Post Office Horizon IT scandal: ‘I lost 15 years of my life’ says wrongly convicted sub-postmaster

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Former sub-postmaster Vijay Parekh spent time in jail - and now he wants those responsible for the miscarriage of justice that was the Post Office scandal to be prosecuted.

When Vijay Parekh took over Willesden Post Office in north-west London in 2006, it had been his and his wife’s plan for a comfortable retirement.

Little did he know that three years later he would fall victim to the Post Office's faulty Horizon computer system and be wrongly accused of stealing £78,000 from his own business.

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The former rail worker pleaded guilty to theft at Harrow Crown Court in 2010 after being advised by his barrister that it would enable him to avoid prison. But it didn't and he spent six months in jail.

In 2021 he was cleared, alongside 39 other former sub-postmasters, after Fujitsu's Horizon accounting system was revealed to be defective.

The Horizon scandal has returned to the public's attention this week following the release of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office, starring Toby Jones. A statutory inquiry into the scandal is under way.

Mr Parekh, now aged 65, says he is still fighting for the prosecution of those responsible for the scandal which saw thousands of sub-postmasters wrongfully accused for the loss of funds from their branches.

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Mr Parekh described to LondonWorld the day his branch was audited: “One day in 2009 they were there before I arrived and were waiting outside. I wasn’t allowed to go into the office. They came out with a figure of the region of £75,000 to £78,000 (in shortfalls). 

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“The auditors called in the investigators and they came down and firstly they wanted to check all of my statements and personal belongings.

“They came to my home and checked all my drawers and checked if I had any cash. They asked me to sign authorisations for bank statements.”

Former subpostmaster Vijay Parekh was wrongly accused of stealing £78,000 from his branchFormer subpostmaster Vijay Parekh was wrongly accused of stealing £78,000 from his branch
Former subpostmaster Vijay Parekh was wrongly accused of stealing £78,000 from his branch | Supplied

He continued: “Nothing in my statements or home had excess cash. I didn’t do it so I wasn’t going to be afraid.

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“They suspended me in April 2009. They wouldn’t let me back into the office until I got the letter from the court saying I was going to be prosecuted. Then they came out with a figure of £81,000 in the courts.”

Mr Parekh and his family repaid the entire sum by taking out loans. Having paid back the money in full they were shocked when the judge at Harrow Crown Court sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

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“The next thing I knew he said “Take him down.” My whole family was there,” he recalled.

“They took me down to a cell, I couldn’t see my family. That was really hectic for me, I wasn’t expecting a custodial sentence.

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“My first thought was: How do I explain this to my father, who was 75 at the time?” he said in tears. “I had to tell my Dad what happened. He was crying.

Mr Parekh spent the first three months of his sentence at Wormwood Scrubs and then was moved to Ford open prison in West Sussex for another three months.

“I was granted early release and was out within six months.”

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ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office compressed the suffering of innocent staff into a dramatic fist that punched the righteousness of their cause into the public’s consciousness (Picture: ITV)ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office compressed the suffering of innocent staff into a dramatic fist that punched the righteousness of their cause into the public’s consciousness (Picture: ITV)
ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office compressed the suffering of innocent staff into a dramatic fist that punched the righteousness of their cause into the public’s consciousness (Picture: ITV)

After completing his sentence, Mr Parekh struggled for years to find work due to his criminal conviction. 

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He eventually found a position working as a chauffeur for the Indian High Commissioner, where he remains.

Mr Parekh has suffered greatly due to the Horizon IT scandal. In 2017, he suffered a major heart attack and while in hospital discovered he also had high blood pressure and diabetes.

He and his family also had to move out of Willesden over fear of judgement, an area he had lived in for 55 years.

“The support from my family and extended family has kept me in a stable situation. Without it I don’t think I would have been able to pull through,” he said.

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This week the government announced new legislation that would acquit all those convicted in the Horizon IT scandal.

Anyone who has their conviction overturned will be given an upfront offer of £600,000 or allowed to proceed with a detailed assessment process if they feel they are owed more. 

Those who are part of a separate group litigation, who have already received some money, will be offered £75,000 each.

Mr Parkeh says no amount of money will compensate for what he has been through.

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“I’ve lost 15 years of my life,” he said. “It's going to take time to recover from the ordeal. An apology isn’t going to get you those 15 years back.

"They need to be prosecuted. We will get justice but it will take time.”

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