Computer glitch may exonerate postmistress

Jacqueline McDonald
Jacqueline McDonald

A disgraced village postmistress, jailed for stealing almost £100,000 from her shop, could be innocent after all.

Jacqueline McDonald, who ran the post office in Broughton, saw her life fall apart after she was jailed for false accounting in January 2011.

But now the Post Office has admitted software defects have been found in their Horizon computer system which processes millions of transactions every day.

Mrs McDonald, who has since quit Britain to live in the United States, is one of more than 100 former sub-postmasters who claim they were wrongly accused and are planning to sue the Post Office over their prosecutions.

They claim the computer system, which links all 11,500 sub-post offices in the UK, wrongly registered shortfalls amounting to tens of thousands of pounds.

Independent investigators have identified “bugs” in the software which could have been responsible for the accounting errors and have recommended further investigations be carried out.

“If this is true it’s an 
absolute disgrace,” said Preston Coun Tom Davies, whose Rural North ward includes Broughton.

“This poor woman may have been sent to jail for nothing. Villagers in Broughton were extremely shocked and angry when this case came to court. It’s fair to say Mrs McDonald’s reputation took a hammering.”

Mrs McDonald pleaded guilty to multiple counts of theft and false accounting after an unexplained shortfall of almost £100,000 was discovered at her shop in Garstang Road.

She was released from prison after serving four and a half months of an 18-month sentence. Following her jail term Mrs McDonald returned to living in the flat above the shop.

But the business closed down and is still up for sale. A new sub-post office has since opened further down the road.

According to neighbours Mrs McDonald and her husband moved out more than six months ago and are now thought to be living in Wyoming, USA.

The campaign by sub-postmasters gathered pace after publication of the report about problems with the Horizon computer network.

The Post Office reacted by saying its system was effective, but admitted it would be improving training and support.

The report said that while the review found no evidence of systematic problems with the core software, it did find bugs in it.

It pinpointed two specific occasions in 2011 and 2012 when the Post Office identified defects itself which resulted in a shortfall of £9,000 at 76 branches.