Post Office scandal: Inquiry opens into Horizon accounting which saw Sunderland subpostmistress lose her home

An inquiry has started into a national scandal which cost a Sunderland subpostmistress her home and her business has started in London.

By James Harrison
Tuesday, 15th February 2022, 4:55 am

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In December 2019 a High Court judge ruled that Horizon’s system contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

Since then, dozens of SPMs have had criminal convictions overturned.

Christopher and Pauline Stonehouse outside the the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after former subpostmistress Mrs Stonehouse, has been been cleared by the Court of Appeal after she was wrongly convicted as a result of the Post Office Horizon scandal. Picture date: Monday November 22, 2021.

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Speaking at the opening of a judge-led probe into the affair, Jason Beer QC, counsel to the inquiry, called the ordeal one of “the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history”.

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“Lives were ruined, families were torn apart, families were made homeless and destitute,” he said.

“Reputations were destroyed, not least because the crimes of which the men and women were convicted all involved acting dishonestly.

“People who were important, respected and integral part of the local communities that they served were in some cases shunned.

“A number of men and women sadly died before the state publicly recognised that they were wrongly convicted.”

Pauline Stonehouse, a former SPM in Seaburn, had her conviction for six counts of false accounting overturned by the Court of Appeal last year.

Ms Stonehouse, who pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting in 2008 after suffering a shortfall of over £15,000 due to failures in the Horizon accounting system, was declared bankrupt and lost her home as a result of the scandal.

Inquiry chairman Sir Wyn Williams, opening the hearing, said: “I cannot emphasise too strongly what is, of course, obvious, namely that these hearings would not be taking place at all were it not for the witnesses who have agreed to give up their valuable time and publicly relive what must be very distressing memories and events.”

The first witness to give evidence to the inquiry was 69-year-old Baljit Sethi, who said he had considered taking his own life as a result of the stress of the ordeal.

The inquiry is expected to run for the rest of the year.

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