Post Office scandal: Inquiry opens into Horizon accounting which saw former West Boldon subpostmaster falsely accused of theft

An inquiry has started into a national scandal which saw a former West Boldon subpostmaster falsely accused of theft.

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.

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

Former West Boldon postmaster and campaigner, Christopher Head.Former West Boldon postmaster and campaigner, Christopher Head.
Former West Boldon postmaster and campaigner, Christopher Head.

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.

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“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.”

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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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