Former Hogsthorpe postmaster one of hundreds being heard in public inquiry into post office scandal

The hearing into the wrongful convictions of hundreds of sub-postmasters and mistresses accused of of theft, fraud and false accounting will be examined by a public inquiry starting this week.
Thomas Hedges celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice in April last year when his conviction was overturned.Thomas Hedges celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice in April last year when his conviction was overturned.
Thomas Hedges celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice in April last year when his conviction was overturned.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 sub-postmasters lost their jobs and reputations due to a flaw in a computer system Horizon.

Amongst them was former Hogsthorpe sub-postmaster Thomas Hedges, who was finally vindicated in April last year when he was one of dozens who travelled to the Royal Courts of Justice to hear their convictions had been overturned.

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Some of them had been imprisoned for crimes they never committed. Mr Hedges lost his job at the age of 57, the respect of a village he loved and was ordered to pay £1,000 costs. He and his wife eventually moved from Hogsthorpe to Chapel St Leonards.

In July last year Mr Hedges was awarded a £100,000 interim compensation payout, but he said no money could make up for the 12 years he lost.

“I was forced to live on state handouts and sell our business, which was also our home. We were very lucky to avoid bankruptcy," he said.

"All of this at the hands at the hands of the PO. No-one can give me back the last 12+ years.”

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This week's inquiry will look at whether the Post Office knew about faults in the IT system and will also ask how staff shouldered the blame.

It will also examine whether staff at software firm Fujitsu, which developed the Horizon software to complete tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking, knew the system had flaws while data from it was used in court to convict sub-postmasters.

A judge will hear evidence on why sub-postmasters and postmistresses were singled out and whether they have been justly compensated.

The cases have constituted the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

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Mr Hedges said: "My appeal was granted back in April last year. My lawyers are now fighting for full compensation.

"I am having a meeting with them in about 10 days to finalise the details and then the claim will be submitted.

"The sticking point had been that the PO did not have the money to pay but just before Christmas the BEIS funded them nearly £700 million to allow things to happen. It is now estimated that the total bill will exceed £1billion, if you include lawyers costs and money spent already.

"That is why the enquiry is taking place. They need to know why it happened and who were the people involved.

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"Several of those affected will give verbal evidence to the enquiry. I have submitted written evidence and offered to go, but they felt my written evidence was sufficient."

Several universities are using the Horizon Scandal in their courses in both Law and Business Schools.

"The hope is that the huge mistakes that the PO management made over many years can be used to ensure it never happens again," Mr Hedges said.

"I am going to The University of Manchester Alliance Business School tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon to speak to them about my experiences at the hands of the PO.

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"This is at the launch of their 'Manchester Innocence Project'.

"I will be on stage with the journalist Nick Wallis who has been covering the story for 10+ years and was responsible for a Panorama programme, a BBC Radio 4, 10-part series and recently an authorative book called 'The Great Post Office Scandal'. The book is available from Bath Publishing in both printed form and an eBook."

The inquiry is expected to run for the rest of this year.

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