Guardian online -
138,680. Dozens of former Post Office workers had their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting quashed by the court of appeal on Friday after one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
The decision to clear 39 subpostmasters led to immediate calls for a full public inquiry and for them, and the hundreds caught up in the scandal, to be properly compensated.
Some of the convicted workers were sent to prison, others lost their livelihoods and their homes. Many went bankrupt – and some died before their names were cleared.
So far, those who have been offered compensation are to receive less than £22,000 each after legal fees.
As those cleared left the Royal Courts of Justice, some weeping, they were cheered by supporters and other former Post Office workers.
Vijay Parekh, 62, spent six months in prison after he was advised by his barrister to plead guilty when accused of theft of about £78,000.
‘It was intended to be the business that we would work through towards a comfortable retirement,’ he said, flanked by relatives. ‘The whole family suffered. I was inside, but outside my father was in his 70s and it had an impact on everyone. It was impossible to sleep, you found yourself crying every day. Because of that CRB [criminal history] check you really can’t work anywhere at all. Now it will have been cleared and I could look for a job but I have reached retirement age.’
Campaigners believe that as many as 900 operators, often known as subpostmasters, may have been prosecuted and convicted between 2000 and 2014 after the Horizon IT system installed by the Post Office and supplied by Fujitsu falsely suggested there were cash shortfalls.
In his damning written judgment, Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, said the Post Office, which brought the prosecutions itself, ‘knew that there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon’.
He wrote: ‘The failures of investigation and disclosure were in our judgment so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court.
‘By representing Horizon as reliable, and refusing to countenance any suggestion to the contrary, POL [Post Office Limited] effectively sought to reverse the burden of proof: it treated what was no more than a shortfall shown by an unreliable accounting system as an incontrovertible loss, and proceeded as if it were for the accused to prove that no such loss had occurred.
‘Denied any disclosure of material capable of undermining the prosecution case, defendants were inevitably unable to discharge that improper burden. As each prosecution proceeded to its successful conclusion the asserted reliability of Horizon was, on the face of it, reinforced. Defendants were prosecuted, convicted and sentenced on the basis that the Horizon data must be correct, and cash must therefore be missing, when in fact there could be no confidence as to that foundation’. Guardian online article 23 April 2021, ‘Court clears 39 post office operators convicted due to ‘corrupt data’: Theft, fraud and false accounting convictions quashed after England’s biggest ever miscarriage of justice’