Post Office says over half of sub-postmasters convictions should be upheld

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their shops. Credit: PA

The head of the Post Office has said he would uphold over half of prosecutions of sub-postmasters convicted under the Horizon scandal, in a letter to the justice secretary.

Chief Executive Nick Read said the Post Office would be "bound to oppose an appeal" in at least 369 of the 700 cases it had prosecuted.

Mr Read’s letter, sent shortly after the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office sparked public outrage, said the cases “involve convictions obtained by reliance on evidence unrelated to the Horizon computer system” and represented a “much more significant” proportion of the prosecutions than those the company was likely to concede in court.

It comes after the minister for the Post Office admitted their new legislation to exonerate sub-postmasters will also clear the names of people "who were, in fact, guilty of a crime".

Kevin Hollinrake said this was a “price worth paying” in order to quash convictions for many innocent people.

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The Post Office denied the letter had been intended to persuade ministers against a mass exoneration of sub-postmasters, and said it was sent “without any value judgment on what the correct course of action might be”.

Referring to plans to accelerate the exoneration of sub-postmasters convicted during the Horizon scandal, Mr Read said the Post Office “has a duty to ensure that any decisions which may be taken by the government are fully informed”.

He said the reliance on other evidence in the 369 cases “clearly raises acute political, judicial and communications challenges against the very significant public and parliamentary pressure for some form of acceleration or bypassing of the normal appeals process”.

In an attached note from lawyers Peters and Peters, solicitor Nick Vamos said it was “highly likely that the vast majority of people who have not yet appealed were, in fact, guilty as charged and were safely convicted”.

In a statement on its website, the Post Office said: “Post Office was in no way seeking to persuade the government against mass exoneration.

“Post Office are fully supportive of any steps taken by government to speed up the exoneration of those with wrongful convictions and to provide redress to victims, with the information having been provided to inform that consideration.”

When asked about the letter on Friday, the prime minister's spokesperson said the government remains "undeterred" in plans to quash the convictions of wronged sub-postmasters.

“We think it’s right that we take what is an extraordinary step to overturn convictions.

“This was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history, so we continue to work to deliver that swiftly", the spokesman said.

Watch the trailer for Mr Bates vs The Post Office here:

The Post Office scandal has dominated headlines since the release of the ITV drama in January, but this week a public spat broke out between the former chairman of the Post Office and the Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch.

The row began after Mr Staunton gave an interview to The Sunday Times in which he said a senior civil servant had told him to delay compensation claims to sub-postmasters ahead of the election.

This led to a series of rebuttals from Ms Badenoch, Mr Staunton and the senior civil servant involved, Sarah Munby.

Ms Badenoch accused Mr Staunton of making "wild baseless accusations" in a "blatant attempt to seek revenge" after she sacked him last month, also claiming he had been under investigation for bullying at the time he was fired.

Mr Staunton then released his notes from his conversation with Ms Munby, where he says he was told to "rip off the band aid" on its finances, but Ms Munby said the funding discussed in the memo was not to do with compensation and denied all Mr Staunton's claims.

On Friday former Post Office boss Paula Vennells oficially gave up her CBE after she announced she planned to hand it back last month.

The former chief executive, who ran the Post Office while it routinely denied there was a problem with its Horizon IT system, was appointed a CBE in December 2018.

Nick Read is due to appear before the House of Commons business select committee on Tuesday, along with former sub-postmaster Alan Bates and former Post Office Chair Henry Staunton.

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their shops.

Hundreds of victims are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

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