Published: 15:00, 23 April 2021
| Updated: 16:37, 23 April 2021
A post office manager convicted of false accounting in one of the country's biggest ever miscarriages of justice has become one of 39 people to have their names cleared.
William Graham, who worked at the Riverhead sub-post office near Sevenoaks, avoided prison when he was sentenced in January 2011 for the concealment of supposed losses which eventually totalled £65,521.
Today Mr Graham was one of 39 former Post Office employees - prosecuted after the Horizon IT system installed by the Post Office falsely suggested there were cash shortfalls - who had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal in London.
Describing himself as "elated" by the ruling Mr Graham expressed his relief at finally seeing his name cleared.
"There were people in tears," he said. "It's just joy.
"I am very happy, but also angry that it's taken this long - and many lies from the Post Office to try and stop these cases."
Following his conviction, Mr Graham lost his job and struggled to find work with the offence against his name.
The 53-year-old, who lives in Welling, south east London, now works as a medical courier - but still has financial problems lingering as a result of the loss of income he suffered.
He now waits to see if the legal teams representing the wrongly convicted can secure compensation for their ordeal.
It is believed that many hundreds of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses were prosecuted and wrongly convicted between 2000 and 2014 as a result of "bugs, errors and defects" within the computer system.
At the time of his conviction, Maidstone Crown Court was told none of the money presumed missing was taken by Mr Graham, who admitted two offences of false accounting in November 2008 and January 2009 on advice of his lawyers.
The court heard back then he had noticed losses in his accounts which couldn't be explained, but due to a 'complicated' chain of liability he would have been responsible for paying any shortfalls.
Already facing personal financial pressures and having paid a similar £5,000 deficiency in 2006, he was accused of making false entries to conceal the losses.
In 2011, imposing a sentence of 32 weeks imprisonment suspended for 18 months, Judge Charles Macdonald QC said he accepted Graham had not stolen the money.
Today's legal ruling means 39 former subpostmasters who were given similar convictions, including for theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system, have finally had their names cleared.
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”, the Court of Appeal heard last month.
Lawyers representing 42 former subpostmasters said evidence of serious defects in the Horizon system was “concealed from the courts, prosecutors and defence”, to protect the Post Office “at all costs”.
Their convictions were referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) last year following a landmark High Court case against the Post Office.
The Post Office conceded that 39 of the 42 former subpostmasters should have their convictions overturned on the basis that “they did not or could not have a fair trial”.
But it opposed 35 of those 39 cases on a second ground of appeal, which is that the prosecutions were “an affront to the public conscience”.
At the Royal Courts of Justice in London on today, 39 of the former subpostmasters finally had their names cleared.
Announcing the court’s ruling, Lord Justice Holroyde 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.
The Court of Appeal also allowed the appeals on the basis that their prosecutions were an affront to justice.
Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, said: “Post Office Limited’s failures of investigation and disclosure were so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court.”
However, three of the former subpostmasters – Wendy Cousins, Stanley Fell and Neelam Hussain – had their appeals dismissed by the court.
Lord Justice Holroyde said the Court of Appeal had concluded that, in those three cases, “the reliability of Horizon data was not essential to the prosecution case and that the convictions are safe”.
Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: "I am in no doubt about the human cost of the Post Office’s past failures and the deep pain that has been caused to people affected.
"Many of those postmasters involved have been fighting for justice for a considerable length of time and sadly there are some who are not here to see the outcome today and whose families have taken forward appeals in their memory. I am very moved by their courage.
"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."