Post Office had deliberate policy of blame for missing money, inquiry told

Scott Darlington said the Post Office took an ‘attritional’ approach to subpostmasters over missing money.

17 February 2022

A former subpostmaster has accused the Post Office of employing a “deliberate policy” of blaming them for missing money caused by flaws in its IT system.

Scott Darlington, 59, who ran a post office in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, told an inquiry into the scandal that the Post Office took an “attritional” approach to staff over the account shortfalls, even after knowing about the problems with their computer system.

He is among more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses (SPMs) who were prosecuted between 2000 and 2014, based on information from the Horizon IT system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu.

In December 2019 a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

Mr Darlington was charged with theft and false accounting in 2009 after Post Office auditors found more than £44,000 was missing in his branch’s accounts.

Speaking to the inquiry on Thursday, Mr Darlington said prosecutors dropped the theft charge after his barrister appeared to be mistakenly handed a Post Office document that said their investigators had found no evidence he had stolen the money.

Mr Darlington then pleaded guilty to false accounting and he was given a suspended two-month prison sentence.

But the conviction meant he lost his Post Office contract, almost lost his house, came to the verge of bankruptcy and descended into depression, he told the inquiry.

Mr Darlington said the way the Post Office had treated him and other subpostmasters and subpostmistresses through the entire ordeal was “disgusting” and “atrocious”.

“It was a deliberate policy to treat us like this, especially after they found out there were some problems,” he said.

“I do not want another apology because you can’t say sorry for that.

“They weren’t genuine mistakes. This was an attritional policy used against us,” he said.

“To this day, I cannot understand why they went as far as they did to ruin us.”

Mohammed Amir, 47, who started working as a subpostmaster in 2004, said his branch in Bolton, Lancashire, was still experiencing shortfalls.

Mr Amir told the inquiry he suffered a heart attack aged 33 due to stress while running three branches in Bolton and Manchester.

The father-of-five said they often found shortfalls of thousands of pounds across the three branches and got little help from the Post Office helpline.

Mr Amir said he tried to make up the missing funds out of his own pocket – ultimately paying about £130,000 to the Post Office – and consequently spiralled into debt.

“I was convinced it was the system but I could not prove anything and the only help we had was from the helpline, but they were no help.”

He told the inquiry: “Looking back at everything now it has opened old wounds up.

“I’m still suffering from severe depression. It did change my life and I have never been the same.”

After selling two of the branches, Mr Amir said how his sister now runs the remaining Little Lever branch in Bolton and they are still experiencing “hundreds” of pounds in shortfalls that they continue to cover.

The inquiry, which is expected to run for the rest of this year, is looking into whether the Post Office knew about faults in the IT system and will also ask how staff were made to take the blame.

Jason Beer QC, counsel to the inquiry, said during his opening that the ordeal of those affected could be described as “the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history”.

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