Thursday 29 February 2024
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Horizon: Harrowing interview with former Sutton sub-postmaster jailed for £208,000 ‘shortfall’

A former sub-postmaster who was wrongfully convicted and jailed for theft has criticised the Government’s “inaction” on the matter.

Harjinder Butoy was accused of stealing £208,000 when he worked at Sutton-in-Ashfield Post Office due to a shortfall in the faulty Horizon IT system.

The scandal saw 736 sub-postmasters prosecuted from 1999 to 2015.

The scandal has been highlighted in a new ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which looks at how the Post Office’s accounting system was showing shortfalls in hundreds of branches.

•  Horizon Scandal: Government to quash wrongful Post Office convictions

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Mr Butoy, 47, ran Sutton-in-Ashfield Post Office from 2004.

He was jailed in 2008, leaving his wife and three young children behind.

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Mr Butoy had to pay £68,000 compensation to the Post Office. He says he has still not received substantial compensation.

The Post Office said it and the Government are committed to paying “full, fair and final” compensation to those impacted.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week those previously convicted would be cleared of wrongdoing and compensated.

Mr Butoy said the problems were evident from the start.

He said there were shortfalls in money every week and the Horizon helpdesk “was like talking to a brick wall”.

He said: “In 2007 auditors turned up at the post office with CID and arrested me for stealing £208,000.

“I was in a state of shock. They told me I was the only one.

“By the time I’d gone home that night, they’d take everything from the post office, including paperwork and money. They’d shut my post office down.

“My wife and kids had to move out because it wasn’t safe to stay there. We lost our shop at the click of the fingers. They seized all our bank accounts.

“It got adjourned five times before the trial started because they couldn’t get paperwork from the Post Office.”

In 2008 Mr Butoy was found guilty of theft. He was sentenced three weeks later to three years and three months imprisonment.

Mr Butoy, from Chesterfield, refused to accept a plea deal, whereby he would plead guilty to some of the charges in return for a lighter sentence.

He said: “I woke up the next day in Nottingham Prison and I knew I had done nothing wrong.

“While I was in prison I had to apply for bankruptcy. I lost my properties and business, and they took whatever money I had left.

“I had to pay £68,000 compensation to the Post Office.”

He was released after 18 months and served five months on a home detention tag.

In 2015 Mr Butoy’s MP Toby Perkins (Lab) wrote a letter to Paula Vennells, the CEO of the Post Office at the time.

Mr Butoy said the response was that there was nothing wrong with the system and Mr Butoy should seek legal advice.

In 2021, Mr Butoy had his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal.

He is now represented by Hudgell Solicitors, who are still fighting for him to get compensation.

He said: “I’ve only had compensation in dribs and drabs. The Post Office is still negotiating with our lives. It’s disgusting.

“Rishi Sunak is saying compensation will be paid straight away. They said this back in 2021 when we cleared our names.

“I’ll be lucky to get even 20 per cent of what I lost. People got acquitted in 2021, why didn’t the Government pardon people then? They’re only doing it now because of the new drama.

“Where have they been for the last three years? It’s embarrassing.

“The government had to wait for a drama to come out for them to get this sorted.

“Why has it taken a drama for them to wake up?”

Mr Butoy said he and his wife watched the ITV drama but admitted it “brought back some bad memories”.

He said: “It was like a movie. It was horrible. We lost everything, my parents were distraught.

“When I got cleared it was 15 years of my life. I stood back and thought, where the hell has my life gone?

“Their apology means nothing to me now. I’ve tried to move on from this but how can you forget it?

“It’s a life sentence and it’s never going to go away.

“I want people like Paula Vennells charged and prosecuted. She should hand over her bonuses.”

@westbridgfordwirenews A former sub-postmaster who was wrongfully convicted and jailed for theft has criticised the Government’s “inaction” on the matter. Harjinder Butoy was accused of stealing £208,000 when he worked at Sutton-in-Ashfield Post Office due to a shortfall in the faulty Horizon IT system. The scandal saw 736 sub-postmasters prosecuted from 1999 to 2015. The scandal has been highlighted in a new ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which looks at how the Post Office’s accounting system was showing shortfalls in hundreds of branches. . #nottinghamshire #suttoninashfield #fyp #foryoupage #nottingham #westbridgford #notts #horizon #horizonscandal #postoffice #postofficeinquiry #westbridgford ♬ original sound – West Bridgford Wire News

Minister for Postal Affairs Kevin Hollinrake said: “We know compensation won’t right the wrongs of the past, but victims with an overturned conviction will be able to immediately claim £600,000, if that is their preference, to get on and rebuild their lives. This is an alternative round to going down the full assessment. There is no limit to compensation for those who choose to decline the £600k and choose the full assessment route instead.”

A Post Office spokesperson added: “We fully share the aims of the current Public Inquiry, set up to get to the truth of what happened in the past and accountability.  We are deeply aware of the human cost of the scandal and are doing all we can to right the wrongs of the past, as far as that is possible.

“Both Post Office and Government are committed to providing full, fair and final compensation for the people affected. To date, offers of more than £138 million have been made to around 2,700 Postmasters, the majority of which have been agreed and paid. Interim payments continue to be made in other cases which have not yet been resolved.”

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