A former shop owner has described emptying her children’s money banks into a bucket in a desperate bid to raise thousands of pounds the Post Office accused her of taking.
Sinead Rainey wept as she told the Horizon IT inquiry how Post Office auditors told her there was a £63,000 shortfall in the branch inside her convenience store near Toomebridge, Co Antrim.
“I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole, it’s a complete blur how I stayed on my feet,” she said.
“I don’t know how I did to be honest.”
Mrs Rainey told the inquiry how the auditors gave her one hour to source as much money as she could to make up the shortfall before they closed the safe and suspended the Post Office.
She frantically called her mother and husband and returned to her home in the village of Moneyglass and found a bucket to start collecting cash.
“I emptied my children’s money boxes into it and my own purse,” she said.
“2ps, 5ps everything went into this bucket.”
A tearful Mrs Rainey said her mother and father withdrew as much money as they could from their bank accounts, as did two of her uncles, while her sister gave her the takings from her own shop.
“Somewhere in the region of £42,000 was in that bucket,” she said.
“I carried that bucket in and the auditors made me stand there and watch them count and made me feel so lousy for bringing them all these pennies.”
In an emotional testimony to the inquiry, Mrs Rainey described how her experiences with the Post Office had devastated her life, left her reliant on medication and fractured family relations with her uncles.
“I don’t go anywhere,” she told inquiry chair Sir Wyn Williams.
“I don’t do anything. I don’t take my kids to the shop. I don’t walk my wee’uns to school. I don’t go to their sports days. I don’t go to their sports. I don’t go anywhere. I don’t even visit my mother and father-in-law because I feel like I let them down because I wrecked their son’s life too because of what happened to me.
“I will never be the person I was before. I was the organiser, I was the one that provided the craic.”
She added: “My husband and my children lost the funny, happy, strong wife and mummy they know, it happened overnight.”
Mrs Rainey said she was a shadow of herself who kept crumbling in front of her family.
“I didn’t deserve this, I was trapped with no one to help me and nowhere to turn,” she said.
The former retailer said she needed the money paid back.
“I need my parents to see that me and my family can be happy again,” she said.
“I need my children to see that their mummy can be happy again. I need to be happy again. I want us to have a life we should have had before this nightmare began.”