A former sub-postmistress has demanded accountability as she told the Horizon IT inquiry how she cashed in £50,000 of her pension as she struggled to pay the debts the Post Office claimed she owed.
Heather Earley described how one customer to her branch repeatedly exploited a flaw in the system that saw her cash withdrawals credited as deposits on her account – so every time she took out £100, that sum would be added to her balance, rather than taken off it.
Mrs Earley, a 58-year-old married mother of three from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, said that accounting glitch left her facing a shortfall of more than £10,000.
“What she got out she got back in again very quickly, and that’s why she was able to come every day and lift money because if she lifted £500, £500 was going into her bank account and I was out £1,000,” she said.
I felt that at the time I was strong enough to deal with it, but I wasn't
Mrs Earley said the Post Office demanded that she pay the £10,000 back and started deducting money from her wages.
The former Post Office worker said she reported the issue to the police and the woman was eventually prosecuted and convicted.
However, she said the Post Office refused to pay her back the £10,000.
“Enough was enough. I couldn’t cope anymore,” Mrs Earley told the inquiry.
“I was getting loans off family members. I was using my credit cards, I had three credit cards maxed just to get stock for the shop.
“I wasn’t even telling my husband half the things that was going on. I just felt that I was trying to deal with it. And I felt that at the time I was strong enough to deal with it, but I wasn’t.”
She said her experiences with the Post Office left her in a “very dark place” as she called for accountability for those responsible.
“Where did my money go? Who has my money? Somebody must be sitting with a pot of gold somewhere,” she said.
Mrs Earley added: “We have suffered for too long. I had to cash in monies from my hard-earned pension pot to save our house and pay off debts and loans.
“This was the only way that we could see the light at the end of a very long tunnel.
“Not only did my family suffer but my community suffered as well – they lost their post office and local shop.”