A FORMER sub-postmaster was in tears of happiness after a 'victory' in an ongoing High Court battle against the Post Office.

Jo Hamilton, from South Warnborough, was one of hundreds of sub-postmasters accused of fraud and theft by the Post Office and eventually prosecuted for false accounting earlier this decade.

The sub-postmasters blamed a computer system called Horizon and a lack of support from the Post Office for any financial discrepancies, which the institution disputes, saying the software worked adequately.

In ruling on Friday, 15 March, Mr Justice Fraser determined a number of issues about the legal relationship between the sub-postmasters and the Post Office, resolving most of them in favour of the sub-postmasters.

Represented by six lead claimants, the ex-sub-postmasters allege the Horizon system introduced between 1999 and 2000 contained a large number of software issues which they say caused shortfalls in their accounts.

In Mrs Hamilton's instance, speaking to RN & Retail Express, she said: "I first noticed problems in 2003 when my till system was showing there was £2,000 missing. I contacted the Post Office support who advised me on how to resolve the issue. I followed their instructions, but the discrepancy ended up doubling to £4,000.

"I panicked and altered the figures in the system. This eventually led to a missing amount of £36,000.

"I was officially summoned in 2006 and entered a plea bargain with the Post Office. I pleaded guilty to false accounting in 2008 because I was afraid of going to jail.

"I had to remortgage my house to pay back the missing money. My mum and dad also helped me with the funding as well. I have a criminal record now, I was sacked from the Post Office and I’m now working as a cleaner."

On the ruling earlier this month, Mrs Hamilton said: "It’s a victory for sub-postmasters and it will help the judges ensure if the Post Office’s relationship is unfair."

The judgement is the first of four trials currently scheduled in the litigation with the second trial, relating to the Horizon computer system, now underway.

Post Office chairman Tim Parker said: “We take this judgment and its criticisms of Post Office very seriously.

“While the culture and practices of the business have improved in many ways over the years, the judge’s comments are a forceful reminder to us that we must always continue to do better. We have taken his criticisms on board and will take action throughout our organisation.

“Our postmasters are the backbone of our business, and our first priority will be to consider the points raised about the management of our contractual relationships and how we could improve them.

“We will make sure that problems brought to our attention by postmasters are investigated even more quickly and transparently.

“In addition, we will further improve communications with postmasters, as well as the training and support they receive.

“We note that the judgment highlights the ways our Network Transformation Programme improved procedures for incoming postmasters since 2011. The vast majority of those running post offices do so without problems and we can reassure the millions of customers who use our services every week that this judgment, focusing as it does on the interpretation of contracts with postmasters, will not affect their ability to do so.

“Post Office will continue to defend the overall litigation, which has been underway since April 2016 and is scheduled to continue through four trials until at least March 2020.

“This judgment from the first trial is long and detailed and we will take time to consider it fully.

“There are, however, areas around the interpretation of our contracts where the judge’s conclusions differ from what we expected from a legal standpoint and we are therefore seriously considering an appeal on certain legal interpretations.”