Monday 13 April 2020

500 MORE Subpostmaster convictions under review

Daily Mail, Sat 11 April, p27
When I wrote two weeks ago that the Post Office was reviewing a number convictions which hadn't been taken on by the Criminal Cases Review Commission I was intrigued. The obvious question was how many. Now, as per this article in the Daily Mail, we know. 500.
The 39 cases (of the 61 under review) already referred to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC make this one of the widest potential miscarriages of justice in the UK this century. If just 10% of these 500 other convictions are unsafe, all bets are off. 
Totting up the figures which are publicly available, we know that between 2004/5 and 2016/17 the Post Office prosecuted 252 people. Assuming there have been negligible prosecutions since then (I've asked for those numbers via FOI), and knowing that not all those prosecutions resulted in convictions, that means over a four year period - between the rollout of Horizon in 1999 and 2003/4 - the Post Office successfully convicted at least 250 people. Wow. That is criminalisation on industrial scale.
This is what the Post Office told me about its review:
"We continue to make full disclosure of documents to the CCRC and will be, similarly, assisting the appeal courts regarding the cases that have now been referred to them. Outside of this work, we have established a review of around 500 additional cases prosecuted by Post Office which resulted in convictions, spanning a lengthy period of well over a decade, to identify and disclose material capable of impacting on the safety of the convictions. The work is being undertaken by Peters & Peters, a criminal law firm with no previous involvement with the Post Office or these cases. The CCRC’s decisions and reasoning will inform their review.
The Post Office has also confirmed these convictions are for offences such as false accounting, theft and fraud and they date back to the advent of Horizon in 1999.

Now what?

If Peters and Peters find that some or all of these prosecutions are/might be unsafe, what is the process for getting those convictions quashed? The Post Office tells me:

"We’re not in a position at the moment to comment on potential future steps but we’re committed to working as quickly as we can to assist the criminal justice process."

The scale of this scandal has just potentially multiplied by a factor of four. And yet thanks to the coronavirus, the most it can muster is page 27 of the Daily Mail. These are strange times indeed.

Scot-free, milords
You'll be pleased to know that despite the growing scale of this scandal, the government is pretty clear no one should be held responsible. 
A serving Subpostmaster recently wrote to the ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (which "owns" the Post Office on our behalf) with a number of concerns. He received a lengthy reply by letter on 2 April 2020 from a lady called Lauren Wood at the "BEIS Ministerial Correspondence Unit" which he kindly forwarded to me. The letter included the following paragraph:
"With regard to the point you raise about taking action against former directors, given the major programme of work the Post Office is implementing, the Government will not be taking further action at this time. The Horizon IT system was put in place in 1999, with the first issues being raised by postmasters in the early 2000s. Over an almost 20-year period decisions were made by many people, including in relation to the prosecution of postmasters. There is therefore no single person accountable for what has taken place. The Post Office must learn from Mr Justice Fraser’s findings and deliver the commitments it made as part of the final settlement, to strengthen and repair its relationship with postmasters. Minister Scully will ensure that the Post Office is accountable for delivering this work."
I am not sure the "oh-it-was-all-a-long-time-ago-and-lots-of-people-were-involved" approach is morally legitimate, but it seems that's where we are for the time being.
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