Four more subpostmasters set to have convictions overturned

by Emma

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Four more former subpostmasters are set to have their convictions for financial crimes quashed after the Post Office supported their appeals.

In the latest group of 12 former subpostmasters and Post Office branch workers seeking to have convictions overturned, the Post Office said it would oppose six appeals, and has requested an extension with two others as it seeks more information.

The four uncontested appeals will take the number of former subpostmasters with convictions overturned to 63, in what has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “The Post Office is taking determined action to fairly address miscarriages of justice and to compensate the people affected.

“We are continuing to make strenuous efforts to contact and assist people with potentially relevant historical convictions to appeal if they wish.”

And there could be many more. Between 2000 and 2015, a total of 736 subpostmasters were convicted based on evidence from the Horizon accounting and retail system used by Post Office branches, which was found in the High Court to be error-prone.

Computer Weekly first reported on problems with the system in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters. See timeline below for more.

The government-owned Post Office always denied that Horizon – supplied by Fujitsu – could be to blame for the accounting shortfalls, and subpostmasters and their families had their lives turned upside down, with criminal prosecutions for hundreds and many more financially ruined. Some were sent to prison and all faced financial ruin and a criminal record.

In December 2019, a multimillion-pound group litigation, brought by 555 subpostmasters, ended with the Post Office conceding that the Horizon computer system was to blame for shortfalls. The government and the Post Office spent about £100m fighting the case before settling with the 555 subpostmasters who took it to court.

Last month, the government announced that it would fund interim compensation of up to £100,000 for each of the subpostmasters who have had their criminal convictions overturned.

Following the Post Office’s defeat in the 2019 group litigation, it was forced to set up a compensation scheme, the Historical Shortfall Scheme, which has received 2,400 applications, compared with 500 expected by the Post Office.

But the scheme does not include compensation for the 555 subpostmasters who took the Post Office to court over the Horizon errors. Those subpostmasters revealed what the Post Office and Fujitsu, which supplied the Horizon system, had been up to for nearly two decades, and what the Post Office’s government owner had failed to stop.

They were excluded from the scheme because the Post Office and the government said the damages paid when the subpostmasters won the High Court action were full and final. However, most of that £57.75m settlement was swallowed up by costs that had to be paid to a litigation funder, leaving the claimants with only about £11m between them.

The government is refusing to pay subpostmasters’ legal costs, and the campaign for fair compensation for these 555 subpostmasters and all others affected goes on.

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