|(l-r) Sami Sabet, Carina Price, Harmukh Shingadia, Jerry Hosi, Tim Brentnall|
Twelve more Subpostmasters have had their convictions quashed at the Court of Appeal today.
They were part of a group of 31 appeals under consideration. All of the twelve whose convictions were quashed were prosecuted by the Post Office, with Horizon IT evidence central to their prosecutions. The Post Office chose not to oppose the appeals, which allowed the courts to overturn them at the earliest possible opportunity - today.
The first person I introduced myself to outside court was Jerry Hosi, who you can see with his thumbs up in the picture above. Jerry ran the Porters Avenue Post Office in Dagenham. He found himself with an £82,000 discrepancy. He said all along it was Horizon causing problems and his case went to trial. In 2010 he was found guilty of theft, false accounting and fraud and sentenced to nearly two years in Pentonville Prison. Today he just said: "I feel very proud and I feel very happy because justice has finally been done.”
Tim Bentnall, who I recently interviewed, came down from Pembrokeshire with his partner Steph. He said he was feeling:
"Up in the clouds. Amazing. I still have this burning anger at the Post Office inside me but at the moment we’re up at the top."
Tim was convicted in 2010 after pleading guilty to false accounting. I asked him how he'd slept ahead of today's hearing. He gave a revealing answer:
"Not last night, no, I haven’t slept well… When I had the email from Hudgells to say my appeal wasn’t being opposed - I slept so well for the next three nights it made me realise how I haven’t slept for the last ten years. If you’d asked me three months ago I’d have said yeah I’m fine, I’ve dealt with it really well, I’m really stoic but now knowing that I’ve been vindicated you realise how low… and how it has affected you over this decade.”
I asked what were his feelings towards the Post Office over the way it had behaved. He replied:
"Disgust and anger. There’s hundreds of us now, and one of the main points was they convinced nearly every one of us that it was only a singular occurance - that we were only having our own individual problem. When I was prosecuted in 2010, there was a huge number of prosecutions going on."
|Carina Price, flanked by husband Steve (l) and Neil Hudgell from Hudgell solicitors|
Carina Price was convicted in 2005 after auditors found a £13,000 hole in her accounts at Sopley Post Office, near Ringwood in Dorset. Carina said the the last 16 years have been hard:
"It broke my marriage up. It was a very bad time. I had a breakdown over it. Before they [the Post Office investigators] came in and everything else I couldn’t understand what was going wrong and i was tearing my hair out over it and I was getting to the point where I was suicidal, because I just couldn’t work out what was going wrong."
Carina first found out she wasn't alone by making contact with the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance:
"Then I realised I wasn’t the only person. But the problem was, I wasn’t coping very well and I lost touch with them. And I thought the Post Office would win! I thought the JFSA were never going to get anywhere with this. Then I heard about the first court cases going on at the Court of Appeal so I phoned Hudgells.”
Carina says her legal team have done "an amazing job. They’ve turned our lives around with all the work they’ve done."
The 19 remaining cases are all being opposed. They will be heard over five days either towards the end of this year or next year. Fifteen of the cases are Post Office prosecutions and four are being opposed by the Crown Prosecution Service. The reason for the CPS being involved is because the DWP, who prosecuted four of the appellants, had its prosecution function folded into the CPS some time ago.
Only one of the 19 cases is a direct referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission. He is an appellant. The other 18 are applicants who applied direct to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has not yet given them leave to appeal and has ordered them to make their case to a single High Court judge in order to get to the appellant state. All are represented by Hudgells.
In April this year the Court of Appeal upheld the three convictions which were opposed by the Post Office, which argued Horizon data was not essential to their cases. Of the 15 cases the Post Office is opposing this time round, they are taking the same position. The DWP is refusing to comment.
On today's successful appeals the Post Office said:
“Post Office is sincerely sorry for past failures and we welcome the Court’s decision today to quash convictions without delay in the appeals we supported.
“We are making strenuous efforts to fairly address historical miscarriages of justice, including an extensive review of prosecutions since 1999 to identify and disclose all material which might affect the safety of convictions.
“We are also transforming our organisation to prevent such events ever happening again and to re-set our relationship with postmasters.”
"Today is another step forward in terms of maintaining the momentum and ensuring we continue to contest every unsafe conviction as a result of the Post Office using its faulty Horizon computer system to pursue prosecutions against decent, honest, law-abiding people.“Once again we have been proud to represent a group of people here who did no wrong, who were bullied into admitting to crimes they had not committed, made to pay back large sums of money they had not taken and who saw their lives irreparably damaged as a result.“This group again includes people who spent time in prison. Sadly, what happened to each individual and their families can never be reversed. That makes it all the more important for it to be recognised by the Post Office and the courts.”
If you want to read today's live-tweets from inside court, they are all collated here on one easy-to-read web page.
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