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Post Office contacts over 500 subpostmasters potentially wrongly prosecuted for financial crimes

The Post Office has contacted hundreds of people it might have wrongly prosecuted for financial crimes

The Post Office is contacting 540 people it might have wrongly prosecuted for financial crimes.

A further 100 people have been identified and the Post Office is seeking additional information.

They could have been wrongly convicted of crimes such as false accounting and theft after being blamed for unexplained losses that were caused by computer errors.

This is part of a scandal that is two decades old, having begun when the Horizon computer system was introduced to Post Office branches in 1999-2000.

In 2009, a Computer Weekly investigation revealed the stories of seven former subpostmasters whose lives were devastated after they were blamed for unexplained cash shortfalls (see box below for Computer Weekly’s coverage of the story since 2009). Some subpostmasters were sent to prison and many more have lived with criminal records for decades.

Last month, 39 former subpostmasters had their criminal convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal. They joined six whose convictions were overturned at Southwark Crown Court in December 2020.

There are another 38 cases with the Court of Appeal, and about 20 are being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

The Post Office is contacting subpostmasters following a review of relevant historical prosecutions since 1999. This work is being conducted by criminal law specialist Peters & Peters Solicitors, with more than 60 barristers reviewing millions of documents to identify any material that should be disclosed to those historically prosecuted.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “The Post Office sincerely apologises for serious historical failures. We continue to take determined action for people affected.

“In addition to full cooperation with the CCRC’s review, Post Office has made strenuous efforts to identify individuals who were historically convicted and an extensive post-conviction disclosure exercise is taking place to identify and disclose all material which might affect the safety of those convictions.”

A total of 736 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office, based on Horizon evidence, between 1999 and 2015. Speaking to Computer Weekly in a recent interview, Helen Pitcher, chairman at the CCRC, said it was possible that the remainder of these cases, where subpostmasters were prosecuted based on Horizon evidence, could come forward. “If they do, this is going to be huge,” she added.

Pitcher explained that it doesn’t matter what people pleaded guilty to, or were prosecuted for – if the prosecution was based on evidence from the Horizon system, they could come forward. Any new appellants could expect their cases to be dealt with faster than the initial groups, she said.

According to Pitcher, the CCRC will be able to review cases quicker now it knows what it is looking for, and the statutory body will review individual cases rather than a large group. “This means we can spread it across more of our people,” said Pitcher.

Any person who was prosecuted by the Post Office or Royal Mail Group after July 1999, and who believes the prosecution case relied on Horizon evidence, can make contact by emailing [email protected].

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

 

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