Saturday, April 24, 2021

The great British post office scandal: Recently called, "the most widespread known miscarriage of justice in the U.K." Good place to start: "Post office scandal: What the Horizon saga is all about," by Reporter Kevin Peachey, published by BBC News on April 23, 2021. Publisher's Note: Dozens of convictions of postmasters and postmistresses have been squashed; Hundreds of lives have been ruined; The British government pushed indecently to put as many of them behind bars as possible over the years. Just one problem. They were all innocent. There were no crimes; Just errors in recording revenue caused by the flawed computor system the government required them to use. Worse, evidence that the government continued the arrests after it was aware that the machines were defective. (Maybe there is a crime in that. (If not, there should be. HL.)

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Publisher's Note:  Dozens of convictions of  postmasters and postmistresses have been squashed; Hundreds of lives have been ruined; The British government  pushed indecently to put as many of them behind bars as possible over the years. Just one problem. They were all innocent. There were no crimes;  (Like so many of the cases we explore on the Charle Smith Blog.) Just errors in recording revenue caused by the computer  system the government required them to use.  Worse, evidence that the government continued  the arrests after it was aware that  the machines were defective. (Maybe there is a crime in that. (If not, there should be).

Harold Levy: Publisher;  The Charles Smith Blog.


STORY: "Post Office scandal: What the Horizon saga is all about," by Kevin Peachey, Personal finance correspondent, BBC News, published on April 23, 2021

A group of former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have seen their names cleared at the Court of Appeal after the UK's most widespread miscarriage of justice. It marks the latest stage of a computer scandal, and a long and complex legal battle, which could leave the Post Office with a huge compensation bill.

What is this all about?

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses - an average of one a week - based on information from a recently installed computer system called Horizon. Some went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft, many were financially ruined and have described being shunned by their communities. Some have since died. After 20 years, campaigners won a legal battle to have their cases reconsidered, after claiming that the computer system was flawed.

What was Horizon? Horizon was introduced into the Post Office network from 1999. The system, developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking. Sub-postmasters complained about bugs in the system after it reported shortfalls, some of which amounted to many thousands of pounds. Some sub-postmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money, even remortgaging their homes, in an (often fruitless) attempt to correct an error.

What was the effect on individuals?

Many former postmasters and postmistresses have described how the saga ruined their lives.

They had to cope with the long-term impact of a criminal conviction and imprisonment, some at a time when 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. "The past nine years have been hellish and a total nightmare. This conviction has been a cloud over my life," said former Oxfordshire sub-postmaster Vipinchandra Patel, whose name was cleared late last year. Seema Misra was pregnant with her second child when she was convicted of theft and sent to jail in 2010. She said that she had been "suffering" for 15 years as a result of the saga.

What was the turning point?

In December 2019, at the end of a long-running series of civil cases, the Post Office agreed to settle with 555 claimants. It accepted it had previously "got things wrong in [its] dealings with a number of postmasters", and agreed to pay £58m in damages. The claimants received a share of £12m, after legal fees were paid. A few days later, a High Court judgement said that the Horizon system was not "remotely robust" for the first 10 years of its use, and still had problems after that. The judge said the system contained "bugs, errors and defects", and that there was a "material risk" that shortfalls in branch accounts were caused by the system.

Why is the current hearing significant?

Following the High Court ruling, more cases were brought forward to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), an independent body which investigates suspected miscarriages of justice. So far, it has referred 51 cases back to the courts. To date, six people's convictions have been overturned. Another 42 cases were heard in one hearing at the Court of Appeal in March. Of these, 39 were unopposed by the Post Office on at least one count - generally that the person did not receive a fair trial. With these 39 convictions quashed, it becomes the most widespread, known, miscarriage of justice in the UK.

What happens next?

The ruling has also determined that these 39 convictions were also "an affront to the public conscience". That means the postmasters may pursue civil action against the Post Office for malicious prosecution, seeking significant sums in damages. Three more cases referred by the CCRC have yet to be heard. It is also reviewing 22 more cases, and inviting others to make an application, which could go directly to the Court of Appeal, if a conviction is believed to be unsafe.

What about other affected postmasters and postmistresses?

The Post Office has set up a historic shortfall scheme designed to repay those who lost out but this excludes those who were part of the High Court settlement.

More than 2,400 claims have been made to the scheme. Ministers said this was more than the Post Office expected and held the potential for the government having to step in to cover some of the cost. An inquiry set up "to establish a clear account of the failings of the Horizon IT computer system, and assess whether lessons have been learnt at the Post Office" will report in the summer. The Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance campaign group, which was instrumental in the High Court battle, refused to take part, describing it as a whitewash and calling for a full public inquiry instead.

Has anyone been held accountable?

So far, nobody at the Post Office or Fujitsu has been held accountable, although the High Court judge said he would refer Fujitsu to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible further action because he had "grave concerns" about the evidence of the company's employees.


The entire story can be read at:



Read Kevin Peachey's companion BBC story (April 23, 2021) -  'Convicted  post office workers have names cleared,'

Judges have quashed the convictions of 39 former postmasters after the UK's most widespread miscarriage of justice.

They were convicted of stealing money, with some imprisoned, after the Post Office installed the Horizon computer system in branches.

The system was flawed. Some of those whose lives were ruined now want those responsible to be "punished".

The judgement was met with cheers from ex-postmasters outside court and was hailed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He called the original convictions an "appalling injustice".

The clearing of the names of 39 people follows the overturning of six other convictions in December, This means more people have been affected than in any other miscarriage of justice in the UK.

Among them was Janet Skinner, who ran a post office in Hull. She was imprisoned in 2007 for nine months over a shortfall of £59,000 - a case which she said "destroyed everything". Like others, she said she had no idea fellow sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were being prosecuted and convicted.

She was taken away from her two children to go to prison and - after her release - had a job offer taken away owing to her criminal conviction. Outside court, she said she was "relieved" at the judgement.

Speaking after his name was cleared, Harjinder Butoy, who was convicted of theft and jailed for three years and four months in 2008, described the Post Office as "a disgrace".

He 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."

Hughie "Noel" Thomas, also cleared, said it had been 16 years to fight for justice. "All I want is my money back. People have walked away from this who were responsible. I'd like to sit down with them and ask them the question 'why?'," he said.

Neil Hudgell, who represented 29 of the former sub-postmasters, said the Post Office "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," he said.

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells - at the the helm from 2012 to 2019 - said she supported a government inquiry.

"I was deeply saddened by the sub-postmasters' accounts heard during the Court of Appeal proceedings. I am truly sorry for the suffering caused to them as a result of the convictions which the Court of Appeal has today overturned.

"I fully support and am committed to co-operating with the ongoing Government Inquiry, as I did with last year's Select Committee Inquiry. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further while the Inquiry is ongoing."

Those affected have long called for a judge-led, full, public inquiry, rather than the government's own inquiry which is set to report in the summer.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice, is reviewing another 22 cases.

There were more than 700 prosecutions based on Horizon evidence. The commission and the Post Office are asking anyone else who believes their conviction to be unsafe to come forward.

At the Royal Courts of Justice in London, 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 sub-postmaster 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 - a decision that allows for the possibility of further claims for compensation against the Post Office."



PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system.   The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they’ve exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!
Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;