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Number of subpostmasters appealing convictions reaches 137 at one legal firm

Former subpostmasters convicted of crimes based on data from error-prone Post Office computer system continue to embark on appeals

Former subpostmasters continue to appeal the criminal convictions they received as a result of unexplained accounting shortfalls in their Post Office branches, with 137 appeals in progress with a single solicitor firm.

The Post Office Horizon scandal, often described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history, saw subpostmasters blamed and many prosecuted for unexplained accounting shortfalls that were caused by errors in the Fujitsu-supplied computer system used in branches.

Although more than 60 former subpostmasters have already had their convictions cleared, new appeals are being made all the time.

In total, 736 former subpostmasters were convicted based on evidence from the Horizon system.

Computer Weekly initially told the stories of seven subpostmasters affected by the problems in 2009 (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles since it first broke the story), which led to many more who had suffered losses coming forward.

Hudgell Solicitors, which has so far guided the majority of miscarriage of justice cases through appeal, currently has 137 appellants at different stages in the appeals process, including 49 who have already had convictions overturned.

Other legal firms that have managed appeals include Aliant Law, Aria Grace Law and Edward Fail.

Hudgells has already seen 49 of its former subpostmaster clients’ convictions overturned and has 10 clients whose convictions are due to be quashed after the Post Office said it would not contest their appeals. It has another four appellants whose cases have been referred to the Court of Appeal but are being opposed by the Post Office.

There are 41 new cases under review by the Hudgells legal team for potential referral to the Court of Appeal and 33 cases awaiting decisions from the Criminal Cases Review Commission after being sent for consideration.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell said the convictions overturned in the courts so far this year were far from being the last. “They paved the way for more people to have the confidence to come forward and seek justice, as we are continuing to see. This issue has a long, long way to run,” he said. Hudgell.

The government, which owns the Post Office, said it will fund interim compensation of up to £100,000 for each of the subpostmasters who have had their criminal convictions overturned. But the compensation that many will receive is expected to be multiples of this.

Beyond the subpostmasters who were wrongly convicted of crimes, there are thousands of former subpostmasters who paid back unexplained losses to the Post Office. Many subpostmasters were financially ruined after being forced to sell their assets to cover losses that never actually existed.

The Post Office was forced to open a compensation scheme for any subpostmasters who experienced losses caused by Horizon errors. About 2,500 subpostmasters have applied for the scheme, known as the Historic Shortfall Scheme, and an estimated £300m of taxpayers’ money is expected to be used to pay them.

But a group of victims is being excluded from this scheme. These are the 500 former subpostmasters who took the Post Office to court in a multimillion-pound group litigation and proved, after years of Post Office denial, that computer errors were causing unexplained losses. It is because of this victory that the Historic Shortfall Scheme exists, but the government is refusing to allow these subpostmasters to be part of it.

The government said the £57.75m compensation paid to them after the court case was a full and final payment, but after subpostmaster legal costs were taken out, they were left with only about £11m to share. They lost homes, businesses and suffered stress-related ill health, but the amounts they received didn’t even cover the money these victims had been wrongly forced to repay the Post Office.

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

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