The Post Office has ‘sincerely apologized for serious failures in its historical conduct of prosecutions of postmasters’ after the UK Court of Appeal formally overturned 39 convictions of postmasters accused of stealing money between 2003 and 2013.
According to the BBC, the 39 postmasters, plus a further six who had their convictions overturned in December 2020, had been falsely accused of theft, fraud and false accounting after the Post Office installed the flawed Horizon computer system in branches. A further 22 cases are being reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which investigates potential miscarriages of justice.
Post Office chairman, Tim Parker, said, “The Post Office is extremely sorry for the impact on the lives of these postmasters and their families that was caused by historical failures. Post Office stopped prosecutions soon after its separation from Royal Mail a decade ago and has throughout this appeals process supported the overturning of the vast majority of convictions.
“We are contacting other postmasters and Post Office workers with criminal convictions from past private Post Office prosecutions that may be affected, to assist them to appeal should they wish. Post Office continues to reform its operations and culture to ensure such events can never happen again.
“The full ruling by the Court of Appeal judges published today is detailed, therefore Post Office will assess the judgment carefully to understand what further action may be required.”
Post Office chief executive Nick Read added, “I am in no doubt about the human cost of the Post Office’s past failures and the deep pain that has been caused to people affected. Many of those postmasters involved have been fighting for justice for a considerable length of time and sadly there are some who are not here to see the outcome today and whose families have taken forward appeals in their memory. I am very moved by their courage.
“The quashing of historical convictions is a vital milestone in fully and properly addressing the past as I work to put right these wrongs as swiftly as possible, and there must be compensation that reflects what has happened.
“In addition, since arriving at the Post Office 18 months ago, my focus has been on resetting the culture at the Post Office and forging a substantive partnership with our postmasters. We are determined that they must come first in everything we do because without them there is no Post Office. We must transform the Post Office so that it can continue to provide essential services in local communities across the UK.”
The Post Office has undertaken numerous actions to reform its practices, including appointing two current postmasters as non-executive directors to the Post Office board to influence Post Office strategy and the implementation of programs affecting postmasters; undertaking a program of improvements to overhaul culture, practices and operating procedures throughout every part of the Post Office to forge an open and transparent relationship with postmasters; and comprehensive improvements made from initial recruitment and training through to daily transaction accounting, including design changes made to transactions on the Horizon system, based on postmaster feedback.
The Post Office did not oppose 39 of the appeals referred by the CCRC last year, although the court upheld the safety of convictions in three cases.