Between sobs, Wendy Buffrey poured out her aid — and her anger. ‘I can’t consider it’s throughout,’ she declared on the Royal Courts of Justice in London in April this yr.

‘Almost 14 years . . . It’s horrendous we have been all put on this place within the first place. How do you exchange that point? It’s simply . . . gone.’

She pulled herself up and mentioned slightly extra clearly: ‘Now all we want is for the people who find themselves chargeable for this to be held accountable.’

Simply minutes earlier, Lord Justice Holroyde had overturned the convictions of Wendy and 38 different Subpostmasters who had been prosecuted by the Put up Workplace — and a few of them even jailed — for fraud, theft and false accounting offences they didn’t commit however which, as had lastly been dragged out of the Put up Workplace, have been as a result of flaws in its computerised IT accounting system.

Because the cork popped on a bottle of prosecco, I regarded on from the sidelines. I had adopted this story for the previous decade as a journalist and broadcaster, reporting on each transfer within the marketing campaign to right a horrible miscarriage of justice.

Aged 19, Tracy Felstead, 38 from Telford, found that £11,500 had 'gone missing' from her south London post office when she returned from holiday.

Aged 19, Tracy Felstead, 38 from Telford, discovered that £11,500 had ‘gone lacking’ from her south London submit workplace when she returned from vacation.

These 39 now exonerated in court docket have been simply the tip of the iceberg. Greater than 700 have been hauled earlier than the courts between 2000 and 2015 whereas tons of extra misplaced their jobs, their properties and their reputations in a large scandal encompassing incompetence, buck-passing and cover-up.

Others have been hundreds of kilos out of pocket after making up supposed losses from their very own financial savings. A quantity had died with convictions nonetheless hanging over them. There was not less than one suicide.

And all as a result of the Put up Workplace administration continued blindly in its perception that its so-called Horizon pc system — whose touch-screen terminals sat on each counter — was strong and dependable when it manifestly wasn’t.

As Lord Justice Holroyde summed it up, as an alternative of attempting to work out why discrepancies have been occurring, the Put up Workplace administration ‘successfully steamrolled over any Subpostmaster who sought to problem its accuracy’.

The issue was a obvious one.

Within the 4 years earlier than the rollout of the Horizon system, the Put up Workplace had prosecuted 52 Subpostmasters or Put up Workplace workers for shortfall-related offences.

Within the 4 years after the rollout, the quantity greater than quadrupled to 220. Nobody outdoors the Put up Workplace queried this leap as a result of nobody was conscious of it: the Put up Workplace was not required to publish its numbers.

So no alarm bells rang.

Utilizing strategies which started with telling confused and frightened folks they have been the one ones having issues with Horizon, by 2010 the Put up Workplace had turned the criminalisation of its Postmasters right into a mini-industry.

They have been put on the mercy of an organisation filled with managerial incompetents who exercised their tasks with a poisonous combination of prejudice and indifference.

The Put up Workplace’s blanket denial of IT faults and the huge institutional firepower at its disposal meant that anybody racking up mysterious discrepancies didn’t stand an opportunity, harmless or not.

Those that panicked and both hid their discrepancies or simply gave up have been criminally prosecuted. Those that tried to work with the Put up Workplace to get their issues resolved have been both sacked, criminally prosecuted anyway, or pursued by means of the civil courts.

Former post office worker Wendy Buffrey (left), from Cheltenham, celebrates outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having her conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal

Former submit workplace employee Wendy Buffrey (left), from Cheltenham, celebrates outdoors the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having her conviction overturned by the Courtroom of Enchantment

Thirty-nine former subpostmasters who were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office's defective Horizon accounting system have had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal, including Wendy Buffrey, pictured left

Thirty-nine former subpostmasters who have been convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting due to the Put up Workplace’s faulty Horizon accounting system have had their names cleared by the Courtroom of Enchantment, together with Wendy Buffrey, pictured left

To reveal this scandal and proper this grievous fallacious would take organised resistance by a bunch of courageous Subpostmasters led by Alan Bates who arrange the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance — cynically dismissed by Put up Workplace executives as a tiny bunch of cranks with imaginary grievances.

There can be a number of parliamentary inquiries, an epic Excessive Courtroom litigation, two BBC Panorama programmes and newspaper campaigns with the Every day Mail within the forefront. The scandal would find yourself costing the Put up Workplace and the Authorities (which owns it) half a billion kilos.

However the best price was in ruined lives. The misery that those that fell foul of the system went by means of was immense, their tales harrowing within the excessive. Not least as a result of they might not perceive why it was occurring to them after they had finished nothing fallacious.

Wendy Buffrey’s case was a typical one. Subpostmaster at Up Hatherley Put up Workplace in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, from 1998 to 2008, she and her husband Doug purchased the enterprise from the outgoing Subpostmaster and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than they have been having fun with life on the centre of the neighborhood.

One afternoon Wendy did a cash-and-stock steadiness and was horrified to see her Horizon terminal exhibiting she had an additional £9,000 price of stamps in inventory. She by no means had something like £9,000 price of stamps in her department and knew this was some sort of error.

She reversed the inventory out of the steadiness. In doing so, her Horizon discrepancy doubled to £18,000. When she tried the process once more, the discrepancy doubled once more — to £36,000.

Terrified to do anything in case the discrepancy doubled, Wendy spent hours going by means of her transaction receipts. A high-value error of this nature ought to be simple to identify. However Wendy couldn’t discover something. She regarded once more the subsequent morning earlier than the Put up Workplace opened. And once more that night. And once more the next day.

Nothing. Each waking second Wendy wasn’t really serving prospects she was ploughing by means of 3½in strips of data and receipts, inventory and money with a rising sense of panic. Doug was very sick and Wendy didn’t wish to burden him with a fear which could become nothing.

On the finish of her four-weekly buying and selling interval, relatively than name the helpline, Wendy made what she now describes as ‘the one largest mistake of my life’. She balanced to zero, which, within the Put up Workplace’s eyes, meant she was accepting she had £36,000 price of stamps on the premises.

She didn’t. If Wendy was audited, stamps to the worth of £36,000 can be discovered to be ‘lacking’ and he or she can be held liable. (Her enterprise contract with the Put up Workplace — as for all Subpostmasters — acknowledged she alone was accountable if cash went lacking and must make up the distinction ‘immediately’.)

Feeling ‘sick, within the pit of my abdomen day by day’, Wendy continued to hope Horizon would provide you with a correction. Over a interval of seven months, she pumped £10,000 of her personal and borrowed cash into the system. However nonetheless there was no transaction correction, and he or she didn’t discover the error.

In October 2008, three Put up Workplace auditors knocked on the door. Wendy instructed them they’d discover a £26,000 discrepancy within the accounts. She was suspended on the spot.

4 weeks later, she was known as for an interview at which for 3 hours Put up Workplace investigators repeatedly requested her the place the cash was. She replied there was no lacking cash. It regarded to her like some sort of pc error.

‘I saved asking them why the stamps appeared like they did and why the reversal doubled. However they wouldn’t admit the pc system had tousled. They couldn’t even inform me how I’d tousled.’ Regardless of this, she was fired.

Wendy went again to her previous job with the ambulance service, serving to to ferry aged and sick sufferers round Birmingham. She made plans along with her husband to promote their dwelling so as to elevate the cash the Put up Workplace mentioned she owed.

In early 2010, after greater than a yr of silence from the Put up Workplace, Wendy acquired a summons to court docket. She was being prosecuted for theft and false accounting. Doug was nonetheless off sick.

Wendy’s psychological well being started to crumble. ‘I used to be like a zombie,’ she mentioned. ‘However I needed to work as we had no different earnings.’

With the demand for £26,000 nonetheless hanging over her, Wendy and Doug then acquired a letter from the Put up Workplace’s solicitors informing them their property can be frozen underneath the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Their dwelling was bought at a knock-down value and the Put up Workplace received their £26,000 however the Buffreys have been left homeless.

Former subpostmasters Janet Skinner, Seema Misra and Tracy Felstead outside the Royal Courts of Justice in March this year

Former subpostmasters Janet Skinner, Seema Misra and Tracy Felstead outdoors the Royal Courts of Justice in March this yr

They moved in with their son.

Wendy had pleaded not responsible all the way in which — she knew she hadn’t stolen something. However on the day the trial started she was suggested by her solicitor that if she pleaded responsible to false accounting, the theft cost can be dropped and he or she would probably keep away from going to jail.

Traumatised by the prospect of jail, she agreed and was sentenced to 150 hours’ neighborhood service and prices of £1,500.

The subsequent day she was sacked from her job with the ambulance service. She was additionally instructed by St John Ambulance (the place she volunteered) that she was now not welcome. ‘That hit me worse than dropping my job,’ she says.

Eight weeks after receiving her sentence, Wendy had an entire breakdown. ‘I didn’t wish to rise up. I didn’t wish to do something,’ she remembers.

Wendy made it to her GP. ‘I keep in mind the physician saying to me: “Have you ever ever had critical ideas of suicide?” and I can keep in mind saying to him: “In case you’re saying folks don’t give it some thought on a regular basis, then you definately don’t know what you’re speaking about!” That’s how off the sting I used to be. I used to be clearly fascinated about it on a regular basis and . . . I believed that was regular.’

In November 1999, 17-year-old Tracy Felstead nervously stepped by means of the door of her native Crown Put up Workplace in Camberwell Inexperienced, South London. She was younger, eager, simply out of college and had been invited to an interview for the submit of counter assistant. The interview went effectively. She was provided the job. Tracy was despatched on a two-day coaching course to be taught her method spherical Horizon, the brand new computerised until system, and he or she was quickly utilizing it to

serve prospects.

After every shift, Tracy would money up, checking the cash in her until in opposition to the figures on the Horizon display. She would then signal a receipt displaying the until steadiness.

Someday, she discovered herself with a small deficit however her supervisor was not involved. ‘She mentioned: “Oh, it’s nice, it would rectify itself.”’ Tracy was a preferred worker and he or she flew by means of the hectic pre-Christmas interval with none critical mishaps. Then half method by means of 2000 she suffered one other spate of discrepancies. ‘I did a money up on the finish of the week and I had a £1,300 loss.’

Once more, her boss appeared relaxed. She took over on the terminal, ‘did one thing’ and the loss went as much as £1,800. ‘After which she mentioned: “Oh, depart it, I’ll kind it out.”’

In February 2001 Tracy locked her until tray within the workplace protected and went on a household vacation. It was her dad and mom’ fifteenth wedding ceremony anniversary, so that they selected someplace particular — the Dominican Republic.

The day earlier than Tracy received again from vacation, a lack of £11,503.28 was discovered on her inventory file. On her return to work, Tracy was requested if she knew how the discrepancy had come about. She remembers shaking her head and firmly telling her supervisor she had ‘no concept’.

The subsequent day, she cashed up and signed off her inventory unit with the £11,503.28 discrepancy nonetheless excellent. As nothing extra was mentioned, she put it to the again of her thoughts. Two weeks later she walked into work and was given a shock.

‘I’ve received two strapping, nice large guys sitting there ready for me, and so they wish to interview me. And I mentioned: “OK, that’s completely nice.” They requested whether or not I needed authorized illustration and I instructed them: “No, I haven’t finished something fallacious, so I don’t want anyone.” ’

The boys have been from the Put up Workplace’s inside safety unit.

The interview changed into an interrogation. ‘They have been consistently asking: “What did you spend the cash on?” I keep in mind them and saying: “Severely, I haven’t taken any cash. You may have entry to something you need. Financial institution accounts, no matter. I haven’t taken any cash.” ’

Tracy was suspended. ‘I used to be completely distraught. However a part of me really thought — effectively, they’ll get me sorted as a result of I haven’t stolen any cash.’ Three weeks later the identical Put up Workplace investigators knocked on the door of her boyfriend’s dad and mom’ dwelling, the place she was staying. With them ‘to maintain the peace’ have been two law enforcement officials. ‘I’m unsure what they thought I used to be going to do. I’m solely 5ft 3in and these have been large, intimidating, large males.’

Martin Griffiths tragically took his own life after being wrongly accused in the Post Office Horizon scandal. He ran Hope Farm Road Subpost Office in Great Sutton, Cheshire for 13 years

Martin Griffiths tragically took his personal life after being wrongly accused within the Put up Workplace Horizon scandal. He ran Hope Farm Highway Subpost Workplace in Nice Sutton, Cheshire for 13 years

The investigators appeared fascinated by the household vacation. ‘They mentioned: “Did you pay for everyone to go?” ’.

Tracy’s mum and pa received concerned. ‘We mentioned: “You may have entry to everyone’s financial institution accounts so you possibly can see precisely how folks have paid and the place the cash’s come from.”’

The investigators weren’t glad. Three weeks later, on the finish of April 2001, Tracy was sacked.

She was charged by the Put up Workplace’s felony prosecutors with theft and false accounting. Tracy’s solicitor was unamused. The Put up Workplace investigators had no proof of theft. The prosecution didn’t make sense.

Phrase of the prosecution leaked into the area people and Tracy discovered herself the sufferer of a whispering marketing campaign. ‘I had folks me as if I used to be a thief.’

Her self-belief started to crumble rapidly. ‘The one option to clarify it’s that you simply’re in a black gap. You’re feeling trapped . . . suffocated. I couldn’t perceive how anybody may suppose I might steal. My psychological well being took successful.’

Over the summer season of 2001, Tracy took an overdose in her room. She was discovered by a buddy and rushed to hospital, the place she had her abdomen pumped. Just a few weeks later she took one other overdose.

‘I believed I can’t take care of this any extra. I simply didn’t wish to be alive. I didn’t wish to really feel the ache.’ Once more, she was discovered simply in time. She was dedicated to a safe psychiatric unit the place she responded effectively to therapy however as soon as she was out, she needed to take care of being prosecuted.

Tracy was clearly not a effectively lady, however the Put up Workplace nonetheless felt it was essential to nail her. She was despatched for trial in entrance of a jury at Kingston Crown Courtroom.

She remembers shivering within the dock as she watched the trial occur round her. She will be able to’t recall a lot about what was mentioned, however she remembers a second throughout her cross-examination.

Janet Skinner (left) and Tracy Felstead outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, ahead of their appeal against a conviction of theft, fraud and false accounting

Janet Skinner (left) and Tracy Felstead outdoors the Royal Courts of Justice, London, forward of their enchantment in opposition to a conviction of theft, fraud and false accounting

‘They have been saying: “Your signature is there. It’s your until. You’ve taken the cash.” I mentioned: “I went to the supervisor and defined, and I used to be instructed it might be OK.” But it surely didn’t seem to be they needed to hear.’ She was convicted by a majority verdict. ‘I simply couldn’t consider what I used to be listening to.’

Tracy wasn’t sentenced instantly. Due to her fragile psychological state the choose needed psychiatric stories. Her household have been instructed in the event that they paid the Put up Workplace the ‘lacking’ £11,503.28, a jail sentence was much less probably. Between Tracy’s household and Jon’s dad and mom they raised the cash, and handed it over.

Tracy hit the roof. ‘I used to be like: “Why are you paying them one thing I haven’t taken?” I believed folks would see it as an indication of guilt.’ At her sentencing, Tracy was instructed by the choose she was a liar, she had stolen cash from pensioners and disgraced her household.

She was invited to apologise. She refused: ‘I’m not saying sorry for one thing I’ve not finished.’

The choose determined this lack of regret required a custodial sentence and despatched her to jail for six months. Tracy’s father watched his daughter being led from the dock to the cells in handcuffs.

‘I used to be completely petrified,’ remembers Tracy. ‘My barrister got here and noticed me. He mentioned: “One thing’s not proper, however I don’t know the way to show it.” ’

Tracy was taken in an armoured van to Holloway the place she was placed on suicide watch and given treatment to calm her down. ‘I used to be in a high-security jail on the age of 19. I walked in and . . . you’ve received to strip. You’ve received to be searched.’

She was introduced earlier than the jail governor. ‘He mentioned to me: What are you doing right here? A lady such as you shouldn’t be right here.” ’

She grew to become much more determined listening to the tales of prisoners who had murdered folks. One afternoon, she walked right into a cell to seek out the physique of a woman who had hanged herself. She started to have nightmares. ‘There have been fights — folks screaming they’re going to kill somebody,’ she says.

Tracy spent three months in Holloway. On the day of her launch, her fiancé Jon and her dad and mom have been ready. ‘Jon gave me my engagement ring again and I put it on my finger. Once I received dwelling, I mentioned: “Don’t shut the door.” And nonetheless to this present day I can’t have doorways closed in my home as a result of it takes me again to that sound of the jail door slamming.’

Tracy spent the subsequent 20 years battling the psychological well being repercussions of her expertise. In 2020, the Put up Workplace admitted her prosecution was an abuse of course of. The next yr, the Courtroom of Enchantment dominated it was greater than that. It was an affront to your entire justice system and may by no means have occurred.

BUT not less than Tracy survived. Martin Griffiths, a well-loved household man, didn’t. In 2008, he was operating Hope Farm Highway Subpost Workplace in Nice Sutton, Cheshire.

He had been Subpostmaster there for 13 years, whereas his spouse Gina ran the retail facet of their busy store.

Martin was devoted to his enterprise — the primary particular person to reach and the final to depart. Martin and Gina constructed the enterprise up and have been doing effectively, taking dwelling round £50,000 a yr.

In 2009, the issues with Horizon started. Giant discrepancies confirmed up on Martin’s pc display.

First hundreds, then tens of hundreds of kilos went lacking. Martin couldn’t discover out what should be blamed for it.

Somewhat than declare a false steadiness, as different Subpostmasters had finished in comparable circumstances, he acknowledged his discrepancies to the Put up Workplace. Their response was uncompromising: Horizon was functioning completely; Martin was not operating his Put up Workplace correctly; he must make good his losses.

Which he did — by taking cash from his financial savings. As Subpostmaster, Martin noticed it as his accountability to make good the discrepancies and uncover their supply. However the stress started to take its toll.

As Martin fought to make sense of the losses he couldn’t clarify, his way of thinking began to deteriorate. As an alternative of getting back from a protracted day at work and being his regular garrulous self, he’d sit and brood within the household entrance room.

In 2011, Martin was audited. He had a £23,000 discrepancy. The Put up Workplace suspended him. A brief Subpostmaster was put in. This was one other blow to Martin’s vanity.

After three months, he received his job again, however the losses continued to escalate, and Martin appeared unable to cease them.

Between January 2012 and October 2013 one other £57,000 went ‘lacking’ from Hope Farm Highway. Martin emptied the Griffiths’s financial savings accounts to make good the discrepancies, then turned to his dad and mom, who gave him cash from their life financial savings. It was swallowed up.

Someday in Could 2013, Martin opened the armoured door of his counter at hand over a big bag of parcels to a Royal Mail assortment driver, when two balaclava-clad males burst in.

Martin tried to retreat behind the protection of the counter however one of many robbers introduced the crowbar down laborious on Martin’s hand and received into the safe space. He was instructed that if he didn’t hand over the contents of the protected he can be crushed to a pulp.

He complied. The robbers left with round £54,000 in money.

Inside days, one of many robbers was arrested and £15,000 in money was returned to the Put up Workplace.

However £39,000 remained unaccounted for. Interviewed by a Put up Workplace investigator, Martin acknowledged his safety door had been open —one thing quite a lot of subpostmasters did when handing over parcels for assortment. However this was deemed a failure to safe his counter.

Not lengthy after, he was sacked — on the grounds that he had didn’t handle the discrepancies at his department and nonetheless owed hundreds of kilos to the Put up Workplace. This was adopted by a letter telling him he was being held chargeable for £7,500 of the lacking £39,000 stolen through the theft. He was instructed to ship the Put up Workplace a cheque.

Martin was already damaged. This was the ultimate straw. One Monday morning in September 2013, he intentionally stepped into the trail of an oncoming bus.

A notice was discovered wherein Martin apologised to Gina and his household and instructed them he liked them. He died in hospital three weeks later. The coroner at his inquest returned a verdict of suicide. 

Tailored from The Nice Put up Workplace Scandal by Nick Wallis, revealed by Tub Publishing at £25. © Nick Wallis 2021 To order a duplicate for £22.50 (provide legitimate to twenty-eight/11/21; UK P&P free), go to or name 020 3176 2937.