These were the first convictions quashed since July and the third round at Southwark Crown Court. As of today, the Southwark Crown Court has overtuend sixteen convictions (six on 11 Dec 2020 and two on 14 May 2021) and the Court of Appeal has quashed the remaining 51 (39 in a judgment handed down on 23 April 2021 and 12 at a hearing on 19 July).
Today marked the first conviction quashed after a prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service rather than the Post Office. David Hughes (who did not take part in the group photograph above) was employed at Cockermouth Post Office. In December 2006 he found a discrepancy of £6,500 between the amount of cash in the safe and the amount Horizon recorded should be in the safe.
In the words of the CPS barrister, David “panicked and was scared” and so every day for the next three months he entered false figures into Horizon to cover up the loss.
The police were presumably called and the Crown Prosecution service noted that Mr Hughes had made a full and frank admission to false accounting. But what of the discrepancy itself? Although this didn’t come out in court today, one of the CPS pre-charge reviews into Mr Hughes’ case states:
“The Post Office aren’t able to say whether or not the money has gone or whether it is an accounting error or a number of smaller errors. Clearly the Post Office aren’t prepared to go down the route of forensic accountant investigations and I don’t propose that we should either.”
Eventually the CPS chose to prosecute Mr Hughes for forgery* and he pleaded guilty. He was given a community order.
Today the CPS said Mr Hughes had been trying to cover up Horizon problems. The CPS was now aware (“as is everyone else”) that Horizon was not remotely reliable. There was therefore no crime.
All six convictions were quashed peremptorily by the judge who told the appellants they “walk away from court with no stain on their characters.”
Outside there was a group photo for those who wanted to take part, then quick interviews. It was heartbreaking to hear the effects the convictions had had on people’s lives and families, and I will try to address them in a longer blog post tomorrow.
For the record, here is the full list of those whose convictions were overturned today:
• Mohammed Aslam pleaded guilty to false accounting at Newport Magistrates’ Court on 23rd January 2007 and was sentenced to 60 hours of unpaid work and a £300 fine.
• Amanda Barber pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at Warrington Magistrates’ Court on 6th June 2012 and was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work.
• Norman Barber also pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at Warrington Magistrates’ Court on 6th June 2012 and was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work.
• Anthony Gant pleaded guilty to false accounting at Shrewsbury and North Shropshire Magistrates’ Court on 29th October 2007 and was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and 100 hours of unpaid work.
• Balbir Grewal pleaded guilty to false accounting at Luton Magistrates’ Court on 13th August 2001 and was sentenced to a suspended sentence and a community order.
• David Hughes pleaded guilty to making a false instrument at Workington Magistrates’ Court and was sentence to a community order of 12 months and 100 hours of unpaid work.
All were referred to the Crown Court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. All were represented by Hudgell Solicitors except David Hughes who was represented by WellsBurcombe.
* according to the CPS: “A person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine.” An instrument can be a document.