Post Office miscarriage of justice scandal victims tell inquiry of their order

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses across the UK were prosecuted based on information from the Horizon system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu.

More than 70 Scottish victims were among hundreds of others who were stripped of their positions and lost their businesses.

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However, in December 2019 a High Court ruled that Horizon’s system contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

Tragedy: Former police officer Mary Philp went to her grave feeling she was under a cloud of suspicion.

The appeal cases in England and Wales followed a civil action involving 550 postmasters which resulted in a settlement by the Post Office in 2019 of £58m and prompted the inquiry.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has contacted 73 people – including five wrongfully convicted – for full details of their case ahead of any further action.

Relatives of one Scottish victim are taking legal advice and seeking £460,000 in damages after she went to her serious belief she was a suspected thief.

Scandal: The Post Office’s Horizon computer system was deeply flawed.

In 2001, former Fife Constabulary officer Mary Philp and her daughter Myra bought the Post Office in Auchtermuchty and within weeks the faulty Horizon system was showing shortfalls

Mrs Philp complained repeatedly and was so convinced the system was at fault she hired a private detective to try to find other victims.

In 2006 a team of investigators swooped on the Post Office in the early morning to conduct an audit.

Because Mrs Philp, then 65, had previously covered a £94 shortfall with a check she was suspended, told to resign and told that only her age had prevented a prosecution.

Daughter Myra, 60, of Leven, Fife, said: “The false accusations devastated my mother. She never worked again. She died not knowing she was exonerated.

“What they did was take £70,000 with menaces for a non-existent ‘shortfall’. They branded us thieves but they were extortionists.

“Somebody needs to be held to proper account.”

She added: “My initial compensation claim was time-barred because their victim-tracing failed.

“If this continues to be the stance I will raise proceedings in the Court of Session. They destroyed too many lives to get away with this “

In Edinburgh, Fiona McGowan slumped into a depression after she and partner Phil Cowan were accused of stealing £30,000 from their Post Office branch in Parsons Green. The stress of the investigation made Ms McGowan ill and she died in her sleep in 2009, aged 47.

Unknown to her, the Post Office charges had already been dropped before her death.

Jason Beer QC, counsel to the inquiry, which is expected to last a year, said it was “the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history”.

He added: “Lives were ruined, families were torn apart, families were made homeless and destitute.

“Reputations were destroyed, not least because the crimes of which the men and women were convicted all involved acting dishonestly.

“People who were important, respected and integral part of the local communities that they served were shunned in some cases.

“A number of men and women sadly died before the state publicly recognized that they were wrongly convicted.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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