A former Inverness sub-postmaster has told an inquiry that the Post Office’s faulty IT system ruined his life after it suggested he had stolen thousands of pounds from the business.
Peter Worsfold, 77, was sacked in 2002 after auditors claimed up to £3,000 was unaccounted for at his branch in Muirtown.
But the financial problems were not caused by dishonesty but instead the Post Office Ltd’s flawed accounting software, called Horizon.
Mr Worsfold – who estimates he paid around £37,000 of his own money to plug gaps caused by Horizon’s faulty figures – was giving evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, which is investigating one of the UK’s biggest miscarriages of justice.
More than 700 post office staff around the country were wrongly convicted or accused of theft because of the faulty software.
Mr Worsfold said the auditors’ investigation into his branch followed a £20,000 shortfall in the accounts the previous year.
He said: “You could only go back into the system for 40 odd days, so there was no way that I could go back and check in the system what had happened at that time.
“The post office told me to write it off in the accounts but they deducted the £20,000 from my wages on a monthly basis,” he added.
He told retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams – who is leading the inquiry – there were “weekly” issues with balancing Horizon’s figures.
Mr Worsfold said whenever he telephoned the helpline he was told to “accept” the figures and then “adjustments would be made when the discrepancy came to light”.
“Inevitably, it just multiplied itself and made things worse,” he said.
The former sub-postmaster told the inquiry that he even sacked two staff members he suspected of taking the money.
He added: “I’ve apologised to them profoundly because I now know that it wasn’t them. It was the Horizon system.”
Mr Worsfold revealed that he paid “around £37,000” out of his own pocket to plug the gaps in Horizon’s faulty figures.
The witness was deprived of his £2,000-a-month salary while suspended following an audit in February 2002.
False accounting, theft, fraud
He spoke of an occasion when he was visited by two “security officers” whom he believed were employees of the Post Office.
Mr Worsfold recalled: “They said that they had the same jurisdiction as the police and they cautioned me, but I don’t know on what authority they cautioned me, and that I was being charged with false accounting, theft, and fraud.
Counsel to the inquiry Catriona Hodge asked the witness: “How did you feel when you were told you were under suspicion?”
He replied: “I was very worried and devastated by it”.
Mr Worsfold continued: “They wouldn’t allow me to have a lawyer. They said I could have a friend but they mustn’t speak”.
And he added: “If I admitted to the false accounting they said the other charges would be dropped and then no further action would be taken, as long as I paid back the money that was outstanding”.
Ms Hodge asked the witness: “What were you told about the sanctions you might face if you were not to admit to false accounting?”
He answered: “The other charges would probably carry a sentence of imprisonment”.
The security officers gave Mr Worsfold “a couple of hours” to raise the cash and he signed the statement, fearing he’d have no one to look after his children if he went to prison.
Later, the sub-postmaster’s contract was “terminated” and the reason given to him was “for false accounting”.
The inquiry heard that footfall to Mr Worsfold’s Costcutters convenience store collapsed after his post office closed and he struggled to sell his business.
He explained: “Stock valuation was about £30,000 and I managed to sell it for about £6,000”.
’22 years of hardship’
Mr Worsfold said his financial situation forced him to cash in his pensions and re-mortgage his house to pay off his debts.
He read a written statement to the inquiry to complete his evidence and called for “full compensation, plus interest, plus compensation for these past 22 years of hardship”.
Addressing Sir Wyn Williams, Mr Worsfold said: “We have been merely existing to compensate the Post Office and Government for their bad decisions and cover-ups.
“Since the introduction of Horizon, our lives changed and running our post office became a nightmare.
“I have been working all hours to reduce the debts.”
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