As a postmaster, Dave Farry made a comfortable living in his hometown of Ferryhill and was a key part of a close-knit community.

He had his regular customers, kept meticulous books and built his business up to offer more services such as holidays and foreign currency.

However, the introduction of the now-discredited Horizon accounting software was to ruin his business and tarnish his reputation.

Like hundreds of others across the country, unexplained losses were found in the electronic ledgers and the 61-year-old found himself the subject of suspicion.

Mr Farry said: “We had people queuing up every Monday without fail but then you would see them later in the café in town.

“The Post Office used to be a focal point for the community and it was a hive of activity.”

The Northern Echo: Dave Farry outside his former Post Office in Ferryhill Dave Farry outside his former Post Office in Ferryhill (Image: Contributor)

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Mr Farry and his then wife ran five Post Offices between 2000 and 2012 with branches in Ferryhill, Kirk Merrington and Middlestone Moor.

He said problems arose within weeks of the Horizon software being installed.

He said: “When you get into the computer side of it with Horizon the training you got was limited. You had someone sit with you for the first few days.

“After a couple of weeks, we had our first loss of £1,300. We had a union rep from Wolsingham sitting with us until 4am going through every single transaction.

“Because you were new to it you thought you must have done something wrong.

“But it was impossible to think how a mistake for that amount would result from a transaction.

“Of course, we had not done anything wrong. It was just glitches in the system. It was just crazy.”

Mr Farry said the Post Office found a shortfall of £13,000 in his accounts but after taking legal advice he refused to sign the accounts, thereby denying the missing money was his responsibility.

He also tried to raise the issue with his local MP, who at the time was Tony Blair, the man also tasked with running the country.

Mr Farry said: “He was not just my MP, he also my Prime Minister.

“He categorically denied there was anything wrong with the Horizon system.

“I was told they had already looked into it, so of course you think ‘Well if they have looked into it...’

When Mr Farry refused to sign for his account his contracts were terminated and although he was not charged or prosecuted in a criminal court a charge was put on his house in the civil court for £13,000.

Around the county over 900 innocent postmasters faced criminal action for false accounting and theft.

Some were jailed and some took their own lives, reputations lay in tatters, but over the years a quiet quest for justice grew stronger and stronger.

The Northern Echo: Alan Bates, former sub-postmaster and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance Alan Bates, former sub-postmaster and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (Image: Lucy North/PA Wire)

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Led by Alan Bates, Mr Farry became one of 555 postmasters who took the Post Office to court in 2019 winning a £43 million settlement plus legal costs, although much of it was swallowed up by the associated costs of funding their case.

The court ruling quashed the charge on his house but in no way made up for the money he has lost as a result of the scandal.

Mr Farry, who now works as a kitchen and bathroom designer for Homebase and sits on Ferryhill Town Council, said: “Before all of this life was very good for me.

“The property and businesses alone, if we sold them as a going concern, would have been worth in excess of £500,000.

“Then you have got your ongoing salaries.

“We had brought property as an investment and a big static caravan.

“If you calculated it all and times it by a lifetime salary it is going to be way, way over a million quid.

“It is what it is.”

Earlier this month the government introduced legislation which is expected to clear the majority of those convicted in England and Wales by the end of July.

People wrongly prosecuted will have the option to settle for £600,000, without the need to bring a formal claim and others who have already settled will have their compensation topped up.

Mr Farry, who has so far received around £14,000 in compensation, believes he will get more but said no amount could make up for the true cost of losing a successful business in the prime of life.

He said it would be nice not to worry about bills in his old age and to be able to put something aside to help his two grown-up children with their lives.

He said the Horizon scandal has not just cost people their livelihoods but the widespread closure of independent Post Offices has also robbed people across the country of a valuable local resource.

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Mr Farry said: “The Post Office is finished in this country.

“It was a major player in the financial sector but there was also the community aspect of it. People who ran them looked out for their customers.

“All of the community cohesion has gone and has never been replaced.”