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CCRC refers two posthumous subpostmaster appeals to Crown Court

CCRC refers posthumous appeals against convictions to Crown Court for first time

Posthumous appeals against the convictions of two former subpostmasters have been referred to the Crown Court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), after family members pursued their claims of wrongful conviction.

The two former subpostmasters, Peter Huxham and Roderick Dundee, who passed away in 2020 and 2021, become the first appeals posthumously referred to the Crown Court, and join the growing group of former subpostmasters appealing convictions for theft and false accounting based on evidence from the Post Office’s core IT system.

While appeals have been posthumously heard in the Court of Appeal, these are the first to be made to the Crown Court. For people convicted in magistrates courts, the Crown Court is where appeals against convictions are heard.

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.

The Fujitsu computer system was later proved to be error-prone in the High Court, which the Post Office knew all along but always denied was 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 criminal records.

The CCRC began looking at subpostmaster cases in 2015, and nearly 100 convictions of former subpostmasters and branch staff have been overturned, with many more expected to follow.

Mr Huxham pleaded guilty to fraud by misrepresentation in March 2010 at Torquay Magistrates’ Court and was sentenced to eight months in prison. Mr Dundee pleaded guilty to false accounting at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court in August 2005​ and was given a community punishment order.

Complex reviews

CCRC chairman Helen Pitcher said these were legally challenging and complex reviews. “We know that these two decisions differ from previous posthumous referrals in Post Office Horizon cases in that the convictions of Mr Huxham and Mr Dundee occurred in magistrates’ courts,” she said. “There is no current legislation which expressly allows posthumous appeals from a magistrates’ court to the Crown Court.

“Given that we have seen successful posthumous appeals from the Crown Court to the Court of Appeal in Post Office cases, the disparity is difficult to justify,” added Pitcher. “After careful analysis of the law, we believe there is a reasonable argument that the Crown Court is able to hear an appeal on behalf of a deceased person if the case is referred to it by the CCRC.

“We feel it is important for this issue to be considered by the Crown Court and for the families of the deceased men to have an opportunity to appeal against the convictions of their loved ones,” she said.   

Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the Fujitsu-supplied Horizon system in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters whose lives were ruined when they were blamed for accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

Read more on IT for retail and logistics

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