Post Office scandal: ‘I carried the shame – I refuse to carry it any longer’

10 minutes ago
About sharing

Watch: Former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses talk to Breakfast

By Marie Jackson
BBC News

Nine victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal have shared their stories of despair, loss and shame with BBC Breakfast in a powerful and moving interview.

They represent just a fraction of the 700-plus sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who are victims of one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice the UK has ever seen.

The group who gather on the red sofa of the BBC One morning show, and spill over on to stools, sit in front of a set branded with red oval Post Office signs.

Such is the horror and trauma of their experiences, it makes an uncomfortable backdrop for some.

“I’ve not stepped foot in a post office since I was convicted,” says Scott Darlington. “I can’t stand even to see the signs.”

At the opening of the extended interview, their harrowing stories are hammered home as each guest takes it in turn to look at the camera, introduce themselves and give a brief account of their nightmarish experience.

Some, speaking publicly for the first time, gulp back their emotion. Others sound defiant, as though this is finally their moment.

“Hello. I’ve got to say I’ve been looking forward to his day. I’m Tom Hedges. I ran a post office near Skegness for 16 years until I was dismissed in 2009 and convicted in 2010,” he says, pausing and closing his eyes before saying the word “dismissed”.

“I had to wait until 2021 until my conviction was overturned. And frankly it wrecked my life, my family’s life and everybody I know’s life. It was the most horrendous thing I have ever been through.”

Alison Hall went into her shell after her conviction: “I just switched off”

Then came Alison.

“My name is Alison Hall. I ran a post office in West Yorkshire until I was suspended in 2010 with a shortfall of nearly £15,000.

“I admitted to a false accounting charge but it was overturned three years ago. Erm, that’s it,” she says, overcome with emotion.

And next is Mohammed.

“My name is Mohammed Rasul. I worked for the Post Office for 27 years and then I was convicted of false accounting.

“I had to wear a tag for three months and had a suspended sentence for 12 months.

“I have carried the shame ever since. I refuse to carry it any longer.”

The debilitating shame – and the sense of a reputation left in tatters – is what unites them.

For much of their lives, they had been that reassuringly familiar face behind the counter, a reliable, trustworthy presence in their community.

But when the Post Office turned around and accused them of theft, their customers thought them frauds.

Alison felt she couldn’t tell anyone when she was suspended.

“People were asking me ‘why are not behind the counter any more?’. I said I’d had a falling out with them. I couldn’t tell anyone the truth.”

Inside, she had switched off, she says. “My partner did everything for me. It was horrendous and they took me to court.”

Scott, who ran Alderley Edge Post Office for four years before his suspension in 2009 and conviction a year later, says he has suffered “awful stigma, embarrassment and financial distress ever since”.

Mohammed had a full social life before he was suspended but became a “total recluse” afterwards.

His shame was such he couldn’t tell his parents or siblings what was happening.

“Although I knew I hadn’t done it, it was the stigma attached,” he says. “If anyone asked, you had to explain what had happened. I couldn’t explain that something had happened that was totally out of my control.”

He paid a shortfall of £12,000 out of his own savings and borrowed money, saying otherwise he would have gone to prison.

“But you’d done nothing wrong,” says Breakfast host John Kay, quizzically.

“I knew that,” says Mohammed, with a shrug.

Mohammed Rasul says he went from having a busy social life to being a recluse

All of us will tell you the same, interjects Tom Hedges. “We were all forced to pay money back. Over the years I handed them about £60,000.”

“They take it out of your salary,” says Sally Skinner. “They [the Post Office] really are beyond redemption.”

Varchas Patel, speaking on behalf of his father Vipin who was too ill to appear, says his dad was wrongfully prosecuted for shortfalls at his branch in excess of £75,000 from 2010 to 2011.

His standing in the community went at that point, he says, and they wanted to drive his parents out of their Oxfordshire village. There were “wanted dead or alive” posters in the community – they saw him as a Post Office robber, he adds.

The shame piled on top of the horror of being trapped in a situation with no way out, as Scott calmly describes.

“I wanted to plead not guilty but was advised to plead guilty,” he says, adding that the Post Office held all the cards. His barrister couldn’t get any information and told him he would probably go to prison if he pleaded not guilty.

“So I had to plead guilty, so then I’m in the newspapers as pleading guilty so I just presumed everybody thought I’d had my hands in the till,” he says.

“I’m supposed to be the postmaster and I knew I hadn’t done anything. How am I supposed to get out of this situation?”

Eight bowed heads are nodding, as Tom adds he had similar information from his lawyer – “if you plead not guilty, I can guarantee you will go to prison”.

“He said ‘no jury in the land would believe an institution as cherished as the Post Office could possibly have a computer system that is rubbish.'”

Janet Skinner suffered health problems leaving her unable to work

The impact of these miscarriages of justice – and everything that came with it – was in some cases worse on their families.

Janet Skinner went to prison for three months. Her conviction was later quashed, in 2021.

Asked what prison was like, she says it was horrendous and something no one would want to go through. But it’s as she starts explaining how it was harder because she had two teenagers that she finds she can’t continue speaking.

And Tom recalls how his daughter was working as an estate agent when some of her clients – who didn’t know she was Tom’s daughter – began speaking about that “awful man down at the Post Office who’s stolen all the pensioners’ money”.

Asked what they want now, they are agreed on the need to speed up access to compensation and accountability.

“The perpetrators need to be brought to account otherwise it won’t be justice,” says Scott.

For Mohammed, who no longer wants to carry the shame, he would like the Post Office to put a poster in every branch where a sub-postmaster or sub-postmistress has been wrongfully convicted, declaring their innocence – and saying they’re sorry.

Related Topics

More on this story

2 hours ago
21 hours ago
15 hours ago