Yorkshire subpostmistress told she was being prosecuted on daughter's wedding day

A subpostmistress's wrongful conviction over missing funds led to her becoming “a recluse” after she received notice of her prosecution on the day of her daughter’s wedding, an inquiry heard.

Gillian Howard, 62, who ran the New Mill Post Office, near Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire, said she took over the branch’s management in 2010 after her husband suffered a stroke followed by a heart attack and had to step down.

She pleaded guilty to fraud in 2011 and received a six-month community sentence order after £45,850 was found to be missing – a conviction also overturned in April last year.

The 62-year-old said she received the letter notifying her of her prosecution on the morning of her daughter’s wedding, saying it was “the worst day of my life”.

On what she wanted now, Mrs Howard said: “I hope those people within the Post Office Ltd who destroyed myself and my family are also listening and hopefully will have taken on board the distress and hardship that their actions have caused me, my family and the other subpostmasters.”

She was among some 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses (SPMs) prosecuted between 2000 and 2014, based on information from the Horizon IT system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu.

In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

The hearing yesterday heard that a subpostmaster’s wrongful conviction over missing funds “massively contributed” to his early death aged 67, his widow has said.

Gillian Howard giving evidence to the inquiry

Julian Wilson, who ran a post office in Astwood Bank, Worcestershire, took a plea deal in 2008 after auditors found more than £27,000 missing in the branch accounts.

He was among some 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses (SPMs) prosecuted between 2000 and 2014, based on information from the Horizon IT system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu. Mr Wilson died from cancer in 2016 – more than four years before his conviction was overturned in April 2021.

Speaking to the inquiry into the scandal on Wednesday, his widow, Karen Wilson, 67, became tearful as she described how the ordeal “massively contributed” to his early death.

Her husband, who was suspended in September 2008 when an audit found that there was more than £27,000 missing from the accounts, was charged with false accounting and theft.

Mrs Wilson described how he was left little choice but to take a plea deal to avoid prison and was sentenced to community service as well as a confiscation order for the missing money.

After the conviction, she said he was unable to find work, their assets were frozen and she ended up pawning her belongings including her engagement ring to get by.

Mrs Wilson also said her husband, who previously loved to take part in music and sports events, “just hid himself for about a year”.

“He couldn’t face it,” she said, adding that he would sometimes “talk about suicide”.

The inquiry, due to run for the rest of this year, is looking into whether the Post Office knew about faults in the IT system.

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