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April 23rd 2021

Post Office Horizon

Subpostmasters cleared of convictions – now Post Office officials must face criminal investigation for ‘maliciously ruining lives’ by ‘prosecuting innocent people in pursuit of profits’

Dr Neil Hudgell

Dr Neil Hudgell

Executive Chairman

Subpostmasters cleared of convictions – now Post Office officials must face criminal investigation for ‘maliciously ruining lives’ by ‘prosecuting innocent people in pursuit of profits’

Lawyers representing 29 former subpostmasters who today had long-standing convictions quashed at the Court of Appeal have called for the criminal focus to now ‘’finally and fiercely’ switch to investigating Post Office officials who ‘maliciously ruined the lives of innocent people by prosecuting them in pursuit of profits.’

Lawyers representing 29 former subpostmasters who today had long-standing convictions quashed at the Court of Appeal have called for the criminal focus to now ‘’finally and fiercely’ switch to investigating Post Office officials who ‘maliciously ruined the lives of innocent people by prosecuting them in pursuit of profits.’

 

A total of 42 subpostmasters had their cases for wrongful convictions considered over a week of hearings at The Royal Courts of Justice last month – the biggest group referral of potential miscarriages of justice by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in English legal history.

Today, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Post Office’s actions had amounted to ‘an affront to conscience of the court’, having heard how vital evidence was withheld from subpostmasters when they were being prosecuted, with 39 of the 42 cases quashed.

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.

The Post Office has since admitted that the unreliable and flawed computer evidence may have been used to prosecute more than 700 subpostmasters without any police involvement as people were charged and convicted of crimes they had not committed.

Subpostmasters were individually told they were the only people experiencing accounting discrepancies when the reality was that hundreds had faced the same problems. Many were told they would likely face prison if they attempted to challenge the Post Office’s computer-based evidence and coerced into making up stories about taking money when they hadn’t.

They were also advised to plead guilty to crimes they have always insisted they didn’t commit, all which continued to cover up the deficiencies in the Horizon software.

As a result hundreds of subpostmasters were left living their lives with shame of a criminal record, with many forced to dig into their own savings, sell their homes or borrow from relatives to pay the Post Office the money it claimed it was owned.

People lost their homes and reputations, many were declared bankrupt and some contemplated suicide. One innocent subpostmaster died of cancer in 2016 still a convicted criminal – his criminal record only cleared today, five years after his death.

Post Office ‘readily accepted loss of life, liberty and sanity for many in pursuit of profits’

Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, has now helped 32 former subpostmasters to clear their names and is also currently supporting a further 55 to take their cases to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Hudgell says true justice can only happen if Post Office officials now face a full criminal investigation themselves.

He said: “It is almost impossible to describe the true impact that this scandal has had on the lives of this group of people who had their reputations and livelihoods so unfairly destroyed.

“They are honest, hard-working people who served their communities but have had to live with the stigma of being branded criminals for many years, all the while knowing they have been innocent. It has been an honour to stand by their side and reach this point today.

“The court heard shocking evidence with regard to the Post Office and how it destroyed innocent people. Indeed, given its actions, everything the Post Office has sought to do over the last year or so, whether it be by way of apology and offers of redress, or by talking about a cultural change, completely unravelled when our clients’ cases where heard.

“The Post Office failed to offer any sort of explanation as to why wholesale disclosure of evidence was withheld in cases, nor why a proper investigation was not carried out when known problems in the Horizon system started to appear.

“Instead they sought to attribute failings to incompetence and not bad faith, and to engage in legal gymnastics to seek to persuade the court away from finding a clear systemic abuse of process of the criminal law.

“Thankfully, as we expected, the court has seen straight through what was a quite ridiculous, last ditch attempt to save any last remaining ounce of credibility. The Post Office still appears to care little about the people whose lives it has destroyed.

“Ultimately, it has been found to have been an organisation that not only turned a blind eye to the failings in its hugely expensive IT system, but positively promoted a culture of cover up and subterfuge in the pursuit of reputation and profit.

“They readily accepted that loss of life, liberty and sanity for many ordinary people as a price worth paying in that pursuit.

“This has quite rightly been labelled as one of the biggest legal scandals ever in the UK, and that scandal will only deepen should those involved not now finally face a fiercely run investigation into how these prosecutions were conducted, what exactly was known as to the unreliability of the Horizon system when it was being used to ruin peoples’ lives, and whether people acted in a criminal manner.

“Investigations must go from the very top of the organisation to those investigating subpostmasters and forcing them to admit to crimes they had not committed.

“Today is another victory for the subpostmasters in our battle for justice, but justice can only be served by ensuring this matter runs its full and proper course. Everybody who has been affected by this malicious attack on their lives must be appropriately compensated for the huge impact it has had on them, and today certainly opens the door in that regard in terms of seeking damages in relation to the wrongly motivated prosecutions which were pursued.

“The Prime Minister must also, as a matter of urgency, now convene a judge-led Public Inquiry, where all those who played any part in this large scale injustice are required by law to appear and be fully questioned under the rules of evidence and held to account for the appalling suffering caused to so many.

“The Independent Review currently underway does not have the powers required. The people we represent have seen the Post Office give excuse after excuse for what has happened almost completely unchallenged, even to this day.

“The time has come now for people at the Post Office who were involved in any way relating to these unsafe convictions to feel the uncomfortable breath of the law on their necks as our clients did.

“If they are then found to have broken the law, they must then feel the full force of it too.”

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