A group of former subpostmasters wrongly convicted of financial crimes by the Post Office have had their names cleared at Southwark Crown Court, with more set to follow.
The group of six are among 47 referrals of miscarriages of justice made by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in June.
It is the biggest group of referrals ever made, in a scandal described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in modern history.
Former subpostmasters Vipinchandra Patel, Julie Cleife, Susan Rudkin, Kamran Ashraf, Jasvindr Barang and Christopher Trousdale all had their criminal records and convictions quashed.
A year to the day since the subpostmasters were vindicated in a High Court battle, the judge allowed the appeals and entered not guilty verdicts in all cases.
Because they were prosecuted in magistrates’ courts, these six cases were heard in the Crown Court, whereas the other 41 were prosecuted in the Crown Court so their appeals will be heard in the Court of Appeal.
Over a period spanning around 20 years, subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with many going bankrupt and some sent to jail. The subpostmasters claimed that unexplained accounting shortfalls were not caused by them, but by faults in the Post Office’s retail and accounting computer system used in branches.
Computer Weekly first reported on problems with the Fujitsu-supplied system, known as Horizon, in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters (see timeline of Computer Weekly coverage below).
The Post Office always denied that Horizon could be to blame for unexplained shortfalls, but in December 2019, a multimillion-pound group litigation, which had begun in the High Court over a year earlier, ended with the Post Office conceding that it was wrong, apologising and paying £57.5m in damages.
The scandal ruined the lives of many subpostmasters and their families. Some served prison sentences, were bankrupted, received criminal records and heavy fines. They were humiliated, with some suffering physical and mental illness as a result. There is at least one suicide linked to the scandal.
In October, the Post Office, following the CCRC group referral, said it would not contest the quashing of criminal records for 44 of the 47 cases referred for appeal. In March, CCRC chairman Helen Pitcher told Computer Weekly it was the biggest group of probable miscarriages of justice in UK history, calling it “completely unprecedented.” The previous biggest group referral comprised 10 cases.
A Post Office spokesman said: “Post Office did not oppose these appeals and sincerely apologises for historical failings. We have taken determined action to address the past, ensuring there is redress for those affected and to prevent such events ever happening again.”
“Fundamental reforms have been made to forge a new relationship with postmasters, helping them to build thriving Post Office businesses for customers and communities throughout the UK.”