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April 26th 2021

Post Office Horizon

‘I spent 18 months in jail for a crime I didn’t commit and was told I should admit to. It ruined my life but I am glad I always maintained my innocence’

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

‘I spent 18 months in jail for a crime I didn’t commit and was told I should admit to. It ruined my life but I am glad I always maintained my innocence’

Unlike many others affected by the Post Office Horizon scandal, Harjinder Butoy refused to buckle to the pressure of being warned he’d likely be sent to prison by pleading his innocence.

Unlike many others affected by the Post Office Horizon scandal, Harjinder Butoy refused to buckle to the pressure of being warned he’d likely be sent to prison by pleading his innocence.

Faced with allegations of stealing more than £206,000 from the accounts of the sub Post Office he had run for a year, he denied any wrongdoing all the way through audits, investigations, interviews and a court trial.

Found guilty of a crime he hadn’t committed, he had to say his goodbyes to his wife and three young children and serve 18 months of a three-years and three month sentence for theft behind bars.

His life, and that of his wife Balbinder and their three children, was destroyed.

He was declared bankrupt as he was unable to repay more than £60,000 the Post Office claimed he had taken, the family lost their home and also found themselves outcasts in their local community.

Today, more than a decade on, life remains a struggle.

The impact of prosecution is something they have never recovered from. Both Harjinder and Balbinder have struggled to find employers willing to give them a chance and have had to claim benefits, and they’ve not had a family holiday for more than a decade.

The past 14 years of hurt and loss can never be wiped from history.

However, last Friday, at a landmark hearing, Harjinder’s criminal record was one of 39 officially quashed as the Court of Appeal ruled the Post Office’s actions in pursuing prosecutions had amounted to ‘an affront to conscience of the court’.

It is a day he and his family have always hoped would happen, but given the cost it has come at, it is not one for complete celebration.

“Our lives have been destroyed by this, as have those of many others, and it is a disgrace. Now people at the Post Office need to be held accountable and sent to jail like I was,” said the 44-year-old.

“I’ve never once, since the day the auditors walked into our Post Office back in 2007, given up trying to prove my innocence. I’ve repeatedly said that I’ve been innocent for 14 years and I have finally been able to prove it today.

“It feels like justice for standing my ground and never giving in, as I was told by so many people just to admit to stealing the money. I was never going to do that.”

Scandal saw victims pressured into admitting crimes to avoid jail

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 convict them of crimes including theft and false accounting when its faulty Horizon accounting system showed unexplained shortfalls or discrepancies at branches across the country.

Many were coerced into pleading guilty to crimes they have always insisted they didn’t commit as they were individually told they were the only people experiencing accounting discrepancies, when the reality was hundreds were being faced with the same problem.

They were warned they would likely face prison if they attempted to challenge the computer-based evidence, and advised to concoct stories about taking the money, deflecting attention away from Horizon.

‘If you’re innocent, you don’t admit to being guilty’

For Harjinder, who ran Forest Side Sub Post Office, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, admitting to a crime he hadn’t committed was never going to be an option.

“If you are innocent you don’t admit to being guilty. That has been my stance from day one and I wouldn’t do things differently now, even after all we have been through,” he said.

“I think through it all I always believed it wouldn’t really end with me in prison. I just thought it was all like a bad dream and that all of a sudden someone would say there had been a huge mistake and that it was all over.

“I’d only ever had a few discrepancies in the Post Office accounts, a few small amounts either up or down at the end of the week. Then all of a sudden about four or five auditors walked in the door one day and a couple of hours later they said more than £200,000 was missing.

“My Post Office was closed immediately and all of a sudden I was facing the local CID. It was crazy. Our lives were forever changed that day.”

Harjinder says he was at the time questioned over some personal savings, which he had from the sale of a property, and his cars, which had purchased on finance.

“They were questioning why I had the cars and some money in my savings, but when I said I could explain them and show evidence of where the money had come from they had no interest,” he said.

“They claimed I’d been stealing cash and then altering the computer system to create false records to say the money had been paid out against cheques. It was a nonsense.

“We’d worked so hard to make the branch successful in the year we had it and we’d established good relationships with local businesses, and then all of a sudden this was thrown at us.

“I still thought I’d be found not guilty at court, because I’d not taken the money, but then my legal team started to talk to me about pleading guilty. They even had the conversation with me again a few days into my trial. I just wouldn’t have it though. I wasn’t prepared to admit to something I hadn’t done.”

Having being found guilty and sentenced to three years and three months in prison, Harjinder faced a year-and-a-half apart from his wife and three young children, who were all aged 10 and under at the time.

“It was a hugely difficult time. My wife and kids had to move in with my parents, the Post Office was shut, we lost the shop and our home and I was declared bankrupt,” he said.

“Our standing in the community, which we had worked so hard to establish and be well liked and trusted, was destroyed. There were some people who believed us, but many heard about me being taken off in a police car and the Post Office being closed down and just assumed we were guilty and had stolen the money.

“My name was plastered all over the papers in Nottingham and Derby as well, so it wasn’t just the community we were living in, but also where we previously lived, that our reputations were ruined.

“I’m obviously pleased to have my conviction overturned, but we have lost so much. This can’t be the end of it and I really hope that the people who did this to me, my family, and so many others now face serious investigation.”

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