Tearful ex-Post Office worker ‘contemplated suicide’ after IT scandal as inquiry starts

The first witness at the inquiry into the Post Office computer glitch scandal broke down in tears as he explained how he went from facing down armed robbers in his shop to contemplating suicide after losing his job.

More than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were prosecuted for theft and false accounting between 2000 and 2014. Some went to prison, some went bankrupt and many re-mortgaged their homes attempting to address the imbalances caused by the faulty Horizon IT system.

It was “the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history” according to Jason Beer QC, the counsel to the inquiry.

Image: The Post Office introduced the Horizon IT system in 1999

The inquiry is being held at the International Dispute Resolution Centre in central London after campaigners won a complex legal battle that has lasted two decades.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of me understanding the scale and the nature of the harm which has been caused to so very many individuals,” the inquiry chairman Sir Wyn Williams said at the start of the proceedings.


A total of 39 convictions were quashed last April at the Court of Appeal.

The first witness to give evidence to the inquiry, 69-year-old Baljit Sethi, broke down in tears several times as he told how he had run a post office near Romford in Essex for 22 years and had been targeted by armed robbers on numerous occasions.

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“It was a very successful post office, we never had any problems,” he told the inquiry. “We had seven armed robberies, but we never let them take a penny. They came with real guns.

“The community loved us. We were so happy. It was the best time of our lives.”

Mr Sethi said he stayed up until 11pm on the night he first noticed a shortfall of £1,000 but could not work out what had happened.

“The following week it had shot up to £2,000. I rang the post office, I sent a fax. I said there seems to be a problem with the Horizon system, would somebody please come help us? Nobody turned up.”

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Post Office IT inquiry begins

Mr Sethi was never charged with crimes, but had his contract terminated.

“We lost everything we ever had after 20-25 years and this was all thanks to the Post Office.”

He added: “I was down and out, I contemplated suicide, but I thought no, that’s the easy way out, what about my family and my children?”

Mr Sethi said he worked late night shifts as a security guard on minimum wage to help fund a good lifestyle for his children.

He said: “People in our community believed we had been robbing from the Post Office.

“It all had a bad impact on us psychologically, financially and reputation-wise.”

Mr Beer QC said: “Lives were ruined, families were torn apart, families were made homeless and destitute.

“Reputations were destroyed, not least because the crimes of which the men and women were convicted all involved acting dishonestly.

“People who were important, respected and integral part of the local communities that they served were in some cases shunned.

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“A number of men and women sadly died before the state publicly recognised that they were wrongly convicted.”

The hearing continues.