Official hearing page

18 May 2022 – Deirdre Connolly, Heather Earley, Sinead Rainey, Katherine McAlerney, Julie Carter, John Dwyer, Joanne Foulger, Manhar Mistry, Susan McKnight, Karl Reid, Victor Price and Shahnaz Rashid

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(2.30 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Good afternoon everyone and can I say that my colleagues and I are very pleased to be in Belfast. We’re very pleased to see people in the public gallery which has been unusual, so far, not just because of Covid but for other reasons, no doubt.

We always felt it important that we should come to all parts of the affected people’s places of work and where they live and so we’ve been to London, we’ve been to Cardiff, we’ve been to Leeds, we’ve been to Glasgow and now we’re in Belfast.

These sessions today and tomorrow will bring to a close what we’ve called the human impact sessions, ie those accounts from various people about the effect all this has had upon their lives. So it’s been very important for us to hear that evidence. That being so, I am extremely grateful to all of those people who have made witness statements and to those who have made witness statements who’ve also made themselves available to give oral evidence. We are extremely grateful to you all.

With those words of introduction, I shall hand over to Ms Kennedy. You may have discerned that I am Welsh. You may discern that Ms Kennedy is from these parts but I leave that to her when she speaks.

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

Deirdre Connolly


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Could you confirm your name, please?

Deirdre Connolly: Deirdre Connolly.

Ms Kennedy: In front of you, you should have a witness statement; do you have one there?

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Did you make this statement for the Inquiry?

Deirdre Connolly: I did, yes.

Ms Kennedy: It should run to 12 pages?

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Is that your signature at the end there on the last page?

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Deirdre Connolly: I have, yes.

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

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: I am going to start, if I may, by asking a few questions about you. Where in Northern Ireland do you live?

Deirdre Connolly: I live in Strabane, in West Tyrone.

Ms Kennedy: Who do you live with?

Deirdre Connolly: My husband and two children.

Ms Kennedy: Where did you grow up?

Deirdre Connolly: I grew up in Killeter, outside Castlederg, where I had the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a bit about that please?

Deirdre Connolly: Killeter?

Ms Kennedy: Yes.

Deirdre Connolly: It’s rural, it’s on the Donegal border and it was – from where I lived, the shop was about three or four miles and I went there with my granny to lift her pensions on a Thursday when I was younger. So when the opportunity arose to take over the shop and Post Office, I jumped for it.

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

Deirdre Connolly: I worked doing credit control within a cooking oil company and they moved premises and I left the company as it built itself up to be a big company. He didn’t want me leaving but we felt it was a good opportunity for us as a family to try and better ourselves.

Ms Kennedy: You took over that branch in March 2006; is that about right?

Deirdre Connolly: 1 February 2006.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel at that time about taking over the Post Office?

Deirdre Connolly: Excited, excited. It’s a big company. I thought, “This will be us, this will be our retirement fund”.

Ms Kennedy: How much did you pay for your Post Office?

Deirdre Connolly: We paid for the shop. There was a shop, a house and three stores, so the shop and house was 225,000 and the stores were 75, but this – we only leased it for the first two years to see if we could get it built up because it had been run down. We said we’ll give it two years to see if we can build it up. So we done that and then we agreed a price one week before we actually signed anything. So that was the price then two years later.

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

Deirdre Connolly: None.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel using Horizon?

Deirdre Connolly: I relied on the previous subpostmaster to come in and show me how to do basic transactions chip and PIN, to give the pensioners their money out, postage stamps. That was basically the only training I got. Post Office did say that they took me to Belfast for training for a week but that didn’t happen.

Ms Kennedy: Did you use the helpline at all?

Deirdre Connolly: The helpline was – I phoned numerous times but it was getting nowhere and they actually didn’t understand my accent.

Sir Wyn Williams: I have that problem!

Ms Kennedy: You were later approached to take over some other outreach sites.

Deirdre Connolly: Yes, in 2009.

Ms Kennedy: Could you tell us a bit about those?

Deirdre Connolly: In 2009 I was approached to take on two the other outreach sites. The previous person who was doing them they had got a warning from the police that there was tiger kidnappings at that stage in Northern Ireland. That means that families were being held hostage and somebody would be taken to take money out of the safe so he gave it up. So I offered to do it, for some reason.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about taking on those places?

Deirdre Connolly: Challenge. Yes, I didn’t mind because the people I knew – I actually knew areas and they were very remote and I said, “There’s old people there need their pensions, as well as everybody else”.

Ms Kennedy: What support did Post Office offer you in running those two rural places?

Deirdre Connolly: They gave me a computer and a case to bring me money and a panic alarm button but the panic alarm button needs a signal and the two sites, they’re rural, so there was no network. And, on occasion, I did have to call the police because I thought I was being followed, and I phoned up the helpline and explained this to them and they said, “Press your panic alarm”. That was the response I got from them. It’s just very rural. The whole area was very rural. I was nervous. After that I was very nervous taking the money anywhere.

Ms Kennedy: Someone came to visit you on 2 June 2010; is that right?

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Do you want to tell us how you first came across this person?

Deirdre Connolly: Yes, I went up as normal to open the shop about 8.20 and there was this car. Because Killeter is in a really rural village everybody knew everybody else’s car. So I recognised this as a strange car, so I didn’t get out of my car until somebody local came and then this man come out, got out the car and he introduced himself as Terry Smithson from Post Office and he was there to do an audit and I said, “That’s fine”.

So I opened up the door and I went in and I went down. And because it’s a time-lock safe, I went down and I set the time lock, I think it was 15 minutes from memory, I can’t really remember but – he put up a sign “Audit in progress”, and I just left him to it up there. So it was in the back of the shop, just a wee box in the back of the shop, the Post Office was.

So I continued to open the shop, get papers out and all the rest, and about 9.00 I had somebody coming in to do the shop to let me – normally, I would do the rollover or the balancing on a Wednesday.

So she came in and I went up to the office to just pick up some paperwork and stuff and shortly after 9.00 I got a knock on the door from Mr Smithson and he says, “There’s a discrepancy”, and I looked at him and I says, “How much?” And he says, “A big one”. I went, “Can’t be”. I says, “Let me go up and check”. He says, “No”. He says, “I have to suspend you”, and he took the keys and done whatever he needed and I was just totally shocked, didn’t know –

I phoned my husband. He was down at home. So he got straight up, he was up in 15/20 minutes and he couldn’t – just didn’t understand what was happening.


Sir Wyn Williams: You take as much time as you like, all right.

Deirdre Connolly: So Darius come up and we talked about it and we went out for a drive just to clear our heads. We just couldn’t understand how discrepancy – he did tell me it was about £16/17,000 discrepancy. I says, “It can’t be, it really can’t be. Let me go in and check” and I couldn’t go in and check.

So I couldn’t cope. I had to go home and Darius stayed in the shop with him and he was there until about 4.00 in the shop that day, and he was – whatever he done, he changed codes or whatever and he left about 4.00. So then he said he’d be back following week to do a rollover again. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to come out of the house after that but my husband, Darius, he was in the shop the following week and all of a sudden, it was only maybe 15/20 minutes, and Darius has said that he come up from the Post Office with a wad of notes and says there’s £1,000 I found in the safe that didn’t see last week. So that reduced my discrepancy to £15,592. Didn’t put much faith in auditors at that stage.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel at that time?

Deirdre Connolly: Regarding that?

Ms Kennedy: Yes.

Deirdre Connolly: Disgusted. I thought, well, if he found £1,000 there this week, what else did he miss last week? I couldn’t understand, like, how can you find – it’s not a big safe. It’s only a small safe, so the cash was there and I wasn’t in the office that day at all because he’s been in there doing the audit. So how could he miss it?

Ms Kennedy: Did he show you anything that evidenced the alleged shortfall?

Deirdre Connolly: He give me paperwork at some stage but that was – that was, my head wasn’t looking at it.

Ms Kennedy: I think shortly afterwards you received a letter then. Do you want to tell us about that?

Deirdre Connolly: The first letter was to go to a meeting at Royal Mail headquarters here in Belfast. The NFSP representative come with me and he was from County Down. I can’t remember his name. He came with me and my husband, and Darius wasn’t allowed anywhere near it. I was – I had tablets and I almost had to be sedated, I wasn’t able to cope. But I went to this meeting and all I remember is that he told me to plead guilty and pay the money back and I just – I said no.

And the second meeting then, there was a second further meeting with the fraud investigator, Suzanne Winters, and that morning myself, Darius and the family solicitor went up and we went in, walked up the stairs and, before we got near the room, Suzanne Winters frogmarched my husband out to the street to say that he wasn’t allowed to be in with me, let the family solicitor come in and said to him, “This is a tape recording but you’re not looking to say anything”.

There was another man then there. She said to me this man has been flown in from London this morning to interview you. That was – that wasn’t a nice experience. In the middle of the whole thing he said to me, “Did you take the money for the paramilitaries?” In Northern Ireland, if you mention paramilitaries that’s dangerous territory you are treading in. All I could think on was, “Is it going to get out, it is going to be said I’ve been taking money?” And I felt then for the safety of my family.

Ms Kennedy: What were you worried about in relation to the paramilitaries, could you just elaborate?

Deirdre Connolly: To be taking money for paramilitaries in Northern Ireland it’s very, very dangerous. Anything to do with paramilitaries in Northern Ireland is dangerous, and if that got out into the county, or Killeter, or whatever, anything could happen to you or your family.

Sir Wyn Williams: These two interviews that you had –

Deirdre Connolly: Interrogation, as I call it.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, fine. Were there any formalities at the beginning like, for example, issuing you with a caution?

Deirdre Connolly: They said that they would interview me under caution and they did have tapes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Were both the sessions tape recorded or just the second one?

Deirdre Connolly: Just the second one.

Sir Wyn Williams: Just the second one.

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: When they said it was an interview under caution, did they actually use the words of a caution, which begins something along lines of “You don’t have to say anything but anything you do say”?

Deirdre Connolly: No.

Sir Wyn Williams: Nothing like that?

Deirdre Connolly: No, just said –

Sir Wyn Williams: They just used the expression “interview under caution”?

Deirdre Connolly: Interview under caution. And I haven’t got a copy of the recording. When I was going through the litigation, it was nowhere to be found.

Sir Wyn Williams: Did they ever send you one and you just couldn’t find it or you didn’t receive one?

Deirdre Connolly: No, I never got one.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s fine.

Ms Kennedy: What happened after that interview?

Deirdre Connolly: We come back out into the car and the family solicitor said to my husband, he says, “Get the money gathered. That woman won’t be able to cope”. It was getting difficult.

Ms Kennedy: So what did you and your husband do?

Deirdre Connolly: Darius contacted his mother, I contacted my mother and my uncle and we got the money gathered up and we sent a cheque to Brian Trotter. I sent a letter with the cheque asking him to investigate where the discrepancy was and if I had made a mistake to let me know, and I’m still waiting on an answer. It was never replied to.

Ms Kennedy: Did you pay back, I think you said, 15,000?

Deirdre Connolly: 15,592.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about the impact that all of this has had on you. You have mentioned some of the money that you lost. Are there any other financial losses you have suffered as a result of this?

Deirdre Connolly: Well, we had to remortgage the house. We went bankrupt with debts because people stopped coming into the shop. The debts built up and we were declared bankrupt in 2013. So that was another frown upon us. Then, May 2013, I took epilepsy with the stress of it – at 43 years of age I took epilepsy.

Financially, we were just ruined. We did get to keep our house because there was no equity on it. That’s the one saving grace.

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

Deirdre Connolly: Well, myself, there’s the epilepsy and the fear of going out. I didn’t come out of the house for about three years. When I did go out, I would cross the street if I’d seen anybody that I knew from the area and I would put my head down and would just walk on. Even taking the epilepsy, I couldn’t drive for a year so, therefore, I was stuck in the house and the only company I had was the dog, Toby, and he seemed to get me through it. It sounds stupid, and so on, but somebody – I had to talk to somebody.

Ms Kennedy: What about your husband?

Deirdre Connolly: Darius, he had to go through it all on his own in Killeter. He had to hear people talking behind our backs, face. He was my rock. Then he’s got high blood pressure at this stage now. That’s obviously an effect. My son and daughter both have anxiety as they watched what happened to me.

Ms Kennedy: You have mentioned your epilepsy.

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: What other impacts did this have on your health and your mental health?

Deirdre Connolly: Well, as far as mental health – my mental health will never be the same again. Constant tablets. I actually did go to a life coach, who has helped me give me coping techniques, which I do use try and use. Medically, I’m going to be on epilepsy tablets for the rest of my life. You’re just always waiting on a seizure. You just don’t know when.

Ms Kennedy: What do you want from the Post Office now?

Deirdre Connolly: Accountability. Just accountability and I’d like an apology but that’s long past that.

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

Deirdre Connolly: I have a statement if that’s all right.

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course.

Deirdre Connolly: Thank you for coming to Northern Ireland to hear our stories. On 2 June 2010, my life changed drastically thanks to the Post Office. I’ve lost 12 years of my life and my children, Gemma and Sean, lost the independent, happy-go-lucky mother they knew. My husband, Darius, lost the vibrant woman he married in 1991.

The Post Office made us use a computer system that they knew was not fit for purpose. Thye told each and every accused subpostmaster who experienced problems that they were the only one this had happened to. This was untrue. They used trainers to do so-called audits, the used bully-boy tactics in their fraud interviews, interrogations.

I want those people in authority who gave the orders to treat all subpostmasters like criminals to be punished, especially in my case when the Post Office investigators threatened my life and security and the lives and security of my family when they suggested that I took the money for paramilitaries.

I want all subpostmasters to be compensated fairly, especially the 555, who so bravely opened up their lives to scrutiny when they went to litigation. We need this so we can all move on with what is left of our lives. I should be in the position now that I could spend more time with my newborn grandson but I can’t afford to take time off work. I’m living week to week financially.

On 1 January 2021, I had a break down. I knew I had to get help.

I want accountability. A lot of people in senior positions knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it. I want those people in authority who decided to hide evidence that showed the system was faulty to be prosecuted.

Post Office ruined my life physically and mentally. I want to be able to wake up every morning and not be thinking of Post Office. I want and need closure, Sir Wyn.

Questions From Sir Wyn Williams

Sir Wyn Williams: Can I just ask you one or two questions?

Deirdre Connolly: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: First of all, I think you were one of the 555?

Deirdre Connolly: I was, yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. And then you describe this incident in June 2010, audit and so forth. Before that, had you had trouble dealing with Horizon? Had you had shortfalls? What sort of picture was it?

Deirdre Connolly: There was shortfalls but they weren’t big. I put it down to counting the lotto because it was in the shop and I thought counting the lotto scratch cards was wrong or something like that. That’s what I put it down to.

Sir Wyn Williams: Some people have described shortfalls as, say, up to about £50 as being not very much.

Deirdre Connolly: The same.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right, that’s fine. So this large shortfall literally came out of the blue as far as you were concerned?

Deirdre Connolly: Mmm. Can I also say, Sir Wyn, on the outreach sites that I went to, the telecommunications would have fell, would have dropped. So when you would put transactions through, you could have been swiping it twice/three times because it kept declining, and a number of times it had to be changed, the computer had to be changed, but I had no record of that. I had no record of anything else. And BT engineers had come out to the phone lines on those different sites.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, we’ve heard similar accounts to that from people from all different parts of the country, yes. All right. Well, thanks so much for coming to give evidence.

Deirdre Connolly: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: It is difficult, I know, but you got through it and you’re fine; so thanks again.

Deirdre Connolly: Thank you, Sir Wyn.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. We’re going to take a few minutes’ break now because we’re not actually pressed very much for time this afternoon. So we’ll take a few minutes and reconvene when everyone’s ready.

(2.55 pm)

(A short break)

(3.04 pm)

Ms Kennedy: Chair, our next witness is Mrs Earley.

Heather Earley


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Could you confirm your full name, please?

Heather Earley: It’s Heather Earley.

Ms Kennedy: In front of you, you should have a witness statement. Is that your witness statement that you prepared for the Inquiry?

Heather Earley: It is.

Ms Kennedy: It should run to 16 pages?

Heather Earley: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Is that your signature on the last page?

Heather Earley: It is, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Heather Earley: I have.

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

Heather Earley: It is.

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

Heather Earley: 58.

Ms Kennedy: Who do you live with?

Heather Earley: I live with my husband.

Ms Kennedy: Whereabouts in Northern Ireland do you live?

Heather Earley: I new in Newtownabbey.

Ms Kennedy: How many children do you have?

Heather Earley: I have three children.

Ms Kennedy: How long have you lived where you are currently living?

Heather Earley: Probably about 32 years.

Ms Kennedy: Before you became a subpostmistress what kind of work did you do?

Heather Earley: I always worked in accounts. I worked for a company for 28 years and worked my way from receptionist up to manager for accounts.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you decide to leave that and work for the Post Office?

Heather Earley: Well, we went for a drive one day and, where I used to live in Mossley, this shop, which was really the heart of the community, had closed down and we were driving past it and I said it would be nice to do something completely different, you know, something that would take me into retirement, you know. And I was just getting to the stage that I wanted a complete break from office work and just move into been doing something different. So we applied for the shop.

Ms Kennedy: How did you feel about taking over that shop?

Heather Earley: I was excited because I grew up in Mossley. Most of my life, you know, from the age of seven I’ve lived there, and I knew everybody and everybody knew me and really, at the end of the day, we wanted to – because we knew everyone, the shop would have been easy.

Ms Kennedy: Who did you employ in your Post Office?

Heather Earley: It was mainly our family. It was – my daughter-in-law worked for a time with me and my son and my elder daughter really came in the night when they could help out and my eldest daughter would help as well.

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

Heather Earley: We were known as a Post Office Local, which meant we only get like five days, but three days were just us and the trainer, and two days was when it was actually customers. But what you have to remember was our shop was already there and we were already trying to settle our people in the shop.

So some people may be standing in the shop and trainer’s trying to train you and there are only two of you and you are trying to run from one end of the counter to the other because you are trying to keep the customers coming to the shop as well as try and train.

Ms Kennedy: How adequate did you feel the training was that you received?

Heather Earley: It wasn’t very good because I expected to be took to a classroom at some stage and trained properly but that never happened and, when he was doing his training, at first I couldn’t grasp it. I couldn’t understand the system, you know, constantly he maybe would have showed you postage, and then he showed you parcels, he might have showed you cash withdrawals but, anything other than that, I hadn’t got a clue.

Ms Kennedy: When you say “the system”, do you mean Horizon?

Heather Earley: Yes, I mean, Horizon, yes.

Ms Kennedy: Did you use the helpline at all?

Heather Earley: I used it quite a lot, yes. I’m the type of person if I ring the helpline that, you know, I take a name and a number and every time I’d have rang back, that person you asked for is never available or they didn’t really know who they were. You were just constantly hitting your head off a brick wall.

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

Heather Earley: Well, we didn’t know they were shortfalls at the beginning because when our trainer was even there we found that, even the first day he done the cash declaration with us, it was wrong and he says, “Oh, don’t worry about that, when you start up and running everything will work out fine”, and we just felt that every day we done the cash declaration it was never right. We never got a zero.

We always had, maybe, £50 out, maybe £100 out, maybe £2 out, but I was constantly lifting it from the till or the shop and putting it in because my whole fear was, working in accounts, you always make sure everything’s right. I constantly would have looked for 1p if it was out. So it was just me myself who was very particular on where this money was and I just couldn’t find it and I kept thinking, “Well, tomorrow will be another day, it will be different and maybe put it back in again”, but it didn’t.

Ms Kennedy: I think you mention in your statement, between November and December 2013, there was a big shortfall which I think it was caused by a woman who was withdrawing money. Do you want to tell us about that?

Heather Earley: Yes. We had a girl who’d come into the shop and, like anything, if anyone comes in for a cash withdrawal, they put the card in the machine the other side of the counter, they say to you how much they want and you’d do on the system and you hand over the money. But where the system was always showing red for not doing something or green for doing something, and it was, yellow and it was really weird because I’d never see it that before.

So I rang the helpline and said, “What does this yellow mean? It just seems a bit strange”.

“Oh, it’s okay, nothing to worry about, carry on”.

So the girl kept coming in every single day. They started with £50 then it was £100, and then it was £500, and I started then to get really suspicious and I rang the Post Office and I says, “Look, this is suspicious activity and I’m reporting it and could you check it out?” And they says, “No, no, everything seems fine with me, you know, carry on just” – I says, “But, no, it’s not right. There’s something just not right”.

The girl would have come into the shop with change to buy cigarettes and here she was lifting all this money every day, and it just it didn’t add up.

So at the end of my balance in December, it was over £10,000 out and I rang the Post Office and I says, “There’s no way”. I said, “It has to be something to do with that card”. One of the times just after Christmas, she came with her card again, it was – it must have been a piece of dirt or something, and I had took the card off her to try and help her and I looked at the card, and it was a strange card I had never seen – it was no local bank, it was no national bank, it was a strange card, and I remember sort of in my head thinking, “I must look at that when I get home”.

So when I get home I investigated a wee bit more myself and it was actually a pay-in card. So when the girl was paying – coming and asking me for £50, she was really getting 100 because £50 went back into her account. So what she got out, she got back in again very quickly and that’s why she was able to come every day and lift money, because she lifted £500; £500 was going into her bank account and I was out £1,000.

So I reported to the Post Office and they says, “No, everything is fine” again. I says, “Look, it’s not fine”. I says, “I don’t have £10,000”, and they says, “Well, if you’re not happy with it, ring the police”. So I did because I wasn’t happy and the police come up to the shop and told them all what happened and, firstly, they couldn’t get their head round what I was trying tell them. I says, “Look, there’s something with this system or there’s something with her card, her card maybe making this happen, I don’t know”.

But they says, “Look, we’ve got her name, we’ll try and find out where she lives”. So they took her name and they couldn’t find where she lived. She’s in my shop every day, she lived local and they couldn’t find her. But I’d seen her go into a house one day and I rang the police and said, “Look, she must live round this area”. So they did come and they arrested her and I contacted the Post Office and told them all this and says, “The police are looking at the paperwork to see if they can look at the transactions that this girl has done, to see, you know, where the money has went”. And the Post Office says, “No, we can’t give that do you due to data protection”. They asked for the inspector – an inspector would have to get a summons to ask for this.

Three months later, I’m still on the phone trying sort it out, I’m still out this money. Post Office start telling me I have to pay it all back. They started to take it from my remuneration. They started to ask me for the money and, in the meantime, my declaration every day was still wrong. Eventually, they got the girl. She pleaded guilty –

Sir Wyn Williams: Excuse me, before we get there, just so that I’m clear about what was happening, the person was using a card?

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Horizon computer system was authorising you to pay the money she was asking for?

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: But, at the same time, was crediting her account, I followed that.

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: But you said something about there being a green for go, red for stop, and a yellow. I want to explore the amber, if I can. What does that mean?

Heather Earley: When you look at the screen, there was always a line green that says “To pay”.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right.

Heather Earley: And then if something come up red there was something wrong with the transaction.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, so don’t pay.

Heather Earley: But it come up yellow and I had never seen it before. It said “pay” but it was in yellow, and I had asked the Post Office –

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s the bit I didn’t understand. It was still authorising you to pay.

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: But it was a different colour from what you normally had on your machine?

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay, I’m with you now. Thanks.

Ms Kennedy: How much money did the Post Office take from you or deduct from you because of this?

Heather Earley: Well, they made me pay back the £10,000-odd. They also said that they were stamps short one time when they came and did an audit. I told them there were Christmas stamps and I had posted them back. They said they had no record of them and they were probably shredded by now. I said, you know, “I definitely put them back in”. And I looked through the safe and I’m very meticulous about receipts and we keep them nearly forever, but I could not find the receipt and I kept saying, “Look, there’s the bound to be something on the system, when the – whoever was collecting the postage stamp that day would have scanned to tell me that they got them stamps back”.

“No, no, there’s nothing. You have to pay that back”.

So I had to pay that back there and then or they says, “We’re going to close you down if you don’t pay £112”. I says, “£112”? I says, “I have paid back thousands to you and £112 you’re going to close my doors?” And they says, “Yeah, yeah. Well, if you pay it now, we’ll keep your doors open”.

But I was afraid of losing the Post Office for the people in the community. The elderly people needed the Post Office, the people in the area needed the shop, and if one went, the other was going to go, but I just couldn’t afford to start – I constantly lifted money out of my till into the Post Office.

Ms Kennedy: How much money in total do you think you paid into the Post Office?

Heather Earley: I couldn’t honestly tell you on a daily basis how much it was but all I know that what I had to pay to keep my head above water was nearly £50,000.

Ms Kennedy: You mention in your statement that you underwent some audits. Can you tell us about how you found the audits?

Heather Earley: Well, they put a sign up to say they’re doing an audit and we were a busy shop and people were coming in and trying use the convenience store part, and I’m talking the length of that table: the shop was there, the Post Office was there. You know, they were nearly – they kept on saying, “Why is your Post Office not open? Is there something wrong with your Post Office?” I said, “No, they are doing an audit”. If you don’t pay whatever is missing they close you down. They take your keys. I didn’t want that to happen.

Ms Kennedy: What did you decide to do eventually?

Heather Earley: Eventually, when the girl had went to court and she pleaded guilty for what she’d done, my husband and I went into a side room where the public prosecutors are, and they says, “Think yourself lucky that she pleaded guilty”, and I says, “Why?” He says, “Because these folders here are all about the Post Office”. I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “Have you heard of Panorama?” I go, “Yeah, I have but I don’t know nothing to do – I don’t know what these files are for”.

He says, “Well, if she hadn’t pleaded guilty you would have been up against the Post Office. That’s why I’m here today”.

Ms Kennedy: What happened to your Post Office?

Heather Earley: Well, enough was enough and I couldn’t cope anymore. I was getting loans off family members, I was using my credit cards. I had three credit cards maxed just to get stock for the shop. I wasn’t even telling my husband half the things that was going on. I just felt that I was trying deal with it and I felt that, at the time, I was strong enough to deal with it but I wasn’t.


Ms Kennedy: It’s okay. Please don’t apologise.

Heather Earley: So I decided if I stop the Post Office and hand my notice in that maybe the shop would survive on its own but it never was. People would have came in and said, “Why are you closing your Post Office?” And I go, “Look, it was my decision, it’s not the Post Office decision”.

“Oh, you know, my mummy needs this Post Office for her pension, she lives beside the Post Office and you’re closing it down”. The people who really knew me knew that I wasn’t that type of person, you know, because I grew up in the area but these are people who have come into the area over the years who didn’t know me and just felt it was my fault.

Ms Kennedy: How did it feel hearing people say things like that to you?

Heather Earley: I was gutted. It was horrendous what me and my family went through.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going to ask you some questions about the impact that all of this has had on you. You just mentioned your family a moment ago. What impact has this had on your family?

Heather Earley: Well, as I say, my daughter-in-law worked there for a time. Her and my son were not long married. They obviously had to pay back a wedding, they were paying for a wedding and they had a new child coming along, and, you know, she didn’t have a job. My oldest daughter was a one-parent family and she had another job. But we tried to help her out the best we could with that job, and my youngest daughter was going to university and we just couldn’t afford it.

Ms Kennedy: What about your ties to the community? How do you think it affected those?

Heather Earley: I can honestly say think I drove past the shop twice/three times. I don’t go near the shop. I don’t go near the area. We done so much for the shop and the community when we had it. We’d have had Santa grottos for the children in the area, just to bring people in and they all loved it. But I can’t –

I live on the main road and I live beside – well, it’s not far from where the shop would be, the Post Office. If I’m in the front garden and I know somebody going down the hill or that walked into the Post Office, I would go round the back. I wouldn’t even like to meet people. I find it hard to sleep. I ended up with rosacea that caused by face to break out. I had to get biopsies done to my face. It was all through stress. I was in a very dark place.

Ms Kennedy: What about your relationship with your husband?

Heather Earley: I felt at the time that if I was telling him things it was an added pressure because not only I was trying to cope with it all myself and keep so much from children but, as much as he is a help, he sort of would have asked, “Why did you not see that coming?” type of thing or, you know, “Where is the money? If you know where the money is, where is it?” You know, but I think all that I was trying to cope with it before I’d have to (unclear) but I had to tell him in the end because we went to the bank account one day and there was nothing in it because I had to use it for the shop.

Ms Kennedy: What about your work? What kind of jobs do you do now?

Heather Earley: When I first closed the shop I worked for – taking photographs of babies in the hospital. It was all minimum wage. I then worked for security in the airport, which is minimum wage. I’m now back in an office but I have – with all what’s going on here, I’m actually out with stress at the minute, because I just can’t cope and I don’t really want to go back to reliving that time again. I’m trying to put it behind me. I’ve even said to my family and they are going, “No, you need to go and speak, you need to tell people your story”. I said, “I don’t – I don’t want to do it”.

And I know there’s other people out there who feel the same way I do, and they need to come forward, they need to tell people their story because, at the end of the day, Sir Wyn has very nicely came and listened to us and I thank him for that.

Ms Kennedy: What do you want from the Post Office now?

Heather Earley: I want them to be held accountable for what they have done, for what they’ve put me and my family and the community through. Not just me, like, but, you know, there’s people who’s been sitting round tables making decisions about small post offices and where did my money go? Who has my money? Somebody must be sitting with a pot of gold somewhere.

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

Heather Earley: Yes, I would.

Questions From Sir Wyn Williams

Sir Wyn Williams: Before we get to that I just want to go back, if I may, to the issue of the amount that you repaid – sorry, you paid to the Post Office, in effect, because that woman had stolen money, yes.

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So they deducted the money from your salary – is that right –

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: – to get the money that they said was gone and how much actually did you pay? Can you remember?

Heather Earley: I paid – they’d take 4 out of my wages and I had to pay 6. So there’s 10,000.

Sir Wyn Williams: Okay. There came a point in time when she was convicted.

Heather Earley: Yes.

Sir Wyn Williams: So it was clear to the world that it was her not you.

Heather Earley: I actually went back to the Post Office.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s what I wanted to ask you about.

Did you say to the Post Office, “Well, look, hang on, this woman has now been convicted of doing this can I have the money please?”

Heather Earley: Yes, I called them after the hearing was finished and I said, “Look, we’ve just had the hearing. The girl has been found guilty, she’s pleaded guilty. Can I have my money back?” And he says, “No, we’re satisfied with what we have, you’re not getting it back”, type of thing. I go, “Well, I didn’t take your money”. They actually at one time accused me, because I knew her, that I was involved in it.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Heather Earley: And I wasn’t, and I had to actually use – at 55 I realised you could actually cash in some pension money and I cashed in £50,000 to keep my house because my husband and I were both – our names were on the Post Office and the shop and the house. I knew it was the only way of keeping my house.

Sir Wyn Williams: So, in short, the Post Office refused to return the money to you?

Heather Earley: Uh-huh.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, fine. You wanted to read a statement. I distracted you.

Heather Earley: No, you’re okay.

Sir Wyn, thank you very much for coming to Northern Ireland and listening to everyone today. I would like the people responsible in the Post Office and in the Government to be held accountable for what they did and what they did not do. I want them to be held responsible for the stress that me and my family have gone through financially and mentally.


We have suffered for too long. I had to cash in monies from my hard-earned pension pot to save our house and pay off debts and loans. This was the only way we could see a light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Not only did my family suffer but my community suffered. They lost their Post Office and local shop, which a lot of elderly people depended on. Justice needs to be served and I would like you, on our behalf, to do all you can that justice is done.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mrs Earley. I’m very grateful for you coming to give this evidence. It’s always a strain but you’ve done it; so that’s good, isn’t it? And I think I’d just like to say that it would be very easy for me to think that all these stories are similar but what your evidence has just demonstrated, as with so many other people’s evidence, is that there’s always something unique about what you have to say. So thanks very much.

Heather Earley: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right. Now another short break and then the next witness.

(3.27 pm)

(A short break)

(3.37 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: Mr Blake.

Sinead Rainey


Questioned by Mr Blake

Mr Blake: Can you state your full name, please.

Sinead Rainey: Sinead Rainey.

Mr Blake: In front of you there should be a witness statement that’s dated 15 May of this year; is that right?

Sinead Rainey: Yes.

Mr Blake: I think that’s 18 pages in length and, at the back, you should see a signature?

Sinead Rainey: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can you confirm that that’s your signature?

Sinead Rainey: Yes.

Mr Blake: It that statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Sinead Rainey: Yes.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us where you’re from.

Sinead Rainey: From Moneyglass outside Toomebridge, County Antrim.

Mr Blake: Can you give us an idea of what it’s like there, the size, community?

Sinead Rainey: It’s a very small rural community. It’s made up of a bunch of wee townlands that all kind of form together and congregate, I suppose, and Moneyglass is probably the biggest one of them so that’s the one that’s probably most well known by.

Mr Blake: What was your first job?

Sinead Rainey: I started working when I was 12 years of age in the wee Spar, it was a Spar at that time, down the road from me. That’s same shop as I went on to run in the future.

Mr Blake: For those of us who don’t know Spar, can you tell us what is Spar?

Sinead Rainey: Spar is a convenience – small convenience stores. There’s hundreds of them in Northern Ireland and all around the world, in Europe. They’re mainly supplied by the Henderson group here in Belfast.

Mr Blake: You worked there while you were at school?

Sinead Rainey: Yes.

Mr Blake: What did you do when you finished school?

Sinead Rainey: I was supposed to go to – I went to the tech and it didn’t really work out for me so I decided I liked the shop better and the man that owned the shop he thought I really excelled in the shop and he thought it would be really good for me to go and work for Hendersons themselves, in their own company-owned stores. So that’s what I did. I went and worked for Henderson Retail, for approximately ten years then.

Mr Blake: What did you do after that?

Sinead Rainey: Baby number 2 came along and while I was on my maternity leave I come up with this great idea that there was nowhere kind of around home, specifically in Toomebridge, Toome village, for young children, so I decided that I’d open a wee café and ice cream shop. And I did that and it was going absolutely fantastic for me and then I was there for about two years and the man that owned the Spar that I started working in then when I was 12, he approached me and asked me then would I be interested in taking on the Spar because he was thinking of retiring.

Mr Blake: How did you feel being offered that opportunity?

Sinead Rainey: It was a dream come true to me. I always said the shop was the love of my life. Even whenever I worked for Hendersons, if I could, at busy times of the year, like Christmas, Easter, things like that, if I was off, I would be sure to be in Moneyglass shop. It wasn’t just work, it was – the owner and his daughters were my best friends. It was all about knowing everybody in the community and I just – I was totally at my happiest in that building.

Mr Blake: Presumably you had to pay for it?

Sinead Rainey: I did.

Mr Blake: Do you remember how much it cost?

Sinead Rainey: £16,000.

Mr Blake: How did you manage to pay for that?

Sinead Rainey: We borrowed the money out of the Credit Union. We sold a lot of our stuff out of our ice cream shop and my father lent me some money to go towards paying for it.

Mr Blake: In terms of the stock for the Spar, I think Henderson group have some sort of arrangement; is that right?

Sinead Rainey: So when you are taking on a new business Hendersons help you finance it. So they gave us a £10,000 stock loan to get the shop filled with products that I wanted in it and then they gave me a £20,000 loan to do the renovations that I wanted to do within the shop as well: put in new till systems, new refrigeration, new shelving all through the shop, and just update it because it hadn’t been updated in a long time.

Mr Blake: The Post Office was based in the Spar?

Sinead Rainey: Yes. Years ago, whenever I was younger, it was in a wee separate building or a wee separate room at the back but, as everyone’s probably aware, Post Office now is, like, on the end of your counter, so it was a very, very small shop that I had, my till was literally there and the Post Office was there, so basically on the one counter, no more than a metre apart.

Mr Blake: When you purchased the Spar did you also purchase the Post Office counter?

Sinead Rainey: No. I purchased the shop only. I never became postmaster. I was told by the man that I bought it off, he assured me that I would get settled shop and once I get settled in the shop, then we would start that kind of process, but it never happened.

Mr Blake: Was the subpostmaster involved in the running of the Post Office?

Sinead Rainey: No, not from the day I went there, no.

Mr Blake: What was your role in relation to the Post Office?

Sinead Rainey: Well, basically the customers wanted to be served at the Post Office. So when I bought the shop his full-time member of staff, that had worked for him, transferred over to me and she was really the experience of the operation at that stage, because I had never used it before. She taught me how to do cash withdrawals and deposits, pensions, and selling stamps, and that was really the extent of the business anyway, because we weren’t doing car tax, any of those other high value things. It was really just depositing and withdrawing cash and stamps. So she taught me.

Mr Blake: I’m going to ask you about discrepancies. When did you notice any discrepancies?

Sinead Rainey: Well, the first discrepancy that comes to my mind is I was due to take on – or take over in the shop on the Monday morning and, on the Sunday night, we, myself and my husband and the previous owner and his family, met at the shop to do a stock take and we counted all the stock in the shop and while we were counting stock in the shop him and his daughter were doing a balance in the Post Office, and they told us that the Post Office was £1,000 short that night, and that they put £1,000 into it.

So, “Sinead, don’t worry, you are starting fresh tomorrow, it’s perfect”. So I said, “Right, okay”, and so a week or maybe two weeks later, then it was big balance time. So his daughter come over and she did the balance – no, I did at the balance, sorry, first of all, and I was getting it really wrong, so I rang her and she come over and she did the balance and yet we were getting it £3,500 short.

So she was like, “It can’t be £3,500 short, Sinead”. So she basically went on the system. I didn’t know how to do anything on the system, I didn’t know how to reverse sell a stamp, so she pushed away on the buttons and she says, “I took Daddy’s £1,000 back but it’s still owed £1,000, so you will need to put that £1,000 in”. So I was, like, “Right, okay”. So that’s what I did, put £1,000 in to get it back to zero again.

Mr Blake: How did you pay that money?

Sinead Rainey: Out of my shop, straight out of my takings.

Mr Blake: Did you speak to the Post Office when you noticed those discrepancies?

Sinead Rainey: I had no contact with Post Office. As far as they were aware, I didn’t exist. They thought Post Office was still being managed and run by the postmaster, not me. I had no contact details, phone numbers, nothing. I didn’t know who to speak to. Then over time I kept this wee money bag just in the drawer beside Post Office till. One day it would be £50 over so I took the £50 out, put in the money bag. Next day it would be £80 short, so I put £50 pounds in, plus £30 out of my own till. That went on and on and on, until there was no money left in the bag. So then I was just feeding it constantly.

Mr Blake: Was that from 2016/2017 period?

Sinead Rainey: Right from the get-go, really.

Mr Blake: Were there larger shortfalls at some stage?

Sinead Rainey: There was one night I did – I don’t know what the official term is for it, but the count in the afternoon and it said it was £2,000 short, and the next day, when I counted it in the afternoon again, it had jumped £8,000. It was now £10,000 short. I remember coming home and saying that to my husband and we just were like, “No more, absolutely no more”. So I never put any more money into it from then.

Mr Blake: I’m going to move on to an audit which took place on 1 May 2019. Do you know why the Post Office auditors attended?

Sinead Rainey: No idea.

Mr Blake: Did they find a discrepancy?

Sinead Rainey: Yes. So, basically, that morning, I left my wee ‘uns off to school and I walked down to the shop, and it was about 9.00 and I opened the door, and there was these two ladies standing and they said to me, “Sinead, we’re here to audit the Post Office. I understand you’re not the postmaster but can you let us in to do it?” They handed me a wee card with the phone number I was to ring to get authorisation to let them go in. And I did that and in the meantime I also texted the postmaster’s daughter to let them know that there was somebody there to do an audit. So I did all that, I got them in, I left them to it.

Again, I said to them, “You know, I’m not the postmaster, if you need him, or whatever, I’ll get him for you, I’ll try to get him for you”. So they just tore on and went through their audit.

The postmaster hadn’t arrived at that stage before they had finished tallying it up and they come to me and they called me into the office and they said to me, “Sinead, have you got any more money belonging to the Post Office?” I said, “No”.

“But you must have more money belonging to the Post Office”. I said, “I don’t have any money belonging to the Post Office. Why, what’s it saying or whatever?” And they said to me “There’s a discrepancy here of 63,000”.

Mr Blake: On finding out that it was £63,000, how did you feel?

Sinead Rainey: I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole. It’s a complete blur how I stayed on my feet. I don’t know how I did, to be honest.

Mr Blake: Can you describe the conversation with the auditors at that stage?

Sinead Rainey: They just kept on at me. “Sinead, you must have money. You need to get the postmaster here but, you know, this discrepancy has to be accounted for”. And I always knew, from my years of working in the shop, even as a child, I was very much aware that it was always kind of put across to me that if there was money ever missing in a Post Office it was the way – it was always put to me was it was like stealing nearly off the Queen, that you would go to prison, it had to be repaid. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. It was a complete disaster.

Mr Blake: Did the auditors speak to the subpostmaster at some stage?

Sinead Rainey: Yes. I tried to ring him. I couldn’t get him and I rang his daughter’s shop then and I got her and I said to her, “You know, these auditors are here, they found a discrepancy, they want your daddy to come up”. So that was fine, he come up. I just was left kind of loitering round my shop, not really knowing how to even speak at that stage, and pretending to my customers that everything was okay.

And I went out – I remember going outside the shop and I rung Mummy, and I said to Mummy, “Mummy, I’m going to be arrested today”. She was like, “What?” I said “I can’t really speak to you but look after my wee’uns” and I just hung up on her. And I rung Darren, my husband and I said to him, “Look, they’re looking £63,000 off me, where the hell am I going to get that?” And I literally hung up the phone from him too.

The postmaster arrived, I expected to be brought into that conversation. I wasn’t brought into that conversation. I was still left hanging on outside the room and the next thing, he walked out past me and the auditor says to me, “Sinead, you’ve got an hour to get as much money into that safe – I’ll be locking that safe in an hour and you’ve got an hour to get as much money in there as you possibly can, whatever money you can put in there will be deducted off the total discrepancy”.

Mr Blake: What did you say to the auditor?

Sinead Rainey: I just wanted to run at that time, really. I said, “Get me out of here”, but at the same time I didn’t even think I could drive to get out of there. I just – I was just like, “Okay”, shell-shocked. Don’t really know how to describe to you how I felt. I got into the car and I drove home and I lifted a bucket in my house and I emptied my wee’uns’ money boxes into them and I emptied my own purse and any money that I had in the house, 2ps, 5ps, everything went into this bucket.

And the next thing, Mummy and Daddy arrived and, I didn’t know it until then, but Darren, my husband, had rang them and they went to Ballymena and withdrew as much money as they could out of their own bank accounts but they couldn’t get enough. So they rang two of my uncles and they did the same, and my sister, I stopped her, like, on her way over to – she – this all happened when she was on her way to her shop to lodge her on takings and she gave me her takings.

So I don’t know the exact figure because I never got a receipt but somewhere in the region of £42,000 was in that bucket.

Mr Blake: That’s £42,000 of cash being carried in a bucket?

Sinead Rainey: Yes.

Mr Blake: Where did that bucket go?

Sinead Rainey: I couldn’t even – I couldn’t drive at that stage, so I got my sister to drive me down to the shop and I carried that bucket in and the auditors made me stand there and watch them count it and tot it, made me feel so lousy for bringing them all these pennies. But I brought them whatever I could.

Mr Blake: But there was still money outstanding, given that it was around £63,000 discrepancy –

Sinead Rainey: Yes.

Mr Blake: – or alleged to be outstanding. What happened to your Post Office then?

Sinead Rainey: So, at that stage, then the postmaster he had to come back again, they closed themselves in the office and I don’t have a clue what was said. But the next thing they come out and they said to me, “Sinead, I need your keys”, and I was like, “Right, okay”. So I give them the keys and they were, like, “As of now, this Post Office is suspended”, stuck a big ugly notice up on the counter telling my customers to go to the Post Office down in Toome, and they basically said to me that day, “We will liaise with Martin, the postmaster, and he will liaise with you”, and walked out of the shop and I’ve never heard a word from either – well, that’s not true. Never heard a word from Post Office since.

The next day, I was sitting in my kitchen – I can’t even remember, I think my husband came to get me from the shop that day and I went home and cried and my wee’uns – I was crying, my wee’uns never seen me cry before. They didn’t understand. I was trying to hide it from them. I didn’t understand. Mummy and Daddy came up, they didn’t understand. Again, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t even tell them what had happened because I didn’t know.

My uncle that night come up to me and he said to me, “This is ringing a bell to me”, and I was like, “What’s ringing a bell to you?” He said, “I think I’ve heard this on the radio before, something about the Post Office”, and I says to him, “What do you mean?” And he was like, “There’s some woman in Northern Ireland who has been wrongfully accused by the Post Office, you need to find her”.

So there’s him and my husband and me and my sister sitting googling, tears wrecking, us trying to make sense of this whole thing. I found her. It was Deirdre Connolly. And I remember I messaged Deirdre that night and she said to me “Ring me”, and I rung her and it was only then that I thought, “This can’t happen like, this has happened. I’m not on my own”. She understood, she understood probably more than me because I didn’t, and it was such relief to have Deirdre because she was the one person who really believed me because she’d been through pretty much the same thing.

So Deirdre gave me the phone number of a barrister, I think it was, in Derry and I said, “Right”, I was talking to her until the middle of the night nearly, and I said, “Right, I’ll get up in the morning and I’ll ring”.

So I never slept a wink the whole night and the first thing the next morning I got on the phone and I was waiting on someone to ring me back and the next thing the postmaster, Martin, and his daughter arrived in my yard, and Martin never got out of the car, but his daughter, Martina, did and she just come on into my house and she says to me, “The Post Office doesn’t have the money, Daddy doesn’t have the money”, and I said, “So are you saying I have the money?” And she was like, “If we don’t get this money, I’m going to have to report you to the police”, and I said, “Do it. I’ve got nothing to hide”.

Mr Blake: If I could stop you there, you started your evidence by saying that they were family friends or close friends of yours?

Sinead Rainey: Yes. They totally were. We lived, like, literally together.

Mr Blake: How was the relationship by that point?

Sinead Rainey: I didn’t know who they were and they were looking at me like they didn’t know who I was. How did we end up in this mess together? I don’t know.

Mr Blake: At one point the police did become involved?

Sinead Rainey: Oh, yes. I can’t remember the timescales. I got a letter, I think, to come and attend Antrim Serious Crime Suite. I was investigated for theft and fraud. So I went and I gathered up – they wanted all my financial records and everything and I gathered the whole thing up and I took it up and spent like the whole day with them and then they told me that they would let me know the results of their investigation, and they must have – it was somewhere around eight weeks of torment waiting for them to ring me because, at this stage, I knew, I knew what was going on in England. And I thought, “All these other people have all faced prison and all these things for something they never done. This is exactly what’s coming my way”.

But I remember one Sunday morning, a Sunday morning, I was in bed, phone rung at 8.30, I ran up the hall because I thought to myself, “Who else would be ringing here at 8.30?” And it come up on the phone, “No caller ID”, so I thought, “This is them”. I answered the phone. It was a Constable Logan from Antrim Police Station and she said, “Sinead, I’m so sorry for keeping you waiting for so long”, and I was like, “That’s okay”, and she said, “I just want to let you know that there’s no evidence, we haven’t even able to find any evidence of theft or fraud and I would strongly advise you to try and put this behind you”.

I says, “I’ll never be able to put this behind me”. She said to me, I remember it as clear as day, she says, “Are you aware of Post Office case in England?” I says, “I am now”, and she says, “You go after that”, and I said, “Oh, I will”.

Mr Blake: I want to ask you about the impact on yourself and your family. How were you at the time when you started finding discrepancies?

Sinead Rainey: The time whenever I started finding discrepancies I thought, “This thing’s clearly – there’s something seriously wrong”, but in my head, having worked in retail my whole life for the Henderson group, there wasn’t a button I could have pushed on my till in the shop that Henderson’s weren’t aware of. So I thought, “They can see this is wrong. They are going to come, they are going to come looking for it”, so I think – I think at that stage, at the very beginning, I thought, “Oh, well, somebody will come and they will investigate this, or whatever”.

As time went on, it just was slowly sucking the life out of me. It took me from loving my shop with my whole heart, and more than that, if possible, to just I couldn’t – every day was a struggle.

Mr Blake: On being accused of responsibility for those shortfalls, how did you feel?

Sinead Rainey: I just couldn’t understand how would I be accused of anything? Number 1, nobody ever showed me how to use the system. I had no training. I didn’t own the thing. How did this come to me? How did someone come walking into my shop and take all of my money, my family’s money, off me and know that I had nothing to do with it?

Mr Blake: How was your business impacted?

Sinead Rainey: My footfall just fell overnight. Post Office drove – it was a small – a real small area, great people, great people, but it just my footfall fell away and I had no cash flow anymore. I gave it all to the Post Office. I had nowhere to go. I had no – me and my husband never had a credit card in our lives. We took credit cards out to try and stock the shop. We took a £20,000 loan from World Pay who supplied me with my credit card machine in the shop to try and get us back afloat. I just couldn’t do it.

Mr Blake: How about your reputation?

Sinead Rainey: Gone overnight. People asking me, “Why? Why Sinead? Why has it gone, what happened?”

“I don’t know”. There’s only so many times you can tell people that you don’t know until they start thinking “She knows something”. I didn’t know anything.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard that you borrowed money from family. How did it affect your relationship with your family?

Sinead Rainey: Horrific. So that day, two of my uncles gave me money. Oh, I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful. But they couldn’t be out that money forever either. And I told them I’d do everything to get it back to them, they needed it. They had their own children to put through university and one of them lost his wife very young, so they needed their money. So they didn’t put pressure on me but they put pressure on my father to get the money back.

I only found out this, the last couple of days. One of them told Daddy, if they didn’t get his money back, they’d double it with interest. So Daddy had to go then – my daddy’s 75 this year, he’s a farmer and he should be retiring and travelling and doing the things he never done because the farm getting so busy, and they took all his money to pay my two uncles back. There’s no relationship there anymore, they don’t speak to Daddy. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at them again, but I owe them so much. Number 1, they told me about Deirdre, and number 2 they tried to help me that day.

Hindsight, wish to God I never took a penny off them but they would have done anything for me and I owe them so much for that, and I don’t know how – I don’t know if it’s ever going to be salvageable.

My sisters are great. My brothers not so much. They feel, I think, that Daddy gave me their share of their inheritance and they’ve made that pretty clear to me. One of their wives has told prospective employers I can’t be trusted, I’ll ruin their business, “Ask anybody”. That’s the kind of things my family think about me.

Mr Blake: How about your health? Has that been impacted?

Sinead Rainey: My mental health, I don’t – I don’t think I have any real quality of mental health left. I’m on my third round of counselling, I’m on the highest antidepressant the doctor can give me. I have to be weaned off the one I’m on. With that comes a severe dark hole that I can’t get into because I might not get out of. I don’t go anywhere, I don’t do anything, I don’t take my kids to the shop, I don’t walk my wee’uns to school, I don’t go to their sports days, I don’t go to their sports.

I don’t go anywhere. I don’t even visit my own mother- and father-in-law because I feel like I let them down because I wrecked their son’s life too because of what happened to me.

I will never be the person I was before. I was the organiser, I was the one that provided the craic. Never.

Mr Blake: Is there anything you would like to say to the Chair?

Sinead Rainey: Yes, please.

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course.

Sinead Rainey: Thank you to everyone for coming today to listen to my story. All I ever wanted to do is let my customers, my friends and my family know what exactly happened to me and my business. Today I have been given the opportunity, so please accept my sincere gratitude.

Imagine trying to explain the situation to your family that you don’t even understand yourself. This resulted in some family doubting me which, in turn, affected my parents and dramatically put pressure on our relationship. It created barriers that did not exist before and could not be taken down until the full impact and truth of the situation was revealed here today.

My husband and my children lost the funny, happy, strong wife and mummy they know. It happened overnight. The day the Post Office auditors said I had a massive shortfall was the day my children saw me crying for the first time. Unfortunately, they’ve seen me crying a lot since.

I’m no longer able to take them to school, take them to the shop, buy them treats, go on day trips or by them a new First Holy Communion outfit, all because I can’t face my community. I’ve no money and I can’t physically put my feet out the door. My husband lost me. I’m a shadow. He keeps encouraging me to come back into the light. He has seen me crumble and get back up then crumble again; a constant struggle still being fought today. He has my back the entire time. Without him and my children I dread to think where I would be.

I lost one of the greatest loves of my life that day: my shop, the place I grew up, established my friendships, built my reputation in, the place I wanted to build my future in. I put everything into that shop. I told my husband it was my first love. I invested heavily financially, with the hopes and dreams of giving something great back to my community, my people.

The Post Office haemorrhaged my cash flow, leaving me with enormous debts relating to loans for upgrading my shop. Covering the shortfall, the day the Post Office auditors came, in a space of a few hours, I owed over £120,000 with no income to repay it, a situation I have never been in. I never owed money to anyone.

I didn’t deserve this. I was trapped with no-one to help me, nowhere to turn. I am honest and heart broken. I had my whole dream in front of me. Why it was taken from me? Why should my parents suffer this stress and worry in their retirement? They shouldn’t.

I need their money back. I need my parents to see me and my family can be happy again. I need my children to see their mummy can be happy again. I need to be happy again. I want us to have the life we should have had before this nightmare began.

Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Mrs Rainey, many people now have sat in the witness box just like that and thanked me for listening to them. The truth is that’s the wrong way around. I should be thanking you all for coming here to speak to me and that is what I now do to you and to everyone else. Thank you.

Sinead Rainey: Thank you so much.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much, Chair. We’re going to take a ten-minute break and then there are some statements that are going to be read.

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

(4.12 pm)

(A short break)

(4.24 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: You will be glad to know that I have been provided a running order and my team is very happy to follow it and I’m in your hands about the number of summaries that you decide to read.

Mr Enright: Yes, sir, I hope we have the same running order. I will start by saying, sir, and you demonstrate this this afternoon, that you and your panel read very carefully all of the witness statements that have been submitted to you and although I’m reading summaries, you have very carefully studied the full witness statements of all the witnesses.

Katherine McAlerney

KATHERINE McALERNEY, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, I’d like to start with Mrs Katherine McAlerney, who was the subpostmaster of Leitrim Post Office, from August 2000 to January 2008. From the premises she also operated a shop and a pub. It was a vital part of the tight-knit community. The Post Office was also her home.

Katherine says that the training on the Horizon System was horrendous. Katherine was not given any advice or training on how to investigate discrepancies that could arise when balancing. Katherine was advised by the Post Office to contact the helpline if she had problems.

In 2007, Katherine was heavily pregnant with her fourth child and she experienced a shortfall of £30,000. She called the helpline seeking urgent assistance. Initially she was palmed off with promises of a correction notice. The shortfall miraculously reduced to £3,000. However, Kathryn’s call to the helpline triggered an audit, which found an alleged shortfall of £10,587.44.

Katherine was aggressively interrogated by Post Office auditors in full view of her customers and whilst heavily pregnant. In her small, close-knit community word soon got out. She underwent two further interviews under caution from which her solicitor was excluded. She says the National Federation of SubPostmasters was useless.

Katherine was suspended, the keys of her branch taken from her and she has never been back. The loss of the Post Office and shop was a real blow for her local community. The loss of this vital amenity caused ill-will towards Katherine.

Katherine has subsequently discovered, through a Freedom of Information Act request, that the Post Office held the view that it was not possible to prove that Katherine had been dishonest and, for that reason, the Post Office did not bring criminal proceedings. However, the Post Office still pursued a civil claim against her and obtained a charging order over her property. The family’s finances were devastated. There were days when there was not bread to eat.

Katherine says:

“There came a point where I had no money. We were scraping together get the weekly shopping and I had to sell my grandfather’s farm to get the bank off our backs. I had grown up with my grandparents. My grandfather would not sell the farm and if anyone tried to buy the farm he would chase them away and say ‘It’s for Kathy’. It was a huge hit for me and hurt a lot. I felt so guilty about selling the farm as I felt I had let my grandfather down.”

Katherine concludes in this way:

“It was a really unfair thing for the Post Office to do. They were so vindictive and told lies without batting an eyelid. They did not worry in the slightest. People should be held to account because you cannot do what the Post Office had done in your professional life. You cannot accuse people without evidence. Post Office Limited sent people to prison with no evidence. It was horrendous.”

Julie Carter

JULIE CARTER, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Julie Carter was a subpostmaster at a post office branch on the Biddick Hall estate in South Shields from March 2004 until June 2009. Prior to her appointment as a subpostmaster, Ms Carter ran a care home for the elderly and her husband, Kevin, operated four newsagents, one of which had a post office.

When Kevin bought another shop and needed someone to help run it, Julie left the care home and started working as an assistant. After approximately 18 months she became the subpostmaster there. Ms Carter received two days training provided by the Post Office. However, this was undertaken at a time when she was working as an assistant and no further training was provided when she became subpostmaster.

Ms Carter started to experience shortfalls, which escalated following the installation of a Bank of Ireland ATM. The helpline staff told her to place shortfalls in a suspense account which she did. On one occasion, following the advice from operators of the helpline, a £5,000 shortfall doubled overnight. Julie estimates that throughout her tenure she paid or the Post Office deducted in excess of £69,000 in respect of shortfalls or discrepancies.

On 21 May 2009, Ms Carter encountered a shortfall amounting to £69,655.24. Later this figure was corrected to around £57,000, which Ms Carter paid to the Post Office in instalments. After repeated contact with the helpline, Ms Carter received a telephone call from Post Office requesting that she attend a meeting in Gateshead. Ms Carter was told that the meeting had been called to discuss how the monies in the suspense account could be repaid. This shocked Ms Carter as she had been constantly asking for help and assistance from Post Office.

She was distraught to be faced with a figure of £36,000 which Post Office told her she had to make good.

In order to facilitate that payment, Ms Carter and her husband remortgaged their family home in the sum of £15,000 which was paid to Post Office. Additionally, she agreed to pay £500 per month to Post Office against the alleged shortfalls. Even after this time, shortfalls kept occurring until they accumulated to nearly £70,000.

Following an audit, Ms Carter’s branch was found to have a shortfall of £69,655.24. She was suspended immediately. Her home was searched, which she says was a violation of her privacy. This devastated her. She was told in meeting with investigators that she faced prosecution.

In addition, at a disciplinary meeting in Durham, Andy Carpenter told her “Do yourself a favour, pet, resign because you’re going to get sacked”.

Mr Carpenter told Ms Carter that she would be sacked for mis-running her branch. Ms Carter and her husband were placed under immense stress by this process. Ms Carter’s husband suffered a heart attack, which the couple attribute directly to the stress.

In order to satisfy Post Office’s demands for payment, Ms Carter and her husband sold their business at a significant undervalue: £125,000 compared to their valuation of £200,000. Mr and Mrs Carter lost their home and have had to move into social housing.

Ms Carter suffers from severe multiple sclerosis, her husband is now her full-time carer. Ms Carter and her husband have lived in the shadow of this scandal for years. Ms Carter’s marriage suffered and she became a recluse. She felt as though she could not socialise with anyone because her name and reputation had been tarnished in her local community.

Ms Carter’s mental health suffered, alongside her physical health. She and her husband began to dread Christmas, fearing that they could not buy their grandchildren presents and could not face their family. Ms Carter feels that the Post Office destroyed the livelihood of her and her family. She now enjoys a lower standard of living than she had before the business failed, and is living in social housing.

She believes the Post Office needs to apologise. She wants those responsible to be held accountable for the financial and emotional hardship which has been caused to her and so many others like her.

John Dwyer

JOHN DWYER, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, John Dwyer was a subpostmaster of the Post Office in Almada Street, Hamilton, from January 1996 to July 2016. Mr Dwyer says that the previous Post Office paper-based system worked well. You could check everything and, as he says, “know pretty much where monies would be”.

After the introduction of Horizon, John estimates that he paid or Post Office deducted in excess of £100,000 in relation to shortfalls which arose in the Horizon System.

Mr Dwyer was audited on three occasions and threatened with the closure of his branch, unless he paid sums which the Post Office alleged he owed. Mr Dwyer was terrified that he would be prosecuted for theft if he did not make the payments that were demanded. Mr Dwyer resigned from his position as subpostmaster because battling the Horizon System and keeping the Post Office going had taken over and was ruining his life.

Mr Dwyer has been deeply affected by the Post Office Horizon scandal. He says:

“I am a completely different person since the events of the Post Office occurred. They knew their system was flawed but they continued to deny it. They happily stood by whilst innocent hard-working people were struggling, their lives destroyed. I have lost my family. I no longer live with my wife and four children, due to the stress that this has all placed on my family life.

“I do not know how to quantify the effects this has had on me but I have been through hell. The only way of describing how I feel is grieving. Losing my business was like losing a child. I have feelings of deep loss, including loss of dignity continue every day. I would like to see Post Office Limited brought to account. They need to know how much suffering their actions have caused.”

Joanne Foulger

JOANNE FOULGER, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Joanne Foulger ran Boaler Street Post Office in Liverpool between February 2002 and September 2009. She became a subpostmaster after a career in the financial industry. Joanne had in-branch training on Horizon for five days which she found to be inadequate. She asked the Post Office for additional training but was told that she had received all the training they could offer.

From her first day in the branch, Ms Foulger experienced system problems. The Horizon System was continually going down and needed rebooting regularly. Ms Foulger refers to the helpline as the “helpless line” as staff did not have the knowledge or experience to assist her. Joanne says it was difficult to get through to the helpline and, on many occasions, the helpline could not answer her queries.

On balance days, the days when Joanne needed the helpline most, the helpline never answered her calls. Ms Foulger experienced shortfalls and in 2006 was advised by the Post Office that there was a £32,000 shortfall. She had constantly asked Post Office for help to determine the cause of shortfalls. Ms Foulger last audit took place in July 2009 and she was suspended and her contract subsequently terminated.

Ms Foulger was forced to declare bankruptcy and lost her family home. Her marriage broke down due to the strain. Ms Foulger says:

“By the end of the whole experience, I was a frail, anxious individual, who had lost all faith in her abilities with a failed marriage and medicated to numbness.”

Ms Foulger was left homeless, bankrupt and the subject of gossip. Joanne blames the Post Office for all of this.

Summary of witness statement of Graham Stanley

Summary of witness statement of GRAHAM STANLEY.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mr Graham Stanley was the subpostmaster of Longford Post Office in Warrington from February 2001 to December 2009. He decided to become a subpostmaster because he thought it was a good opportunity. Graham intended to run the Post Office until retirement. Graham undertook five days of training on Horizon in February 2001. The training provided was totally inadequate. He estimates that he and his staff contacted the helpline many times a month regarding problems relating to shortfalls and balancing. The helpline was not helpful.

Graham estimates that, throughout his position at the branch, he paid or the Post Office deducted in excess of £30,000. On 31 March 2009 two or three or auditors attended the branch and advised Graham of a supposed £22,000 shortfall. Graham made a partial payment of £6,268.76 immediately by cheque but was still suspended. He was summoned to a room above the main local Post Office and was interviewed under caution by the Post Office investigation team. Graham was made to feel like a criminal. The Post Office sent him a letter banning him from his presence and he has not set foot in the Post Office or shop since.

Graham was led to believe that he had no alternative but to pay the shortfalls and repay the Post Office in the region of £30,000. He lost value in the Post Office, which he had paid £220,000 for. Graham lost his earnings of £3,000 per month. Graham narrowly avoided bankruptcy with the help of family and selling all his property.

Graham no longer owns his own home and has no assets at all. He suffers from depression, anxiety, stress and a constant upset stomach. Graham had to borrow money from an ex-partner to pay the shortfalls. The Post Office’s actions led to the break up of his relationship.

Graham says that after the Post Office investigators came to his home and looked through his and his partner’s bank statements, his ex-partner was furious. Graham’s ex-partner was a senior manager with a large banking group and thought that Graham had taken the money, as she didn’t think that the Post Office would fabricate such allegations.

Graham was forced to sell his house by the sea. He had no income and ended up living with his elderly mother, who had dementia and was quite poorly.

Mr Stanley would like the Inquiry to get compensation and financial redress for the victims, and for the Post Office to give a proper apology.

Sir, I have about another ten minutes, if that’s all right with you?

Sir Wyn Williams: Of course.

Manhar Mistry

MANHAR MISTRY, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Manhar Mistry was the subpostmaster at Malabar Road in Leicester from January 2002 to January 2020. Manhar feels the Horizon training he received was inadequate. He says he was not trained on how to deal with any transaction corrections which then contributed toward the shortfalls later.

Manhar says the helpline advisers were not able to assist him in investigating transaction logs on the system and would simply refer him to the training manual. He says he was made to believe by advisers that the errors reported were mistakes on his part or an error by one of his staff in counting the stock or cash. Manhar paid £2,500 in shortfalls to the Post Office, having been led to believe that he was at fault and that he had no alternative but to do so, as Manhar used his own money to make up the shortfall so that the Post Office system would balance.

Manhar says he was distressed that he had to pay out money when the problem was not his fault. He found the Post Office to be unsympathetic and says he was worried each time when there was a shortfall. He did not want to burden his family with the issue, so he kept this to himself.

Manhar says:

“I would like to see some clarity and accountability from Post Office Limited and other parties involved in this scandal.”

Susan McKnight

SUSAN MCKNIGHT, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Ms Susan McKnight was the subpostmistress of Appley Bridge Post Office in Wigan from January 2005 to September 2009. Prior to this, she was a civil servant but retired due to suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Ms McKnight received two weeks of training on Horizon before taking on her role and a ten-minute session when the ATM was installed. She found the training very basic and inadequate.

Susan would call to the helpline two to three times a month regarding shortfalls, which increased when the ATM was installed. The amount increased to almost £53,000 and the Post Office took a charge on her property. In August 2008, the post office was audited and a shortfall found. Ms McKnight was suspend for 12 weeks before being reinstated when she agreed to make monthly payments to pay the shortfall. A further audit was conducted in September 2009 and Ms McKnight was again suspended and eventually her contract terminated.

Post Office Limited moved the post office out of her premises which led to a decline in income. She could no longer make the mortgage payments on her home and repossession proceedings began. Post Office Limited obtained a judgment against Susan in January 2013 and placed a charge on her home. Susan was interviewed under caution and threatened with criminal proceedings. Ms McKnight lost the business entirely in 2014 when the property was repossessed.

Susan and her family were the subject of local gossip. Susan suffered with anxiety and was made to feel like a criminal. Her multiple sclerosis was exacerbated and she also developed breast cancer. Her children suffered with depression. Ms McKnight says:

“Because we were well-known people in a small village, the embarrassment of the Post Office’s actions was very hard on us and there was gossip spread about us. It was very embarrassing to have to explain why we had our contract suddenly terminated or why we had our home repossessed. We were forced to hide things from people who we knew, which strained our friendships.”

Karl Reid

KARL THOMAS ANTHONY REID, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mr Karl Thomas Anthony Reid was a subpostmaster of the Lark Lane Post Office in Liverpool from April 2013 until his suspension in June 2017. Karl’s sons, Karl Reid and Thomas Reid, attended a five-day training course as Karl was running the newsagent at the time and it was his sons who were going to be running the Post Office. Karl says the training his sons received was totally inadequate. The training was focussed on customer service rather than actually running and managing the Post Office.

Karl says they needed to contact the helpline almost immediately after taking on the Post Office as he noticed that, when balancing the system, shortfalls would appear that he could not account for. Karl describes the helpline advice being completely inadequate. The advisers were rarely able to assist in resolving any issues.

On Boxing Day 2014, Karl’s sons advised him that they went into the branch and the system was showing a £7,000 surplus and then, when they went in the following day, the balance was showing zero. Karl’s Post Office was not open during the Christmas period. Karl says:

“How could a sum appear and then just disappear when we were not doing any transactions?”

Karl believed that the Post Office had external access to the system and were able to manipulate late the figures remotely. Karl’s Post Office was audited twice. Following the audits, Karl had a meeting with Paul Williams, the Post Office area manager, who stated that the Post Office “always got their money”. Karl says the possibility that it could be an error with the Horizon System was never even considered. It was clear-cut. The Post Office said I was responsible for the loss. I agreed to pay the sum back through deductions in my salary. I had no other option. I could not to afford to pay such a large sum in one go.

Another shortfall of £44,000 was discovered on 7 August 2015 following a further audit. Karl and his sons were immediately arrested and questioned under caution. Neither Karl nor his sons were shown any evidence or data despite repeated requests to see some evidence.

Karl and his sons were waiting in limbo for two years before finding out that no charges were going to be brought against them. When Karl became a member of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, the Post Office decided not to continue to pursue him for the money. To avoid being declared bankrupt, Karl and his family had to sell their home. Karl suffers from Meniere’s disease which is exacerbated by stress. He felt constantly ill wondering how he was ever going to get the problems caused by the Post Office put right.

Karl says:

“I was distraught thinking how my family and friends were going to react to what had happened. How I was going to pay the ongoing bills, my mortgage and so on. It was such a devastating feeling to be faced with.”

Karl says when word got out that he had been suspended, all of the family felt stigmatised. Karl’s wife found this difficult as she has always been very sociable. Karl says:

“I don’t know what we would have done without our family who were very supportive and kept us strong. They knew that being accused ripped us apart.”

Karl says:

“The Post Office demanded their so-called shortfall immediately. I would like the Post Office to compensate me in the same way: immediately.”

Victor Price

VICTOR PRICE, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mr Victor Price had been working with the Spar retail company since leaving school. He rose in the ranks to become a general manager and bought his own Spar store in 1995 in Redditch. The store included a post office. Victor also acquired two further stores in 1997 and 1998.

Mr Price received two days of training when the Horizon System was introduced. He felt that the training was inadequate given the amount of information he had to take in. Mr Price did receive some in-branch training but found the trainers were very keen to leave early.

Mr Price experienced shortfalls very early on and would call the helpline to make them aware of the shortfalls. The advice of the helpline was that the system would right itself. Mr Price experienced shortfalls in both his branches. He was constantly on edge and the stress was becoming unbearable. The helpline made him feel that he was at fault as they said there were no problems with the system. Mr Price was told that he was liable and estimates he paid in excess of £7,000 in shortfalls. In about 2008, Mr Price sold one of his shops as he could no longer cope with running two businesses. The Post Office made demands for £3,000 that remained owing in respect of shortfalls. Mr Price was led to believe criminal proceedings would follow. In fear, he paid the amount on a credit card, increasing the debt he was already in. Mr Price eventually resigned and sold his business. He now works as a self-employed taxi driver.

Mr Price says:

“I went from being a confident, outgoing, successful businessman with hopes and ambitions to losing everything. I felt defeated and crushed. It has taken many years to start to slowly build up again but I fear I will never reach the same position I would have been in but for the outright lies and cover-ups done by the Post Office and their associates.”

Shahnaz Rashid

SHAHNAZ RASHID, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, finally, Ms Shahnaz Rashid was the subpostmistress of Lyndsay Avenue Post Office in Sheffield from 2010 until 2016. Ms Rashid says she had five days of classroom training on the Horizon System but there was no training on balancing. When a post office trainer, Linda Lightfoot, attended the branch to assist with balancing there was a £100 shortfall, which the trainer was unable to explain even after three to four hours of trying.

Ms Rashid was audited in July 2015 and an alleged shortfall of £35,562.10 was identified. Ms Rashid was asked to make good the losses immediately. Ms Rashid made it clear to the Post Office auditors that she did not agree that she was liable and that she could not pay. Ms Rashid says that she overhead the Post Office regional manager telling the auditor to “take everything from them”. The auditors took the keys and changed the alarm code to Ms Rashid’S building. Ms Rashid’s contract was terminated without notice and she appealed. Her solicitors requested evidence in respect of the shortfall but Post Office lawyers only presented two documents, which were inadequate for this purpose.

Ms Rashid felt compelled to resign. Five years later, Ms Rashid is still unable to access her own premises, despite the fact that she still continues to pay the rent under her 20-year lease. Ms Rashid feels humiliated by the Post Office’s actions and is frightened to return to the area of her Post Office due to the rumours which suggest that she stole money from the Post Office. Ms Rashid lost her marriage and her home and suffers from stress-related illnesses. Ms Rashid says:

“I was devastated by the Post Office’s accusations and could not believe what was happening. I was also highly frustrated that the shortfalls were never properly explained. The actions of the Post Office have taken my family to a dark place.”

Thank you, Sir Wyn.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you, Mr Enright. I think that concludes this afternoon’s session and I think we’re due to start again at 9.30 tomorrow morning. Fine.

Just so that everyone is aware, my colleague, Ms Eliasson-Norris, is unable to be here tomorrow morning but transcripts of everything that’s being said are being made so that she will have the opportunity to read them and she will also be able to watch it on YouTube. I haven’t yet availed myself of that luxury, but she will be able to do that if she thinks it necessary. So I’ll see you all in the morning.

(4.52 pm)

Sir Wyn Williams: (Adjourned until 9.30 am the following day