Cleared postmaster wants persecutors ‘to be hurt not jailed’
A postmaster wrongfully persecuted because of a computer mistake said he wanted those responsible “to be hurt” not jailed.
Noel Thomas, now 73, of Gaerwen, Anglesey was among 45 former subpostmasters wrongly convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting due to the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system.
The scandal started in early 2005 but it was only on Friday that finally they had their names cleared at the Royal Courts of Justice, London.
Mr Thomas had noticed irregularities with the accounts and was in regular contact with Post Office management who had reassured him they would “sort it out”.
But, one morning in October of that year, his life turned upside down when auditors knocked on the door of the family home at 7.30am.
The Post Office said they were investigating £48,000 missing from the accounts.
Mr Thomas, who was a Plaid Cymru councillor at the time he was prosecuted, was handcuffed by two policemen he knew.
What followed was a 16-year-long ordeal for Mr Thomas and his family which continues to this day.
In 2006, he was prosecuted in Caernarfon Crown Court and sentenced to nine months in prison – where he spent his 60th birthday – after pleading guilty to the lesser charge of false accounting to avoid a more serious charge of theft, in the hope it would avoid prison time.
Unbeknown to him, he was just one of many in a similar position. Since 2000, over 900 UK sub-postmasters were prosecuted after money seemingly vanished from accounts.
Many faced time in prison – their livelihoods and reputations in ruin.
On Friday, Mr Thomas’ name along with the names of 39 other former sub-postmasters, were cleared.
Six others had been dealt with at magistrates without having to go to crown court
Speaking to Nation.Cymru, Mr Thomas said: “When I went on Friday, I was afraid of what the Post Office were going to do because every time we have won something and thinking that we had got there – they have tried to throw something else into the pot. And you would come home disappointed.
“The solicitors told us: ‘They (Post Office) are going to settle it this time.”
“It’s been a rollercoaster from the start in 2009 when BBC current affairs programme Taro Naw started looking into this and we went to Hampshire to meet others and postmasters from Bridlington and joined Allan Bates, from Llandudno, who had started ‘Justice for Sub-Postmasters.’
“Other people took interest, my MP Albert Owen was very good. Then we had meetings and the Post would offer us arbitration and then they hid a report – and then Panorama also investigated our plight.
Mr Thomas also wanted to thank other journalists for helping him.
“It’s been a long time.
“The next steps for us, the 45 postmasters – – will be decided by our solicitors – which is to seek compensation.
Mr Thomas estimates he has lost over £250,000 after losing his job.
“We have already started the process. I was asked by a reporter outside court what I was going to do now and he was shocked by my answer.
He asked me: ‘Are you looking forward to getting the people who prosecuted you sent to jail and I replied: ‘No, I don’t want them to be sent to jail’ and he looked at me with his mouth open.
“Jail doesn’t do anybody any good. They’ve gone with millions in their pockets and walked into other jobs. They will get six months in jail; that’s no punishment and they will come back to their wealth.
“What I would like is for what happened to me – and the other people around me here – is to happen to them. They’ve taken everything away from you and honestly I was on my knees. I lost everything and it took me two years to get my self-respect back.
“I worked and I am still working. I worked for the post office for 42 years and at the time, when I left, I was earning in the region of £30,000 a year as a postmaster and between £11-15,000 as a councillor. To get that swiped away from you and your lifesavings and everything gone – and luckily I sold my house or else I would have lost that as well.
“And that is what I would like to see happening to these people. No, don’t send them to jail – hurt them.
“Jail doesn’t do anything to these young men and these people. It only gives them food, a clean bed and looks after them. And what better do they want?
Noel’s daughter Siân said: “At last. When my dad walked out of the court he said: ‘Da ni wedi curo do!” (‘We’ve won haven’t we!) and I could see him well up with tears and the heavens opened.”