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COURT: Maidstone sub-postmaster's 'fraud nightmare'

Thursday 2nd April 2020

CUSTOMERS and friends of popular Tovil sub-postmaster for seven years Kanagasundaram Prince were shocked when he was suddenly removed by the Post Office and then faced a charge of false accounting at Maidstone Crown Court.

"Prince" was one of many British sub-postmasters accused eight years ago of fraud, theft or false accounting by the Post Office.   The lives of so many were seriously impacted by the accusations - loss of well-paid careers and reputations and major personal financial problems. 

Some served prison sentences and there were suicides.  Several lost their homes.

The sub-postmasters were angry and proclaimed their innocence. About 100 registered to sue the Post Office - and now they have been vindicated.  

The High Court has found a new computer system introduced by the Post Office did have bugs producing incorrect figures which led to the accusations. The Post Office was accused of inadequate training for the new system and failing to investigate the cause of alleged shortfalls. The judge called for mediation and the Post Office agreed a £57.8m settlement. There are 550 claimants. 

The decision has come as a great relief to Prince (67) and his wife Theresa, who was a member of the busy Tovil team at that time and is still employed today at the revamped Church Street Post Office and shop now under new ownership.

Prince, a professional accountant, recalled for the Downs Mail this nightmare period of his life.  “I knew I was innocent but the Post Office came on very strongly and I could not then disprove their figures that I was £43,000 short.

“My legal representatives did their best but in the end they advised me to plead guilty and agree to repay the £43,000.  The judge said if it was repaid within 30 days my six-months prison sentence would be suspended.

“I was removed from the Tovil branch in June 2011 and I immediately put this business on the market.  Buyers were found but they pulled out after a PO area manager said the PO would be willing to move the PO part of my business to other premises.

“I was forced to borrow from my family to pay the £43,000.  My sister in Canada borrowed £20,000 on her credit card.  But her interest on that mounted and I decided to sell the freehold business to the current owners at a loss of £50,000.  

“I am so grateful to my family keeping me out of prison and am now relieved I have paid them all back.

“It has been very difficult.  With a financial criminal record I could not find a new career as an accountant so we depended on my wife’s wages and any part-time work I could get.  Our lives have been seriously damaged and there were years of deep depression.

“I will never recoup fully the huge financial loss.  Compensation will be reduced because £45m of the £57.8m is taken in legal fees.   I have not received a penny yet – but I should hear in next few weeks.

“Life seems a lot happier now,” he added.  “But is has been a dreadful and very unfair experience.”