Former Post Office workers’ theft, fraud and false accounting convictions quashed
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Lady Justice close up (Hermann Traub_Pixabay)
On 23 April 2021, 39 former Post Office workers had their convictions for theft, fraud and false accounting quashed by the Court of Appeal (Hamilton and others v Post Office Ltd [2021] EWCA Crim 577). Many of the convicted workers had served prison sentences, others had lost their jobs and their homes, and some had died before their names were cleared.
In his judgment, Holroyde LJ said:
Later in this judgment we will mention individual cases, but it is important here to state that 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 – all ‘Horizon cases’ – have gone to their graves carrying that burden. Inevitably, the families of the [appellants] have also suffered. In each of the ‘Horizon cases’ it is now rightly conceded that those human costs and consequences were suffered after the denial by [Post Office Ltd] of a fair trial (para 132).
The case against the appellants centred around a computerised system of accounting (Horizon) installed by the Post Office in or around 2000. Some of the appellants were employed as subpostmasters long before the system was installed. By recording all transactions, Horizon was supposed to calculate how much cash and stock should be held. It was not possible to opt out of the system, nor was it possible to challenge the reliability of the Horizon figures. Holroyde LJ, sitting with Picken J and Farbey J, said the Post Office, which brought the prosecutions itself, ‘knew that there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon’ (para 121).
The cases were referred last year by the Criminal Cases Review Commission – but only after a civil case was brought on behalf of 555 claimants in 2019, which the Post Office settled for £57.75m without admitting liability. In one of a series of judgments, Fraser J said:
In my judgment, the stance taken by the Post Office at the time in 2013 demonstrates the most dreadful complacency, and total lack of interest in investigating these serious issues, bordering on fearfulness of what might be found if they were properly investigated (Bates and others v Post Office Ltd (No 6: Horizon Issues) [2019] EWHC 3408 (QB) at para 219).
A government inquiry was launched last year but campaigners say it doesn’t go far enough. On 25 March 2021, the solicitors for the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance sent a letter before claim on behalf of the lead claimant in the High Court, Alan Bates, calling for a statutory inquiry.

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