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Correos: “Joy” because hundreds of convictions will be annulled

Screenshot, Keith Bell said the news was a “huge relief”

  • Author, Nick Edser
  • Role, business reporter

Former deputy postmasters who will have their sentences overturned in the Post Office scandal have spoken of their “joy” and “disbelief” at the move.

Keith Bell, convicted of false accounting in 2002, told the BBC it was a “huge relief”.

Lee Williamson said he was “overjoyed and very grateful.”

Parliament on Thursday passed a law overturning convictions over the Horizon IT scandal, one of the last bills passed before the general election.

The law applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the Scottish parliament will pass its own bill to overturn convictions.

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

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of subpostmasters were unfairly prosecuted because of faulty accounting software called Horizon, which showed errors that did not exist.

Many subpostmasters went to prison for false accounting and theft, and several were financially ruined.

Keith Bell, Stockton’s former deputy postmaster, said his reaction to news of the bill was “disbelief.”

“You kind of anticipate that the day will come and it has arrived and it’s really incredible, it happened so quickly. It’s a great relief, not only for me but for the family.

“Today I have no criminal record, I can travel, I can apply for whatever I want. My life is basically back to a normal state.”

Screenshot, Lee Williamson said the issue of compensation was secondary to clearing his name.

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

“Really the predominant emotion is absolute joy,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

However, there were also mixed emotions.

He said he was “overjoyed and so grateful that this day has come… and then anger bubbles underneath because it has taken 12 years of your life.”

The speed at which things have developed in recent months “has been surreal,” Williamson said.

“I know this may seem a little hollow, but the compensation is really secondary,” he added.

“The fight over these last few years was to clear our names. Clearing our names is actually the equivalent of having a million pound compensation.”

A public inquiry into the Horizon scandal is underway and this week we heard from former Postmaster General Paula Vennells.

The passage of the Post Office Horizon System Crimes Bill means all convictions of people convicted of theft or false accounting between 1996 and 2018 while working at a post office using its faulty computer system will be quashed.

Those who have their convictions quashed will be eligible to receive compensation payments from the Horizon Conviction Redress Scheme, which will be established after the legislation is passed.

They will have the option to settle with compensation of £600,000, without needing to make a formal claim.

This unprecedented law was passed following public outcry sparked by the broadcast of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office.

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

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

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