Former sub-postmistress contemplated taking her life after untrue false accounting claims

Grandmother Jennifer O’Dell, 72, told the inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal she was left feeling suicidal.

Grandmother Jennifer O’Dell, 72, told the inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal she was left feeling suicidal. - Credit: HUNTS POST

A former sub-postmistress has told an inquiry how she contemplated taking her own life and experienced the heartache of old friends crossing the road to avoid her after she was subjected to a “kangaroo court” process for alleged false accounting.

Grandmother Jennifer O’Dell, 72, told the inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal how she suffered night terrors and was forced to withdraw her bid to become an MP after she was suspended from her role in 2010.

Ms O’Dell criticised Post Office senior executives and admitted she was struggling to pay her energy bills because of the ordeal, and said she hopes she will live long enough to see justice.

The grandmother-of-eight is among more than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who were wrongfully suspended between 2000 and 2014, based on information from the Horizon IT system installed by Fujitsu.

Ms O’Dell, has lived in Great Staughton for 50 years and was well known in the village as she ran the Post Office branch and sold hand-made cards.

In 2009, her branch account began to show a shortfall of more than £9,600 and her account was closed on January 6, 2010.

Ms O’Dell said her account was closed at 9am that day, but a document she was given by the Post Office alleging misconduct showed she had used the Horizon terminal at 10.55am, which she says “could not have been true”.

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She was interviewed in 2010 by Post Office investigation officers John Longman and Lisa Allen, and in 2015 by a director of the organisation at the time, Angela Van Den Bogerd.

Ms O’Dell told the inquiry: “In both of those interviews, it was just like a kangaroo court. I walked in, and their body language was like‘she’s guilty'.'”

During this period, Ms O’Dell had a cancer scare which required an operation, and suffered with high blood pressure from the stress of her ordeal.

She said she never understood why she was not prosecuted by the Post Office, but she woke up “every morning” expecting a court summons.

Ms O’Dell had been backed as a provisional parliamentary candidate for the 2010 general election, but stood down because she did not want to bring her party into disrepute.

She added that after the news of her alleged false accounting were published in her village’s local magazine, called Life, she faced rumours that she had stolen “a quarter of a million pounds”.

Fighting back tears, she said: “I didn’t go out much. When I did try and go for a walk, people would cross to the other side of the road – people I had known a long time.”

Ms O’Dell said she contemplated suicide while enduring night terrors which her husband had to wake her from “screaming”, and the couple are now struggling to pay their electricity bills.

She said: “While those executives who had been given millions of pounds to persecute us, who could walk out with pensions and go into fantastically paid jobs, the people who live in grand mansions and big houses and I have to cut logs to warm my house.

“I want those people brought to justice. I want them to be persecuted and that’s not at all like me. I want them to say sorry. I want them brought to account.

“And I want to be able to afford my electricity bills. I want to spoil my grandchildren.

“I want to be alive to see this happen. I’m in my 70s now, and it’s been 13 years. I don’t want any more night terrors now.”

The Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry is being led by retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams. He will look at the failings which occurred with the IT system at the Post Office, leading to the suspension and the termination of contracts and prosecution and conviction of Post Office staff.

It will also consider whether Post Office Limited has learned lessons and embedded sufficient cultural change.

The inquiry continues.