Former postmistress demands apology from Post Office over quashed conviction

A former sub-postmistress from Sunderland has called on the Post Office to apologise after her conviction for false accounting was quashed on Monday at the High Court.

Pauline Stonehouses joins more than 70 former postmasters and mistresses to have their convictions overturned, after it emerged the Post Office's Horizon IT system was faulty.

She said the conviction ruined every aspect of her life, left her homeless and bankrupt and nearly cost her marriage.

She told ITV News Tyne Tees: "I need an apology for that, because they could have ruined everything. We’ve been married 27 years this year and they could have ruined everything and destroyed my family and for nothing.

"Their answer to that was that they had to prosecute me because they want to set an example to prevent others from doing the same, but then to find out then now since, that I wasn’t the first person to do it, so they weren’t setting an example, were they? They were just being vindictive and they were just prosecuting me because they can."

Credit: PA

Upon the quashing of her conviction, she said: "It's a massive, massive relief. It had been hanging over my head for all that time. I never thought I’d get to the point of clearing my name. It was never in the cards. I had to accept the fact that that is what it was and, you know, it clears off to a certain point, but it prevents you going to other jobs."

Accused of false accounting in 2008, it appeared £15,000 was unaccounted for at the Sunderland Post Office branch she ran with her husband.

She explained how, over several weeks, there were discrepancies in the accounts and she had to dip into her own pocket to make up for it.

She said "When the losses started happening, it comes to the end of the four week period and you’ve got to put any shortages in, it comes out of my pocket as the postmaster. There was money coming out of my wages, and then it happened again, there’s more money coming out of my wages.

"So they were taking X amount out and eventually I couldn’t do it no more, I couldn’t physically take anymore out of my wages, because it was leaving me with, you know, next to nothing to survive. So, I had no choice basically, but to false account, hoping that it would correct itself."

Little did she know at the time, the Horizon IT system used by the Post Office from 2000 was actually faulty and this was why the accounts were not adding up.

She added: "I got so stressed out with it, so, so stressed. I wasn’t sleeping and I was angry. I was frustrated and I basically admitted what I’d been doing and I said 'look I can’t do anymore and I’m not getting the help from here and I can’t keep on with the guilt of making these corrections that were wrong, so showing the shortfalls, you need to help me', and her reaction to that was 'well you’re suspended immediately'."

Lawyers representing former postmasters and mistresses have told ITV News there are still 2,000 people waiting for any form of compensation over the scandal and next year we will hear the findings of a judge led statutory Inquiry into the matter, which has the powers to summon witnesses to give evidence.

Following the quashing of seven convictions this week, the Post Office said it is "extremely sorry for historical failures and the impact on the lives of people affected". 

It said it's "introduced wholesale reforms to prevent it happening again" and on compensation, it said it is "expediting offers of interim payments of up to £100,000 to people whose convictions have been overturned, where reliability of Horizon data was essential to the prosecution".