A former subpostmistress contemplated suicide and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after being subjected to a “kangaroo court” process for alleged false accounting.
Grandmother Jennifer O’Dell, 72, told Sky News that she still experiences night terrors after being accused of stealing by the Post Office and threatened with legal action in 2009.
Speaking after giving evidence to the inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal, she said: “It will never go away, the night terrors are still there.
“It’s not just once a week, it’s two or three times a week that my husband has to wake me up because I’m screaming in my sleep. And I was innocent.
“It’ll never go away that they’re coming after me.”
The grandmother of eight is among more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses (SPMs) who were wrongfully suspended, based on false information from the Horizon IT system.
The software, installed by Fujitsu, incorrectly identified account imbalances at branches across the UK.
Ms O’Dell, who ran a post office in the village of Great Staughton, Cambridgeshire, told the inquiry she first experienced a shortfall on the system in June 2009, but that the Post Office helpline “didn’t want to know”.
“They just kept telling me to pay the money back”, she said.
“They were shouting at me. I was saying to them that the Horizon system is wrong. They just didn’t want to know.”
Ms O’Dell was suspended in January 2010, after her account began to show a shortfall of more than £9,600.
Like other witnesses who have given evidence to the inquiry, Ms O’Dell said she “wasn’t told at all” that others were experiencing problems despite numerous subsequent calls to the helpline.
She said: “It felt as though there was somebody in the depths of an office block, the lights were dimmed, and they were at a Horizon terminal and they were manipulating figures.”
She was interviewed in 2010 by Post Office investigation officers John Longman and Lisa Allen, and in 2015 by a director of the organisation at the time, Angela Van Den Bogerd.
Ms O’Dell told the inquiry: “In both of those interviews, it was just like a kangaroo court. I walked in, and their body language was like: ‘She’s guilty.'”
She said she never understood why she was not prosecuted by the Post Office, but she woke up “every morning” expecting a court summons.
Ms O’Dell had been backed as a provisional parliamentary candidate for the 2010 general election, but stood down because she did not want to bring her party into disrepute.
She added that after the news of her alleged false accounting were published in her village’s local magazine, called Life, she faced rumours that she had stolen “a quarter of a million pounds”.
‘I want them brought to account’
Fighting back tears, she said: “I didn’t go out much. When I did try and go for a walk, people would cross to the other side of the road – people I had known a long time.”
She continued: “I went to some very dark places, extremely dark places. I even worked out how to commit suicide.”
Describing how she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after reaching a settlement with the Post Office as part of a group action in 2019, she told Sky News: “I hadn’t lost an arm. I hadn’t lost a leg. I hadn’t been at war and I was suffering the same mental anguish as those people that had.
“And I became extremely angry towards the post office people for doing that to me. I didn’t deserve it, nobody deserved it.”
When asked what she wanted from the Post Office, she said: “I want those people brought to justice. I want them to be persecuted and that’s not at all like me.
“I want them to say sorry. I want them brought to account.
“I want to be alive to see this happen.”
The inquiry, which is expected to run for the rest of the year, is looking into whether the Post Office knew about faults in the IT system and will also ask how staff were made to take the blame.
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK