‘I WANT someone tried and jailed like I was, then I am settled,’ Harjinder Butoy, who ran the Post Office in the Nottinghamshire market town of Sutton-in-Ashfield along with his wife, said yesterday as the public inquiry into the wrongful convictions of hundreds of sub-postmasters opened yesterday morning.
Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting due to a flaw in the Post Office’s computer system Horizon.
A total of 72 former sub-postmasters have had their names cleared so far.
The cases constitute the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history.
Butoy, who is thought to have been given the longest prison sentence at three years and four months, was wrongly convicted and jailed for stealing £208,000, and it took until last year to get his conviction overturned in the High Court.
Baljit Sethi, who was the first witness to give evidence, said: ‘What the Post Office has done to us and to many of my colleagues is unforgivable. The people who did this should be brought to justice.’
In opening the inquiry Jason Beer QC described the incident as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history.
He said: ‘All who were convicted following a trial had grim punishments imposed upon them including in some cases immediate sentences of imprisonment. Lives were ruined, families were torn apart, families were made homeless and destitute.
‘Reputations were destroyed, not least because the crimes of which the men and women were convicted – theft, fraud, and false accounting – all involved acting dishonestly. People who were an important, respected and integral part of the local community 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.’
One of those to have received an interim payment is Jo Hamilton. She was accused by the Post Office of taking £36,000 from the village shop she ran in Hampshire. Her conviction was eventually quashed.
She said yesterday: ‘We need compensation for everybody, we need justice for everyone. We need some people to at least face the consequences of what they have done to us.
‘Everybody needs compensating. That is why, especially the group of 500 who took everyone to court which I just think is totally wrong. The Minister keeps saying: “Look, you have had your full and final settlement,” well it was done under duress.
She alleged: ‘They withheld documents when the settlement was reached. The whole thing is awful and I am not going to stop fighting until everyone is compensated.’