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THIRTY-NINE former postmasters wrongly convicted of stealing from the Post Office had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal yesterday after years of campaigning.
There were emotional scenes outside the Royal Courts of Justice as some of those convicted as a result of errors generated by a faulty computer system emerged to cheers from supporters.
Post Office bosses issued abject apologies, but only after the organisation spent years — and more than £100 million — prosecuting employees for non-existent cash shortfalls, despite knowing that the Horizon system did not work.
Yesterday’s ruling, on top of six convictions already overturned last December, paves the way for hundreds more workers to clear their names.
The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) called for compensation for all those affected and a criminal investigation into Post Office bosses “complicit” in the “criminalisation” of hundreds of honest workers.
The three judges allowed 39 of 42 appeals referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, on the grounds that the convictions were “an affront to the conscience of the court.”
“Throughout the period covered by these prosecutions Post Office Limited’s (POL’s) approach to investigation and disclosure was influenced by what was in the interests of POL, rather than by what the law required,” said Lord Justice Holroyde.
There was “clear evidence of systemic failures by POL over many years,” with the same failures occurring in “case after case, year after year,” he said.
Whether jailed or not, all those falsely accused suffered shame, humiliation and financial loss, while some faced bankruptcy, long-term unemployment, failed relationships and ill-health, the judge said, while three had “gone to their graves carrying that burden.”
The written ruling found that POL knew there were “serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” yet “consistently asserted” it was robust and reliable.
In failing to discharge its responsibilities the company had “prevented [the subpostmasters] from having a fair trial on the issue of whether that data was reliable.”
The CWU is demanding criminal investigations into senior POL figures who oversaw the “criminalisation of hundreds of subpostmasters.”
It also called for former chief executive Paula Vennells to be stripped of the CBE she was awarded in 2019 for “services to the Post Office.”
National officer Andy Furey said: “The CWU is so glad that this long legal struggle has been won. But this isn’t the end of it.
“Alongside appropriate financial compensation for all the victims of this injustice, there must be acknowledgement of the aggressive, despicable way that senior Post Office directors treated their loyal employees. Heads must roll for the humiliation and misery inflicted on decent, upstanding people.”
Among those cleared was Rubbina Shaheen, who spent three months in prison after being convicted in November 2010 and had to live in a van after having to sell her home.
She said: “It made me feel very small, that I was a criminal when the judge said it, which I never was and I knew I hadn’t done it.
“It would be nice to have a written apology … and then everybody who dealt with our cases, who did this to us, to be put into the dock and pay for it.”
Grandmother Jo Hamilton said: “I was given a 12-month supervision order and have a criminal record. But I did nothing wrong. I told them about the problem but they said I was the only one.”
POL chief executive Nick Read said that the quashing of the convictions was “a vital milestone in fully and properly addressing the past” and acknowledged that “there must be compensation that reflects what has happened.”
Labour shadow business secretary Ed Miliband welcomed the “huge victory” but added that there were “so many other names to clear.”
He said: “We're pushing for a proper inquiry with teeth to get to the bottom of how this scandal can have happened — and who was responsible. The government’s inquiry risks being a whitewash."
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