A FORMER sub-postmistress turned to alcohol and contemplated taking her own life after being wrongly accused of siphoning customers’ cash in the Horizon-Post Office scandal.

Joy Taylor, 66, who served at Agnes Road Post Office from the late 1980s when she inherited the business from her father-in-law, has finally spoken out revealing how the allegations destroyed her life.

In 2001, auditors arrived at her work and falsely accused her of stealing funds from the branch.

She struggled from the same issues that caused more than 700 branch managers to be prosecuted between 1999 and 2015, when a fault with accounting software Horizon made it appear as if money was missing.

For 20 years Joy has been carrying the weight of these claims, however following recent media coverage with the new ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office which depicts the national scandal she decided it was finally time to speak up.

“It’s been horrendous,” she said. “I tried to come forward once before but lost my bottle. It was just like they portrayed in the drama – I was a local businessperson with respect and then suddenly I’d been made a criminal.

“I had this beautiful business and I know customers were thinking what had happened and it may be history now but I want the people of Barnsley to know.”

Her career was suddenly destroyed when at 43 years old she lost not only her livelihood but her home.

“I lived in the property. It was a big Post Office, we had four counters to handle all the customers we had.

“I began to notice these mistakes in the computer system. We were getting deficits of something like £2,000 a week.

“Then I started contacting everyone I could think of as I needed someone to give me a reason why this was happening. Instead, I got the blame.”

Auditors arrived at the Post Office multiple times, placing the blame on Joy who ended up being suspended twice.

The first came in the summer of 2001, then after being reinstated she was permanently suspended in December.

Criminal charges were raised, but eventually dropped, thanks to Joy’s refusal to give in.

“I’d hired solicitors and kept going as I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and was adamant about that.

“But it’s still an ongoing issue, I’ve never properly got any closure.

“It’s been established that we’re all not guilty but that’s taken 20-odd years – is it going to take another 20 before we get compensation?

“All their mistakes have been dressed up at the expense of good, decent people who worked their socks off.

“It’s not about the money, but justice – someone needs to be held accountable.”

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that the Post Office is now under criminal investigation over the scandal and more than one million people signed a petition to strip former chief Paula Vennels of her CBE, which she relinquished this week.

“When it was happening I thought about suicide, but I’m still here to tell the story,” Joy added.

“I went back to university and eventually got registered as a nurse.

“That wasn’t easy though, I became an alcoholic from all the stress. I’ve got control of it now, but it turned me to despair.

“I’ve had so many people criticise me. This is the year to make myself feel better.”

The Post Office which is wholly owned by the government acted as the prosecutor when it brought the cases against its workers and retains a role when those individuals appeal.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that those who were wrongfully convicted in England and Wales will be compensated and cleared of wrongdoing under a new law.

Downing Street is aiming to complete this process by the end of 2024, with those affected becoming eligible for a compensation payment of £600,000, which is already available to those who have had their names cleared through the courts.

The Scottish government have announced similar plans.

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis said: “The Horizon-Post Office scandal is one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history that has led to wrongful convictions for more than 700 people and impacted countless others, including some in our town.

“A number have tragically died before their convictions could be overturned and many others are still paying the price for the Post Office’s failings.

“Nothing can take away the distress this scandal has caused but for justice to begin to be served, the government must ensure all the remaining convictions are reviewed in one process.

“I will be working to support those affected by this scandal locally and the plan ministers have put forward must urgently put right these wrongs.”