Postmaster victim of IT scandal now forced to hand back compensation
‘I lost my post office, house and marriage – now I’ve been shafted twice’: Postmaster who lost out in Horizon IT scandal now forced to hand back £322k compensation
- Francis Duff, 80, suffered a divorce and lost his home in the Post Office scandal
- He’s now been told he’ll be forced to hand £322,000 compensation back
A postmaster who suffered a divorce and lost his home in the Post Office scandal has been forced to hand £322,000 compensation back.
Francis Duff, 80, was driven out of his business and forced to declare bankruptcy after he was persecuted for ‘thieving’ from his own till, when computer glitches were to blame.
He was offered more than £330,000 from the flagship scheme to compensate postmasters, but is set to lose all but £8,000.
In a letter received in October, the 80-year-old was told he owed £71,533 in income tax on his compensation, while £251,359 will be taken under bankruptcy proceedings.
Mr Duff, from Bootle, Merseyside, told the Daily Mail: ‘I lost my post office, house and marriage. Now I’ve been shafted twice. It brought everything back, all the bad memories.’
He has little money and has been forced to wear a winter coat indoors and wrap a duvet around his legs to save money on heating to survive winter.
Francis Duff, 80, was driven out of his business and forced to declare bankruptcy after he was persecuted for ‘thieving’ from his own till, when computer glitches were to blame
He was offered more than £330,000 from the flagship scheme to compensate postmasters, but is set to lose all but £8,000
Lawyers representing postmasters damned the ‘scandalous’ case, saying: ‘It’s give with one hand, take it back with another.’
More than 3,000 postmasters lost their jobs, were forced into destitution or were prosecuted after money went ‘missing’ from their tills.
A Mail investigation has revealed how victims have remained destitute in their struggle to win compensation, three years after the scandal was blown open.
Former postmistress Heather Williams, from Birkenhead, has been told she will receive no compensation because she owes £2,000 through bankruptcy.
The 53-year-old, who was told she was owed a ‘very significant sum’, has been left so poor from the scandal she does not heat her home and only eats every other day, her lawyers told the public inquiry into the scandal.
She recently had a fall because she was so weak resulting in a lengthy stay in hospital.
Peter Worsfold lost 20 years of income after being kicked out of his post office.
The father-of-three said the compensation he received ‘does not touch the sides’, and he is working 100-hour weeks in his retirement to avoid bankruptcy.
Sathyan Shiju, from Barkingside, north-east London, claims he is owed more than £1million after he was pushed to the brink of suicide – but he has been offered just £12,424.66 in compensation.
He said he tried to hang himself, and after he was forced from his post office, he was labelled a thief by locals who spat at him, attacked him in the street and called him ‘p***’.
When he appealed he was told he would have to provide a long list of evidence dating back two decades, and the case remains ongoing. The Post Office claims his dismissal was not a result of IT errors.
Baljit Sethi applied for compensation in summer 2020 for an ordeal which left him on the bring of suicide, but is yet to receive a substantive response from the Post Office.
Mr Duff, now a great-grandfather, had been a postmaster since 1981 and for two decades ran his post office without any problems until the Horizon computer system was installed in his post office shortly after the Millennium.
Shortages of up to £400 appeared every week ‘draining’ his savings and forcing him to take out debt to pay, until he and his wife could borrow no more.
The financial difficulties and stress led to the breakdown of his marriage, with Mr Duff’s wife telling him she wanted a divorce because he was ‘not man enough’ to deal with the problems.
He declared bankruptcy in 2001 and the post office was sold in a fire sale for £25,000 – a fifth of the asking price.
Twenty years later he was offered £330,893 compensation, but a 30-page letter detailed how all but £8,000, awarded for the ‘distress’ and impact on his personal life, would be taken away.
He told the Mail: ‘I lost my Post Office, house and marriage because of it. I cannot believe how badly we have all been let down. It was a horrible, horrible time.
‘You try to forget and get on with your life, and then they offer you £330,000 and leave you with £8,000.
‘I thought “Christ, now I’ve been shafted twice” – it brought everything back, all the bad memories.’
He has engaged a no-win, no-fee lawyer to fight the decision.
Sathyan Shiju, from Barkingside, north-east London, claims he is owed more than £1million after he was pushed to the brink of suicide – but he has been offered just £12,424.66 in compensation
Mr Shiju, pictured with his daughter Ashwarthy, said he tried to hang himself, and after he was forced from his post office, he was labelled a thief by locals who spat at him, attacked him in the street and called him ‘p***’
The Official Receiver, part of the Department for Business, is expected to take £1.3million from 19 postmasters in bankruptcy proceedings, according to figures released under freedom of information.
Postmasters have also paid back a total of £11.3million in income tax and national insurance contributions on their compensation. Together these make up £1 in every £7 paid out.
The compensation schemes have also been beset by delays. A quarter of applicants are yet to receive a penny despite the flagship scheme being launched more than two-and-a-half years ago.
Just two of the 83 postmasters who were wrongly convicted of crimes such as theft and fraud have received full compensation.
David Enright, a partner at Howe & Co, who represents 156 postmasters, said: ‘It’s like Oliver Twist: postmasters are being forced to beg, soup bowl in hand, and say “please sir, can I have some more”.’
He told the public inquiry this month that the Post Office, and their owner the Department for Business, are ‘having to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into doing the right thing’.
The Post Office said they hit a target to make an offer of compensation to 95 per cent of postmasters by New Year, and that it was working to complete the remaining legally complex cases, including those involving bankruptcy.
The Business Department said: ‘The impact the Horizon scandal has had on postmasters and their families is utterly horrendous, and it is crucial that something like this can never happen again.
‘That is why we set up the statutory inquiry into the scandal to get to the bottom of what went wrong, as well as providing compensation for those affected.’
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