Post Office scandal: Sussex village shop owner ‘lost everything’ after false stealing claims
“We were shunned by all the local villagers — people I called my friends thought I was a thief.”
A former postmaster has opened up on his ‘absolutely awful’ ordeal after being falsely accused of stealing.
Guy Vinall, who ran a much-loved village shop and post office in Funtington, West Sussex, was one of 555 people to be awarded compensation in December 2019 — ten years after the scandal began.
Mr Vinall, who said he was one of the first postmasters to ‘realise there was a problem with the IT system’, revealed his story after 39 Post Office workers, who were convicted of theft, had their names cleared last week.
Some of them had been imprisoned for crimes they never committed because of the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system, with a bug in the computer system leading to financial shortfalls in branch accounts.
Mr Vinall avoided prison time after paying off a £28,000 ‘discrepancy.’
“They said unless I paid the money, I would go to jail,” he said. “I couldn’t afford to pay off the £28,000 so my father stumped up the money.
“At the time, he said this isn’t saying I was guilty, he just didn’t want me to go to jail.”
Mr Vinall became a member of the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) which, along with a group of solicitors, successfully fought to clear the names of hundreds of postmasters.
However, Mr Vinall said ‘no amount of compensation’ could pay for the ‘absolutely immense human cost’ of the ordeal.
“Everyone thought we were thieves,” he said. “I felt everyone was staring at me, accusing me of this, that and the other.
“I had to close the shop [in 2018], which has now been demolished. It was my business and way of life and now it’s a demolition site. It’s heart-wrenching.
“The community lost a village shop and a service. I suffered tremendous mental health problems.
“It’s ripped the heart out of me. I have lost everything the hardest being my self esteem.
“They convinced everyone that we were guilty of theft when, in fact, all along, it’s been computer glitches. That’s been proved but not quick enough to save the business and not quick enough to help me mentally and physically.”
Having lost his marriage, and his home, Guy is now in a new relationship and ‘trying to move on’.
The Post Office said it was ‘extremely sorry’ for the impact on the lives of the postmasters and their families ‘affected by historical failures’.
A spokesperson added: “We are taking determined action to address the past and transform the Post Office, forging a substantive partnership with our postmasters to put them first in everything we do.”