Marion Holmes says her husband Peter was “destroyed” when he had to plead guilty to false accounting in order for the police to drop the theft charge in a plea bargain
A widow today tells how her husband was “destroyed” by the Post Office scandal.
Marion Holmes said Peter died in 2015, still considered a criminal over false claims about £46,000 “missing” from his sub-post office. Peter was an ex police officer so honest that he once drove 20 miles back to a restaurant to pay for the dessert they had forgotten to put on his bill.
He was a respected sub-postmaster of 13 years and in charge of the Jesmond Post Office in Newcastle when his world came crashing down in 2008. Marion says her husband was “destroyed” when he was arrested over a “missing” £46,000 due to the faulty Horizon computer system.
When his case came to court in 2010, he was offered a plea bargain. The Post Office said they would drop the theft charge if he would plead guilty to false accounting.
Marion said: “As a then 69-year-old diabetic former police officer he did not want to go inside. He knew what kind of life he would have, so he jumped at the deal, but had to live with the cost. We later learned they had no evidence of theft because he had not taken any money. But they still used that in the plea bargain. How low can you stoop?”
Peter was handed a three-month suspended jail sentence.
Marion said: “The impact on the family was devastating. His name was all over the papers, the headline was ‘ex-policeman found guilty of false accounting’.” Peter died in 2015, aged 74, six days after a brain tumour diagnosis, still haunted by the case. Mum-of-three Marion, 81, who is now a great grandmother, said: “He had his conviction overturned six years after his death. But as far as he was concerned, when he died, he was still a criminal. That is something you can never right, you will never be able to rectify.”
Her family received £162,000 in compensation, but Marion said: “I am determined to keep on fighting for others whose lives were ruined. More than 60 postmasters have died since this scandal began. They will never see justice and so many have not had proper redress. One man ended up with just £8,000 after he paid off his debts. He was only in that situation because of the Post Office. They kept the money paid back by those wrongfully accused when it had never been stolen. It went straight into their profits.”
Peter gets a mention at the end of the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, when he was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing. As a new recruit with the police, Peter had been shot at point-blank range by a bank robber in 1961, but survived when the bullet ricocheted off his collar bone. The wound inflicted then was nothing compared to the injury caused by the Post Office.
Marion said: “We obtained the interviews in which Post Office investigators repeatedly asked, ‘Where’s the money?’ They never asked if he had stolen it. He kept telling them, ‘That computer system is wrong’. They would not listen, they would not believe him. They told him that no one else had any problems. Yet they did know there were issues with the Horizon system all along. They just did not tell him.”
He tried to hide the stress he was under to protect Marion and their three children, Fraser, now 50, Fiona, 46, and Helen, 36.
Marion said: “For months, we knew something was wrong. My daughter Helen and I could hear him throwing up in the morning. He was worrying about it for a long while and he did not know what to do and where to go. The Post Office was the judge, jury and executioner because they were the prosecuting authority.”
Asked if she thought his wrongful conviction had something to do with Peter’s brain tumour, Marion said: “It is easy to blame people in situations like this. What I do know is that it did not do him any good. When he died, people said they would miss his sense of humour. I said to my daughter, ‘I had forgotten that he had one’. That is how low he was, he felt his life had gone and there was nothing he could do to get it back.”
She said Mr Bates vs The Post Office had shown how those wrongfully accused were left to take on “a monster”.
Marion, from Newcastle, said: “We thought innocent people do not get prosecuted in England. How naive were we? The Post Office justice system was – ‘You are guilty, try and prove that you are not’. Without access to any of the paper work to do that. It took a TV show to do what we have been trying to do for 20 years. I want the people responsible for this brought to justice.”
On Paula Vennells returning her CBE, Marion said: “They should have taken it from her a long time ago. Alan Bates should be offered his honour again for all the work he has done.” The Post Office last night apologised to all of those involved.