Published: 17:00, 23 April 2021
| Updated: 18:12, 23 April 2021
Former subpostmasters whose names have finally been cleared said the fight for justice against the Post Office over the Horizon scandal will continue.
Thirty-nine former subpostmasters who were convicted and even jailed for theft, fraud and false accounting had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal on Friday.
At a hearing last month, the court heard subpostmasters’ lives were “irreparably ruined” as they lost their jobs, homes and marriages after they were prosecuted by the Post Office – which knew the Fujitsu-developed IT system had “faults and bugs from the earliest days of its operation”.
Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon” and had a “clear duty to investigate” the system’s defects.
But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable”, and “effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”, the judge added.
However, three of the former subpostmasters – Wendy Cousins, Stanley Fell and Neelam Hussain – had their appeals dismissed by the court because “the reliability of Horizon data was not essential to the prosecution case”.
After the ruling was delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, former subpostmasters whose convictions were overturned called for a public inquiry into the scandal which “destroyed” people’s lives.
Many now plan to seek compensation from the Post Office to cover the money they lost as a result of their convictions, as well as damages for malicious prosecution.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice, has encouraged any other former Post Office employees to consider challenging their convictions following the ruling.
And Neil Hudgell, who represented 29 of the former subpostmasters who were cleared, said his firm filed a further 34 appeals against convictions on Thursday and has another seven clients waiting in the wings.
Wendy Buffrey, who was ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work in October 2010 after she pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud, said the focus now will be on fighting to help others get their names cleared.
Ms Buffrey, 61, of Cheltenham, said: “We are not finished, not by a long way.
“I would like to see somebody take responsibility for what they have done to us because they ought to.”
William Graham, 53, a former Post Office manager in Riverhead, Sevenoaks, was convicted of false accounting in 2011 and given a 32-week suspended prison sentence.
He called for prosecutions of those at the Post Office involved, adding: “I would like to see the people that were in charge at the time dealt with in the same way we were dealt with, but legally.”
Harjinder Butoy, who was convicted of theft and jailed for three years and three months in 2008, described the Post Office as “a disgrace”.
Mr Butoy, 44, said those responsible for the scandal “need to be punished, seriously punished”, adding: “They’re just bullies, that’s all they are … somebody needs to really, really sort this out and charge them for this.”
He also said: “The Post Office were just determined there was nothing wrong with the system but they were hiding and lying. All the way through they lied.”
But Mr Butoy, who was a subpostmaster in Nottinghamshire, said he does not believe there will be any criminal prosecutions, adding: “It is going to be hushed up, nobody will be charged.”
The Communication Workers Union called for criminal investigations into senior Post Office figures who “oversaw the criminalisation of hundreds of postmasters”.
Andy Furey, CWU’s national officer for postmasters, 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.”
Mr Furey added: “Our union is demanding that Paula Vennells, the former CEO, be stripped of her CBE – which was awarded to her for services to the Post Office in 2019 – for her part in this scandal.
“We also demand a criminal investigation against those who put loyal, decent workers in this diabolical situation.
“Many senior figures who are complicit in this scandal will now want to run from this situation, but we must not let that happen.
“Heads must roll for the humiliation and misery inflicted on decent, upstanding people who were simply providing much-needed local services and were pillars of their local communities.
“It will be only when justice is done that the suffering of so many can be mended and these decent, loyal postmasters can get real closure.”
Mr Hudgell said in a statement: “The Post Office still appears to care little about the people whose lives it has destroyed.
“Ultimately, it has been found to have been an organisation that not only turned a blind eye to the failings in its hugely expensive IT system, but positively promoted a culture of cover-up and subterfuge in the pursuit of reputation and profit.
“They readily accepted that loss of life, liberty and sanity for many ordinary people as a price worth paying in that pursuit.”
Mr Hudgell said the “scandal” of the prosecution of subpostmasters “will only deepen should those involved not now finally face a fiercely-run investigation into how these prosecutions were conducted, what exactly was known as to the unreliability of the Horizon system when it was being used to ruin people’s lives, and whether people acted in a criminal manner”.
He called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce a “judge-led public inquiry”, with the power to summons witnesses, into the prosecutions of subpostmasters.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, also called for “a proper inquiry with teeth to get the bottom of how this scandal can have happened and who was responsible – to deliver the justice those impacted need and deserve”.
Speaking on a visit to a farm in Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire, on Friday, Mr Johnson welcomed the Court of Appeal’s ruling, and said that “we’ll have to make sure that people get properly looked after”.
Post Office chairman Tim Parker said in a statement: “The Post Office is extremely sorry for the impact on the lives of these postmasters and their families that was caused by historical failures.
“Post Office stopped prosecutions soon after its separation from Royal Mail a decade ago and has throughout this appeals process supported the overturning of the vast majority of convictions.
“We are contacting other postmasters and Post Office workers with criminal convictions from past private Post Office prosecutions that may be affected, to assist them to appeal should they wish.”
Nick Read, Post Office chief executive, said: “The quashing of historical convictions is a vital milestone in fully and properly addressing the past as I work to put right these wrongs as swiftly as possible, and there must be compensation that reflects what has happened.”
Seema Misra began running a post office in West Byfleet, Surrey, in 2005, and was pregnant when jailed.
She told, after the ruling, how she was suspended in 2008 and jailed in 2010, after being accused of stealing £74,000.
“I pleaded not guilty but was found guilty,” said Mrs Misra, who now lives near Woking, Surrey.
“I got a 15-month sentence but served less than four months in jail before being released on licence.
“I was eight weeks pregnant when sentenced. I gave birth to my youngest son after leaving jail. He’ll be 10 in June.”
Mrs Misra added: “I don’t think I’ve suffered any worse than anyone else. Everyone has suffered.
“I’ve very, very happy with what’s happened today but also very, very angry. This should have been sorted out years ago.
“They could have saved millions and not ruined a lot of people’s lives.
“I’ve not worked since I left jail – because of my criminal record. It’s starting to sink in now.
“I’m going to have to get used to experiencing life as someone who does not have a criminal record.
“We are going to talk to solicitors about compensation.”