Calls for judge-led inquiry into Post Office scandal

Scottish politicians have called on the UK government to launch a judge-led inquiry into the “scandal” which saw dozens of former postmasters convicted of stealing money in what is the UK's most widespread miscarriage of justice.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 4:54 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd April 2021, 5:18 pm

Some 39 former postmasters had their convictions quashed yesterday at the Court of Appeal amid condemnation of the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system.

Announcing the court's ruling, Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office "knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon" and had a "clear duty to investigate" the system's defects.

He said the Post Office had "consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable," and "effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy.”

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The decision has sparked calls for a review of the convictions of other postmasters in Scotland.

Although a total of 47 postmasters in England and Wales have had their cases referred to the appeal court, there has never been similar action in Scotland.

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39 convicted Post Office workers names cleared after UK's widespread miscarriage...

There were 73 convictions in Scotland caused by the systemic failure, with individuals prosecuted for fraud and theft.

Former Post Office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday after 39 people had their convictions overturned. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has written to people it believes may have been the victims of possible miscarriages of justice in Scotland due to problems with the Fujitsu-developed IT system.

The SCCRC has said there may be a case to take to appeal even if a victim has now died - or had pled guilty in court in an attempt to reduce the sentence passed.

One former sub-postmaster, Phil Cowan, and his partner, Fiona McGowan, were falsely accused of stealing thousands of pounds.

The couple were visited by their area manager after weeks of discrepancies at their branch in Parsons Green, Edinburgh, culminating in a £30,000 shortfall.

She spiralled into depression after being wrongly accused and passed away in her sleep in 2009, aged 47.

Yesterday’s judgement was met with cheers from ex-postmasters outside court and was hailed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who described the original convictions as an "appalling injustice.”

The Post Office conceded that 39 of the 42 former subpostmasters should have their convictions overturned on the basis that "they did not or could not have a fair trial.”

Marion Fellows, the SNP MP and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Post Offices, said: “The quashing of these convictions has been a hard and long fought battle by these employees to clear their names. But justice for the subpostmasters has not been secured yet.

“The UK government must launch a judge-led inquiry to hold all those responsible to account.

“Horizon has been one of the biggest, broadest miscarriages of justice carried out in the UK - potentially knowingly. Some have sadly taken their own lives and others have been imprisoned. Entire lives have been ruined. They have been utterly failed.”

Labour's shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray, said: “It is a tragedy that so much pain and suffering has been faced by families.

"We need a full judge-led public inquiry to get to the bottom of this scandal. There are still so many questions. Those affected deserve answers and lessons must be learned."

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is reviewing another 22 cases.

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