Christopher Head was one of the youngest postmasters in the country when he took over the West Boldon Post Office in 2006, aged 18.
In December 2019, he was among hundreds of sub-postmasters who finally won their case against the Post Office in a £58million settlement over the faulty Horizon IT system.
Over the last two decades many like him had been accused of fraud and theft, some losing their homes, going to prison and even taking their own life.
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Christopher, of Avondale Gardens, West Boldon, says he had reported problems with the till system numerous times but was repeatedly told nothing was wrong.
Despite only experiencing minor losses for the first seven years, in September 2014 the till was around £40,000 down. By November the shortfall had reached £88,098.
From February 2015 Christopher was questioned three times by the Post Office and his home was searched.
After five months the case was dropped, but bosses still insisted he pay the outstanding £88,098.
Soon after he joined hundreds of others wrongly accused in the campaign group Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance.
Christopher refused to pay back what he didn’t owe, but estimates losing £100,000 in shortfalls the business was making, lack of earnings, and eventually selling-up at a loss.
He was unable to work in finance or retail again and is still paying off debts today.
“I felt so responsible for the area, I didn’t want people to lose their local shop. I had to keep it open, people had trust in me,” said the 32-year-old.
“You can accept it if you have made a mistake, but you don’t expect to be held liable for something out of your control.”
Christopher said it has had a massive impact on his mental health – but he sees himself as one of the lucky ones.
“Some people have committed suicide, one woman had her baby in prison.
“There’s always somebody worse off, you just have to keep your head up and keep pushing forward,” he said.
Now Christopher has launched a petition for a judicial enquiry into the scandal, to ensure those responsible are held to account.
It has almost 4,000 signatures and the support of more than 100 MPs, including Jarrow MP Kate Osborne who will join Christopher in Downing Street to hand it in before March 16.
In a statement following the settlement in December, the Post Office apologised and said it would be undertaking an “ambitious and sustained programme of changes” to its relationship with postmasters.
New CEO Nick Read, who took over in September 2019, said he would take on board “some important lessons” from the case.
A Post Office spokesperson said: “Following successful mediation last year, a settlement was agreed between the Post Office and the claimants to bring the Group Litigation proceedings to a close. We have sincerely apologised to those affected by our past shortcomings.”