39 Post Office workers have theft and fraud convictions quashed at appeal
DOZENS of former Post Office workers had their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting quashed by the court of appeal on Friday after one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
The decision to clear 39 subpostmasters led to immediate calls for a full public inquiry and for them, and the hundreds caught up in the scandal, to be properly compensated.
Some of the convicted workers were sent to prison, others lost their livelihoods and their homes. Many went bankrupt – and some died before their names were cleared.
According to The Guardian, the latest offer of compensation, for those who have been offered it, is less than £22,000 each after legal fees.
Two North Wales subpostmasters who were falsely convicted of stealing thousands from Post Office branches.
They broke down in tears when they learned that their convictions had been quashed.
Noel Thomas and Margery Lorraine Williams along with Damian Owen, the former manager of a sub post office in Bangor, Gwynedd, were among dozens of former subpostmasters who were convicted of offences.
After the long legal battle, all three finally had their names cleared.
Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the system’s defects.
But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable”, and “effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the judge added.
The Court of Appeal also allowed 39 of the appeals on the grounds that the prosecutions were an affront to the public conscience.
Lord Justice Holroyde said: “Post Office Limited’s failures of investigation and disclosure were so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court.”
Lawyers representing 42 former subpostmasters said evidence of serious defects in the Horizon system was “concealed from the courts, prosecutors and defence”, in order to protect the Post Office “at all costs”.
Their convictions were referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) last year following a landmark High Court case against the Post Office.
The Post Office conceded that 39 of the 42 former subpostmasters should have their convictions overturned on the basis that “they did not or could not have a fair trial”.
But it opposed 35 of those 39 cases on a second ground of appeal, which is that the prosecutions were “an affront to the public conscience”.
At the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday (Apr 23), 39 of the former subpostmasters – including three from North Wales – finally had their names cleared.
Announcing the court’s ruling, Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the system’s defects.
But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable” and “effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the judge added.
The Court of Appeal also allowed the appeals on the basis that the prosecutions were an affront to justice.
Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, said: “Post Office Limited’s failures of investigation and disclosure were so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court.”
Three of the former subpostmasters – Wendy Cousins, Stanley Fell and Neelam Hussain – had their appeals dismissed by the court as the reliability of Horizon data was not essential to the prosecution case
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.
“Post Office stopped prosecutions soon after its separation from Royal Mail a decade ago and has throughout this appeals process supported the overturning of the vast majority of convictions.
“We are contacting other postmasters and Post Office workers with criminal convictions from past private Post Office prosecutions that may be affected, to assist them to appeal should they wish. Post Office continues to reform its operations and culture to ensure such events can never happen again.
“The full ruling by the Court of Appeal judges published today is detailed, therefore Post Office will assess the Judgment carefully to understand what further action may be required.”
Post Office Chief Executive, Nick Read said: “I am in no doubt about the human cost of the Post Office’s past failures and the deep pain that has been caused to people affected.
“Many of those postmasters involved have been fighting for justice for a considerable length of time and sadly there are some who are not here to see the outcome., and whose families have taken forward appeals in their memory. I am very moved by their courage.
“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.
“In addition, since arriving at the Post Office 18 months ago, my focus has been on resetting the culture at the Post Office and forging a substantive partnership with our postmasters. We are determined that they must come first in everything we do because without them there is no Post Office. We must transform the Post Office so that it can continue to provide essential services in local communities across the UK.
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