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July 23rd 2020

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The Post Office ruined my life and my conviction brought such shame. I almost gave up on life, but now I’ll fight all the way

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

The Post Office ruined my life and my conviction brought such shame. I almost gave up on life, but now I’ll fight all the way

A former sub-postmistress convicted of stealing £50,000 from the community Post Office she ran says she is ‘devastated’ at being told her case is not being sent to the Court of Appeal to consider.

A former sub-postmistress convicted of stealing £50,000 from the community Post Office she ran says she is ‘devastated’ at being told her case is not being sent to the Court of Appeal to consider.

Teju Adedayo says she has ‘lived with the unbearable shame’ of her conviction for the past 14 years, but insists she was ‘forced’ to plead guilty to offences she never committed.

As weekly accounts at her Gillingham post office showed an unexplained and increasing shortfall, she says she repeatedly asked for help and investigation from Post Office officials, only to be told to  ‘rollover’ the shortfall and that the accounting system would ‘resolve itself’ in time.

It didn’t, and when the shortfall reached £50,000, she says she found herself facing an ‘aggressive’ employer demanding she repay the money.

Unable to explain the losses, Mrs Adedayo says she was told to make up a story as to where the money had gone, and that if she tried to blame the Post Office’s IT accounting system, Horizon, she’d likely go to jail.

She insists Post Office officials told her she was the only one of thousands using the accounting software to be showing a shortfall in her accounts, but in reality, she wasn’t.

Hundreds of others had the same problems and many were also prosecuted in similar circumstances – each believing they were alone in their financial troubles.

Having ‘made up’ a story that she had stolen the money to pay back loans from relatives, she did avoid jail and was handed 50-week sentence, suspended for two years. She was ordered to complete 200 hours under a community punishment order for false accounting and theft in 2006.

She and her husband then had to remortgage their family home to raise funds and pay off the £50,000 which was apparently missing.

Family has ‘lived with shame and been to hell and back’

Mrs Adedayo says she and her family have since had to live with the ‘shame’ attached to her conviction, which left her unable to find new work due to her criminal record. On many occasions, she says she considered taking her own life.

“My family have been dragged to hell and back as a result of all this. My family have never had any involvement with the law and my parents brought me up to respect the law, work hard and earn a decent honest living,” said the 56-year-old.

“I’ve been completely broken by this, particularly by how this has impacted on my family and the unbearable shame it has brought on us all, me being convicted of such crimes.

“I have thought about ending it all on many occasions. The shame is linked to me and I have always worried about how that impacted on our three children, who were all very young at the time. They have seen how it has destroyed our lives, and although it was never my fault, I feel ashamed that they had to experience all of this.”

Bid to overturn conviction rejected at first step by Criminal Cases Review Commission

Almost 10 years after her conviction, in 2015, Mrs Adedayo read newspaper reports of a campaign, led by a group of fellow subpostmasters, claiming the same had happened to them.

More than 550 subpostmasters who had very similar stories eventually came together, led by the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), and for the first time she realised she had not been alone.

That campaign resulted in a High Court ruling in the subpostmasters favour last December. It found that ‘bugs and errors’ in the Horizon IT system – used by thousands of community Post Offices for two decades – could cause discrepancies and variations in accounts.

As a result the Post Office is now reviewing total of 900 cases where former subpostmasters were prosecuted and convicted of crimes such as false accounting and theft.

Mrs Adedayo is part of a growing number seeking to overturn their convictions at the Court of Appeal, but she has immediately found another hurdle in her way to clearing her name.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which is considering which cases can be referred to the Court of Appeal to consider potential miscarriages of justice, has provisionally rejected her case.

It has done so on the grounds that she ‘admitted’ to taking the £50,000 back in 2006, and didn’t mention Horizon issues as part of the legal proceedings at the time.

Lawyers say appeal cases must examine why people felt ‘bullied’ into false admissions

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, and Tim Moloney QC of Doughty Street Chambers, are working free of charge for Mrs Adedayo to get her case referred to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Hudgell is urging the CCRC to take into account the ‘many stories of significant duress placed on subpostmasters’ when considering cases, and a common theme where people were made to believe they couldn’t possibly point the finger of blame at technology.

“The whole issue here is that we are going to find a number of cases similar to Mrs Adedayo whereby people have ‘confessed’ to crimes they simply did not commit and were actively discouraged from mentioning issues with the technology” said Mr Hudgell, who is representing 28 people whose cases have been already been referred to the Court of Appeal, and six who have found their cases provisionally refused on first review.

“Those confessions cannot be used as the overriding evidence now in light of all we know about the failures in this accounting system, and the many subpostmasters who have shared their experiences of feeling bullied and backed into a corner, with no choice but to plead guilty to crimes they would never have committed, all of which distanced any focus from Horizon.

“We are working hard to provide the CCRC with all the information they need to be able to assess all the evidence as a whole in each case.

“We need to ensure the CCRC can consider the evidence, and importantly how those admissions came about. In the case of Mrs Adedayo there is plenty to suggest the story which went before the courts back in 2006 was not reflective of what happened, and therefore her conviction is not safe.”

Final decision will be made at end of month

Legal teams now have until July 31 to make final submissions on behalf of Mrs Adedayo before a final decision is made by the CCRC.

They are gathering evidence to show she and her husband actually funded the purchase of their post office with bank loans, and how they remortgaged their home to pay back the ‘shortfall’ after the court case.

Evidence is also being provided of the income they generated from her work at the post office and her husband’s job as a teacher.

The only thing there is no evidence of is a shortage of cash for customers at any time at her post office, or of her making payments totaling £50,000 to others.

“There is no evidence of those payments being made because they never happened,” she said.

“I was coerced into making false statements by the Post Office all those years ago with threats of imprisonment and time away from my young family and that was something I just couldn’t allow to happen.

“I was stressed, scared, intimidated and distraught and I did not want to be away from my family.  I have never, ever done anything against the law and never ever thought that I would be in a situation where I would be labelled a criminal for something I did not, have not and never would do.

“I am now fighting with everything that I have to prove my innocence and will continue to do so.”

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