Special report by Daniela Hernandez.

A FORMER post office manager who says she was wrongly forced to 'pay back' £57,000 that went missing has spoken about the 'nightmare' experience that destroyed her life.

Kashmir Gill, 62, has spoken out after the Post Office this month agreed to pay £57 million to 550 ex-workers who were similar accused of making money go missing.

Mrs Gill, who was convicted in 2009 of hiding £57,000 from the post office she managed on Cowley Road, Oxford, described the situation as a 'nightmare'.

She said: “My family was broken; we are never going to recover from this.”

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She now lives in Bicester with her husband Gurnan and their two children.

Her son Bal Gill, who also worked at the Cowley Road branch, went through a similar situation and said he suffered a mental breakdown as a result.

The nightmare began more than 10 years ago when they started noticing problems with the balance, but her life was turned upside down when she was accused of misplacing £57,000.

Oxford Mail:

She was first interviewed by the auditors in the branch where she worked and was asked whether she had taken the money, but she denied it.

However, she said she then agreed to let staff from the company search her house for evidence of the missing money.

She said: “I told them they could take my house or anything they wanted.

”I was devastated as they also said we were the only case.”

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In the end, Mrs Gill and her family felt helpless against the accusations and decided to pay the £57,000 to the company - money she and her husband had been saving for their retirement.

They hoped that the Post Office would not proceed with any charges.

Mrs Gill said her fear of her reputation being destroyed was more important than anything else at that moment.

Her son said: “She was one of the top-performing workers in Oxford and was given an award. We didn’t want to lose that respect.”

Mrs Gill also said her job had meant everything to her. As a first-generation immigrant from a small village in India, she said: “I wasn’t educated, and I was really happy because this was a job that I could handle.

“My family was so proud of my job and achievements.”

Oxford Mail:

However, regardless of Mrs Gill paying £57,000, the Post Office still pressed charges.

In early 2010, she appeared at Oxford Crown Court where she admitted two counts of false accounting between April and June 2009.

She was fined £485 and ordered to pay a £15 victims’ surcharge and £1,500 court costs – on top of the £57,000 she had already paid the Post Office.

Struggling to find a new job because of her criminal record, she spent the next five years pot washing in the back of an Indian takeaway.

She said: “I cried in court every time. I didn’t want to live anymore.”

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However, Mrs Gill was not alone in her experience: as long ago as the early 2000s, postmasters and postmistresses from across the UK had been accused of false accounting and were prosecuted and imprisoned.

Hundreds more pleaded guilty to lesser charges to end further action.

Last year a group of 550 postmasters and postmistresses – including Mrs Gill – launched a civil action against the Post Office over its use of Horizon accounting software, which is still being used in 11,500 Post Office branches in the UK.

As the case proceeded, however, the Post Office started out-of-court ‘mediation’ talks with its former employees and, on December 11, finally announced it had reached a settlement and would pay a total of £57,750,000 to the 550 claimants.

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When Mrs Gill and her family heard about this, she was still shocked and could not believe that after almost 10 years the situation was finally coming to some kind of end.

The Post Office apologised in a statement by saying: “The Post Office would like to express its gratitude to claimants, and particularly those who attended the mediation in-person to share their experiences with us, for holding us to account in circumstances where, in the past, we have fallen short and we apologise to those affected.”

Freelance journalist Nick Wallis, who has been reporting on the case since 2010, pointed out that after taking away additional costs and fees, this might seem like a small compensation for the litigants.

He said: “A good chunk of cash, but when you divide it by the 552 claimants sub postmasters you get an average of £47,101 each.”

In a second victory for the claimants, on Monday High Court judge Mr Justice Fraser handed down an official judgement that the Horizon IT system was not ‘remotely robust’ and even when improved it had a significant number of bugs.

Oxford Mail:

The judge said he ‘had grave concerns about the evidence of the Fujitsu employees and would be supplying a dossier to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further investigation’.

James Hartley, partner at Freeths law firm which represented the claimants, said on Monday: “They have finally been proved to have been right all along when they have said that the Horizon system was a possible cause of shortfalls in their branch accounts. These Claimants can now walk with their heads held high after all these years.”

Mrs Gill still has not yet got back any of the £57,000 that she paid the Post Office back in 2009, and still does not know how much compensation she might get.

She also still has her conviction for false accounting, however there is hope there too: hers is one of more than 30 criminal convictions of postmasters now being looked at by The Criminal Cases Review Commission.

She said: “We don’t know how everything is going to work out, but I’d like to thank the judge and group of action involved. They were behind us all the time.

“I’m 62 years old and because of this situation we still have to work, I would like to have time to rest and to make it up for the time we lost. Hopefully, nobody suffers all we had to suffer, that is all I can say.

“At least there is justice and we are grateful for what we have.”