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More former subpostmasters have criminal convictions quashed

Two former subpostmasters pushed to the brink of suicide after being convicted for financial crimes finally have their names cleared

Another two former subpostmasters have had their convictions for financial crimes overturned, following a hearing in Southwark Crown Court.

Oyeteju Adedayo and Parmod Kalia had their convictions quashed in the London court. They were convicted over a decade ago based on evidence from the Horizon accounting and retail system used by Post Office branches, which was found in the High Court to be error-prone.

This takes the total number of convictions, that were based on Post Office computer system evidence, overturned so far to 47. In December 2020, six former subpostmasters had their convictions quashed in the same court, and last month, 39 more had their names cleared in the Court of Appeal.

All appellants were blamed and punished by the Post Office for unexplained accounting shortfalls and are part of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history. The Post Office did not contest their appeals.

After being convicted of false accounting and theft in 2006, Adedayo was given a 50-week sentence, suspended for two years and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service.

Adedayo and her husband had to remortgage their home to raise funds and repay the £50,000 that the Horizon system wrongly showed to be missing. She has been unable to find new work due to her criminal record. Her whole family had been “to hell and back” over the past 15 years, she said, “living with the shame” of her conviction for stealing from the Post Office she ran in Kent.

Father of four Parmod Kalia kept his conviction secret from family members for 19 years. He was accused of stealing £22,000 from the Post Office in Kent he had run for 11 years. Although he had not taken any money, he was advised to repay it, which he did, but was still sentenced to six months in prison. He served three months and was at home on licence for three months.

“It was something that brought great shame to my family, so much so that I did all I could to keep it from my relatives,” said Kalia. “At the time of my court appearance, I arranged for my mother to visit family in India for a couple of months, so she was never aware that I was sent to prison. I think that would have killed her.”

He said his mother died in 2019 without ever knowing: “Only my wife and four children knew I spent time in prison, and only now am I prepared to tell others in my family, as I no longer have a conviction by my name.”

Another two former subpostmasters, Oyeteju Adedayo and Parmod Kalia, have had their convictions for financial crimes overturned following a hearing in Southwark Crown Court

Over a period spanning around 15 years, subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with some sent to jail and many ruined.

Subpostmasters began suffering accounting shortfalls they could not explain soon after the introduction of the Horizon IT system from Fujitsu, which was introduced in 1999 to automate manual processes.

Over the years, many subpostmasters claimed that unexplained accounting shortfalls were not caused by them, but by faults in the Post Office’s retail and accounting computer system used in branches.

Computer Weekly first reported on problems with the system in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

The Post Office always denied that Horizon could be to blame for the shortfalls, but in December 2019, a multimillion-pound group litigation, brought by 555 subpostmasters, ended with the Post Office conceding that it was wrong.

It was soon after this that the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) sent an initial group of cases to the Court of Appeal. Adedayo and Kalia were not in the first group of cases sent for appeal, because the CCRC needed to do further investigation.

“I’ve been completely broken by this, particularly by how this has impacted on my family and the unbearable shame it has brought on us all, me being convicted of such crimes,” said Adedayo.

“I have thought about ending it all on many occasions,” she added. “The shame has always been linked to me and I have always worried about how that impacted on our three children, who were all very young at the time. They have seen how it has destroyed our lives, and although it was never my fault, I have always felt ashamed that they had to go through all of this.”

She said she was devastated when the CCRC said her case was not being sent for appeal last year. “I was always determined to fight on, and although I was still struggling to clear my name, I was delighted for the others who were having success.”

Kalia added: “This has caused me emotional, mental and physical stress whereby I have attempted suicide on three occasions, and been scarred with physical disabilities, caused by all the stress I have had to endure. I’ve always tried to retain the belief that I’d get there in the end, but when the CCRC rejected my case last year it was difficult. Thankfully, through persistence and good legal support, that decision was successfully challenged, and when the first convictions were overturned in December it gave me real hope.”

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, which represented Kalia and Adedayo and 32 others who have already had convictions overturned, said he is delighted for “each and every person who has had their convictions overturned so far”.

“Parmod and Oyeteju have had to retain the belief that their names would be cleared in the end, even though at times it seemed as though everything was going against them,” he added.

In a devastating Court of Appeal judgment last month, overturning 39 convictions, judges said: “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.”

Many more appeals are expected. The Post Office used its private prosecution powers to convict 736 people between 2000 and 2015.

There are currently over 50 appeals with the Court of Appeal or being reviewed by the CCRC and, last week, the Post Office wrote to 540 subpostmasters it might have wrongly prosecuted. It also said it is seeking more information on another 100 cases.

The Scottish CCRC is also reviewing five cases.

In a statement, the Post Office said it was “extremely sorry for historical failures and the impact these have had on the lives of people affected” and it was “taking determined action to fully address the past and have undertaken wholesale reforms to prevent such events ever happening again”.

Post Office Horizon case articles since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

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