Oxford victim wrongly prosecuted for bugs in Post Office’s Horizon software

Another former Oxford postwoman was confirmed this week after the Post accepted that her faulty IT system was responsible for a £28,000 shortfall that prosecuted her for incorrect accounting.

Margaret White, then 46, told Oxford Crown Court in 2007 that she had no idea why there was a deficit in the accounts.

In the appeals court on Tuesday, a Post attorney accepted that Ms. White was another case involving Horizon’s IT system.

Developed by Japanese company Fujitsu, the flawed software was introduced in 1999 to help things like inventory and transaction logging.

Postmasters increasingly complained about errors in the system, which led to account failures being reported. Some tried to plug the mysterious deficits with their own money.

READ MORE: Post office manager convicted of £36,000 fraud fights back

More than 730 postmasters and sub-postmasters were prosecuted between 2000 and 2014.

In 2019, 555 sub-postmasters won a High Court case against the Post, paving the way for millions of dollars in payouts and leading to the Court of Appeal overturning a number of wrongful criminal convictions.

However, due to a “No Win, No Fee” arrangement with their statutory backers, they only received a fraction of the £43m they were awarded – around £20,000 each.

At the same time, they found that they were not eligible to apply for the Historical Shortfall Scheme (HSS), which was set up by the Post Office to compensate those who were personally affected by shortfalls in their branch’s accounts as a result of the problems with Horizon had to pay.

Earlier this week, the Treasury Department said the new system would ensure the 555 received the same compensation as those who made claims through the HSS.

READ MORE: Another former Oxford postwoman wins appeal

Retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams is currently conducting a lengthy investigation into the Horizon scandal.

Post file image Image: PA WIRE

Margaret White, Banbury Road

Margaret White, the former manager of Banbury Road Post Office in Oxford, had admitted to two counts of incorrect accounting after an audit of the IT systems revealed a shortfall of more than £28,000.

In December 2007, Ms White, then 46, was sentenced by Oxford Crown Court to 51 weeks in prison suspended for two years, two years of supervision and 150 hours of unpaid labour.

But on Tuesday the convictions of Ms White – formerly Miss Sowinska – were overturned in the Court of Appeal.

Simon Baker, QC, for the Post Office, said: “The Defendant accepts that Horizon’s reliability was essential to her prosecution and conviction.”

He added: “This was not a case in which there was evidence independent from Horizon to establish the fact of the shortfall.

“Indeed, the essence of Ms. White’s account in her interview was that she could not explain the deficiency.”

Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Ms Justice Farbey, overturned the convictions, saying: “From a legal perspective, the fact that she has pleaded guilty does not necessarily preclude an appeal of the conviction.”

“We are pleased that Ms White’s convictions are uncertain,” he added.

Oxford Mail: Court of Appeal Picture file image: PA WIRECourt of Appeal Picture File Image: PA WIRE

Vipinchandra Patel, Horspath

Horspath’s former postmaster, Vipinchandra Patel, has been accused of stealing £75,000 from the post office.

He was sentenced to an 18-week suspended sentence by the district court in 2011 for fraud.

As in so many cases, he was at fault. Again, the “missing” funds were the result of a bug in the Horizon IT software

Mr Patel’s conviction was overturned on appeal at Southwark Crown Court in 2020 – one of the so-called ‘Southwark Six’ whose conviction was overturned at the London Court.

Oxford Mail: Vipinchandra Patel with his wife Jayshriben Picture: DAVID FLEMING/OMVipinchandra Patel with his wife Jayshriben PICTURED: DAVID FLEMING/OM

He said at the time: “What the Post has done is abuse of power and authority.

“People teased me and my wife: we were abused, people stopped coming to the store and the business collapsed.

“I had suicidal thoughts a few times before the trial, but thinking about my family kept me going.”

Earlier this year, son Varchas Patel urged the government to pay long-promised compensation sooner rather than later.

The 34-year-old told the Oxford Mail: “We have all suffered damage that is beyond repair,” he said.

“We all want to be paid in full – financially – and for me as a son and especially for dad, my dad is disabled, he walks with crutches, he walks with canes, no compensation will ever restore his physical health to the right.”

Kashmir Gill, Cowley Road

Kashmir Gill, a former Cowley Road postmaster, was one of dozens of postal workers whose fraud convictions were overturned last year.

In 2010, she admitted to two counts of false accounting at Oxford Crown Court relating to £57,000 allegedly missing by Post Office Limited. She agreed to pay that sum and was fined £485.

Her case was one of dozens connected to the discredited Horizon computer system, which was causing errors in accounts that made it appear as if postmasters and postmistresses were stealing money when they weren’t.

Kashmir Gill Image: ED NIX

Kashmir Gill Image: ED NIX

In April last year, their convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal. According to his judgement recorded by Lord Justice Holroyde it was unfair for the Post Office Limited to accept the prosecution of Ms Gil.

He added: “We must conclude that her charge was, moreover, an affront to the judiciary. The public interest requires us to mark this final conclusion.”

CONTINUE READING: “The post office ruined my life and stole our savings – at least we have justice now”

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