Royal Wedding guest among another 12 Horizon convictions overturned

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(Photo: Post Office)

The Court of Appeal on 19 July formally quashed 12 convictions of former subpostmasters – including three who served time in prison – in cases prosecuted by Post Office between 2002 and 2012, relying on evidence from the Horizon IT system which is later found to unreliable.

The Post Office did not contest the appeals, allowing the court to overturn the convictions instantly. However, the firm chose to oppose 15 other appeals which have been referred to a single judge to decide whether the court will grant permission to appeal.

Among those who had their convictions overturned yesterday include Hasmukh Shingadia, 62, of Upper Bucklebury, West Berkshire, whose sentencing for fraud in 2011 was subject to widespread media coverage, given it came just months after he had been a guest at the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

“I was in all the newspapers as the Royal wedding guest who was a thief and a fraudster so today is massive for me and my family, but also of course the other subpostmasters who have had their convictions quashed,” he said in a statement released by his legal team Hudgell Solicitors.

Shingadia had become friends with the family of Kate Middleton, seeing her grow up and selling her sweets at the shop. He attended her wedding to Prince William just months prior to his court appearance, as guests of the Middletons.

“I’d seen Kate Middleton grow up and I remember her being in my shop on the day the radio was saying she was to marry William. Being a guest at the wedding meant the press focussed on my case in court,” he recollected, adding that he “felt on top of the world” when he came to know that the Post Office would not be contesting his appeal.

“Of course, I’ve known I was innocent all along, but for the past decade the legal system has labelled me a criminal, as it has so many others, and that is disgusting.”

He was accused of stealing approximately £16,000, and had to plead guilty as, at the time, the Horizon system was considered to be flawless and unquestionable. He repaid the shortfall to the Post Office, was handed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 180 hours of community service.

“It was an awful time for us when I was convicted. My mother had died the previous year, I’d had cancer and undergone surgery to remove a sarcoma, and my daughters were only young at the time and they had people telling them at school that their dad was a thief,” he said.

“I was also a magistrate at the time so that ended, I lost the Post Office and we managed to pull together £16,000 to pay the Post Office the money it alleged we had taken. We managed to keep hold of the shop and I carried on running it but it was difficult facing people, and my wife Chandrika found that particularly difficult.”

Shingadia added that he also found support from many in the community, but trauma of the case is something they had to live with every day.

“Thankfully, as well as those who turned their back on us, there were also around 150 people who signed a petition which a dear friend of ours, who was an ex-policeman, started to support me when I was being prosecuted. I am grateful that many people in community supported me and believed me.

“A lot of people have supported us over the years, but when all the details about the scandal of Horizon came out people couldn’t really remember what had happened other than the fact I’d been prosecuted. It is a long time ago for others, but for those who have lived it, it is something which is with you every day.”

Shingadia demanded that those who were in charge of the Post Office “must be held to account” at the public inquiry and “dealt with appropriately from whatever that inquiry uncovers.”

The scandal saw the Post Office use its private prosecution powers over a 15-year period from 2000 onwards to prosecute and convict postmasters of crimes. Post Office no longer undertakes private prosecutions.

“Post Office is sincerely sorry for past failures and we welcome the court’s decision today to quash convictions without delay in the appeals we supported,” A Post Office spokesperson said following the acquittal of postmasters yesterday.

“We are making strenuous efforts to fairly address historical miscarriages of justice, including an extensive review of prosecutions since 1999 to identify and disclose all material which might affect the safety of convictions. We are also transforming our organisation to prevent such events ever happening again and to re-set our relationship with postmasters.”

Four additional appeals, prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service, also came under the consideration of the court, which referred three of the cases to the single judge to decide on the permission to appeal. The remaining case, referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, will be heard by the court.

Appeals of convictions followed a 2019 High Court judgment which found two earlier versions of Horizon system as ‘not robust’ and of ‘questionable’ robustness, not justifying the “confidence placed in it by the Post Office in terms of its accuracy.”

Earlier in April, the Court of Appeal has quashed 39 convictions related to the scandal. Eight convictions have also been overturned by Southwark Crown Court in unopposed appeals.