Post Office worker cleared at Court of Appeal hopes to get her life back

A Post Office worker who was a victim of the flawed Horizon accounting system has spoken of the shame she has felt for years until she was finally cleared of fraud.

Jacqueline Falcon, 42, was a true pillar of her community in the village of Hadston, Northumberland, a former parish councillor and trusted Post Office clerk for 15 years.

But in 2015 she was arrested in front of her children, taken to a police station, swabbed, finger-printed and had her mugshot taken after she reversed transactions to cover up a missing £1,000 that she had not stolen.

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Former Post Office clerk Jacqueline Falcon said the ordeal was ‘horrific’ (Tom Wilkinson/PA)

It was a horrific ordeal for someone who had never been in trouble before – “not even for a parking ticket”.

She told the PA news agency: “I tried and I tried and I couldn’t find the £1,000 anywhere.”

She wondered if she had mistyped a transaction, mistakenly recording a £10 deposit as a £1,000.

She added: “Then I thought, had someone grabbed cash through the parcel hatch?

“I thought of every scenario possible.

“It drove me mad, I went nuts thinking about it.”

What she did not know at the time was that the Horizon system, which could be accessed remotely, could throw out accounting errors.

She said: “Things were always going wrong with the system, I was on the phone all the time and we had engineers out all the time.

“In the end, we didn’t bother ringing them, we just rebooted the system ourselves if the problem was persistent.”

Ms Falcon, a mother-of-four at the time and who was pregnant with her fifth child when she was sentenced, was terrified to bring up the missing £1,000 with the Postmistress as she was afraid she would have to make up the cash herself.

Remembering the hearing where she admitted fraud on the instruction of her barrister, Ms Falcon said: “The judge made me feel really stupid in court, saying if I hadn’t stolen anything why was I trying to pay the money back?

“But I hadn’t stolen it, the money had just vanished.”

Ms Falcon, who is a Royalist, said: “When it got to court, it was the Queen versus Jacqueline Falcon.

“How on earth can I beat that one, on my word, just because I had been a good citizen?

“So you just accept it.”

She had support from neighbours and family, but not from everyone in the small community where she still lives.

She said: “A lot of my customers stuck by me and didn’t believe I had done anything wrong, and a lot of those older ones have now passed away.

“Some people have been really nasty to me.

“My oldest two were 15 and 13 at the time and were bullied at school.

“One person said ‘your mum only got pregnant to avoid going to prison’.”

Ms Falcon was handed a three-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay £933.69, which was outstanding from the missing £1,000 when she was sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court in 2015.

She became almost reclusive, not wanting to leave the house in case someone made a nasty remark or a dirty look.

Ms Falcon hated to think about the Post Office and did not follow the Horizon scandal.

Then, out of the blue, a letter from the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice, landed on her doormat, informing her she could have a case for appeal.

Newcastle Crown Court
Jacqueline Falcon was handed a three-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay £933.69 at Newcastle Crown Court (Alamy/PA)

Ms Falcon was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service, not the Post Office like many postmasters, and the CPS indicated it would not have brought the case against her had it known about Horizon’s major flaws, as it would not have been in the public interest.

Ms Falcon said: “I have spent the last nine years with depression, I don’t like to go out alone, I feel everyone is looking at me.

“It has had a massive effect on me and my family.

“I don’t feel I have been the best mam to them because I have not been myself for such a long time.

“I am hoping that a weight will have been lifted and I can gradually get my old self back.”

She also felt it was better to have had her day in court – or at least following the events via a video link from home – and not to be part of a “mass-exoneration process”.

She said: “I am much happier it is done properly, a judge has looked at it, solicitors have looked at it.

“It should be done right.”

Newport Beach Film Festival UK Honours
Jacqueline Falcon praised ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office, starring Toby Jones as Alan Bates, for helping people to understand (Suzan Moore/PA)

Ms Falcon praised the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, saying: “I thought it was brilliant.

“It brought back memories which were horrendous, things I had not thought about in years, things I had tried to get out of my memory.

“People will be more understanding now and the show did a good job of explaining the problem – it was a complicated system.”

Despite her ordeal, she recognised other victims have had it worse.

She said: “Some people have lost their home, their business or committed suicide.

“I’m pleased it was ‘just’ £1,000 as some people ended up being charged for stealing £40-£50,000.

“I would have gone to prison if it had been that much.”

The Crown Prosecution Service did not oppose her appeal, which was heard on Tuesday at the Court of Appeal.