The ongoing inquiry into the Post Office IT scandal has heard from former sub-postmasters who were wrongly imprisoned due to faults with the Horizon computer system. This first stage of the public inquiry into what has been labelled as one of the largest miscarriages of justice in British history is reserved for the reading of ‘human impact statements’ from the victims.
One victim has recounted how she was prosecuted for fraud and false accounting after a shortfall of £93,000 appeared on her Post Office’s accounting system. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, during which time she missed her daughter’s 18thand son’s 21st birthdays, as well as the birth of her first grandchild.
She told the panel: ‘The judge told me I had breached the community’s and the Post Office’s trust. This was very upsetting knowing I had done nothing wrong. I didn’t even take anything with me as I was not told to pack a bag before attending court.
‘Once the door was locked I burst into tears and sobbed. Being taken away from my family was the worst form of punishment.’
The same victim explained that despite being released from prison over 10 years ago she is still in bankruptcy. She described the ongoing psychological effects of her conviction, and that she felt compelled to return to living in the US where she had resided prior to working as a Sub-Postmistress due to local speculation and national media coverage of the scandal.
The inquiry has also heard from another victim who was prosecuted for six counts of false accounting. His legal team advised he plead guilty and were confident he would not receive a custodial sentence. When he was sentenced to nine months in prison the judge said he had to ‘make an example’ of him. At this time of his conviction he had two young children, and his wife was pregnant with their third child.
He described to the panel how he supported his wife, children, and extended family through his job at the Post Office. After his conviction he struggled to obtain work, and he went from living in a busy family house with his siblings, on which he paid the mortgage, to having to move with his wife and three children into a homeless hostel for eight months.
‘When my sentence was passed I felt like the floor was gone from under me, I was dying inside and my mind went blank. The situation with the Post Office has ruined my life. I have not been able to do the job that I wanted to do to support my family. I have not been able to find any suitable employment with a criminal conviction.’
Another victim recounted that he served three months in prison for theft, after which the Post Office pursued him for the recovery of the alleged shortfalls and costs totalling £30,729.
The Human Impact Hearings stage of the inquiry is due to continue throughout March.