|Neil Hudgell, Jo Hamilton, Tim Moloney QC, Tara Adedayo, Parmod Kalia, Amit Bhanot, Kathleen Donnelly and Ognjen Miletic|
This morning Teju (Tara) Adedayo and Parmod Kalia had their convictions quashed at Southwark Crown Court. They were not part of the first six Postmasters to clear their names on 11 December last year because the Criminal Cases Review Commission initially decided it was not minded to refer their cases back to the courts.
This seemed to hinge on the fact that Tara and Parmod offered confessions to go with their guilty pleas. Both Tara and Parmod have always said these confession were procured under duress in order to mitigate their sentences.
Parmod said he offered his confession on the advice of the National Federation of Subpostmasters (the union supposed to protect him).
Thanks to the work of their solicitors, Hudgells, the CCRC was set straight on the circumstances around their confessions, and their cases were belatedly dealt with today.
The hearing was short. The Post Office told the judge:
"In its judgment, handed down on 23 April 2021, the Court of Appeal Criminal Division distinguished between ‘Horizon cases’ which, due to the Post Office's failures of investigation and disclosure at the time of the original proceedings, were an abuse of process under both categories of abuse... The Court defined an ‘Horizon case’ as one in which the reliability of Horizon was essential to the prosecution of the appellant, typically where there was no other evidence of the shortfall other than what Horizon showed."
Their barrister added:
"applying the test in Hamilton & Others v Post Office [the Court of Appeal case which concluded on 23 April] to the circumstances of the case, in particular the full confessions made by each appellant in the original proceedings, the Post Office considers that the reliability of Horizon data was not essential to the original prosecution and conviction of either appellant. Neither does the Post Office accept that their confessions were made as a consequence of anything said or done that was likely, in the circumstances existing at the time, to render them unreliable."
"having considered the High Court judgments, the CCRC’s reasons for referring the case, the judgment in Hamilton & Others v Post Office and the papers available in each individual’s case, POL considered that the Full Code Test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors was not met."
The Post Office concluded "a prosecution is not required in the public interest" and it "therefore intends to offer no evidence in relation to each of the appellants."
Tim Moloney, Parmod and Tara's barrister, stood up and said that neither of his clients accepted the Post Office's characterisation of their cases, but as it was wholly "immaterial" to proceedings, he was not going to make any further comment.
Without further ado, the judge said she adopted the findings of the Court of Appeal (that their prosecutions were an affront to the public conscience) and:
"these appellants join those whose appeals have not been contested, their sentences have been served and we hope they can put this behind them and get on with their lives without the shadow of their convictions hanging over therm. We therefore allow the appeals."
The hearing finished, and after the judges had left court the remainder of those in the room (a good number of journalists, lawyers, family and well-wishers) stayed standing as Tara and Parmod slowly walked out in silence, both with tears in their eyes.
By the time I finished live-tweeting and got out into the corridor Parmod was standing on his own, with his back to the wall, visibly seething. I could guess why. "They had to bring it up again, didn't they?" he said. I let him gather his thoughts and moved outside to join the waiting cameras.
Tara and Parmod emerged from the court building together. Both were emotional. Tara said:
"We thank God for everything. I just thank God for today..." She seemed lost for words, but then surprised her solicitor Neil Hudgell by turning round to give him a hug, repeating "This is the guy! This is the guy!"
Mr Hudgell said: "It's been an incredible journey. It's had its real downs even very recently and we're delighted."
"It's been so long coming" said Parmod. "I'm so pleased. Thank you to my legal team who've represented me to get me to this position. I've just hidden myself and surfaced today as a result of today's decision. It has been horrendous, but I am very pleased it's come to this now today that I didn't do what they said I did do."
I asked Mr Hudgell what he made of the Post Office's argument (as outlined above) in court. He replied:
"I think today is just about exoneration. I don't think we're bothered about legal argument. We're just bothered about two fabulous people who have been so wronged for so long, having the weight lifted from their shoulders. Legal niceties are for another day."
Tara Adedayo was a Subpostmaster in Kent. She experienced inexplicable discrepancies on her Post Office Horizon computer system. After handing over £50,000 to the Post Office to "make good" the discrepancy, the Post Office prosecuted her. She was given a 50-week sentence at Maidstone Crown Court, suspended for two years, and ordered to complete 200 hours community service.
On many occasions, she considered taking her own life, saying in a written statement: "My family have been dragged to hell and back."
|Parmod (l) and Teju outside Southwark Crown Court after their convictions were quashed|
Parmod Kalia ran a Post Office in Orpington, in the London Borough of Bromley. In 2001 had inexplicable discrepancies on the new Horizon system and was accused by Post Office investigators of stealing £22,000. He was advised by his National Federation of Subpostmasters representative to ‘put things right’ to avoid court proceedings.
He borrowed £22,000 from his mother to ‘repay’ the missing amount within days, yet despite this, court proceedings were still started against him and he was encouraged to ‘make up a story’ as to where the money had gone.
Despite pleading guilty, Parmod was sentenced to six months in prison at Croydon Crown Court.
Parmod's conviction and sentence is something he has kept secret for many years, though he did allow me to tell his story under a different name. We agreed we'd call him "Parminder" in this piece I wrote after we met at the High Court, and he has subsequently spoken to Vanessa Feltz on a couple of occasions as "Peter" for BBC London. Parmod told reporters today that the only reason he had any idea he wasn't the only person who had suffered these losses was when he watched Panorama on the BBC back in 2015.
In a statement he added:
“The only reason I ever said I had taken the money is because I was told that was my only option to avoid jail. I was told I needed to repay the money and make up a story as to where the £22,000 had gone,” he said.
I was in a complete panic and so I made up a story. It was stupid, but I was under such intense pressure and I was desperate to avoid prison. Even then I was sent to jail. The whole experience was just appalling.
It was something that brought great shame to my family, so much so that I did all I could to keep it from my relatives. At the time of my court appearance I arranged for my mother to visit family in India for a couple of months, so she was never aware that I was sent to prison. I think that would have killed her. She died in 2019 without ever knowing.
Only my wife and four children knew I spent time in prison, and only now am I prepared to tell others in my family, as I no longer have a conviction by my name.
My reputation in the community was destroyed. At the time I was a treasurer also for a local charity, and that was a position I lost. My life fell apart, causing many issues in my marriage and undue pressure and stress on my children and my wife.
This has caused me emotional, mental and physical stress whereby I have attempted suicide on three occasions, and been scarred with physical disabilities, caused by all the stress I have had to endure.
I wrote a letter addressed to Paula Vennels, who was chief executive of the Post Office at the time of all this, and she didn’t even bother to reply. I think that says it all.
I’ve always tried to retain the belief that I’d get there in the end but when the CCRC rejected my case last year it was difficult. Thankfully, through persistence and good legal support, that decision was successfully challenged, and when the first convictions were overturned in December it gave me real hope.
I was then due to hear if the Post Office was opposing my appeal last month, but it was delayed at their request. When I finally got the call to say they were not going to contest my case at court today it did feel like the end of a very long, difficult journey.
I will never understand why this happened to us and why we have had to fight so long.”
“extremely sorry for historical failures and the impact these have had on the lives of people affected.We are taking determined action to fully address the past and have undertaken wholesale reforms to prevent such events ever happening again.”
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