Horizon scandal: Former Post Office worker says clearing name 'overtook' cancer all clear

Keith Bell was wrongly convicted for false accounting in 2002. Credit: PA/ITV Tyne Tees

A Post Office sub-postmaster caught up in the Horizon scandal said finding out his conviction would be quashed "overtook" news of being cancer-free 24 hours earlier.

Keith Bell spent his entire life savings of £16,000 to make up the false shortfall at his Stockton branch more than two decades ago. He was then prosecuted and wrongly convicted of false accounting in 2002.

On Monday 11 March, Mr Bell was given the all-clear after five years of cancer treatment.

But bigger news for him was discovering yesterday that his name would finally be cleared, as it was revealed a law aimed at quashing the wrongful convictions of sub-postmasters was being introduced by the government on Wednesday 13 March.

"I had this news and quite frankly, this overtook it," he told ITV Tyne Tees, adding: "It's not just me....There are hundreds, if not thousands out there. Sadly, some aren't here to take it on."

Former sub-postmaster Keith Bell said his life changed forever after his 2002 conviction. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Nearly 1,000 sub-postmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office during the Horizon scandal.

Reflecting on his own experience, Mr Bell said his conviction had cast a shadow over his life.

"I was given 200 hours of community service and the conviction, obviously the conviction, totally changes your life because you're limited in what sort of applications you can put in for jobs and things you can do," he explained.

"I decided to become a driving instructor, so I took my qualifications, then the DVLA decided because I had a conviction, they removed my licence - so I'm back to square one again.

"And I was thinking about my son going to university. I was thinking of trust funds or whatever. I'm not going to be able to do any of that. I went past angry, I went past angry."

The plight of sub-postmasters and the Horizon IT scandal rose to the top of the political agenda in January following the airing of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs. The Post Office.

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Mr Bell believes it is thanks to the series, which prompted a national outcry, that action has been taken now.

"We wouldn't be sitting here today," he added. "Thank goodness for Alan Bates."

Wrongly convicted sub-postmasters will also receive £600,000 compensation as well as having their convictions overturned.

Those who were not convicted, but who had to make up false losses with their own money are entitled to £75,000.

But Mr Bell said no amount can truly right the wrongs.He continued: "The post office has had a fantastic reputation - had - but that reputation was because of postmasters and postmen and not the people in the hierarchy that will be making these local decisions."

ITV drama Mr Bates vs. The Post Office pushed the scandal to the top of the political agenda. Credit: ITV

There were 983 convictions around the UK linked to the faulty Horizon system - and only around 100 have been overturned so far.Ministers have said that is not quick enough - so they will exonerate everyone together.They announced this approach in January but then had to draw up the precise legislation, before formally introducing it in Parliament today.

Speaking at Prime Minster's Questions today, Rishi Sunak said: "I want to pay tribute to all postmasters who have campaigned tirelessly for justice, including those who tragically won't see the justice that they deserve.

"Today's legislation marks an important step in finally clearing their names and across this house, we owe it to them to progress this legislation as soon as possible before summer recess."

It is expected to become law in July.

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