More subpostmasters’ prosecutions sent to appeal for wrongful conviction

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The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has referred four more subpostmasters’ criminal convictions to appeal, as part of the biggest miscarriage of justice in modern UK history.

The four latest referrals are part of a large group of subpostmasters who were prosecuted for crimes relating to unexplained accounting shortfalls, including theft and false accounting.

Of a total of 51 now referred, six have already had their criminal records quashed in Southwark Crown Court and a further 41 will have their appeals heard in the Court of Appeal in March.

Many of those prosecuted claimed the losses could have been caused by errors in the Post Office’s retail and accounting system, known as Horizon. The Post Office always denied this until a High Court trial, which concluded in December 2019, proved the subpostmasters right.

Two of the latest cases referred, which were convicted in magistrates’ courts, have been referred to the Crown Court and two others, prosecuted in a Crown Court, will go to the Court of Appeal, taking the total number of cases referred in the Post Office Horizon scandal to 51.  

The appellants are all former subpostmasters who were prosecuted by the Post Office, which is permitted to instigate private prosecutions. The latest cases referred to the Court of Appeal are those of Roger Allen, who pleaded guilty to theft at Norwich Crown Court in 2004 and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, and Pamela Lock, who pleaded guilty to false accounting at Swansea Crown Court on 2001 and was sentenced to 80 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay more than £26,000.

The latest cases referred to the Crown Court involve Oyeteju Adedayo, who pleaded guilty to false accounting at Medway Magistrates’ Court in January 2006 and received a prison sentence, and Parmod Kalia, who pleaded guilty to theft at Bromley Magistrates’ Court in 2001 and was later sentenced to six months in prison at Croydon Crown Court.

The CCRC said: “All the CCRC referrals so far have been made on the basis of an abuse of  process argument concerning issues with the Post Office’s Horizon computer system which may have had an impact on the safety of the convictions.

“The CCRC believes the argument gives rise to a real possibility that the appeal courts will quash these convictions.”

Over a period of about 20 years, subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with many going bankrupt and some sent to jail. The subpostmasters claimed that accounting shortfalls were not caused by them, but by faults in Horizon. Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the Horizon system, from Fujitsu, in 2009 when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters (see timeline below).

The CCRC began reviewing 27 applications in 2015, but that number has increased over the six years since then. Since a High Court case ended in December 2019, in which over 500 subpostmasters disproved the Post Office’s claim that the Horizon system was robust, the CCRC has so far referred 51 convictions to appeal.

In his High Court judgment, Judge Peter Fraser said the Post Office had exhibited “a simple institutional obstinacy or refusal to consider any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary”. 

The Post Office agreed to settle out of court with the subpostmasters, paying £47.75m in damages.

There could be still more referrals, with the CCRC having 12 cases under review and with a further eight new applications being considered, and the Scottish CCRC taking what it described as an “unusual step” by writing to 73 people with criminal convictions potentially linked to the Post Office’s Horizon errors.

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