Official hearing page

19 May 2022 – John Gormley, Fiona Elliott, Maureen Macelby, John Heath, Kamaljit Singh, Rachel Williams, Terence Walters, Virendra Bajaj, Witness 0204, Lee Castleton and Millie Castleton

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(9.30 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: Good morning, everyone.

Yes, Mr Blake.

Mr Blake: Good morning, Chair. This morning we have Mr Gormley, Mrs Elliott, and we have some further summaries to be read.

Sir Wyn Williams: Let’s just get ourselves prepared.


John Gormley


Questioned by Mr Blake

Mr Blake: Could you give your full name, please?

John Gormley: John Gormley.

Mr Blake: Mr Gormley, in front of you you should have a witness statement dated 25 April of this year. Could I ask you to look at final page. I think that’s page 10 of 10.

John Gormley: Yes.

Mr Blake: And can you just confirm that that is I think your electronic signature at the end?

John Gormley: That is my electronic signature.

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

John Gormley: That is true to my knowledge and belief.

Mr Blake: Thank you very much.

Can you tell us where you grew up and where you are from?

John Gormley: I grew up in County Derry. I’m now living in County Donegal.

Mr Blake: What was it like where you were growing up?

John Gormley: Well, we were born and reared on a small farm County Derry. I went to college in Derry and then I went to higher education here in Belfast, ‘69.

Mr Blake: I think you were 17 when you moved to Belfast?

John Gormley: That is correct.

Mr Blake: After studying can you tell us the jobs you had?

John Gormley: I studied engineering and it was from 1970 I think to about ‘74 – 1974, here in Belfast. I completed my courses and had a few – I spent one year in Sirocco Engineering Works here and then eventually I moved to Courtaulds who were a big company, textile company.

Mr Blake: At some point I think you got married?

John Gormley: I got married in between, yes.

Mr Blake: And you purchased a supermarket in Donegal?

John Gormley: Well, first of all, I purchased the supermarket in Donegal, Courtaulds decided out of the blue to pull out of Ireland. We got our lump sums and we invested in a retail outlet in Donegal 1982.

Mr Blake: How many people did you employ?

John Gormley: Well, it was built up to about 50 at one stage.

Mr Blake: Was it doing well?

John Gormley: It was store of the year in 2000.

Mr Blake: We’re obviously here to talk about the Post Office today. How did you first become involved in the Post Office?

John Gormley: Well, the franchise was offered to me in relation to the supermarket first and then, shortly after that, I was approached about the post office.

Mr Blake: Where was the post office?

John Gormley: The post office was in Shantallow shopping centre.

Mr Blake: Is that far away or near –

John Gormley: It’s on the border.

Mr Blake: And I think this was around 2002, wasn’t it?

John Gormley: It was around 2002.

Mr Blake: At the time did you know how to run a post office?

John Gormley: No.

Mr Blake: And you took it over.

John Gormley: Yes.

Mr Blake: Did it stay in its original location?

John Gormley: It was moved into the store. We had a revamp to the modern image. We had to bring the image up and based a lot of money.

Mr Blake: Can you give us an idea of the size of the post office?

John Gormley: The total size for the community to queue up and all was about 500/600 square feet.

Mr Blake: And compared to other post offices that you know, was it –

John Gormley: It was one of the top six post offices. It was among the top six in Northern Ireland.

Mr Blake: Is that biggest in size and in terms of footfall or in terms of profit or …?

John Gormley: Well, it was a deprived area and there was huge payouts.

Mr Blake: Were you trained when you took over?

John Gormley: Well, I was asked and I did go to the Royal Mail in Belfast and had a day’s training.

Mr Blake: Presumably there were already staff that were working –

John Gormley: There were seven. We inherited seven staff from the – it was community-owned, and we inherited the seven staff.

Mr Blake: And had those staff been trained, as far as you are aware?

John Gormley: Well, as far as I was aware they were trained.

Mr Blake: What was your day-to-day involvement in that post office?

John Gormley: Well, obviously the bottom line every week we, you know, it was a bit – making sure that the business was achieving what it was set out to achieve.

Mr Blake: And you were the subpostmaster.

John Gormley: I was the subpostmaster.

Mr Blake: Do you recall a contract with the Post Office at all?

John Gormley: Well, I had a contract for sure. I just can’t remember signing it now.

Mr Blake: We’ve heard a lot about shortfalls and discrepancies. When did you experience your first discrepancy?

John Gormley: Well, I would say probably second/third week there.

Mr Blake: And was it a large one, small one?

John Gormley: Well, it wasn’t large and it wasn’t small. It was too much, you know. I think around £60/80 which was, you know, quite a – you had to question it big time.

Mr Blake: Did you raise it with anybody?

John Gormley: Well, the first was the manager, the appointed manager of the Post Office, and he says this is an ongoing thing. This is a problem. We have to – you know, it has to be made good every week. If there’s a shortfall it has to be made good.

Mr Blake: So you had the impression that it had happened before you took over?

John Gormley: Well, I was very weak. I didn’t do enough due diligence in relation to this particular aspect of the game, shortages.

Mr Blake: Did you raise it with the Post Office?

John Gormley: Well, I’ve probably about six/eight weeks, maybe two months, it was raised with the Post Office big time.

Mr Blake: And what was their response?

John Gormley: Not a lot. They said it’s normal practice; if there’s a shortfall, it has to be made good.

Mr Blake: Did you have any visits?

John Gormley: We had a regional manager I think probably that particular post office would have been visiting every two weeks.

Mr Blake: Did they assist you with the shortfalls?

John Gormley: Not much. The assistance was not there.

Mr Blake: Did you ring the helpline?

John Gormley: The helpline – the manager rang the helpline and more training was given to the staff, you know, but to no avail.

Mr Blake: How did you deal with those alleged shortfalls?

John Gormley: Well, as time went on the pressure started to grow, you know. I was getting pretty worried. There was weeks it could have been 100 and there’s weeks it could have been down to 30, you know, pounds short. Very, very few weeks it was break even.

Mr Blake: Did you pay for it –

John Gormley: I rarely seen a plus. I rarely seen a plus.

Mr Blake: And noticing the minuses, how do they go back up?

John Gormley: Well, how do they got back up? This was presented to me every week at the close of business, this shortfall, and obviously we were going with the manager of the Post Office says, “It’s practice here, you have to write a cheque and make good the shortages”, and we did do that. But second year pressure was really, really coming on us about the shortages, you know.

Mr Blake: Is that around 2003?

John Gormley: About mid-2003 the manager of the post office handed in his notice and obviously we appointed a new manager which had plenty of background training as good as the previous manager.

Mr Blake: Can you tell us what your relationship was like with the staff at that time?

John Gormley: It was strained, put it like that, because shortages, you know, I mean, they had to be addressed and I was making no headway in addressing them.

Mr Blake: When you say they were strained, can you give us an idea of what you mean.

John Gormley: Well, staff knew they were coming under pressure and obviously it got to the stage that, you know, it was put to me you don’t trust us, you know, about these shortages. I never thought the Horizon System was going to produce shortages, never thought. I always was of the assumption that, the same as a cash register, it had to be pretty accurate.

Mr Blake: And you said that you had a new manager.

John Gormley: Yes, a new manager.

Mr Blake: What happened with that new manager?

John Gormley: Well, we let him bed in. The person had to get bedded in and, you know, it was ongoing. It was probably no fault that it was ongoing but at this stage the pressure was building up at her. You know, “Am I getting accused for stealing the money here?” And a year, probably six months to a year, we got a resignation from her and a few weeks later we got constructive dismissal put to us.

Mr Blake: So there were legal proceedings for constructive dismissal?

John Gormley: Legal proceedings.

Mr Blake: How did that relate to Horizon?

John Gormley: About the shortages, you know. She was being blamed for the shortages.

Mr Blake: In 2008 you resigned as a subpostmaster?

John Gormley: That’s correct.

Mr Blake: Why did you resign?

John Gormley: Well, I was in deep, deep issues in relation to the supermarket because the shortages was continuously getting – the supermarket was continuously making good the shortfalls.

Mr Blake: Do you have an idea, we’ve talked about 2002 to 2008, do you have an idea over that period approximately how much you had paid into the system?

John Gormley: Well, up to 2008 a rough guess you are looking at £20,000.

Mr Blake: We’re here today to talk about the human impact and I want to know about the impact on you personally.

Did it have an effect on your mental health?

John Gormley: I was completely stressed out, completely stressed out. Come 2007 we did make a decision this has to be offloaded and we convinced – first of all, we had to convince – there was huge debts building up in the supermarket, obviously, as a franchiser and we were coming under pressure for money and we decided we would sell the supermarket back to them, back to the supplier. And we brought the situation to them at the post office, would they be interested in taking over the post office, and probably six months later, yes, they decided that they would take the post office.

Mr Blake: Did it affect your personality?

John Gormley: I was well down at that stage and I didn’t want to know much about – you know, I didn’t want to express my depression for a start, I was not the type of person. I probably never knew – I have no memories of ever going to the doctors or anything with any ailments but I had serious pressure. I just didn’t want to express.

Mr Blake: How about your family?

John Gormley: My wife was feeling the pressure big time – really, really big time – and it was affecting our marriage. Obviously, we didn’t know whether – at one stage were we going to have a loaf of bread for the end of the week next week.

Mr Blake: And the financial impact more generally?

John Gormley: The financial impact was we were terribly indebted to the supplier, and the residual debt we agreed a price for the post office pretty quickly. We had our solicitors all legally involved and there was a residual debt that was transferred to my business in Donegal.

Mr Blake: It’s right to say you applied for compensation.

John Gormley: Was it fair to say I applied? No, I was too far gone at that stage. I wanted to get it off my mind, hoping that I could recoup it in Donegal but the residual debt was very, very big.

Mr Blake: Did you apply to the Historic Shortfall Scheme?

John Gormley: I just wanted it washed out of my mind. I didn’t apply for the simple reason I just wanted to feel free and get it off my mind, get it out of the road completely. I didn’t want my family to know about it or nobody to know about it. I didn’t want my friends to know about it. I just couldn’t believe for one minute that the Horizon System – I still didn’t even believe until I saw it brought up in the local newspapers, I think it was the Belfast Telegraph, and then it started probably right then. This applies to me big time.

I got myself pulled together and started making enquiries through the Hudgell family and from there it was, you know, explained to them exactly what happened the whole way through. We were very, very much on the breadline and still have know – you know, we still have issues to deal with.

Mr Blake: Have you applied more recently?

John Gormley: Pardon?

Mr Blake: Have you applied more recently for compensation?

John Gormley: I have applied but, you know, I’ve no avail yet, absolutely no avail. They’re not interested.

Mr Blake: So when you said you’ve had no avail?

John Gormley: I’ve had no – they’re not interested.

Mr Blake: Did you receive a response?

John Gormley: I’m outside the limit. It seems to me I’m outside the statute of limitation.

Mr Blake: So you’re outside the time limit?

John Gormley: I’m outside the time limit. This is what they say, but I find it hard to believe that they are going to cough up.

Mr Blake: Have you pursued it further?

John Gormley: Well, we’re pursuing it and, you know, it’s going to be a long drawn-out situation but I have my doubts that this is going to come good.

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

John Gormley: Well, I find it hard to believe that this can happen, that an organisation like the Royal Mail can get away with what they have got away with. It’s only very, very recently that I’ve started to see in the newspapers across the water obviously very recently here the devastation that they have done. I can’t understand how it got so far or where was the Government at this stage? Were they not aware of it?

You know, this is the disappointing thing about it. Who was overseeing this Royal Mail or – to be quite honest with you, I never could figure out who run it or was it a Government body or what it was. But there’s serious questions to be asked, really serious, you know, and you know I don’t know what the end game is going forward with them. I think they’re going to put up a fight for compensation.

Sir Wyn Williams: In relation to your claim for compensation, as I’ve understood what you’ve told me, when the Historical Shortfall Scheme was first announced you just didn’t feel able –

John Gormley: I wanted it washed off my mind.

Sir Wyn Williams: You just wanted to forget about it.

John Gormley: I wanted it washed away. It’s only when it hit the papers again, I think it was the Belfast Telegraph newsletter, some of those papers I was reading, this was about probably 2014 or 2015, I can’t remember what years now, but this all –

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s what I wanted to ask you about because there have been various stages and I just wanted to be sure that I understood what your evidence was.

In round about 2015/2016 there was considerable publicity about the possibility of claiming compensation and then we know that Mr Alan Bates and a number of other postmasters started proceedings in London and that was 2017, okay. And then that was fought through for a good long while and then when it was settled, and that’s at the end of 2019, shortly after that, so 2020 now, the Post Office announced what’s called the Historical Shortfall Scheme and they gave three months I think it was to start with for people to apply.

Now, when you were telling me that you were aware of a scheme but you didn’t apply in time, are you talking about the litigation that went on in London but you didn’t join it or are you talking about the Historical Shortfall Scheme, because that didn’t come about until 2020.

John Gormley: That’s correct.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s the one.

John Gormley: I was confused. I didn’t know what was what and anyway Covid kicked in in 2020.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, Covid came.

John Gormley: Game was over and everything was forgot about. I didn’t even see papers relating to the final dates.

Sir Wyn Williams: Then, as I understand it, more recently you made another – you have made an application.

John Gormley: I have made an application but –

Sir Wyn Williams: And that’s been turned down.

John Gormley: It’s been turned down. Very disappointingly.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right.

John Gormley: Very disappointingly.

Sir Wyn Williams: I fully understand, everything now, Mr Gormley.

John Gormley: You know, I still – I can’t figure out myself how this could happen because an IT system, like a cash register, you know, nobody questions the cash register. I always believed that we were wrong, I was to blame. Was there slippy fingers or what was the story? I couldn’t buy into the system of the IT system being wrong until it hit the newspapers.

Sir Wyn Williams: Sure, yes, all right.

John Gormley: And, you know, newspapers is rarely read them. It may have been a news bulletin. I probably did see it in a paper but the news bulletins carried it, not often –

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

John Gormley: – but they did carry it. And it did register in the end. It started to register me. Here I am blaming – I blamed my staff and I’d got into a situation where the business and the store started to go down big time because obviously, you know, the blame game was being put on the staff in relation to shortages, you know. But I always made good every week for I knew the consequences, you know.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

John Gormley: We had to make good at all stages.

Sir Wyn Williams: Well, you’re not the first person to tell me that one of the effects of all this is that there’s a break down in trust between the subpostmaster and his office staff –

John Gormley: Exactly, and that was our case and we were in a very volatile place and I had to use measured words in a big way.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

John Gormley: I had to protect staff but, at the same time, the business was going down and down. The supplier was owed a fortune. You know, we weren’t able to meet our direct debits, and a gun was put to our head, “What are you going to do about it?”

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very, very much for coming to explain all this to me.

John Gormley: Thank you, and I have to thank the Hudgell family.

Sir Wyn Williams: The idea of a public inquiry is that people can come and tell us what they think is important about all this and it’s very important that people come forward; so thank you that you did.

John Gormley: Thank you very much for taking the time.

Sir Wyn Williams: All right. We’ll take a short break and we’ll go on to the next witness.

(9.53 am)

(A short break)

(9.58 am)

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

Fiona Elliott


Questioned by Ms Kennedy

Ms Kennedy: Could you confirm your full name please.

Fiona Elliott: Fiona Elliott.

Ms Kennedy: And in front of you you should have a statement. Do you have a copy of that statement in front of you?

Fiona Elliott: I have.

Ms Kennedy: I believe it runs to seven pages.

Fiona Elliott: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Did you prepare that statement for this inquiry?

Fiona Elliott: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: On the last page there should be a signature. Is that your signature?

Fiona Elliott: Yes.

Ms Kennedy: Have you read through this statement recently?

Fiona Elliott: I have.

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

Fiona Elliott: It is.

Ms Kennedy: I am going to start by asking a couple of questions about you? Where do you live? Whereabouts in Northern Ireland?

Fiona Elliott: Clady, Strabane, County Tyrone.

Ms Kennedy: Who do you live with?

Fiona Elliott: My husband and four children.

Ms Kennedy: How long have you been married?

Fiona Elliott: 20 years.

Ms Kennedy: Can you tell us a bit about your area and where you grew up?

Fiona Elliott: It’s a small rural village just on the border between Donegal and Tyrone and it’s a very close-knit community. I’ve lived there all my life, so I have, and my family have all lived there for years as well.

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

Fiona Elliott: It had come up for sale, the shop and the post office and a house beside it, and we thought it would be a good opportunity, a good pension for us and take us on to retirement. So we put an offer on it and we bought it.

Ms Kennedy: And it was the post office in your town?

Fiona Elliott: It was. It was the only post office and shop in the wee village.

Ms Kennedy: Can you describe the post office and what came with it?

Fiona Elliott: The post office was in a separate wee room on the shopfloor and it had a retail shop and then beside it was a buy to let house as well, so it was in a huge car park to the side.

Ms Kennedy: You bought that in around 2005?

Fiona Elliott: Uhuh uhuh.

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

Fiona Elliott: I received one day on site training so I did, me and the assistant.

Ms Kennedy: How adequate did you find that training?

Fiona Elliott: It was really quick. We didn’t learn a lot, just really about the daily transactions and stuff like that. I wasn’t sure about rolling over and stuff weekly but the assistant had been there before and I kept her on as an employee, so she was more aware of how to do everything rather than me so she was but the training wasn’t enough and I did keep ringing up asking for extra training and extra support and I never got it.

Ms Kennedy: How did you find Horizon to use?

Fiona Elliott: At the start it was grand, when we moved in to the post office it was fine and then we kept thinking that it was the internet was slow and we kept getting all these discrepancies and shortfalls. So it ended up then that I rang up as well the internet company and thought to them because we were so rural that it was going down, the internet wasn’t working properly and the transactions weren’t recording properly.

We tried everything to see what was going wrong and why all these shortfalls were coming up in the system so we did and we kept ringing up the helpline and asking for further help and asking for – I asked for an audit, I asked for them to come out and check where all these shortfalls were going and discrepancies, but it was only when they came out and done a big audit that they founds thousands missing.

Ms Kennedy: You have mentioned calling the helpline. I believe you kept a log of all the calls?

Fiona Elliott: Aye, I have a log.

Ms Kennedy: Why did you keep a log of all times you called the helpline?

Fiona Elliott: Because the time that they came and suspended me prior to investigation I got my solicitor to request the call logs. So because I knew I had done nothing wrong and we couldn’t find out where this money was going. Somebody had to be taking it and we were blaming staff and we were doubting ourselves, and we thought we were doing stuff wrong. So when I got suspended my solicitor went and contacted Post Office, asked for a copy of the call log and everything was there, me ringing up all the time about the shortfalls. So luckily enough I had rang up and reported all the shortfalls and the discrepancies, and I asked for help and stuff like that. That didn’t happen. I didn’t get the extra help or support we needed.

Ms Kennedy: What was it like blaming your staff?

Fiona Elliott: Well, they doubted theirselves too. You know, we were all in together. We were working late at night trying to get the money cashed up and find out where the money went to. We were going through bundles at nighttime looking to see was people stealing scratch cards on us, was there Lotto money missing. We didn’t know where it was going. We were spending hours at night on a Wednesday night when we were rolling over trying to get it – and I used to have to just go over to the shop, take the money out of the shop till and put it into the Post Office counter to keep it right because I knew we had to always had to keep the Post Office right. We were told that from day 1, you had to make good any shortfalls or any discrepancies. So I kept doing that.

Started off at about £60/£80 a week at the start then it went up to maybe £200 or £300 a week and then when they came out, finally came out to me, it was a £6,000 shortfall that day. We don’t know where it came out of because we had rolled over night before, we made everything right. This £6,000 just appeared in the system and we don’t know where it came from.

Ms Kennedy: When you’re talking about them coming out to you, you are referring to audit that was in around 2008/2009?

Fiona Elliott: That’s right.

Ms Kennedy: What was that audit like. How were you treated?

Fiona Elliott: They were there when I went down in the morning. There was two of them there. They came in, spent a couple of hours in the place, in the post office, and we kind of stood back a bit and they just said, “There’s a shortfall here of 6,000 showing in the system and we need to get that 6,000 now or you will be – you’ll have a criminal offence£”, and I said, “Right, how did that come out at 6,000 just appear in the system.”

I said, “I’m constantly putting money here, all the time, hundreds a pounds every week and never showed up that huge amount.”

I said, “What will I do now”, and they said, “You’ll have to pay it”. I hadn’t got it in the shop till so I ended up by saying can I go to the bank and the bank was closed from 1.00 to 2.00 on lunch and they said no, that I couldn’t leave and go that far or they couldn’t wait on the bank to open. So I offered them a cheque and at that time we were paying all our suppliers by cheque, there was no really online bank and stuff like that. So I said, “Can I give yous a cheque for the shortfall”, and they said no they wanted cash.

So then I went then and my brother owned a car business in the village as well and I asked him would he have any cash and he said, “Aye, there’s cash there”, so I got the cash off him and gave it to the Post Office and I never got a receipt for it.

Ms Kennedy: What happened after you gave them that money?

Fiona Elliott: They left then and they suspended me and they told me that I can’t work in the Post Office until further investigation’s done but the assistant was allowed to be there. So she stayed on and done all the hours so she did, but I didn’t go down at all, you know, for them six weeks and then I was called up to Belfast then for a meeting but in between times, my solicitor – I’d went to the solicitor, got the call logs, and the solicitor had been in contact with the Post Office about it. So when I went up then to the head Post Office I was took into a room with I think there might have been four men in the room and one of them was Brian Trotter. He was in the interview notes, and they said to me that there would be no further criminal offences or anything like that so that I could go back to work with Post Office.

So I didn’t really want to go back to work in it because the people in the village were kind of saying, you know, she’s closing the post office on us and the shop was struggling, trying to keep post office open. I just didn’t have the heart to go down to it then, so I didn’t. So I ended up keeping the assistant on. She done all the hours in it and then they offered me my redundancy and they were trying to close some of the smaller post offices, wee rural ones at this time, and I thought, “Good opportunity, I’ll take my redundancy because I don’t want to go in the door again”, and I ended up just taking my redundancy and we rented shop end out to someone else and they had the same problems and it was all repossessed. The bank took it and sold it off for I think 40,000 for the whole business and we paid 322,000, and it’s lying now all boarded up, and the house is the same, all boarded up and run down.

Ms Kennedy: How does it make you feel to see your shop in the centre of your community –

Fiona Elliott: Angry and hurtful, because we thought this was going to be a family business and we would have it into retirement and have our pension out of it and stuff but none of that happened. It just had to be closed down.

Ms Kennedy: You recently applied for compensation from the Historical Shortfall Scheme; is that right?

Fiona Elliott: I did, I applied.

Ms Kennedy: How much roughly did you claim and how did you go about calculating that?

Fiona Elliott: My accountant helped me complete it but I didn’t get no legal assistance at all, so I done most of the form myself and by the time I put in all the losses and my wages that I lost out on and the retail end of it, and then I had two houses as well repossessed, buy to let properties, so by the time I put on that, it ended up at just over a million pounds, and they sent me an offer of 24,000 which was – I was disgusted, you know, 24,000 doesn’t even cover what I put in, you know, so it doesn’t. I was totally disgusted.

Ms Kennedy: I think you say in your statement you were invited to a meeting; is that right?

Fiona Elliott: I’m invited now to do a Zoom call at the end of June. They tried to get me to do a Zoom call this week before I came here but we changed it to the end of June.

Ms Kennedy: How do you feel about meeting with them?

Fiona Elliott: Well, I feel more comfortable now because I have David on side with me and the solicitors and I have a legal team there now, whereas I couldn’t have done it on my own, no. Couldn’t have done it on my own. So I’m hoping now that we get what we deserve and that the people are held accountable as well.

Ms Kennedy: I’m now going, to ask you some questions about the impact –

Sir Wyn Williams: Just before you get to that point, sorry, the form that you completed in order to make your application to the scheme, you said you completed mainly yourself.

Fiona Elliott: I did.

Sir Wyn Williams: You’re not a lawyer; you’re not an accountant.

Fiona Elliott: No.

Sir Wyn Williams: It may have been onerous for you to do it but did you feel able to complete it satisfactorily?

Fiona Elliott: Well, it was kind of rushed because the closing date – we were only given a quite short time.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes, I know that.

Fiona Elliott: So it was kind of rushed. So I did – no, I would have needed help to do it really.

Sir Wyn Williams: And you did have some help from your accountant –

Fiona Elliott: My accountant, I just phoned her up.

Sir Wyn Williams: – to formulate the figures.

Fiona Elliott: Because it was during the lock down as well so we couldn’t get out to meet solicitors and accountants and stuff so I was just doing it on the phone.

Sir Wyn Williams: And you told me Mr Enright is going to help you at meeting, so I follow all that. Thanks very much.

Ms Kennedy: I’m going to ask you some questions about the impact all of this has had on you. You’ve mentioned some of the financial impacts. Is there anything else you wanted to say on the financial impact that this has had on you?

Fiona Elliott: It was just really stressful and like we lost that business, the shop business, and then we lost the two properties, you know. So financially it was terrible at the time. Now, we’re back, me and my husband, both back working full-time whereas we should be getting ready to get into retirement and, you know, enjoy life.

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

Fiona Elliott: Childcare.

Ms Kennedy: And what impact has all of this had on your family?

Fiona Elliott: My family were very supportive of me and they knew I’d done nothing wrong and they knew it was an honest mistake and they’re still very supportive the whole way through, so they are, but at the time it did have a lot of impact on us, so it did.

I was really, really stressed. We were spending hours looking for this money every night and my husband was the same, stressed, and we thought the people in the village were blaming us for closing the one local shop that they had and the post office. Then people have to travel three miles to the next post office to get their pensions and stuff and then there was elderly people that couldn’t drive and stuff and we felt that we were letting down the people in the community by closing the shop and the post office, you know, and that we were getting blamed for closing it all up and it wasn’t us at all. We would have been still there only this all happened.

Ms Kennedy: How do you feel that affected your life in that community?

Fiona Elliott: Well, everybody is still very supportive of me in the community and I get on well with everybody but I just feel that I’ve let everybody down.

Ms Kennedy: What about the impact on your health. You mentioned stress. Anything else?

Fiona Elliott: Stress and I had stress-related chest pains, so I did, as well at the time, just really stressed about it all.

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

Fiona Elliott: I would just like those that are responsible for all this to be accountable and I would want everybody to have their fair compensation and prompt compensation. You know, we’ve been waiting about now 10 years/15 years for all this, and they were quick enough to take all our money and now they won’t pay us back for what we’ve put in, what we’ve lost.

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

Fiona Elliott: I do have a wee statement.

Sir Wyn Williams: Yes.

Fiona Elliott: I would like to thank Sir Wyn for coming to Belfast for human impact hearings today and yesterday. I now hope that the Post Office finally takes responsibility for their actions and apologises. I also want accountability for their actions. I would like the Post Office to compensate fairly and promptly the people whose lives and businesses have been ruined. I want to be put back in the financial position I was in before this all happened. I hope we can all move forward from this and find some closure soon.

Sir Wyn Williams: Thank you very much. Well, I’m going to hear some summaries of people’s witness statements being read this morning but it may be that you’ll be the last personal witness, if I can put it in that way, that I hear from in these human impact sessions.

So thank you very much for coming and, as I said in Glasgow, and I repeat here, I’m really glad that we’ve gone to Glasgow or come to Glasgow or gone to Glasgow and come to Belfast because in fact we’ve heard stories which, there’s always something a bit different and certainly the stories in Northern Ireland have proved that without any shadow of doubt.

So thank you and thanks everyone in Northern Ireland who participated in this part of our Inquiry.

Fiona Elliott: Thank you.

Sir Wyn Williams: Right, another five minutes, Mr Blake. We are moving with speed and efficiency, so another five minutes won’t harm us.

(10.15 am)

(A short break)

(10.23 am)

Sir Wyn Williams: When you’re ready, Mr Enright.

Mr Enright: Good morning, Chair. I think it is important to re-state you read very carefully the full witness statements of all of witnesses, including those whose summaries I am to read to you now.

Maureen Macelby

MAUREEN MACELBY, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mrs Maureen MacElby was the subpostmistress at the Post Office branch in Clanabogan, Omagh, in Northern Ireland from 1990 to 2001.

Maureen initially operated the post office on the paper-based accounting system without any difficulties. Post Office introduced its Horizon system into her branch in approximately 1999. Maureen immediately began to experience discrepancies. When Horizon was introduced Maureen and her employee were promised three days of training. However, she says, “In reality, we had at most an hour in a local hotel”. When Maureen experienced shortfalls on the Horizon System she would contact the helpline for assistance. Maureen says:

“I found the helpline to be anything but helpful.”

Maureen estimates that she paid in the region of £25,000 to 30,000 in shortfalls. Prior to Horizon being introduced, Maureen would be audited yearly with no issues. After the introduction of Horizon Maureen recalls Post Office auditors marching into her branch one morning and demanding her keys. She was then told that a shortfall had been identified and she would have no more access to the post office. Maureen says it was terrifying and humiliating.

Maureen was accused of stealing thousands of pounds from the Post Office and was subsequently suspended from the Post Office in 2001. Following her suspension, Maureen was repeatedly warned by the Post Office that she could face up to ten years in prison for theft. Maureen was left waiting for two and a half years for the date. She was served notice of prosecution for her case to be heard in court. Maureen was under so much stress during this period that her thyroid ruptured and she had to undergo major surgery on her throat. Her doctor told her this was as a result of stress and that she was lucky to have survived.

Maureen had three young children and had lost her husband only two years before the problems with Horizon arose. She describes the period leading up to her prosecution as mental torture.

Maureen says she had to repeatedly chase the Post Office to proceed with their prosecution of her. Maureen says the Post Office seemed to be in no rush. Maureen knew her health was not going to last due to the stress she was under.

Maureen’s case eventually came to trial at Dungannon court in 2006. She had to attend court for a full week. She was on a lot of medication because her health was not good due to years of stress and waiting. Maureen describes the experience in court as dreadful. She says:

“It was clear in their eyes I was not worthy of the Post Office.”

Maureen prepared her children for the fact that she might go to jail. However, Maureen stood her ground and the flaws in the Post Office case were exposed and she was found not guilty.

Maureen says, “The whole experience was thoroughly traumatic but I was over the moon that I was found innocent”.

Despite being found innocent of all charges Maureen had lost her post office, her income, her investment and was forced to sell her business. Maureen’s health declined rapidly after her court case as a result of the years of stress. Maureen’s finances were ruined. She had nothing and had to rely on family to help cover her mortgage. Maureen says for a proud woman this was humiliating.

Maureen says:

“The Post Office took everything from me, quite literally. They took my future, I had planned to run my business up until retirement. I felt the Post Office robbed me of my home life as well. It feels as though my children just grew up, got married and moved on without me because I was just not present anymore. I was there but only in vision. I have missed out on so much of my life because of the Post Office.”

John Heath

JOHN VICTOR HEATH, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mr John Victor Heath, his wife, Helen, became the subpostmistress of the Bradford-on-Avon Post Office in 2003.

Mr Heath occupied an office within the premises from which he ran his occupational safety and health consultancy business. This was with the agreement of Post Office Limited and the landlord of the premises.

Mrs Heath’s running of the Post Office was very smooth until the introduction of the Horizon System in approximately 2005. Shortfalls soon appeared and despite Mrs Heath’s endeavours to trace them, no cause could be found. She had no option but to use her own money to repay them as she was told by the helpline that she was liable for the losses.

She was told that no other branch was experiencing the same phantom losses as she called them. The couple became paranoid and suspicious, something not previously in their nature. To protect his family’s increasingly – his wife’s increasingly fragile mental state because of the shortfalls Mr Heath ploughed his own money into the Post Office to make good the shortfalls. Sadly, Mrs Heath died in 2011 and it was agreed with Post Office Limited that he assume the role of subpostmaster with his son taking over the day-to-day running of the branch.

The shortfalls continued and Mr Heath requested an audit to help identify where they were coming from. A shortfall of over £9,000 was discovered during the audit. Mr Heath wrote a cheque for the full amount using money he had received from the insurance following the death of his wife.

He was told in very blunt terms that his contract would be terminated. Post Office Limited moved the branch out of the premises but Mr Heath was still liable for the rent for a further two years. Mr Heath estimates that the financial losses incurred could be as much as £156,000. He also suffered emotionally and physically. He had a mini-stroke in 2013. His son’s marriage broke down. His consultancy business collapsed.

Mr Heath would like to be compensated for the losses. However, he does state there can never be any compensation for the pain and suffering that we have experienced.

Kamaljit Singh

KAMALJIT KOONER SINGH, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mr Kamaljit Kooner Singh was a subpostmaster in Narborough Post Office and Rugeley Post Office from around December 2007 to May 2009. Mr Kooner says he experienced various shortfalls of various amounts at both his branches during his tenure as subpostmaster. In October 2008, the Rugeley branch experienced a discrepancy of approximately £9,500. Kamaljit believed this was due to an accounting error and made a record of the discrepancy.

In April 2009, the final audit took place at the Rugeley branch. Kamaljit was aware of the £9,500 shortfall. However, at the audit, the shortfall was alleged to have been £14,146.01. This was a surprise. Kamaljit agreed to pay the shortfall and did so in three instalments. The auditors then attended the Narborough branch and found shortfalls there as well. Kamaljit was suspended from both branches and prevented from accessing his own records to investigate the shortfalls. Kamaljit wrote letters to Colin Burston, Agent Contracts Manager, explaining that he had not taken any money and he believed that there was an error on the Horizon System. Kamaljit’s contract was terminated by the Post Office in May 2009.

Kamaljit attended an appeals meeting in June 2009. During these meeting, Kamaljit says:

“I again made my opinion that the alleged losses were due to a system error.”

Kamaljit sought assistance from the National Federation of SubPostmasters for his appeal but he says they were not at all helpful.

Kamaljit says:

“It was difficult to prove any errors in the Horizon and the Post Office used their helpless line to hide behind when anyone complained of problems with the system. I was informed countless times that I was the only subpostmaster experiencing these problems. They made me feel alone and inadequate.”

Kamaljit fell heavily in debt as he could no longer make his mortgage payments as he had lost his income from Post Office. Kamaljit was also unable to support his son in university and was having to borrow money from friends and family. Kamaljit says that he felt like a criminal:

“… as though I was a bad person with bad intentions which is completely opposite to who I actually am.”

Kamaljit’s health deteriorated due to the immense stress he was under. Kamaljit says:

“I was in such a dark place that I contemplated ending it all and taking my own life. I am fortunate in the sense that I didn’t make any attempts to do so.”

Kamaljit felt guided towards God and visited the temple, quietly listening to prayers and reading through the Holy Book. Over time, this reduced his suicidal thoughts. Kamaljit now has a job working in a warehouse. He says this is a job to pay the bills and mortgage. Kamaljit says:

“I do not use a post office at all anymore. I want the Post Office to be held accountable and to admit that they have done wrong. For me, compensation is not enough. I want the truth to come out and, most importantly, I want to know how they are going to look after current subpostmasters because if nothing changes, what is the point?”

Rachel Williams

RACHEL WILLIAMS, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Ms Rachel Williams was the subpostmistress of Allerton Post Office in Axbridge, Somerset from April 2006 to November 2008. She and her husband owned a farm and sold farm products from the store in addition to running the Post Office. Ms Williams bought the Post Office when the owners retired. Ms Williams and her husband sold their home and moved into a mobile home and the Post Office was run from a Portakabin, which became part of their farm grounds.

Ms Williams had some in-branch training on Horizon which she found inadequate and she was not confident in using the Horizon System. Ms Williams began to experience shortfalls and was advised to make these good by using a transaction correction. The system would then balance and she would be able to trade. Ms Williams felt uneasy using this method and requested further training.

In June 2008, her branch was audited and a shortfall of over £8,000 was discovered and Rachel was suspended. Ms Williams paid this in instalments over 18 months, as she was told she was liable for the shortfall. Rachel disputed the suspension and was interviewed in July 2008. The threat of criminal proceedings was present.

Ms Williams’ contract was terminated by Post Office in September 2008. She appealed but was unsuccessful. Ms Williams’ business became unviable without the Post Office. She suffered stress and anxiety over the shortfalls and had to borrow money to pay the shortfalls. Ms Williams was terrified of criminal prosecution. There were rumours in the village that she had stolen from the Post Office as it had closed suddenly.

Her husband became ill because of the stress. Rachel feels she cannot move on from what happened to her. Ms Williams says:

“We, as a group of subpostmasters, have been in a cycle of hope and then disappointment. I hope more than anything that the Post Office will finally be held to account.”

Terence Walters

TERENCE WALTERS, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, Mr Terence Walters was a subpostmaster from May 2005 to February 2008. Mr Walters was an engineer in a box-making plant before becoming a subpostmaster. Mr Walters had a week’s training before taking on the branch. He says the training was basic and inadequate. It focussed on selling products rather than reconciliations on the Horizon System. Mr Walters requested further training on Horizon but this was refused. He says he was effectively left to get on with it.

Mr Walters contacted the helpline as much as four times a day during the first week. He was told not to put any shortfalls in a suspense account and the system would right itself. Mr Walters was also told that he was liable to pay the shortfalls. He experienced a variety of issues regarding missing cash, cheques and spoiled labels all to do with the Horizon system. The branch was audited in November 2007 and a shortfall of £14,000 in cash and stock was allegedly found.

Mr Walters was interviewed by the Post Office and he was subsequently suspended without pay. Two months later, Mr Walters received a letter from the Post Office stating that his branch would be closed on the basis that it was within a mile of another branch. His contract was terminated. Mr Walters believes that the Post Office always intended to close his branch and did not want to pay compensation, so used the shortfall as an excuse.

After the closure of the Post Office, the newsagents lost footfall and the business declined and eventually closed. Mr Walters had to sell the premises and his home to pay the debts. Mr Walters now lives in rented accommodation. Mr Walters says the Post Office continued to chase him for payment. There remains a county court judgment against him for over £17,000. Mr Walters blames the Post Office for his huge financial loss and loss of reputation. Mr Walters says he fell into depression and was prescribed antidepressants as a result. Mr Walters says he turned to alcohol and became a recluse. Mr Walters says he wants his happiness back.

Mr Walters says:

“First and foremost, I would like the Inquiry to give us compensation. The Post Office and Department of Business delay and delay. They did not delay when they wanted money from me. Secondly, I want justice. I want our lives back now.”

Virendra Bajaj

VIRENDRA BAJAJ, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Mr Virendra Bajaj was a subpostmaster from April 1990 to June 2006 at the Torquay Road Post Office in Chelmsford.

As part of the family business it was always intended that Virendra would run and operate a post office as a subpostmaster. Virendra worked in his brother’s post office during his studies for two years full time after leaving college before managing his own branch.

Between 1990 and 1999, Mr Bajaj operated his post office using, old paper-based bookkeeping system. During that time, Mr Bajaj did not experience any serious discrepancies. However, in 1999 Mr Bajaj was informed that the Horizon System was being introduced to his branch. He received one-and-a-half days’ training in a hotel. Mr Bajaj’s experience was that the training was rushed and, as a result, Mr Bajaj felt overwhelmed confused by the Horizon System.

Mr Bajaj’s experience of the Horizon helpline, which he says he called four to five times per week, was that the operators were unhelpful and inexperienced in resolving the issues which Mr Bajaj was experiencing.

Mr Bajaj faced regular discrepancies with the Horizon System, encountering both large surpluses and shortfalls. Mr Bajaj felt compelled to use his own money to correct the errors which Horizon displayed. The Post Office demanded that he pay to account for shortfalls but the Post Office would quickly correct surpluses by simply taking the money.

Mr Bajaj developed severe mental health problems. He began to get knots in his stomach and bouts of anxiety about the balancing process on Wednesdays because he did not know what Horizon would show and how much he would have to use of his own money to correct the errors. When an audit found an alleged discrepancy of nearly £9,000 in May 2006, Mr Bajaj and his family could no longer afford to inject money into the business. Mr Bajaj resigned. He and his family had put 16 years into their business. He had developed a reputation of a man with integrity in his local community but was forced to give it all up. Mr Bajaj’s father had to sell the business at a significant undervalue.

Mr Bajaj suffered with severe stress and depression. His ill health which he attributes to the Post Office’s conduct left him unable to work from the date of his resignation in June 2006 until April 2007.

With his father using his pension to pay the mortgage, Mr Bajaj had to go to the Job Centre every fortnight. Later, he ran a shop from the same premises but the business was not profitable and, with no earnings, Mr Bajaj had to rely on tax credits and social welfare. Mr Bajaj lives very close to his old Post Office. When he walks past it, he feels a deep sense of loss and sadness at what was taken from him. Mr Bajaj’s father is now 90. His health is failing and his memory is fading. Mr Bajaj feels deeply aggrieved that his father will not be able to fully appreciate the vindication which Mr Bajaj wishes to achieve. He fears that his father will never know or understand that he is not a thief and that the failure of the business and the devastation of the family’s finances was not his fault.

Mr Bajaj wants the Post Office and those complicit in this scandal to be held accountable for their actions. He believes that they should openly and publicly acknowledge and apologise to him and to his family. He wants Post Office to come to see his family’s former post office to see where his dreams were shattered and to look into his and his family’s eyes and explain why he was treated as he was.

Witness 0204

WITNESS 0204, statement summarised.

Mr Enright: Sir, finally we have anonymous Witness 0204, whom I will refer to as the witness.

The witness has been a subpostmistress since November 2010. She also runs the village shop from the same premises in which the post office is operated. The witness did not experience problems with the post offices that she ran in previous years but has experienced serious difficulties with the Horizon System in her branch. On one occasion, the witness received a transaction correction on Horizon for a MoneyGram transaction even though she had never undertaken a single MoneyGram transaction.

A Mr Longbottom conducted an audit at the branch and said that he could not find anything wrong. He requested the witness’s transaction logs. However, the Post Office refused him access to them. The witness was advised off the record by Mr Longbottom not to pay the Horizon shortfall as it would be classed by the Post Office as an admission of guilt. However, the Post Office made deductions from the witness’s remuneration in July 2017, without her permission, to pay the alleged shortfalls.

The witness lived in fear of the Wednesday balance process every week over the past 12 years. She has constantly had to put in money in to balance the Horizon System. The witness’s friendships with her employees has suffered. One long-standing employee of eight years believed the witness blamed her for a shortfall.

The witness’s relationships with customers deteriorated as a result of her problems with Horizon, as some believed there is no smoke without fire. The witness put her post office on the market but was unable to sell the premises. The witness says:

“Hundreds of decent people suffered and suffered badly. Despite recent improvements, I have decided that I must stop being a subpostmistress. When my post office closes, the village in which I live and the surrounding villages will no longer have access to a vital service. It will be a tragedy for my community. However, I simply cannot take the risk of continuing to work as a subpostmistress for fear of experiencing another large shortfall.”

Mr Blake: Thank you, Chair. Although we are still technically in Northern Ireland, we are travelling to Yorkshire now to hear witness summaries from Mr Lee Castleton and his daughter Millie Jo Castleton. I will start with Lee Castleton.

Lee Castleton

LEE CASTLETON, statement summarised.

Mr Blake: “I make this statement to explain the impact that the civil claim against me made by the Post Office in 2006 and the judgment against me by Judge Havery QC in the High Court in January 2007 and the effect of my bankruptcy upon me and my family.

“From 2003 to 2006, I was the postmaster of Marine Drive Post Office in Bridlington in Yorkshire. When we moved to Bridlington, we had owned our family home. We invested £85,000 from the sale of our home in acquiring the Post Office and the retail outlet.

“We purchased the Post Office and the retail business for £300,000 and the retail stock cost £35,000. We had a mortgage of £215,000. In 2005, the Post Office brought a civil claim against me alleging that I was liable for shortfalls at my Post Office branch in the sum of about £26,000. At the time that the Post Office made the claim for the £26,000, I had made 91 telephone calls to the Post Office explaining the issues that I had with balancing problems with my Horizon terminals at my branch. The Post Office alleged that I had taken the money. That was not true.

“Prior to the civil claim that was brought in the High Court in London, even though the claim against me was only £26,000, Mr Stephen Dilley, a solicitor at Bond Pearce, the Post Office’s solicitors, told me that if I defended the claim, the Post Office would ruin me. In the course of the trial in the High Court, Mr Richard Morgan, the Post Office’s barrister, said to the judge, Judge Havery, Queen’s Counsel, that I was a thief. The judge told Mr Morgan that that was the wrong court to allege that.

“I was unrepresented at my trial and it went against me because I had no money left. The Post Office in 2007 was awarded £321,000 in costs. That resulted in my bankruptcy. I still have a trustee in bankruptcy. I spent more than £80,000 on legal costs including 45,000 that I raised by a remortgage defending the claim against me, but I ran out of money and had nothing left, so when it came to my trial I was on my own. That is not including my legal expenses cover which had run out.

“I eventually in 2020 received £28,500 in compensation out of the Group Litigation. For almost six months, my solicitors refused to give me a copy of the settlement deed with the Post Office on the basis that it was confidential and I couldn’t see it. I first saw the terms of the settlement in June 2020.

“The Post Office from 2004 in the civil claim against me and my bankruptcy has destroyed my life and the lives of my family. At the time, I was treated like a thief in our community and people spoke openly about me going to prison. My daughter Millie almost died from anorexia nervosa. My wife suffered from stress-induced epilepsy. I was rendered almost destitute by the civil claim against me. For a long time, I worked away from home and lived in my car to save costs. When in 2008 our water boiler broke, it took two years to save enough money to get a replacement during which time we lived without hot water.

“I believe that at my trial untruthful evidence was given against me by Ann Chambers of Fujitsu and also by the Post Office. I understand that any claim I might have had for malicious prosecution was given up in the settlement that was reached in 2019. I only saw the settlement agreement for the first time in June 2020.”

Millie Castleton

MILLIE JO CASTLETON, statement summarised.

Mr Blake: Moving on to Milly Jo Castleton:

“I am the daughter of Mr Lee Castleton, a former postmaster. My family moved to run a small newsagents post office in 2003. For over 17 years the Post Office has had a significant part of my life. I’m now 26. In 2004, when the Post Office started all this, I was 8. We were to be thrown into something that has drastically shaped the rest of our lives.

“The Post Office brought civil proceedings against my father in the High Court in 2006 on a false basis. I was 8 years old when I first took note the confusion, frustration and anxiety leaching into my home before talks of courts, trials and accusations of theft. This was an ordeal that not only cost my father legal fees and made him bankrupt, it blackened our family name, branded thieves and liars.

“It was also a lonely time. The financial strain of legal fees and supporting the family saw my Dad working near 100-hour weeks often spending days on end away from us. He became a stranger to me, someone I barely saw and lost a close relationship with. My mother worked too during the day in the newsagents we still had, but which was failing due to the label attached to us after the legal case.

“I remember feeling terrified on the school bus when I was a child. I was asked, ‘Didn’t your Dad steal lots of money or something?’ I removed myself from social interaction. I lost faith in everybody around me over the years. Living in a constant cycle of fear and anxiety led me to not even want to go to the school canteen. Lunch period became a time for me to hide. The cycle was impossible to escape.

“At home I was dealing with parents who were working their hardest to provide, utterly pained by the stress that the Post Office trial caused them. Dad was working insane hours. My mother was also working as much as she could but also dealing with stress-induced epilepsy. These seizures were unpredictable. I remember having to handle her seizures alone as a child, sometimes in the middle of the night. When Dad was away, I’d sleep beside her just in case.

“I felt helpless. I didn’t tell my parents about the bullying or my social withdrawal. They didn’t know I spent my breaks sitting alone or just walking around. They didn’t know I could go a day or two without really talking. They didn’t know that I was assaulted on the school bus and had to run off on the first stop, wet from water being thrown at me, being spat on. I spent days out in the town alone walking around for hours, pretending I met with friends when I didn’t. By the time I was 17, I was wrecked by feelings of self-loathing, depression and feeling like nothing more than a burden to my family. The Post Office just loomed too large in our lives, controlling every aspect of our beings.

“I had spent years in self-imposed isolation afraid of adults and peers. I often feel I had no teenage experience. By the age of 18, I couldn’t even tell you about my favourite activities, shoes or hobbies. I didn’t put any time to myself. I was anxious about going to university. Mum was still having seizures and Dad was still fighting a legal battle. I felt guilty also related to the fear of spending money.

“At university, I walked. Some days I walked for eight or more hours without a break. This whilst being on a diet that was absolute minimum resulted in me fainting a few times in the middle of the town. My late teens and early 20s were governed by my eating disorder and mental anxieties. I began to sink under the weight of it and grabbed for some sense of control.

“By the end of my first year at university, I had been diagnosed as anorexic. I was too sick to go into my second year. I spent a year out. My lowest weight saw we weighing little more than 5 stone. I had to stay in hospital for heart-related issues for days on end. The surrender of a broken spirit, the pain and self-loathing of someone who just couldn’t escape such a terrible situation.

“It took years, relapses, hospital stays, scares about my heart possibly failing, and a period of months in a day clinic post graduation. I walked for my degree in 2017 weighing 5 and a half stone. I would have graduated in 2016 but I had to take a gap year in 2014 to 2015 because of medical intervention because my health problems and my eating disorder.

“This is what the Post Office did to me and my family. While my story won’t be the only one, the mental toll that so many years of fighting has taken is frightening.”

Thank you, Chair. Those are two summaries. The full statements will be available on the website as well.

Sir Wyn Williams: Fine. Mr Enright, I see you’ve disappeared to the back of the room. Can I just ask you one or two questions to confirm a few things? Am I now correct in thinking that all of the Core Participants whom you represent have either made a written statement, given oral evidence, and had a summary of their evidence read out if they did not give oral evidence?

Mr Enright: That’s correct, sir. There is one late Core Participant you granted Core Participant status to, Margaret White, whose conviction has been quashed and you have her full statement.

Sir Wyn Williams: That’s right. So at some point in time we will need to deal formally with Margaret White but, otherwise, we have dealt with all your clients. Thank you very much.

So I think that does mean that, subject to dealing with Mrs White in some appropriate way, we have now reached the end of the human impact hearings. I’m very grateful, as I have said, to everyone, every single person, who has made these hearings run so efficiently. So that means, so that they’re not left out, all the lawyers, all the people who have assisted the people who have given evidence, the ushers and all my team, who are first class.

In due course we will be moving to other phases. Therefore, I should make it clear that the role of subpostmasters in this Inquiry is not at an end. There are further phases to come in which I will hope and expect that they will participate, but we’ve dealt with something which is obviously crucially important; namely, the impact upon them.

I will leave Belfast wiser than when I came here. So thank you all very much and I will see some of you, at least, in due course.

(10.57 am)

(The Inquiry adjourned)