A seriously-ill sub post master and her husband left terrified by a £10,000 Post Office robbery said yesterday they had been ordered to pay back more than half of the stolen cash themselves.

Disabled Lesley Pearsall, who has worked for the company for 37 years, was sent a letter by officials asking her to pay back £6,000 by today.

The couple who run the Cheswick Green Post Office, near Shirley, Solihull, were left stunned after receiving the message following the raid late last September.

Mrs Pearsall, aged 61, said a pair of masked crooks armed with sledgehammers smashed their way into the Post Office section of the convenience store and made off with around £10,000 during the midday raid.

The terrified sub post master, her husband Trevor, 60, and his sister June Lycett, 81, were forced to barricade themselves in a back room until police arrived. Although a man was jailed for seven years for the robbery, none of the cash was ever recovered and Mrs Pearsall said the Post Office originally told her she was culpable for the loss.

The disabled mother-of-three, who is seriously ill with Crohn's Disease and has to have constant treatment, said: "It's absolutely disgusting.

"I'm devastated, I have worked for the Post Office since 1970 and we have been at this branch for 19 years.

"I haven't got £6,000 to pay them - I haven't even got 6,000 pence.

"We can't even afford to go on holiday any more. We are living on the breadline at the moment.

"If we had £6,000 it would be money spent on helping me with my illness from day-to-day."

Mr Pearsall, who is the office manager, said the Post Office had sent a letter telling them they should have taken more care of the money.

He said they were told there had been excess cash held on the counter at the time and that two giro deposits should have been in the safe.

He said: "On December 29 we got a letter saying that they had looked at all the mitigating circumstances and we were responsible for £6,000 - we were told we had to pay it by January 7 or appeal.

"I really don't know how they expected us to raise that kind of money. We have appealed against the decision.

"I feel totally betrayed. Things do go wrong but I feel we are not allowed to make one mistake."

Son Steve Pearsall, 31, claimed the stress of worrying about what would happen had made his parents ill.

He said: "The stress of it all has been horrendous for both of them.

"I shouldn't have to listen to my mum cry herself to sleep at night - she has been having a lot of pain from her condition because it's made worse by stress.

"It's got to the point when I dread hearing my phone going in case it's more bad news."

A spokesman for the Post Office said Mrs Pearsall had been invited to appeal against the company's initial view of security arrangements at the branch, but was waiting to hear whether the opportunity would be taken.

He said: "We are continuing to talk to the subpostmaster about the circumstances of what was clearly a very distressing incident and have not yet made a final decision."