Post Office Investigators Told Me I Couldn’t Talk to My Daughter for 18 Months, Victim Says

Tracey Merritt ran two branches in Dorset and was wrongly accused of receiving £13,500 – DALE CHERRY

Post Office investigators allegedly warned an innocent subpostmaster not to “contact” her own daughter for 18 months, the Telegraph can reveal.

Tracey Merritt has described how her family was left “devastated” by an “aggressive” investigation launched after the faulty Horizon computer system falsely showed a cash shortfall.

As her daughter also worked at one of the suspected branches, Ms Merritt was ordered to cut off all contact while the investigation was carried out, to prevent collusion.

Too scared even to adequately explain why they had cut off communication, she and her partner only found out about their daughter’s pregnancy through Facebook.

It caused a rift in the family that took years to repair.

“We were very close,” Merritt, 56, said.

“She didn’t really understand what was going on and I couldn’t explain it to her. She moved away and we didn’t get to see her for months and months.

“It was devastating.”

These new allegations follow a damning week for the Post Office at the public inquiry, where its investigators were accused of behaving like “gangster gangsters”.

In 2011, Mrs Merritt, who ran two branches in Dorset, was wrongly accused of overcharging £13,500 due to Horizon’s malfunction.

Two investigators, Lisa Allen and Gary Thomas, were sent to question her.

Merritt told the Telegraph that she was informed that she and her daughter would go to prison if she pleaded not guilty.

He said Allen stood outside his cubicle when he went to the bathroom during the interview.

“It made me feel uncomfortable, like a criminal,” she said.

“I think it was all part of a corporate intimidation game to intimidate you into pleading guilty.”

She also alleged that during a search of her home, Allen pointed to a pile of dirty clothes and told Merritt’s partner, David Porter, “If I were you, I’d trade them in for a new model.”

Porter, who worked as a postman for Royal Mail, corroborated the account, adding: “They were sarcastic, it was humiliating.”

The inquiry has previously seen evidence that Thomas described all subpostmasters as “criminals” in emails relating to a victim who was posthumously acquitted.

He has also said that Post Office investigators were offered cash bonuses for each subpostmaster convicted during the Horizon scandal.

‘I lived in fear’

Merritt was charged with three counts of false accounting, one of theft and one of embezzlement, although they were eventually dropped; she suspects it because she was preparing to be very critical of the Horizon system in defending it.

She says that even though the Post Office dropped the charges, she was wrongly told she would “hear from the police”.

“I lived in fear of it for months,” he said.

However, Mrs Merritt lost her business and was forced to repay £13,500.

Since then he lives from day to day.

“Life since then has been horrible. I don’t think there are words to describe it.

“One moment we have a plan and suddenly someone comes and pulls the rug out from under your feet.

“I couldn’t get a job because the employer would Google you and see the positions.

“So I could only do agency work, like packing cheese at night, just to make some money.”

The worst effect, however, was the impact on their family, as the couple’s daughter, Lisa Porter, moved in with her partner.

Another family member was hospitalized due to the pressure of local gossip and now lives elsewhere in the UK.

Porter said: “We still talk, but it’s not what it was.”

“We were all in each other’s pockets. “Then this happened.”

The Telegraph has contacted both Thomas and Allen for comment.

A Post Office spokesman said he would not comment on individual cases, but added: “We fully share the objectives of the public inquiry to get to the truth of what went wrong in the past and establish accountability. “It is for the inquiry to reach its own independent conclusions after considering all the evidence on the issues it is examining.”
By Henry Bodkin

Stress of processing left me registered as disabled, says deputy postmaster

When Della Robinson became subpostmaster in the small, former cotton town of Dukinfield, she was convinced she had finally found her dream job.

“I was very proud to be a postmaster. I was the center of community life,” she said. “I loved the people who came. It wasn’t really a job, it was a pleasure.”

But she has now revealed how being pursued in court by the Post Office over its own failings has aggravated her epilepsy, leaving her now registered as disabled.

“The stress of the whole experience exacerbated my epilepsy, for which I am now registered as disabled,” she wrote in her witness statement at the Post Office Horizon IT investigation. “I suffered nightmares in which I relived the experience.”

She added: “I lost my confidence, my independence and developed depression. Before this I was able to control my epilepsy.

“Going from the post office giving me back my confidence and a new life and then having it all taken away from me was heartbreaking. I feel like I can’t move on.”

Della RobinsonDella Robinson

Della Robinson was subpostmaster in the small, former cotton town of Dukinfield – GUARDIAN/EYEVINE

In 2006, Miss Robinson, now 55, became deputy postmaster in the “friendly” Greater Manchester town where she and her partner had lived all their lives.

After “very basic training,” none of which focused on Fujitsu’s now-famous Horizon system, she decided to teach herself “a lot of things” to ensure she could get the most out of the job.

He soon found inexplicable deficiencies. At first it was £10 or £20, but those figures soon began to rise to eye-watering sums.

She regularly questioned errors, making calls three times a week to Horizon’s “nice but not effective” helpline as the system encountered “problem after problem” before the shortfall “multiplied.”

“It was total chaos,” he wrote, explaining how an audit found £15,500 missing, leading to his suspension and searches of his home. “This made me panic and I felt very anxious.”

The Post Office insisted she was “the only one” having difficulties with Horizon, so she was charged with false accounting and theft of £17,000.

Like so many subpostmasters, he pleaded guilty to false accounting to get the theft charge dropped.

In 2012, she was sentenced to 180 hours of community service and ordered to pay £5,000 costs.

Her attempts to pay the shortfall meant that a property she and her partner had bought for rental income was repossessed and they were forced to take out a mortgage on their home.

During Miss Robinson’s community service at Age UK, she was constantly reminded of how far she had fallen, through no fault of her own.

“The customers who visited me were often the same ones who came into my post office,” he wrote. “I felt ashamed that they knew what I had been convicted of and thought they would judge me for it.”

Although his conviction was overturned in April 2021, he still struggles to understand the full extent of the “Post Office mistake” in his life.

“I went from being so happy to being so desperately sad. The whole experience has drained me mentally and I don’t think I will ever fully recover from the stress and strains I have been through.”
By Steve Bird

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