An experienced forecourt operator is among some 560 retailers taking legal action against Post Office Ltd (POL) over accusations of false accounting using the Horizon system.

As reported in this month’s Service Centre column in Forecourt Trader Phil Cowan is among the 500-plus claimants at the trial.

Phil, a very experienced forecourt operator, was a subpostmaster for just three years (his wife actually ran the PO) when he was told there was a deficit of £30,000 in the end-of-week balancing. The office was shut on the spot and he was asked one question: How soon can you repay it?

He asked if there could be a glitch in the Horizon system and was told if so, it would be the only sub post office in the country to have such a problem (tell that to the other 560, whom, during the first phase of the trial, the PO referred to as a tiny minority).

Phil’s wife was charged with false accounting. With no PO, the retail side dwindled and he sold up at a substantial loss. The PO took its £30,000 out of a small redundancy offer.

Phil’s wife Fiona, who suffered from on and off bouts of depression, died of an accidental overdose. She was only 47.

Phil said: “I can’t prove it but I know the whole POL episode played a significant role in her demise. She went to her grave with this criminal charge hanging over her.” POL had never told them that the charges had been  dropped. On top of that POL gave the suspension story to the local press and Phil lost his lucrative bridging contract with Shell UK.

He subsequently joined the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance which culminated in the group action last month.