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CCRC refers two more subpostmaster convictions for appeal

Two more subpostmaster convictions referred to appeal court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission

Two more Post Office Horizon scandal convictions referred for appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which warned against referring similar cases “en masse”.

The appeals of former subpostmasters Therese Gooding and Ian Davies will now go to Southwark Crown Court.

Between 2000 and 2015, about 700 subpostmasters who ran Post Office branches were convicted based on evidence from the Horizon accounting and retail system they used. Computer Weekly exposed problems with the system in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters being blamed for unexplained losses (see timeline below).

The computer system was later proved to be error prone in the High Court, which the Post Office knew all along but had always denied the system, supplied by Fujitsu, could be to blame for the accounting shortfalls. This resulted in subpostmasters and their families having their lives turned upside down, with criminal prosecutions for hundreds and many more financially ruined. Some were sent to prison, there are suicides linked to the scandal, and affected subpostmasters faced financial ruin and a criminal record.

This latest referrals takes the total number of Post Office referrals made by the CCRC to 68. To date, the total number of former subpostmaster convictions quashed is 86.

Therese Gooding, who pleaded guilty at Wirral magistrates’ court in March 2001 to charges of theft and false accounting and was sentenced to 200 hours’ community punishment, has had her appeal referred by the CCRC. The second referral is that of Ian Davies, who pleaded guilty at Swansea magistrates’ court in October 2006 to charges of false accounting and was fined £500.

Subpostmasters were forced to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit in fear that, if they did not and were found guilty, they could be sent to jail.

The CCRC said: “While that number already makes it the most widespread miscarriage of justice the [CCRC] has ever reviewed, there are still thought to be many more unchallenged potentially unjust convictions.”

CCRC chairperson, Helen Pitcher said: “This is the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history, and we might be able to help many more people challenge a Post Office conviction or clear the name of a loved one who has since died.

She warned against automatic referrals of Horizon cases. “It is sometimes said that we should automatically refer to the appellate courts any conviction said to be due to flaws in Horizon. However, the Court of Appeal has made clear that convictions in Post Office cases will only be overturned where Horizon data was essential to the prosecution and conviction of the individual in question.

“That means that in each case we have to assess the evidence relied on in order to decide whether Horizon data was indeed essential to the case. In some Post Office cases, we have decided after careful review that the conviction had nothing to do with Horizon data.”

CCRC casework operations director, Amanda Pearce, said it is imperative that the CCRC “balances accuracy, thoroughness and haste when investigating potential miscarriages of justice”.

“The law which governs our work requires us to carefully evaluate each individual conviction or sentence which comes before us to determine whether there is a real possibility that new evidence or argument will lead to a successful appeal,” she said.

Earlier in July, James Arbuthnot, a Conservative peer and campaigner for justice for subpostmasters, told Computer Weekly, the revelations in the current public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal have revealed “appalling behaviour” on the part of the Post Office in its use of its power to privately prosecute. He is calling for all Post Office prosecutions to be reviewed – even those not related to Horizon.

“No Post Office prosecution is safe unless there is the clearest of evidence that the person convicted has committed a crime,” he said. “All of the Post Office’s convictions need to be reviewed with the presumption of innocence at the forefront of those reviews.”

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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