Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Chirag's story

Chirag Sidphura in Nov 2018
The Farncombe Post Office provides a service to thousands of residents of this village. During the infamous Christmas floods and power cuts in 2013, it was the only shop that stayed open for miles, it was a life-line and kept us all in batteries, candles and firelighters. The Sidhpura family did not desert us in that time of trial and we must not desert them now. We urge the Post Office to consider his appeal.” - Cllr Penny Rivers, Godalming North.

It appears to me to be grossly unfair and unjust.” - Jeremy Hunt, South West Surrey MP

This is the story of Chirag Sidhpura. After four years of successful trading as a Subpostmaster in Farncombe, Surrey, Chirag's world was turned upside down. A Post Office auditor alleged there was a £57,000 discrepancy at Chirag's branch.

Na├»vely, Chirag handed over £57,000 in the hope he would be allowed to continue trading whilst the Post Office investigated the source of the discrepancy.

Having pocketed Chirag's cash, the Post Office was not obliged to seek the source of Chirag's discrepancy. They decided not to pursue him through the criminal courts and instead, sacked him over alleged breach of contract.

Chirag was aghast. He lost his money and his job and was told there was no review or appeal.

And this is where it gets interesting. Rather than walk away, Chirag refused to let the matter drop. Since 2017 he has been fighting, at extreme personal cost, to hold the Post Office to account. He has been assiduously requesting and checking paperwork. He wants to know how £57,000 could go missing (if it did) and if the Post Office can't tell him how, he wants his money and his job back. And he has made some progress.

Chirag's story - and, of course, it is only Chirag's side of the story - exposes what appear to be well-worn tropes of behaviour within the Post Office.

Also it's interesting to note that instead of Post Office investigators telling people they're the only ones having problems with Horizon (which they used to), Chirag tells me when he suggested the IT system might be at fault, the investigator replied: "Everyone says that."

Chirag's physical and mental health and his family life has suffered as he has gone about trying to get his world back on its axis. Do have a read.

Chirag's story

"My name is Chirag Sidhpura, but people call me Sid. I am thirty-six years old and married, with three small children. I have a degree in computing.

Before I worked in the Post Office I was an engineer - servicing and maintaining thirty government IT infrastructure sites across the UK.

In January 2013 I took over Farncombe post office in Surrey after working in my father-in-law’s branch in Reigate for two years.

When we took over at Farncombe, we made a few changes. Our customers were much happier and we got busier. We had an audit in June 2013 and everything was perfect - there were no issues.

The previous postmaster had asked to have an external cash machine (ATM) fitted. It arrived in August 2013. Immediately afterwards things started going wrong. Sometimes I had massive losses, sometimes massive gains.  I contacted the Post Office's NBSC [the National Business Support Centre] and requested someone come and sort the problems out. I was contacted by a Post Office member of staff who came out to help and assist. 

I was now, I thought, properly trained on the accounting of the ATM. I followed all the procedures I was trained to do. Week in, week out, all was ok.

In August 2015 we closed for two weeks to go through the Network Transformation programme. I took a pay cut of £12,000 per annum but I knew if I pushed the business I would bring it up, which I successfully did. From August 2013 to October 2017, over four years, I did not have an audit nor did I see any problems with what I was doing. The Post Office never brought any issue to my attention. No phone calls, letters, emails, nothing.
Chirag outside Farncombe PO
Everything goes wrong

On 10 October 2017 I had an unannounced visit from a Post Office auditor, which I welcomed open-heartedly because I thought everything was fine. At the end of the audit I was hit with a shocking alleged loss of over £57,000. My heart hit the ground. I had only done a trading period rollover a week before and everything was ok.

The auditors counted everything twice over before locking it away in the safe and sealing it. I spoke to Anita Bravata, a Post Office Contracts Advisor, on the phone. She suspended me pending further investigation. I offered a cheque for the full value on the spot to allow me to continue trading while an investigation took place. This option was rejected by Ms Bravata. I also asked for an immediate temp to re-open the branch. This option was also rejected.

I completely broke down. I felt sick to my stomach. I called the National Federation of Subpostmasters [NFSP] as directed by the lead auditor. I was passed from one person to the next.

The day after I was suspended I had a phone call from Matt Mowbray, one of the Post Office's Security and Investigations Managers.

He asked how the loss occurred. My response was: "Your guess is as good as mine. I didn’t even know there was a loss." I suggested it might be a Horizon error. He replied: "Everyone says that."  

Mr Mowbray gave me two options:

1: Pay the money back immediately.

2: Be prosecuted and face the prospect of a 2 year prison sentence.

At this point I was scared to the bones. I have never been in any situation like this in my life. I have always assisted the police and the law rather than ever be on the other side, or be threatened to be on the other side. 

My father-in-law said he would bail me out by settling the discrepancy.

Two days after my suspension, on 12 October (my ninth wedding anniversary) £57, 543. 92 was paid over the phone via debit card to the Post Office's "former postmasters accounts". I should have realised then that the Post Office had already made up their minds about the next step.

Interview under caution

Mr Mowbray called to tell me a decision would be made by his senior security lead as to whether an investigation would be needed to clarify how the "loss" occurred. This would take the form of a recorded interview under police caution.

I have since been told the Post Office can no longer interview Subpostmasters under caution. They apparently lost this right when they split from Royal Mail in 2013. When I subsequently asked the Post Office what gave them the right to interview me under police caution no one could provide me with proof. I asked on several occasions.
Campaigners' logo
Whilst I was waiting to find out if I would be interviewed, two local residents launched a petition to have me reinstated while the Post Office continued their investigation. This petition got hundreds of signatures within 48 hours, which makes me proud. One local lady wrote: “I would put my life on the line for the honesty and integrity of Chirag.”

On 18 October 2017 I had an email from Mr Mowbray inviting me to interview.

I contact the NFSP for help. The nearest person they could find was called Andrew Gillimore. He was based 260 miles away in Newcastle. 

I travelled to Newcastle to meet with Mr Gillimore to request some advice and guidance. I was given the following options:

1: Resign as Subpostmaster and get someone else to apply. You will never work in a Post Office again.

2: As your contract was in a limited company's name, sack yourself and pass the Subpostmaster-ship to another named director of your company. You will never work in a Post Office again.

3: Continue to battle the Post Office but the NFSP will not intervene.

Mr Gillimore advised me to get a criminal solicitor but would not assist me any further. 

I was not in a position to get legal aid so I turned to the National Federation of Independent Retailers [NFRN]. Within 12 hours of contacting the NFRN I was appointed a criminal solicitor, Michelle George, from Blackfords. 

The interview under police caution was arranged for 26 October 2017. I had only 45 minutes before the interview to explain what had happened to my solicitor.

Ms George gave me three options:

1: Say "no comment" to all questions, which if it went to court could count against you.

2: Stay silent throughout the whole interview.

3: Answer all questions to the best of your ability.

We settled on option three as I had nothing to hide. I was very anxious, scared, nervous and depressed, but I had Michelle with me to ensure everything went smoothly.

I was told there were going to be police present, to read me my rights of caution. This was not the case. No police were present, just Mr Mowbray and a colleague. Mr Mowbray read the caution rights to me. At the end of the interview, the audio recording device malfunctioned and the CD would not eject.

I was later told a copy would be sent to me. Mr Mowbray was hoping I was going to admit to the knowledge of the loss so he could have an open and closed case but I had made it very clear I was not going to admit to something I had not actually done.

We were advised a decision would be made within 7-14 days as to whether the Post Office would take the matter further. It took eight weeks of chasing to find out what was going on.

It also took four months of arguing with the Post Office's Information Rights Team for a transcript, recording or a written report of my interview. The report they eventually provided was not a transcript. It wasn't even a proper summary. You would have thought that for such an important interview where the recording device malfunctioned, a full detailed report would have been written and provided.

So far the Post Office have hidden behind the Data Protection Act and what they decide is ‘legally privileged’. I would definitely question the Head of Information Rights as to where their team get their notions about disclosure from. That’s not a company that wants to be transparent and co-operate, especially with the people who have kept them in their jobs.

Review number one

Chirag in November last year
Whilst I was waiting to find out if I would be prosecuted, I was assigned a new Contracts Advisor, Paul Southin, as Ms Bravata was too busy with other cases. Mr Southin was based in Norwich. I tried to contact him on a number of occasions without success.

Finally I received a letter saying I could go to meet him for "an informal discussion". The letter stated I could bring a friend or colleague with me, so I brought my brother-in-law, Shamil. I also brought an NFSP rep along, Nilesh Joshi. When we arrived at the meeting on 5 Dec 2017 Mr Southin denied all knowledge of the contents of the letter and refused to let Shamil attend the meeting, though he did let Nilesh join us.

During the meeting I was very open and honest but Mr Southin had nothing to really say.

I presented him with documents showing I had a strong business and was well-supported in the community. He wasn't interested. At the end of the meeting Mr Southin requested I photocopy all my ATM receipts dating back to 1 August 2015. The receipts were printed slips from the ATM machine and Horizon entries. This process took me approximately 60 working hours with the help of a family member.

I also appointed an accountant who helped me put together a spreadsheet so I could track my losses and gains against the ATM and Horizon receipts.

I went to see Mr Southin again on 5 December 2017 in Norwich. I showed him my receipts and the spreadsheet which my accountant helped put together. It clearly showed how the discrepancies, which all came from the ATM machine, developed from August 2015 to the date I was suspended. Mr Southin took my documents away with him.

On 20 December 2017 an email arrived from Mr Mowbray stating that the Post Office were taking no further legal action against me and the matter of my continuing employment with the Post Office was a matter for my Contracts Advisor.

With Christmas coming up I wondered how long this was all going to take. I tried to call Mr Southin. I sent emails, text messages and left voicemails on his mobile. All I got in return was two text messages early January 2018 saying “I’ll be in touch when I’m in a position to do so.”

I kept calling as my staff were getting high levels of abuse from customers because their local post office was closed at the main period of the year, without me being able to put a temporary Subpostmaster in. This was my livelihood - I was suspended with no pay when I had a family to feed and bills mounting up. 

On 5 February 2018 (my daughter’s fifth birthday) a letter arrived from the Post Office containing a Notice of Termination with immediate effect.

I tried to call Mr Southin, but he refused to answer my calls so I called Ms Bravata who said to me: "That’s the final decision. Under the Network Transformation contract you have no right to appeal. That’s the end."

I felt as if a ton of bricks had fallen on my chest.

I had no supporting documentation from Post Office, no detailed explanation, just a letter alleging I had breached my contract and I was being terminated with immediate effect. 

At this point I was angry, upset, devastated and every emotion you can think of. I wanted answers to but I had no one to answer them.

Two days later Rebecca Morris, a Post Office operations manager for my area, met me at the shop to list and arrange for all the Post Office equipment to be taken off site.

Review number two

I decided to contact Paula Vennells [Post Office CEO] via email, enclosing the petition raised by my customers. She responded straight away and said she would ask Alisdair Cameron, Chief Financial Officer, to review my case. 

A week later I received an email from a Post Office Flag Case Advisor telling me that reinstating me as Subpostmaster would pose a risk to the Post Office because there was no explanation for the alleged loss of £57, 543. 92. I also had a high volume of failed cash declarations and apparently did not send money back when requested to do so, which put government funds at risk. 

I was shocked as this had never been brought to my attention before. I had never received a phone call, letter or a pop-up message on Horizon saying "x" had not been done. A as far as I was concerned I was doing everything right. I asked for more details but the Flag Case Advisor refused to release them to me.

I was advised by a friend to request a copy of my case file from the Post Office, under the Data Protection Act. I filled the form out and enclosed a cheque for £10, sending it out as special delivery to Post Office HQ. I can't believe I had to pay for this.

Three weeks later I received the case file which identified Paul Southin as the person behind the decision which led the Post Office to terminate my contract and refuse my reinstatement.

Let me address the two issues brought up by Paul Southin and communicated to me by the Flag Case advisor:

Failed cash declarations - my understanding of a failed cash declaration is when a cash declaration has not been carried out at all. When I asked the question to my NFSP rep he agreed. He said it is when the cash declaration has not been carried out before the end of day. I had been carrying out cash declarations at the end of every day and had printouts to demonstrate this.

It was only by asking around among other Subpostmasters that I discovered the Horizon system has a polling time of 7pm. This was news to me. When I called my auditor, it was news to him. Any cash declaration after 7pm is, according to the Post Office a "failed" cash declaration. Yet after going through Network Transformation I was forced to extend my branch opening hours from 8am to 7pm, which meant I was cashing up after 7pm every day. Nothing and no one gave me any indication this was a problem.

Unreturned cash holdings - The Horizon system calculates how much cash I ought to have on site but in actual, practical terms it doesn't relate to actual business needs. If I had ever gone by the technology and formulation of Horizon’s cash holdings and planned orders, I would not be able to serve my community as I wouldn’t have enough money to serve and give to my customers. 

The requests were not ignored. I made my own cash holding calculations to sustain the business in the real world. No one has been able to elaborate the nature of my alleged breaches in this regard or provide any evidence about this. If the amount of cash I was holding in branch was a long-standing concern should it not have been bought to my attention?

In his rationale Mr Southin wrote that that reinstating me would damage the Post Office's brand. How? With the correct support and guidance from Post Office it would be upholding the brand. Without any evidence whatsoever Mr Southin also reported that my retail business was struggling, and that this posed a risk to the Post Office. Where did this information come from? I challenged him on this directly. He did not comment.

Mr Southin's report was based on assumptions and lies. The assumptions he made showed me in a very bad light. I am not painting a picture to say I am perfect. In every business and person there is always room for improvement, but this can only be addressed if something is bought to your attention of wrong doing. 

I showed my case file to my NFSP rep.  All he kept saying was "Where has this money gone?" I told him the structure in my office, what I had done and how I was doing it in great detail. He just told me the Horizon system is 100% intelligent and picks up anomalies. The system works in simple maths format, 2+2=4 and is never wrong.

In our branch we operated with a manager and two part-time staff. The NFSP rep was adamant someone in our branch had taken the cash. I said if someone walked out with £57,000 surely I would notice it had gone missing. Even if it was being taken in small chunks I would see money missing when cashing up and balancing on a weekly basis. But we balanced perfectly. 

The rep said if it wasn't me "then it has to be your branch manager as you two were the only two with access to all areas".

I didn't think my staff were robbing me, but I went away and had a look at everything again. After doing some nosing around I confirmed my original conclusion - it wasn't any of my staff. I trusted them, and there's nothing to suggest they had been doing anything untoward.

At this stage the Post Office and the NFSP had made me feel so incompetent, stupid, and careless. I didn't trust myself or anyone around me, including all my family members. I doubted everyone. I knew the money had not physically been taken. It wasn't a small amount of money especially when the Post Office were telling me it had happened in the six months leading up to my October 2017 audit.

As far as I was concerned everything was fine. So how did £57,000 in cash "disappear"?

When looking closer at the paperwork provided to me by the auditor on 10 October 2017, the loss had occurred from the ATM machine stock unit/till and that’s what I was told by the original auditor on the day. I had followed the same procedure for over 4 years of having the cash machine operational, week in, week out, month in, month out. Nothing had changed and the system never showed me any different.

I later learned the training I had been provided with by Post Office Ltd was incorrect. I was not told to check the figures on the printed slips, or to cross reference figures between Horizon and the ATM machine as they both work independently. I was told to follow the blue and white sheet (the ATM balancing sheet) and you will not go wrong. As far as I was aware, what I was doing was just fine. The Post Office did not tell me otherwise, just to take the printed figures and enter them into Horizon.

As a result of my suspension in October 2017, my branch was closed during the busiest time of the year. I had to spend approximately £6,000 of my own money to buy stamps from another local post office to sell to the less abled and older customers who couldn't travel to other branches. Did I make a profit? No - I had to buy and sell them for the same price.

My feelings and emotions were all over the place, I have three young kids to feed and house, bills to pay, and I was the only one with any income.

I arranged a meeting with my local MP, Jeremy Hunt. I brought my local councillor Penny Rivers. Mr Hunt took the information I gave him and called Paula Vennells. She agreed to another review.

Review number three

The review was going to be led by Angela Van den Bogerd, the Post Office's People Services Director. She asked to meet up. A date was arranged but the NFSP representative could not make it so I asked if my solicitor could attend. Ms Van den Bogerd said it would be inappropriate for a solicitor to attend.

I met with Angela van den Bogerd at Post Office HQ in London, taking an NFSP rep.

Ms van den Bogerd asked what control measures I had in place in my branch, what checks I had done and how I was running my office. I answered all the questions I was asked to the full. My NFSP rep had already made me feel as if the money had definitely been taken, so did Angela Van Den Bogerd. They both agreed money can’t disappear into thin air. It has to go somewhere. 

I knew for a fact I didn’t take it, so who did? That’s the million dollar question.

Both the NFSP and Angela Van Den Bogerd drummed into my head that the money had been stolen and syphoned from the ATM. My question was how?

After explaining to Angela Van Den Bogerd that the training was insufficient with the ATM, I would feel reinstatement with higher control measures and monitoring would mitigate all risks, including getting rid of the current staff and replacing them with myself and my wife only. I demonstrated that I operate a very good retail business working every hour god sends and the figures speak for themselves.
Angela van den Bogerd

Ms van den Bogerd decided to uphold the decision to terminate me.

This brought stress onto my marriage, family life, to the point where my wife said to me it’s either the business or your family, but I could not walk away from either as I had done nothing wrong. I was not going to throw away everything I have worked hard for. I had, without the help and assistance of the Post Office, increased income by 10% within 2 years, and the key was service and knowledge.

Early in 2018 I had a mental breakdown. My family life was suffering, and my interaction with my children was getting worse. After talking to my doctor I was prescribed Sertraline anti-depressants which has helped.

I decided to give Ms van den Bogerd another call. She said to stop looking back at what has happened and look at the future. Concentrate on your retail business and how to get the Post Office opened again. She advised me to get a family member to apply for the position.

So I mentored my brother-in-law, Shamil, through the process and the Post Office agreed to get him in as a temp and let him apply for a permanent position.

One of the conditions of my brother-in-law's appointment as Subpostmaster was that I had to carry out works at my own cost which was to separate the retail counter from the Post Office counter and also have a dedicated secure area in the back stock room with a secure locking system. This was not a problem as I was doing this for my community. 

On 18 June 2018 a Post Office auditor arrived on site without prior appointment, saying he was there to reopen the branch counter.

I had no knowledge of this, nor did my brother-in-law, who was coming in as a temp. At this time my brother-in-law was working at another branch, he could not just up and leave.

We rescheduled the actual reopening date for 22 June. The auditor left to go home. About an hour later he came back and said he has been told to do a transfer audit. I was happy for him to do that. I did tell him that the safe is covered by CCTV with HD cameras and I wanted him to check the seals on the safe before opening it. Everything was fine. He was happy that the seals had not been tampered with and were all intact from the images he had been sent.

More discrepancies

He then logged onto Horizon where there were Transaction Acknowledgments [TAs - Subpostmasters have to accept these] and Transaction Corrections [TCs - which can be disputed so long as the Subpostmaster agrees to abide by the Post Office's decision] waiting to be accepted.

The auditor went through them. Many of theses were transaction corrections in my favour, which meant that the Post Office owed me money. He did not give me any cash.

After printing various slips off Horizon he took out his note and coin counting machine etc, and found a system loss of £5,050.00

He was shocked and didn’t know what to say, except that I was liable for this loss.

He then phoned the original auditor who confirmed that I was liable for the shortage as I had signed off the accounts and documents on the day of audit, which I had not. The system had not been functional for 8 months, the safe was not opened since the last auditor sealed it, so where did this alleged shortfall come from?

I refused to pay the Post Office a single penny.

The auditor then changed the figures on Horizon to show 0.00 balance at first, then to show the £5,050.00 loss, which if a Postmaster had done it the Post Office would call false accounting as he has not physically put this money in.

I then rang Angela Van Den Bogard to explain the situation. She spoke to the auditor, then told me not to worry about it - she would take care of the new ‘shortfall’.

I was asked to sign the Official Secrets Act by the auditor and trainer who reopened the branch, which I refused. When I requested a copy of this document to send to my solicitor for advice he would not allow me to copy it. Why?

On 22nd June the auditor returned to open the branch. Due to high volumes of old Christmas stock etc, the branch did not open for trade until 4pm as he had great difficulty getting cash and stock to balance on Horizon. 

But finally I had managed to get the branch re-opened for my community.

What did I have to sacrifice for this to happen?

- being £57,000 in debt to my father-in-law
- 9 months of being closed without pay.
- lost my Post Office counter income.

A couple of weeks later I filled out a P250 employment and clearance form (to be employed by my brother-in-law, now in my position) - filled out with honest information outlining my previous position and stance with the Post Office. In response to which I was then cleared and am now branch manager with access to all areas at the same branch where the Post Office accused me of losing/stealing/taking/not managing government/Post Office money of the value of £57,000. How ironic.

But... my income has been drastically reduced. I have to do 2 evening jobs till late at night to supplement my lower pay despite often being in work at 5.30am every day to do the papers.

The auditor returned on 27 June to oversee my trading period roll-over. He told me to keep an eye on the ATM as Bank of Ireland had carried out an update on the system which throws the figures out.

The auditor loaded the cash machine on 18 June when he came in and turned it on for the community to use. When it came to do the balancing on 27 June - surprise, surprise - there was a discrepancy between the Dispensed Since Load figure to the Withdrawals Value. 

Shortly after, Post Office Chesterfield Postmasters Accounts sent the new Postmaster (my brother-in-law) an invoice for the alleged shortfall of £5,050.00 to pay immediately. To a postmaster who was not even on site or anywhere near this post office at the time on 18 June 2018, how can this be? To date no one has been able to answer the question. 

My family worked hard and sacrificed our social life to serve our community. Under the old contract, our branch was open 9am-5.30pm Monday to Friday and 9am-12.30pm on Saturday, closed on Sunday. That’s 46 hours working. Under Network Transformation we changed that to working 71 hours per week for less money. 

All I have done is work hard and given 100% all the way with pride, passion and dignity. We developed the business, not only the retail but the post office side. We took it to a high level, serving approximately 1400 customers per week, nearly double the numbers from when I took the business over in 2013.

We invested thousands into the business with a small loan, and we get accused of taking £57,000 from the Post Office.

Overnight I lost everything. My dignity, respect and everything which I built over the course of four years - the Post Office took it all away without a proper investigation and explanation, with no care in the world of how a man would support his family without pay or financial assistance.

I was angry and felt betrayed from the very company that claims that the postmasters are the backbone of their organisation. I agree. Without us, the Post Office would not exist or have the Network they brag about today.

I am still angry and frustrated and I still have not been given answers to my questions without any real factual evidence. 

I decided to contact Ms Vennells again outlining my concerns and thoughts. She was very helpful and assigned to me Julie Thomas, the Post Office Operations Director whilst Angela van den Bogerd concentrated on the High Court litigation.

Review number four?

Julie emailed me in July 2019 with a plan of action to do a further review and investigation, and to do so in greater detail step by step.

By the time of Julie's email the High Court litigation was well underway. I had read the first judgment and was following the Horizon trial with interest.

In March 2020 I sent my documents to Julie Thomas as requested. She replied on 6 April telling me that the Post Office is in the process of launching a "detailed and user-friendly scheme aimed at addressing outstanding issues in respect of historical shortfalls" and that it is "no longer appropriate" for her to carry out an investigation into my case.

After 3 investigations and reviews, the Post Office has not been able to establish facts of the alleged loss. They have provided me with some information, but not information that is actually helpful."

Chirag has very kindly shared some of the paperwork around his case, including Paul Southin's report, which resulted in Chirag's termination.

Mr Southin reports meeting Chirag and examining his possible explanations for the discrepancy. As part of this investigation, Chirag's information was shared with the Support Services Resolution Team (SSRT) who provided Mr Southin with transaction data from Chirags branch.

Mr Southin reports Chirag "indicated his business was struggling financially" and states Chirag gave no plausible explanation for the £57,000 discrepancy. His suggestions that it arose during the 2015 refurbishment or because of the way he was recording ATM figures "have both been proved to be false". He also notes that Chirag stated "the loss was not an issue with the Horizon system." Mr Southin also notes that SSRT transaction data gives "clear evidence" that "branch stock units were being manipulated in an attempt to show a zero discrepancy" (the sort of thing that in the bad old days may have got him charged with false accounting).

Mr Southin decides that despite Chirag handing £57,000 to the Post Office on demand, he should be sacked on the basis that reinstatement would present a "continued ongoing risk to Post Office funds, as there has been no satisfactory explanation for the loss."

I put these points to Chirag and he was adamant: "Never once did I say my business or my branch were struggling financially." He says altering figures to zero was only done after "putting the shortage in the till so it balanced" ie what he had been told to do in his training - and his two differing explanations for the discrepancy were not him changing his story, but two theories that might give Mr Southin a lead on his investigation.

Finally, with regard to the part of Mr Southin's report in which he claims Chirag said: "the loss is not an issue with the Horizon system", this too, is disputed. Chirag says the way he phrased it (in a written statement to Mr Southin) was: "it’s an accounting error somewhere within the Horizon system, where an incorrect button may have been pressed or incorrect figures entered somewhere."

I have tried to contact Mr Southin for his thoughts. I am told he is no longer with the Post Office.

The Post Office itself says: "We do not comment on individual cases. We are launching a scheme which will independently assess applications from current and former postmasters who believe they have experienced shortfalls related to previous versions of Horizon. We are working with determination to leave no stone unturned in addressing all the issues arising out of the group litigation and the events which led to it.”

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NW adds: Chirag first contacted me back in 2018 to tell me his story. I would like to apologise to him for sitting on it for so long. We had a chat the other day which prompted me to get this post published.

Chirag told me during the current lockdown, Farncombe Post Office is trying to step up. He and his colleagues have been working all hours to provide a branch counter service to everyone in and around Farncombe whilst also trying to keep the retail side of the business fully stocked for their customers.

Chirag is running a free delivery service to local customers who are self-isolating, and I have been told by one of his supporters he spent Easter weekend delivering complimentary eggs to doorsteps of local children, the Meath Epilepsy Charity and a local nursing home, which is very public-spirited of him.

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