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More Post Office software-related convictions overturned takes total to 86

A total of 86 former subpostmasters wrongly prosecuted for financial crimes after computer errors showed phantom losses have had convictions overturned

Two former subpostmasters are the latest to have wrongful criminal convictions overturned on appeal.

A total of 86 former subpostmasters and Post Office branch workers have now had convictions quashed, based on evidence from the Post Office’s error-prone computer system.

These former subpostmasters are victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal, which between 2000 and 2015 saw more than 700 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. It affected thousands of subpostmasters blamed for unexplained accounting shortfalls, which were later proved to be caused by the Post Office’s Horizon software from IT supplier Fujitsu.

The latest appeals, which were unopposed by the Post Office, saw the conviction of Victor Ingham, 79, overturned after 17 years.

He was prosecuted by the Post Office for theft and false accounting for an alleged shortfall of around £65,000 at the Post Office branch he had run for 25 years in Anglesey, North Wales. He had no explanation for the losses in his branch, and although the Post Office was aware errors in its Horizon system could cause unexplained losses, it prosecuted him. Ingham was sentenced to 15 months in prison in December 2005.

Sheila Coultas, 60, had a conviction for false accounting from 2008 overturned. An unexplained loss of £39,000 was reported by Post Office auditors at her branch in Stirling Road Post Office in Lincolnshire. She was prosecuted despite losses continuing at the branch after she had been suspended.

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).

Post Office denial

The Post Office always denied Horizon could be to blame for the shortfalls.

Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors, which represents more than 100 victims of the scandal, said: “We again welcome the quashing of these convictions. These are decent, honest people, whose lives have been ruined. We will now try to help them rebuild their lives and move forward when the Post Office is no longer front, middle and centre of their minds.

“We urge others to follow today’s appellants,” he said. “The Post Office Inquiry heard yesterday that the vast majority of those wrongly convicted are still out there. They should come forward without fear, clear their names and repair some of the damage wrought on them over the past 20 years” 

The Post Office Horizon scandal inquiry this week heard a further full day of evidence on compensation for thousands of former subpostmasters that were ruined after being blamed for losses. There is huge frustration and anger among the victims of the scandal due to the length of time it’s taking to award fair compensation.

As Computer Weekly revealed in January last year, the government put aside £1bn towards the Horizon compensation schemes. But although initial interim payments have been made to some, final payments, which are intended to put victims in the financial position they would have been in had it not been for the scandal, are yet to be paid or even agreed for claimants.

Alan Bates, the former subpostmaster who led the fight for justice since 2009, when he formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, said the compensation situation “has all the makings of a train crash in slow motion”.

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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