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Broughton postmistress made over 200 calls asking for help with so-called missing money

Posted on - 14th January, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Broughton, Business, Preston News
Preston Crown Court
Preston Crown Court

A Broughton postmistress made over 200 calls asking for help and received no assistance during the events that led to the Post Office scandal. 

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As part of the ongoing Post Office Public Inquiry, Post Office investigator Stephen Bradshaw was quizzed by counsel to the inquiry Julian Blake on Thursday (January 11). The inquiry is now under additional public scrutiny as a result of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office. 

The questions focused on the tactics used by the investigation which preceded Jacqueline McDonald’s wrongful conviction. But it also displayed the lengths Ms McDonald went to to try and seek help with the problems at her Broughton Post Office, which we now know were not of her making. 

Read more: Lancashire Police officer tried to murder partner and fled the scene covering his tracks

Jacqueline McDonald was one of the “Post Office 39,” a group of former sub-postmasters and post-mistresses who were convicted of offences including theft, false accounting, and fraud, based on information from a computer system called Horizon which suggested that money had gone missing from post-office branch accounts.

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On January 21, 2011, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison and, as a result of proceedings against her, ordered to repay almost £100,000. She was forced to file for bankruptcy and ultimately left Preston to relocate in the US. Her conviction was later overturned and she bravely maintained her innocence despite her guilty plea.

The inquiry was told on Thursday how Ms McDonald made 216 calls to the National Business Support Centre as part of her attempts to ask for help when experiencing problems with Horizon. She said in an interview that she received no assistance. 

When Mr Bradshaw was interviewing Ms McDonald and she claimed she did not know where the money had gone, he told her “you have told me a pack of lies.”

Mr Bradshaw was challenged in the inquiry about the language he used when investigating Ms McDonald, and others, with his words compared to what ‘you might see in a 1970s television detective show’.

He said: “It’s a PACE interview and it’s not a nice interview…It’s a criminal interview. 

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“It went through the court system afterwards and nothing was picked up by her defence team to say that it was oppressive or aggressive.”

Mr Bradshaw also categorically denied telling Ms McDonald that she was ‘the only one in that position’. A number of people have given evidence stating that they were told this, which is supported by interview transcripts. He said that if that language was used, it needed to be taken in context and was not meant to be a blanket statement. 

This week, the Lancashire Post apologised that their coverage of her court proceedings ‘compounded her distress at knowing she had felt compelled to plead guilty to crimes she didn’t commit.’

There had been calls for the paper to apologise to Ms McDonald over their coverage at the time, which the paper defended as ‘legally sound’, pointing out the scale of injustice at the time was not known or understood. That coverage is no longer available online. 

Lancashire Post digital editor Vanessa Sims said: “Media outlets don’t very often apologise – and while we stand by our entirely accurate reporting of Jacqueline McDonald’s case in 2011, we are sorry that our coverage will no doubt have compounded her distress at knowing that she had felt compelled to plead guilty to crimes she didn’t commit.

“At the time, the Post was – like many other local newspapers nationwide – publishing a legally sound account of court proceedings involving a sub-postmaster or mistress in which wrongdoing was either admitted or was the conclusion reached by a jury…

“…Jacqueline has the utmost sympathy of everyone here at the Post for everything she has endured and we do sincerely regret that her awful experience included having to see her reputation tarnished in her local paper.”

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