Sub-postmaster convictions may have been 'miscarriages of justice'

More than 70 Scots Post Office workers were convicted of embezzling funds due to issues with a faulty IT system.

Convictions of Post Office sub-postmasters may have been ‘miscarriages of justice’ iStock

Six former sub-postmasters previously accused of embezzling funds as a result of an IT system fault have won the right to appeal against their convictions.

Over 70 Scots workers were forced to pay out thousands to the Post Office because of an issue with the Horizon programme between 2000 and 2014.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has now said the cases of Aleid Kloosterhuis, Susan Sinclair, Colin Smith, Judith Smith, Robert Thomson and William Quarm, who has since passed away, may have qualified as “miscarriages of justice” and will now refer them to the High Court for determination.

Dozens of convictions have already been overturned in England, but these are the first cases to go before the appeals court in Scotland.

Sentences ranged from an “admonishment” for Mrs Smith to a year-long prison term for Mr Kloosterhuis for a range of charges including fraud and theft.

Mr Quarm’s wife Anne will be pursuing the case on behalf of her late husband.

Michael Walker, chief executive of the commission, said: “These cases posed significant challenges for the commission. Similar cases have been litigated in England and Wales, and lengthy decisions and voluminous papers exist in relation to those court actions. We were required to consider that information and to obtain materials relevant to the six cases that we are referring today. 

“I thank our investigating team for their expertise and thoroughness.

“Our role in these six cases now ends – it is for the appeal court to decide whether any miscarriages of justice occurred.”

The Horizon software was first rolled out in post offices in 1999 and was used for tasks such as accounting and stocktaking.

From an early stage, it appeared to have significant bugs, which could cause figures to be substantially misreported.

A 2019 probe by the High Court in England found the system was “not remotely robust” and posed a “material risk” to causing shortfalls in branch accounts.

After Horizon showed cash shortfalls at branches, sub-postmasters were held responsible for the missing money because they had sole control of the accounts.

Although 72 have since had their name cleared, many have not yet received compensation.

The SCCRC wrote to 73 people in September 2020 with criminal convictions who had potentially been affected.

“The Post Office is sincerely sorry for the impact of the Horizon scandal on the lives of victims and their families and we are in no doubt about the human cost,” a spokesperson for the firm said.

“Post Office is determined to reach compensation settlements with people whose Horizon-related criminal convictions are overturned, regardless of who originally prosecuted the case or where they were prosecuted. Following an overturned conviction, victims of the Horizon scandal are eligible to apply for interim compensation before their full and final settlement is agreed.

“Last month, two full and final settlements were agreed with victims of the scandal and we expect more settlements to be agreed in the near future.”

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