A former post office worker told the Horizon IT scandal public inquiry that he attempted suicide three times after being wrongfully jailed for stealing from his employer.
Another, also giving evidence on Tuesday, called on his former bosses, including Adam Crozier, now chairman of BT, to attend the hearings and answer for their role in the scandal.
Parmod Kalia, who was jailed for six months in 2001 after the organization’s faulty computer system wrongly suggested a £27,000 shortfall at his Orpington post office, told the inquest how his once-close-knit family had been torn apart over the next two decades.
“It was a bit of a shock when the prison guards wanted my belt and tie, it was a bit humiliating,” said the 63-year-old father of four, who was taken to Surrey’s High Down, a designated prison with the second highest level of security in the UK, after being sentenced.
“I was numb at the time. As I walked through the front door, I was asked to undress and given a uniform…I was locked up basically 23 hours a day.
Kalia, who had his conviction overturned last year but has yet to receive interim compensation from the Post Office, said he had ‘buried’ the events as best he could until a BBC Panorama documentary about the hundreds of post office workers wrongfully prosecuted. in 2015.
“Since then I’ve been in depression and have anxiety issues,” he said. “In April last year I went to see my GP and for the first time told him I was suffering from depression and anxiety and had attempted suicide three times in 2015. “
Kalia and his wife had struggled until 1 a.m. some nights trying to get the Horizon computer system to balance the receipts, as her young daughter slept behind the store counter and eventually had to ask her mother most of his savings after a union representative told him to try to pay for the loss to “stay out of court”.
His mother never knew he had gone to prison as she was taken to India while he was in prison – “if she had found out it would have killed her on the spot”, said he said – and neither did his older sister. However, he is no longer on good terms with his brother, has had to deal with questions from his children about whether he took the money, and lives separately from his wife.
Kalia said since the suicide attempts in 2015 he had been living in charity-linked accommodation. “We didn’t go the divorce route,” he said. “I’m a phone call away. But we don’t have a marital relationship between husband and wife. They classified us as a dysfunctional family, all because of my belief.
Joan Bailey, who ran a post office and several small satellite offices in mid Wales with her husband, said her husband was referred to a mental health team because he ‘didn’t see any point in it now …he was talking about suicide” as Post Office investigators sued the couple for loss of around £13,000.
Over a period of six years, she estimated the couple had paid around £40,000 – pulling down loans and pensions and trying to save money by running the heating for just two hours a night during the harsh Welsh winters – at the post office to try to cover the pursuit incorrect deficits thrown.
Chris Trousdale, who in 2002 at just 19 took over a post office his family had run for 150 years, told the hearing that the IT system would not be balanced even in his first week with the trainer of the post office “monitoring every transaction”.
He produced records showing he called the Post Office’s IT helpline, which he dubbed the “hell line”, nearly 200 times over a 15-month period.
After a harrowing experience dealing with Post Office investigators – who he says used intimidation, coercion and intimidation tactics, a common theme repeated by witnesses during the investigation – he saw a doctor and was diagnosed with acute stress reaction and PTSD.
“To this day, I look back with a bit of dread,” he said. “They were a law unto themselves. They wanted people to believe they were the police, or bigger than the police. His mother, who later ran the post office, with a new computer system, was also diagnosed with PTSD.
Trousdale, now 39, called on Royal Mail and post office management to take responsibility.
“When I was sued, Adam Crozier was the general manager,” he said. “I think he should be here answering questions along with all the other post chiefs.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who should be allowed to get away with this, it’s been happening for 20 years. Bosses were getting bonuses based on their performance. Victims’ money [paid to cover the balance shortfalls] in my opinion went into the pockets of those who persecuted them.
Crozier, who is chairman of Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn, as well as BT, was chief executive of Royal Mail Group, of which the post was part, from 2003 to 2010.