I cleared my name – but I fear other Post Office victims will miss out on justice

Victims of the Post Office scandal fear many of those wrongly convicted over the faulty Horizon IT system will “miss out” on justice.

Former sub-postmasters caught up in the nightmare say they are frustrated that Westminster legislation designed to automatically quash convictions won’t apply in Scotland.

Robert Thomson, from Clackmannanshire in central Scotland, had his own 2006 Horizon-related conviction overturned in January – a moment he describes as an “unbelievable relief”.

The 64-year-old told i that it was a “complete joke” that the mass exoneration won’t cover an estimated 100 former sub-postmasters in Scotland believed to have been criminalised over bogus shortfalls.

“England and Wales are now way ahead of us,” said Mr Thomson. “Why can Rishi Sunak and [Scottish first minister] Humza Yousaf not pick up the phone and sort it out and make sure it applies to everyone? We can’t have people left in limbo.”

The UK Government says there have been 983 convictions across the UK related to the Post Office’s flawed Horizon IT system, with just over 100 overturned.

The ongoing public inquiry into the scandal gained huge public attention after ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office drama was broadcast in early January.

Mr Yousaf’s SNP-led Scottish Government has urged the UK Government to “think again” about making its exoneration bill UK-wide. The SNP leader has vowed to work on Scottish-specific legislation if it does not happen.

Mr Sunak’s Government has argued that justice is a wholly devolved issue, so it is up to Holyrood to pass its own bill. But Mr Yousaf claims the legislation should be UK-wide because Post Office compensation is a matter reserved to Westminster.

Any Scottish legislation will now have to wait until the Westminster bill is passed, so there is no legal friction that could affect the £600,000 compensation available UK-wide to any victims with overturned convictions.

In the meantime, former Post Office workers in Scotland are left to fight to prove their innocence, one by one, by going through an often-lengthy appeal process.

In 2020 Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) contacted 73 potential Horizon victims north of the border, but the body now believes that there could be up to around 100 Scots with a possible appeal case.

Only 19 former sub-postmasters contacted have so far come forward to launch an appeal. Six of them have had their conviction quashed since autumn last year, while another two are waiting on an outcome in court.

Mr Thomson is now trying to contact dozens of those convicted who have yet to come forward to launch a case.

“I’d like them to come forward – but some people are so fed-up they don’t want talk about it,” said the former sub-postmaster, wrongly convicted of embezzlement over a bogus shortfall of almost £6,000.

“I get that. But I want them to get justice – to get that feeling I had when the weight was lifted,” he added. “To lift that cloud – that is the biggest thing. I don’t want them to miss out. How can people get the compensation if they don’t get cleared?”

Mr Thomson had to do 150 hours of community service in his local community of Alva. He thanks the ITV drama for helping removing the unmerited sense of “shame” he and many others have lived with for decades.

“The whole thing was horrendous. It was a nightmare that went on and on. People like me had their lives totally destroyed. The ITV programme was the best thing that ever happened, because it changed the perception.”

He added: “There were always people in the area who were talking about me, staring at me. And since the programme went out people have apologised – they understood for the first time.”

Louise Dar, a former Post Office branch manager in Lenzie, near Glasgow, was forced to pay the organisation £44,000 over bogus Horizon system shortfalls. She and her husband used life savings and racked up debts to find the money.

Louise Dar was forced to close her business in Lenzie, near Glasgow (Photo: Newsquest / SWNS)
Louise Dar was forced to close her business in Lenzie, near Glasgow (Photo: Newsquest/SWNS)

Ms Dar also worries that some victims will miss out on exoneration if they are made to go through individual appeals.

“We’re being left behind in Scotland,” the 41-year-old told i: “Sort it out for once and for all. We need to see every single conviction quashed and compensation paid out much more quickly.”

“I do fear some people will be too scared to bring it all back up again,” added Ms Dar – who was not convicted over the faulty IT saga, but was forced to close her business.

The Horizon victim, who has received an apology from the Post Office over IT failings, is still in dispute with the organisation over appropriate compensation.

Ms Dar said: “How many will die before the Post Office will pay out? I hate to imagine. My mum died not even knowing what had happened, with all the mess still going on. Which is really sad.”

In Northern Ireland, only two of the 29 Post Office workers with convictions have been overturned in the courts. Stormont’s justice minister Naomi Long said last month that she would prefer for the country to be included in the UK legislation, but would “urgently review” all options.

Lawyers fear that some former Post Office workers in England and Wales could still miss out on having their conviction overturned and getting compensation – despite the legislation expected to be enacted by July.

David Enright, a partner Howe and Co solicitors representing almost 300 sub-postmasters at the centre of the scandal, said the Government still has to set out exactly how it will identify hard-to-reach victims.

“We still don’t know anything important,” he told i. “We need details. How will we identify these people? What about people who have died? What happens to their families?”

On the lack of UK-wide legislation, Mr Enright added: “It annoys me intensely that we have a national scandal and we don’t have a national response. Why can’t the political leaders pick up the phone?”

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Business and Trade said: “All convictions within the scope of the bill will be automatically quashed, and we are identifying and will be contacting as many individuals as possible to ensure they can access compensation swiftly.”

Scotland’s justice secretary Angela Constance said: “We continue to press the UK Government to extend their bill to all of the UK, as the Scottish Parliament does not have powers over the Post Office or the compensation scheme.”

A Post Office spokesperson said: “We are deeply sorry for the pain which has been suffered by so many people, their families and friends throughout the Horizon IT scandal. But an apology from Post Office is of course not enough and we are working as fast as we can to pay redress.”

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