A FORMER sub-postmaster from Wallasey has explained how he felt suicidal and suffered a stroke after being wrongly accused of stealing thousands of pounds from the Post Office.

A new four-part series on ITV, Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The Real Story, has highlighted the Horizon IT scandal, which has been described as the UK's most widespread miscarriage of justice.

Over the course of 14 years, more than 700 Post Office sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of – and some convicted of and even imprisoned for – theft, fraud and false accounting in their branches.

These accusations and prosecutions destroyed the lives of the innocent sub-postmasters who had to endure court trials, public humiliation, and huge personal financial losses, with the Post Office refusing to entertain the idea that the fault was with a new computer accounting system used in branches nationwide rather than with its staff.

One victim, Pete Murray, 57, took over Grove Road Post Office in Wallasey in 2012 and Hope Farm Post Office in Great Sutton in 2014.

Wirral Globe: Pete outside Hope Farm Post Office in 2018Pete outside Hope Farm Post Office in 2018 (Image: Pete Murray)

The previous owner of Hope Farm, Martin Griffiths, took his life in 2013 after he was wrongly accused of stealing £65,000 from the Post Office he had worked at for 20 years, however, Pete was never informed of this until after he had bought the business and a staff member told him.

Pete quickly noticed account discrepancies on the Horizon computer system at Hope Farm Post Office and raised it with the Post Office.

For years he paid £1,000 a month to the Post Office despite telling them he had done nothing wrong.

In November 2018 he was ordered to pay back £65,000 and suspended from both post offices.

Speaking to the Globe, Pete said: “The Post Office were taking money off me each month to pay back the discrepancies.

“I was paying them back in instalments, paying them by card for months, before I was suspended.

“I knew I couldn’t get any help from any department. I was losing money randomly, infrequently through the year leading up to what I knew was going to be this hearing.”

Toll on health

Pete also spoke about how these allegations took a toll on his health, saying he suffered a stroke days after receiving a letter about his prosecution.

He was also “drinking a lot and was suicidal”.

During Pete’s suspension, which lasted three months, he was keeping a close eye on the trial.

“It was encouraging to see it had happened to other people and not just me”, he said.

“They spent all these years saying it hadn’t happened to anyone else so it must be you and then I was looking at this thinking 'what the absolute hell'.”

Pete spoke about the new ITV drama, explaining he had “watched it three times now” and describing it as “absolutely brilliant”.

Wirral Globe: Mr Bates vs The Post OfficeMr Bates vs The Post Office (Image: PA)

He said: “It’s incredibly moving. I’ve been in tears at some points, but also been smiling and feeling a sense of pride throughout.

“I’ve met most of these people who appear on the show. They’ve squeezed 20 years into four episodes of television and got the message out there.”

In 2019, two High Court trials found the Post Office was wrong to force sub-postmasters to pay for discrepancies and they received compensation.

It will 'never be over'

Pete’s case wasn’t one that went to trial and he confirmed to the Globe that he has received some compensation back from the Post Office but he added that it “will never be over” as he is left with anxiety.

“I’m watching how people have gone through this for 20 years, as mine was only five years”, he explained.

"Some people have still not got anything, so I have settled before a lot of others.

“I have got closure but I still have PTSD and I still have dark days.”

Mr Bates Vs The Post Office is on ITV1 and ITVX from January 1 to January 4 at 9pm.