“They snatched my life”: former postal workers tell of an investigation into the stress of the computer scandal | Post office

Former postal workers have broken down in tears as they recount the depression and PTSD they suffered after being caught up in the organisation’s IT scandal.

More than 700 post office operators were prosecuted for theft and false accounting between 2000 and 2014 after the organization’s faulty Horizon computer system incorrectly suggested there were financial shortfalls.

On Friday, former worker Jennifer O’Dell said she had contemplated suicide and suffered from recurring night terrors. She was accused of stealing nearly £10,000 from a post office in Cambridgeshire.

Speaking at the end of the first week of the independent investigation into the scandal, O’Dell said she had researched how to kill herself, as well as suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD ).

She said: “I’ve been to very dark places, extremely dark places. I even figured out how to kill myself. I had to take anti-depressants. I had to take sleeping pills. I had night terrors where my husband had to wake me up.

“And it wasn’t just once in a while, it was two or three times a week. I also had high blood pressure.

“After the trial in December, I suffered from post-traumatic stress and had to consult. It was horrible. I had not been at war. I had not lost a limb. They caused this.

O’Dell was suspended and, although she has not been prosecuted, she said months of uncertainty left her expecting to “wake up to a court summons”.

She said: “I want these people to be brought to justice. I want them to be persecuted and that’s not like me at all. I want them to say ‘yes we did, we didn’t tell the truth under oath’. I want them to apologize.

The inquest also heard a written statement on behalf of Guy Vinall, who ran a post office in Funtington, near Chichester in West Sussex. He was threatened with legal action when the Horizon system showed a shortfall of £28,000.

He led the agency between 2004 and 2009 after succeeding his father, who had been the manager for 20 years. They both took out loans to pay off the shortfall, thereby avoiding lawsuits. Vinall was sacked in January 2010.

In his statement, he recounted how he suffered from a nervous breakdown, turned to alcohol and attempted suicide several times before being admitted to a mental health facility.

The statement added: ‘Guy Vinall feels he can never be fully compensated for what the post office has done. He says they literally took my life.

Meanwhile, Linda Little, who started working for the Post Office aged 16, said being accused of theft “drove me crazy”. She said she paid more than £90,000 of her own money to cover the alleged shortfalls.

“La Poste took everything from me. They ended my career that I had built since I was 16 and I loved my job, really,” she said. “They took away my retirement plans and the future of my daughter and my nephew as they were going to take over the business from me.”

Susan Hazelton. Her children were told in the playground that their mother was a liar and a thief. Photograph: Post Office Horizon/PA computer survey

On Thursday, Susan Hazzleton, 68, said her children were mocked in the school playground when her post office branch in Chelmsford, Essex, closed in 2001.

Her children were told that their mother was a liar and a thief and was “the reason the village no longer had a post office or a store”, Hazzleton said.

William Graham, 53, who ran the Riverhead sub-post office near Sevenoaks, was convicted of concealing alleged losses of £65,521 in January 2011 and given a suspended prison sentence. He was one of 39 former workers whose conviction was overturned by the appeals court in April 2021.

Holding back tears, Graham told the inquest on Wednesday that his conviction had left him worthless. “I visited the area with my wife and we were basically told ‘we shouldn’t talk to you, we shouldn’t talk to you, we shouldn’t be seen talking to you,'” he said. declared.

Damian Owen, who ran a branch of the Post Office in Bangor, North Wales, has been jailed for eight months after being accused of stealing £25,000 following computer errors. His conviction was overturned and he believes the old leadership should face charges.

He said: “I want there to be convictions, not just for the people who perpetuated the whole conspiracy inside the post office, everyone up and down who knew and was still pushing charges.”

The investigation, which continues Monday, expects to hear about sixty former postal workers.

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