Former Belfast sub-postmaster’s conviction overturned

A former Belfast sub-postmaster’s conviction for historic fraud-related offences is to be quashed, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Judges held that failures to disclose details about a faulty Post Office accounting system breached Alan McLaughlin’s right to a fair trial.

The case is believed to be the first in Northern Ireland related to the Horizon IT scandal.

Scores of branch managers in Britain wrongly found guilty of offences linked to the defective software have already had their names cleared.

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 like money was missing from their sites.

It has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.

In February 2005 Mr McLaughlin was convicted of false accounting offences while in charge of a Post Office at Tennent Street in Belfast.

A total loss in the region of £10,000 was alleged.

Mr McLaughlin had denied the charges during interviews and commissioned an expert accountant’s report in support of his defence.

Defence lawyers contended that the same flawed IT was central to the charges against him.

Based on the non-disclosure at trial, the Public Prosecution Service did not oppose the appeal.

Following submissions Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan said details of the problems with the Horizon system should have been provided.

“The conviction does leave us with a significant sense of unease and should be quashed,” she confirmed.

“The Horizon evidence was an essential component of the prosecution case in the court below, and a clear disclosure obligation went unfulfilled, unbeknownst to prosecutors with carriage of the case.

“That failure was material, there was a breach of the appellant’s Article 6 right to a fair trial.”

With no request for a retrial, she said it was “entirely proper in the very unfortunate circumstances which pertain in this case”.

Praising both legal teams for their efficiency, Dame Siobhan added: “It has brought a long saga to a conclusion today.”

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