Wrongly convicted ex-Post Office staff say those responsible should face prison

Former Post Office workers pictured outside the Royal Courts of Justice after their convictions were overturned. Credit: PA Images

Former Post Office workers who were among those wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting due to a defective computer system say those responsible for their convictions should face prison.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses (SPMs) were prosecuted based on information from the Horizon IT system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu.

However, in December 2019 a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained a number of "bugs, errors and defects" and there was a "material risk" that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

It has been described as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history, affecting dozens of innocent people - some of whom died before their names were cleared.

Former post office manager Damian Owen, from Anglesey, told an inquiry in central London that he was audited in 2010 and accused of stealing £25,000. He was subsequently jailed for eight months.

He said: "[Prison] is not the kind of place I want to be... I lost an awful lot of weight, about four stone in 10 weeks."

Mr Owen said he sought help for his mental wellbeing and began working "bottom of the rung" jobs because of his criminal record.

Asked what he wants from the Post Office, the witness said: "They will not do anything to help in any way, they don't want to assist in any way.

"I would like a proper apology and I won't beat about the bush, I want a decent amount of money out of them.

"I spent 10 years doing menial jobs which are massively beneath me."

Former Post Office workers have been fighting for justice. Credit: PA Images

Mr Owen continued: "I want some decent money, a decent apology and I want there to be convictions for the people who have perpetuated the whole conspiracy inside the Post Office.

"You know, everyone from the top down knew and were pushing the charges."

Also giving evidence was mother-of-one Margery Lorraine Williams, 55, from Anglesey, who tearfully said she was left to pick up a bill of just over £14,000 because of the system fault.

She had owned her post office in Llanddaniel Fab near Llangefni since 2009, but in 2011 auditors suspended her licence before she was convicted of four counts of fraud.

Ms Williams told the inquiry she had pleaded guilty because she did not want to go to jail and leave behind her daughter, who was 10 at the time.

She spoke of being "humiliated" after receiving a 52-week prison term, suspended for 18 months.

Ms Williams said: "It was horrendous because it was like a little village for us and my daughter had grown up there from one to the age of nearly 11."

Speaking about the physical effect of her ordeal, she went on: "I've got type 2 diabetes now and I've got scarring alopecia, which means the hair is gone and won't be replaced.

"I was a recluse, I wouldn't go out. I still don't feel I'm the same person and I do get angry at times.

"I don't trust anybody anymore. It's really difficult."

The Court of Appeal overturned dozens of convictions. Credit: PA Images

Ms Williams told of how her daughter has been bullied at school and that her family has struggled financially.

Asked what she wants from the Post Office, she added: "I want them to go to jail for what they've done, but then that would be an easy life for them. They'd come out and still have their money.

"I want them to feel the way I felt and the way I have struggled financially.

"I just want somebody accountable because it's just gone on for so long and people are hiding.

"Somebody's got to be accountable for this."

Their convictions were overturned in April last year, along with those of dozens of other sub-postmasters.

The inquiry, which is expected to run for the rest of this year, will look into whether the Post Office knew about faults in the IT system and will also ask how staff were made to take the blame.

Jason Beer QC, counsel to the inquiry, said during his opening that the ordeal of those affected could be concluded as "the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history".

Last year, former Post Office chief executive the Rev Paula Vennells said she is “truly sorry” for the “suffering” caused to subpostmasters who were wrongly convicted of offences.

Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help

  • Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org

  • Papyrus offer support for children and young people under the age of 35 over the phone on 0800 068 41 41 between 9am – midnight every day of the year. If you would rather text you can do so on 07786 209697 or send an email to pat@papyrus-uk.org

  • Rethink Mental Illness offer practical advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems on a wide range of topics including treatment, support and care. Phone 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm) or visit rethink.org

  • Mind also offer mental health support between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. You can call them on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463. There is also lots of information available on their website.

  • Campaign Against Living Miserably's (CALM) helpline and webchat are open from 5pm until midnight, 365 days a year. Call CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or chat to their trained helpline staff online. No matter who you are or what you're going through, it's free, anonymous and confidential.

If you have an emergency and a life is in danger, contact the emergency services on 999.