'It broke me' - Former sub-postmistress speaks out over Horizon scandal
- Credit: Stuart Anderson
She was so anxious and depressed she was unable to leave the house for two years and even now, 14 years later, is in counselling.
And it was all because of faults in a computer system called Horizon which was blamed on sub-postmasters and mistresses, leaving lives in tatters and turning into the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history.
Former Erpingham Post Office employee Siobhan Sayer has this week given evidence about how the scandal affected her at an inquiry which began earlier this month.
Mrs Sayer, 56 and from Lammas in north Norfolk, described the harrowing effects of being one of the 736 people criminally prosecuted in the scandal.
"I couldn't believe it, it broke me," she said. "I didn't have the strength or ability to get out of bed anymore and was just existing for a time.
"I would like to know why these people, who found it amusing at the time, are not being held accountable for their actions?"
Mrs Sayer became a sub-postmistress in 2000, as the branch was part of a petrol station she took over with her husband.
She said "from day one" there were problems with the Horizon IT system, which the Post Office introduced the year before.
- 1 First look inside: New deli and surf shop open on coast
- 2 Council urged to take over ownership of derelict Cromer nightclub
- 3 Car set alight in arson attack in north Norfolk
- 4 Man swims for survival after speedboat sinks off Norfolk coast
- 5 'Amazing' display of cascading poppies now on display in Cromer
- 6 Norfolk singer's big hopes for her girl band's debut single
- 7 Weather warning as thunderstorms set to hit Norfolk
- 8 How north Norfolk will be celebrating the Jubilee
- 9 'Beheading' comment sees councillor reported to police
- 10 More details revealed on replacement for beloved coastal railway
Horizon's errors left Mrs Sayer's till short of cash, and she had to pay in money out of her own pocket or she was unable to open the shop the next day.
"As time went by the errors increased to a point I could no longer keep propping up the shortfall each week," she said.
But despite flagging the IT problems with the Post Office, they chose to blame her instead.
Investigators demanded to search Mrs Sayer's home. She hoped letting them in would help prove her innocence. But instead they were "hostile" and accused her of fraud.
She said: "I remember them searching through rooms and throwing my underwear around in the search for money. My daughter was just a baby at the time and she was crying throughout. I often relive these moments in my head."
The three investigators kept asking where she had hidden the money despite her denials. She said: "They insisted that I was the only person from the 11,000 Post Offices across the country that was claiming there was a problem.
"I felt this was disgusting behaviour. I am still appalled by how I was treated."
Later, one investigator kept showing up to her house, which she said "still haunts me to this day".
She said: "I how realise this was intimidation and bullying tactics from the Post Office."
Mrs Sayer was given a 40-week suspended jail sentence in 2010 after she was falsely convicted of defrauding Royal Mail out of nearly £19,000.
She was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid community work, and was forced to pay £4,800. The family found the money by selling their car and other items, and borrowing cash from family members.
Mrs Sayer said some friends and customers stood by her in the wake of the conviction, but many did not.
She said: "I was so affected by everything that had happened to me that I was driven into a deep pit of depression and anxiety.
"I was prescribed medication to help but even so I could not leave the house for two years. I would avoid going to Tesco out of fear of seeing someone I knew."
When she did feel able to work again she had to admit to the conviction on any job application and relive the trauma. She said her husband and four children were also victimised due to the scandal.
Mrs Sayer said: "The kids at high school would bully my children. They would say things like 'Your mum's a thief'. It was a horrendous experience for us all."
Although the conviction was finally quashed in April last year, Mrs Sayer is still living with the repercussions.
She worked until last year as a teaching assistant at Aylsham High School, but left the job to focus on her wellbeing due to ongoing stress over the scandal.
Mrs Sayer has demanded an apology and an explanation from the investigators.
Horizon scandal: Post Office apologies
Human impact hearings in the Horizon inquiry are set to continue into March.
A Post Office spokesman said the organisation was "sincerely sorry" for the impact the scandal has had on its victims and their families.
The spokesman said: "We are in no doubt about the human cost.
“The inquiry’s hearings enable many of those who were most deeply affected by Post Office’s past failings to voice their experiences and their testimonies must and will ensure all lessons are learned so that such events can never happen again.
“We have made significant reforms to forge a new relationship with current postmasters.
"Changes include two serving postmasters, elected by the postmaster network, appointed as non-executive director postmasters on the Post Office board to ensure the business is rooted in the reality of postmaster experience."