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Victims in Post Office scandal demand criminal prosecutions for those in charge

A group of sub-postmasters wrongly accused of stealing more than £100,000 from the Post Office have told Sky News there must be criminal prosecutions against those in charge.

Vipin Patel, Nicki Arch and Sarah Osolinski, who ran Post Offices in Oxford, Stroud and Cheltenham respectively, have described how their lives were destroyed by the Horizon IT scandal.

Mrs Osolinski said those in charge at the Post Office must be held to account.

"There are people with questions to answer. People that lied to the High Court. People that lied to the government and that's got to be a crime. If what we did was a crime, then what they did is 100 times worse because they were the ones that punished us for trying to keep our heads above water."

Mr Patel was given an 18-week suspended sentence in 2011 after being charged with stealing £75,000 while running Horspath Post Office.

His conviction was quashed in 2020.

"I had to borrow some money off my sister - about £10,000 - I had to cash in my Royal Mail pension and then we had to sell my wife's gold to balance the books," he said.

He described the moment Post Office auditors visited his shop: "I went upstairs and said 'God, I want to die, I don't want to live anymore' - because I knew the repercussions of this were going to be catastrophic and disastrous."

Mr Patel says he is yet to receive any compensation.

Nicki Arch was wrongly accused of stealing £26,000. She was sacked and faced a three-day trial at Bristol Crown Court in 2002. She was found not guilty.

"They're corrupt to the core," she said of the Post Office.

"They've lied and behaved disgustingly from the day this all came about. You think, it's 24 years for me and I've never, ever seen any decent behaviour coming from them."

She is also calling for bosses at the centre of the inquiry to face criminal charges.

"All those who broke the law must see British law, they must be prosecuted because that's what we do in this country."

But Nicki explained that the Post Office can never fully compensate for the impact it has had on her.

"Within two weeks it was all in the local newspapers that I'd stolen from pensioners, and I got spat at in the supermarket. So I just shut myself in for 18 months and never, ever went out. And you can't behave like that and it not have a lifetime effect on you.

"It changes you forever and there is no going back. You just learn to live. Every morning I wake up and think 'great, new day' and then think 'oh God, Post Office'.

"The pain will always be there, the memories will always be there... the screaming, the shouting, we have lived through horrific times, suicidal times."

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Mrs Osolinski ran a post office near Newport, South Wales. She explained how she would cover shortfalls of between £90 and £1,000 every week for two years.

She was forced to sell her home and use all her life savings.

"I'm left now as a retired person of 67 with chronic pain, depression, anxiety - all because I was trying to do my job. You just carry on," she added.

"I get flashbacks to the time and they're not pleasant and I do think about it a lot and how different it would be and what I would be doing now.

"Because being a postmaster or postmistress is like being at the centre of a huge extended family because you get to know your customers, you get to care about your customers. They get to care about you."

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Mr Patel said the Post Office was always a brand built on trust.

"The biggest thing the Post Office has done is broken the trust of the people who served them - and they have stabbed us in the back."

Last week the government announced plans to overturn the convictions of more than 900 people involved in the scandal, as well as a new compensation payout of £75,000 - although it acknowledges this may not be enough for many.

The ongoing public inquiry is due to publish its findings next year.

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK