My jaw dropped: Amble PO caught up in Horizon scandal

Posted on 19th February 2024 | in Business News , Community

Amble sub postmaster Bryan Hewson was one of those caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal, telling The Ambler that when he realised what had happened, “my jaw dropped”.

Amble sub postmaster Bryan Hewson. Photo: Anna Williams

Readers may have seen the photo of Paula Vennells in the last issue of The Ambler, but the story goes deeper than her visit to Amble back in 2016. Then CEO of the Post Office, Ms Vennells visited Amble to congratulate Bryan and his team on achieving ‘Best Improved Branch in the UK’. She even described Amble as “England’s best kept secret”.

Subsequently it emerged that over 900 sub postmasters across the country had been wrongfully convicted of fraud, theft or false accounting between 1999 and 2015, when the Post Office’s own accounting system (called Horizon) had actually been at fault.

And it transpires that Bryan was one of the sub postmasters who had fallen foul of the Horizon software six years before Paula Vennells’ visit.

Bryan told us “When I took on the Post Office in 2002, the Horizon system was already installed. My contract was couched in pretty archaic language, but basically it said I was liable for any financial shortfalls. All was going fine until Friday 20 August 2010 when the system said I had a shortfall of nearly £5,000.”

Bryan rang the helpline and told them he was closing the branch until he found the discrepancy. “I said I wasn’t asking their permission. That’s a big brick of money to lose. I got a phone call from my Contract Manager (who I’d never heard of before) who said I wasn’t allowed to close the office. I told him I had no alternative. I assumed I would find it somewhere. But after two days I couldn’t find it, so I was obliged to send a cheque.

Paula Vennells visited Amble Post Office in 2016. Photo: Andrew Mounsey

“I did suspect there was something up with the software. I looked closely and I could see there were gaps in some of the transaction numbers, but the helpline couldn’t give me an explanation; they said they couldn’t help me or put me through to anyone from the Horizon system. So I had to pay because of my contractual obligations.”

Bryan says he put the whole thing down to experience “My attitude is I can’t fix the past, so I’ve got to get on with it.”

The years that followed saw the Amble Post Office team push hard to provide their customers with a good service, culminating in their ‘Best Improved Branch’ award in 2016. Bryan also trained other sub postmasters and took part in regular meetings in London with the Post Office management including CEO Paula Vennells. “I did tell them how much the sub postmasters I had trained hated them. They seemed surprised.”

Then came the three year trial, now made famous by the ITV series ‘Mr Bates vs the Post Office’ which saw hundreds of sub postmasters fight and ultimately win their case against the Post Office, after being wrongly accused.

Bryan followed the trial proceedings carefully, reading the days’ transcripts each evening. “Now they put the public inquiry on YouTube, and I watch that every day. It was during one of those sessions there was a reference to a massive system update of the Horizon software on Thursday 19 August 2010. My jaw dropped. That was the day before my loss – that date is burned in my mind.”

He submitted a claim to the Post Office’s Historical Shortfall Scheme, and within five weeks received his money back, plus interest.

Despite his experience Bryan harbours no ill feeling. “They are not evil people, they’re not crooks. They may be lacking in competence. People in big organisations, some know how to duck and dive and tell the boss what they want to hear. I am not bitter.”

But he acknowledges he didn’t lose a huge amount compared to others, “I didn’t lose my job or house. If I had lost more, perhaps I would feel different.

“I admit there’s a lack of trust now between me and the Post Office, and it’ll be interesting to watch the next phase of the public inquiry. I believe the truth always comes out – hopefully in one’s lifetime.”

Anna Williams




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One thought on "My jaw dropped: Amble PO caught up in Horizon scandal"

  1. Muriel Carter says:

    I have to write this as I was lucky and had been lucky to go into the Amble Post office over the years when I stayed with my husbands Auntie Edith Hunter.
    I want to say thankyou to Bryan as he is the nicest and friendliest most helpful post person I have ever met.Everytime I visited Amble I would visit the post office;buy stamps,cards change money;and Bryan would chat to my husband Rob my son Henry;such an interesting person.I wish him well.

    The damage and badness that the post system caused loyal hardworking people a disgrace;shame on them.

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