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    Post Office tried to ‘hush up’ case of sub-postmaster who killed himself

    (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

    The Post Office had tried to “hush up” the case of Martin Griffiths, a sub-postmaster who took his own life, by “drip feeding” compensation payments to his widow and hiring media lawyer to protect its reputation, a public inquiry has heard.

    Over the week, Angela van den Bogerd, a former business improvement director at the state-owned body, was questioned at the Horizon IT public inquiry about the case of Griffiths, who died in 2013 after financial shortfalls were found at his Post Office branch in Cheshire.

    The inquiry heard that Griffiths and his mother had both written to the Post Office earlier in 2013 about the “severe pressure” and “worry” that he was experiencing due to the £39,000 shortfall, which he blamed on software errors.

    The inquiry heard how Griffiths’ parents had used their life savings to repay back thousands of pounds of his purported shortfalls and also that the Post Office was demanding £7,500 after an armed robbery at his branch for which he had been partly blamed.

    Griffiths attempted suicide on Sept 23, 2013 and died in hospital weeks later.

    The Post Office eventually offered his widow, Gina Griffiths, £140,000 in a settlement agreement and insisted she sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). An internal document said “staged payments” had been agreed “which we asked for as an incentive for Mrs Griffiths maintaining confidentiality”.

    Jason Beer KC, counsel to the inquiry, asked Van den Bogerd whether the Post Office was using the “drip feeding of money” to Griffiths’ widow “as a means of ensuring she keeps it [his case] hushed up”.

    “‘You don’t get any more money unless you keep quiet.’ That’s what this is, isn’t it?,” Beer put to her. He asked: “Did you see anything unsavoury in using money as a way of ensuring Mr Griffiths’ case was hushed up?”

    Van den Bogerd denied the accusation saying that her concern at the time was facilitating that payment to Gina.

    The inquiry was also shown the email sent by Alan Bates, the former post operator and campaigner for the Horizon victims, in which he wrote that Griffiths was a “prime example of the thuggery being exerted on defenceless sub-postmasters … by arrogant and uncontrolled Post Office personnel”.

    It was claimed during the inquiry that Bates’ email caused an internal buzz in Post Office to urgently “line up a specialist media lawyer”.

    Beer asked Van den Bogerd, “The immediate reaction was not ‘is Martin Griffiths all right?’ … or ‘what can we, the Post Office, do to help this man’s family?”

    “Not at this point,” Van den Bogerd said.

    Beer continued, “No, the first thing was let’s get a media lawyer … Is that what it was like working in the Post Office at the time? It was all about brand reputation, brand image.”

    The Post Office, which is owned by the UK government, pursued hundreds of operators for more than a decade, alleging financial shortfalls in their branch accounts and prosecuting them. It has since emerged that these discrepancies were caused by IT bugs within the Horizon system.

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