More than 500 village Post Office staff sue company after being accused of stealing missing money 

Money

More than 550 sub-postmasters branded crooks by their own bosses turned the tables yesterday by taking the Post Office to court.

In a landmark class action, they told the High Court in London their lives had been ruined by false accusations of theft.

Some had attempted suicide while others had died fighting for justice in a dispute spanning more than a decade, the court heard.

More than 550 sub-postmasters branded crooks by their own bosses turned the tables by taking the Post Office to court (pictured). From left, Jasvinder Barang, Karen Wilson, Scott Darlington, Jo Hamilton, Sue Knight, Nigel Night and Tracey Merritt

More than 550 sub-postmasters branded crooks by their own bosses turned the tables by taking the Post Office to court (pictured). From left, Jasvinder Barang, Karen Wilson, Scott Darlington, Jo Hamilton, Sue Knight, Nigel Night and Tracey Merritt

More than 550 sub-postmasters branded crooks by their own bosses turned the tables by taking the Post Office to court (pictured). From left, Jasvinder Barang, Karen Wilson, Scott Darlington, Jo Hamilton, Sue Knight, Nigel Night and Tracey Merritt

One widow brought some of her late husband’s ashes in a small box so he could finally ‘have his day in court’.

Running post office branches in village stores, the sub-postmasters and mistresses were the backbones of their communities until the Post Office prosecuted them as thieves.

Many were jailed, ended up bankrupt and had their good reputations shredded over thousands of pounds supposedly ‘missing’ from their branch accounts.

But it later emerged that glitches in new computer terminals installed in their shops could have been blamed for the shortfalls.

Ex-postie turned 60 in prison 

One of the claimants in the High Court case is Noel Thomas, who spent his 60th birthday behind bars. He was sentenced to nine months after pleading guilty to false accounting over £50,000 ‘missing’ from his tiny post office in Anglesey.

The ex-postman’s problems began when the Horizon computer system kept reporting money as missing after 2000.

Noel Thomas (pictured) was sentenced to nine months after pleading guilty to false accounting over £50,000 ‘missing’ from his tiny post office in Anglesey

Noel Thomas (pictured) was sentenced to nine months after pleading guilty to false accounting over £50,000 ‘missing’ from his tiny post office in Anglesey

Noel Thomas (pictured) was sentenced to nine months after pleading guilty to false accounting over £50,000 ‘missing’ from his tiny post office in Anglesey

Mr Thomas, now 71, told a BBC documentary: ‘They said I was the only person who had a problem. They don’t know where the money is and I don’t. I didn’t steal it.’

He was charged with theft and false accounting but the former was dropped in return for him admitting the latter.

The Post Office later admitted in documents seen by Panorama that while it could not rule out theft, the missing money was ‘probably caused by operational errors’.

The Post Office insists there is nothing significantly wrong with its computers and has so far spent £5million of taxpayers’ money on lawyers to fight off the claims of its former sub-postmasters.

They came from all over the country yesterday for the first court hearing in their long quest for justice. The Post Office faces a compensation bill of up to £1billion if it loses.

Jo Hamilton, 61, a former postmistress from Hampshire who now has a criminal record, said outside court: ‘We have come here today to seek justice. It is not about the money, it is about clearing our good names.

One widow, Karen Wilson (pictured) brought some of her late husband’s ashes in a small box so he could finally ‘have his day in court’

One widow, Karen Wilson (pictured) brought some of her late husband’s ashes in a small box so he could finally ‘have his day in court’

One widow, Karen Wilson (pictured) brought some of her late husband’s ashes in a small box so he could finally ‘have his day in court’

‘None of these people are thieves. They were hard-working pillars of the community who never even had a parking ticket until this wretched computer system came along.’

Karen Wilson, 64, whose postmaster husband Julian died from cancer two years ago after battling for justice for a decade, said: ‘I have some of his ashes with me because I promised him I would never give up fighting to clear his name.’

About a dozen of the 557 claimants attended court yesterday. Their QC, Patrick Green, told Mr Justice Fraser that many claimants had been unfairly jailed for offences including false accounting, fraud and theft, when the real culprit was the malfunctioning Horizon computer system that records over-the-counter transactions in post offices.

‘The sub-postmasters accuse the Post Office of not bothering to investigate glitches in the IT system, while relentlessly pursuing them through the courts for money which the computers claimed was missing,’ he added. The case will last months and is being split into two or three trials. The first will determine the contractual relationship between the claimants and the Post Office.

The Post Office denies the allegations and argues the burden of proof is on the claimants to demonstrate that the Horizon computer was responsible.

It said they were simply trying to ‘avoid their responsibility’ for the losses and described the case as ‘an ambitious attempt to rewrite the contract’ between it and the sub-postmasters. 

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