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Post Office scandal victims in Scotland have convictions quashed

Former subpostmasters and Post Office branch staff who were wrongfully convicted of crimes based on flawed computer evidence in Scotland have had their convictions quashed.

Emergency legislation to exonerate wrongfully convicted Post Office workers has completed its journey through Scottish Parliament and each will now receive initial compensation of £600,000, with the ability to claim more as financial redress for their suffering.

This mirrors legislation in Westminster, which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Westminster, emergency legislation was pushed through last month to overturn the convictions of hundreds of former subpostmasters and their staff. Prime minister Rishi Sunak promised the blanket exoneration after an ITV drama and documentary about the scandal angered the public.

Scotland’s justice secretary, Angela Constance, wrote to subpostmasters to set out the next steps. “Of course, no amount of compensation can fully mend the lives that were torn apart by this miscarriage of justice,” she said.

“I will be writing to those affected to tell them their convictions have been quashed and ensuring court records are changed, so the victims of this scandal can have their good names restored as quickly as possible. They have already waited too long for justice.”

In September 2020, following a large number of cases referred for appeal by England’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the Scottish CCRC took what it described as an “unusual step” and wrote to more than 70 people with potential wrongful convictions. It began reviewing the first set of cases in March 2021.

Scotland has a separate legal system, and the Scottish CCRC is traditionally about 10% of the size of the CCRC in England in terms of cases.

Successful appeal

The first wrongful conviction of a subpostmaster in Scotland was overturned in September. Susan Sinclair, who previously ran a branch in north-east Scotland, saw her appeal against conviction successful at the High Court in Edinburgh.

In the UK, between 2000 and 2015, 736 subpostmasters were convicted of crimes including theft and false accounting after the Post Office prosecuted them using evidence from the Horizon retail and accounting system used in thousands of branches.

The Horizon system was proved to be error-prone during a High Court legal battle that began in 2018. Led by former subpostmaster Alan Bates, a group of 555 members of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) sued the Post Office to prove that errors in the Horizon system were causing unexplained accounting discrepancies.

The CCRC began reviewing English cases in 2015, and the first convictions to be overturned came in December 2020. Since then, more than 100 former subpostmasters and branch staff have had convictions overturned. The first wrongful conviction of a subpostmaster overturned in Scotland came in September 2023.

The Post Office scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to accounting software. It is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

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