The family of a dad who tragically took his own life after being wrongly being suspected of theft while working as a postmaster today demanded Post Office bosses were held accountable.
Plans for a future review of the computer scandal that led to a major miscarriage of justice and ruined the lives of hundreds of staff has been labelled “inadequate” by an increasing number of leading Westminster figures in the last week.
The criticism comes amid calls for a judge-led inquiry into the controversy surrounding the Post Office’s defective Horizon IT system, which saw hundreds of postmasters wrongly suspected of false accounting and theft.
While some were sacked or made bankrupt, others were prosecuted and jailed.
Today, the ECHO can reveal the tragic case of Martin Griffiths, a 59-year-old dad of two who, after being falsely suspected of financial wrongdoing, took his own life.
The popular family man and keen cricketer was suspected of stealing money from the post office where he worked in Ellesmere Port for many years.
But he had never touched a penny.
Desperate to save his job and reputation, Mr Griffiths’s family said he delved into his own savings, and then those of his parents, to the tune of about £60,000, to pay back cash he was wrongly identified of taking.
The turmoil lasted for four years, between 2009 and 2013.
It had a huge impact on his physical and mental health, his family said.
In 2013, in the middle of this pressure, the 59-year-old, who lived in the village of Guilden Sutton in Cheshire, took his own life.
Mr Griffiths parked up in his car on the A41 in Ellesmere Port, after leaving a note for his loved ones, and tragically walked in front of a bus, his family said.
Today, his family called for a far stricter line of review from the government and asked for a judge-led enquiry to truly get to the bottom of the injustices behind the scandal.
His nephew Samuel Caveen told the ECHO: “Martin was a keen cricketer, a pretty major figure at the cricket club he represented, and a big Liverpool FC fan.
“In his happiest times, he’d be at the cricket club, he was popular in the Post Office and it was always a busy premises.
“He was a gregarious person, he loved sports statistics and talking about films that won awards in various years.
“He loved history.
“Martin was much-loved by his family and friends and his funeral was a large affair with a lot of people present.
“The weeks after Martin died were the worst weeks of our lives.
Helplines and support groups
The following are helplines and support networks for people to talk to, mostly listed on the NHS Choices website
- Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com.
- Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
- PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is an organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
- Mind (0300 123 3393) is a charity providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
- Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
- Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
- Hub of Hope is the UK’s most comprehensive national mental health support database. Download the free app, visit hubofhope.co.uk or text HOPE to 85258 to find relevant services near you.
- Young Persons Advisory Service – Providing mental health and emotional wellbeing services for Liverpool’s children, young people and families. tel: 0151 707 1025 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Paul’s Place – providing free counselling and group sessions to anyone living in Merseyside who has lost a family member or friend to suicide. Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: email@example.com
“When my uncle passed away, I got a phone call in the middle of the night from his wife, Gina.
“That was horrendous.
“Looking back, his death seems to have stolen away such precious time.
“He should be a proud grandfather now as his son had a child last year and his daughter is expecting, but he’s not been here to see that.
“I feel like it’s a significant portion of my family taken away from me.
“Family gatherings were and have been curtailed.
“My uncle had his life and his reputation torn apart by the Post Office and his mental health was completely destroyed.
“It’s an absolute tragedy.”
With recent doubts about the government’s response to the scandal, some politicians have started to cast doubts over the scope of the government-ordered exercise and also questioned its independence.
Also referenced in the House of Commons recently was the devastation caused to the life of a former postmistress from Liverpool, who was “left a mental and physical wreck” by the scandal.
Mr Caveen, 29, formerly of Eastham, Wirral, said: “People want a formal enquiry and a more robust compensation package.
“But most importantly, nobody has been held accountable at the Post Office.”
Mr Griffiths worked at Hope Farm Road post office in Ellesmere Port, and had spent about two decades with the company, with 18 of those as a sub-postmaster.
Among his responsibilities were the tills and book-keeping, but at one point financial shortfalls emerged, and suspicion fell on sub-postmasters across the country.
What had actually happened was a fundamental problem with the Post Office’s computer system, the truth of which would emerge later, but not before tragedy, huge worry, health problems and injustice had beset many families.
Last year, the Post Office paid out a £57.75m settlement after more than 550 claimants brought group legal action over the Horizon system, which was found to contain software flaws that caused financial shortfalls in the sub-postmasters’ branch accounts over a number of years.
An investigation recently revealed Post Office managers knew IT problems could be to blame for missing money but still prosecuted staff.
Mr Griffiths was never held criminally liable, but bosses still launched a process to remove him from his post, according to his family.
It had a huge effect on his pride, his loved ones said, and he kept what was happening from them for a long period of time.
Nephew Mr Caveen, who has openly and passionately defended his uncle for many years, added: “Pregnant women have gone to prison, parents have missed the birth of their children, people have died, reputations and lives ruined by what seems to be the venal and corrupt practices and excesses of the Post Office.
“The Horizon scandal has been described by some leading figures as the worst miscarriage of justice in British history.
“People have gone 20 years so a few more years so we can get an independent judge-led enquiry is something people involved will be prepared to accept.
“The current government review will not deliver justice and accountability.”
A Post Office spokesman said: “We have taken determined action to address past events and we are working to reform the Post Office, to forge an open and transparent relationship with the thousands of current postmasters providing customers with vital services in the UK’s communities.
“We agreed a comprehensive resolution last year with claimants in group civil litigation, following successful independent mediation. We sincerely apologise to those affected.
“We subsequently set up the Historical Shortfall Scheme to provide redress for other postmasters who may want to make claims.
“We have made wide-reaching improvements in the support we provide, from initial recruitment and training, through to the support for daily transaction accounting. These are being set out for every postmaster, detailing responsibilities and commitments which support them to build thriving businesses.”
Concerns raised in Parliament
Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson has spoken on the issue in Parliament, and said: “Many innocent sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have been bankrupted, imprisoned and wrongly accused of theft due to the Post Office’s heavy-handed approach, when accountancy issues with Horizon reported financial irregularities.
“What new procedures have the Post Office introduced to protect sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses as a consequence of this scandal?
“What protections has the Post Office put in place to ensure accountancy software is fit for purpose?
“What action will be taken against those in positions of leadership in the Post Office during the scandal?
Paul Scully, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy replied: “The fact is that we have now got the Post Office to accept its wrong position and the fact that the Horizon software could make mistakes – things were being changed there.
“That is why it is important to get that acknowledgement.
“It is also important that we continue to build trust with sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses in their relationship with the Post Office.
“That is why every time I speak to the chief executive, I make sure that that is at the top of our agenda.”
Also a victim was a Wirral dad who says he was hounded by the Post Office for £65,000 after a computer glitch left thousands of pounds missing from his branch accounts.
Pete Murray, 53, from Wallasey, was almost left bankrupt after he was forced to hand over £30,000 to the Post Office, and told he owed a further £35,000, to cover accounting discrepancies at his Post Office branch in Great Sutton, in Ellesmere Port, between 2014 and 2019.