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by Louise Wilson
16 January 2024
Crown Office apologises to Scottish victims of Horizon Post Office miscarriage of justice

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain is head of the prosecution service in Scotland | Alamy

Crown Office apologises to Scottish victims of Horizon Post Office miscarriage of justice

The Lord Advocate has apologised to the Scottish victims of the Horizon Post Office scandal and pledged to “right the wrongs” committed against them.

Dorothy Bain KC, addressing the Scottish Parliament, said prosecutors “would not have known, nor indeed have suspected” that the Post Office was withholding information regarding to the extent of the problems with the IT system.

She confirmed 73 individuals had been contacted by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to advise them their convictions may be eligible for review.

Of those 73, 16 people have so far come forward. Seven have had their cases referred to the High Court, four of whom have had their convictions overturned.

Bain said: “I am very deeply troubled by what has occurred. I remain acutely concerned that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service was repeatedly misled by the Post Office. Assurances which were just not true were repeatedly given.

“To those wrongly convicted, I understand your anger and I apologise for the way you’ve been failed by trusted institutions and the criminal justice system. I stand beside you in your pursuit of justice.”

Across the UK, more than 700 sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of embezzling money due to the faulty Horizon software.

While in England the Post Office prosecuted individuals private, cases in Scotland were prosecuted by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). The Lord Advocate is head of COPFS.

MSPs called for Bain to make a statement to parliament during FMQs last week.

The Lord Advocate told the chamber that between 2000 and 2013, prosecutors in Scotland were not made aware of any bugs or errors in the Horizon system.

In May 2013, the Post Office contacted prosecutors to address public concerns about Horizon. Prosecutors were made aware of an external report concluding there were no systemic defects in the system, while a second report concluded there were no concerns about the accuracy of evidence used in concluded cases.

Despite these assurances, prosecutors in Scotland were advised in August 2013 to “carefully consider” any Post Office case to determine if Horizon issues could have an impact.

The next month, the Post Office repeated its assurance the system was robust but agreed to obtain expert evidence and supply a further report to support the integrity of the Horizon evidence.

In October 2015, the Post Office confirmed it was unable to provide that report. Later in October, Scottish prosecutors were advised to assess all Post Office cases, with a recommendation to discontinue or take no action in cases which relied on evidence from Horizon.

But Bain highlighted that throughout this process, prosecutors were unaware of the extent of the problems with Horizon evidence. She said: “The Post Office did not disclose the true extent of the Horizon problems, as they are now known to be.”

However she stopped short of backing a mass exoneration of victims, adding that not every case involved Horizon evidence will represent a miscarriage of justice.

Regarding calls for a criminal investigation into the actions of the Post Office, Bain said this would have to happen at UK level.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Russell Finlay said the conviction of the subpostmasters was a “disgraceful mass failure of justice”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said it was  “one the most shocking miscarriages of justice in Scottish history”.

Both MSPs queried why prosecutions continued until 2015 when issues with Horizon were first raised in 2013. Bain said prosecutors had no reason to doubt the evidence from the Post Office that problems were not systemic, and that that fact only became clear following the 2019 decision in the Alan Bates court case.

“It’s wrong to say that the Crown were aware of problems, did nothing about it, and continued to prosecute in the face of reported problems. That’s just not what happened,” she added.

The SNP has meanwhile urged the UK Government to move faster on providing financial redress to victims. Westminster’s business committee heard on Tuesday morning that only three people had been fully compensated so far.

Marion Fellows MP, who also chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Post Offices, said: “The UK Government needs to pick up the pace to deliver full financial redress and exoneration to everyone affected, before it’s too late.”

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