Lucian Milasan -

Six more subpostmaster convictions overturned in Horizon scandal

More former subpostmasters have their wrongful convictions for theft and fraud overturned in the Court of Appeal

Six more former subpostmasters have had wrongful convictions for fraud and theft overturned, taking the total number quashed linked to the Horizon scandal to more than 80.

Five former subpostmasters had their wrongful convictions overturned in the Court of Appeal on Monday 25 July, following the quashing of a conviction at Southwark Crown Court on 22 July 2022.

These are victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal, which between 2000 and 2015 saw subpostmasters convicted of financial crimes based on evidence from the Horizon accounting and retail system used by Post Office branches, which was found in the High Court in 2019 to be error-prone.

Before announcing that all five convictions were overturned in the Royal Courts of Justice, Justice Holroyde said the convictions were “very sad cases”, adding that there have been long-lasting consequences of the convictions which the court was satisfied were unsafe.

Richard Hawkes, 75, had his conviction for false accounting overturned. He was convicted in 2005 at Norwich Crown Court in relation to a shortfall of just more than £11,000 at his branch in Tacolneston, South Norfolk, and sentenced to to community service. At the time, he called in the auditors himself after experiencing losses he could not explain. Following the overturning of his conviction, he said it felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders after near 20 years.

He said that when he was experiencing shortfalls, he always believed that the money would reappear and the losses were a glitch in the system: “In those days, Horizon was treated an untouchable – a gospel. Having converted from paper to the computer, the Post Office thought it was the bee’s knees.”

Hawkes borrowed money from his brother to pay the unexplained shortfall, which he paid before his court appearance. He said he has only just managed to pay his brother back this year.

Former subpostmaster Robert Boyle also had his conviction overturned. In 2011, he was convicted in Nottingham Crown Court for theft and was sentenced to 12 months in prison, which was suspended for two years. Boyle, now 73 years old, had a shortfall which he thought must be due to a system error that would correct itself.

In court, his barrister said that he had identified the Horizon system as a problem when the losses occurred, but the Post Office never investigated.

Following his conviction, he was unable to get a job and had to sell his home. His barrister said that while the court ruling is welcome, “the scars of the conviction will affect [Boyle] all his life”.

Grant Allen, 53, former subpostmaster at a branch in Windsford, Cheshire, had a conviction for fraud from 2013 overturned. After an unexplained shortfall in his accounts, he pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud by false representation at Chester Crown Court. He pleaded guilty because he could not account for a £13,000 loss, but admitted to concealing it. He was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 200 hours of unpaid work.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, who represents Allen, said: “His case clearly demonstrates how the Post Office ignored mounting evidence over the unreliability of the Horizon system and simply carried on taking people to court and destroying lives.”

Duranda Clarke, 65, who had a wrongful conviction overturned, was also ignored by the Post Office over concerns over Horizon. In 2010, after an unexplained shortfall of more than £36,100 at the branch in Thaxted in north-west Essex, where she was manager, she was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.

Jack Smith, now 78, was a subpostmaster in Manchester who was sentenced to do 60 hours community service over a shortage of £6,700. His conviction from 2004 was quashed.

Last week, Nalini Joshi, who ran a Post Office in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, had her conviction of false accounting from December 2001 overturned in Southwark Crown Court. She had been sentenced to do 120 hours of unpaid work, and pay costs and compensation to the Post Office.

The Post Office did not oppose any of the appeals. A spokesperson said: “Post Office is sincerely sorry for the failures of the past and we are taking determined action to right the wrongs suffered by those affected. Our priority is to ensure that there is meaningful compensation for victims and that such events can never happen again.”

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.

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

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