Two former sub-postmasters in Northern Ireland convicted of historic fraud-related offences have launched legal bids to clear their names. Alan McLaughlin and Lee Williamson are seeking permission to mount challenges centred on a defective Post Office accounting system.
The Horizon IT scandal has already led to scores of branch managers in Britain who were wrongly found guilty of offences having their convictions overturned. Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted more than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses because information from the Horizon system made it look as though money was missing from their sites. It has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.
Lawyers for Mr McLaughlin and Mr Williamson contend that the same faulty accounting software was central to the charges against them. In February 2005 Mr McLaughlin was convicted of false accounting while in charge of a Post Office at Tennent Street in Belfast. He had denied the allegations during interviews and commissioned an expert accountant’s report in support of his defence. Leave is being sought for an extension of time to enable him to mount an appeal nearly 17 years later. Mr Williamson was convicted of fraud by false representation and abuse of a public office offences in November 2014. It was alleged that he had stolen and falsified accounting records in his role running a Post Office in Portstewart, Co londonderry. He is also seeking permission to extend the time permitted to bring an appeal. Defence lawyers claim their convictions are unsafe because Horizon was essential to the prosecutions. They are believed to be among the first cases linked to the scandal to come before the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. At a brief hearing on Monday judges were told the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) will indicate within two weeks if it intends to contest the legal challenges. The Lady Chief Justice, Dame Siobhan Keegan, listed both cases for a further update next month. Outside court a solicitor in the law firm representing both appellants welcomed the development. Michael Madden of Madden & Finucane said: “Many Postmasters caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal will find the process of applying to quash their convictions very difficult. “We are glad that our two clients have taken the first steps toward clearing their names and we eagerly await to see whether the PPS will consent to our application to quash the convictions.”