28 ‘potentially unsafe’ Post Office convictions in Northern Ireland

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has identified 28 “potentially unsafe convictions” involving 29 individuals in Northern Ireland over the Post Office scandal.

The PPS stated on 17 January 2023 that the Post Office Limited (POL) provided the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in 2020 with a list of 23 cases (involving 24 individuals) in which they believed that Post Office employees had been prosecuted and convicted and which may have relied upon evidence from the Horizon system.

These cases were concluded between 2001 and 2014. Throughout that period, the PPS states that investigations were “generally undertaken by POL” which then submitted files to the PPS through the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Of the 28 investigations referred to by the PPS, 24 of those investigations were carried out by the Post Office itself, before being referred to the PSNI.

The Post Office Scandal saw over 900 subpostmasters across the UK prosecuted for theft, false accounting, and fraud for shortfalls at their branches when these shortfalls were in fact due to errors of the Post Office’s Horizon accounting software.

Although the UK Government has established a public inquiry into the scandal which has seen a small number of convictions overturned, the majority of those convicted are still waiting to have their conviction overturned, and the scandal has re-entered the public debate following ITV’s dramatisation of the matter, Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

In Northern Ireland, of the 29 individuals flagged by the PPS, two have thus far had convictions overturned, and a third, Lee Williamson, is currently before the Court of Appeals.

The PPS has stated that it is “mindful of the ongoing public inquiry”, however, unlike its counterparts in England and Wales, the PPS does not have the remit to refer cases that it finds to be “potentially unsafe” to the court, with the onus placed on an individual to refer their case to the Court of Appeal.

The PPS states: “We understand that there is no present intention on the part of Westminster to extend the legislative scheme proposed for England and Wales to Northern Ireland or Scotland.”

The public inquiry heard from 72 individuals in Northern Ireland in May 2022.

Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron has since said in a statement that the PPS is likely to oppose appeals where a case is believed to be unconnected to flaws in the Fujitsu Horizon system.

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