Postmaster from Hogsthorpe is ‘vindicated’ by court ruling
Last month hundreds of post office workers won a key victory against the Post Office and the controversial Horizon IT accounting software they were forced to use.
In closing these proceedings, the Honourable Mr Justice Fraser delivered his judgment on a trial in the litigation, which took place last summer. That trial focused on technical matters relating to Post Office’s Horizon system, the electronic point of sale system used in Post Office branches.
The Group Litigation judgement ends years of campaigning by those affected, some of whom were made bankrupt and others prosecuted and sent to prison in cases where the software wrongly logged missing funds.
Although it does not change the criminal convictions, those affected now feel they have been vindicated.
Among them is Tom Hedges, who was sub-postmaster at Hogsthorpe Post Office from 1994 until 2010, when he was dismissed at the age of 57.
“During an audit in May 2010 I was accused of theft and false accounting, suspended, dismissed and then convicted at Lincoln Crown Court,” he said. “I was given a seven-month suspended prison sentence, ordered to do 120 hours community service and had to pay £1000 costs.
“The sole evidence against me was The Post Offices computer system known as Horizon.
“At the time I was told by Post Office that their system was infallible. I had not taken any money, but I was advised by my lawyer that the court would accept that a company the size of The Post Office would have a ‘bomb proof system’ and that if I pleaded ‘not guilty’ I had no hope of convincing the court otherwise. The consequences of making a not guilty plea and then being found guilty would have almost certainly been a custodial sentence.
“Faced with this prospect he advised a guilty plea and very likely a suspended sentence, was my best choice. I was petrified of the prospect of jail so chose to plead guilty.”
Mr Hedges said he subsequently found out that many other sub-postmasters had also suffered ‘phantom losses’ and also been treated in a similar manner.
“At the time the PO assured me I was the only person, claiming it was a computer error,” he said.
“These other sub-postmasters banded together and formed a pressure group called ‘Justice for sub-postmasters Alliance’ who lobbied their local MPs and Parliament, as PO Ltd is wholly owned by H M Government.”
The JFSA under its leader Alan Bates worked tirelessly for years to raise the profile of the sub postmasters plight.
“Finally, in November 2018 we took the Post Office to The High Court and in December they settled, admitting their system was capable of mistakes and settled a sum of £58million on the 550 people who jointly brought the case,” Mr Hodges said.
“This comes after nearly 10 years of trauma, heartache, worry and huge financial loss.
“The accusation almost made me and my wife bankrupt but it also cost us our reputation. At the time many of our customers said they believed us but others who we had considered friends snubbed us and crossed the road rather than speak to us.
“In the end we moved away from the village. To those who did not believe I was innocent, I want to say, ‘You were wrong’.
The criminal convictions were not part Group Litigation judgement and Mr Hedges is now joining other former sub postmasters in calling for an investigation ‘into this whole sorry affair’. He has also written to Victoria Atkins MP asking for her support.
Post Office Chairman, Tim Parker, commented on the judgement: “We are grateful to the claimants for taking part in this mediation and agreeing a settlement, bringing the Group Litigation to a close.
“We accept that, in the past, we got things wrong in our dealings with a number of postmasters and we look forward to moving ahead now, with our new CEO currently leading a major overhaul of our engagement and relationship with postmasters.”