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December 11th 2020

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First Post Office Horizon Scandal convictions officially quashed in court allowing subpostmasters to ‘start living, heal and rebuild lives’

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

First Post Office Horizon Scandal convictions officially quashed in court allowing subpostmasters to ‘start living, heal and rebuild lives’

Six former subpostmasters today became the first to have their convictions relating to the long-running Post Office Horizon scandal overturned in court – a moment which they say will allow them to ‘start living again’ and ‘hold their heads high’.

Six former subpostmasters today became the first to have their convictions relating to the long-running Post Office Horizon scandal overturned in court – a moment which they say will allow them to ‘start living again’ and ‘hold their heads high’.

It comes two months after the Post Office confirmed it would not oppose or contest 44 of the first 47 cases referred to the Court of Appeal by The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

The scandal saw hundreds of sub-postmasters wrongly convicted of crimes including false accounting, fraud and theft when accounts showed unexplained shortfalls and discrepancies. Many were forced to ‘repay’ thousands of pounds.

Subpostmasters say they were told they’d likely face jail unless they admitted to taking the money out of Post Office funds. Many had to sell their branches and homes to repay the alleged stolen funds and have had criminal convictions for more than a decade.

However, following a campaign led by the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) group, a High Court case in December 2019 ruled that many of the accounting shortfalls and discrepancies were likely to have been caused by a faulty IT system which had been installed into thousands of branches as long ago as 2000.

This paved the way for sub-postmasters to finally secure justice and have their convictions overturned, the first six of which were rubber-stamped at Southwark Crown Court today.

Subpostmasters to ‘start living again’ and ‘rebuild lives’ with ‘heads held high’

Amongst those to see their names cleared was former Oxfordshire subpostmaster Vipinchandra Patel, who was handed a 18 week prison sentence after pleading guilty to fraud in June 2011, having being accused of stealing £75,000.

The 67-year-old says he went from being ‘a pillar of the community to a pariah’, with the conviction ‘impacting on every aspect of life’. Today, he says he feels he can ‘finally start enjoying and living life again’.

“The past nine years have been hellish and a total nightmare but today I feel I can start living again. I can look forward and focus on enjoying life,” he said.

“I feel euphoric as I have finally been vindicated. This conviction has been a cloud over my life for almost 10 years. There are members of my family in India who I’ve never told about it, and my mother died five years ago never knowing what we’d been through as a family.

“It has impacted on every aspect of life, causing the breakdown of relationships with some family members and friends, impacting on the lives of my wife and children and leaving me in ill health and unable to work due to having a criminal record.

“We retained our shop despite losing the Post Office, but we’ve lost so much business over the years as people heard about my conviction and wouldn’t come in. Today is the start of a new beginning, but this should never have been allowed to happen.”

Chris Trousdale, 38, from Whitby, was one of the country’s youngest sub postmasters when he was prosecuted by the Post Office and advised to plead guilty to false accounting or face jail. He was sentenced to a Community Punishment Order in March 2004, with a probation order and a fine, at the age of just 22.

He said: “This has been a long and torturous 16 year journey and finally the quashing of these wrongful convictions today feels like the heavy lead box we have been trapped in has had the lid ripped off. We can take our first breath and look forward to being able to start to heal and rebuild.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who have helped us along the way. Along with our families, friends and expert legal teams, special thanks must be given to Alan Bates, who set up the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance, and to Kay Linnell, without their tireless work we would not be where we are today.

“We now look forward to the New Year so we can offer our support to colleagues whose appeals are with the Court of Appeal. Our hope now is that Post Office will engage in a meaningful way to ensure that all those who were wrongfully convicted and who had their lives destroyed are properly compensated.”

Susan Rudkin, 65, was given a 12 month suspended prison sentence, ordered to complete 300 hours of unpaid work and placed on an electronically-monitored curfew for six months when she was accused of stealing almost £44,000 from the branch she ran with her husband in Ibstock, Leicestershire.

She was convicted in 2009 and despite she and her husband Michael insisting they never saw a penny of the ‘missing’ funds, they were forced to ‘repay’ £43,894.15 within six months.

She said: “This is like the best Christmas present I could have ever wished for. Clearing my name has been the single most important thing in my life as it proves what I have told everybody for years, that I was always innocent and that we have been put through the most awful experience.

“I get upset whenever I speak about it simply because it has had such an impact on our lives. I’ve had years of people pointing the finger at me, I have lost friends as well, having not done a thing wrong. Now I can hold my head high again, as can everybody else. I want to thank everybody who has helped us reach this point, from the campaign group to the lawyers prepared to take on our case.

“As individuals none of us could take on the post office but collectively we have been able to clear our names. My heart goes out to each and every person who was affected like me, as I’ve lived this nightmare and I know what they have gone through too.”

More appeals set to be launched in New Year

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, represents three of the six who had their convictions quashed today and a further 30 former subpostmasters whose appeals will not be contested by the Post Office at a Court of Appeal hearing in the New Year.

He today revealed his firm, working with barristers Tim Moloney QC and Kate O’Raghallaigh of Doughty Street Chambers, have a ‘significant number’ of new clients who have come forward to start the process of challenging their convictions, in addition to those already referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

“Today is a historic day. These people have always been innocent, but they have each had a criminal record against their name which they have had to live with for many years, bringing many difficulties to their lives. Today, they can finally hold their heads high again as their names have been officially cleared in court,” he said.

“These people have had to fight all the way, for many years, for justice and we have been proud to help them reach this day. Lives were destroyed by this huge injustice. We’ve met many innocent, decent and upstanding people who were broken and who thought they would never see this day.

“They are now finally on the front foot and in a position to pursue damages for what has been years of significant suffering and loss. The Post Office must now respond in the right manner with appropriate offers to right some of the wrongs of the past two decades, and ensure people are properly compensated.

“We now look forward to seeing a further 30 clients have their names cleared at the Court of Appeal in the New Year, and we have also been instructed to act on behalf of a significant number of new clients for whom we are now starting the appeals process.”

Six cases were quashed ahead of others today because each of the convictions were from Magistrates’ Court hearings, rather than at the Crown Court. The remaining 37 cases for which the Post Office has already said it will not oppose appeals will progress to the Court of Appeal, with a hearing set for March 2021.

In the news: ITV

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