Noel Thomas, 75, spent his 60th birthday in prison after he was wrongly accused of stealing from his Post Office branch – despite dedicating 42 years to the business
Image: Sian Thomas)
A grandfather who dedicated his life to the Post Office says he started his career in ‘paradise’ and finished it in hell after he was wrongly jailed in a national accounting scandal.
Noel Thomas, 75, from Anglesey, North Wales started his career as a postman at just 17 working in the village of Paradwys, Welsh for ‘paradise’.
But in 2006 after dedicating more than four decades of his life to the Post Office and working his way up to postmaster, he was charged with false accounting and sentenced to nine months in prison.
He was one of hundreds of postmasters wrongly accused of falsifying the numbers and siphoning money from their branch after a new and inaccurate paperless accounting system was introduced in the early 2000s.
This week, a public inquiry into the scandal continued, with the widow of one victim calling for “consequences” to be upheld against the people responsible.
Noel told The Mirror: “I started in paradise and ended up in hell.
“For the first three years after getting out of prison I was on my ass, I had lost everything.
“I was a county councilor and a postmaster, earning around £45,000 a year between the two.
“It was a real fall from grace. They made me bankrupt and I had nothing.
“When I came home I didn’t like having the bedroom door shut.
“I have to get out and go for walks as much as possible
“Even now I don’t like being shut up in the house or to be in one room too long.”
In October 2005, after the post office claimed there was around a £4,000 dispute in Noel’s calculations versus their own he was threatened with jail and charged with theft.
Innocent Noel voluntarily went to the police station and accepted a plea bargain – pleading guilty to the lesser charge in the hope he may avoid jail.
But the plan backfired and he was sentenced to nine months in an open jail, HMP Altcourse in Liverpool Merseyside.
In the end, he only served 14 weeks of that sentence but was wrongly sent to HMP Walton where he claims he was locked up for 24 hours a day for more than a week straight.
In February the Post Office launched a public inquiry into the introduction of the paperless system known as Horizon, which ruined the lives of dozens of postmasters, many of whom were jailed or left bankrupt.
Others took their own lives or died before they saw their names cleared.
Noel said: “Horizon was a beast, it was uncontrollable and the people behind it had no control, so they decided to defend it.”
Fortunately for Noel, throughout this agonizing process his family’s faith in him has never faltered, and they have supported him every step of the way.
Last year dozens of postmasters marked a major success when the Court of Appeal finally cleared their names or any wrongdoing in April 2021.
But the toll of their experience still haunts them today and Noel’s family hope that this latest inquiry will help him win back what he lost financially – after he was stripped of his pension, despite working for the Post Office for 42 years.
As the inquiry continued this week, Marion Holmes, widow of former Newcastle postmaster, Peter Holmes, said there should be consequences for the Post Office bosses.
But Noel’s daughter, Sian, 50 said she doesn’t want to see anyone else thrown in jail or treated the way her father was – they just want what he is rightly owed.
She said: “I still have nightmares about the day he was taken away.
“I remember standing outside Caernarfon Crown Court holding his coat and his wallet and crying because it felt like he had died, not just gone to prison.
“I’ve put my life on hold for 16 years while I have been a secretary for him helping him fight this.
“They had to move in with me because they lost the house, we lived hand to mouth because we were surviving on just my income and my mother’s pension.
“He’s not a greedy man, he doesn’t want anything more than what he is owed.”
The public inquiry aims to conclude later this year, by which time more than 60 postmasters are expected to have given evidence.
Many hope that following its conclusion, someone will finally be held to account for the scandal.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.