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Two sub-postmasters cleared after being wrongly convicted of stealing

Two more former sub-postmasters are cleared after being wrongly convicted of stealing from their own tills in Post Office IT scandal

  • The former post workers aged 69 and 79 were cleared in Southwark today
  • Gillian Harrison burst into tears as the unopposed verdict was announced
  • The faulty Horizon system resulted in hundreds being wrongly convicted of fraud 

Two more former sub-postmasters have been exonerated over the Post Office Horizon scandal, taking the number of overturned convictions to 75.

Richard Ormerod, 79, was acquitted of three charges of fraud by false accounting, amounting to £31,097, and Gillian Harrison, 69, was cleared of four charges of the same offence at an unopposed appeal hearing at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday.

They were among hundreds of people who ran Post Office branches who were convicted of various offences based on evidence from the faulty IT system used by the Post Office from 2000.

Mr Ormerod, who was employed at the Summerhouse Post Office, near Darlington in County Durham, was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £250 costs after pleading guilty at South Durham Magistrates’ Court in 2004.

Mrs Harrison pleaded guilty at Newcastle Under Lyme Magistrates’ Court in Staffordshire in relation to an alleged cash shortfall of £1,474 at her Post Office in Dresden, Stoke-on-Trent, in 2005 and was sentenced to a 12-month rehabilitation order and ordered to pay £1,474 compensation plus £320 costs.

Despite their guilty pleas, both had consistently denied taking any money and Judge Deborah Taylor told them on Thursday: ‘The court will allow the appeals. The convictions are quashed.

‘Both Mr Ormerod and Mrs Harrison have been of good character throughout. It is a recognition and a public exoneration of you.’

Richard Ormerod, 79, was acquitted of three charges of fraud by false accounting, amounting to £31,097

Gillian Harrison, 69, burst into tears after the judgement was handed down, saying the conviction had ‘ruined’ her life (second from right)

Neil Hudgell, whose firm represents 62 of the wrongly convicted post office employees, said: ‘Every sub-postmaster affected deserves their day in court to have their names and reputations cleared’

Mr Ormerod thanked the judge, while Mrs Harrison burst into tears, as the pair were supported by loved ones in the public gallery.

Graeme Hall, representing the appellants, said the convictions had ‘plagued their lives for many years’.

Mrs Harrison said the ordeal had ‘destroyed’ her life and those of her family, but that she now wants to look to the future and encourage others who were wrongly convicted to get justice.

‘I think the Post Office is diseased and it needs eradicating,’ she said.

‘I just want people to come forward. It is important.’

Mr Ormerod said he could not believe that the hundreds of sub-postmasters convicted were all guilty and that it must have been the Horizon system all along.

‘They were so heavy-handed at the top end, and they couldn’t bear to face the truth. Nothing will happen to them, they have just been allowed to carry on,’ he added.

Simon Baker QC, representing the Post Office, said: ‘Both are cases in which the convictions were predicated upon the Horizon computer system with which the court is now familiar.

‘In both cases the Post Office does not oppose these appeals.’

After the convictions were quashed, a tearful Ms Harrison said: ‘I just want other people just to come forward.’

She said she was feeling emotional: ‘Of course I am, I’m a human.’

Surrounded by her family, she explained that it could have made them go bankrupt, adding it was not the money that was important but the fact she ‘was lied to.’

‘I think the post office is diseased,’ she continued, ‘And I think it needs eradicating.’

Their convictions are the latest to be overturned after some 39 former sub-postmasters who were convicted and even jailed for theft, fraud and false accounting had their names cleared in April last year – some after fighting for nearly 20 years.

75 people employed by the Post Office have had convictions related to fraud overturned since revelations about the faulty Horizon system

A total of 75 have now had their convictions overturned, with all but one of the original prosecutions brought by the Post Office.

It was revealed just before a long-awaited inquiry into the scandal in February of this year that 33 people had died before they could get justice.

The hearing was told the scandal was ‘the worst miscarriage of justice’ in recent legal history. Between 2000 and 2015, 3,500 postmasters were wrongly accused of taking money from their businesses, when a glitch in the computer system was in fact to blame. 

The landmark inquiry’s chairman, Sir Wyn Williams, was also told victims suffered ‘grim punishments’ and that ‘lives were ruined, families were torn apart, made homeless and destitute, and reputations were destroyed’. 

The first to give evidence, Baljit Sethi, 69 broke down in tears and described how being accused of stealing £17,000 almost drove him to suicide.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, the firm representing a total of 62 people who have now had their convictions quashed, said: ‘Each and every conviction overturned is a hugely important milestone.

‘Each new case at court is as important as the very first because every case relates to lives ruined by the Post Office.

‘Every sub-postmaster affected deserves their day in court to have their names and reputations cleared, but they also deserve so much more. They deserve offers of meaningful compensation, and soon.’

What was the Horizon computer system and how did it go wrong?

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of postmasters were sacked or prosecuted after money appeared to go missing from their branch accounts (file image) 

Horizon, an IT system developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was rolled out by the Post Office from 1999.

The system was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking. However, subpostmasters complained about defects after it reported shortfalls – some of which amounted to thousands of pounds.  

Some subpostmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money, even remortgaging their homes, in an attempt to correct an error.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted due to the glitches. The ex-workers blamed flaws in the IT system, Horizon, but the Post Office denied there was a problem.

In case after case the Post Office bullied postmasters into pleading guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed.

Many others who were not convicted were hounded out of their jobs or forced to pay back thousands of pounds of ‘missing’ money.

The Post Office spent £32million to deny any fault in their IT system, before capitulating. 

However, the postmasters and postmistresses said the scandal ruined their lives as they had to cope with the impact of a conviction and imprisonment, some while they had been pregnant or had young children.

Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.

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