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TUESDAY 27  FEBRUARY 2024

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Bosses lied to village PO star Linda and now she’s thousands out of pocket

FAREWELL: Linda Dance, right, says goodbye to Tatsfield villagers soon after her retirement in 2017

Two weeks ago I wrote with some passion about the importance of the post office to small communities. I cited as a prime example, Linda Dance, the sub postmaster in the village post office-cum-shop in Tatsfield where I lived for 35 years and where my children grew up.


The lovely Linda was known by almost every one of the 1,500 people in Tatsfield because she dispensed their pensions and child allowances, taxed their cars, cashed their cheques and managed their PO savings accounts. She also sold them groceries, sweets and ice cream. And when little old ladies with arthritis couldn’t open lids on jars, they came to her and she duly obliged.


I said that if she had been prosecuted by the villains running Post Office Ltd the village would have risen up as one, just as they did in South Warnborough where the indefatigable Jo Hamilton was postmaster (it was Tatsfield that doubled as her village in the brilliant Mr Bates vs the Post Office.)


Well, two days ago Linda Dance rang me, having seen my column in the Drone reproduced in Tatsfield’s parish magazine. And in many ways her story is as awful and disturbing as the others we know about through the series. To explain:


Linda ran the post office and shop from 2001-2017. When she took over she was given two or three days cursory training on the wretched Horizon system and almost from the off she had problems. She told me: ‘At first I thought it must have been me not really grasping the system. So I would put in my own money to balance the books like so many have done.


‘This happened on a regular basis, sometimes it was just a few bob but then it was £1,800. I wrote out a cheque to the Post Office and the books balanced. I was lucky in that I had the income from the shop to fall back on but for many weeks I was working for nothing or less than nothing’


So who did she tell? Nobody outside her family, she kept it to herself through embarrassment and a natural desire for privacy. ’Then one morning four auditors arrived first thing — no warning — and went through my books. The previous evening my takings tallied perfectly, a nil balance. Twelve hours later with the auditors beside me, it was showing a deficit of £5,000 and I had to write another cheque. And because I always made good the apparent losses I was never prosecuted.’


Linda is now 71, a widow, and lives on the south coast. She hasn’t joined any of the groups seeking justice for the sub postmasters and has tried to put her experience as a postmaster out of her mind. ‘But that’s been impossible with the TV series. I try not to think about it but you can’t watch television, listen to the radio or pick up a paper without it all flooding back.


 ‘And now the truth is finally coming out, that both the Post Office and Fujitsu lied from the very start. They seemed quite happy to see people jailed, their lives ruined, even suicides. What kind of people are they?’


But is Linda unique in not wanting to pursue the justice she so richly deserves? Her case has echoes of that of 91-year-old Betty Brown in Co Durham who lost £100,000 but stayed silent until now. How many others are there, those who paid in their own money to balance the books through the need not to be exposed to what their communities might have thought? My guess is there are many hundreds who have not joined the various groups. But like Linda they all deserve compensation and peace of mind at long last.


As a measure of her standing in Tatsfield, when Linda finally left seven years ago her legion of friends and admirers hired the village hall to give her the send-off she had earned over the years from being the fulcrum of the community and a thoroughly decent woman.


Compare and contrast if you would with the likes of the ‘nearly bishop’ Paula Vennells and the sour-faced Angela Van Den Bogerd. Hopefully soon to be facing justice themselves. They would make ideal cell mates...

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 Lord Beaverbrook must be spinning in his grave at the state of his Daily Express, once arguably the greatest newspaper in the world. I can see no future for it under the dead hand of the Reach mismanagement. For decades the two dominant popular papers were the Express and the Mirror. Both now doomed. Well done Jim Mullen and his fellow (no doubt well paid) wreckers.


But the Beaver is probably equally vexed about the current state of the British Army. In the inevitable run-up to the Second World War he warned loudly about our inferiority of numbers against Germany and the lack of armaments.


The same was true of our fighter planes and we have him to thank that we won the Battle of Britain when, as Minister of Aircraft Supply, he doubled the number of Spitfires and Hurricanes in six months, just in time for victory in the English skies. I shall be returning to this at a later date because the relationship between Churchill and Beaverbrook is the subject of my next book. Make no mistake, we all owe the Beaver our freedom.


But it’s another distinguished peer now warning about the fragile health of our forces, Lord Dannatt. I’ve known Richard Dannatt and his family since he gave up the post of Chief of the General Staff in 2009. When he took over the role in 2006 he had under him 102,000 men. It’s now 74,000 and falling every day and we have rarely lived in more dangerous times.


Our so-called defence secretary, Grant Shapps, says we are no longer living in post-war times, it’s now a pre-war era. And yet he appears to be doing nothing about getting numbers up by lobbying Sunak to spend three per cent on defence, as Dannatt calls for. Numbers in the Navy are so bad that we may have to decommission two warships and mothball two amphibious landing vessels.


Not wishing to give Dannatt yet another job, I do wish this and the next government would listen to the experts. Defence of the realm at a time of Putin, that little creep in North Korea and the mad mullahs in Iran is not safe when left to some here-today-gone-tomorrow politician, as Robin Day so memorably said of poor John Nott. We need someone who knows what they are talking about.

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This great organ makes regular fun of Daily Mail subbing. I’m sad to report that The Times has now been stricken as the sub-head on this feeble story about Harry shows. It was later corrected but not before I captured it thus:

 

ALAN FRAME


21 January 2024