Suicide attempts, bankruptcy and lost memories: Post Office victims share reality of the scandal

A public inquiry is underway to establish if anyone linked to the Post Office could be held responsible for the wrongful accusations, Nick Wallis reports

Lost childhood memories, suicide attempts and bankruptcy are just some of the continued and lived realities of the victims in the Post Office scandal.

Their stories have come to the forefront again after the release of Mr Bates vs the Post Office, an ITV drama that tells the story of injustice that struck the lives of around 900 postmasters and mistresses who were charged with fraud and theft, based on evidence from a faulty computer system.

In 2019, 550 of them fought back, banding together and taking the Post Office to court before agreeing to a settlement worth £43 million plus legal costs.

As the last episode of four-part series airs tonight, ITV News speak to two characters who were represented in the programme.

Jess Kaur experienced agonising mental health problems after she was accused of theft by the Post office Credit: ITV News

Jess Kaur (identified as Saman in the series) owned a Post Office in Aldridge, West Midlands. In 2009, she was taken to court and accused of theft by the organisation.

The case was later thrown out, but not before she suffered a complete mental breakdown and tried to commit suicide.

Speaking to ITV News, Ms Kaur explained that she was sectioned but that whilst she was in hospital, she attempted to kill herself again.

Doctors decided to apply electroconvulsive therapy to her brain, but as a result she lost all memory of her childhood.

"Even until today I'm still on alot of medication. I might not look like I'm ill to alot of people but I'm suffering very badly with PTSD," Ms Kaur said.

"If I walk past a Post Office I feel sick. This was my life, it was going to be for my children's future and they've taken that away from me."

Lee Castleton was forced into bankruptcy by the Post Office Credit: ITV News

Lee Castleton bought a post office in Bridlington, Yorkshire, in 2003.

But he began noticing discrepancies in his accounts, and within a year his computer system showed a £25,000 shortfall.

Across the same time frame, Mr Castleton made 91 calls to the Post Office's helpline to raise his concerns over the faulty system, but claims he was dismissed.

He was taken to court by the Post Office and was ordered to repay the money plus an additional £321,000, which bankrupted him.

"The impacts for the family were huge, we were ostracised in the place that we lived and it was just very difficult," he shared.

Despite the government-owned Post Office accepting responsibility for the prosecution of innocent people, there have been complaints that the multiple compensation schemes are both too slow and too complex.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was challenged over the issue on Thursday and said: "My job is to make sure that we're putting in place the compensation schemes and all those people that were awfully treated, that suffered an awful miscarriage of justice, get the justice they deserve."

But for the victims the financial returns aren't enough, with the drama evoking renewed calls for all politicians and executives involved in the scandal to be held to account.

"People have lost their lives waiting for justice to be done and they deserve accountability and I think it's about time that people stood up, shook it and really made it happen," Mr Castleton said.

"This isn't over, people are still having to fight in every corner. The Post Office is still in charge they're still making the decisions.

"I wish that wasn't the case, I wish we were able to take it outside and allow a third party to make the decisions," he added.

Paula Vennells faacing questions over her part in the Horizon scandal. Credit: ITV News

Paula Vennells, who was the chief executive of the Post Office for seven years across the time of the scandal, also featured in the drama.

She has refused all interview requests since the scandal emerged, but will face scrutiny later this year at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.

In an email to ITN, her lawyers said Ms Vennells "is unwavering in her support for the inquiry and is determined to assist in whatever way she can so that lessons are learned and that this never happens again."

They added that given that the inquiry work is ongoing it would be "inappropriate for her to comment" or "participate in an interview."

Over the last several years, Ms Vennells has issued a series of statements saying she is "truly sorry" for the suffering caused to "innocent postmasters," her lawyers added.

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