Noel Thomas: "You were a thief in their eyes from the beginning"
A former Post Office worker who was wrongfully convicted of stealing thousands of pounds says he wants those who accused him of theft to be brought to justice.
Noel Thomas was jailed for nine months in 2006 following allegations that £48,000 had disappeared from his post office in Gaerwen on Anglesey.
He was among 39 former sub-postmasters convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting who had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal in April this year, after a Post Office computer system was ruled to be defective.
Mr Thomas, who worked as a sub-postmaster for 13 years, told Wales This Week: "Taking [our accusers'] property, taking their money - making them feel like me and so many others, losing everything – that’s the punishment.”
Mr Thomas became a sub-postmaster in 1992. In 2001, the Horizon accounting system was introduced in post offices across Britain. The new system was meant to minimise paperwork and make it easier for the sub-postmasters to count money.
But Mr Thomas ran into difficulties with the new system.
According to Horizon, £48,000 had gone missing. Although Mr Thomas called the system’s helpline 13 times to try to get to the bottom of the problem, he was arrested in October 2005 on suspicion of stealing the money.
Mr Thomas recalled: "Investigators from the Post Office arrived. The woman was very nasty; she wanted to interview me by myself. I refused; told her: ‘I’d like somebody with me’ and she said ‘No, on your own'.
“She returned with two policemen, and as she walked through the door, she said: ‘There’s the thief - cuff him'.”
Noel Thomas insisted that he was innocent. But because he could not explain where the money had gone, he pleaded guilty to a different charge – false accounting – in the hope that he would be spared a prison sentence.
But Mr Thomas was shocked when a judge ruled he should be jailed.
“[The judge] said 'Nine months', and I expected a suspended sentence, but he said ‘No, take him down.’ And I was taken down,” he said.
He was taken to Walton prison for eight days due to lack of space in other prisons, and was later moved to Kirkham prison near Blackpool.
Mr Thomas was well known locally and had been a county councillor for 16 years.
Between 2000 and 2013, the Post Office convicted 736 people for crimes related to the Horizon system.
Lorraine Williams from Llanddaniel Fab, a village on Anglesey around three miles from Gaerwen, was also wrongfully accused.
In 2011, Mrs Williams noticed that there was a problem with the Llanddaniel Fab post office accounts after £14,600 had gone missing.
She said: “When I was balancing, as I did once a month, I found that there was money, in a way, missing. I tried to find it, but there was nothing to be found.”
Mrs Williams was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended by 18 months.
“It was like a black tunnel. It didn’t feel like it was happening to me. It was awful,” she said.
Mrs Williams insisted she had not stolen money. But - like Noel Thomas - she could not explain the loss, which led to her pleading guilty to a crime she had not committed to avoid going to jail.
“It felt awful - I had to lie," she recalled.
Lorraine Williams is one of the 39 sub-postmasters that had their conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal in London, but she says the experience has had a big impact on her.
“People say it’s over, but it’s not over. It’s still in you, I’ve lost ten years of my life, and I’ll never get that back, and I’ll never get my health back," she said.
Both Lorraine Williams and Noel Thomas received a letter of apology from the Post Office’s Chair, Tim Parker, but Mr Thomas says writing a letter is not good enough.
“It’s a standard letter for everyone," he said.
"I’m confident 39 of the same letter have been sent out. But I’m afraid he’ll have to save the letter and change its date, because he has 700 more to write.”
The Court of Appeal ruled there were significant problems with the Horizon system, and with the accuracy of the accounts it created in post offices.
The document also states that the Post Office failed to disclose fully and accurately how reliable Horizon was.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Post Office said: "We have failed a large number of postmasters, and we are in no doubt about the human cost of that. We are deeply sorry, and we are determined to make up for the pain caused.
"It is imperative that those affected by the scandal get answers, and the Post Office is cooperating fully with the independent investigation being undertaken.
"Those that have suffered injustice must receive meaningful compensation, and we will continue to work with the Westminster Government to help to ensure that."
The company that created the Horizon system for the Post Office, Fujitsu, refused to be interviewed.
A spokesperson said: “We have prepared detailed answers to every question raised by the House of Commons Select Committee, and we continue to cooperate with the investigation into the Post Office and Horizon.”
The findings of the statutory inquiry are expected to be published by October 2022.
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