Joy and disbelief as Post Office convictions quashed

Former sub-postmasters whose convictions from the Post Office scandal have been quashed have spoken of their "joy" and "disbelief" at the move.

Keith Bell, who was convicted of false accounting in 2002, told BBC News it was a "huge relief".

Lee Williamson said he was "overjoyed and very grateful".

A law quashing convictions from the Horizon IT scandal was approved by Parliament and on Friday became one of the final bills to become law ahead of the general election.

The law applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland - the Scottish parliament is to pass its own bill to quash convictions.

The case is seen as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly prosecuted due to faulty accountancy software called Horizon, which showed errors that did not exist.

Many sub-postmasters went to prison for false accounting and theft, and several were financially ruined.

Speaking to the BBC before the bill's final approval, Keith Bell, a former sub-postmaster from Stockton, said his reaction was one of "disbelief".

"You sort of anticipate the day coming and it’s arrived and it’s unbelievable really, it’s happened so quickly. It’s a huge relief, not just to me but to the family.

"As of today, I don’t have a criminal record, I can travel, I can apply for whatever I want. My life goes back to basically a normal state."

Lee Williamson
Lee Williamson said the issue of compensation was secondary to getting his name cleared [BBC]

Lee Williamson, a former sub-postmaster in Castelderg, Northern Ireland, was convicted in 2014 and given an 18-month sentence suspended for three years.

"Really the overriding emotion is absolute joy," he told the BBC's Today programme.

However, there were also conflicting emotions.

He said he was "overjoyed and very grateful that this day has arrived... and then the anger bubbles below that it has taken away 12 years of your life".

The speed with which matters had moved over the past few months "has been surreal", Mr Williamson said.

“I know this might sound a bit hollow but the compensation is really secondary," he added.

"The fight over these past number of years was to get our names cleared. To have our names cleared is actually the equivalent to having a million pounds compensation."

A public inquiry into the Horizon scandal is ongoing and this week has been hearing from former Post Office boss Paula Vennells.

When the Post Office Horizon System Offences Bill received Royal Assent late on Friday, all convictions were quashed of people convicted of theft, or false accounting between 1996 and 2018 while working in a Post Office using its flawed IT system.

Those who have their convictions overturned will be eligible for compensation payments from the Horizon Convictions Redress Scheme, which should be in place this summer, the business department said in an open letter to sub-postmasters.

They will get an option to settle for compensation of £600,000, without the need to bring a formal claim.

In the open letter, the business department said those affected will receive letters in the next few weeks.

"This clears your names, delivers justice, and ensures swift access to the financial redress that postmasters deserve," it said.

The unprecedented law has been driven through in the wake of the public outcry brought about by the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office broadcast.

The law has been controversial with judges because for centuries it has been the job of the courts to address unsafe convictions, not Parliament.

But the government argues the exceptional scale and circumstances of the scandal mean it will not set a precedent.