Post Office victim told to pay back £26K after being robbed at gunpoint

Mark Kelly describes how he was treated following two separate robberies at his Post Office in Swansea.

Mark Kelly described how he fell victim to two armed robberies while running a post office. (BBC)
Mark Kelly described how he fell victim to two armed robberies while running a post office. (BBC)

A former sub-postmaster has claimed the Post Office demanded he pay back tens of thousands of pounds stolen in an armed robbery.

Mark Kelly described how he fell victim to two armed robberies while running a post office in the early 2000s - and on both occasions was told he would have to repay some of the money that was taken.

Kelly, who ran the Brondeg Post Office in Swansea, is one of 16 sub-postmasters found in a BBC investigation to have been told to pay stolen money back after robberies and armed robberies at their post offices.

He told Newsnight that the first armed robbery happened in November 20023, when £52,000 was taken: "Five armed robbers came in with a shotgun and they fired at the counter and they threw a rock through the counter. That broke the counter and it was going towards our head, so we had to move our body and our head away from the panic button. We went to the back of the house and we called 999.

"The Post Office about a month later said out of the £46,000 that was stolen from the office we were liable for £26,000. They said that because we didn’t press the panic button - that would have set off an alarm that would have told the dentist across the road that there was a robbery taking place at the time."

Kelly, who was also caught up in the Horizon scandal, said he wrote to the Post Office suggesting that one of them came and tried to stand still while a rock was being thrown at them, forcing them to relent. "I was always under the impression... that if you had an armed robbery, just give them the money because money can be replaced. Do not put up a fight," he said. "But after that, that changed our situation."

He said when a second robbery happened the following year while his wife was working, again they were told they would have to pay £2,000 of the £10,000 taken. He said the Post Office claimed his wife should have pointed out that a child was hiding in the Post Office which might have prevented the crime from happening, and also that there was too much money on the premises.

Patrick Green KC, who has represented the sub-postmasters in their battle for compensation from the Post Office, said the situation was "pretty typical", and it had tried to make people believe they had to pay money back unless they could prove they were innocent, as well as trying to get money back on what were "very spurious bases".

He said: "To say that a sub-postmistress should have to point out an eight-year-old child hiding in a shop to try and prevent money being stolen is ridiculous".

The Post Office told the broadcaster it had significantly enhanced the support it offers to victims, saying: "Whenever there is an incident of crime, we take the lessons from that to help improve the security for all postmasters across our network."

Asked if he had to repay the money, Kelly said the amount from the second robbery was put into his losses when his Post Office closed down under the Horizon scandal and that that loss was eventually suspended due to a different issue.

The Post Office told Yahoo in response that they were sorry about the experiences suffered by Kelly and other subpostmasters and didn't "underestimate the impact the incidents had on them and their families.

They said, in recent years, they have made "significant enhancements" to the support offered to the victims of attempted or actual robberies.

This included face-to-face visits by a security manager and a follow-up call a week after any incident.

The spokesperson added: "We work with Postmasters to ensure that safes and secure area doors are closed and locked, and that cash in any tills is kept to an absolute minimum to meet operational needs. Whilst criminal incidents do occur, they are thankfully rare, and incidents have reduced over the years."

Protestors outside the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry at the International Dispute Resolution Centre, London, ahead of the one-day hearing on issues relating to compensation. Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses (SPMs) were falsely prosecuted based on information from the Horizon computer system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu. Picture date: Thursday December 8, 2022. (Photo by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images)
The BBC says it has obtained documents showing that Post Office bosses sacked forensic accountants who had found failings with its Horizon IT system that weren't available to sub postmasters during their court battle. (Getty)

'New Post Office cover-up claims

Kelly's comments come as the Post Office faces new questions of alleged cover-ups during the Horizon scandal.

On Friday, one of the campaigners fighting for justice branded the Post Office’s secret decision to sack independent forensic accountants who found bugs in their IT system as “disgusting”. Former subpostmistress Jo Hamilton said the move, uncovered in documents seen by the BBC, was like “tipping the board up when you’re losing” a game of Monopoly.

The decision was unearthed in minutes from a Post Office board sub-committee meeting in April 2014, named Project Sparrow, which the broadcaster said was with the full knowledge of Government.

The BBC said minutes from a meeting on April 9, 2014, showed the sub-committee asking for a paper to be prepared on the independent forensic accountants who were from a firm called Second Sight. The sub-committee also asked for “options to support them or reduce their role”.

A Post Office spokesman said: “It is not appropriate for the Post Office to comment on allegations being made outside of the inquiry, whose role it is to consider all of the evidence on the issues it is examining and independently reach conclusions. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said Number 10 was taking the “those reports extremely seriously”.