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Post office court battle fees : The Post Office has spent nearly 20M fighting claims that faults with its computer system led to people being wrongly jailed for financial irregularities.

28 Oct 2019, 11:54 ... -fees-top/

The Post Office has spent nearly £20 million fighting claims that faults with its computer system led to people being wrongly jailed for financial irregularities.

More than 500 former post office workers, including Tracy Felstead from Telford, are trying to clear their name after being held responsible for the shortfalls they say was caused by a computer glitch.

Miss Felstead, 37, from Telford, has protested her innocence ever since she was jailed for six months in 2001 for allegedly stealing £11,500 when she was a 19-year-old counter clerk.

Rubbina Shaheen, 54, from Shrewsbury, is also seeking to have her conviction overturned, but is not part of the group action. Mrs Shaheen was jailed for 12 months for false accounting in 2010.

Costs so far in the action at the High Court have topped £35 million, with the state-owned Post Office spending £19.5 million with two separate firms of lawyers. Legal fees incurred on behalf of the claimants have so far reached £16.8 million.

Mr Justice Fraser, due to deliver his judgment in the second of four High Court trials next month, voiced concerns about the rising bills.

He said: "The total time costs appear to be excessive based on the fact that individual particulars of claim in four cases have not yet been served."

Judge Fraser observed that it was unusual that the Post Office had found it necessary to employ two sets of solicitors, adding that this "gave rise to a concern about duplication".

He added that the length of the proceedings and the number of complainants could also have driven the costs up.

The Post Office twice tried to have Judge Fraser removed from the case, accusing him of bias, and also unsuccessfully appealed against his judgment in the first trial, but costs incurred in the Court of Appeal are not included in the total.

Judge Fraser had also ordered the Post Office to pay £5.5 million towards the claimants' legal costs in the first trial, after finding in favour of the post office workers.

Owain Draper, for the Post Office, said it was not a case of David and Goliath when it came to legal spending.

"While it is true to say the Post Office’s costs are higher, it is not chalk and cheese," he said.

The first trial, which opened in November last year, examined the contractual relationship between the Post Office and sub-postmasters.

The following March, Judge Fraser ruled that the Post Office had demonstrated 'oppressive behaviour' and said there was a culture of secrecy surrounding the Horizon computer system, which the workers blame for the accounting shortfalls.

The second trial, which opened in March this year, examined the Horizon system itself, and concluded in July.

In a separate legal action, Miss Felstead, of Bournside Drive, Brookside, and Mrs Shaheen, of Worthen, Shrewsbury, are seeking to have their convictions overturned through the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

They will not be told whether they have been granted an appeal until Judge Fraser delivers his judgment on the second trial.

The third trial, to consider 'further issues' has yet to take place.

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