A FORMER postmaster from South Tyneside says he is more than £57,000 out of pocket after a Post Office computer system was cleared of any faults.
Kevin Carter and his wife Julie, who were forced to remortgage their home after being told they owed thousands of pounds, are now hoping the training they were given to use the system will provide them with a financial lifeline.
The couple claimed a computer system, called Horizon, which was installed by the company 12 years ago, was at fault, creating cash shortfalls that didn’t really exist.
But last night, an inquiry into the system said no faults could be found, but the Post Office should examine its support and training processes for sub-postmasters.
The couple were among hundreds of people running post offices all over the country waiting for the results of the inquiry into the alleged computer faults.
Mr and Mrs Carter say they had to pay out the cash over the years because the Post Office refused to accept the Horizon system was logging some transactions twice.
As the losses mounted up, Mrs Carter, who is registered disabled, was asked to resign and the couple were only allowed to sell the business, which was based in Dickens Avenue, Biddick Hall, South Shields, as long as the Post Office was given £45,000 from the sale.
That is the sum the Post Office claimed the pair owed at the time.
The rest of the total is cash they paid from their own pockets and deductions from Mrs Carter’s salary.
An independent review into the system was launched, after the issue was raised by a number of MPs.
Mr Carter, from Cleadon Meadows, South Shields, said: “I’m disappointed with the finding.
“There has to be a problem somewhere along the line.
“It is too much of a coincidence that so many people have been having the same problems.
“It is not just small amounts.
“You are talking about thousands of pounds.
“I’m still hoping that, somewhere along the line, we will be able to get our money back.
“This has been a nightmare for us. We were made to feel like criminals, when we haven’t done anything wrong.
“We contacted the Post Office and asked for help as we were sure it was down to the computer system.
“Because Julie was the sub-postmistress, we were liable to pay for any losses. Julie was called to Durham, where she had to answer questions, and in the end we had to remortgage our home to be able to pay some of the cash back, with the rest being taken from her salary each month.
“But the losses continued to get bigger and bigger and, in the end, they suspended us pending further inquiries.
“Julie was then called to a meeting and told to resign.”
By chance, the couple came across the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance.
The group are representing subpostmasters across the country who have also been wrongly accused of false accounting.
The report, published last night by an external firm, Second Sight, confirms that no system-wide problems have been found in relation to the Horizon software, but suggests that the Post Office should examine its support and training processes for sub-postmasters.
Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells said: “The interim review makes clear that the Horizon computer system and its supporting processes function effectively across our network.
“The review underlines our cause for confidence in the overall system. It does however raise questions about the training and support we have offered to some sub-postmasters and we are determined to address these issues.
“We regret very much if any sub-postmaster feels that our standards of support or training have not met their needs.”
IT PROBE RULES OUT SYSTEM FAILURE
SUB-postmasters all over the country were hoping the probe into the Post Office’s Horizon accounting system would prove them right.
For years, those running post offices have claimed unexplained losses were being generated by the computer system.
Cash shortfalls have led to a number of postmasters being charged and even jailed, while others have had to make up cash discrepancies from their own pockets.
Despite issues raised by sub-postmasters, the Post Office denied there was a problem with its accounting system, and an inquiry has now backed that position.
It has, however, put the training and support sub-post office staff receive in the spotlight.
The issue was first raised by Conservative MP for North East Hampshire James Arbuthnot.
With support from members of Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance, the Post Office agreed to an independent investigation.
In January, the Post Office called for people to come forward if they had experienced problems with the system.
An investigation by Second Sight Limited was launched, concentrating on a selection of 47 claims.
The Post Office is proposing to set up a working party to review cases, determine how an independent safety net might be introduced to adjudicate in disputed cases in the future, and review support processes and training.