July 24, 2021

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UK Court of Appeals overturns 39 convictions for post office scandal

UK Court of Appeals overturns 39 convictions for post office scandal
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The Post Office is a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK government, currently employing 5,000 people. It was the place where people went not only to buy postage stamps and letters, but also to claim their retirement and unemployment benefits.

Court of Appeal judges overturned the sentences of 39 sub-postmasters and postmistresses who claim they were wrongfully convicted of stealing money from the post office.

The 39 – and hundreds of others who have also been accused of taking money – say the fault lay at the door of the Horizon computer system, installed in 1999. They said the system was faulty.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 people on the basis of information from the Horizon IT system, used for transactions and inventory.

The computer was made by Fuitsu, who denied responsibility.

It was recently reported that the UK government – owner of Post Office Limited – may have to pay £ 254 million in compensation to those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Since then, three of the 39 wrongfully convicted have died.

In their ruling, the appeals court judges said: “We conclude that Post Office Limited’s investigation and disclosure failures have been so egregious as to make prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the court’s conscience.”

They added, “By portraying Horizon as trustworthy and refusing to accept any suggestion to the contrary, Post Office Limited effectively sought to reverse the burden of proof: it treated what was nothing more than a deficit shown by an unreliable accounting system as an incontrovertible. loss, and proceeded as if the accused were proving that no such loss had occurred. “

They said the defendants were denied any disclosure of material that could undermine the accusation and that they were therefore “inevitably unable to discharge that improper burden”.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the convictions of three plaintiffs – Neelam Hussain, Stanley Fell and Wendy Cousins ​​- were safe because they were not based on Horizon data.

After the ruling Tim Parker, president of the post office, said: “The post office is extremely sorry about the impact on the lives of these postmasters and their families caused by historical failures.”

One of the convicts, Jo Hamilton, told PA: “This is the biggest miscarriage of justice. I was 45 when it started. It took up nearly a third of my life. You think it will never end.”

“I was given a 12-month supervisory order and I have a criminal record. But I didn’t do anything wrong. I told them about the problem but they said I was the only one,” added Ms. Hamilton.

In December 2019, the Post Office agreed to settle 555 applicants out of court for a total of £ 12 million.