Pauline Stonehouse on injustice, scandal and survival

December 17, 2021. Series 5. Episode 35

Pauline Stonehouse found herself at the centre of what is one of Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice.  Between 2000-2015, the post office bullied and prosecuted more than 700 innocent sub post masters and post mistresses. Those prosecutions carried out by the post office’s criminal law division were based on evidence gathered from a recently installed but as it turned out fatally flawed computer system.  Some went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft.  Many were financially ruined and shunned by their communities. Others died before their names were cleared.  Pauline was forced into bankruptcy, lost her home and in 2007 was convicted of six counts of false accounting.  Convictions which were formally overturned only very recently.

This is an appalling story of an entirely unnecessary crisis, driven by a misguided, institutional belief that hundreds upon hundreds of sub post masters were not pillars of their communities but instead that they were all, individually and quite independently – sophisticated criminals.  In Pauline’s case, the post office decided to trust a machine over a mum and an employee who was both respected and experienced.  And then they set out to ruin her life, with her husband and two daughters as collateral damage.

This was a very British scandal, uncovered with thanks to journalists like the brilliant Nick Wallis and those victims are now set to get compensation.

Pauline handled the unravelling of her happy life with incredible strength, without a hint of self-pity and as you’ll hear, with a heavy reliance on her sense of humour – a much undervalued crisis tool.

This is the story of an ordinary woman thrown into the centre of a truly extraordinary crisis and it’s packed with lessons for anyone who has lost or fears they might lose control of their lives.

 

Pauline’s Crisis Cures: 

1 – Sense of humour

2 – Reading – I love the sense of escaping into another world.  I read anything and everything on my kindle.  I download books constantly. Whatever spikes my fancy.  From love stories to thrillers, to historical.. whatever floats my boat at the time

3 – Jigsaw puzzles – I love them.   A big 2000 piece on my dining table!  I’ve been doing them since before my daughter was born.  It’s another form of methodical escapism.  It occupies your mind in a different way.

 

Links:

Justice For Sub postmasters Alliance https://www.jfsa.org.uk/

Pauline Stonehouse twitter https://twitter.com/PaulineStoneho2/status/1466494526655283207

Nick Wallis’ book – https://bathpublishing.com/products/the-great-post-office-scandal

Horizon Scandal Fund https://www.horizonscandalfund.org/ 

 

Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm 

Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk

 

Host – Andy Coulson

Producer – Louise Difford

 

Full transcript: 

00:00:00.00 Intro music

 

00:00:19.04 Andy Coulson:

Hello and welcome to Series Five of Crisis What Crisis? I’m Andy Coulson, a former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and one time inmate of HMP Belmarsh. Over the last seven years I’ve put all of my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success but there are far, far fewer where you can benefit from the experiences of those whose lives have properly unravelled.

 

00:00:53.16 Andy Coulson:

So, on this podcast you’ll hear from the embattled, shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, resilient, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. But you’ll also hear from renowned crisis managers, mental health experts and other advisers who were in the room when major crises have hit. All of them offering useful, practical coping techniques and tips and all with the straightforward aim of guiding you towards a more resilient approach to life and whatever it might throw at you. Crisis What Crisis? is generously supported by Myndstream, a brilliant company who harness the power of music for personal wellbeing and improving human performance. Just search for Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y, on Spotify and you’ll find some great playlists. And if you enjoy what you hear on this podcast please subscribe and give us a rating and review. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook, our handle is @crisiswhatcrisispodcast.

 

00:01:51.02 Andy Coulson:

Today I’m joined by a woman who found herself at the centre of what is one of Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice. Between 2000 and 2015 the Post Office bullied and prosecuted more than 700 innocent sub-post masters and post mistresses, almost one a week. Those prosecutions carried out by the post office criminal law division were based on evidence gathered from a recently installed, but as it turned out, fatally flawed computer system called Horizon. Some went to prison following false convictions for false accounting and theft. Many were financially ruined and shunned by the communities that they’d served. Some others died before they were cleared.

 

00:02:36.23 Andy Coulson:

Our guest today, Pauline Stonehouse, was forced into bankruptcy, lost her home and in 2007 was convicted of six counts of false accounting. Convictions which were formally overturned only very recently. This is an appalling story of an entirely unnecessary crisis, driven by a misguided institutional belief that hundreds upon hundreds of sub-postmasters were not pillars of their communities but instead that they were all individually, quite independently sophisticated criminals. In Pauline’s case the post office simply decided to trust a machine ahead of a mum and an employee who was respected and experienced. And then they set out to ruin her life with her husband and children as collateral damage.

 

00:03:23.01 Andy Coulson:

This was a very British scandal, uncovered in the end thanks to journalists like the brilliant Nick Wallace and the victims are now set to get compensation. Pauline, I’m sure you’ll agree is incredible, handling the unravelling of a happy life in a seaside town with incredible strength and without self-pity. But also as you’ll hear a very heavy reliance on a sense of humour that always undervalued crisis tool. One of the most astonishing elements of this story is that the same thing was happening to strangers up and down the country. All of them being told by the Post Office that they had to be prosecuted to set an example to others. Pauline thought, they all thought, that they were the only ones.

 

00:04:06.19 Andy Coulson:

So this is the story of an ordinary woman thrown into the centre of a truly extraordinary crisis. And it’s packed with lessons, I think, for anyone who has lost control or who fears losing control of their life, for whatever reason. I hope you enjoy it and thanks for listening. Pauline Stonehouse thank you so much for joining me today on Crisis What Crisis? We’ve talked on this podcast with people who come through all manner of challenges but never had I have the privilege of speaking to someone whose come out the other side of their crisis so recently. You found out that your conviction was overturned on November 22nd I think.

 

00:04:49.14 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

00:04:51.01 Andy Coulson:

The formal end to a very long and very damaging journey although, of course, you will quite rightly not be stopping here in terms of getting justice for what happened to you. But are you, Pauline, are you beginning to come to terms with what’s happened yet?

 

00:05:08.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

I think I came to terms with it a long time ago, I just thought I would never get the answers to what actually happened. I just thought what happened, happened and I was just a one off person. It wasn’t until a few years later, well, quite a few years later, that I found out I wasn’t the only one. So yes, of course now, now I know what’s gone on and I wasn’t the only one and that now I’ll have my conviction overturned, oh it’s just… yeah, it’s amazing really. I think it’s the acceptance of that isn’t it? And I think it is hard to accept what they’ve done to me but now the conviction has been overturned, I think acceptance has got to happen hasn’t it? But I don’t think any of us will ever get a satisfactory apology from them rather than their generic letter that they send out, which was a joke. But…

 

00:06:13.07 Andy Coulson:

Yeah, let’s talk about that briefly. I do want to go back and talk about life pre-crisis quickly but let’s just talk about that letter for a moment. Essentially what you got, and anyone listening to this very easy to find the letter, just go onto Pauline’s Twitter account, we’ll leave the link. But essentially what you got was a standard letter. Not personalised at all, same letter that’s been sent to everyone who’s involved in this. Saying sorry but not really.

 

00:06:45.12 Pauline Stonehouse:

No, not really. Not really sorry is it? It really isn’t and it wasn’t until… Do you know, when I first opened the letter and saw it and thought, wow, they’ve actually listened and they’ve actually apologised. And then when I read it again I thought, oh my god, this is so generic, they’re just trying to pull the wool over your eyes aren’t they? They’re just thinking well you’re going to accept this and that will be alright but it’s not is it?

 

00:07:09.06 Andy Coulson:

No, it’s interesting to me. Obviously I’m interested in communications, that’s part of my professional background. And this inability, even after everything that we now know about this scandal, which I think will become truly one of the great miscarriages of justice in this country, even now the organisation involved can’t manage to see that a letter that is tailored to the individual and that isn’t a standard pro forma led by lawyers, is not the answer. Anyway, look, let’s talk a little bit about life before crisis, if I may Pauline. You grew up in Wales, married to Christopher, two kids. Before those children arrived, I think I’m right in saying that you worked down in London in a number of different jobs. You worked on the Underground I think at one stage. But you also worked for Rymans in London. If I understood it correctly you essentially worked in their Post Office concession, is that right?

 

00:08:15.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, I started off in their stationery shop. I started off in their King’s Road, actually, that’s where I first started working for them. It was while I was there that they advertised that they had the franchise post offices and looking for staff to start. And I thought, oh this is a different challenge, this is different. And I did, it was a really bizarre, training method, it was in a shop in a basement of a shop somewhere in London, I can’t remember where it was now, somewhere in East London where there’s like a pretend post office set up…

 

00:08:43.21 Andy Coulson:

Brilliant.

 

00:08:44.16 Pauline Stonehouse:

…with little stamp things where you had to change the dates yourself, cover yourself in ink and there’s pretend stamps and stamp books. And you got about a two or three week training and actually I thoroughly enjoyed it. And then yeah, going into the first post office and starting off as a normal counter assistant and moved around a few other of them and eventually ending up as a manager in their Lower Regent Street branch, which was Haymarket but then moved across to Lower Regent Street.

 

00:09:12.16 Andy Coulson:

So you’d been around the Post Office, you understood kind of how important the Post Office actually is in people’s lives, right? It’s a centre, isn’t it? That’s how I suppose probably in a London suburb.

 

00:09:22.04 Pauline Stonehouse:

You get to meet regular customers; you get to meet all of them. But when I was doing it there for Rymans it was the old manual assistant. It didn’t become Horizon until I think it was 1999 which was the year my first daughter was born.

 

00:09:35.14 Andy Coulson:

Yes and Horizon, I should explain, is the computer system that sits at the centre of this appalling scandal. But we’ll get on and explain that in more detail.

 

00:09:41.11 Pauline Stonehouse:

But prior to that the old system… I know we have a technological age and I know technology is the future and all that but the old system worked. You never had any problems, you knew exactly what you had, you knew exactly what you were doing, what money came in, what money came out, what stamps you sold, what you started off with. Like a typical accounting book, red and black, ins and outs and you knew exactly where you stood at the end of the week. And if anything was wrong then it would come… if a form had been sent off wrongly or done something wrong it would come back. But you knew you had that paper trail to follow.

 

00:10:17.09 Andy Coulson:

Yeah, it strikes me that actually, that point is at the heart of this. The Post Office, it strikes me, an obvious point really, misunderstood that their business was a human business.

 

00:10:30.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

00:10:30.21 Andy Coulson:

They decided, as so many businesses do, ‘actually do you know what, we think we’re a tech business’, but the Post Office is not a tech business, it is a human basins isn’t it?

 

00:10:39.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, you’re the face of the Post Office. But I read an article this morning, actually, on Twitter, I think it was a Financial Times one and I think it was brought up and it was saying how, if a post master said that two and two was four but the computer said two and two is five, they would believe the computer not the postmaster.

 

00:11:00.00 Andy Coulson:

Yes.

 

00:11:01.02 Pauline Stonehouse:

And that’s what I read and I thought, well that’s just farcical isn’t it?

 

00:11:05.02 Andy Coulson:

Yeah it is madness.

 

00:11:07.07 Pauline Stonehouse:

A three year old, or probably a four year old could tell you that two and two was four.

 

00:11:10.08 Andy Coulson:

Yeah, yeah. It would be farcical if it wasn’t so, frankly, tragic. Let’s move forward to 2000, Pauline. You moved to Seaburn in Sunderland. You worked, I think, in a couple of other Post Office jobs in Sunderland before 2004 when the opportunity came up to buy your own shop and Post Office. Just tell me about that because that must have been lovely moment. That must have been a really positive moment in your life.

 

00:11:41.14 Pauline Stonehouse:

We looked into another Post Office, a smaller one and store in East Bolden and we nearly bought that one but I think what in the end ruled it out was where it was and access to it, so to speak. So in the end we found the Seaburn one and we thought, oh ideal, it’s right on the seafront, it’ll have the trade in the summer and so we jumped into it with both feet.

 

00:12:10.23 Andy Coulson:

And a great sort of community.

 

00:12:14.00 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yes, and it was and we had our regulars and they were lovely. And, do you know, there’s nothing better than going first thing in the morning even on a winter’s day or a summer’s day and the sun rising. And I could go for a break and go and splash my feet in the sea because we were literally right across the road from the sea front. And it was lovely. You had your regulars in and you know, they came in and they not long after… well a year or so later I found out I was pregnant and they were all fussing over me and it was great. It was like one big family it was ah, one of the best times of my life at the start of it all until, obviously it started going wrong.

 

00:12:48.23 Andy Coulson:

Things were fine for what, a couple of years, before you started to notice that there were shortfalls. I think the Horizon system was in place, wasn’t it? It was upgraded and that then, from that moment on the shortfalls began to appear. So what’s in your mind Pauline, when that first starts to happen?

 

00:13:12.04 Pauline Stonehouse:

I was puzzled at first, really puzzled because it just didn’t make any sense. You go from having no issues at all to suddenly have £100 missing, £200 missing, £300 missing and you think… And then it was happening every single week and you think okay, fine, ah it’ll come back and it’ll sort it will sort itself out. But it happened often enough to really start to worry. So then I had to make phone calls to think well, why am I getting these constant shortages, I never did before, so what’s going wrong?

 

00:13:49.00 Andy Coulson:

Who are you calling? Is it an area manager or is there some sort of central…?

 

00:13:52.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

The helpline.

 

00:13:54.09 Andy Coulson:

A helpline?

 

00:13:55.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, and they’re meant to be there for you to say, look I’m sub-postmaster, you give them your Post Office number and basically say, ‘look I’ve got this problem, I’m showing this shortage this week, I don’t understand why this has happened’. And they go, ‘oh it’ll correct itself, it’ll come back, I shouldn’t worry about it, nothing’s wrong’. And I went, ‘well, okay but this has only been going on since they’ve changed from the old system to the combined till, shop and Post Office counter’. I said, ‘…that’s only been happening since then’ and they were like, …’oh I wouldn’t worry about it, it’ll be fine’. But it carried on happening and I wasn’t getting any satisfactory answers as to why I was getting then consistently larger and larger losses.

 

00:14:35.14 Andy Coulson:

Let’s just explain very quickly what the kind of process is really. Because under the Horizon system, as I understand it, you began to use a touch screen. You were using a touch screen to process payments for, utility bills, driving licences, banking services, all sorts of other stuff. But they could also pay out, you pay out pensions, sell stamps, all that stuff that runs through a post office was all done now through a touch screen process, yeah? And then you’d look at your numbers, what, at the end of a week? And that’s when it would appear?

 

00:15:11.22 Pauline Stonehouse:

Always a Wednesday afternoon, Wednesday evening, you’d close for the day and then that’s when you then… So gradually towards the end of that day you would count your stock. You’d know what money you’d have in your safe and you’d know what stamps, you’d gradually count your stamps. Because you didn’t generally sell that many stamps but you would count the majority of your stock and then when it came to the last customer leaving, the doors closing, then you’d do your final cashing up of the cash and putting all your stuff through.

 

00:15:34.16 Andy Coulson:

Right. So increasingly then, over time, that Wednesday afternoon moment, I assume you began to somewhat dread? What am I going to discover now?

 

00:15:45.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, it was going from you could balance within half an hour, you’d have a figure within half an hour to it being it took an hour and a half, two yours because you’re going back over your figures, checking, rechecking your stock, recounting your money in your safe. All of that to just check that you hadn’t missed anything or something had been put away wrong or whatever. And it never did correct itself.

 

00:16:08.19 Andy Coulson:

Was it every week you were spotting a problem of one size or another?

 

00:16:13.07 Pauline Stonehouse:

Not every week, it would be a… You know you could expect a couple of pound, ten pound, twenty pound, you’re gonna expect that to a point but not when it’s large sums. So I would say on average in the beginning I would say it was perhaps twice a week when it was a large sum and then there were smaller amounts on the other weeks. But I never… you would expect that it was a human error, you would expect it to be some overs and some shortages. But it was always short.

 

00:16:44.13 Andy Coulson:

Yes, so it was never over?

 

00:16:46.16 Pauline Stonehouse:

It was never over. So that’s when it gets suspicious. You know at one point it was telling me I was hundreds of pounds short in stamps, physical stamps. And I thought, well I don’t sell that many stamps so how can I be hundreds of pound short in stamps? I actually phoned the helpline for that and said, ‘Why suddenly are my stamp records showing differently when I haven’t sold much this week?’ I might sell the odd first and second class stamp but more often than not you print a label off for somebody coming in to send a package, you’re not sticking hundreds of stamps on a box.

 

00:17:18.01 Andy Coulson:

Yeah and presumably when you’re ringing the helpline what you’re not hearing is, ‘Oh do you know what Pauline, we’ve had two or three other people mention this.’

 

00:17:25.22 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah we never heard that, no. in the end…

 

00:17:27.19 Andy Coulson:

No, well we now know of course, full well, that there were not two or three, there were hundreds of phone calls being made…

 

00:17:37.14 Pauline Stonehouse:

Over 700 of us.

 

00:17:39.24 Andy Coulson:

…of people finding themselves int eh same position as you. And the system, again as I understand it, means that where there were shortfalls, in the first instance they came out of your wages, right?

 

00:17:51.05 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, well, no initially they came out of whatever cash you could put in. So if it was £20 short, the £20 would come out of my pocket and it would go in and it would balance it to zero and that would be the end of that and you’d start the Thursday morning with a clean slate. And we did that for quite a few months, it was coming out of the shop takings and it was going in.

 

00:18:09.14 Andy Coulson:

Because you believed that at some point down the line…

 

00:18:12.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

It would come back.

 

00:18:12.20 Andy Coulson:

…it would come back.

 

00:18:13.23 Pauline Stonehouse:

It would correct itself and it’d end up back in my pocket and back in my shop till. Back in my bank account. But it never did. And then it got to the point in the end when I couldn’t do that anymore because it was such large quantities that if it came towards the end… because you would balance every week but at the end of the four weekly period is when you’ve got to put it exactly right. You’ve got to balance it for the month. It came to the point where it was such large sums where I couldn’t afford to put £1,000 out of my shop takings into that, I couldn’t do it anymore. And then they started taking it from my wages. So I said, ‘Look I can’t pay this shortfall, can we come to an agreement?’ ‘Yes, we’ll take it out of your wage each month.’ And they would take a relatively large amount out of my account each month.

 

00:18:59.08 Andy Coulson:

What was the moment, Pauline, when that sort of tipped over from being, you know what, this is a worry, this is a concern but I think it will balance out into, this is now becoming just a black hole that’s just swallowing up money, I don’t quite know where all this is heading?

 

00:19:19.13 Pauline Stonehouse:

I don’t remember the exact point but I know I was leaving the Post Office on a Wednesday in tears every night. And I would go to my, or I’d call in to see my in-laws at the weekend and they’d go… because they obviously knew what was going on, I was getting stressed out over it. And I’d go, ‘I don’t understand it, I really don’t understand it, I just can’t take much more of this because nothing makes sense anymore.’ I’d go from running a post office in London, like I said and never having any issues to working in other people’s branches and then never having any issues to then me suddenly having all of this money disappearing and not knowing where it’s going. To then doubting yourself then, to think, well am I doing something wrong? Am I incompetent? Why did I buy this place in the first place, this is the biggest mistake ever, do you know what I mean? It was worrying.

 

00:20:16.02 Pauline Stonehouse:

And obviously my husband was just as worried and obviously he was, yes, involved in the post office side but he wasn’t… the running of it was down to me. So he knew I knew the ins and outs of it more than anybody else. So the fact that I was stressed out, then that made him stressed out and in the end obviously we couldn’t put any more money in and we couldn’t afford to have them take any more out of my wages because I’d have no blimming wages left.

 

00:20:46.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

So that’s, at that point where I think I broke really and knew that I couldn’t do any more and I had made the mistake of false accounting, of declaring money was there when it wasn’t. Hoping like I said, and hoping that at some point somebody would find an error somewhere and it would correct itself. But it never did and it went on for a good few months, if not longer, six months or so, I would say that I was doing that, if not longer.

 

00:21:16.19 Pauline Stonehouse:

And it wasn’t until I’d gone to a meeting in the hotel just down the road from the Post Office and one of the district managers was there and I just physically broke down and said, ‘Look, I can’t take any more of this, I can’t do this no more, this is what I’ve been doing, I’ve been to you for help, you’re not giving me any help, you need to sort something.’ And literally she goes, ‘You know what’s going to happen now?’ I said, ‘Yes I know what’s going to happen now.’ And I was suspended basically on the spot. And she said, ‘So you’re told that somebody’s going to be in the next morning?’ And the keys for the safe and the Post Office part were taken off me. I wasn’t allowed to touch the money, nothing an audit was done. And what I thought the amount was short ended up more. So they found even more money missing.

 

00:22:08.07 Andy Coulson:

Give us the approximate numbers at this stage, Pauline.

 

00:22:11.24 Pauline Stonehouse:

It ended up in the end about £15,000, that’s what the shortfall was.

 

00:22:16.08 Andy Coulson:

Right.

 

00:22:17.01 Pauline Stonehouse:

And that had been building over a good, I suppose, a good four, five, six months, perhaps. And the stress of that is, because they could send an auditor in at any time to any post office to check, check you. So the whole time I was worried that an auditor was going to walk in that door and decide to audit me and find that shortage. And thankfully they never did. And I think that in a sense the fact that I went to them and told them what I’d done, it think that really helped my case in a sense. Because I wouldn’t have gone to them if I’d done something wrong.

 

00:22:54.06 Andy Coulson:

No.

 

00:22:54.15 Pauline Stonehouse:

If I was guilty of taking that money, which was what they accused me of initially, I wouldn’t have gone to tell them that I’d done that, would I?

 

00:23:02.16 Andy Coulson:

No, so there are two things at play here on the other side of the fence, right, we know now don’t we? One is as we’ve already touched on, there are hundreds of people who are working within the post office system up and down the country and in communities, well really the post offices are the hubs of the communities, deeply embedded in a real position of trust, who were suffering exactly the same problem as you, to one degree or another. And who were pleading with the Post Office to help them make sense of what was going on. That’s the first thing that we now know.

 

00:23:47.24 Andy Coulson:

The second thing that we now know, of course, is that the Post Office had institutionally decided that this amazing new computer system that Fujitsu had built for them, Horizon system, had exposed a secret truth about those post masters up and down the country. That in fact there was this kind of unconnected network of master criminals who had been clearly, and who were now ripping off the Post Office secretly and that this amazing new computer system had exposed them all.

 

00:24:30.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

00:24:31.06 Andy Coulson:

And that was essentially the belief within the Post Office that drove this whole campaign against you all – madness.

 

00:24:42.17 Pauline Stonehouse:

Oh yes, complete madness because they can’t go from prior to that, surely, having next to no convictions of post masters through theft to suddenly having hundreds of us. What did they think suddenly, did we all decide, like you say… did we all decide to join together and go, ‘oh I know, let’s go and rip them off this week’?

 

00:25:03.24 Andy Coulson:

Well I think that they decided that their piece of technology had…

 

00:25:08.14 Pauline Stonehouse:

Was infallible.

 

00:25:09.02 Andy Coulson:

…had revealed something that presumably they believed had been going on for many, many years. But this comes to the point of the business, you know believing itself to be something that it’s not, right? It’s a people business. Because if you look at, anyone listening to you now on this podcast it takes five minutes to work out, Pauline, that you’re a straightforward, hardworking member of the community as most of these, I suspect all of these people were, they’re pillars of the community.

 

00:25:41.04 Pauline Stonehouse:

All of them. And we’re all from different walks of life, some of them very professional people who have taken retirement and decided to take post offices on and then consequently had their lives ruined. Worse for some, ex-policemen ex-teachers, retired… The mind boggles how people’s lives have been totally ruined. And I read one this morning and it was one of the first ones and she was actually pregnant and she got sent to prison for fifteen months.

 

00:26:12.01 Andy Coulson:

That’s right, that’s right.

 

00:26:13.09 Pauline Stonehouse:

I couldn’t believe that and then the more and more stories… and that’s the problem is that because nobody knows about them people think it’s not happening. So even me, being one of them, I don’t know half of these stories and the more I discover the more upset I am for everybody else, not just me.

 

00:26:33.02 Andy Coulson:

So you’re suspended in the first instance and then dismissed by the Post Office. Just tell us what they are saying to you at that point? When you were suspended was it also explained to you that you were now at risk of being prosecuted?

 

00:26:55.11 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

00:26:57.07 Andy Coulson:

And presumably at that stage the consequences of being convicted of the crime that they are suggesting that you committed is pretty serious, right? There was the immediate threat that this could mean that you go to prison?

 

00:27:13.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

Oh the immediate threat was, the accusation was that I had stolen the money. That’s what they assumed and that’s what they accused me of. But they had no evidence to say that, they had no… they had access to my bank records, they had no proof that I’d stolen any money. They had no proof that I was suddenly buying extra things that I needed. They had no proof to say that I was putting it into the shop and they accused my husband…

 

00:27:39.01 Pauline Stonehouse:

There was a long interview process above a post office in Durham by their investigation team and I was treated like a criminal. They acted like I was a criminal, the way they interviewed me. It went on for hours, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at me, trying to throw me off my game. In the end accusing my husband of taking the money and not telling me. And I said, ‘Well why would he do that?’ And they said, ‘Why wouldn’t he do that?’ ‘Why would he have to tell you?’ I said, ‘Because we’re married and we love each other and he wouldn’t destroy that, we don’t keep secrets from each other.’ ‘But how do you know?’

 

00:28:23.11 Pauline Stonehouse:

So that puts then the doubt into your head. And then there was accusations thrown at how do you know it’s not a member of staff doing it? And I’m going, ‘Well it’s possible’ of course it is, of course it’s possible. Because they had access to the safe when I wasn’t there. So it’s possible but I highly doubt it. But they couldn’t prove that either. But I think at the end of it, it was a case of right, ‘Okay we think you haven’t stolen the money but we’ve got to prosecute you anyway because we’ve got to set an example so others can’t do it too.’

 

00:29:02.08 Andy Coulson:

Which was a fundamental untruth.

 

00:29:04.12 Pauline Stonehouse:

Which was a fundamental untruth, now we know, I didn’t know that at the time did I? But obviously at that point in 2008 or 2007 when I was first interviewed, well it had been going on since 1999 hadn’t it? Or 2004 the first conviction was. So they were telling me lies to try to get me to admit to something that I didn’t do. And to then to say that they have to prosecute me, no they didn’t have to prosecute me. And to then to potentially, the potential was there to ruin my marriage as well and having a young family too. And then to get dragged all through the court system.

 

00:29:47.18 Pauline Stonehouse:

And then on the actual final, final day of the court for their barrister to actually stand there and say, ‘Look Mrs Stonehouse didn’t steal the money, we just think she’s naive and a bit immature in her attitude toward the Post Office and her actions but you can’t do anymore to her than what has already happened. As in losing her home, losing her livelihood, all that sort of thing. So what more can you do to her, just give her the lowest you can possibly do.’ But at that point they could have pulled out couldn’t hey?

 

00:30:32.04 Andy Coulson:

Yes of course.

 

00:30:33.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

If they know that I haven’t stolen the money and they know that I’m not a bad person, then why continue to prosecute me then?

 

00:30:39.20 Andy Coulson:

Exactly. Let’s take a couple of steps back because you reference it there, Pauline, but before you get to that point, right, before you get to the legal conclusion of your case, its impact on you and your family is already damaging, to put it mildly. You’ve had to declare yourself bankrupt.

 

00:31:00.22 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

00:31:01.24 Andy Coulson:

This is after you leave the Post Office, you’ve had to declare yourself bankrupt and you’ve lost your home.

 

00:31:06.10 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

00:31:07.12 Andy Coulson:

Just talk to us a little, give us a little bit more detail about what the impact was for you and your family.

 

00:31:15.22 Pauline Stonehouse:

Well I think after being suspended and then no longer having the Post Office wage coming in the shop then was no longer viable, the shop side of it, because obviously it wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay our mortgage and pay our bills and such like. So the decision was made that we had to go bankrupt. And that was, I think, in par with the day of being convicted in the distress side of things. To go to court that day and to pay the money to go bankrupt for each of us, for me and my husband, to then to walk back into the shop to know that this is no longer mine.

 

00:31:59.15 Andy Coulson:

Yes.

 

00:32:00.09 Pauline Stonehouse:

And that I have to hand that over and all the hard work and the changes that we’d put into that, it was just as hard as being convicted because you get… you have all these plans in your head of what you’re going to do with your life and that shop was part of it. It was going to help support my children. So to then lose that and then know that I can no longer pay the mortgage either, because having no income coming in, to then be threatened by the bank, then are they going to take the house off me? So where am I going to live?

 

00:32:38.11 Pauline Stonehouse:

So we instantly then applied to the local council to get re-homed. We got offered one place that was so awful but I felt like I had to take it initially because I didn’t have much of a choice. You know where you got exposed electric points in the door, you know, on your fuse boxes and all that, there was nothing there covering them up. The gas pipe was all visible as well. The landlord of there said, that’s the way it was going to have to be, they wouldn’t even try and cover it even with a small child. And I accepted the keys and I thought, fine. My husband, my former husband said, ‘Right accept the keys for this house, I’ll come and meet you there after work.’ He walked in the door and he went, ‘We’re not living her, over my dead body.’

 

00:33:28.02 Andy Coulson:

How were you coping with this sort of unravelling of every part of your life?

 

00:33:34.01 Pauline Stonehouse:

I don’t think I was. I think that’s when my insomnia really kicked in. I’m asthmatic, I’ve got eczema, everything seemed to flare up around that time. I just felt like my world was falling apart and I just didn’t know what else to do. My husband was lucky, he managed to get a job pretty quickly so we had some money coming in then. But obviously I had no income.

 

00:33:59.13 Andy Coulson:

How public was it by this stage? Was the extent of it known publicly?

 

00:34:05.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

No, I don’t think it was publicly known until the final day of court when I was actually photographed outside the court leaving.

 

00:34:12.23 Andy Coulson:

Right.

 

00:34:13.14 Pauline Stonehouse:

And it was on the front of the local Echo paper and another one as well, the Chronicle. It was on the front of there with me leaving the court. And obviously I didn’t say anything to the person photographing me as I left.

 

00:34:29.02 Andy Coulson:

So coping then but obviously Christopher’s an amazing bloke. You’ve got an amazing marriage to have withstood this, especially when as you say, one of the lines of attack, if you like, from the Post Office is this idea is that maybe he was doing something that you didn’t know which is unpleasantness, let’s put it mildly shall we? The other thing actually here, Pauline, that I just want to touch on quickly that the listener might not appreciate, I certainly didn’t until I was looking at this story, that the Post Office actually operates unlike most other organisations. That it actually has a criminal law division within it. And that criminal law division essentially operates kind of separate to the CPS process. So whereas you would normally have some degree of a kind of oversight from the Crown Prosecution Service, as I understand it, that is not the system that the Post Office operates. That it’s essentially its own policeman and it is also its own prosecution service.

 

00:35:37.08 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah. I didn’t know that.

 

00:35:37.11 Andy Coulson:

And that it’s able to pursue its employees through the courts with certainly with less oversight than you would expect in normal circumstances. And that’s why this point about the internal attitude that the Post Office decided to almost institutionally adopt is how you end with a scandal of this size, I suppose. But when you’re dealing with Post Office people through this process, this is before we get to the final court case, just give us a sense of the kind of pressure that they’re putting you under. The sort of tone of voice, the sort of attitude that they’re taking towards you, what do you remember about that?

 

00:36:23.10 Pauline Stonehouse:

I didn’t really have much communication with anybody apart from the initial first week I would say, where I was suspended and the auditors came in and I was told what the final thing was. Then there may have been a few conversations with ‘Oh we want you to come here for an interview’ and I don’t remember having any other interviews with any higher ups after that, or any conversations especially, apart from the investigation team on that last day where they said they were going to charge me with theft.

 

00:37:02.18 Andy Coulson:

And you were interviewed more than once by the investigation team? Or was it one set of interviews and then the next thing you know you’re charged and then the next day you’re in court.

 

00:37:11.22 Pauline Stonehouse:

It was one interview which lasted for hours, yeah.

 

00:37:14.22 Andy Coulson:

Yeah.

 

00:37:16.05 Pauline Stonehouse:

And then I was charged at the end of that interview.

 

00:37:18.24 Andy Coulson:

How do you feel about that aspect now when you look back on it? The sort of unwillingness to listen?

 

00:37:32.00 Pauline Stonehouse:

Hard done by I suppose, in the sense that they had this idea in their head that I was guilty of something and they weren’t willing to listen to anything else. They had their blinkers, they knew what they wanted out of it and they couldn’t see any other evidence to say anything differently. And as far as they were concerned the money had gone missing and that’s the way they went at me.

 

00:38:01.18 Andy Coulson:

Yeah.

 

00:38:03.08 Pauline Stonehouse:

So I think yeah, I think hard done by in a sense and feeling very got at, bullied almost, the way they went at me as well. It was the woman who interviewed me and I wouldn’t want to meet her again, or if I ever met her again I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions probably. I probably wouldn’t actually know her in the street, it’s funny how you block things out, don’t you? And it wasn’t until we were in Durham at the last weekend and we were outside the post office in Durham that my husband said to me, ‘This is where all this crap started’ and I went ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Well this is where you were interviewed, above here’ and I went ‘I was?’ And he went ‘Yes.’ I went ‘Oh, okay then.’ So I completely blocked…

 

00:38:47.02 Andy Coulson:

So you’d blocked it out.

 

00:38:48.17 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah I thought it was in Newcastle, I thought I’d been interviewed in Newcastle but no, apparently it was in Durham. But there’s a lot of things I think you choose to black out, don’t you? Because they are so stressful to you whatever choice do you have? Otherwise you keep on playing it around in your head and it never goes away does it?

 

00:39:07.20 Andy Coulson:

There’s a theory that you should revisit the scenes of your disasters that it’s all part of the hearing process, to sort of reclaim it, you know.

 

00:39:16.20 Pauline Stonehouse:

Reclaim it, yeah.

 

00:39:19.16 Andy Coulson:

Look, we touched on the importance of your family, obviously, you know, I’m sure you would say the main reason you were able to get through is because of their love and support. Your dad as well, I think, was also there for you throughout and was a huge supporter.

 

00:39:32.12 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, he came to many court hearings with me when he was here, yeah.

 

00:39:35.11 Andy Coulson:

A huge supporter, yeah, talk to me a little bit about him.

 

00:39:38.23 Pauline Stonehouse:

What a man. If I get tearful I apologise. If you wanted to choose anybody to be your father you would choose him. He was one of a kind. He was very special; he had an amazing sense of humour. He had an amazing ability to put you at ease. He could walk into a room and a room would stop and look at him. He was such an imposing figure; he was a big man in his prime and when he was healthy. Everybody thought he was a policeman because he had that presence about him. He would walk in and people would stop and look when he walked into a pub or into a room. And he had that personality about him. I think he’d been told when he was a child he was either going to be prime minister or he was going to be hanged for doing something wrong because he was that sort of personality. He could incite the crowd to mutiny do you know what I mean?

 

00:40:43.13 Andy Coulson:

He would it one way out or the other.

 

00:40:45.16 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, he would make his way in life, he would make his mark one way or the other. He didn’t commit murder, incite anything else and he didn’t become prime minister. But at our wedding day he actually stood in the pulpit in the lovely Gothic Union Chapel in Islington and said a little speech, read a thing out during the service. And he was in his element. He looked like he belonged there I think he should have been…

 

00:41:12.22 Andy Coulson:

What was his name and what did he do for a living Pauline?

 

00:41:16.04 Pauline Stonehouse:

His name was John Vernon Lewis and up until he retired he was a house manager, sort of like caretaker, of a building in London for the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation. That’s what he was then, when he retired. But he’d done many jobs through his life just to support his family from working for Adidas in the plastics factory in Swansea to being a security guard which he was terrible at when they were building the marina in Swansea, he probably slept through most of it, night time. And he was a little taxi driver for a while. And he was Air Force when he was a young man, he was ex-Air Force as well of which he was very proud, ex-services.

 

00:42:04.03 Andy Coulson:

And he was with you, as I understand it, every step of the way through this?

 

00:42:08.11 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, he was my biggest support and kept on telling me, ‘Come on chick, you’ll be alright, we’ll get through this together.’ Yeah, he was amazing, he was my biggest supporter and best person to have.

 

00:42:20.20 Andy Coulson:

He must have been so angry on your behalf?

 

00:42:25.10 Pauline Stonehouse:

Oh, very angry. I think if he could have got hold of anybody they would have regretted meeting my father. He was a placid man but if you got on the wrong side it wouldn’t have been a very nice sight.

 

00:42:37.07 Andy Coulson:

Yeah.

 

00:42:37.13 Pauline Stonehouse:

But yeah, he protected his children and he loved us all.

 

00:42:40.20 Andy Coulson:

We’re talking about him in the past tense here because, of course, you lost your dad.

 

00:42:46.20 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, eleven years ago.

 

00:42:49.23 Andy Coulson:

So where were you on this journey when you lost your father?

 

00:42:58.08 Pauline Stonehouse:

Oh, well, dad died in 2010 so yeah…

 

00:43:04.19 Andy Coulson:

So this is two years after your…

 

00:43:08.05 Pauline Stonehouse:

So at that point we were in the house I’m in now and he died not long after. So I’ve been in this house eleven years.

 

00:43:21.08 Andy Coulson:

So he’d seen you through the worst of it. He’d seen you kind of survive it but what he did not see, obviously, was the truth exposed.

 

00:43:40.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

00:43:41.05 Andy Coulson:

What he didn’t see was things even beginning to be put right.

 

00:43:45.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, I think he would have been the first one to encourage me to pursue this. To pursue the conviction being overturned. But I think he’d already passed away by the time I first heard about other postmasters going through the same thing. But he would have been the first person to push me towards it.

 

00:44:05.19 Andy Coulson:

It must be just so upsetting for you that you can’t…

 

00:44:10.22 Pauline Stonehouse:

I can’t share that with him.

 

00:44:12.03 Andy Coulson:

…that you couldn’t share that. You said earlier that the bankruptcy was as painful as the conviction. And they both carry, don’t they, other implications? Which is sometimes misunderstood about what comes with a conviction, is that it does impact your day to day life.

 

00:44:30.23 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah because it…

 

00:44:32.07 Andy Coulson:

It’s things like insurances, things like how the banks treat you. You know, when you’re filling out forms. The kind of administration of life changes doesn’t it?

 

00:44:40.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah you can’t apply for loans because there’s generally a chance you won’t get one. Bank accounts, we couldn’t get a bank account with most high street banks after that happened. So we were lucky that the Coop were really good. So we ended up with a basic bank account with them so we could do our direct debits and that with my husband’s new job. But yeah, it impacts a lot. So you can’t even go… if you wanted to get a hire purchase thing like a sofa or a car or things like that, that wasn’t going to happen. We ended up managing to put away a bit of cash, we had no car for a while and we ended up getting a little van so we had a bit of a car for weekends and that for doing shopping and things. Because we couldn’t have got a loan to get a car.

 

00:45:25.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

So yeah, big impact, you don’t realise it until you actually go through it, how much it affects it. And then obviously future job prospects for me with the conviction. Then if they want to go and do a further search for the DBS check then it’s going to show up. So that means that working in any sort of financial establishment or in a school or with children they’ll do an advance search and it’ll come up and I had to explain myself on a few occasions. Even just to do voluntary work in a school, they do a DBS check and it came up, and I had to sit there in a little interview and explain myself and say ‘Look I didn’t do anything wrong it was just false accounting. This is what happened, I’m not a bad person, I’m not going to abuse these children, I’m quite capable of reading to someone, helping them read. This has no impact on that.’

 

00:46:15.12 Andy Coulson:

And they gave you that job?

 

00:46:17.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, I did, I actually enjoyed it for about a year or so, until my mother’s health got bad then and then I had to stop to look after her.

 

00:46:26.03 Andy Coulson:

But you are then sort of on the outside looking in aren’t you? And you’re totally reliant on the sort of kindness of others when you find yourself in that situation.

 

00:46:37.04 Pauline Stonehouse:

You bump into ex-customers from the shop. You bump into them in the town or if I’m down the seafront for a walk with the dog. And they’ll say ‘Hello Pauline, how are you doing?’ I’m going, ‘Oh I’m alright’ and everything and they go, ‘Oh do you miss the place?’ And they’ll look across the road and I go, ‘Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to go through that again.’ You know and I haven’t bumped… I’ve only bumped into one person actually since the conviction’s been overturned and it was actually a member of staff who worked for me for a short period in the six months before we went bankrupt. And she said ‘It was a really strange time, wasn’t it? It didn’t make any sense.’ I said, ‘It didn’t’ and she goes, ‘…but I never realised…’ I don’t think she even realised the extent of what went on.

 

00:47:15.16 Andy Coulson:

Well none of you knew. I mean, there was some quiet journalism going on. A guy called Nick Wallace, a brilliant journalist who has been an absolute dog with a bone on this story. It’s remarkable isn’t it? I know we touched on it earlier but it really is just utterly remarkable that hundreds of these stories were playing out up and down the country, completely independently of themselves. And then I think it’s Alan Bates,  a man who’s at the centre of one of those stories who decides to take a legal action against the post office and the lid starts to come off, doesn’t it?

 

00:47:56.13 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah he was the catalyst.

 

00:47:57.17 Andy Coulson:

Do you remember when you first were told or read or heard that there was something afoot that could be connected to the situation that you went through?

 

00:48:14.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

I can’t remember the date but I remember reading something and it was about Alan Bates actually. It was, whether it was on Facebook or somewhere like that, it might have been. And it came up about justice for postmasters and I thought, oh so there’s a potential there. And I actually contacted him and said, ’So do you think I’m in the same situation?’ He said, ‘It sounds awfully like you are.’ And he said that he’d started this class action and there was a whole group of them. And initially I was going to join them and I was all set to join their group litigation thing and go from there. But even at that point, which was I think, about two or three years ago, I was ready to do it then but even at that point, ten years on, then from my conviction the thought of reliving it all and having to remember details and…

 

00:49:23.21 Andy Coulson:

Put it back at the centre of your life.

 

00:49:25.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

…yeah, the impact of it all, I couldn’t do it. And also whereas the difference between solicitors that are involved compared to the ones I’ve been using, Hudgells, who’ve been absolutely amazing and all they’ve ever asked for dates and a few little details but they found everything else out. So because they’re solicitors they can get court records, they can get this, they can get that. And the found out all the information, it’s just little bits that I’ve had to try and remember. But with the Alan Bates grouping I was literally sent reams and reams of paperwork and expected to remember the solicitors, phone numbers, the address, which barrister and really it’s everything. And I thought, this is ten years ago.

 

00:50:11.17 Andy Coulson:

And that would involve you reliving, right?

 

00:50:15.14 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, reliving and I didn’t want to do that.

 

00:50:16.12 Andy Coulson:

It would involve you taking that, having got through it, having moved forward, to then stepping back into it again. And it’s interesting, Pauline, you were very clear, at that stage at least, I can’t do that.

 

00:50:32.10 Pauline Stonehouse:

No, I can’t because literally I remember speaking to my father in law and my husband because they were the big champions of me going forward and pursuing it and getting it overturned and I said, ‘Look I just can’t do it. I really can’t. I don’t want to remember; I don’t want to relive it. I want to put it to the back of my brain, choose to forget. Choose to think that it never bloody happened and just get on with my life. I’d rather not.’ Even if it’s just for short period of time, why would I want to drag that all back up and get myself depressed again? Why would I want to do that?

 

00:51:06.16 Andy Coulson:

Yes.

 

00:51:07.01 Pauline Stonehouse:

So I chose not to and I pulled out. And I think at that time, now, obviously in hindsight now, it probably was a good idea that I pulled out. I regretted it for a few years thinking oh, perhaps I should have. But then once it started coming to the forefront again and more and more postmasters coming forward and more of being successful and my brother seeing it in the news, seeing some more going through and he phoned me and he said, ‘Pauline, you’ve got to do this now, you really have to do this now. You know, it’s been long enough, you need to get this overturned. Please do it.’ I’m going, ‘Yeah, I know Mark but… but…’ and I kept giving his all these buts and he’s like, ‘But no, you have to do it.’

 

00:51:51.04 Pauline Stonehouse:

And it was, I think it was that day or the day after I got a letter in the post from the Post Office basically saying, we think you have a case to have your conviction overturned part of the Horizon system. Here’s a list of solicitors, choose one and get back to us. And I did some research and found Hudgells as being one that’s already dealt with quite a few. Contacted them, passed the information on and it’s been really quick. I think that was in May and I think in June they got filed to court and obviously now, November it was overturned. So relatively short…

 

00:52:26.21 Andy Coulson:

That is the one positive in this story is that once that trigger had been pulled the process has actually been pretty swift.

 

00:52:35.16 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah, I think it might have been quicker if the court had been quicker. The court system obviously is so slow…

 

00:52:40.03 Andy Coulson:

Partly because of Covid as well, I’m sure.

 

00:52:42.12 Pauline Stonehouse:

And yes because of Covid as well.

 

00:52:43.20 Andy Coulson:

So it was really when you first talked to Alan Bates, I suppose, that you began to realise that you were part of a much bigger story. How did that feel, Pauline, when you discovered that there were, as we now know, around 800 of these cases that had been pursued incorrectly and one might argue, maliciously. How did that feel?

 

00:53:10.05 Pauline Stonehouse:

I was shocked more than anything else. Mainly because of the fact that there were so many of us and that they’d hidden it so well. And of how they could get away with it for so long.

 

00:53:29.17 Andy Coulson:

Was there a hint of relief?

 

00:53:33.13 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah because they, I think all of us have that in common in a sense of that we were all made out to be the only ones, especially the early ones, so to then find out that you weren’t the only one. Yeah. It’s definitely a relief that you’re part of a group. Somebody asked me question the other week and it was ‘…are you now in contact with other postmasters?’ ‘Err, no why would I?’ Do you know what I mean? Yes, it’s nice I’ve got a few following me now on Twitter and I wasn’t really a Twitter person until recently.

 

00:54:11.18 Andy Coulson:

Why have you chosen not to become part of that community, if you like? Again for you it feels like going back to it? And that’s not where you want to spend your time?

 

00:54:26.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

In a sense ultimately I haven’t been asked, in a sense. Do you know what I mean, I think none of us has…? I wasn’t aware of anybody making contact with others apart from the Alan Bates grouping. But at no point have I been contacted to say, look, I’ve been in a similar situation to you. So it’s only now because of the case that I’ve actually physically met one other person, Gregory, who was in court the same day as me, and his wife. And we now all follow each other on Twitter. But apart from that, no, I’ve had no other contact with anybody else. I think it would be a bit weird having a Facebook page. It’d be a big change, wouldn’t it? But I suppose you would have in common that you’ve all been in a similar thing. But apart from sitting there and crying with each other and sobbing over what a horrible life you’ve had, what else would you do?

 

00:55:32.08 Andy Coulson:

Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the things that strikes me Pauline, is that you’ve been through so much but you’re not… there’s no hint of pity here. You know, you got on and got on with your life.

 

00:55:47.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

You have to when you’ve got a young family you have to. In the end they’re my priority. They come first not me, they come first. And my husband comes a close third.

 

00:56:01.09 Andy Coulson:

He’d be delighted to hear that, I’m sure!

 

00:56:04.03 Pauline Stonehouse:

The children come along so you know, he knows he’s there, I love him, I couldn’t live without him. But the children, even the oldest one now being twenty-two she is a big priority of mine still. So she probably comes second now!

 

00:56:21.18 Andy Coulson:

They must be so pleased for you that this has ended. Or we’re not at the end are we, but is now heading absolutely in the right direction.

 

00:56:32.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

And when they were younger they didn’t know what was going on, did they? I think it was hard on Alison, especially, the oldest one. The fact that through losing the house we had to move, she had to change school and she didn’t understand why.

 

00:56:48.15 Andy Coulson:

It impacted her life.

 

00:56:49.09 Pauline Stonehouse:

It’s hard to explain to an eight year old why she’s got to lose her friends and no longer go to school with them. So that was hard for her but she soon settled into her new school but I think it did have an impact on her. I think she was always a good, relatively well-mannered child up until that point until that happened, I think the changing of schools did impact on her personality and her anxiety levels and…

 

00:57:17.21 Andy Coulson:

Would have shown itself, yeah. So we touched on pity. What about bitterness which is the other emotion that crisis can create. You know, there are a bunch of individuals that are at the centre of this story. You know the executives that were running the Post Office at the time, we know that there was actually an internal report a fairly significant, I think a number of significant internal reports that told the Post Office that they’d made this error and yet they chose to push those reports to one side and push on and push on as we know until relatively, quite recently. There’s Fujitsu who created the system in the first place. How do you feel about those individuals? How do you feel about the corporate body, if you like, that caused all of this to happen? Are you bitter?

 

00:58:09.07 Pauline Stonehouse:

Oh yes, definitely bitter because I don’t see what they’re… I can’t see what their end game was. What were they getting out of this apart from avoiding lawsuits at the time, I suppose? But yeah, I don’t get it. I don’t understand what their attitude was. I don’t understand why they did it. And I think somebody has to be held responsible for that.

 

00:58:36.21 Andy Coulson:

What do you want, Pauline? I mean, your conviction has been overturned, there’s a compensation process which I suspect will not be straightforward so I wish you…

 

00:58:45.20 Pauline Stonehouse:

No it won’t be straightforward.

 

00:58:47.05 Andy Coulson:

I wish you luck with that and that you get everything that you deserve. But beyond that what do you want? You obviously don’t feel that you’ve had the proper apology yet.

 

00:58:58.15 Pauline Stonehouse:

No I don’t think any of us have had the proper apology. I think we’re all in the same boat and somebody has to be held accountable for the decision making at the top obviously there’s been a few chairmen, hasn’t there, since it started. So who has made that decision? Is it a government decision that they’ve had to follow this line of prosecution because if it’s been a person then when that person left and the new one came in then surely things would have changed? But they’ve carried on doing the same thing.

 

00:59:35.01 Pauline Stonehouse:

So investigation obviously is happening, obviously the inquiry is happening with their suing. And I hope that he gets to the bottom of it and the he finds out who is ultimately responsible for making these decisions because ultimately it is a government owned organisation. So somebody has to be held accountable and I don’t think we’ll be lucky enough for anybody to get a conviction out of this. It’d be nice if somebody could get a conviction because ultimately they’ve destroyed lives haven’t they and somebody has to be held accountable for that.

 

01:00:11.00 Andy Coulson:

Yes.

 

01:00:12.02 Pauline Stonehouse:

So yeah, there’s a number of things I think we could all hope for. But I don’t know if we’ll ever get it even if it is one of the biggest scandals, I don’t think we’ll ever get, I don’t think we’ll ever get total satisfaction.

 

01:00:27.23 Andy Coulson:

Well I mean this in the nicest possible way, I hope you’re wrong. And certainly from a media point of view I think that this story is now beginning to kind of seep into the public consciousness. The journalist who I mentioned earlier has written a brilliant book. I suspect there’s going to be TV programme, films. In some ways it’s a very British scandal, this, to coin a phrase. Because it’s that sort of the way that people just kept to themselves and lived through their own individual nightmares, it’s a very British thing actually. It’s remarkable story. I want to mention one other thing, Pauline, before we move onto your crisis cures, which I’m going to ask you for in a second because it informs your cures, I suspect. But there has been something else going on in your life in the midst of this as well. You’re a breast cancer survivor.

 

01:01:20.11 Pauline Stonehouse:

Yeah.

 

01:01:21.21 Andy Coulson:

I’m delighted to see that you’ve come through your treatment and you’re out the other side. But that, another layer of resilience that you clearly have in you. Just give us the sort of Pauline sort of crisis programme. How have you coped with all of this?

 

01:01:45.18 Pauline Stonehouse:

I don’t take myself too seriously. And I don’t take life too seriously and my father was a prime example of that. My father was exactly the same way. So I think I am my father’s daughter. And he’d been through a lot in his life. He had PTSD and obviously then cancer himself and he carried on regardless. He carried on laughing, he carried on joking even when he was really poorly. And I think he taught me well. And I could hear him, I think at the start of my diagnosis. And I chose the fact that I wouldn’t have a certain cap on, so I would lose my hair. And my attitude was okay, I’ll lose my hair, I’ll save money on shampoo.

And you know, and yes I’ll lose my eyebrows but I can draw them back on again. And I’ll lose other bodily hair and I’ll save money on razors.

 

01:02:45.06 Pauline Stonehouse:

And that’s the way I sort of looked at it all the way through. And yes, I wasn’t well after six months of chemo, it’s not a very pleasant experience. And then to go on then to have then four surgeries with an infection and god knows what else got thrown at me. But I have actually laughed my way through it. No matter what I’ve… what I said to you previously about my children come first and my husband comes first, by me putting a front on, by me saying I am fine, then no one else has to worry about me. Regardless of how I feel inside, regardless of how sick I feel, if my head is banging or whatever all my children have to care about is the fact that I am fine. And that I look okay and that I can still drive her to school and I still go for a coffee with my oldest daughter and I still get the housework done. No matter what, life goes on. And that’s the way I looked at it. And there were some days that I wanted to go and crawl into my bed, pull the cover over my head and just say, bugger off the lot of you, but that would have been far too easy as far as I was concerned.

 

01:03:54.04 Pauline Stonehouse:

I got told off by a doctor doing process when I was feeling really, really unwell and I went to see the GP and he told me off for being too stoic. And I didn’t understand what stoic meant really until it was explained and I thought that’s what I am. But I think I’m just too pig-headed and too stubborn to give into the fact that I was poorly. He wanted me to accept the fact that I was ill, to accept that fact that I had cancer and to accept the fact that I was going to feel like that. But why should I have to? Why should I accept the fact that that was going to happen? Why should I have to crawl into bed and be pampered and be fawned over? Leave me be and let me get on with my life and I’ll be fine. And that’s the way I did it. And I did and I laughed and I joked and I did sill selfies with my youngest daughter and that is honestly helped me 100%.

 

01:04:56.08 Andy Coulson:

Pauline, thank you. Before we move onto your crisis cures then I should say that we’re actually talking on the day when I think that the final tick in the box, the final formalising of the process of your conviction being overturned, is being completed in a court hearing. And I just want to say to you today, congratulations on that. And for your unbelievable resilience that has come through very loudly and clearly on this podcast, I think. So Pauline, we would like to ask you for your three specific crisis cures. So these are three things, can’t be another person, three specific things that you have leant on, used, deployed during the course of your crisis. What’s the first one please?

 

01:05:49.18 Pauline Stonehouse:

Sense of humour.

 

01:05:50.10 Andy Coulson:

Yes.

 

01:05:51.15 Pauline Stonehouse:

Reading because it’s a form of escapism, I can escape into another world.

 

01:05:57.00 Andy Coulson:

And what do you read?

 

01:05:59.05 Pauline Stonehouse:

Anything and everything. I have my Kindle which I’m using now and I download books constantly with my Kindle account and I read anything and everything, whatever strikes my fancy. So it could be from love stories to thrillers to historical it doesn’t really matter as long as it floats me boat at the time.

 

01:06:25.21 Andy Coulson:

Very good, okay and the third one?

 

01:06:28.09 Pauline Stonehouse:

Jigsaw puzzles weirdly enough; I’ve been doing them for years. I love jigsaw puzzles I’ve been doing them for a long time even since before my oldest daughter was born. It was a way of occupying my evenings when my husband was doing opposite shifts to me and we were like ships in the night passing each other. So I would pass the time with a giant 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle on my dining room table. And it’s continued even when we had our first daughter and she would sit on my lap with a jigsaw and help me, or destroy the jigsaw puzzle and they’ve continued ever since.

 

01:07:02.21 Pauline Stonehouse:

And I don’t do them as often as I used to but I’ll go through a phase and I’ll get my jigsaw board out and I’ll spot one in a shop and go, oh I like that one and I’ll do it and maybe I’ll get bought one for a birthday. But that’s another form of escapism as well. You can just disappear into that, you can be methodical, find your edges, go through the box, it takes your mind off things and it is, it just occupies your mind a different way than having to sit there and worry about it and watch the news and worry about your life. You just escape.

 

01:07:31.00 Andy Coulson:

Very good. Pauline, thank you so much for your time today, we really appreciate it. It’s a breath taking story really and thank you for sharing your part in it. I’m so glad and I’m sure anyone listening to this will agree with me, I’m so glad that you’ve come through in the way that you have and it’s as I say, all power to your strength of character and your resilience. Thank you just for giving us a summary of just how you have managed to cope with this. Thank you so much for your time and have a lovely Christmas.

 

01:08:06.13 Pauline Stonehouse:

Thank you, you too as well.

 

[Music]

 

01:08:32.07 End of transcription