Post Office scandal: Dozens more seek legal help after TV dramaon January 5, 2024 at 4:25 pm

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Fifty new potential victims of the scandal have contacted lawyers after the airing of a related TV drama.

The promotional image of all the actors in ITV's drama about the Post Office scandalImage source, ITV

Fifty new potential victims of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal have contacted lawyers after ITV broadcast a drama about the case this week.

Neil Hudgell, a lawyer acting for claimants, told the BBC that the new enquiries include former sub-postmasters who were given convictions.

Between 1999 and 2015, the Post Office prosecuted more than 700 sub-postmasters based on information from a faulty accounting system, Horizon.

Some wrongfully went to prison.

Many were financially ruined, forced to declare bankruptcy, while others describe being shunned by their communities following convictions for false accounting and theft. Some have since died.

The case has been described as one of the most widespread miscarriages of justice in British history.

To date, 93 convictions have been overturned and of those, only 27 people have agreed “full and final settlements”.

Some 54 cases have resulted in a conviction being upheld, people being refused permission to appeal or the person appealing withdrawing from the process, according to the Post Office.

There has been widespread sympathy for the victims after the four-part mini-series Mr Bates vs the Post Office: The Real Story aired on ITV this week. It centres on the story of sub-postmaster Alan Bates, played by actor Toby Jones, who drove the campaign to expose the scandal.

It focuses on the legal battle he led and won, paving the way for dozens of convictions to be overturned.

Mr Hudgell, executive chairman of Hudgells, one of the law firms acting for the claimants, says the TV drama has been instrumental in encouraging new cases to come forward.

“The majority of [those 50 new enquiries]… were not prosecuted but lost their livelihoods, lost their homes,” he said.

“But there’s a small handful of people who were convicted that have come forward, three in total at the moment, which is obviously a tiny number proportionate to those that are still out there.

“And I think the common feature of these is totally unsurprising. It’s people that have been so heavily damaged by [the] Post Office psychologically that they have been so fearful of coming forward and going through the process again.”

He also told the BBC that one of the three people that had been convicted has received inpatient psychiatric care.

Mr Hudgell said the drama had brought to light the trauma of what the sub-postmasters went through. “It’s brought huge widespread sympathy to these people so alongside that, family encouragement and speaking to other postmasters that have been along this journey, they have found the courage to come forward.”

Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Alan Bates’s partner Suzanne Sercombe in the programme, said she was “completely overwhelmed” by the response to the show and “the outpouring of outrage over the scandal and cover-up”.

“It’s more than any of us dared hope that it would move the campaign along, but sometimes drama can do that. And now: JUSTICE for the thousands affected,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Several financial compensation schemes have been set up to help those caught up in the scandal, although concerns have been raised about delays in payment.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters on Friday: “It’s important that all those affected get the support they need, which I am pleased is happening and we will keep going as quickly as possible.”

Last month, a board overseeing compensation called for all Post Office staff wrongly accused of theft and false accounting to have their convictions overturned.

The Post Office has previously said it encourages “people who believe they were wrongly convicted, for any reason, to consider an appeal”.

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