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Sunday, December 30, 2018

A claimant writes: "I felt a fool for trusting them"

Janet Bradbury, in that London
Posted below is the first substantive entry on Janet Bradbury's new blog which you can find here.

Janet is one of the 550+ claimants in Bates v Post Office.

It is a straightforward tale of how a good person's life appears to have been needlessly trashed by the actions of a government-owned corporation.

I have asked the Post Office for a response.

Janet writes:

"In 2003 after 30 years as a school caretaker at a large inner city comprehensive my husband wanted a change from cleaning off graffiti most of the day. I worked part time in the finance office. 

We had a little girl of 5 and started looking for a home in the country with a nice village school. We had plenty of equity in our house to buy a little business. 

We trawled Daltons Weekly month after month and finally drove to Shropshire one bleak February morning to view a tearoom in Clun with a little one-man post office in the corner. 

The scenery was idyllic and the small village was in an area of outstanding natural beauty. We couldn’t believe our luck. The school was small, the village was friendly and visitors to the tearoom had a large car park opposite. 

I couldn’t believe the possibilities. The village had just one shop, pub, newsagent and us. I was more interested in the tearoom than the post office but as it was the main source of the villagers access to cash we decided I should run it and my hubby ran the tearoom. 

We were really excited and couldn’t wait to move. As the summer school holidays approached we rented a caravan just outside the village to live in while my husband converted the upstairs of this large old building from a craft area to self contained living accommodation. 

I went off to Leicester for 3 days of Post office training. We revamped the tearoom and opened for business in August 2003. We were so excited and looking forward to serving the village and the lots of tourists that visited. 

On my first day behind the post office counter my area manager was there to support me along with a lovely lad called Mark who was my trainer for a week. I was surprised how busy the office was that day as the outgoing postmistress had assured me there would be lots of spare time to help my husband. 

I since learned later from villagers that she had financial worries and was desperate to go and live in Spain at her sisters. At the end of that first day my area manager advised me to open a separate account away from the business as sometimes the balancing of post offfice money’s would show up credits or debits! 

I questioned this but was assured it would all work itself out eventually to balance correctly. Having worked in finance most of my life I was not happy with putting post office money into an account in my name so decided to just leave it in the safe if in credit. 

The Post Office fitted an ATM inside my tearoom in December that same year and from then on things went terribly wrong. On balance day of the first month the ATM was in place we were £2000 short but was assured by the hell line that once it was made good by us a TC [transaction correction] would come back to counteract the loss. 

It never did, so I presumed I’d made a mistake, then it kept happening with smaller amounts. I asked for more training as I was convinced it was something I was doing wrong and just got referred to these awful long-winded manuals that the they were continually sending, I spent hours poring over those which just did not help. 

The tearoom was getting busy the following summer so I just kept putting our money in for shortfalls whilst waiting and hoping for TC’s to come in my favour. I kept putting it to the back of my mind as I was really enjoying helping all my customers convert from the old pension books to the post office card account. 

We used to hold open days on a Tuesday in the tearoom with free drinks and me helping them with the application. I was gradually building the post office services up and really enjoyed it and was very proud when I opened the first bureau de change in my office for miles around. I was still concerned about shortfalls but was assured it was all being investigated and I believed them. 

When the second £2000 disappeared from the accounts I would not be fobbed off again by the helpline. Whenever they told me to reverse transactions to balance it doubled up the loss. I seemed to be insisting on new hard drives every month as I knew by then it was definitely not my mistake. It helped having a new hard drive for a while but problems always reappeared a few months later. 

We were now running out of savings and my husband had to cash in part of his pension just because of the post office. We were still loving our new found life though and my salary from the Post Office had steadily increased. I couldn’t stop the nagging doubts about the computer system though, something just wasn’t right. It started to have an impact on our lives as I was always worried. 

They sent a Mr Jones from head office in Cardiff to have a look at my paperwork and he clearly said to me that the shortfalls seem to double up when trying to resolve it. He agreed to report this back but I never did hear any more from him. 

My husband and I came to the conclusion (wrongly) that at least having a steady salary from the Post Office would help in the winter when the tearoom was quiet, so I kept at it. 

Coincidentally my husband had been asked by my daughter's primary school if he was interested in part-time work through the winter so we decided it was a good idea just to see us through until it became obvious what the problem with the post office computer was. 

I trusted what the Post Office were telling me - that TC’s would eventually come back to make good the books. I really believed them that it was just a glitch. 

The village had regular power cuts and the WiFi signals were on and off so I presumed it may have something to do with that and trusted they would sort it out. I even managed to get BT to change the telegraph pole outside our building! Imagine trying that today! 

Anyway we plodded on and managed on our earnings. The next summer my husband was still working at the school as we needed his wage. I was run ragged, the tearoom was busy and now I’m getting threatening letters to deduct any shortfalls from my salary as I was refusing to put any more of our money into the post office. 

That month they took £300 out of my wages and said they would continue to do so. I resigned the day after this first deduction still owing, according to them, £8952. They weren’t having another penny! 

The following day a Fujitsu engineer arrived to replace yet another hard drive, he told me there was a fault but I couldn’t quote him as he was on his last day with them and needed the reference. He said they’ve known all along. I was so angry! I felt a fool for trusting them. How dare they take my savings knowing full well there was a fault in their system from the start. 

My marriage was struggling because we were in debt, my livelihood was going down the drain and both my parents were very ill back in my home town. I managed to convince the local convenience store to take on the post office for a pound - yes just one pound - as he didn’t really want the hassle of all the security costs, but eventually agreed as he intended to sell his business within a year so it would add value. 

It was important to me that at least I could walk away knowing the friends I’d made in the village would still have access to a post office which was vital in a remote rural area with hardly any buses. 

We managed to sell the building at a loss but paid off some of our debts. I was desperate to leave the village and go home and try to forget my failure. My husband stayed in the area, so one morning in 2009 I packed my personal belongings into the car and left the village with my daughter who by then was 11 years old. 

I rented a bungalow with help from my old friends near to my daughter's new school back home, and I cared for mum and dad as best I could. They passed away within 16 days of each other after 55 years of married life. Within the space of 3 months I’d lost my marriage, my home, my business and my parents. Life was difficult as I was still getting demanding letters from the Post Office solicitors asking for £8952. 

I was working part-time in the care sector and after speaking to Citizens Advice I sent back copies of all the paperwork I could muster to do with my shortfalls. I also mentioned the Fujitsu engineer in my letter to them. After 6 months I’d heard nothing from Post Office solicitors so rang to check it had all been received ok. 

Much to my surprise I was informed by them that it was not in the public interest to pursue this any longer. I asked for this in writing but it never came. 

About 6 months later I saw James Arbthunot MP on breakfast tv talking about other Subpostmasters, only then did I realise that I was not the only one who's been through this.

Yet after hearing about all those poor Subpostmasters who were prosecuted and made bankrupt, I feel I’m one of the lucky ones. 

Even though I now live in a small bedsit and sometimes rely on food banks I still have to be positive and trust again, this time in our justice system."

My thanks to Janet for allowing me to re-post her story.

I have come across so many people now telling so many similar tales, I do start to wonder how Paula Vennells, the Chief Executive of the Post Office, sleeps at night. 

I suspect she has done the standard (if morally reprehensible) thing of keeping all this at arm's length and not reading about any disaffected Subpostmasters' situations so she doesn't have to do anything about them. 

I'm not sure this position is defensible given Ms Vennells makes a big thing of her status as an ordained minister - explicitly bringing morality into business and vice versa

And of course she is also now the recipient of a CBE - a national endorsement of the work she has done as the head of the Post Office. 

It's hard to see how Ms Vennells can square her public piety (and her whacking great pay rise earlier this year, when Subpostmasters saw their pay fall) with the actions that are alleged to have been carried out by the organisation she runs.

If you know Ms Vennells and want to bring this to her attention, please do. Perhaps print out Janet's story, or one of the posts below and hand them to parishioners outside the churches she preaches at.

It is entirely possible all the people suing the Post Office are lying, but the more likely scenario is that a good number are telling the truth. And if that's the case, something has gone really, horribly wrong. 

At the very least, the Group Chief Executive of the Post Office should acknowledge she's heard theses stories told by her former Subpostmasters, and then tell us she thinks they are lying, or just brought it on themselves.

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More stories of human misery and computer glitches, all alleged to have been caused by the Post Office:

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