t worry, Mr Dawson, we’ve got plenty of time. You just take it easy.

Chris Dawson: Sorry.


Chris Dawson: A father should be able to provide for his kids, and for a long period I couldn’t. Like I said, they never complained, even at Christmas and birthdays, when what we were able to give them was (unclear) from out of a charity bin. It just made you feel like a failure.

Ms Hodge: How was your mental health affected at the time by these difficulties?

Chris Dawson: Yes, it was very bad. I was very badly depressed. I didn’t realise at the time. Others around me were saying, “You need to go to a doctor, you’re obviously depressed.” I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. Looking back now, I mean I was just a disaster. I felt paranoid. I felt people were speaking about me. I had a fear of leaving the house. When I did leave the house, it would be at night-time in the dark. I didn’t feel like I was myself; I was a shadow of myself.

Ms Hodge: You had previously aspired to go into local politics; is that right?

Chris Dawson: I had been approached about standing for council, but it was the councillor that had approached me had unfortunately passed away – untimely. I was approached, “Would you be interested in standing?” but I mean I had literally just taken on a big post office and I had already taken on the Rannoch post office at that point, so I declined at that time. I said, “It might be something I’m interested in in the future, maybe once I’ve established the businesses and could step away from the day-to-day.” It would have been something that I would have really enjoyed. I would have really liked to put something back into the community.

Ms Hodge: What were the prospects of you entering local politics after what had happened with the shop?

Chris Dawson: Who is going to trust or vote for somebody who has been accused of stealing? Although I was never, ever charged, the doubt was always there. I wouldn’t have voted for me. There was no chance.

Ms Hodge: How would you describe your current circumstances, Mr Dawson?

Chris Dawson: Yes, I mean, like I said, I’m self-employed. Myself and my partner, my fiancee, we’ve got a relatively good income. It’s a job we both enjoy. We go to the same clients every day, at the same time every day, which, unlike a lot of care organisations, it’s more hectic. We like to run it so that people with dementia, people with Alzheimer’s and what have you, they need continuity, so we meet with them and their families prior to them coming on board with us, and we say, “Okay, we will be here at X time every single day”, and give or take five minutes allowing for traffic, but that’s explained to them, that’s exactly what we do.

Ms Hodge: And how is the current state of your mental health?

Chris Dawson: Better. I still think about it every day. I mean, there is not a day goes past that you don’t go past a postie, you don’t go past a Royal Mail van, you don’t pass a red pillar box, and it’s almost just a reminder.

Ms Hodge: Looking back on your experience with the Post Office, how do you now feel about the way you were treated?

Chris Dawson: Excuse me, just a second. Looking back on it now and knowing what I know now about the fact that they knew all along, knowing that from the very beginning Fujitsu was identified as having issues on the Horizon System, finding out that of the 11 tenders to put in an IT system that they came sixth, finding out that even though they knew that it was the Horizon System, they then went on to spend £300 million of taxpayers’ money to try and tell us, “No, it wasn’t us, it was you all along.” I’m disgusted.


Chris Dawson: Sorry.

Ms Hodge: You don’t need to apologise.

I have no further questions that I want to ask you. Is there anything you’d like to say that we haven’t covered in your questions today?

Chris Dawson: Oh, in the questions, no, not really. I mean, there’s just a few comments that I would like to direct, if that was okay.

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course, yes.

Chris Dawson: Sorry, I never brought my reading glasses.

First of all, I’d like to thank you, Sir Wyn, for inviting me along today. I do have a few questions that I would like to ask. Given the length of time that has passed and the lives and reputations that have been ruined since it became apparent that the Horizon System was not fit for purpose, why did Post Office Limited continue to pursue innocent postmasters and mistresses; who sanctioned the 300 million in legal costs for the Post Office to fight us to a standstill on the civil claim, to stop us from getting further – the full truth? I don’t for a minute believe that this was just a pen-pusher or a bureaucrat; I don’t even think it’s within the remit of the head of Post Office Limited. I think this has to reach the Government level, be it the Business Secretary, the Chancellor, maybe even as high as Number 10. For that amount of public money to have been used to protect an asset whose sole shareholder is the Westminster Government, somebody within that Government knew.

You and the people in this room may think that everyone knows about the problems with Horizon, but they don’t. Two weeks ago, I was in at the local post office and I mentioned the current problems with the Horizon System and was she following it. She had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. She didn’t know that there was a problem with Horizon. She didn’t know there was an investigation. So why have Post Office Limited not contacted every single subpostmaster and mistress, both current and retired, to inform them of the problems with the Horizon System and invited them to submit requests for reimbursement for any and all shortfalls since the introduction of Horizon?

Why, when the truth is known by all parties, is compensation being withheld? Why has the scope of the compensation not been broadened to include those like myself who refused to admit to something they hadn’t done; people like me who pleaded their innocence; those who were not formally charged or jailed, that were threatened with it, threatened with prosecution, who have lived in fear of a knock at the door for years? How many more innocent people have to continue to suffer? How many more need to die before they are properly vindicated and compensated?

I feel that the national news coverage of the Horizon case has, at best, been woeful. A perfect example, Panorama, a few weeks ago the past Monday, a fantastic piece of journalism; the next day in the newspapers, not a follow-up. It’s as if people either – and why was it shown at 10.40? Panorama is always shown at 9 o’clock. It’s almost as if they don’t want people to know about it.

I want to see a formal and full apology from all those involved in this scandal, published in all the local newspapers and magazines in the areas of the subpostmasters and mistresses involved, not just in a broadsheet buried at the back of a page for only a minority to read. I mean, in my case that affected me and Pitlochry and the surrounding areas, so I want to see that apology in the Pitlochry News; I don’t want to see it in the Financial Times. The apology needs to be seen and heard by the communities that it affected.

Lastly, I want to see Paula Vennells, amongst other senior officials, feel the full weight of the law, in a similar manner that was so eagerly dealt out as judge, jury and executioner whilst in full knowledge that those who they were prosecuting were innocent.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, thank you, Mr Dawson. Clearly, you’ve spoken about very personal and difficult matters in a public forum, and that’s very difficult. So I appreciate you taking the time and the trouble, and making the effort, to come and give this evidence.

Chris Dawson: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay.

Ms Hodge: Thank you very much, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Well, I think we can have a mid-morning break, and in that mid-morning break, Mr Enright, can I invite you to discuss with your clients, remaining clients, how they would like to proceed. I don’t want them waiting around for hours if they would prefer to get on with it, so to speak. So let’s have a 15-minute break and then take stock of where we are.

(11.17 am)

(A short break)

(11.35 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Whenever you’re ready, Mr Beer.

Mr Beer: Thank you, sir. I think Mr Enright has indicated that his clients are very content to continue now.

Sir Wyn Williams: Excellent.

Mr Beer: So can I ask for Donald McLean to be sworn, please.

Donald McLean


Questioned by Mr Beer, QC

Mr Beer: Good morning, Mr McLean. Do take a seat.

Donald McLean: Good morning.

Mr Beer: My name is Jason Beer and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Can you give us your full name, please?

Donald McLean: Donald Roger McLean.

Mr Beer: In front of you is a copy of your witness statement –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – if you turn to the last page, you should see it’s dated 20 January 2022.

Donald McLean: Right.

Mr Beer: And is there a signature there that’s yours?

Donald McLean: Yes.

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

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Can you tell us a little bit about you, please. How old are you?

Donald McLean: I’m now 70.

Mr Beer: Okay.

Donald McLean: I’ve been a subpostmaster for nearly 25 years. I actually retire tomorrow, I hand the keys over to the office I’ve been running temporarily tomorrow. Before that, I originally went to sea as a radio electronics officer –

Mr Beer: We’re going to come to your background in a minute. Are you a married man?

Donald McLean: Yes. My wife is …

Mr Beer: Mrs McLean is there?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: And I don’t think you’ve got children; is that right?

Donald McLean: Correct.

Mr Beer: Now, no need to tell us at which post office you’re currently a temporary subpostmaster, but until tomorrow you are a temporary subpostmaster?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: And before you became a subpostmaster, I think you were about to tell me what you did. I read you had an interesting and varied career.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Tell us about it, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: And don’t forget the Cardiff bit.

Donald McLean: Yes, okay. I went to – I trained to be a radio/electronics officer and went to sea, and I spent probably six years there. I was brought up by a great aunt and uncle that were in ill health, so I came ashore and I went to university in Cardiff. And I was there, and during that period my great aunt and uncle died, and I got a job, and I went working for British Aerospace on the maintenance and operation of Rapier defence missiles, on the basis of working out in Oman to maintain the systems. But before I was just about to go out, I got headhunted by a big cruise company now, Carnival Cruise Line, but then they were a very small company, and I went to work for them on a brand-new ship that was coming out of Denmark. From there, after the time I came ashore, I became a technician at South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education in Cardiff –

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Donald McLean: – and then I went into teaching and I moved up to South Tyneside College, which was one of the major providers of marine education in the country, and I worked in the electrical and electronic department and computing – at that stage, computers were then quite – well, in their early days, and I spent nearly 10 years there. And I got – from there I decided – I had a load of friends from university that were down in Devon, so I was looking for other opportunities and I was getting fed up with the system of the examinations. There was people that, in the first years, failed, would have flown through the exams when I was leaving, so the system was going down. So in the end I decided that I’d sell up, and go down and after shopping around I ended up moving to my first post office, which was in Okehampton in Devon, which was a modified sub-post office, which is ie an ex-Crown office. The person before had been the manageress, and she had it, I think, for about a year, and it was still not completely out of – into a proper retail environment, which I thought there was a possibility in, and I also had fully trained Crown staff. And at that time we were still moving paper. I have never used the paper system. We had – there was an in-built PC-based system called Capture that was run by the Post Office, and I used that to balance the post office.

Mr Beer: Just to put some dates on that –

Donald McLean: That’s ‘97.

Mr Beer: So I think 7 June ‘97, is that right –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – you took up your role as SPM?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: At the Okehampton branch. Okehampton is in Devon –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – west of Exeter?

Donald McLean: That’s right, yes.

Mr Beer: What kind of branch was the Okehampton branch?

Donald McLean: Well, it’s what they called the modified sub-post office, but it was actually an ex-Crown office.

Mr Beer: So how many counters were there in there?

Donald McLean: Four. That was it, four and –

Mr Beer: What type of community did – it’s a – what type of place is Okehampton?

Donald McLean: Actually, it’s on the northern edge of Dartmoor. It’s a very rural area. It’s not that touristy – you see a few tourists, as I said, but it’s basically – you were the main office in quite a rural area with quite a lot of outlying post offices around. During the period there, they started moving into having satellite post offices. During that time I ran three satellite post offices from Okehampton, where we would go out twice a week to each of them. We went to Exbourne, Belstone and Sticklepath. These are just villages that were, you know, about probably six or seven miles from there.

Mr Beer: Okay. And so just to get the complete picture, I think you spent about nine years at Okehampton –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – until 26 April 2006.

Donald McLean: That was when I took over the next branch.

Mr Beer: Okay. And then you moved to Scotland?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: And you were the subpostmaster of a branch in Aviemore, is that right?

Donald McLean: That’s right, yes.

Mr Beer: And that was from the beginning of 2006 until June 2017, is that right –

Donald McLean: That’s right, yes.

Mr Beer: – when it was closed, under the Network Transformation Programme –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – and you moved to your current branch?

Donald McLean: No, we’d been running the current branch for nine and a half years.

Mr Beer: Oh, I see. So winding back then to the beginning, before you took up your role as SPM at the Okehampton branch, were you trained on the use of Horizon?

Donald McLean: Horizon wasn’t around when I was trained. I had two weeks. I think I ended up with three weeks with a trainer in-branch, but I was quite lucky, I had two mail clerks that had been fully trained by the Post Office.

Mr Beer: When was that? Which year was that?

Donald McLean: That was 1997, when I took over. They were there all the way through my time there.

Mr Beer: I meant when was the training; that’s my fault?

Donald McLean: The training was on the job –

Mr Beer: Okay.

Donald McLean: – from the day we took over. It was two weeks from there. So basically it was learn as you went along.

Mr Beer: In your statement you say:

“I had initial training on the introduction of Horizon. This was in 1999 and consisted of two days of offsite training at a hotel in Dartmoor.”

Donald McLean: Yes, that’s right.

Mr Beer: Do you remember that?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: What did the training cover?

Donald McLean: It covered mainly transactions, basic operations such as putting rolls in printers, paper. They did a few transactions and they did do a little balance, but it was no way what you would need for a busy office.

Mr Beer: Why was it in no way what you’d need for a busy office?

Donald McLean: Well, it’s quite easy to see, if you’ve done five transactions and you’ve made a mistake in five transactions, but if you’ve got four people doing transactions, multiple transactions all day, you’ll suddenly see that your total amount of work, if something goes wrong, what you’ve got to check is considerable. So it’s a lot harder to find a mistake where there are more people using the system and multiple transactions.

Mr Beer: Was, therefore, the training in your view inadequate?

Donald McLean: For Horizon, yes.

Mr Beer: Did it address what to do in the event of a shortfall or a discrepancy or, more broadly, troubleshooting?

Donald McLean: No. In no way on that. As I say, at that time I felt the Post Office had suddenly become – one day they were a paper-based system, there was a computer system, but there was nobody that – of the people that used the paper system knew everything about the computer system. I think you can term it like British Airways when they decided to move to terminal 5, if you move them all across from that terminal to that one, it will just work thinking it; of course it didn’t.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement:

“When Horizon was introduced, I got the impression that Post Office was completely unprepared and lacked the practical knowledge to deal with a computerised accounting [system].”

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Is that right?

Donald McLean: That’s – I think that’s true.

Mr Beer: And of course you at this stage had been a senior lecturer in, amongst other things, computing –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – for a decade.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: And you say elsewhere in your statement that you built computers for a hobby.

Donald McLean: I did, yes.

Mr Beer: And so by this stage did you think you had a good understanding of the operation of computing systems?

Donald McLean: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: What were the problems that you saw then at this initial stage?

Donald McLean: Technically, as I said, it was how Horizon – firstly, a person that was from the IERE came and made a beautiful plan of where sockets should go, telephone sockets should go there, your modem should go there, the computing unit should go in different places, but when they actually came to do it, it was thrown in. It was people that were working to a quick timescale and it was what parts they had at the time, and it got thrown in. I think all the sockets should have had switches on them; they didn’t. One of the big failures, I think, on the installation was that none of the sockets were filtered. So if you had any spikes, electrical spikes, it would immediately affect your computer, which caused lots of problems if you had thunderstorms and lightning.

Mr Beer: You are there speaking about the current configuration of the hardware largely –

Donald McLean: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: – did you ever get to see anything about system design or anything like that, or was that all behind the curtain for you?

Donald McLean: That is behind the curtain to everybody, as I said.

Mr Beer: So did you begin to use Horizon in 1999 then?

Donald McLean: Yes. As I say, up till 1999 we had never had any serious counter losses, as I call them, on that, but during the period for the operation of the early version of Horizon, over the years I lost about £11,000 during that period. Nothing anything big, because I was always of the opinion that if it was an amount more than, you know, a certain amount, it would be a case of sitting down there and having a really good search for the figure.

Mr Beer: How soon after the beginning of the use of Horizon by you in that branch in 1999 did problems with shortfalls and balancing begin?

Donald McLean: Quite soon. I can’t remember just when. I think it was in the January of – actually, I had all the counters changed because we were having so much problems with it, and Fujitsu took the four counters and I actually went back to paper-based operation for – I think it was about four weeks – and then we – as I say, we moved back over on to – back to Horizon.

Mr Beer: Just taking this in stages. When problems with balances began to emerge and shortfalls were shown on the system, what did you do?

Donald McLean: Well, you contact the helpline, and sometimes you didn’t get any help from them.

Mr Beer: What did they say?

Donald McLean: You know, they say, “Well, it’s the – the system, you must have put something in the system wrong”, or something like this.

Mr Beer: So what were you told to do?

Donald McLean: Well, the case of – as you are well aware by now, that on a Wednesday on your balance, to start trading the next day you’ve got to turn over, and you’ve got to declare your losses or your gains and accept them. They were basically saying, “Oh, it will probably come back next week”, which in some cases it did. You might be £200 down on a Wednesday night, but when you did a quick cash variance on the Thursday, that money would be back in the – in your system. So it was one of those things. Again, you ring up – the thing is if you’ve altered anything on Horizon, because of how it was based that physically the system was live in your office compared to the new system, you had – they had mirrored desks at other parts of the country, which you did it on your computer, then it went on to another system; so, in other words, they got the duplicate of the system, which, of course, led to timing faults. One of the things that – when my computer was being done that four times, I actually managed to sign on two of our units with the same pass, and it just let me, which I was amazed at, why it let me actually sign on to the system with the same username and password, and there I had two units, you know, I could use, but with the same – that would of course lead to problems as well.

Mr Beer: So you told us overall that you paid in about £11,000 in total.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: When did you start doing that?

Donald McLean: It was from the start. There was –

Mr Beer: Why did you start doing that?

Donald McLean: Well, you’ve got to – basically to fulfil your contract, you’ve got to cover any losses, and physically I’d been old-school that even though they’ve changed, so you only balanced once a month, I’ve always balanced everything every week, because if you’ve got a busy office, trying to find out what you did three weeks ago, when you’ve got this loss, it’s a lot of material you’ve got to go through to find it. So I have always tried to limit the amount of searching I would have to do by doing it weekly.

Mr Beer: You said that as part of your contract you have to repay –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – any losses or pay any losses.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Did anyone advise you on the helpline that that’s what you needed to do –

Donald McLean: Oh yes.

Mr Beer: – if the system was shown as a loss?

Donald McLean: Yes, there was always – the Post Office always told you, the helpline always told you that you should always pay – you know, cover your losses, you have to put the money into the till, whatever, because the fact is, if you don’t, you’re then, you’re “false accounting”, that’s it. So it was always to my mind you always had to put the money in to make sure that you couldn’t be prosecuted for false accounting.

Mr Beer: You told us a moment ago about an occasion when the terminals were – the hardware was taken out of the branch.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: You went to a paper-based system –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – for four weeks or so and then recommenced –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – with new hardware.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: How did that come about?

Donald McLean: Yes, I complained to my BDM, business development manager. I said – and I – she can actually see some of the problems, and I was saying, “Well, this should not be happening”, so with agreement she took it a level higher, they agreed to have an investigation. But I never was privy to what they actually found.

Mr Beer: You say that you were experiencing problems with the Horizon System not being able to balance, and someone was sent to your branch to try to rectify the problem.

Donald McLean: Yes, I had –

Mr Beer: What was the problem with Horizon? How did you know it was a problem with Horizon?

Donald McLean: Because we suddenly – we’re doing the same transactions as we were doing for the previous two to three years, we were getting – we basically had no losses. The staff were the same, and they were, as I say, quite long in the tooth, they’d been doing these things for years. I couldn’t see why it should suddenly change – they should suddenly change when the computer system changed. So I argued that, you know, there should be something with the system.

Mr Beer: So somebody came to the branch to try and rectify the problem?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Who was that somebody; not necessarily by name, but by job description or title?

Donald McLean: Two, I think probably Crown office managers.

Mr Beer: What did they do in the branch?

Donald McLean: They sat and looked at different transactions. They didn’t actually do very much. They never told me – I didn’t get a report on what they actually – what conclusions they came to.

Mr Beer: You told us that the hardware was taken out. Why was the hardware taken out?

Donald McLean: Because I think that there was a – that probably the thinking was that there was something not communicating to each other, or somewhere there was a problem, and that’s why. That’s what I would, you know, presume that was the thing, because that is the active part, is the – are the base units.

Mr Beer: And when you went to the paper-based system for a month, was there any problem in balancing the books?

Donald McLean: No.

Mr Beer: When you went back to Horizon after the month, did the shortfall problem continue?

Donald McLean: Yes. On and off, but nothing – no gigantic amounts. I would never – if I’ve seen errors of more than probably a couple of hundred pounds I would have stopped the whole thing and said, “There’s something wrong here, I’m not going to work any further with the system”, because it escalates. I’ve seen quite a few things – the amount can just keep going up, and it shouldn’t do that, so I would have stopped there and said, “Let’s really go – let’s really find out what’s going on.”

Mr Beer: You speak in another part of your statement about Fujitsu having remote access.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that at this branch in Okehampton or was this after you moved to Aviemore?

Donald McLean: Yes. No, it was in Okehampton.

Mr Beer: Tell us the circumstances in which that came about?

Donald McLean: We were having some problem there I had actually seen on the screen in front of me, and I was talking to the helpline and I explained that, and next minute they connected me to a person in Fujitsu –

Mr Beer: So they connected you on the telephone?

Donald McLean: Yes, to Fujitsu. And he actually altered the figures that I was actually looking at while I was watching the screen.

Mr Beer: So how do you know that he had remote access?

Donald McLean: You could actually see what was happening. The screen, as I say – say there was a figure there of 5,000, that suddenly changed to, say, 7,000, so you could actually see that – the number change – well, you know, while we were just watching the screen.

Mr Beer: And was he talking you through this when he was doing this?

Donald McLean: No, he just did this. When I tried to contact the gentleman again, I seemingly got in trouble for doing this and I wasn’t allowed to talk to him again.

Mr Beer: Who did you get in trouble with?

Donald McLean: No; he got in trouble –

Mr Beer: He got in trouble?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: How do you know he got in trouble?

Donald McLean: Because they wouldn’t let me talk to him ever again.

Mr Beer: Can you remember roughly when this was when Fujitsu had remote access to –

Donald McLean: It would be 2001, 2002, something like that.

Mr Beer: And so they effectively altered an error?

Donald McLean: Well, yes. Well, I don’t know if it was an error or – but I saw them alter figures.

Mr Beer: Was the problem that was fixed a shortfall problem, and what they did was to solve the shortfall problem?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Can you remember what the error was?

Donald McLean: No, I can’t. Too long ago, I’m afraid.

Mr Beer: Okay. Was that the only time therefore that you had access directly to a Fujitsu employee?

Donald McLean: Other than when they came to change printers or something like that, yes.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement:

“I knew from other subpostmasters that they were having similar problems with balancing on the Horizon system …”

How did you know that?

Donald McLean: Well, I was – well, I had been in the Federation of SubPostmasters – again, they’re just subpostmasters, but we had meetings, talking to one another and things like that. I’ve been to conferences, and talking to other people, it gets – it comes up in conversation all the time, it did.

Mr Beer: You also say that:

“… the Helpline told me that I was the only one and that the system was faultless.”

Donald McLean: Yes. I got told by various Post Office management when I was querying things that, “You’re the only one. There is no problems with the system, it’s all good to go.”

Mr Beer: You said there that “various Post Office management”. Was that on the helpline, or was that more –

Donald McLean: No, it might be –

Mr Beer: – in branch?

Donald McLean: In branch. You used to get a visit from a BDM every month and things like that.

Mr Beer: Tell the chairman who the BDM is?

Donald McLean: I can’t remember her name.

Mr Beer: No, what a BDM is?

Donald McLean: A business development manager.

Mr Beer: And in conversations with – was it a “him”?

Donald McLean: At that time it was a “her”.

Mr Beer: It was a her. In conversations with her –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – she said that you were the only one experiencing faults?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: And that the Horizon System was problem-free or faultless?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was there ever any discussion amongst you as subpostmasters that with you all experiencing issues with Horizon showing shortfalls, that something needed to be done?

Donald McLean: Well, I think it’s – the fact is that everybody – they say 300 years they’ve trusted the Post Office, that the Post Office would be telling you the truth and that it was you and not their system. That’s one of the things I think they’ve always tried to provide, that it can’t be them, it’s got to be the subpostmaster.

Mr Beer: I think you were on the National Federation committee when you were in Okehampton; is that right?

Donald McLean: Yes, I was on the committee of the North Devon and Barnstaple branch.

Mr Beer: Was there any discussion ever had as to whether this issue ought to be raised at a higher level within the Post Office?

Donald McLean: I think we’ve tried to – we – I think in the Federation we tried to push it hard – push it up there, right, up to the management, but I think the management of the Federation of SubPostmasters believed quite – probably not correctly – that the system was as the Post Office described it, but I think it was due to their lack of knowledge of telecommunication systems and computing that led them to just follow that because they had nowhere else to get information to, you know – whether to question it or not.

Mr Beer: You told us earlier that you estimate that in your branch you paid in some £11,000.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Was that ever deducted from your remuneration, or was it always cheque payments or cash payments in?

Donald McLean: Yes, it’s always cheque or cash.

Mr Beer: So there were no deductions ever made?

Donald McLean: I never got – as I say, I never got to those amounts, thankfully.

Mr Beer: And so how would you put those amounts in? Would you simply physically place cash in the safe?

Donald McLean: Yes. It depends on the amount; it could be cash or cheque. We had a retail part of the business and I’d maybe move money on a Wednesday across from that to cover the loss, or I would put in a cheque. I mean, sometimes when my cash flow is thing, I put in credit card cheques to cover the shortfall.

Mr Beer: And was this all in the Okehampton branch or did the same problem continue when you moved to Aviemore?

Donald McLean: In Aviemore, the problem wasn’t the same; it wasn’t as large or anything like that. We had no gigantic losses; they were all quite small, small losses. But –

Mr Beer: Do you know why that was? Well, to start with, was the volume of money going through the branches different?

Donald McLean: Yes, vastly different.

Mr Beer: Was Aviemore a four-counter branch?

Donald McLean: Yes, yes, and that was when most – all the pensions were paid in cash. So, I mean, you know, you’re going through so much cash. I mean, I think I had about 130 – in Okehampton, I think I had about 140 pensioners who were all being paid in, and children’s benefits, all being paid in cash. So the amount of money that was actually coming through the branch was considerable, whereas now, when we moved up to Aviemore, it was still a busy branch, it had all sorts of things, because it was touristy, plus all the locals and banking, that the money I’d brought in was – that I paid out near enough covered itself. So, in other words, I was cash-rich, I was sending money back, whereas in Okehampton I was being fed cash three times a week to pay for all the benefits.

Mr Beer: When you moved to Aviemore in 2006, did you or your wife undergo any further or different training?

Donald McLean: It was decided at the interview that, when I was accepted for the branch, that I had nine years running a busy branch, I didn’t need training, and my wife got sent to Dartford, and she did a two-week training course at Dartford.

Mr Beer: What was the training course about?

Donald McLean: Basically transactions and sales.

Mr Beer: Was it about the whole business of the post office, or was it only about the use of Horizon?

Donald McLean: Oh, the sales was part of all different products, but it was basically, what we can do is – from what – she didn’t have much information about balancing or what you do if things go wrong.

Mr Beer: In the course of your time in Okehampton, were you audited?

Donald McLean: On a number of occasions.

Mr Beer: You say four or five audits –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – in your statement. Does that sound about right?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: And were these notified to you in advance, or were they a surprise?

Donald McLean: No, they were a surprise. They would arrive on your doorstep at about 8 o’clock on a – usually a Friday morning.

Mr Beer: And out of those four or five audits, did auditors ever find a shortfall?

Donald McLean: Only one major. I think there was only one major shortfall on one occasion. The others were sort of quite; maybe £100 or a couple of hundred pounds either way.

Mr Beer: What happened on the occasion of the major shortfall?

Donald McLean: Well, there was two auditors and I think one was all for getting me suspended and – in other words, sacking me. But I said – the auditor, they also talked to my business development manager, and she supported sort of thing, and it was agreed to carry on, from a view that on most of these, if they found an error – usually when I balanced on the following Wednesday, say they did it on a Friday, without putting any money in, it would – the office would come to a near enough balance as you can.

Mr Beer: So one of the auditors wanted you suspended –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – the other one was suggesting, what, that you pay the money?

Donald McLean: Yes, yes.

Mr Beer: And what did you do?

Donald McLean: I think it came to the conclusion that it would be – it would be left – if I remember rightly, it would be left, and then they would come back and do an audit a week later, or something like that.

Mr Beer: And what happened when they came back?

Donald McLean: It was all – it happily balanced.

Sir Wyn Williams: And you hadn’t done anything to make it balance, so to speak?

Donald McLean: No, no.

Mr Beer: And so other than that, the audit showed up no substantial problems.

Donald McLean: No. There was no problems in that case. They just come in and go through everything.

Mr Beer: But did you have audits when you moved to Aviemore?

Donald McLean: Yes. I can’t remember; you always get one after you’ve been in a new office after six months, but –

Mr Beer: Were there any problems showing up to your knowledge in the audits that were conducted in Aviemore?

Donald McLean: Not that I can remember.

Mr Beer: You say in your statement, on one occasion you were told that you were “getting close to the threshold where I might be suspended due to the shortfalls that were arising.”

Was that back at Okehampton?

Donald McLean: Yes, that was back at Okehampton, yes.

Mr Beer: How did that make you feel that you were being told that you might be suspended?

Donald McLean: Well, it’s a shock to your system. It means it’s the end of your work on this life as you know it because you can be put down as presumed guilty. Your local – and the community are going to presume, you know, you’ve been thieving, so in other words it’s going to stain your character in that community.

Mr Beer: That, in the event, didn’t happen to you?

Donald McLean: No, thankfully.

Mr Beer: And so essentially you paid in £11,000 –

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: – to balance the books, through what you believe is a flaw in the Horizon System?

Donald McLean: Correct.

Mr Beer: Have you sought to recover that money?

Donald McLean: No. No.

Mr Beer: Have you heard of something called the Historical Shortfall Scheme?

Donald McLean: I have heard of it. I don’t – when I read the conditions of it, I don’t think I was able to.

Mr Beer: Why was that?

Donald McLean: I can’t remember now. Maybe I should go back to it and have a look at it, but I …

Mr Beer: You didn’t participate in the Group Litigation?

Donald McLean: I did.

Mr Beer: Oh, you did?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: That would be the reason.

Mr Beer: That would be the reason.

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: What happened in the Group Litigation, insofar as you’re concerned, by way of outcome?

Donald McLean: I think it was great that it was proved that the Horizon System was faulty. I just – I think it was despicable that Post Office did everything to win. But I say – I think I received £600, or something like that, of compensation, but that’s far from what it should have been. I mean, physically all the money from the settlement basically went to funding legal fees and the people that supported us in actually taking the case to the court. But I was just pleased that it was shown that there was something wrong with the system, which everybody up to then had always denied, in Post Office Limited.

Mr Beer: And so the outcome for the Group Litigation, so far as you’re concerned, never mind what it established, was that you got £600?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: And when you looked at the HSS, you realised you were excluded from it?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Mr Beer: Are you taking any active steps now to recover the money that the Post Office has taken from you?

Donald McLean: No.

Mr Beer: How does this saga make you feel?

Donald McLean: Very sad. As I say, it really upsets me on how some of my fellow postmasters have been treated. It’s very upsetting.

Mr Beer: They’re the only questions that I would like to ask you. Is there anything else that you would like to say?

Donald McLean: Yes.

Sir Wyn, thank you for inviting me to give evidence. From my personal experience as a subpostmaster and from my experience as a computer science lecturer, I would like your Inquiry to find out who led the cover-up of the failures in the Horizon System and who thought and advised them that they could get away with it?

Horizon was a secondhand system from Irish Post, the Irish Post Office. What testing was done by IBM/Fujitsu before Horizon was implemented in the UK?

There have been numerous updates to both operating systems: what testing was done prior to downloading them to Post Office branches? Who set up and controlled the Post Office audit teams who repeatedly made statements like “It’s only happening to you”? Who signed off on the branch installations, as it appears that some installations were just thrown in?

I am ashamed of the treatment of my fellow subpostmasters by Post Office Limited. The staff appeared to think that they were above the law and pursued individuals relentlessly, assuming SPMs – subpostmasters – were guilty, although no real evidence was provided. I remember my first audit when I was told by one of the Post Office auditors that I could not ask – not question their procedures.

I think all persons involved with the Horizon failures hidden by Post Office Limited should be compensated now, and not sometime in the future when there will be less of us around. The Post Office have wrecked the Post Office brand, which has affected all our investments. I have been an agent for the Post Office for nearly 25 years, and retire tomorrow. I have managed to make a living, despite Post Office Limited and its policies and actions that have caused me a lot of anxiety and pain. Thank you.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much for coming –

Donald McLean: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: – and for giving evidence to me in person, and thank you for bringing your wife, so I can meet you both.

Donald McLean: Thank you.

Mr Beer: Sir, can we take a short break just before Nancy Chant is able to give evidence?

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, certainly. Shall we depart?

Mr Beer: It’s probably not that kind of break.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay, then. We’ll just quietly sit here.

Mr Beer: Thank you very much.

(12.16 pm)

(A short break)

(12.19 pm)

Nancy Chant

NANCY CHANT (sworn).

Questioned by Ms Hodge

Ms Hodge: Good afternoon, Mrs Chant. As you know, my name is Catriona Hodge, and I ask questions on behalf of the Inquiry. Please could you state your full name.

Nancy Chant: It’s Mrs Nancy Chant.

Ms Hodge: You made a statement on 6 February this year; is that right?

Nancy Chant: That’s correct.

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

Nancy Chant: I do, yes.

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

Nancy Chant: I’m too nervous to turn the page.

Sir Wyn Williams: I was having the same difficulty yesterday afternoon, so don’t worry about it, it can happen to all of us.

Ms Hodge: Can you see your signature there?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Have you had a chance to read your statement again since it was first made?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Are there any corrections you’d like to make to your statement?

Nancy Chant: A slight change. At the end, point 59, although what it says is the truth, it comes over –

Ms Hodge: Which sentence are you talking about?

Nancy Chant: “My husband blamed me” – it sounds like he blamed me, but what he was, he was angry that I was paying for something that he believed had nothing to do with me. But it comes over there as if he thought I was guilty, just the way – maybe it’s the way I’m re-reading it. But it never occurred to him that something went wrong somewhere else, something catastrophically went wrong in that office I was in charge of, and he was angry that I paid for it. He said he felt that I should stand up and fight it, not pay it.

Ms Hodge: Thank you. Apart from that correction, is the content of your statement otherwise true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: I’d like to begin by asking you some questions about your long career in the Post Office. You first came to work in a post office branch upon leaving school; is that right?

Nancy Chant: That’s correct.

Ms Hodge: In which year was that?

Nancy Chant: It would have been 1973; ‘72, ‘73.

Ms Hodge: Where was the branch located?

Nancy Chant: In Lyoncross Road in Pollok, Glasgow.

Ms Hodge: What was the nature of your role in the branch at that time?

Nancy Chant: Saturday girl. No, I was just helping the back work, like I was very good – one thing I could do was count, so I was given all the paperwork, all the little giro cheques that were written and handwritten, and then added up. And the dockets from all the pension books, piles of them, that was my job; not so much serving the customers at that time, but – because I could count, that was what I was doing.

Ms Hodge: Did you enjoy your work?

Nancy Chant: I loved it.

Ms Hodge: You were later appointed as the subpostmistress of Crookfur post office.

Nancy Chant: That’s right.

Ms Hodge: Have I pronounced that correctly?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And that is located in Glasgow?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: When did your appointment as a subpostmistress commence?

Nancy Chant: In June 1986.

Ms Hodge: Do you remain in that role today?

Nancy Chant: I do.

Ms Hodge: If my maths is correct, you worked as a subpostmistress for more than 10 years before the Horizon System was introduced?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: (unclear). Did you ever experience problems balancing your accounts, before Horizon was brought in?

Nancy Chant: There was one, right at the very beginning; a discrepancy which I couldn’t understand. It happened when I was on holiday for the week. There was an investigation; I assumed there was an error that had come back. I was investigated. I had a woman that worked for me to give me holiday relief because I was a single, one-man band. We were both interviewed. We were asked if they could look through our bank accounts, which I let them, she wouldn’t, and there was a – a time went by when – I mean, I was interviewed in George Square, but I never gave it much thought, I just thought it was an error and it will turn up. Then somebody came out to me at the branch and said to me that was his job to interrogate people for any errors, and in his opinion I was telling the truth, or I was the best liar in Britain. He looked me in the face and he said, “You’re the only one that actually knows that you didn’t take it, but it could only have been the person that worked for you. You need to do something about that”, and I did. And then I was single-handed for years without holidays, because she really just gave me holiday leave, but never – that was the only time.

Ms Hodge: Apart from that one incident, was your honesty and integrity ever called into question by the Post Office?

Nancy Chant: No, no.

Ms Hodge: What had attracted you to the role of a subpostmistress?

Nancy Chant: My father was a postmaster at Lyoncross Road and I just loved the work. I loved meeting people; I liked the variety of work. Just – I think I liked being with people, talking to people, et cetera.

Ms Hodge: What experience have you had of working with computers before Horizon was installed?

Nancy Chant: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Ms Hodge: How did you feel about the introduction of this computer system?

Nancy Chant: Terrified. I actually considered packing it in. I considered leaving the Post Office, it just terrified me.

Ms Hodge: What training did you receive from the Post Office?

Nancy Chant: Two days in a hotel in Glasgow.

Ms Hodge: What did that training cover?

Nancy Chant: The workings of the Horizon, the keyboard, the touching the icons on the computer and –

Ms Hodge: Were you taught how to balance on the system?

Nancy Chant: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you feel the training was sufficient to prepare you for using this new system?

Nancy Chant: I felt it probably should have been, but not for me. By that time I had a young girl that came in to give me holiday relief and I paid her to go in and do the two days’ training because I thought if she’s going to cover for my holidays, she needs to know what she’s doing. She was young, with it, and thought it was easy. And she just went to it like a fish to water, great, and she helped me.

Ms Hodge: What were you told to do if you did experience problems balancing on the Horizon System?

Nancy Chant: Just to report to it helpline.

Ms Hodge: Did you experience problems balancing after the system went live?

Nancy Chant: No, no.

Ms Hodge: So you –

Nancy Chant: Not immediately, not immediately, not immediately.

Ms Hodge: When did you first start having –

Nancy Chant: 2007. 2007.

Ms Hodge: Had anything changed around that time and was there –

Nancy Chant: I never thought about it until I was sitting in here just now, but I had just renovated the office, so everything was cleared out, totally emptied. All my cash was REM-ed back into the head office and the workmen came in. I refitted the entire post office, and then the engineers came and refitted two computers, because I only had one before, and it was just – it’s the same computer that I had that had been stored and put back in place. But I never gave that a thought, everything was fine, until I had the shortage.

Ms Hodge: You’ve mentioned in your statement you had quite a significant shortfall in May of 2007.

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Is that right? Do you recall how much that was?

Nancy Chant: It was about 8,000, I can’t get it exactly; it was around the 8,000 figure.

Ms Hodge: What inquiries did you make at the time to try and work out what had caused that shortfall?

Nancy Chant: I phoned the helpline that night to explain that I had a shortfall and they said, “That’s okay. Just you know you have to declare it?” I said yes. That night I printed out from the computer every single transaction that had taken place in the day. I checked the bins. I just looked everywhere, but what didn’t add up for me, rechecked the transactions and in a simple way that I can explain it, if I locked up on the Wednesday night with £1,000, it was a different account, a different amount, but in theory £1,000, and I could see the transactions that there was £1,000 of deposits, and withdrawals, £1,000 of withdrawals, you can see all that, so I ended up with £1,000 cash, but the system said I should have 10,000. It just didn’t add up. I don’t know why that was, but the figures – I was searching for it. If I could lose £8,000 in a day, because that happened in a day, then there must be a transaction saying I deposited – somebody deposited 8,000 and I threw it in the bin, or something, but there was no deposits. Nothing corresponded to this shortage. There was no amount of cash coming in, so I just didn’t see what could have happened.

Ms Hodge: When you reported the shortfall to the helpline, which you were required to do, did they assist you to get to the bottom of what had caused –

Nancy Chant: They said they were making inquiries.

Ms Hodge: Do you know whether they made any inquiries?

Nancy Chant: No idea.

Ms Hodge: In your statement you say that you contacted your area manager about this shortfall; is that right?

Nancy Chant: She contacted me. She contacted me to say that Chesterfield had been in touch with her and asked her had – in her opinion, could I have taken money, and she was telling me that she’d told them that I would not have done that, which was quite a relief, really, because all I could think was, “Oh, I’ve just renovated the shop. I’ve taken out a loan to do all this and now money has disappeared.” It just looked awful. It looked awful. So to hear somebody in the Post Office saying that they believed that there was an error somewhere was comforting.

Ms Hodge: So as far as you know, the only inquiry the Post Office had made was to ask your area manager whether she thought you had taken the money?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did the Post Office accept what your area manager told them, that you hadn’t taken the money?

Nancy Chant: Yes, yes. Yes. The only thing I ever heard was that I was responsible for the cash and that I needed to repay it back, and I came to an agreement of paying it back over several years.

Ms Hodge: So although you hadn’t been shown anything to say that you’d taken it, you were still required to repay the money?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: How was that communicated to you?

Nancy Chant: I think I got it in – when there is a shortage and it’s been held in suspense, it’s held in a head office and they write to you to say you have an account that you owe so much money, or whatever, and they asked me to pay it and I contacted them and said, “Can I have time to pay it?” and we came to – the longest time that they were willing to let me take, I can’t remember how long it was, it was years, but the longest time they were willing to give me to pay it back, that’s – they then deducted from my remuneration each month.

Ms Hodge: So over the course of that time, they gradually deducted the amount of 7 or £8,000 from your salary as a subpostmistress?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: And you let them do that because?

Nancy Chant: It was in my contract.

Ms Hodge: You experienced another shortfall in June 2010; is that right?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: On this occasion I think you again made some inquiries yourself to get to the bottom of it?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Can you describe those, please?

Nancy Chant: Again, I checked the transactions for the day. There were several small deposits; there was nothing of any large amount. And there was nothing that I could see printing it out, looking at it, I couldn’t see anything, but I still had faith that errors happen and errors come back, because that did happen in the old days. Before computers, there were human error, additions were wrong and the errors would come back, and I still believed that could happen.

Ms Hodge: On this occasion the shortfall was £3,000; is that right?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Did you contact the helpline to report that shortfall?

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: What did they tell you to do?

Nancy Chant: Just make sure that I declared the shortage when I balanced.

Ms Hodge: How was that shortfall resolved with the Post Office?

Nancy Chant: Again, I had a letter from the head office saying that there was a discrepancy in my office, I was responsible for it, and could I pay it. I phoned them up, and again arranged a year or two to pay it back.

Ms Hodge: When you were experiencing these shortfalls at the time, what did you believe was causing them?

Nancy Chant: I had no idea. I had no idea. At that time I had a gentleman who had worked for the Post Office and he was giving me holiday relief. Again, I was still working single-handed, and he would come in and give me holiday relief. And he’d popped by one day and I told him about the shortage. He says, “Ah, that’s not right. That’s a computer error.” I said, “Do you think so?” and he goes, “Yes, it will turn up”, and I kind of believed that, too. So I always believed it would come back; I always believed it would come back. I used to open up mail in the mornings and that would be headed “Confidential” and from the Post Office, and I’d go “Yes”, but it wasn’t.

Ms Hodge: How much money do you think you paid in total to the Post Office –

Nancy Chant: About 11,000.

Ms Hodge: What effect did it have upon your business to be paying back these substantial sums of – when I say “paid back”, to be paying in these substantial sums?

Nancy Chant: The business carried on, but I was the one that was working for very little money. Because the remuneration was paying the rent, the rates, the water rates, electricity, running costs, and what was left was for me, but it was going to the Post Office to pay back the shortage.

Ms Hodge: By way of deduction –

Nancy Chant: Yes, yes.

Ms Hodge: – from your salary? How did this affect your personal finances at the time?

Nancy Chant: Well, I just didn’t have any spare money. I survived; I survived. I survived, and that’s it.

Ms Hodge: Did the financial pressures you were under affect your relationship with your husband?

Nancy Chant: Yes. Yes, he didn’t like the fact that I was paying back something that I didn’t have. He had worked for British Rail, and he just thought they were such a great company to work for and they looked after their staff, and he just couldn’t believe the way that I was being treated by a big organisation, you know. So we gave up arguing over it. I thought, “No, it’s money, yes, but we’re living. Get on with it.”

Ms Hodge: How was your wellbeing affected by the financial pressures that created for you?

Nancy Chant: Not so much the financial pressures. It was lack of my self, my own abilities. Every night, because I cashed up every night because I liked to see I’m okay tonight. But as the computer churned over the – my stomach would be in knots, my knees would start shaking. That still happens; it still happens.

Ms Hodge: In your statement you say:

“I lost confidence in my abilities and began to question myself.”

Nancy Chant: Yes. I started double-checking everything I was doing, because there is a mistake here somewhere. I don’t know what happened, but everything I was doing I was double-checking.

Ms Hodge: Why did you decide to remain working for the Post Office when you had experienced these significant problems using Horizon?

Nancy Chant: I didn’t consider walking away. I loved working in the post office. In my mind there was a couple of errors taken place – horrible errors, terrible errors – but working where I was was my life. I just – I know I was working – people won’t believe how little I was earning, but I loved the work and I had a husband that supported me, so. That’s it.

Ms Hodge: How would you describe your current experience of using the Horizon System?

Nancy Chant: It’s fine, but the weirdest thing is that I find that I know what I’m doing. I’ve even learned how to go online and check what they’re paying me. I couldn’t do that for years. Everything – if I can understand how it was going, I can work it. I have forgotten what I was going to say there.

Ms Hodge: Have you experienced any significant shortfalls in recent years?

Nancy Chant: No, no. No.

Ms Hodge: Do you continue to experience small ones or?

Nancy Chant: No, no.

Ms Hodge: It’s balancing fine?

Nancy Chant: Yes, yes everything – yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So I think you were part of the Group Litigation.

Nancy Chant: I was, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: And Mr Justice Fraser found that the current version of Horizon, as and when he was looking at it, was, to use the word that was bandied in that litigation, robust. Has that been your experience over the last few years of it?

Nancy Chant: Yes. Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay.

Ms Hodge: You’ve just mentioned that you participated in the Group Litigation.

Nancy Chant: Yes.

Ms Hodge: Before that, you’d made a claim through at the mediation scheme; is that right?

Nancy Chant: No.

Ms Hodge: You haven’t?

Nancy Chant: No.

Ms Hodge: As a result of the Group Litigation, did you receive any compensation?

Nancy Chant: I received about £2,000.

Ms Hodge: Do you feel that the Post Office has learnt from the failings that came to light in the course of the Group Litigation, from your experience as a current subpostmistress?

Nancy Chant: I don’t know. It’s not something we really discussed with the Post Office. It’s really not something I have discussed with them.

Ms Hodge: In terms of your day-to-day interactions though with those that – your managers, the helpline, do you feel that those experiences have improved?

Nancy Chant: There is an improvement in that I now have an area manager. When I first took over the post office you had an area manager, you felt you were on a one-to-one, you felt you could phone her up to see whatever was going on. There was one occasion where I had balanced and it was bad. I think it was maybe at least £1,000, and I phoned her up. She goes, “Oh, it will be there, it will be there”, and it was crazy, because the next day at the very back of safe it was sitting at the back of the safe. I had missed it when I had been doing my reconciliations that night; it was just a bag at the back. But you had that personal touch. Once the computer came in then you had a helpline, and the helpline were impersonal. It was just totally different. And over the last four, five years they’ve reintroduced an area manager, and it’s back to being a bit more personal. It’s nicer.

Ms Hodge: I have no further questions that I’d like to ask you. Is there anything that you’d like to say to the Chair?

Nancy Chant: Yes. Thank you. If I can hold the paper without shaking.

Sir Wyn, I find it difficult to describe to you what impact this shortfall has had on me and my family, but thank you for giving me the opportunity to give evidence to you. I always knew that I was responsible for any shortfalls in my office, and as such accepted responsibility. I was devastated when it 2007 I had a large shortfall of about 8,000. Pure fear and panic flooded through me. I contacted the helpline to report the loss, and spent days poring over transactions for that day. Nothing made sense. My son spent the day studying the CCTV footage in my shop and he couldn’t see anything that gave him any clue.

I lost a lot of confidence and became very nervous when cashing up. A few years later another shortfall had me doubting myself. Now that I’ve learned that the Post Office, while asking me to pay for these shortfalls, knew that the system was unreliable. I feel betrayed and very angry. Deductions were made from my remuneration for a few years, leaving me working 50 hours a week with very little to show for it while I paid rent and bills for the property, which took the rest of the cash. It was very difficult with my husband at that time, as he could not understand why I had to pay for something that I had not taken. He wanted me to refuse to pay it and fight. He wanted me to go to court and fight it. I tried to explain to him that there is nothing I could do, it was in my contract to pay shortfalls. He was raging.

The job I had loved was now causing me great anxiety at work and stress at home. In the beginning I convinced myself an error had taken place and it would be found and the losses would be rectified. To this day I’m still nervous when cashing up at night, and my stomach flips.

I would like to see everyone get their money back that they had to pay back to the Post Office. I know what I lived through was scary, but my heart goes out to those who were prosecuted. I would like to see them receive compensation, although no amount of money will ever compensate probably what these people had to live through. Thanks.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, thank you very much, Mrs Chant, for your description of the past, but also your description of the present. And if I may, I’m going to use the bits of evidence that you gave about the present as a vehicle to say that I have heard comparatively few people talk about the present so far. In due course I would like subpostmasters to come forward and tell me about the present, because part of my role is not just to look at the past, but to look at the present and the future. So thank you for sharing that part of your evidence with me, and thank you generally. Thank you.

Nancy Chant: Thank you.

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

Sir Wyn Williams: It does, and I’ll give Mr Enright a minute or two to talk to his client, and then we’ll have him in the hot seat to read a few summaries and then conclude the proceedings.

Ms Hodge: Thank you.


Mr Enright: Sir, you’ve asked me to begin with the final Scottish –

Sir Wyn Williams: If you would, please, yes.

Mr Enright: And to read four others, so hopefully you have them in order.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, I deliberately annoyed my team, Mr Enright, by refusing to have them in order because I like moving my papers around every now and then. That’s just to introduce a little light heartedness into what is obviously a very serious occasion.

Mr Enright: The order I was hoping to address is Mr Brian Macaulay, Ms Joanne George, Ms Pauline Coyle.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Enright: Anonymised Witness 0301.

Sir Wyn Williams: 0301? Yes.

Mr Enright: And Mr Peter Holloway.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much.

Mr Enright: Thank you, sir. With your permission.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Mr Brian Macaulay

Mr Brian Macaulay, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, you and your panel, of course, have read with care the full witness statements of the individuals whose summaries I will be reading to you now.

I’d like to begin with Mr Brian Macaulay, who is a subpostmaster of two Post Office branches in Scotland. He operated his main branch, the Kilmaurs post office, from around September 2014 to December 2016 with his sons, and he operated an outreach branch in Kilmarnock from around 2015 to December 2016.

Brian attended a couple of days’ training on the Horizon System before starting work at the branch. The training was run at the Post Office Training Centre here in Glasgow. Brian says a trainer also attended the branch on the first day he opened, to show him how to complete the daily and monthly balances. Brian described this as a shambles. During the balance there was a shortfall, and the trainer did not stay to help him work out where the balance had gone wrong. Brian says the training was completely inadequate; he did not feel as though it prepared him to run a post office.

Brian says he paid in excess of £20,000 to the Post Office in relation to shortfalls. He would often telephone the helpline when shortfalls arose, and trace back through transactions to see if he could find any obvious mistakes. When he could not find any errors, he would opt to settle the shortfall by cash on the Horizon System.

In 2016 Brian experienced two large shortfalls. The first amounted to some £39,765.05, which Brian did not repay. He then experienced another shortfall later on in 2016 that amounted to £107,618.89. Brian received a letter from the Post Office demanding repayment of this sum, but was unaware of how or where this alleged shortfall came from, and whether it related to the previous £39,765 shortfall.

Following an audit Brian was contacted by his contracts manager, who confirmed that they had found an alleged shortfall, and that his appointment was suspended. As a result, Brian could no longer work in the branch until the Post Office had concluded their investigations. Brian says:

“I was absolutely shattered by my suspension because I had no idea what the problems were and how these shortfalls kept occurring.”

Brian’s appointment was eventually terminated in December 2016.

After losing the post office he tried to keep his retail business running, but due to a huge drop in footfall and rumours that were circulating about him, Brian’s retail business was no longer sustainable. He had no option but to close.

Brian says he was under a huge amount of pressure as a result of the actions of the Post Office, and his mental health was seriously impacted, as well as his relationships. Brian says:

“The consequences of being held responsible for the shortfalls were that I lost my business, my home, my family, I was out of a job, and my kids were also out of a job … My entire life was falling apart as a result of the actions of the Post Office … I considered ending it all by taking my own life; I had nothing to live for anymore. The Post Office are the most evil people I know.”

Mrs Joanne George

Mrs Joanne George, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mrs Joanne George was the subpostmistress of the Baschurch post office in Newtown from March 2013 to October 2016. Mrs George and her husband ran a hardware store, and expanded the business to include a Post Office branch. Joanne attended an eight-day Horizon training course prior to the branch opening. She found the training rushed. Three Post Office trainers came into her branch to shadow her. Joanne says this was not helpful, as the Post Office trainers chatted amongst themselves. Joanne says she would contact the helpline two to three times a week. She found them rude and unhelpful. Their advice was always to pay the shortfalls. Joanne estimates that in total she paid in the region of £12,000 over the years in shortfalls. Joanne was not suspended, but instead accepted closure under the Network Transformation scheme. The constant stress of the shortfalls and lack of support from the Post Office led Joanne to feeling as though she had no other option but to accept closure.

At the final audit before the Network Transformation Scheme a £450 shortfall was discovered. Mrs George disputed this, but the Post Office warned her that she would not receive anything if she did not pay the shortfall. Joanne felt she was being blackmailed. Joanne was ordered by the Post Office to hand over all her paperwork and to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Joanne’s contract was then terminated.

Mrs George blames the Post Office for the loss of her business. It was valued at £480,000, but Joanne was told she must accept the Post Office offer of £42,000, and was prevented from selling her business. Joanne says her mental and physical health declined. Joanne became suspicious of family members, and even asked her son if he had stolen the money. Joanne attempted suicide.

Mrs George and her husband now live in a mobile work. She has not worked since her business closed, as she finds it very hard to trust anyone. Joanne says:

“My life has been forever changed by the actions of the Post Office … I was leading a happy family life and running a successful business. I was forced out and made to sell my business at a loss … It has felt as though we are on a merry-go-round with no end. All I hope is that we can finally put the situation behind us and have some closure.”

Ms Pauline Coyle, statement summarised

Mr Enright: Sir, Pauline Coyle is the current subpostmistress at Bonby post office in Brigg, North Lincolnshire. She and her husband consider that they were thrown in at the deep end with the Horizon System. She had to be trained by her husband initially, who was unsure of the system. She describes this as the blind leading the blind. Subsequent on-site training was inadequate. It soon became clear that there were problems with the Horizon System. Ms Coyle was told by the helpline that the problems were her fault, and payments were deducted from her wages. Pauline requested an audit in 2014, and a shortfall of over £1,600 was identified in relation to stocks of stamps which she had never received. Pauline says:

“I was very stressed, very worried, but also incredibly angry. It was the injustice of having someone come into my business, and tell me that I owed a huge amount of money and implied that I had been stealing.”

The auditor told Ms Coyle that he knew that she and her husband had not stolen anything, but that she was liable anyway. Pauline escalated the matter, and the Post Office agreed to write off the stamps against monies which the Post Office owed to the Coyles. Pauline says:

“My retirement is being delayed, and we are being forced to live somewhere we do not want to live, and being forced to do a job that we do not want to do.”

Pauline says that the problems created distrust in her marriage, and she became distressed and frustrated. She’s been unable to sell her post office for some eight years now, and her retirement plans have been frustrated. Pauline says:

“I also feel very strongly that subpostmasters should be put back into the position that they should have been in if the shambolic operation of the Post Office had been better, and the scandal better managed.” Anonymous Witness 0301, statement summarised

Mr Enright: Sir, Anonymous Witness 0301 was a subpostmaster from July 2000 to May 2016. The witness sold his property abroad. This enabled him to buy a post office and a home in the UK. The witness thought he would run the post office until his retirement, and he would be able to retire early. The training and the trainers were inadequate. The witness would be up until 1.00 am on a Wednesday to get the figure on the Horizon System to balance. He called the helpline every week, sometimes more than five times in one day, regarding shortfalls or balancing.

The helpline would actually make the loss double, by giving the witness the wrong information. The shortfall amounts varied, but continued over the 16 years of the witness’s tenure. The Post Office would not let the witness pay the shortfalls back by deducting from his salary, so the witness paid for those shortfalls with his credit card. By this time the witness was behind on his gas and electricity bills, and behind on his taxes.

The shortfalls were revealed on balance nights. The witness spent hours looking at rolls of paper, trying to find the cause of the shortfalls. The witness would be up as late as 4.00 am looking for discrepancies, but he could not find the shortfalls. He felt that the system was designed so that you could not find them.

The witness feared that his contract would be terminated by the Post Office every Thursday morning. He would always look through the window on a Thursday to see if anyone was there, following a balance on a Wednesday. The Post Office had told him that if he did not pay back the shortfalls, he could be subject to prosecution. The witness estimates that he could well have repaid shortfalls in excess of £25,000. Even today the witness has debts that he is still paying off, and feels that the emotional scars on his wife and family will never heal.

The witness and his wife’s reputation was damaged in the community. They were no longer asked to open the church gala or organise pensioners’ days. Their shop window was smashed, they did not feel safe in their own home. The witness’s parents suffered, as they heard people at church running them down and saying there is no smoke without fire.

The witness was party to the Group Litigation, which the witness feels turned out to be a joke. The witness feels that he and his wife should have been comfortably retired by now; however, they’re not. As the witness says:

“All because 20 years or so ago we decided to buy a lifestyle business in a quiet village, so our children would have a good future, away from the fast dog-eat-dog life, and we would be with our family.” The witness concludes:

“I would like for it to be over with. I would like to know where all the money went. We are bitter all because of a crappy computer system, but most of all by the mistreatment and lies of the unscrupulous Post Office Ltd management.”

Mr Peter Holloway

Mr Peter Holloway, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: And then finally, sir, Mr Peter Holloway, who was the subpostmaster of the Wareham post office in Dorset from September 2001 until April 2009.

The post office had three satellite offices for which he was responsible. Mr Holloway was also the temporary subpostmaster of the post office on King Street in Swanage from 2005 until 2006.

Mr Holloway experienced shortfalls in the Horizon System of approximately £28,000 at his branches. The Post Office responded to these shortfalls by claiming that Mr Holloway’s staff were stealing from him. Due to this, Mr Holloway began to mistrust his staff, and as a result he implemented measures and checks. This caused bad feelings amongst his staff, and created an uncomfortable working environment which resulted in the departure of some of his employees.

Despite having acknowledged that Mr Holloway was the best subpostmaster in the area, the Post Office conducted an audit and threatened to prosecute Mr Holloway, and then terminated his contract. Mr Holloway has suffered significant financial loss as a consequence of the actions of the Post Office. He went from being a successful and reputable businessman, to having to undertake low-paid work. For example, working 66 hours per week on jobs such as delivering vegetables.

Mr Holloway has suffered significant stigma in the community. He had to resign as chair of the local Chamber of Commerce. Mr Holloway says:

“When my wife and I walked down the street, former friends and acquaintances would turn their backs on us and cross the street to avoid us. When I got work doing food deliveries one of the company’s customers asked them to dismiss me, as they said I was a criminal. My employer refused, but the customer cancelled their order and refused to let me near their home.”

Mr Holloway and his wife have now left their local area to escape that stigma for which the Post Office is responsible. Mr Holloway says:

“The Post Office’s lack of support or sympathy for subpostmasters was unbelievable, and their fraudulent motives that have emerged are unforgivable. To behave as they did to other human beings, and to destroy and ruin their lives, is inhumane. Post Office Ltd and their senior managers and staff do not deserve to survive the scandal. The individuals should feel the full force of the law for knowingly making innocent people suffer.”

Thank you, sir.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mr Enright.

And that brings us to an end of our evidence gathering on human impact in Scotland. As I expected it would, it has provided us with further important insights into the damage caused by Horizon and decisions taken in relation to it. I’m very grateful to all of those who have participated in these hearings over the last day and a half.

I can now announce that we’re on the last lap, so to speak, of our human impact hearings, but we’re going to Belfast next week to complete our tour around the United Kingdom, and then that will see the end of this phase of the Inquiry.

So I’m grateful to the people in Scotland who have assisted me. I should give a plug to my team. They have made this run smoothly, so thank you to them. Although in many ways this is a sad occasion because we’re dealing with sad events, I have to say I have been very pleased to come to Scotland. So thank you all very much.

(1.02 pm)

(Adjourned until Wednesday, 18 May 2022)