Postmasters who were made homeless with two young children when they were wrongly convicted in Post Office IT scandal are among latest to be cleared by Appeal Court judges
- Three judges overturned the convictions of seven people who were convicted
- It was based on evidence from faulty IT system used by Post Office from 2000
- Pauline Stonehouse, Angela Sefton, Janine Powell, Anne Nield are among them
- Gregory Harding, Marissa Finn and Jamie Dixon were remaining three innocent
Seven more former subpostmasters who were wrongly convicted as a result of the Post Office Horizon scandal have been cleared by the Court of Appeal.
Three senior judges overturned the convictions of seven people who were convicted based on evidence from the faulty IT system used by the Post Office from 2000.
Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, quashed the convictions of Pauline Stonehouse, Angela Sefton, Janine Powell, Anne Nield, Gregory Harding, Marissa Finn and Jamie Dixon.
The former Post Office workers had been accused of offences including theft and false accounting related to shortfalls of tens of thousands of pounds.
Their appeals were unopposed by the Post Office, which accepted evidence about the reliability of the Fujitsu-developed system was ‘essential’ to their convictions.
Former subpostmasters are pictured outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, to challenge their convictions for offences including false accounting and theft
The court heard Ms Stonehouse, 49, who pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting in 2008 after suffering a shortfall of more than £15,000, said she had faced unexplained discrepancies in her Sunderland branch since the installation of the Horizon system and that she had ‘no confidence’ in it at the time.
Several of the former Post Office workers had tried to make up the shortfalls with their own money, the Court of Appeal heard.
Earlier this year, a law professor told the first open hearing of a public inquiry into the scandal of fresh evidence suggesting Paula Vennells, (pictured) who was chief executive between 2012 and 2019, made false statements to MPs and a minister after evidence of miscarriages of justice came to light
Kate O’Raghallaigh, representing five of the people who brought unopposed appeals, said they showed the capacity of the Horizon system ‘to cause great injustice’.
Lord Justice Holroyde said: ‘We are satisfied that the decisions not to oppose the appeals in these seven cases are realistic and appropriate, and that the appeals should succeed.’
The judge said while the full reasons for their decision will be provided at a later date ‘it is only right that the applicants concerned should know today that their appeals have succeeded’.
Speaking after her conviction was overturned, Ms Stonehouse said: ‘To have a good day for a change was nice.
‘We lost our home, we lost our business, we were homeless with two children under the age of eight. We ended up bankrupt, we ended up with nothing.’
Ms Stonehouse, who was supported in court by her husband Christopher, said she wants ‘an apology with my name on it’ from the Post Office over her case.
‘They made me feel as if I was the only one who had ever done anything wrong,’ she added.
What was the Horizon computer system and how did it go wrong?
Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of postmasters were sacked or prosecuted after money appeared to go missing from their branch accounts (file image)
Horizon, an IT system developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was rolled out by the Post Office from 1999.
The system was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking. However, subpostmasters complained about defects after it reported shortfalls – some of which amounted to thousands of pounds.
Some subpostmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money, even remortgaging their homes, in an attempt to correct an error.
Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted due to the glitches. The ex-workers blamed flaws in the IT system, Horizon, but the Post Office denied there was a problem.
In case after case the Post Office bullied postmasters into pleading guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed.
Many others who were not convicted were hounded out of their jobs or forced to pay back thousands of pounds of ‘missing’ money.
The Post Office spent £32million to deny any fault in their IT system, before capitulating.
However, the postmasters and postmistresses said the scandal ruined their lives as they had to cope with the impact of a conviction and imprisonment, some while they had been pregnant or had young children.
Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.
Ms Stonehouse, 49, a former subpostmistress in Seaburn, Sunderland, said she felt ‘massive relief’ after her convictions were quashed.
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the mother-of-two said her conviction for six counts of false accounting in 2008 was ‘horrible’.
‘To have a good day for a change was nice,’ she said.
Ms Stonehouse, of Pallion, Sunderland, who was supported in court by her husband Christopher, described the impact of her ‘horrendous’ experience.
‘We lost our home, we lost our business, we were homeless with two children under the age of eight. We ended up bankrupt, we ended up with nothing,’ she said.
Ms Stonehouse said she wanted ‘an apology with my name on it’ from the Post Office over her case.
‘I’d like a personal apology, I think we should all get a personal apology,’ she said.
Gregory Harding, 61, a former subpostmaster in Hipperholme, West Yorkshire, said ‘words can’t describe’ how he felt after being cleared by the Court of Appeal.
‘I feel a lot better now,’ he said, adding he was ‘a lot happier’.
Mr Harding described having lost friends after his wrongful conviction for one count of false accounting in 2010, with people ‘blanking me’ and ‘walking straight past me not even acknowledging me’.
The father-of-one from Bradford, who was supported in court by his wife Gillian, said he now hoped he could return to places he used to visit and be met with ‘a smile instead of a scowl’.
Two further cases, related to the appeals of former subpostmasters Roger Allen and Alan Robinson, are opposed by the Crown Prosecution Service.
The senior judges said they will give their decision in Allen’s case at a later date.
The seven newly-cleared former subpostmasters are among hundreds of people who ran Post Office branches convicted of various offences based on evidence from the faulty IT system used by the Post Office from 2000.
More than 70 people have since had their convictions overturned, including six further ex-subpostmasters who were cleared at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday.
Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, who represented five of the former subpostmasters whose convictions were quashed, said they had experienced ‘devastating loss, hurt, worry and tragedy’.
He said: ‘The Court of Appeal has today cleared the names of yet more people who each have personal stories of devastating loss, hurt, worry and tragedy relating to them being wrongfully and unfairly prosecuted for crimes they didn’t commit. Those convictions have hung over each of them for many years.’
Mr Hudgell added: ‘These cases today are every bit as significant and as important as the first successful appeals against conviction back in April.
‘The rising number of acquittals make these cases no less important or significant.
‘Indeed, each new acquittal adds extra importance to the continued push for answers and accountability from the Post Office, and they are further, real-life evidence of the immense harm caused to so many.’
Following the seven successful appeals on Monday, a Post Office spokesman said: ‘Post Office is extremely sorry for historical failures and the impact on the lives of people affected.
‘Whilst we cannot change the past, we have taken determined action to ensure there is appropriate redress.
‘Ahead of final compensation, we are expediting offers of interim payments of up to £100,000 to people whose convictions have been overturned where the reliability of Horizon data was essential to the prosecution.’
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