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Subpostmasters crowdfund for justice in IT scandal

Campaign group calls for public support to help potential victims of Post Office Horizon IT scandal

A campaign group representing subpostmasters who were wrongly prosecuted for theft and false accounting by the Post Office is raising money to help clear the names of victims of the scandal.

The Court of Appeal is already set to review 39 cases of subpostmasters who suffered potential miscarriages of justice, but there are many more.

Working with law firm Hudgells, the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) wants to support any subpostmasters who might have been prosecuted for losses that were caused by errors in the Post Office’s Horizon computer system. A crowdfunding page has been set up with an initial target to raise £25,000.

The scandal, which Computer Weekly made public in 2009 after an investigation, has been described as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in UK history (see timeline below).

The Horizon IT system from Fujitsu, which has been used by the Post Office since 1999, was for many years blamed by subpostmasters for accounting shortfalls. Computer Weekly has been investigating the story since late 2008, and during this time, the Post Office has always denied that the computer system could be to blame for accounting shortfalls. 

The JFSA was formed in 2009, by former subpostmaster Alan Bates, to fight for justice for subpostmasters who were blamed for losses. Hundreds of subpostmasters have been prosecuted over the two decades that Horizon has been used. They were convicted of theft or false accounting as a result of unexplained losses, humiliated and had their businesses and lives destroyed. Some were sent to jail, forced to carry out community service, many were fined heavily, and were forced to pay back money that they had not taken.

It took a multimillion-pound group litigation order, 10 years later, to prove that the subpostmasters were right.

Judge Peter Fraser, in the High Court, said the Post Office’s denial that Horizon faults could not cause accounting shortfalls amounted “to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred, at least so far as the witnesses called before me in the Horizon issues trial are concerned. It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat.”

Since the damning judgment in the High Court and the Post Office paying £57.75m in damages, the Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred 39 cases of potential miscarriages of justice involving subpostmasters to the Court of Appeal, with a further 22 currently being reviewed.

As part of its settlement with subpostmasters, the Post Office agreed to go through previous prosecutions to establish whether any could have been made using Horizon data, which has been proved unreliable. The Post Office said it had identified about 900 cases of subpostmasters who might have been wrongly prosecuted.

If subpostmasters who were prosecuted have not previously appealed against their judgments, they can go direct to the Court of Appeal. Those that have appealed can go through the CCRC if they want to appeal again and have new information.

The JFSA crowdfunding campaign wants to support any subpostmasters who want to clear their name and is crowdfunding to fund legal action.

Bates said: “We will keep fighting until each and every person whose lives have been affected by this to secure compensation, and for each and every unsafe conviction to be overturned.

“To do that, we now need the help of the public to fund the strongest legal representation. The initial step is to raise £25,000 to make sure we can start the process of covering the costs of getting these cases to the Court of Appeal.” 

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

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