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    Public inquiry opens into Post Office Horizon scandal

    Former subpostmasters celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, on April 23, 2021, following a court ruling clearing subpostmasters of convictions for theft and false accounting. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

    A public inquiry opened Monday to probe the Post Office’s role in a flawed IT system that led to one of the country’s worst miscarriages of justice.

    The scandal saw the Post Office prosecute hundreds of people running small local branches for alleged false accounting and theft, after its IT system called Horizon reported shortfalls between 2000 and 2014.

    Some of the subpostmasters were imprisoned or left out of pocket after being asked to make up the shortfalls, while others failed to find other jobs and lost their homes.

    In 2019, the High Court ruled that Horizon was affected by bugs and defects, and courts have gone on to quash 72 convictions.

    Meanwhile, the government vowed in December to pay the final settlements to those Post Office workers wrongly convicted of defrauding their branches.

    The inquiry, which is being chaired by Welsh judge Wyn Williams and expected to run for the rest of this year, will look into various aspects of the scandal.

    They include when the Post Office knew about the IT flaws, how staff were made to take the blame and whether its governance and whistleblowing structures need reform.

    As the proceedings got under way in central London, Williams paid tribute to the subpostmasters appearing as witnesses, noting that the case evoked “very distressing memories and events”.

    Jason Beer, a lawyer for the inquiry, said the scandal could be called “the worst miscarriage of justice in recent British legal history” given its scope and impact.

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

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

    After the hearings, Williams will produce a final report with recommendations.

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