> Irene – alleged theft by postmistress from her Post Office
Irene – alleged theft by postmistress from her Post Office

Irene – alleged theft by postmistress from her Post Office

Irene was a bright and lively middle-aged woman looking for something new when she purchased the Post Office and village store at Littleknowne. She had never run a Post Office before but she was told she would receive the training she needed. The shop had accommodation above which would enable her to offer bed and breakfast to visitors to the attractive rural area.

But her new life turned out to be very demanding. Although she employed part time staff, running the Post Office and the bed and breakfast was hard work. The weekly 'balance' on a Wednesday evening was a particular struggle and - try as she might - she found the lottery ticket figures never looked right. The Post Office Horizon accounting system, operated via a touch-screen terminal on the Post Office counter, was difficult to follow.

To get a 'balance' Irene would find it necessary to enter a 'rem-in' or a 'rem-out' or several rem-ins and rem-outs until the figure balanced - but even then it made no sense to her.

Early one crisp sunny Friday morning she had a visit from a team of Post Office auditors. They closed the Post Office counter temporarily to conduct an audit check. They looked at her Horizon figures, and her stock of lottery scratchcards, and told Irene there was a shortfall of over £16,000. They told her the Post Office would need to remain closed until more senior inspectors could visit on Monday. On Monday the inspectors interviewed Irene under caution about the apparent shortfall. The Post Office, they decided, would remain closed until further notice.

Almost exactly 12 months later Irene was to appear at Knownegate Crown Court charged with the theft of over £16,000 from Post Office Ltd.

We were instructed by Irene's solicitors to comment upon the Horizon accounting records and the system for accounting for National Lottery scratchcard sales through the Post Office Horizon accounting system and the Camelot National Lottery terminal.

Particular difficulties can arise because of the rather complex accounting procedures relating to the receipt and sale of National Lottery scratchcards in sub-post offices, not least because the physical sale of the scratchcards takes place in the shop area, but the accounting for scratchcards is completed as if the sale had taken place over the Post Office counter.

In Irene's case it appeared that a discrepancy had built up over several months between the Camelot records of scratchcards received into stock and sold and the accounting entries on the Horizon system. This had resulted in an apparent stock of scratchcards, shown on the Horizon system, much greater than the true physical stock.

When the matter came to trial Irene pleaded not guilty to theft, but guilty to false accounting on the basis that she had found a shortfall in stock which she could not explain and had made false entries on the Horizon system to cover up that shortfall. She received a suspended prison sentence.

Littleknowne Post Office remained closed and, on a recent reorganisation by Post Office Ltd, it was decided that there need no longer be a Post Office in the village.