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Post Office IT scandal victims had to repay thousands due to faulty system

·3-min read
The inquiry will hear from Scottish postmasters involved in the Horizon scandal (Yuk Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
The inquiry will hear from Scottish postmasters involved in the Horizon scandal (Yuk Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

Scottish victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal have told a public inquiry their lives were turned upside down as they were forced to pay tens of thousands of pounds of their own money.

The Horizon system, introduced in 1999, saw thousands of users suffer unexplained losses which they say they were expected to “make good” on.

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry began in Glasgow on Wednesday and heard from three former postmasters implicated in the scandal.

Vinod Sharma, now 74, first took over a post office in Balornock, Glasgow, in 1977 before retiring in 2015.

Mr Sharma said the accounting became difficult following the switch to the Horizon scheme.

Training for the new system, he said, was “insufficient”, and he later noticed recurring unexplainable discrepancies which he would have to repay.

He said: “We were led to believe the system was faultless. It was quite clear over the years that any shortfall was the responsibility of the sub-postmaster. I had to make it good.

I was always told no errors could be made when using the Horizon system

Vinod Sharma

“I was always told no errors could be made when using the Horizon system.”

But in June 2015, Mr Sharma received a phone call while visiting family in Arizona.

He was told there was a shortfall of £28,845 – and on his return he spent days reviewing CCTV to show a trusted staff member could not have taken the money.

A union rep told Mr Sharma that his only option was to repay the significant fee or face suspension and punishment.

Mr Sharma said: “I was in a state of shock,” and described the period as “catastrophic” for his family, before subsequently borrowing money from relatives to pay off the debt.

Mr Sharma retired months later and used more than half of his £52,000 pension to repay the people who had given him a loan.

Peter Worsfold, 77, also gave evidence after he was forced to repay around £37,000 from the period from 1997 to 2002 at his Inverness Post Office.

Mr Worsfold said Horizon would never balance properly and discrepancies occurred almost daily.

In 2001, he was notified of a £20,000 discrepancy – however, he said it took three months before the Post Office flagged up the issue.

As he was unable to locate where the funds had gone, Mr Worsfold was suspended from his post.

After 22 years we continue to struggle due to paying back the losses incurred through the failure of the Post Office and the accounting system Horizon

Peter Worsfold

He described two security officers arriving at his house who said they had the same rights as police officers.

Mr Worsfold was given a few hours to pay the outstanding balance or face charges of false accounting, theft and fraud.

He said: “I was very worried and devastated by it. They told me if I signed a statement admitting to false accounting and if I paid the shortfall then the other charges would be dropped.”

In a panic, he signed the document without being given access to a lawyer and scrambled to come up with the cash.

He added: “After 22 years we continue to struggle due to paying back the losses incurred through the failure of the Post Office and the accounting system Horizon.”

And Louise Dar, who ran a Post Office in Lenzie, near Glasgow, said she felt “fobbed off” after asking for troubleshooting training ahead of opening her branch.

On the first day, an auditor setting up the system noticed a £900 shortfall and accused Mrs Dar of taking it – despite her not having access to the system.

Over the course of two and a half years, Mrs Dar, 39, paid around £40,000.

The inquiry, overseen by Sir Wyn Williams, continues.

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