Stroud woman 'spat at' while caught up in Post Office Horizon scandal 'stopped going outside'

Nicki Arch was wrongly accused of stealing thousands of pounds from her Post Office in 2000

A former Post Office worker has revealed she stopped going outside after being accused of stealing thousands of pounds from pensioners.

Nicki Arch, from Stroud, said she was “spat at” in the street after she was wrongly accused of theft by the Post Office.

She was one of the number of employees caught up in the Horizon scandal, which was named after a flawed computer system installed by the Post Office in 1999.

The system showed losses which 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were subsequently prosecuted for between 2000 and 2014.

Campaigners won a legal battle to have their cases reconsidered, after claiming the Horizon computer system was flawed.

Some went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft - and many were financially ruined - in what is considered the UK's most widespread miscarriage of justice.

In total, £58million has been paid out to victims but because Mrs Arch was found not guilty and did not go to prison, she has only received £8,000.

‘It was awful’

Speaking at a human impact hearing in London, Mrs Arch reflected on the case, the response she had from the community and the impact it had on her family.

“I went to the local supermarket and it was silent when I walked through the door,” she said.

Mrs Arch is fighting for more compensation after her ordeal, which she described as "awful" at an inquiry.

“One day I got spat on twice. It was all in my hair. I felt like everyone was talking about me. 

“I was the lady who stole off elderly people - that was how the public perceived it. So I stayed indoors and never went out.”

Mrs Arch worked at the Chalford Hill branch near Stroud and was accused of stealing money in 2000.

Speaking at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, Mrs Arch said she could remember when the faulty system was installed - and when she first noticed things going wrong.

'I was on my own'

“The first week [I noticed]," she explained. "I did the balance and it was exactly a thousand pounds short.

“I called the helpline and I said ‘I can see there’s a problem - the weekly total generated by Horizon is incorrect’.

“They said ‘it’s the first week, it will correct itself. Teething problems are bound to happen and stop being negative’.

“I kept my daily totals and noticed it shorted again the second week. This continued for the first six weeks and I called the helpline every week.

“And then week seven, I had a visit.”

Post Office workers pictured outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Credit: PA

Seven weeks after the Horizon IT system was installed, Mrs Arch’s branch was visited by auditors.

She said they checked the books and later interviewed her - without legal representation - at their offices in Stroud.

“I was on my own,” she told the inquiry.

“I was not offered legal representation because I thought we were going for a chat. 

“They said ‘I don’t think you realise how much trouble you’re in’, at which point I was quite taken aback.

“[The auditor] said he was ex-police and knew a liar when he saw one and wanted to know what I’d done with the money so they could all go home.”

Mrs Arch was cleared of all charges following a trial at Bristol Crown Court.

Mrs Arch was later prosecuted for allegedly stealing the money.

She denied all charges and was cleared following a trial at Bristol Crown Court - which she described as emotional.

"I just fell to my knees and couldn’t believe it was over," she said. "The Post Office just left - they didn’t acknowledge it - but my family came out and we celebrated."

She gave evidence this week at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, which has been set up to establish a clear account of what happened.

It is expected findings from the public inquiry will be submitted to the Secretary of State for Business in the autumn.