Hightown Post Office in Liversedge, West Yorkshire, was just a few steps from home after Alison Hall and partner Richard Walker bought the attached house with the “lovely, big” garden next door. Despite never using a computer before, the former school cook and teacher’s aide had training and experienced staff who were a “great help”.
From the outset in 2005 the business did well - so well that within six years they’d added an off-licence, convenience store and finally National Lottery.
But things started going wrong with the scratchcards, which had to be run through the Post Office’s system.
She said: “I used to dread putting on the computer in the morning - I started getting all these ‘transaction corrections’ - and they were all in multiples. When you got a transaction correction you had to accept it, or you wouldn’t be able to run the Post Office.”
Miss Hall, now 52, hoped things would sort themselves out and didn’t tell her husband, who works as a service engineer.
She tried calling helplines and put in her own money to balance up, but the sums quickly spiralled, needing thousands of pounds input.
Desperate and trying to figure out what had gone wrong, she inflated the figures to say the money was there.
On Sept 3 2010 an IT engineer came to upgrade the system and she realised she couldn’t hide the missing sums any more.
Despite her explanations, there was no sympathy and a quick phone call later, she was told to shut up shop straightaway.
She was then suspended, but told she could appeal.
For the next nine months she, Richard, son Craig and daughter Kirsty trawled through paperwork: “We couldn’t get our heads round what had happened. It was horrible.”
After the second appeal failed, she was sacked. “It has been a nightmare especially when I had to go to court, because none of my family have ever been in court. I was a nervous wreck - I still feel I’m a nervous wreck.”
The case ended up at Leeds Crown Court. Miss Hall said: “I didn’t know if I was going on trial or to jail on the day.
“Our barrister came in and said to me if you admit to false accounting the theft charges will be dropped and there will be no trial. I was too nervous, I couldn’t cope. I got 120 hours community service and had to pay all the money back. We struggled. It was just awful.”
Too ashamed to tell people what had happened - including her own mum - she told anyone who asked she’d fallen out with the Post Office.
“It is only in the last year I’ve been able to talk about it.
“It brings back such horrible memories - getting accused of something you haven’t done.”
Some compensation has been paid out but not enough, believes Alison, who has since built up a successful new shop employing eight staff, for what she has been through.
Mr Walker said he never suspected his wife, who he says is “morally incapable” of such a crime. He said: “There was no attempt to listen to anything.
“We were cut off from gathering evidence. They barred Alison from going behind the counter right from the moment they found the discrepancy. They say they had all this evidence and we had nothing to fight it with.
“My head became absolutely mashed and I had a bit of a breakdown. This will be a massive relief - it will be a giant monkey off my back.”
On Friday they were both at the High Court to hear her conviction quashed.Miss Hall and Mr Walker say bosses need to answer for their actions after 11 years of hell and Miss Hill would dearly like a face to face apology from a senior official - but is not confident that will happen.
One of the things that hurts her most is how she was treated as guilty from the off: “I tried to explain everything to the Post Office investigators - they weren’t interested - none of them.It was a nightmare.”