Thursday 1 July 2021

31 new Subpostmaster appeals - 10 convictions certain to be quashed - Tim Brentnall's tale

Tim Brentnall
Ten more Subpostmasters whose cases are being readied for court have been told the Post Office will not be contesting their appeals.

One of those former Subpostmasters is Tim Brentnall (left), a 39 year old who took over the Post Office counter in his parents' shop in Roch in Pembrokeshire, when he was in his early twenties. 

Today Tim told me he was feeling "a huge mixture of emotions. Both elated that I've been vindicated after all these years but so hollow and upset." 

Tim was prosecuted for false accounting in 2010 over a £22,000 discrepancy at his branch. He was told that "no one else has these problems." 

Tim says he was threatened by the Post Office with a theft charge if he didn't "make good" the £22,000. His parents scraped it together from their life savings. As soon as he had given the Post Office the money, they prosecuted him for false accounting.

It didn't occur to Tim or his legal team to challenge the integrity of the Horizon data - the accounting IT system used by the Post Office. His solicitors and barrister advised him to plead guilty to stay out of jail. He did, and was given an 18 month suspended sentence with 200 hours community service. Tim had no idea that during 2010, the Post Office was prosecuting more than one Subpostmaster a week - they'd convicted 55 by Christmast that year. He thought he was the only one. 

"I'm so angry that they've done it to so many people, and not just myself." he told me "And the fact we've had to fight so hard. They've fought us every step of the way and thrown everything at us that they can. It feels to me they've tried every manoeuvre possible to try to bury this."

A difficult few years

Tim has always maintained his innocence. He was a claimant in the civil litigation, but whilst the case was ongoing, Tim's partner Steph was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Tim has focusing his energies on looking after Steph for most of the last four years (particularly last year, when Steph's cancer was found to have spread) and wasn't particularly engaged with the fallout from civil court case. When he saw his fellow Postmasters' convictions being quashed in April, he put in an application direct to the Court of Appeal. The quashing of his conviction is, as of yesterday, now a formality.

Tim and Steph

Tim is one of the "lucky" ones. There are 31 appellants in the latest cohort going through the Court of Appeal. The Post Office is resisting 15 of them on the basis that Horizon data was not essential to each prosecution. It is still deciding about three of them. The remaining three appear to be DWP prosecutions, despite at least one being Horizon-related. 

I asked the DWP for more information about these cases, including how many more Subpostmasters it might have prosecuted. The DWP refused to make any comment on the ongoing cases and told me it had destroyed all records relating to prosecutions more than six years old. 

When I challenged that with a Freedom of Information request it was confirmed. The DWP is adamant it doesn't hold on to information older than six years. 

This is odd because two of the DWP cases are being opposed, with one still uncertain. The evidence available to oppose those appeals must exist somewhere. It is possible the Post Office may be responsible. I have asked them to tell me what, if any, involvement they had in giving DWP prosecutors Horizon data at the time of the convictions, and what historical data might be being used now.

Neil Hudgell, the solicitor who is representing 30 of the 31 Subpostmasters (including Tim) in the latest round of appeals said:

"We are obviously very pleased on behalf of the 10 further clients whose names are now set to be cleared at the Court of Appeal. These are all people with very similar stories to those who have already quite rightly had their convictions quashed, and again includes some people who spent time in prison as a result of these wrongful convictions."

Mr Hudgell says he needs to examine why the Post Office is opposing the remaining 15, but can't do so meaningfully until he has full disclosure. This is expected to take several weeks.

Post Office board directly involved

The Post Office says their decisions were taken "following careful consideration of each case by the Post Office Board, including the Court of Appeal’s findings in their Judgment in April in relation to previous appeals."

This public, high level ownership of the decision-making process is very interesting. New fault-lines in the appeals process are obviously being drawn. This could lead to another battle royale at the Court of Appeal if Hudgells and their QC, Tim Moloney, believe there is enough evidence to persuade the court all their clients' convictions should be quashed.

Tim Brentnall spent his 200 hours community service working for Mind, the mental health charity. They were so impressed with how he handled people they employed him for the next six years. He still lives in Roch, which is a tiny village. It means he suffered a whispering campaign for years after his conviction - unable to go to his local pub because people would say he'd ripped off the Post Office. 

"When I think about what I've lost... the dream was I'd still be running the Post Office. We bought it so I could build the business and they just completely soured the whole thing."

The conviction has obviously affected his career. "After my work at Mind, there have been several jobs that I've applied for in that mental health or social work field that have just been turned down straight away. What the Post Office did to me in 2009 has had a hold on every single thing I've been trying to do since."

Even this year, when some locals saw he wasn't in the cohort of Subpostmasters whose convictions were overturned in April, they sneered at him, suggesting that because Tim hadn't got his appeal over the line he must have been guilty all along. In fact, he hadn't even applied.

Tim is still mystified as to how the Post Office investigators and prosecutors were ever allowed to get away with what they did.

"The more that you hear about these cases, I can't understand why the people in charge, morally, could do it to start with and then the people above them and the government have allowed them to do it."

Steph is continuing her cancer treatment and responding well, but she's not out of the woods yet. Tim got in touch because he wanted to put on the record his gratitude to his parents for helping him in the way they did and "everyone that stood by me for their support."

I'm really grateful to Tim and Steph for their time. Tim's never told his story before, having always been concerned that without formal confirmation of his innocence people might continue to cast aspersions. 

He should soon have it confirmed that he is, and always was, innocent of any crime, and should never have been prosecuted.


This blog is crowdfunded. I am also currently writing a book called The Great Post Office Scandal which will be published by Bath Publishing this autumn. If you would like to buy a pre-sale copy, I would be very grateful. For more information, please click here.