In the first Scottish hearing of the public inquiry into the long-running scandal, those running Post Office branches told how they were forced to re-mortgage their homes and cash in pensions to meet crippling debts caused by problems with the accounting system.
In a day of moving testimony, others recounted how the scandal cost them their marriages and even led them to contemplate suicide as they were harangued to pay off debts for which they were not responsible .
The hearing into the human impact of the inquest, which is being led by retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams, heard from Keith Macaldowie, a 49-year-old who paid more than £15,000 to the post office due to Horizon revenue shortfalls.
The father-of-two, who worked as a postal clerk in Greenock, Inverclyde, between 2006 and 2011, said he had to re-mortgage his house and borrow from his mother-in-law for fear of not paying.
Mr Macaldowie, who was told the matter would go no further if he quit, said the stress of the situation cost him his marriage and he nearly took his own life.
More than a decade later, he is still in debt, dependent on benefits, and said the episode irrevocably changed his relationship with his children.
“For several years, they more or less had no father,” he explained. “I’ve more or less become a recluse when I’m not working.”
Peter Worsfold, a 77-year-old former deputy postmaster from Inverness, told the inquest how he was confronted at his home by two ‘hefty’ Post Office security guards after one of the numerous significant failings were reported at its city branch. Muirtown area.
Mr Worsfold said he was told he was being investigated for false accounting, fraud and theft, with security officers telling him to pay to make up the shortfall.
“If I didn’t they said I was probably going to be jailed,” he told the inquest. “I gave them money. I felt humiliated and confused.
The victims of the scandal of miscarriages of justice of the post office tell the investigation their ordeal
In total, Mr Worsfold had to pay the Post Office more than £37,000 to make up for the shortfalls, but said the actual price was even higher. “It was totally devastating,” the father-of-three said. “I had to cash in my pensions and remortgage my house to pay off the debts.”
Mr Worsfold, who was suspended and eventually had his contract with the post office terminated, said he called the police and even sacked two members of his staff, amid efforts to identify where the money went .
In what is the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history, some 736 assistant postmasters and assistant postwomen were wrongfully accused of theft, fraud and false accounting between 2000 and 2014 due to the Horizon system, which was installed and maintained by Fujitsu.
Although they repeatedly protested their innocence, many were convicted and imprisoned, or left with their finances and personal lives in shambles. Some died before their names were cleared.
The latest inquest hearing, which took place at the Marriott Hotel in Glasgow city centre, also heard testimony from Louise Dar, a 39-year-old woman who had to pay around £44,000 in the post office.
The mother-of-three, who took over the post office in her home town of Lenzie in East Dunbartonshire in November 2014, said the first shortfall of almost £1,000 appeared when she first on-site training day with a post office auditor. accusing him of taking the money.
Ms Dar said that as she and her husband took money from the retail side of their business to make up for shortfalls, the post office would also cut their salaries.
The former sub-postwoman was suspended twice, with her contract finally ending in 2017. She was also ordered to appear for a formal interview the day before her mother’s funeral, during which she was accused of flight.
“We had put all our savings into this business,” she told the inquest. “My mother-in-law even sold jewelry to support us, and having to watch them get taken away from under us was horrible.”
Responding to questions from Jason Beer QC, solicitor for the inquest, Ms Dar said “horrible” rumors had been spread about her family, with her husband also being threatened and subjected to racial slurs.
She was one of six lead claimants in a successful case at the High Court in 2019, which saw a group of 555 deputy postmasters and mistresses challenge the post.
As a result, she received payments that “hardly touched” her debts. “It’s not good enough, we shouldn’t be in this position,” she said. “We don’t want a windfall, we just want to get back to zero.”
Also testified was Myra Philp, whose mother, Mary, a former police officer, was an assistant postmaster at Auchtermuchty between 2001 and 2006.
She said they had paid over £70,000 at the post office, and the company told her mum she was the only one having problems with lost profits. “They stole our money,” she said. “They destroyed my late mother’s life.”
Ms Philp also expressed outrage at continued ambiguity over whether her case is being considered by the historic deficit compensation scheme. “It adds the ultimate insult to injury,” she said.
Earlier, Vinod Sharma, a retired postmaster, told the inquest he felt he had no choice but to pay nearly £29,000 after the computer system identified a major shortfall at the post office branch he ran in Balornock, north Glasgow.
The 74-year-old said Post Office auditors suggested his assistant stole the money after the deficit was discovered in 2015.
“It’s not the kind of money you can save so easily, and I was waking up in the middle of the night thinking ‘what am I going to do? What can I do?’” he explained.