Friday 11 December 2020

First Subpostmaster convictions quashed

l-r Chris Trousdale, Neil Hudgell, Vipin Patel, Varchas Patel, Mrs Patel, Siema Ashraf, Kamran Ashraf, Jaswinder Barang, Mr Barang, Sharon Barang

Six former Subpostmasters have made history by having their convictions quashed at Southwark Crown Court.

Julie Cleife, Christopher Trousdale, Susan Rudkin, Vipinchandra Patel, Kamran Ashraf and Jasvinder Barang were all prosecuted by the Post Office between 2004 and 2012 for crimes ranging from false accounting to theft, fraud and false representation.

Today a judge at Southwark Crown Court quashed their convictions after the Post Office indicated at the beginning of November it would not oppose them. Read the transcript here. At the end of the hearing, the judge told the court:

"I am sure that all of the appellants are grateful for the approach that the Post Office has taken finally to this matter and that it can be put to rest for them."

That is an odd take, to put it charitably.

The six former Subpostmasters had their cases referred to the crown court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission as part of a wider group of 47 Subpostmasters whose cases were referred earlier this year. The CCRC determined their prosecution was an abuse of process because it relied on using inaccurate data from the Post Office's unreliable Horizon IT system. 

Because this smaller group were initially convicted at magistrates courts, their appeals, or more accurately, re-trials needed to be take place at a crown court.

Speaking outside court shortly after her conviction for fraud had been overturned, Jaswinder Barang said:

"It's the worst thing, to be found guilty for something that you haven't done. I am a law-abiding citizen and that's the way I want to spend the rest of my life. Today is just absolutely wonderful - it's made me feel very happy."

Her daughter-in-law Sharon Barang added:

"We're just really happy - we were the first ones to get justice and we really hope this will set a precedent for many more people to get justice. It's been an absolute nightmare, for our family... such an ordeal."

Kamran Ashraf, who was convicted of theft in January 2004 said: 

"It's means everything. It's been 17 years. Way too long. Way way too long. But the main thing is we got there in the end. I'm just shellshocked. I just don't know how to react. So many mixed emotions. We are overjoyed, but at the same time when you think back and just think about the things that have happened over the last 17 years. Not just to me, but my family, and all we've been through as a group, it's just been horrendous. It really has."

Siema Ashraf, who was a young mother when Kamran was sent to prison said:

"It's wonderful. I'm still in shock. I think it hasn't hit home yet. We've been waiting for this day for a very very long time."

Helen Pitcher, Chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission said:

"This is really good news for the people involved in these six cases... We know from the Post Office that there could be hundreds of other cases out there – it seems likely that some of those will approach the CCRC for help while others may still be able to go direct to the Court of Appeal.”

The Post Office said they:

“did not oppose these appeals and sincerely apologises for historical failings. We have taken determined action to address the past, ensuring there is redress for those affected and to prevent such events ever happening again.

Fundamental reforms have been made to forge a new relationship with postmasters, helping them to build thriving Post Office businesses for customers and communities throughout the UK.”

The Post Office is currently reviewing around 800 prosecutions made between 1999 and 2014, where Horizon data was used in evidence. The CCRC is actively reviewing 21 cases, but says any Subpostmaster with a criminal conviction who has not appealed already should seek legal advice before applying to the courts directly to have their conviction quashed.

Neil Hudgell, a solicitor who represented three of the appellants in court today said:

"Their first comment to me was 'what about the others?' There are a sea of other people behind them who are going to get the same outcome in due course. It's just a great vindication.... The tide has turned. The cards are in their hands. And it's for them now to go to the Post Office and ask them to make some sort of reparation for their losses. They can never get back, of course, what they've lost. The Post Office now say they have an open and transparent way of working and the next test of that of that will be to ensure that Chris, Vipin and everybody else who has suffered so badly gets some sort of reflection for that, in an appropriate award of compensation for them."

The historic six: 

Kamran Ashraf – Theft – 28/1/04 – South Western Magistrates Court

Jasvinder Barang – Fraud 3/8/12 – Luton Magistrates Court

Julie Cleife – False representation – 26/10/10 – Basingstoke Magistrates Court

Vipin Patel – Fraud – 3/6/11 – Oxford Magistrates Court

Susan Rudkin – False accounting – 23/3/09 – Burton-upon-Trent Magistrates Court 

Christopher Trousdale – False accounting – 8/3/04 Scarborough Magistrates Court


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