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Post Office won’t block appeals of wrongful Horizon scandal convictions

Written by on 2 October 2020

The Post Office has said it will not oppose attempts to overturn the convictions of 33 sub-postmasters wrongly accused of theft and fraud because of an IT error.

The former sub-postmasters’ convictions, which were based on evidence provided by a faulty IT system, were “unsafe”, the Post Office said today.

It has now confirmed it will not block the 33 cases being sent to the Court of Appeal, which means all convictions will be quashed.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting after the Horizon IT system was introduced to Post Office branches in 1999.

It incorrectly showed cash shortfalls, which resulted in many of the postmasters involved being sacked or even put in prison.

The scandal over the Horizon system has spanned a decade, costing millions of pounds in countless court cases.

It was not until December last year that a High Court ruling exposed the system’s failings. The court concluded that a number of “bugs, errors and defects” had caused “discrepancies” in sub-postmasters’ branch accounts.

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Today’s decision has been described by lawyers Neil Hudgell and Tim Moloney QC, who are representing the group, as a “landmark moment”.

Solicitor Mr Hudgell said: “For the Post Office to concede defeat and not oppose these cases is a landmark moment, not only for these individuals, but in time, potentially hundreds of others.

“The door to justice has been opened. It is of course now a matter for the Post Office as to whether it would seek any retrials, but we have been given no indication of that happening is something which would need significant consideration as to the public interest in doing so given the huge public support for those affected.

“We are today obviously delighted for the people we represent. Clearing their names has been their driving goal from day one, as their reputations and livelihoods were so unfairly destroyed.”

In December last year, the Post Office agreed to pay nearly GBP58m to settle a civil claim brought by 550 sub-postmasters, which kickstarted the criminal appeals process.

Forty-seven of those convictions brought under Horizon evidence were referred to the Court of Appeal by the English Criminal Cases Review Commission.

In May, the Post Office launched a scheme to provide redress to current and former postmasters who were not part of the litigation settlement but who believe they were adversely affected by earlier versions of the Horizon computer system.

The Horizon system is still being used in all 11,500 Post Office branches in the UK.