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Post Office could lose power to prosecute staff after hundreds of postmasters may have been wrongfully convicted for theft that was actually due to IT glitches

06 Jun 2020, 12:28

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The Criminal Cases Review Commission has expressed serious concerns
The Post Office prosecuted innocent postmasters after a glitch in their systems
The CCRC has now urged ministers to undertake a formal review of the rules

The Post Office's ability to prosecute its own staff should be reviewed after it wrongly accused postmasters of theft, says the body that investigates miscarriages of justice.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has serious concerns after hundreds of postmasters may have been wrongfully convicted for theft, fraud and false accounting.

It later emerged that the unexplained shortfalls were due to flaws in the new IT system, Horizon.

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

The CCRC has now urged ministers to undertake a formal review of the rules around private prosecutions.

Critics have slammed the Post Office for acting as 'judge, jury and executioner' in a scandal dubbed one of Britain's biggest miscarriages of justice.

Last month this paper revealed there are now potentially 950 wrongful convictions which could be overturned.

The Post Office is believed to be the world's oldest prosecuting authority. When investigating the postmasters, it used private prosecutions – a route available to any company or individual in England or Wales.

This law was put in place to allow justice in cases where the police refuse to investigate or the Crown Prosecution Service says it will not prosecute

But in the IT scandal, it has been suggested that there was a conflict of interest as the Post Office was investigating and prosecuting despite being the victim of the alleged crimes.

And there was no involvement from the police or the Crown Prosecution Service.

Many of the suspects did not understand that they could face criminal charges, they were interviewed without legal representation and felt obliged to plead guilty even though they knew they were innocent.

One woman, Seema Misra, was pregnant when she was sent to jail and Noel Thomas was 'caged up like a scared rabbit' after a court was told he had 'lost his good name forever'.

The CCRC said 'there are reasons for significant concern as to whether the Post Office, at all times, acted as a thorough and objective investigator and prosecutor'.

It added that a review is needed into how prosecutions can be brought when an organisation, such as the Post Office, is 'victim, investigator and prosecutor'.

In response Andy Furey, of the Communications Workers Union, said: 'The Post Office acted as judge, jury and executioner in these cases.

'I'm pleased the CCRC has made this referral because the way the Post Office acted was wrong.'

The Daily Mail has led the way in exposing the scandal as part of the Save Our Post Offices campaign.

This week the CCRC announced it had sent another eight cases to the Court of Appeal, taking the total number to 47.

A further 14 are expected to follow shortly. Separately, the Post Office is reviewing 900 cases with an independent law firm to determine which should be overturned. And in December it paid out £58million to 550 postmasters as a settlement following a High Court trial.

Lord Arbuthnot, a Tory peer, said the Post Office 'should not be able to act without independent oversight' when prosecuting people for crimes.

The Post Office said it is 'working closely with the CCRC' and will 'leave no stone unturned'.

The Attorney General declined to comment. The Department of Justice was also approached for comment.

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