The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has said the “door is [still] open” for reviews of prosecutions of former subpostmasters after it referred a further two cases to the Court of Appeal.
The statutory body is calling for more former subpostmasters who were prosecuted based on evidence from the error-prone Horizon computer system to come forward.
More than 700 former subpostmasters and branch workers were prosecuted based on Horizon data between 2000 and 2015. A High Court group litigation, which ended in December 2019, proved that the Horizon system contained errors that could cause unexplained shortfalls. Since then, over 80 former subpostmasters and branch staff have had criminal convictions overturned in what is regarded as the widest miscarriage of justice in UK history.
When, in 2000, the Post Office replaced manual accounting practices with the Horizon computer system from Fujitsu, subpostmasters began reporting unexplained shortfalls in significant numbers. The Post Office told each of them that nobody else was experiencing problems and covered up the computer errors.
Computer Weekly first reported on problems with the system in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters who were being blamed for unexplained losses (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).
Following the CCRC’s latest call for people to come forward, chairman Helen Pitcher said: “We are committed to raising awareness of the options open to convicted subpostmasters and counter staff.
“This is the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history, and we might be able to help many more people challenge a Post Office conviction or clear the name of a loved one who has since died. Advice from us might ultimately lead to that case being overturned, and a miscarriage of justice being corrected.”
Helen Pitcher, CCRC
The CCRC’s latest referrals include Andrew Gilbertson, who pleaded guilty at Manchester Magistrates’ Court on 19 March 2002 to the theft of over £24,000. He was given a six-month prison sentence at Manchester Crown Court, which was suspended for two years. Because had pleaded guilty in the magistrates’ court, he was unable to appeal against his conviction.
Even though many subpostmasters knew they were innocent, the Post Office, which used Horizon data to prosecute, convinced subpostmasters to plead guilty or risk more severe sentences.
The CCRC said Gilbertson was prompted to ask for a review of his conviction following the overturning of 39 similar CCRC cases at the Court of Appeal in April 2021’s “Hamilton and others vs Post Office” hearing.
The second referral is that of a former Post Office employee who was based in the East Midlands and has requested anonymity.
During the landmark April 2021 hearing in the Court of Appeal, when the former subpostmaster convictions were overturned, Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office had failed to investigate the shortfalls and disclose information that could undermine the robustness of Horizon, during the trials of subpostmasters.
The court concluded that the Post Office’s “failures of investigation and disclosure were so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court”.
Anyone who thinks their conviction might be affected can contact the CCRC directly on 0121 233 1473 or find out more here.