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Essex Post Office boss cleared of historic criminal charges as scandal over Horizon programme rumbles on

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Essex Post Office boss cleared of historic criminal charges as scandal over Horizon programme rumbles on

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https://www.essexlive.news/news/essex-n ... ed-7381023

An Essex Post Office boss, who has one of five who were convicted as a result of a computer systems scandal, has been cleared by the Court of Appeal. On Monday, Duranda Clarke, of Thaxted, as well as Robert Boyle, Jack Smith, Grant Allen and Richard Hawkes all had their longstanding convictions for theft or fraud quashed.

Following a landmark High Court case against the Post Office, dozens of ex-workers have seen their convictions overturned since last April as they were based on evidence from the flawed Horizon system used from 2000. All five challenges at the Court of Appeal on Monday were unopposed by the Post Office, bringing the total of unopposed convictions overturned to 80.

Their barrister, Simon Baker QC, said the reliability of the Horizon system was “essential to the prosecution and conviction” in each of the cases, in written submissions. Ms Clarke, former branch manager of the Thaxted sub post office in Essex, pleaded guilty to a count of fraud in January 2009 related to a shortfall of over £41,000.

At Chelmsford Crown Court in March 2011, she was given six months in prison, suspended for a year, and 150 hours of unpaid work. At a hearing on Monday afternoon, Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, formally overturned the convictions.

Mr Boyle, 73, was handed a 12-month suspended sentence with 100 hours of unpaid work and an electronically monitored curfew in January 2012 after pleading guilty to theft.

The former subpostmaster had been accused of taking nearly £12,000 in cash from the Alfreton Road sub post office in Nottinghamshire. The Court of Appeal was told that Mr Boyle had put his home up for sale as he realised the discrepancies in the branch’s finances were not going to be rectified, intending to use the money from the sale to fix the shortfall.

Mr Smith, 78, the subpostmaster of the Newall Green sub post office in Manchester in 2004, gave guilty pleas to four counts of false accounting and was given 60 hours of unpaid work over a discrepancy of £6,731.50. In written submissions, the Court of Appeal was told Mr Smith had re-mortgaged his house in an attempt to “make good” on previous losses.

Judges were also told that Mr Hawkes, 75, pleaded guilty to five counts of false accounting in June 2005. The former subpostmaster of the Tacolneston sub post office in Norwich was sentenced to 120 hours community service over a shortfall of around £11,000, which he had repaid.

And Mr Allen, who now lives in Somerset, was the subpostmaster of the Winsford Post Office in Cheshire. In January 2013, the now-53-year-old pleaded guilty to a count of fraud by false representation over an £11,705 shortfall.


The Court of Appeal was later told Mr Allen had pleaded guilty on the basis that he could not account for the shortfall and was handed a 12-month community order with 200 hours unpaid work.


Solicitor Neil Hudgell, who has represented many of the cleared subpostmasters, said Monday’s rulings stressed the need for speedy compensation. He said: “Three of our clients today are now in their seventies and have lived with these convictions against their name for well over a decade, some close to 20 years. They deserve to be fully compensated as quickly as possible and should not be forced to wait a day longer than necessary.”

A Post Office spokesperson said: “Post Office is sincerely sorry for the failures of the past and we are taking determined action to right the wrongs suffered by those affected. Our priority is to ensure that there is meaningful compensation for victims and that such events can never happen again.”
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