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Admissions of liability mean little in the delivery services if the customer has failed to take out any insurance.

That’s the harsh lesson of months of struggle between Innes Harrison of Atlantic Lights in Shawbost and various companies involved in mail and package deliveries who dealt with one of his shipments to the mainland.

The claim arose because of the loss of a shipment of Atlantic Lights products from the back of a Royal Mail van before it even reached the next village.

Innes had worked for around four days getting the order - worth more than £600 at trade prices - ready at his candle and diffuser business based in part of Ionad na Seann Sgoil, the former Shawbost school building.

The three big boxes went out of the door to the Royal Mail van just after 11am on Thursday August 19 to fulfil an order from a customer in Grangemouth.

Just after 2am that same day, Innes was telephoned by the Royal Mail depot in Stornoway to say that two of the three boxes had fallen out of the van between Shawbost and Dalbeg – and although the driver had gone back down the road to find them, and some other items, those boxes had not been recovered.  A further unsuccessful search was also made later that same day.  No trace of the boxes has ever been found.

Considering the boxes were lost within a few miles and a few minutes of being picked up, Innes expected it would be straightforward when he filled in a claim form which the local Royal Mail office gave him that day.

However, Royal Mail was acting as courier for Parcelforce…and Innes had booked the delivery through a third company called Parcels2Go.

And what Royal Mail failed to make clear was that they could not be found liable for any financial loss because Innes had decided not to insure the package – and he had not booked the delivery through them.

And for weeks no one explained what the situation was – or indeed replied to the claim which he had been offered the chance to make.

At the end of September, Innes wrote to the local Royal Mail office: “So It seems as though it is not of any interest to anyone to get this fixed.  I am baffled as to why I had to do all the paperwork, approach parcels2go, update yourselves with an insurance claim and wait on parcels2go to tell me every 7 days that they are still pursuing the matter.

“How long does it take to admit human error and allow me to get compensated on the fact that the parcels are not lost in transit, rather they were lost a couple of miles from being picked up with human error being the cause. Two from three never reached the sorting office in Stornoway.

“One month and nine days, I have not had any response from either Parcel Force or Royal Mail.”

However, once answers started to come, the message was negative.

The conclusive words from a Royal Mail representative were: “There is no dispute in that these losses have occurred due to a mistake of a Royal Mail employee.”

However, “I can advise that as no postage has been purchased through ourselves, we do not hold any type of insurance for your items and therefore I am unable to offer any compensation. That being said, in recognition of the manner in which these items were lost, I would like to offer a goodwill gesture in the amount of £50.” 

Had the shipment been booked through Royal Mail, the standard compensation, with no additional insurance cover being purchased, would have been a maximum of £100.

Parcels2Go refunded the £28.47 cost of the postage.  Parcelforce ruled themselves out of the tangle as Parcels2Go was the third-party service used for the booking. 

Innes said: “Unfortunately I decided not to take insurance cover thinking that paying for the delivery service should suffice.  Otherwise for a small business it becomes even more costly with extra insurance.”

Innes also called on the help of local MP Angus Brendan MacNeil.  But the Royal Mail’s reply to the MP made it clear that the only further step that could be made would be to make a complaint to the Postal Review Panel.  However, that would only look at how Royal Mail had dealt with the complaint.