Bankruptcies, suicide attempts and jail sentences: the real stories of the victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal

5 January 2024, 16:43 | Updated: 5 January 2024, 16:48

Noel Thomas was one of the postmasters whose convictions were overturned in April 2021.
Noel Thomas was one of the postmasters whose convictions were overturned in April 2021. Picture: Alamy

By Ana Truesdale

The lives of the people featured in Mr Bates vs The Post Office have been deeply impacted since the false accusations of the Horizon Post Office scandal.

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The Post Office prosecuted more than 700 sub-postmasters over a period of more than 15 years.

Technical glitches with the Horizon system implemented across the Post Office network caused financial discrepancies.

The Post Office falsely accused hundreds of postmasters of theft, false accounting, and fraud.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office covers the stories of a handful of the Post Office Horizon scandal's victims.

Former sub-postmaster Jo Hamilton had to re-mortgage her house twice as she attempted to deal with the apparent financial shortfall in her accounts.
Former sub-postmaster Jo Hamilton had to re-mortgage her house twice as she attempted to deal with the apparent financial shortfall in her accounts. Picture: Alamy

Jo Hamilton

A former sub-postmaster in South Warnborough, Hampshire, Jo Hamilton thought financial discrepancies were caused by her own mistakes.

She re-mortgaged her house twice to fill the shortfall, leaving her with a large amount of debt.

The Post Office fired her in 2006 and she was eventually charged with the theft of £36,000.

When she appeared in court, she pleaded guilty to false accounting, a lesser charge than theft, with the promise she wouldn't have to go to prison if she paid the money back.

She now works as a cleaner and her case was one of 39 which was overturned in April 2023.

Seema Misra

Sentenced to 15 months in prison, Seema Misra was 8 weeks pregnant when she began her sentence behind bars.

She served four months of her sentence and gave birth to her second child in hospital after her release.

Ms Misra was falsely accused of stealing £74,000 from the Post Office.

She told the Sun: "If I hadn't been pregnant, I would have taken my own life. I was at rock bottom."

"It was everything I had imagined and worse," she added.

"It was unclean, I felt I had limited antenatal care, and I was constantly terrified someone would attack me. I’d convince myself someone was going to stab me and kill my baby.

"I’d gone from being a pillar of the community to a thief who was stealing money from old people. I never in a million years would have imagined I would have ended up in prison."

Lee Castleton

Lee Castleton called the Post Office's helpline 91 times about issues with the IT system at the Post Office in Bridlington, Yorkshire.

He says he didn't receive any help from calling the line but an audit found he had a shortfall of £25,000.

The Post Office immediately suspended him and Mr Castleton was forced to represent himself at the High Court due to lack of funds.

The High Court ruled in favour of the Post Office and Mr Castleton had to declare bankruptcy.

He was chased for £321,000 in legal costs by the Post Office.

Mr Castleton agreed to a settlement with the Post Office in 2017.

He now works at a local factory.

Karen Wilson's husband Julian died in 2016 before he was cleared of charges in 2021.
Karen Wilson's husband Julian died in 2016 before he was cleared of charges in 2021. Picture: Alamy

Julian Wilson

Karen Wilson said the Post Office Horizon scandal contributed to the death of her husband Julian Wilson.

He died in 2016 from bowel cancer

Auditors found a shortfall of £27,000 in the Post Office branch in Astwood Bank, Worcestershire. He was suspended from his position as sub-postmaster in 2008.

Mrs Wilson mentioned that her husband had spoken about suicide before his death.

Fiona McGowan

Ms McGowan and her partner were accused of stealing £30,000 from their Edinburgh Post Office.

She died in her sleep of an accidental overdose of alcohol and antidepressants while waiting to appear in court in 2009.

Her partner Phil Cowan said in 2021 after the sub-postmasters' convictions were overturned: "For Fiona, all of this comes much too late. For her, there can be no justice."

Martin and Gina Griffiths

The couple ran Hope Farm Road Post Office in Great Sutton and put their life savings into balancing the books after a shortfall of £61,000.

Martin Griffiths took his own life in 2013, after the Post Office gave him 3 months before terminating his contract.

"They hounded him. They persecuted him. Didn’t seem to be any end to it at the time," Gina Griffiths told Panorama.

"He’s a proud man and I think he thought he was letting us all down; his children, his parents, me. To turn the machine off in the morning, and the worst, the worst thing for me was seeing my children.

"They had to see their dad die and it was purely down to the Post Office. Nobody else. So I blame them."

Noel Thomas ran a Post Office branch in Wales before he was investigated for an apparent £48,000 shortfall in the accounts
Noel Thomas ran a Post Office branch in Wales before he was investigated for an apparent £48,000 shortfall in the accounts. Picture: Alamy

Noel Thomas

Auditors investigated a shortfall of £48,000 at Noel Thomas' Post Office branch in Gaerwan, Wales.

He pleaded guilty to false accounting and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Mr Thomas spent his 60th birthday behind bars.

He told the Mirror: "They made me bankrupt and I had nothing.

"When I came home I didn’t like having the bedroom door shut. I have to get out and go for walks as much as possible.

"Even now I don’t like being shut up in the house or to be in one room too long."

His conviction was overturned in April 2021.

Read more: A top NHS job and 'resignation from the church': Post Office boss Paula Vennells' life as she faces calls to hand back CBE

Read more: 'Get on with it’: Keir Starmer demands victims of Post Office Horizon scandal receive compensation now

Saman Kaur

Accused of stealing from her Aldridge Post Office branch in the West Midlands in 2009, Mrs Kaur's case was through out of court.

She suffered a mental breakdown as a result of the case and said she tried to end her life.

Speaking to ITV, she said: "Even until today I’m still on a lot of medication. I might not look like I’m ill to a lot of people, but I’m suffering very badly with PTSD.

"If I walk past a Post Office I feel sick. This was my life, it was going to be for my children’s future and they’ve taken that away from me."

Peter Huxham

Mr Huxham was jailed for eight months following a £16,000 shortfall.

His family said imprisonment drove him to alcoholism.

He died in July 2020 after an apparent suicide.

The coroner said it was not possible to confirm the cause of his death, as he lived alone and was discovered weeks after his death.

Alan Bates, founder of Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance, is still campaigning for people to receive compensation.
Alan Bates, founder of Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance, is still campaigning for people to receive compensation. Picture: Alamy

Alan Bates

Mr Bates' contract with the Post Office was terminated with three months' notice when he was accused of fraud and refused to take responsibility for financial discrepancies.

He set up the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JSFA) in 2009 and fought to get justice for all the postmasters who had been falsely accused and convicted.

He has now retired but is still committed to getting justice for everybody who was affected by the scandal.

Mr Bates told Wales Online: "At 68, I would love to be able to take my foot off the pedal.

"But I will stay involved until everyone from the original group who is entitled to compensation receives the full financial redress they're eligible for.

"Once everyone's received their money, I'll feel I've done my bit."

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