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Postmasters accused of theft cleared at the Court of Appeal

View profile for Correna Platt
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Landmark legal ruling changes the way professional bodies deal with their members

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters (an average of one a week) based on information from a recently installed computer system called Horizon. After 20 years, campaigners have now won a legal battle to have their cases reconsidered, after claiming that the computer system was flawed.

Thirty nine former sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting due to the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting and stocktaking system have recently had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.

The Post Office relied on data from the Horizon system as evidence for the prosecutions. The Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable” which effectively steamrolled over any sub-postmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the Judge stated. The Post Office had a “clear duty to investigate” the IT systems defects.

The thirty nine former sub-postmasters submitted to the Court of Appeal that they had been denied a fair trial, and/or their prosecutions were an affront to the public conscience due to the Post Office’s extreme failures of investigation and disclosure.

The clearing of the names of the thirty nine sub-postmasters follows the overturning of six other convictions in December, meaning more people have been affected than in any other miscarriage of justice in the UK.

Chief Executive of the Post Office, Nick Read said: "The quashing of historical convictions is a vital milestone in fully and properly addressing the past as I work to put right these wrongs as swiftly as possible, and there must be compensation that reflects what has happened."

The convictions for false accounting and theft, financially ruined many innocent people. Some had described that they were shunned by their communities as a result. An overturned conviction and any value of money cannot adequately compensate those who have had their lives so profoundly impacted. Some were imprisoned, some have since died “having gone to their graves” with the convictions against their name, and “some took their own lives”, the Court of Appeal was told.

The Post Office settled the civil claim brought by more than 550 claimants for £57.75 million, without admitting liability, in December 2019.

Following the ruling, the former postmasters are now in a position where they could bring legal action for malicious prosecution, which may result in the Post Office paying significant amounts in compensation.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has tweeted: “I welcome the Court of Appeal's decision to overturn the convictions of 39 former sub-postmasters in the Horizon dispute, an appalling injustice which has had a devastating impact on these families for years.”

Responding to the judgment, Post Office chairman Tim Parker said: "The Post Office is extremely sorry for the impact on the lives of these postmasters and their families that was caused by historical failures."

What should I do if I have been wrongly convicted and need to appeal?

This scandal is a clear example of why the appeal system and having the right representation is vital. At Stephensons, we have a team who specialise in overturning convictions and reducing sentences having had a number of successful cases at the Court of Appeal. The team is headed by Correna Platt who is a senior Partner in the firm and has been qualified as a solicitor for over 25 years. If you have been convicted of an offence and wish to appeal your conviction or sentence, do not hesitate to contact the team on 0161 696 6188 or complete our online enquiry form.