Watch: Bankrupted Post Office scandal victim’s mum also accused of theft
A sub-postmaster who was left bankrupt after his wrongful conviction has revealed that his elderly mother was also a victim of the Post Office scandal.
Balvinder Gill, 45, says he began working at a branch in Oxford in 2003 but suffered a mental health breakdown after he was wrongly accused of stealing over £100,000 in 2004. He was left bankrupt by the ordeal and was sectioned three times.
Gill says his parents then took over the branch themselves after being told he was a “criminal” – but his mother was subsequently accused of stealing thousands of pounds herself, despite running the branch “full-heartedly”.
He told BBC’s Newsnight: “In 2009 they came and they said she had a shortage of £57,000… they searched my parents’ home, they interrogated my mum, they got a confession out of her to say that the money might have gone in a bag or that she didn’t really know and she might have changed the accounts.”
Gill’s mother was later convicted of false accounting after the Post Office told her they would drop the theft charge if she repaid the money they said she stole. She had to use property “that was meant to be for her retirement”.
Gill added: “Mentally she’s not the same person. I don’t think we’ll ever get mum back the way we know her, or my dad to some degree.”
Both subsequently had their convictions overturned but Gill said apologies from the Post Office and Fujitsu – who developed the error-strewn Horizon technology at the centre of the scandal – were “very painful”. He said the apology from Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson at the Business and Trade Committee on Tuesday “seems sincere to some degree”, but that it was “very hard to trust until this is resolved”.
Gill said Patterson’s admission to Fujitsu being able to access Horizon terminals remotely was “very disturbing”, but said it was “a bit of a relief as… what we thought was true is true”. He added: “To hear them say it at least is a point of truth.”
The Post Office said in a statement: “We share fully the aims of the public inquiry to get to the truth of what went wrong in the past and establish accountability.
“It’s for the inquiry to reach its own independent conclusions after consideration of all the evidence on the issues that it is examining.”
Yahoo News UK has contacted the Post Office for a comment.
Patterson’s apology for Fujitsu’s role in the Horizon IT scandal came with an admission that there is a “moral obligation” for the technology giant to contribute to the compensation. Patterson admitted there had been an “appalling miscarriage of justice” suffered by postmasters.
He added: “We were involved from the very start. We did have bugs and errors in the system. And we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of sub-postmasters. For that we are truly sorry.”
However, despite Patterson hinting that Fujitsu would compensate victims, the company’s global boss, Takahito Tokita, declined to confirm it would return any of the money it earned from the flawed Horizon system.
Nick Read, the CEO of the Post Office, also appeared in front of the committee and admitted that the money that was taken from branch managers could have been part of "hefty numeration packages for executives", admitting that “absolutely it’s possible”. He said that the company has still "not got to the bottom of" what happened to the money, despite investigations by external auditors.
Last week, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop demanded that Fujitsu bosses pay £1m to every Post Office victim. His “rant” about the issue came on the day the prime minister Rishi Sunak announced that the wrongly prosecuted postmasters in England and Wales could have their names cleared by the end of the year. Those whose convictions are quashed are eligible for a £600,000 compensation payment, while Sunak offered £75,000 to sub-postmasters involved in group legal action against the Post Office.