A Fife woman believes her mother was “targeted” by Post Office bosses after she raised concerns about their faulty IT system.
Mary Philip, who ran the post office at Auchtermuchty, was wrongly accused of stealing money from the till and suspended by auditors in 2006.
In fact, she had been pumping tens of thousands of pounds of her own money into the business to cover alleged shortfalls.
On Wednesday, her daughter – also Mary Philip – told a public inquiry that her mother died in 2018, aged 83, before the catastrophic failures of the Horizon IT system were exposed.
“She died not knowing, but she was correct all along,” said Ms Philip.
“I think my mother would have been relieved, probably delighted to have been vindicated.
‘I’m just sad that she died before she found out.”
Obliged to ‘make good’ on shortfalls
Victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal have told the inquiry how their lives were devastated by the software system.
Introduced in 1999, the computer set-up led to hundreds of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses faced with unexplained losses, which they were obliged to make good on.
Ms Philip, also known as Myra, told the inquiry she and her mother ploughed approximately £70,000 back into the system. They had to take out loans and borrow from family members.
“But it could have been even more than that, because the shortfalls were so regular,” she said. “It was £100 there and £200 there, it all adds up.
“There was some months when I was struggling to pay my own mortgage at home.”
Accusations of theft
She said her mother, a former police officer, initially blamed herself when the office computer kept showing discrepancies.
Mrs Philip, who worked with her mother at the post office counter, said: “Every time she had a shortfall she would report it. She told them there was an issue with Horizon.
“And every time she was told: Well, nobody else is having a problem.
“They said that someone in your family was probably taking money out of the safe during the night.”
The inquiry heard that Ms Philip began sleeping with the post office keys under her pillow.
Asked by Jason Beer QC, counsel to the inquiry, why she did this, she replied: “I had teenage children and I didn’t want them accused of robbing the safe.”
Visit from auditors
Mr Beer said “matters came to a head” on a Thursday morning in summer 2006, when auditors arrived at the branch.
“They demanded to be let in,” Ms Philip said. “They went straight to the cash drawer.
“The night before there had been a £94 shortfall and my mother had written a personal cheque to cover it. She thought she was doing the right and honest thing.
“But this cheque was taken as proof of false accounting and she was immediately suspended. She was told she would be better resigning.”
Ms Philip said her mother walked out of the branch and headed to her car.
“One of the auditors actually chased after her and told her she wasn’t being prosecuted, because of her age. He said it quite aggressively.”
Asked how her mother was affected by the accusations, Ms Philip said: “She was devastated. She knew she had done nothing wrong.”
The day after her mother was suspended, the branch was taken over by post office staff.
“We had to sit in the shop and watch head office people working behind the counter.
“We had to listen to the locals speaking about us.
“Some of them were very vociferous in their condemnation because the moment pensions stopped being paid out, the village gossip machine started up.”
She heard comments such as “thief” and “fraudster”. Another customer asked: “How could you do that, robbing the village post office?”
Ms Philip, a former journalist, said she could no longer drive through Auchtermuchty, and had to take country roads to avoid it.
Robbed of ‘our money, dignity and name’
“I’m the angriest I’ve ever been at the injustice,” she told the inquiry. “They took our money.
“How can anyone trust an organisation which is still admitting what it did and is still excluding people they wronged – very badly – from any form of compensation.
“Compensation is not just about money. It’s about them doing the right thing and showing maybe a little bit of remorse.”
She added: “Horizon and the Post Office robbed us of our money, our dignity and our name.
“They robbed us of the final years of what remained of my mother.”
She added: “I think I’ve come to the conclusion that my mother was targeted by auditors, because she was making such a noise about the Horizon system.
“The Post Office was so intent on protecting a computer system, they completely disregarded all human resources.
“Because she was bright enough to work out it was the computer system, she was suspended and we lost everything.”
She added: “I firmly believe that the people who instigated this, they criminalised people.
“I really think that they are the criminals themselves and I hope that the authorities will look at this and make them feel how we felt.”
The inquiry heard that the Philips hired a private investigator to try and establish what was going wrong.
His initial findings were inconclusive, but he offered to investigate Horizon designers Fujitsu.
“We couldn’t afford to pay him,” she said. “Because of all the shortfalls.”
The inquiry continues.