Sub-postmaster cleared of £85,000 theft charges

Sub postmaster Tom Brown has finally been cleared of theft charges after a five-year fight for justice

Ex-postmaster Tom Brown of South Stanley
Ex-postmaster Tom Brown of South Stanley

A sub-postmaster accused by his bosses of stealing £85,000 claims the cash shortfall was down to a computer glitch.

Tom Brown has been told he will face no further action after staging a five-year fight for justice with a legal team from The Post Office Ltd.

The 67-year-old was given a certificate of valour by his bosses in the mid-90s after he fended off a knifeman wearing a Halloween mask.

But now he says he has lost his home, been declared bankrupt and had his name “dragged through the mud” after he was suspended in 2008 following an audit at his business.

Investigators claimed there was a cash shortage of £85,426 in the till of the North Kenton Post Office branch which was run by Mr Brown after he bought the adjacent Finlays newsagent in 2007. Police launched an investigation into the claims, but in December 2011 officers told him there would be no criminal charges.

A legal team from The Post Office Ltd pursued two charges of false accounting through the civil courts as Mr Brown maintained the missing cash was down to a fault in the new Horizon computer system. Now, just months before he was due to appear at Newcastle Crown Court on November 18, the grandfather-of-three has been told the prosecution would be entering no evidence and a judge has recorded not-guilty verdicts.

Mr Brown, who now lives in South Stanley, County Durham, with his son Simon, 35, a door supervisor at nightclubs in Newcastle, says the shortfall was down to a computer error and criticised Post Office chiefs for their “relentless pursuit”.

He said: “I’ve lost nearly £300,000 in property, lost my home, been declared bankrupt and had my name dragged through the mud. I knew there was something wrong in the shop and I thought somebody was taking money but I kept it quiet for six months.

“That’s the biggest mistake I made. When the Post Office did an audit they found all this missing money and I was suspended.

“Without my salary I couldn’t afford to pay the staff and I couldn’t afford to pay the bills. I was made bankrupt. They wanted to search my house and they went through my car. I said to them, ‘You won’t find £85,000 in there.’”

Mr Brown, who has three grandchildren, Daniel, eight, Ethan, seven, and Chloe, 13, lost his wife, Carole, to breast cancer in 2003 at the age of 57. The couple worked together since 1981 when they bought the Chester Moor post office before taking control of a site on Colliery Row Post Office in Fence Houses. In 1987 they bought the post office on Durham Road, Birtley, which they ran until 1999. During that time Mr Brown was targeted five times by armed robbers.

Mr Brown said: “Because my wife was ill – they said she only had 18 months to live, but she survived for three years – we gave up the branch and moved into a new house.

“After she died, I started working in Finlays in North Kenton and eventually bought the site.

“I had a three-bedroom detached house in West Pelton and a flat across the road, which I rented out.

“When I was suspended I lost all that and I lost £50,000 a year in Post Office salaries. All the staff I’ve ever worked with in Newcastle think I stole £85,000. They’ve dragged my reputation through the dirt.

“When I was told that it was all over I was over the moon, I was absolutely elated. But the hardest thing is knowing that my wife and I worked for so many years, doing so much to try to make sure my family was secure.”

Mr Brown has now entered into a “mediation” period with Post Office chiefs as he seek compensation for five years of “torture”.

NORTH Durham MP Kevan Jones has championed Mr Brown’s fight and raised his plight in Parliament.

It is claimed more than 100 people across the country have been the subjects of false allegations as a result of a computer error.

A campaign group, the Justice For Sub-postmasters Alliance, run by Alan Bates, of Old Colwyn, Conwy, helped in his fight.

Last night Mr Jones told The Journal it was a “scandal”, stating: “The way Tom has been treated is verging on cruel.

“Ministers must now act to ensure victims of these Post Office allegations get the compensation they deserve. I have written to ministers today and will be pursuing Tom’s case very hard.”

Last year the Post Office instructed a firm of forensic accountants, 2nd Sight Limited, to conduct an independent review of 10 existing cases raised by a number of MPs and the law firm Shoosmiths.

About 100 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have registered an interest in suing Post Office Ltd over its Horizon computer system, which records financial transactions in branches across the UK. The Post Office has repeatedly denied there is a problem with the system, saying the claims have been made by a very small number of people.

But Mr Jones criticised Business Minister Jo Swinson during a Parliamentary debate last month, saying a report had found there was scope for the Post Office “to improve aspects of its support and training for sub-postmasters”.

In a heated debate, Mr Jones said: “Being a minister allows the Rt Hon lady not only to ask questions but to right wrongs.

“To dismiss cases such as that of Mr Tom Brown as miniscule does not change the fact that he has lost his livelihood, his wife has died, his name has been dragged through the local community and he is still awaiting an outcome. His good name is now being questioned, he has had to sell his house and is still waiting for the Post Office to produce the evidence.”

POST Office chiefs last night said the case against Tom Brown had been dropped because it was “no longer in the public interest”.

A Post Office Ltd spokeswoman said: “Press Office Ltd has determined that in this case it is no longer in the public interest to prosecute.”

She added: “The Post Office is committed to supporting its people and improving the way we do so. The interim review published recently by independent investigators Second Sight makes it clear that the Horizon computer system and its supporting processes function effectively across our network.

“As the review notes, it is used by around 68,000 people in more than 11,500 branches, successfully processing more than six million transactions every day. The review underlines our cause for confidence in the overall system.”

In relation to other cases, she said: “We would not comment on other cases. However, cases are only prosecuted where they meet and continue to meet the requirements of the code for Crown Prosecutors. That code requires both an evidential test and a public interest test to be applied. The code also requires the prosecution to keep under review whether or not that test continues to be met.”

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