Dozens of former sub-postmasters who say they were wrongly convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting are battling to clear their names. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred the cases of 42 of them to the Court of Appeal last year. The Post Office settled a civil claim by more than 550 people for £57million, without admitting liability.
A High Court judge found the Horizon system had defects that might have caused shortfalls in accounts. The CCRC says there is “a real possibility” the 42 convictions are unsafe.
Tim Moloney QC, for the sub-postmasters, said they were ruined and “some took their own lives” but Post Office chiefs resisted disclosing anything that “undermined the reliability of Horizon”, in order to protect “their own commercial reputation”.
He said that many sub-postmasters had pleaded guilty due to difficulties in defending themselves and “many immediately went to prison”.
Mr Moloney added: “The Post Office, in the face of all the evidence, was prepared to accept that sub-postmasters with previous good character…became criminals overnight.
“Alarm bells should have rung.”
Sam Stein QC, for some of those appealing, said: “The Post Office has turned itself into the nation’s most untrustworthy brand.”
He claimed it had “a general hostility towards sub-postmasters”.
The Post Office has conceded 39 of the appeals should be allowed, on the basis that they “did not or could not have a fair trial” but it contests 35 of those 39 on secondary grounds.
The hearing is expected to conclude this week, with a ruling given later.