Described as “the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history”, an IT glitch in Horizon accounting systems gave the impression that money was missing from Post Office sites.
More than 3,500 branch managers were falsely accused, with 700 being wrongly convicted of theft, fraud or false accounting.
Some even took their own lives before their names could be cleared. Others went to prison and many were financially ruined.
Former Regimental Sgt Major David Avery, now 81, served 24 years in the Army, but it was a 19-year stint as a sub-postmaster that pushed him to the brink of bankruptcy as a result of the mistakes.
David, who left 15th Battalion Royal Ordnance Corps in 1984 shortly after meeting the Queen, said: “Between 1989 and 2000 the books were balanced every week and were only ever a pound or two out either way.
“Then they introduced the computer system and I was suddenly being asked for hundreds of pounds to cover shortfalls.
“I was borrowing money, had my car repossessed and stopped paying my pension, all to cover these shortfalls that years and years later we discovered were all a computer mistake. People were wrongly accused of crimes and others killed themselves with the shame of it.
“My wife Lorraine and I had two young children and we all suffered due to having no money from 2000 onwards – I finally retired aged 67 in 2008.
“My lawyers have put in a claim for around £140,000 to cover all the money I paid to cover shortfalls plus any directly associated losses.”
David claimed: “The Post Office is making the process of agreeing to my losses and bringing an end to the matter near impossible with delay after delay.
“I think they are despicable and conniving, and simply waiting for all of us to die so they don’t have to pay us anything. I put my life on the line for my country in the Army but when I moved to Civvy Street and worked for the Post Office there was no sense of duty from management.”
In 2019 a group of 555 successfully challenged the Post Office over the Horizon system in the High Court and the Government opened a fund worth nearly £700 million to foot the bill for compensation.
In May 2020, a compensation initiative – the Historical Shortfall Scheme – invited applications from SPMs who believed they experienced shortfalls related to versions of the Horizon system.
At least 33 victims have died waiting for justice, 14 since the compensation scheme was opened.
David, of Pershore, Worcestershire, applied the month it opened. In autumn 2021 the Post Office contacted him about his claim and in February he was offered £31,000 compensation – almost £110,000 short of his claimed losses.
David’s lawyer Ruth Godfrey said: “The Horizon IT system was a scandal and now it looks like the Post Office Shortfall Scheme is going the same way.”
Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, which represented hundreds of people who paid false shortfalls, said: “David is one of the many wrong fully suffering all these years.
“Sadly, some may never see full justice before they die.”
A Post Office spokesperson said: “We are working with Mr Avery and his legal representatives to resolve his claim for compensation as quickly as possible. We strongly refute any allegation of deliberately delaying compensation payments.
“The Post Office has already paid out nearly £40million under the HSS and has made offers to over 90 percent of eligible applicants.”