Horizon convictions continued after Crown Office meeting

post office sign
More than 700 sub-postmasters were prosecuted across the UK, including about 60 in Scotland [Getty Images]

The Lord Advocate has confirmed there were four convictions in Scotland involving evidence from the Post Office’s faulty IT system after a 2013 meeting between Crown Office officials and Post Office lawyers.

It emerged earlier this year that the Crown Office became aware of potential problems with the Horizon IT system in 2013.

However, it did not formally stop prosecuting cases until 2015.

Dorothy Bain KC told MSPs all four convictions had been highlighted to the body that investigates potential miscarriages of justice and at least one is under review.

A further 11 cases were identified from this time in which prosecutors decided to suspend proceedings and take no further action amid concerns about the Horizon system.

Ms Bain said this decision by prosecutors limited the extent of the harm caused.

Between 1999 and 2015, more than 900 sub-postmasters were prosecuted for crimes like theft, false accounting or embezzlement due to faulty software.

Incorrect information provided by the Horizon IT system, developed by Japanese firm Fujitsu, meant that sub-postmasters and postmistresses were prosecuted for stealing money.

Many of those convicted went to prison for false accounting and theft, and others were financially ruined.

Some have died or taken their own lives in the intervening years. So far, more than 100 convictions have been overturned across the UK.

Their plight was highlighted in the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

In England the Post Office acted as prosecutor for these cases, but in Scotland all cases were the responsibility of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Crown Office figures show there were about 60 convictions in Scotland involving Horizon evidence.

Dorothy Bain KC
Dorothy Bain KC gave the Scottish parliament an update on the cases involving Scottish Post Office victims [PA Media]

Speaking to the Scottish parliament, Ms Bain said COPFS were committed to addressing all miscarriages of justice.

However, she maintained that the Crown Office had been misled by the Post Office and that reassurances had been given even after they raised concerns in 2013.

"At no time did Post Office disclose to the Crown the true nature and the extent of the issues with its Horizon system," she added.

She said the state of knowledge at the time was "not what we know it to be now".

Following a review of cases involving evidence from Horizon, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) had written to people who might have been affected and invited them to apply for review of their case.

Ms Bain said that people had come forward and so far six cases had been quashed by an appeal court and two appeals were currently before the court.

Ten more cases are being reviewed by the commission.

'Not fit' to report crimes

Ms Bain also confirmed that the Post Office had been stripped of its status as a specialist reporting agency in Scotland.

Specialist reporting agencies can investigate and report criminal allegations directly to the Crown Office, without having to report it to Police Scotland.

She said the Post Office was "not fit" to be a specialist reporting agency due to "fundamental and sustained failures in connection with Horizon cases in Scotland".

In the future, they will have to report any allegations to Police Scotland.

At the start of the year, former first minister Humza Yousaf suggested that everyone convicted in Scotland as part of the Post Office Horizon scandal would be cleared.

In January, Ms Bain said not every case involving Horizon would be a miscarriage of justice and that each case would have to be carefully considered.

In today's statement, she was quizzed by MSPs about her stance on mass exoneration and she said that her comments had been taken out of context.

She said: "In my previous statement I made it clear that as Lord Advocate, I could only seek to address miscarriages of justice within the legal framework that is available to me.

"For this reason, despite what some have wrongly suggested, it is not possible for me to achieve mass exoneration of all those who have been impacted.

"I wish to make it clear that this was not a comment on whether I supported the concept of mass exoneration."

She added: "I can only use the tools which are available to me as I have done to date."

Ms Bain said she was committed to reflecting on whether anything could have been done differently by Scottish prosecutors and would await the outcome of the UK inquiry.