By LE Desk
London, April 23: Dozens of former post office operators have had their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting quashed by the court of appeal after judges ruled the convictions were due to “corrupt data” from an IT system.
In the latest chapter of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in English legal history, 39 people who were prosecuted after the Horizon IT system installed by the Post Office and supplied by Fujitsu falsely suggested there were cash shortfalls, had their names cleared on Friday, the Guardian reported.
Campaigners believe that as many as 900 operators, often known as subpostmasters, may have been prosecuted and convicted between 2000 and 2014.
In his written judgment, Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, said of the 39 cleared: “Many of these appellants went to prison; those that did not suffered other penalties imposed by the courts; all would have experienced the anxiety associated with what they went through; all suffered financial losses, in some cases resulting in bankruptcy; some suffered breakdowns in family relationships; some were unable to find or retain work as a result of their convictions – causing further financial and emotional burdens; some suffered breakdowns in health; all suffered the shame and humiliation of being reduced from a respected local figure to a convicted criminal; and three … have gone to their graves carrying that burden”, the Guardian reported.
The court of appeal considered 42 cases, which were referred last year by the Criminal Cases Review Commission after a landmark civil case against the Post Office.
The Post Office settled the civil claim brought by 555 claimants for £57.75m – amounting to £12m after legal costs – without admitting liability, in December 2019.
In the high court, Mr Justice Fraser found the Fujitsu-developed Horizon system contained “bugs, errors and defects” and that there was a “material risk” shortfalls in branch accounts were caused by the system.
The 42 argued their convictions were unsafe because in light of evidence, including Fraser’s findings, the trial process must have been unfair and it was an affront to the public conscience for them to face prosecution.
The Post Office conceded the first ground in relation to the 39 who were cleared but only conceded the second in relation to four of them. The court cleared all 39 on both grounds but rejected three other appeals, which the Post Office had fully opposed, the judges concluding that the Horizon data was not central to those cases.