Post Office IT scandal victim calls for justice and punishment | UK | News

January 11, 2024

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Post Office IT scandal victim calls for justice and punishment (Image: Getty)

Gary Brown, 68, tried to kill himself and was wrongly accused of theft when his branch faced huge financial discrepancies created by the faulty Horizon software.

He achieved his ‘dream’ of taking over a post office in August 2000 and spent 14 years running the branch in Rawcliffe, near Goole, East Yorks., with his wife Maureen, 66, while living in a six-bed home above the shop with their two kids.

But over the years, they saw hundreds of pounds go missing from their books before these figures “spiralled out of control” and later reached £32,000.

In 2014. Gary was ‘forced’ to admit he’d lost all the money and pay it back to the Post Office by selling his home for £125,000 less than its value to avoid two years in jail.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the scandal – which saw 736 branch managers wrongly convicted – “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history.”

Now Gary, who has to take up to 14 different pills a day to counter various stress-related illnesses from the experience, says those responsible must face justice.

He said: “Everybody is pointing the finger at [Ex-Post Office chief executive Paula] Vennells, and she deserves everything she gets, but there were a lot more people involved.”

“I’d weed them all out, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. It will cost too much money to do that.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone with clean hands. They’ve got blood on their hands, a lot of them. They nearly had mine on their hands.”

Maureen, who saw her husband battle horrific health issues due to the decades-long scandal, said there wasn’t a punishment worthy enough for those responsible.

She said: “These people are evil anyway, will it have any effect on them? They do have blood on their hands.”

“People have died because of it, and [other] people have died not necessarily directly because of what’s happened, but it has exacerbated it.”

“Their time – it’s made it shorter, and they’ve not been able to live longer.”

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Gary and Maureen first found out the Post Office in the centre of idyllic Rawcliffe was up for sale while visiting friends in the village for a millennium New Year’s Eve party.

And after cashing in their life savings, they passed an interview process and achieved their ‘dream’ of taking over the store in August 2000.

Gary, who left school with no qualifications and previously sprayed tanks for a living, immediately felt out of his depth while trying to master Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system.

But roughly three years into owning the business, he noticed large losses mounting up on the software each time he would ‘balance’ his weekly takings.

Gary said: “I loved it. The people were so friendly. I changed completely when I came to Rawcliffe. I was a lot calmer. It was a brilliant atmosphere in that shop, I loved it.”

“But it was always in the back of your mind about the money going missing.”

“On a Wednesday, when we used to balance, more than once – maybe five, six or seven times – I was physically sick worrying about what was going to turn up.”

“I was on the helpline, phoning them every day I was just completely and utterly out of my depth.”

“When we went from balancing weekly to monthly, it went haywire then. That’s when the losses started going really bad – hundreds of pounds at a time.”

The couple were forced to cover the missing money through their pay cheques – meaning there were times when they earned nothing each month.

And tearful Gary said the stress of the job led him to try to take his own life by driving through a series of red lights in Doncaster, South Yorks., in around 2010.

He said: “I thought, ‘I just can’t take it anymore.’ I remember thinking, ‘If I pass away, Maureen will get some insurance money – I might as well just finish.’” ”So I just put my foot down and went through two or three sets of traffic lights on red. I can remember missing a lorry and then pulling over on some waste ground.

Sami Sabet, 68, owned three Post Offices in East and West Sussex and was among more than 700 postmasters convicted due to the faulty Horizon system.

He has suffered severe PTSD and heart problems since his 2009 conviction, says the ordeal has taken years off his life.

The retired father of one admitted stealing after being told he faced jail if he denied the theft and was handed a suspended 12-month sentence.

In 2021 he was among 93 postmasters whose convictions were thrown out by the Court of Appeal. Ex-engineer Sami, from Shoreham, West Sussex, cleaned toilets in petrol stations after his conviction. Yesterday he welcomed Rishi Sunak’s announcement.

“Then a lady came up to me and asked me how I was. I just sat there for ages, just crying my eyes out. I couldn’t see the end in sight. It was a lucky escape.”

Their woes came to a head when the missing balance on their account hit £16,000 in 2014 before jumping to £32,000 when Gary finally called in auditors.

Internal investigators from the Post Office interviewed him and he was forced to ‘admit’ he didn’t know what had happened to the huge sums of missing cash.

He was later told by a national union executive representative that the only way to avoid jail would be to sell his home and pay back the money as soon as he could.

Gary said: “We put the house on the market within days. We felt we had no option.

“The pressure that you are put under is unbelievable. When they were phoning me up, they didn’t say, ‘Mr Brown, have you got any news on the money, please?’”It was ‘Have you got that money yet?’ I said, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s going through the solicitors.’ It was phone call after phone call all the time.”

The couple sold their home for £225,000 – which was £125,000 less than its value – and the Post Office agreed not to pursue a legal case after they paid them £32,000.

They then bought a small ‘two up, two down’ home around 100 yards from their old property, which they had to fully refurbish.

But the years of stress took their toll on Gary, who was left unable to work after being diagnosed with a raft of physical and mental health issues.

He said: “I’m still suffering with depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I’m on about 12 or 14 tablets a day for all the effects of it.”

Gary and Maureen were later awarded an interim compensation payment of nearly £32,000 from the Post Office.

And the pair put the money back into their local area by helping to launch a radio station, called Phoenix Community Radio, which now has 17 volunteers.

The scandal – which unfolded between 1999 and 2015 – was thrust back into the spotlight by the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, sparking a national outcry.

Gary said the drama’s real-life former sub-postmaster Alan Bates, who helped raise awareness of the scandal, should be given a knighthood.

He said of Alan: “He’s been absolutely tremendous, and he shouldn’t just get an OBE or MBE, he should get a knighthood for what he’s done.”

“He’s saved a lot of people’s lives.”

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