The Post Office must “do the right thing” and provide compensation to former subpostmasters wrongly convicted of offences, their solicitor has said.
Hundreds of subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system, which had “bugs, defects and errors” from the very outset.
But on Friday, 39 former subpostmasters who were convicted and even jailed based on Horizon data had their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Neil Hudgell, who represented 29 of those who were cleared, said the scandal was “probably the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK legal history” in terms of the number of people affected and its duration.
He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “The next step is to some extent to cushion the blow, is to seek appropriate compensation.
“Some of these folk haven’t worked since and have clearly suffered.
“You’ve got to remember these are ordinary, hard-working folk who were never going to earn a king’s ransom.
“They were going out to earn a living, serve the community and their lives have been ruined.
“So now is the time to do the right thing and come to the table and help to cushion that blow, and alongside that, for the Government to indeed put their hand up and conduct a proper inquiry with full teeth, so that there can be some accountability.”
The Post Office knew there were “serious issues about the reliability” of the Fujitsu-developed IT system, which was rolled out to branches in 2000, but continued to bring “serious criminal charges against the subpostmasters on the basis of Horizon data”, the Court of Appeal said on Friday.
Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”.
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.
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.
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.”