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    How a pie business emerged from Post Office scandal

    Penny Williams

    A former sub-postmistress who was accused of stealing £20,000 from the Post Office has told how she rebuilt her life and career by turning to baking.

    Penny Williams was running the Post Office in Manaccan when she was accused of embezzling money in what has become a national scandal.

    The Post Office wrongly accused and, in some cases, convicted staff for stealing thousands of pounds. However it was later revealed that an error in the Post Office IT system had been the cause.

    A national public inquiry is currently taking place in London with people wrongly accused in the scandal giving evidence.

    Large numbers of those accused were sent to prison and their convictions have since been quashed by the High Court and millions of pounds in compensation claims have been made.

    For Penny she was stunned when she received a call from the Post Office accusing her of stealing more than £20,000 from her small branch.

    It was the start of a nightmare which saw her lose her business and be made bankrupt before managing to rebuild her life with her now successful pie business.

    Standing in front of her workbench making her award winning pies she recalls how she was caught up in a national scandal.

    “This was the shop and Post Office and I had the pub as well. When they accused us of stealing money, the whole world came crashing down, I was made bankrupt.

    “I am one of the 550 who took action against the Post Office, there were three court cases and we won two of them and we came to a settlement with them.

    “It didn’t mean that we agreed any liability, nobody was deemed to be responsible. This inquiry that has started now is to establish what happened, who is responsible and who is to blame.”

    Reflecting back on how it started Penny said: “It was absolutely horrible. I am a minor part in all of this, there are a lot of people who were worse off than me.

    “But it was horrible, I couldn’t go outside, you know what a small village can be like.”

    Many of the accused sub-postmasters and postmistresses found themselves shunned in the communities where they lived and worked.

    Those who run Post Office branches are seen as pillars of the community and hold positions of trust so when they were accused of stealing thousands of pounds many jumped to a negative conclusion.

    Penny said: “We had the Post Office since 2007 but we had been running the pub since 1997. You would hope that those people who you live and work alongside would have more trust towards you and your integrity.”

    However Penny is keen to point out that others running Post Office branches in Cornwall had much worse experiences. Unlike others she was never prosecuted and also did not use her own money to cover any shortfall identified by the Post Office.

    Having previously worked for a bank when she was initially accused by the Post Office she asked for copies of their records to show the alleged fraudulent transactions.

    She found that these showed that the alleged thefts had taken place when they were not even in the Post Office, with some when they were away or on bank holidays.

    “I was more sceptical, I know I hadn’t done anything wrong and I thought someone would see that.

    “I was shocked when I was told that it was a criminal investigation and was told that I should go to the police station for an interview. I said I would bring my solicitor but they said that wasn’t necessary. However I asked a solicitor’s advice and they told me not to go anywhere. Every time they contacted me I would refer them to my solicitor.”

    At the time of the accusation she had actually been in the process of selling the business, but that all fell through as a result of the scandal.

    The Post Office and shop business closed and Penny admits: “I thought, crikey, what will I do now?”

    Fortunately her experience running the kitchen in the village pub had given her skills in baking which she then thought might be a new career.

    “When I was at the pub we were very busy for food and I thought I would put that to use in pie form. I made some and let friends and family try them out and they said I should sell them.”

    How a pie business emerged from Post Office scandal

    The small pie business started in Penny’s kitchen in Manaccan before rising demand meant that she moved the pie kitchen to the space previously occupied by the shop and Post Office.

    And now she is set to have a dedicated base for Penny’s Pies at a new site in St Keverne after being granted planning permission by Cornwall Council.

    The Manaccan site will remain as an outlet for the pies and Penny says she is planning to have a takeaway outlet running from the site by Easter.

    One of the keys to Penny’s success was when a friend of hers took some of the pies to Ruth Huxley, who runs the Great Cornish Food Store in Truro.

    “It was purely by chance that a friend of mine took them and then Ruth asked for some more samples and they now stock the pies in the store. Ruth has been brilliant and the best customer we have.

    “It was from there that I was able to crack on and keep going, she has just been a massive support.”

    Penny’s Pies are now available in 25 different retail outlets and they also regularly sell at various markets across Cornwall as well as taking part in major festivals and events such as the Royal Cornwall Show and Stithians Show, along with the likes of Porthleven Food Festival.

    And the new facility in St Keverne will allow the company to grow even more with plans to export the pies beyond Cornwall and Devon. Penny already employs three full time staff and says this will increase in future.

    So, what about the pies themselves? There are 25 different varieties with the emphasis on savoury, although Penny said there are plans for more sweet varieties.

    At present the company makes around 1,000 pies a week and watching Penny in action in her Manaccan base it is clear she is a pro, rolling and crimping pastry seems to be second nature to this experienced piemaker.

    The best selling pies are the traditional pork pies which are a hit with regular customers as well as visitors to the area.

    Penny explained that a lot of tourists try their pies while on holiday and then come back with online orders at Christmas time.

    There are also slightly different takes on pies with a wild pig and truffle version and the poacher’s pie which has a mix of game in its filling.

    Penny admits: “I am a complete and utter foodie – food is a great way of bringing people together. Pasties are fantastic, but I felt there were enough people making those already so I focused on pies instead.

    “I love baking, but if I do it at home it will be cakes and stuff and the reason I don’t is because I don’t need it,” she explains whilst waving a self-deprecating hand in front of herself.

    And Penny admits that she has no ambitions to apply to the Great British Bake Off: “I think bake off is amazing and anyone who is prepared to stand up in that tent and bake has my respect.

    “I enjoy baking and I am lucky that I get to do it and then see the joy it brings to other people. Doing this, the thing I love most, and then seeing it consumed by people is fantastic.”

    And Penny’s favourite pie? “A pork pie straight out of the oven is absolutely wonderful. You can’t beat it.”

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