Former Stoke sub-postmaster has Post Office Horizon scandal conviction overturned

A former sub-postmaster has been exonerated over the Post Office Horizon scandal, taking the number of overturned convictions to 75.

Gillian Harrison, who owned a Post Office in Stoke-on-Trent, was cleared of four charges of the same offence at an unopposed appeal hearing at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday.

The 69-year-old was among hundreds of people who ran Post Office branches who were convicted of various offences based on evidence from the faulty IT system used by the Post Office from 2000.

Back in 2019, after a long-running campaign, the supreme court found in favour of sub-postmasters who claimed the Post Office had abused its position to unlawfully take action against people who ran branch offices.

Mrs Harrison pleaded guilty at Newcastle Under Lyme Magistrates’ Court in Staffordshire in relation to an alleged cash shortfall of £1,474 at her Post Office in Dresden, Stoke-on-Trent, in 2005 and was sentenced to a 12-month rehabilitation order and ordered to pay £1,474 compensation plus £320 costs.

Despite her guilty plea, Mrs Harrison had consistently denied taking any money and Judge Deborah Taylor said on Thursday: "The court will allow the appeal. The convictions are quashed.

"Mrs Harrison has been of good character throughout. It is a recognition and a public exoneration of you."

Mrs Harrison burst into tears, as she was supported by loved ones in the public gallery.

Graeme Hall, representing the appellant, said the convictions had "plagued their lives for many years”.

The Post Office has been widely criticised over the scandal. Credit: PA

Mrs Harrison said the ordeal had "destroyed" her life and those of her family, but that she now wants to look to the future and encourage others who were wrongly convicted to get justice.

"I think the Post Office is diseased and it needs eradicating," she said.

“I just want people to come forward. It is important.”

Simon Baker QC, representing the Post Office, said the case "in which the convictions were predicated upon the Horizon computer system with which the court is now familiar."

"The Post Office does not oppose the appeal."

Their convictions are the latest to be overturned after some 39 former sub-postmasters who were convicted and even jailed for theft, fraud and false accounting had their names cleared in April last year – some after fighting for nearly 20 years.

A total of 75 have now had their convictions overturned, with all but one of the original prosecutions brought by the Post Office.

What is the Horizon scandal?

Hundreds of post office workers were prosecuted between 2000 and 2014, after information from a newly installed computer system - Horizon - suggested they may be stealing money from branches.

At the time, sub-postmasters said the system was faulty, with errors meaning that the system showed thousands of pounds worth of shortfall.

Some staff tried to make up these shortfalls using their own funds - with some even remortgaging their houses.

But an inquiry later found it was the computer system at fault - rather than any criminal behaviour on the part of Post Office staff.

The inquiry continues.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, the firm representing a total of 62 people who have now had their convictions quashed, said: "Each and every conviction overturned is a hugely important milestone.

"Each new case at court is as important as the very first because every case relates to lives ruined by the Post Office.

"Every sub-postmaster affected deserves their day in court to have their names and reputations cleared, but they also deserve so much more. They deserve offers of meaningful compensation, and soon."

A Post Office spokesman said: "We are sincerely sorry for the impact of historical failures on the lives of the people affected.

"We continue to take extensive action to fully address the past and to ensure past shortcomings can never be repeated.

"We have undertaken fundamental reforms to rebuild trust and forge a new relationship with our current postmasters."