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More wrongful convictions quashed in Post Office IT scandal

Two more Post Office Horizon scandal victims have had their wrongful convictions overturned

Two former subpostmasters have had wrongful convictions for fraud and false accounting quashed at Southwark Crown Court, as part of the Post Office IT scandal.

The number of former subpostmasters who have had convictions based on Horizon system evidence overturned has now reached 75, with more expected.

Gillian Harrison, a former subpostmaster in Stoke-on-Trent, had an unexplained shortfall of just under £1,500 in her branch. The Post Office used evidence from the Horizon IT system to prosecute Harrison,who was convicted of false accounting in July 2005 and sentenced to a 12-month community rehabilitation order and fined.

Richard Ormerod, a former subpostmaster in Darlington, was convicted of three counts of fraud in 2004, also based on Horizon evidence.

Both had their convictions overturned after the court ruled that the Horizon system, which has since been proved faulty, was essential to their convictions. The Post Office did not oppose the appeals.

Between 2000 and 2015, a total of 736 former subpostmasters were convicted based on evidence from the Horizon accounting and retail system used by Post Office branches, which, in 2019, was found in the High Court to be error-prone.

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 articles below).

The Post Office always denied that Horizon could be to blame for the shortfalls, and subpostmasters and their families have had their lives turned upside down, with criminal prosecutions for hundreds and many more financially ruined.

Following the latest ruling, the judge said the appellants had been of good character throughout their ordeal and the court hoped its decision would be a means of putting right what was wrong.

Mrs Harrison said she “loved her job as a subpostmaster for 21 years” but that the last 17 years have been a nightmare which she kept secret, only very recently telling friends of 50 years what had happened to her. 

The conviction and criminal record has made her life a constant struggle. “I was not able to get a job because of the criminal record and had to do it myself,” she said. “I sold at car boot sales and online just to raise enough money to put fuel in the car.”

Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors, representing the appellants, said that although 75 convictions have been overturned, “every one is unique”.

“It is easy to become desensitised with it all because they have been so regular, but it is no less horrific in each individual case,” he added.

“I am pleased Richard and Gillian have reached this milestone today and we look forward to getting them some peace with fair compensation.”

Hudgell hopes the overturning of their convictions will give others the strength to come forward and appeal their convictions. “Sadly there will be more to come, but how many is unclear,” he said.

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

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