Horizon scandal: Ex-Hadston Post Office clerk Jacqueline Falcon recalls arrest and years of shame

Chris Conway meets former Post Office clerk Jacqueline Falcon just days after her name was cleared at the Court of Appeal

In 2015, Jacqueline Falcon was arrested in front of her children.

The Post Office clerk was taken to a police station, swabbed, fingerprinted and had her mugshot taken.

She had reversed transactions at Hadston Post Office, in Northumberland, to cover up a missing £1,000 that she had not stolen.

What followed was a horrific ordeal for someone who had never been in trouble before.

A victim of the flawed Horizon accounting system, the 42-year-old spoke out after finally being cleared on Tuesday (13 February).

“I tried and I tried and I couldn’t find the £1,000 anywhere," Ms Falcon told the PA news agency.

She wondered if she had mistyped a transaction, mistakenly recording a £10 deposit as a £1,000.

“Then I thought, had someone grabbed cash through the parcel hatch? I thought of every scenario possible," she added.

“It drove me mad, I went nuts thinking about it.”

What she did not know at the time was that the Horizon system, which could be accessed remotely, could throw out accounting errors.

“Things were always going wrong with the system," she said. "I was on the phone all the time and we had engineers out all the time.

"In the end, we didn’t bother ringing them, we just rebooted the system ourselves if the problem was persistent.”

Ms Falcon, a mother-of-four at the time and who was pregnant with her fifth child when she was sentenced, was terrified to bring up the missing £1,000 with the Postmistress as she was afraid she would have to make up the cash herself.

Remembering the hearing where she admitted fraud on the instruction of her barrister, Ms Falcon said: “The judge made me feel really stupid in court, saying if I hadn’t stolen anything why was I trying to pay the money back?

“But I hadn’t stolen it, the money had just vanished.”

Ms Falcon, who is a Royalist, said: “When it got to court, it was the Queen versus Jacqueline Falcon.

“How on earth can I beat that one, on my word, just because I had been a good citizen? So you just accept it.”

Jacqueline Falcon's case was the 71st Horizon-related conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal. Credit: PA

She had support from neighbours and family, but not, she said, from everyone in the small community where she still lives.

“A lot of my customers stuck by me and didn’t believe I had done anything wrong, and a lot of those older ones have now passed away," continued Ms Falcon.

“Some people have been really nasty to me. My oldest two were 15 and 13 at the time and were bullied at school.

“One person said ‘your mum only got pregnant to avoid going to prison’.”

Ms Falcon was handed a three-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay £933.69, which was outstanding from the missing £1,000 when she was sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court in 2015.

She said she became almost reclusive, not wanting to leave the house in case someone made a nasty remark or a dirty look.

Ms Falcon hated to think about the Post Office and did not follow the Horizon scandal.

Then, out of the blue, a letter from the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice, landed on her doormat, informing her she could have a case for appeal.

Ms Falcon was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service, not the Post Office like many postmasters, and the CPS indicated it would not have brought the case against her had it known about Horizon’s major flaws, as it would not have been in the public interest.

Ms Falcon said: “I have spent the last nine years with depression, I don’t like to go out alone, I feel everyone is looking at me.

“It has had a massive effect on me and my family.

“I don’t feel I have been the best mam to them because I have not been myself for such a long time.

“I am hoping that a weight will have been lifted and I can gradually get my old self back.”

ITV series Mr Bates vs The Post Office is credited brought the Horizon scandal into the spotlight in January. Credit: ITV

She also felt it was better to have had her day in court – or at least following the events via a video link from home – and not to be part of a “mass-exoneration process”.

She said: “I am much happier it is done properly, a judge has looked at it, solicitors have looked at it. It should be done right.”

Ms Falcon praised the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, saying: “I thought it was brilliant.

“It brought back memories which were horrendous, things I had not thought about in years, things I had tried to get out of my memory.

“People will be more understanding now and the show did a good job of explaining the problem – it was a complicated system.”

Despite her ordeal, she recognised other victims have had it worse.

She said: “Some people have lost their home, their business or committed suicide. I’m pleased it was ‘just’ £1,000 as some people ended up being charged for stealing £40-£50,000.

“I would have gone to prison if it had been that much.”

The Crown Prosecution Service did not oppose her appeal, which was heard on Tuesday 13 February at the Court of Appeal.

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