Subpostmasters launch bids to clear names and for compensation

Sian Harrison, PA Law Editor
·4-min read

More former subpostmasters convicted of offences relating to the Post Office Horizon scandal have launched bids to clear their names in the wake of last week’s historic Court of Appeal ruling.

On Friday, 39 former subpostmasters who were convicted and even jailed for theft, fraud and false accounting had their names cleared – some after fighting for nearly 20 years.

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”.

Hundreds of people who ran Post Office branches were convicted of various offences during the period of time the system was being used.

Lawyers representing other subpostmasters said on Monday they have more than 70 other appeals or potential appeals at various stages of the legal process.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, who has represented 33 former subpostmasters who have cleared their names so far, said his firm received 20 new inquiries over the weekend following media reports of the Court of Appeal decision.

He said that his firm plans to launch claims for compensation against the Post Office for malicious prosecution later this week, and said that “very significant sums” will be sought on behalf of his clients.

There are also 38 people who were convicted in the Crown Court, who filed their cases with the Court of Appeal last week, and a further 13 people who were convicted at Magistrates’ Courts have had their cases referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) for consideration.

Mr Hudgell said: “I said outside court on Friday that the strength and significance of the judges’ findings were such that the doors were opened for potentially hundreds of people convicted as a result of failings in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system to come forward, with confidence, to seek to have those convictions overturned.

“We are already well down the road with regards to supporting another 50 people through the process, having gathered evidence on their behalf and submitted their cases directly to the CCRC and the Court of Appeal.

“They include yet more heartbreaking stories of lives unfairly destroyed – or as the judges said last week, lives steamrollered by the Post Office.

“We have yet more cases similar in circumstance, outcome and suffering to those heard on Friday.

Post Office court case
Former post office worker Tom Hedges (centre) pops a bottle of champagne in celebration outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Yui Mok/PA)

“Each and every subpostmaster walked out of the Royal Courts of Justice and down the steps with their heads held high last week, completely exonerated and found to be entirely innocent by the courts.

“Now we want to make sure we deliver the same outcome for every other family affected by this. The work goes on.”

Mr Hudgell also reiterated calls for a public inquiry, as it was announced that former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells had quit as a non-executive director of high street chains Morrisons and Dunelm, and stepped back from her role as an associate minister in the Diocese of St Albans.

He said: “I’m sure many of my clients welcome Ms Vennells removing herself from these positions today, but given she left the Post Office with hundreds of thousands of pounds in bonuses just months before this scandal was fully exposed by the courts, I am sure they will share my view that it shouldn’t have taken her this long to do so.”

“The current review which is under way is simply not sufficient enough to investigate such a huge miscarriage of justice and does not have the power to make sure serious questions don’t continue to be dodged, as they have been for almost 20 years in many cases.

“To serve its proper purpose, any inquiry must have full teeth required to ensure all people involved come under scrutiny that has been dodged until now.

“Following the events of Friday, and the widespread media coverage, the wider public is now becoming much more aware of the depth and significance of this scandal and how lives have been completely destroyed.

“The subpostmasters have huge support in terms of seeking answers and compensation over what happened to them and the Government must be seen to deliver in both regards.”