Malcolm Simpson was a Subpostmaster at Boxgrove Post Office near Chichester, West Sussex. Malcolm came to the inquiry on 24 Feb with his wife Lesley (pictured above).
Malcolm and Lesley bought Boxgrove village shop in 2003. It had a Post Office counter which was run completely separately by the incumbent Subpostmaster. The Subpostmaster left in 2007 and although he was reluctant to do so, Malcolm said it was the “logical step” for him to take over.
After inadequate off-site group training (during which Malcolm said none of the trainees could balance correctly) he was let loose on Horizon in his branch.
A Post Office trainer came in to monitor Malcolm’s account balance at Boxgrove at the end of his first trading period. He was £150 down. According to Malcolm, the trainer “said ‘oh that’s the way it is. Go and get the money out of the shop till to balance’ as if it was normal.”
Malcolm’s problems continued. Discrepancies arose which he had to make good – losing £12,000 in the process. He was eventually suspended and sacked in 2012 after his third audit, which found an alleged stock discrepancy of £4820. He was threatened with criminal prosecution if he did not make good this and his other accumulated discrepancies.
Malcolm was relatively calm as he described the way the Post Office had methodically gone about destroying his business, his life and his health. He tried to explain how he felt now, saying:
“I’m a bit broken… cautious and scared. I’ve always been somebody who respects authority and expects people to treat you as you treat them. The Post Office… don’t care about anybody, and that makes you anxious and scared all the time when you’re working for them… and there’s no support. They don’t care… you’re just a number, and I couldn’t cope with that. I’ve always worked in teams and with people who there’s mutual respect and there just wasn’t any of that and it just grinds you down… [he breaks down]… you feel so alone. And so… I’m not as confident as I was.”
Malcolm has had two strokes, brought on by stress. During his evidence he paid tribute to Lesley, calling her the “strongest person I know”.
Before he finished, Malcolm gave a written statement to the inquiry. It is a powerful cri de coeur which goes to the heart of this whole scandal. Afterwards the inquiry chair, Sir Wyn Williams, paid tribute to this “formidable speech”. As he left the witness seat, I asked Malcolm if I could have what he had written. He very kindly gave me his handwritten papers. I have transcribed his words below:
Malcolm Simpson’s oral statement to the inquiry
“These people take away your sense of worth and your sense of self. There is no need to invest in the individual, to nurture and develop. No desire or culture to help people grow, to make them feel valued.
Instead there are just lies, indifference, aggression, all take. Demands for total loyalty to the brand and blind acceptance the Post Office is always right.
The reality is the complete opposite. The only people within the whole Post Office structure who are held accountable for every action, every stamp and every penny are Subpostmasters. And that accountability is managed by a totally corrupt computer system which is not fit for purpose. And a system that is policed by a corrupt hierarchy who spout the party line over and over – “Horizon is robust and works very well”, “You are the only person in the whole network who is having problems.” – Nigel Allen [Malcolm’s Contracts Manager] told me that.
Auditors arrive, turn your business into a crime scene, provide no written evidence, get the Contracts Manager on the phone after just one-and-a half hours and his first statement is: “Well – you need to resign.”
When I reacted to this he just hung up – he knew he didn’t have to argue with me – everything is stacked in his favour. He knows I am going to crash and burn. After all, Subpostmasters are totally expendable.
You are belittled by the whole process, you can’t prove your side of the argument, you can’t defend yourself, there is no support, no honest fair process, you are alone.
It’s too much for many. You feel abandoned, tainted and that is what they want. A quick call, grab some money, move on to the next victim. Leaving heartache, anguish and devastation in their wake.
If you’re lucky, and I was, someone steps up, trusts you and guides you through to the calm times. They carry the whole burden until you recover. Eventually you dig in, start afresh, reinvent and move on. But the hurt and pain is always there, buried deep, suppressed, but always eating away.
After a stroke you are known as a ‘stroke survivor’. I’m lucky enough to consider myself a Post Office survivor as well – but they damaged me and tried to damage my self, my worth, my family, my business and my community.
What do I want from the the Post Office?
– Significant compensation paid to all victims including the 555 [claimants in the Bates v Post Office litigation] now. Plus the costs that are owed to the 555. It will never bring back loved ones lost or replace all the lost years but it will allow every victim to move forward with some sense of security and with less stress, anxiety and hurt.
– Post Office to start behaving with honesty and integrity. Providing full and open disclosure going forward. They will never extinguish the deeply embedded toxic culture that still exists until there is root and branch change. This change will only come through closing this devastating chapter fully, by coming clean and admitting all the lies and exposing all the guilty at all levels of the organisation.
I fear for this inquiry in the long run, because the actions of the Post office previously all show that they will do anything at any cost to protect themselves. The civil case [Bates v Post Office group litigation] was fought in the most aggressive manner by Post Office and when they attempted to recuse Judge Fraser and tarnish his reputation, it showed everyone how low they are prepared to go.
Be careful, Sir Wyn, and your colleagues here at the inquiry. Post Office will try every underhand, dishonest and evil tactic to destroy any threat and they have powerful friends who will back them all the way. They never want the truth to come out. I fear for all your reputations and well being.
Messrs. Scully [Postal Affairs Minister], Kwarteng [Business Secretary] and Read [Post Office Chief Executive], through your delaying and blocking of proper compensation for all the victims of this scandal you are as guilty and complicit as [Paula] Vennells, [Angela] van den Bogerd, Elaine Ridge and Nigel Allen and all the others who bullied and terrorised so many.
Sort it out now – do the decent thing for once and put the victims first.”
After putting Mr Simpson’s statement on twitter, I went to Derbyshire, where I had been invited to read from my book in a pub (the Royal Oak in Ockbrook – see below). There was a member of the 555 present (Tracy McFadden, who spoke very movingly), several serving Subpostmasters, a CPS lawyer, a police officer, a lawyer representing 11 convicted former Subpostmasters and two senior Post Office executives. I finished by reading Malcolm’s statement to the room, and I will continue to read it at every event I go to.