Wrongly convicted Post Office workers say former bosses should face jail

UK taxpayers could have to pay as much as £1bn in compensation to former Post Office workers wrongly convicted of theft due to the defective Horizon IT system.

Former Post Office workers who were among those wrongfully convicted for theft, fraud and false accounting have called for the company’s former management to go to jail for their part in the long-running scandal.

More than 700 Post Office operators were prosecuted between 2000 and 2014, based on evidence from the Horizon IT system, which was installed and maintained by Fujitsu.

Damian Owen, who was manager of a Post Office branch in Bangor, north Wales, was jailed for eight months after he was accused of stealing £25,000 as a result of computer errors. His conviction was quashed in 2021.

Owen was at times lost for words as he told the inquiry into the scandal about his time in prison.

“I lost an awful lot of weight,” Owen told the inquiry. “I did what I could to pass the time as quickly as I could.”

Owen said the £25,000 hole in his branch accounts appeared shortly after Horizon system was installed, and he knew the figures didn’t add up.

“We never held that amount of money there. It was a small branch,” Owen said. “As far as I was aware, the most held there was £13,000.”

Owen was giving evidence to the second day of the inquiry into the human impact of the failings of the company’s software. The inquiry is part of an investigation into one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Some of the convicted workers were sent to prison, others lost their livelihoods and their homes. Many went bankrupt, and some died before their names were cleared.

The inquiry, which is being chaired by the retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams, is expected to hear evidence from about 60 former Post Office workers over the coming weeks.

Owen called for former Post Office management to face charges.

“I want there to be convictions, not only for the people who have perpetuated the whole conspiracy inside the Post Office, everyone from the top down who knew and was still pushing charges,” he said. “I want charges against people not only in my court case who came to give evidence and lied under oath, I want each of them to receive a perjury charge.”

Lorraine Margery Williams, a former sub-postmistress from Anglesey, also called for prosecutions of former Post Office managers.

“I want them to go to jail for what they have done. But that would be an easy life for them. They’d come out and still have their money,” she said. “I want them to feel the way I felt and the way we suffered financially. I just want somebody to be accountable. It has gone on for so long and people are hiding. Somebody has got to be accountable for this.”

Williams, who received a suspended prison sentence in 2012 before her conviction was quashed in 2021, said she had struggled to find work after her conviction, which also caused her family’s mortgage repayments to quadruple.

Williams said the experience had profoundly affected her, her husband and her daughter.

“I was a recluse, I wouldn’t go out. I still don’t feel I am the same person. I get angry at times,” she said. “I don’t trust anybody any more and it’s difficult.”

Lisa Brennan, a former Post Office counter clerk from Huyton near Liverpool, ended up homeless after her conviction for theft in 2003.

“I had no job and I couldn’t afford the mortgage. I had to sofa surf,” Brennan told the inquiry, adding she felt too ashamed to return to her home after being found guilty.

Brennan insisted on her innocence throughout her trial and said she had planned to kill herself if she had been sent to prison, despite her daughter only being six years old at the time. She was given a suspended prison sentence, a conviction that was quashed last year.

“It was the end of the world to me,” she said. “That was my life, all I had known was the Post Office from 16, and just to be told: ‘You’re a thief’ is horrible. I wasn’t, and hadn’t taken anything.”

After her conviction, Brennan was declared bankrupt, her marriage ended and she attempted to take an overdose.

“I used to drink a lot,” she said. “Vodka, wine, anything just to numb it.”

Talking about her almost 20-year ordeal, Brennan said: “It is just scandalous. It should never have happened. I wasn’t the only one. All of us say the same thing, we were told: ‘It’s only you. Nobody else is making these mistakes.’”

Janine Powell, originally from Tiverton in Devon, cried as she described how she was accused by the Post Office of stealing more than £71,000.

When Powell was sent to prison in 2008, she was separated from her children, which she said had a big impact on their relationship.

“We were all very close, and I think [my daughter] blamed me for leaving her,” she said. “It was hard to get that relationship back on track.”

Powell had to wait for more than a decade until her conviction was quashed.

The inquiry continues.