Scots postmaster put £70,000 of own money into Horizon system amid scandal

Myra Philp’s mother was among a number of people wrongly accused of fraud.

A former Post Office worker has said her mum had to put £70,000 of her own money into the scandal-hit Horizon system after it started showing “shortfalls”.

Myra Philp’s mum Mary was sub-postmaster at their branch in Fife, when the accounting system was introduced.

Mary worked for the police before going into business with her daughter in 2001, running the Post Office in Auchtermuchty.

Within a couple of months, the Horizon IT system showed money was missing.

The Post Office in Auchtermuchty, Fife.

She is among a number of people affected by the scandal which has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were handed criminal convictions after the faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing from their outlets.

Many victims were pursued through the courts, had to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds and went bankrupt after being wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting.

Myra told STV News: “Within weeks, the Horizon system, which was in its infancy, it had only been going for about two years, started showing shortfalls.

Mary Philp took on the Post Office in Auchtermuchty with her daughter.

“Because we were so new, we thought we were doing something wrong. So we would regularly phoned the helpline.

“However, as the years went on, it became crystal clear that it was a computer fault and nothing we were doing.

“In the end, we had put in £70,000 of our own money. It got to the stage where the attached retail shop could no longer sustain the Post Office counter.

“No amount of telling the Post Office there’s something wrong with the system, did anything to help us.”

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were handed criminal convictions after the faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing from their outlets.

Mary told the Post Office Horizon Inquiry that HQ personnel told her that her family must be taking money from the branch safe.

It resulted in her or her daughter sleeping with the “huge bunch of keys” under their pillows.

In desperation, my mother hired a private detective in the hope that he could find other Horizon problems.

Myra recalled how her mother struggled to sleep and was reduced to tears when the weekly reckoning hit.

“I can remember the gut-wrenching feeling of dread going to the branch on a Wednesday after my work,” Myra said.

In the summer of 2006, Post Office auditors arrived and suspended Mary, who was then 65 years old. It destroyed her confidence, her daughter said.

She never worked again and died in 2018 without seeing any postmasters pardoned.

Public attention has focused on the issue thanks to an STV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office starring Toby Jones.

Reports suggest that since it was broadcast, 50 new potential victims have approached lawyers.

A petition calling for former Post Office boss Paula Vennells to lose her CBE over the Horizon scandal has attracted more than one million signatures.

Ms Vennells oversaw the organisation while it routinely denied there were problems with its Horizon IT system.

Ms Vennells has previously said she is “truly sorry” for the “suffering” caused to subpostmasters wrongly convicted of offences.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday that he would “strongly support” the Honours Forfeiture Committee if it decided to look at revoking the CBE in the wake of the scandal.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk is meeting Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake on Monday to discuss how to help the convicted branch managers clear their names.

Mr Hollinrake last month said calls to strip Ms Vennells of the honour should be considered.

The Prime Minister, who visited Accrington in Lancashire on Monday, sought to defend the Government’s response but said he wanted to speed up the compensation process for victims.

“People should know that we are on it and we want to make this right, that money has been set aside,” he said.

“We will do everything we can to make this right for the people affected. It is simply wrong what happened. They shouldn’t have been treated like this.”

Sir Keir Starmer has called for prosecution powers to be stripped from the Post Office and previous convictions looked at again.

The Labour leader said: “I think that the prosecution should be taken out of the hands of the Post Office and given to the Crown Prosecution Service.

“I used to run the Crown Prosecution Service, we’ve prosecuted for other departments, we can do it here – that should be done straight away.

“And these convictions, the remaining convictions, need to be looked at en masse.”

Scotland Yard said on Friday that officers are “investigating potential fraud offences arising out of these prosecutions”, for example “monies recovered from subpostmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions”.

The Metropolitan Police had already been looking into potential offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice in relation to investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office is available to watch on STV Player

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