Two new Post Office Horizon legal cases could set a precedent to enable the convictions of more former subpostmasters to be quashed by the courts after their deaths.
Representations from the relatives of Roderick Dundee and Peter Huxham have led to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referring their cases to Southwark Crown Court to be considered for appeal, and for the possible overturning of convictions.
Mr Huxham was jailed for eight months in March 2010 and died in 2020, aged 63. This was a year before the High Court ruled that prosecutions based on evidence from the Post Office’s faulty Horizon IT system should be considered unsafe.
Mr Dundee, who was sentenced to a community order of 240 hours in 2005, died in May 2021.This was just a month after the landmark court ruling, meaning he never had the chance to challenge his conviction through the courts himself.
Although there have already been a small number of Post Office Horizon convictions overturned in cases where people have since died, those had a natural route to appeal set out in law.
This was because their convictions had been handed out in a Crown Court, where the next legal step is for such cases to be heard by judges at the Court of Appeal when challenged.
However, in cases where convictions were handed down in the magistrates’ courts, the law requires that they be retried at a Crown Court. There is a question as to whether that is possible when the accused has since died.
‘Gap in the law and route to redress’
Legal teams acting on behalf of the relatives of Mr Dundee and Mr Huxham made representations to the CCRC for their cases to be referred for appeal.
Now, the Post Office will have to consider whether they wish to challenge the appeals or concede them.
Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, who is representing the families of Mr Dundee and Mr Huxham, says it is only right that they are afforded the same route to justice as all others affected.
“We’re looking to plug a gap in the law here which has left the relatives of these two men struggling to get the convictions of their loved ones quashed, simply because their cases were heard in a magistrates’ court and not in a crown court at the time,” said Mr Hudgell.
“Clearing the names of people who were wrongfully convicted of crimes and have since passed is every bit as important as every other case related to this scandal, and is of course of huge significance to their loved ones. That route to legal redress should still be available.
“The reality is, that had these two men still been alive they would have been fighting to clear their names after the High Court ruling of 2021. If they were still around and needed to face a retrial in a crown court, they would have been doing so.
“We have evidence which we believe demonstrates that the unreliable Horizon accounting system was essential to their convictions and those convictions should therefore be overturned.”
Mr Huxham was a sub-postmaster for 25 years prior to his suspension following an audit on at his branch in September 2009. Prior to the audit, he had been experiencing unexplained shortfalls of around £2,000 which had been rising each month.
His defence raised issues and concerns with the Horizon system to the court. He was nonetheless jailed for eight months at Torquay Magistrates’ Court.
Mr Dundee was a subpostmaster for over six years and was convicted at Cambridge Magistrates in 2005 over a shortfall of over £12,000.
He was forced to cover up the losses which occurred and told investigators that at no point had he stolen any money from the post office. He was sentenced to a community punishment order of 240 hours.