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October 2nd 2020

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Post Office admits to unsafe convictions of subpostmasters in Horizon accounting scandal in ‘landmark moment’ for justice

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

Post Office admits to unsafe convictions of subpostmasters in Horizon accounting scandal in ‘landmark moment’ for justice

Hudgell Solicitors can confirm the Post Office has this morning confirmed it will not oppose or contest the appeals of 33 former sub-postmasters to overturn convictions linked to the Horizon accounting scandal.

Hudgell Solicitors can confirm the Post Office has this morning confirmed it will not oppose or contest the appeals of 33 former sub-postmasters to overturn convictions linked to the Horizon accounting scandal.

Their cases were in the first batch referred to the Court of Appeal by The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

It is a decision warmly welcomed by solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, and Tim Moloney QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, who have led the group to this ‘landmark moment’.

It means all will have their convictions – many which have been against their name for a decade or longer – quashed at the Court of Appeal.

And, with the Post Office having already admitted that as many as 900 people may have been prosecuted over a two-decade period, using unsafe Horizon figures, Mr Hudgell today reaffirmed a pledge to ‘challenge each and every unsafe conviction’ as a result of the scandal.

“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,” he said.

“It is of course now a matter for the Post Office as to whether it seeks any retrials, but we have been given no indication of that happening and that 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.

“Therefore, whilst today we celebrate, we must never forget that these people endured years of suffering, and how these allegations and convictions affected not only the individuals themselves, but their loved ones too.

“For the many yet to take their first step on the appeals process who have perhaps felt they could never win given the history of their dealings with the Post Office, today they can believe that justice is on the horizon.

“Until recently, people who were prosecuted were persuaded that they had no grounds to challenge their convictions. The situation has now changed and anybody who has suffered injustice and not sought to challenge it, the time to do so is now.

“We have secured what amounts to a clear admission from the Post Office that people were convicted of crimes on the basis of unsafe and unreliable evidence. That is truly significant and we’ll now fight for every other unsafe conviction to be overturned, buoyed by today’s Post Office back down.”

Scandal led to High Court ruling over ‘bugs, errors and defects’ in system

The Post Office Horizon Scandal refers to a huge injustice which saw sub-postmasters wrongly convicted of crimes including false accounting, fraud and theft when many shortfalls and discrepancies were likely to have been caused by a faulty IT system.

The Horizon software, which was supplied by Fujitsu, was widely installed in post offices between 2000 and 2002, with around 18,000 branches using the technology.

Sub-postmasters reported problems with the software from the very start but were ignored. Hundreds either had their contracts terminated, were forced into repaying thousands of pounds which the systems suggested had gone missing, or were prosecuted and in some cases jailed.

It was not until December 2019, following a High Court ruling, that its failings were fully exposed. The court concluded that a number of “bugs, errors and defects” had caused “discrepancies” in sub-postmasters’ branch accounts.

Mr Hudgell says many of the people he is representing were placed under ‘significant duress’ by the Post Office when shortfalls could not be explained.

“People were forced into admitting to crimes they had not committed simply because they were told this computer system was infallible,” he said.

“They were basically told they’d likely face prison if they continued to plead innocence as they’d be found guilty in court. They were told that they’d be better placed to effectively make up a story as to where the money went.

“We had a number of clients in that situation, which is almost beyond belief, and we continue to fight their cases for overturning convictions.”

Hudgell Solicitors have one case in which the Post Office has said it intends to contest the appeal.
This case will now continue through the court process, the next stage being a directions hearing.
The Post Office has today confirmed two other cases from the total of 47 to be referred to the Court of Appeal continue to be contested.

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