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July 19th 2021

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12 more former subpostmasters have convictions relating to Post Office Horizon scandal quashed at Court of Appeal

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

12 more former subpostmasters have convictions relating to Post Office Horizon scandal quashed at Court of Appeal

Another 12 former subpostmasters – including three who served time in prison – today saw their convictions relating to the Post Office Horizon scandal overturned at the Court of Appeal.

Another 12 former subpostmasters – including three who served time in prison – today saw their convictions relating to the Post Office Horizon scandal overturned at the Court of Appeal.

They were the fourth group represented by Hudgell Solicitors to see their appeals through to a successful conclusion.

Subpostmasters were victims of a scandal which saw the Post Office use its private prosecution powers over a 15-year period from 2000 onwards to prosecute and convict them of crimes.

It used unreliable evidence from its faulty Horizon accounting system, which had showed unexplained shortfalls or discrepancies at branches across the country.

Included in those having their convictions overturned today was Hasmukh Shingadia, 62, of Upper Bucklebury, West Berkshire, whose sentencing for fraud in 2011 was subject to widespread media coverage, given it came just months after he had been a guest at the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The Post Office is now not contesting any appeals in cases where evidence from the Horizon accounting system may have been used to prosecute people. As such it has written to 540 former subpostmasters to say they may have been wrongfully prosecuted.

Today’s hearing brought the number of people to have successfully appealed their convictions in court to 57 – 46 of whom have been represented by a legal team led by Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors and Tim Moloney QC, of Doughty Street Chambers.

Hudgell Solicitors is continuing to gather evidence on behalf of many more former subpostmasters, and is being supported by specialist forensic accountants Ron Warmington and Ian Henderson, of Second Sight.

They previously investigated discrepancies in the branch accounts of sub-postmasters on behalf of the Post Office and identified problems with Horizon which they warned could have been causing the issue.

Mr Hudgell said it had been another significant day in court.

“Today is another step forward in terms of maintaining the momentum and ensuring we continue to contest every unsafe conviction as a result of the Post Office using its faulty Horizon computer system to pursue prosecutions against decent, honest, law-abiding people,” he said.

“Once again we have been proud to represent a group of people here who did no wrong, who were bullied into admitting to crimes they had not committed, made to pay back large sums of money they had not taken and who saw their lives irreparably damaged as a result.

“This group again includes people who spent time in prison. Sadly, what happened to each individual and their families can never be reversed. That makes it all the more important for it to be recognised by the Post Office and the courts.”

Royal Wedding guest on ‘top of the world’ when told conviction was to be quashed

For Mr Shingadia, having his reputation publicly restored by the courts was huge, particularly given the national media focus which fell upon him when he was prosecuted in 2011.

Having run a Post Office and local shop in Upper Bucklebury since 1999, he had become friends with the family of Kate Middleton, seeing her grow up and selling her sweets at the shop.

He attended her wedding to Prince William just months prior to his court appearance, as guests of the Middletons, who lived nearby.

It brought widespread headlines of the ‘Royal wedding guest found guilty of fraud’, after he was accused of stealing approximately £16,000.

Like many others, despite his innocence, he was made to feel he had to plead guilty at Oxford Crown Court as, at the time, the Horizon system was considered to be flawless and unquestionable.

He repaid the shortfall to the Post Office, was handed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 180 hours of community service.

“I was in all the newspapers as the Royal wedding guest who was a thief and a fraudster so today is massive for me and my family, but also of course the other subpostmasters who have had their convictions quashed,” he said.

“I’d seen Kate Middleton grow up and I remember her being in my shop on the day the radio was saying she was to marry William. Being a guest at the wedding meant the press focussed on my case in court.

“When I got the call from my lawyers to say the Post Office wasn’t contesting my appeal I felt on top of the world.

“Of course, I’ve known I was innocent all along, but for the past decade the legal system has labelled me a criminal, as it has so many others, and that is disgusting.

“It was an awful time for us when I was convicted. My mother had died the previous year, I’d had cancer and undergone surgery to remove a sarcoma, and my daughters were only young at the time and they had people telling them at school that their dad was a thief.

“I was also a magistrate at the time so that ended, I lost the Post Office and we managed to pull together £16,000 to pay the Post Office the money it alleged we had taken.

“We managed to keep hold of the shop and I carried on running it but it was difficult facing people, and my wife Chandrika found that particularly difficult.

“Thankfully, as well as those who turned their back on us, there were also around 150 people who signed a petition which a dear friend of ours, who was an ex-policeman, started to support me when I was being prosecuted. I am grateful that many people in community supported me and believed me.

“A lot of people have supported us over the years, but when all the details about the scandal of Horizon came out people couldn’t really remember what had happened other than the fact I’d been prosecuted. It is a long time ago for others, but for those who have lived it, it is something which is with you every day.

“What has happened to people has been appalling. Those who were in charge of the Post Office must be held to account at a Public Inquiry now, and dealt with appropriately from whatever that inquiry uncovers.”

People sent to prison and made to find thousands to pay Post Office

John Armstrong, who served 200 hours of community service after being convicted in May 2006 for theft of £10,000 from his shop in Southampton, has only ever discussed his conviction with his close family for the past 15 years.

However, the 78-year-old said today had enabled him to ‘free his mind’ as he can now tell people what he was put through.

“It has always been something I had hidden from people, even though I did no wrong. Today I can speak out and say what I was put through,” he said.

“I wasn’t named in the papers, but I had to suddenly leave a job I enjoyed, was forced to pay money back I hadn’t taken, and then just sit quietly with this injustice having happened to me.

“I thought I’d have the conviction for ever until I heard about the Horizon system being found to be faulty. I’d had problems with it showing the wrong amounts and called for help on numerous occasions but didn’t get any. Then the auditors turned up and that was it. I think many people thought I’d retired early, not been prosecuted.

“It is fantastic to have had the conviction quashed. It has freed my mind, as it has always been there, no matter how you try and move on. I was made to work in a charity shop as part of my community service and they eventually gave me a managerial role as they could tell I was an honest and reliable man.”

Tim Brentnall, 39, was sentenced 20 weeks in prison, which was suspended for 18 months, and ordered to contribute 200 hours of unpaid work in 2011, having been accused of stealing £22,500 from his shop in Haverfordwest.

He pleaded guilty to fraud on the advice of his criminal barrister, who said it was unlikely that a jury would believe him over the Post Office and its computer based evidence.

Despite maintaining his innocence throughout the proceedings – and making it clear he felt the Horizon system had been at fault when accused of stealing £82,000 from the Post Office he ran – Jerry Hosi was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment when found guilty of theft, fraud, and false accounting at Crown Court in Snaresbrook on October 2010.

Also seeing his conviction quashed today was Sami Sabet, who was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to undertake 180 hours of unpaid work having pleaded guilty to theft and false accounting in the Crown Court at Lewes in August 2009 on the advice of his legal representation.

This was despite him having reported his accounting problems, which he suspected to have been due to Horizon, to the Post Office.

More cases under consideration as lawyers gather further evidence

The Post Office is contesting a further 16 cases which have been referred to the Court of Appeal to be overturned. Two more are currently being considered.

Mr Hudgell says he and his team continue to review the cases before potentially submitting more evidence on their client’s behalf.

“The Post Office filed general grounds of opposition in those cases on the basis that Horizon and its failings was not intrinsic to the prosecutions,” he said.

“We are receiving disclosure in those cases and they are being reviewed by our legal team.

“The Court of Appeal has established through rulings made to date that where Horizon was intrinsic to the prosecution, appeals will be allowed. Conversely, where it is found that Horizon was not intrinsic the appeals will be dismissed, as has happened in three cases to date.

“We are pleased to have represented 46 of the 57 people to have their convictions overturned to date and are confident we will see many more through the same process over the coming 12 months.”

Others to have their convictions overturned at the Court of Appeal today included Robert Ambrose, Gurdeep Singh Dale, John Dickson, Abi Omotoso, Malcolm Watkins, Carina Price and Rizwan Manjra.

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