A former Co Derry postmaster has described the “soul destroying” toll the UK’s Post Office scandal took on him and his family.

Lee Williamson, 48, ran the sub-office in Portstewart from 2003 to 2012.

He said the computer system showed daily discrepancies in his business accounts ranging from £30 up to £1,000 and the books never balanced.

Eventually he was audited and the process identified a £17,000 shortfall.

He was suspended and taken to court charged with theft and other accounting offences.

Fearing for his young family he pleaded guilty and got an 18-month suspended sentence.

“I’d never been in trouble before and I regretfully took the decision to plead guilty, to move on, draw a line under the whole thing and move forward,” Mr Williamson said.

“Anyone who does take on the role of a sub-postmaster does it because they want to serve and be respected in that community.

“When you’re faced with having to plead guilty, it’s soul destroying. It has the devastating affect of the impact it will have on your whole family.

“As a parent you try to gain the respect and be there for your family and it takes away all self-esteem and self-worth.”

The ordeal took a terrible toll on him and now he is fighting to have his conviction overturned.

A computer bug in the company’s accounting system has now been blamed for discrepancies in thousands of small post offices.

Some 736 people, including Mr Williamson, were convicted of theft and fraud charges.

Several thousand others were pursued for cash shortfalls and forced to pay back money they did not owe – often amounts in the tens of thousands of pounds.

Mr Williamson used cash from his stationery shop to make up the money.

He ploughed about £7,000 of his own money in and also had to sell a property to clear a mortgage he had used to buy the post office franchise.

A public inquiry is now investigating the circumstances of the scandal.

The UK government has announced legislation will be introduced to overturn the remaining wrongful convictions and thousands of sub-postmasters affected are due to be compensated.

RTÉ News