Michael Madden

Michael Madden of Madden & Finucane Solicitors

Dozens of former sub-postmasters in Northern Ireland could be owed compensation by the Post Office after Britain’s “biggest miscarriage of justice”, a Derry-based lawyer has said.

Michael Madden, of Madden & Finucane, said that the so-called Horizon scandal in Britain had led to more than 700 sub-postmasters being convicted of fraud, which later turned out to be the result of faulty accounting software.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, who hold a franchise to operate postal services, which led to convictions based on information from Horizon, the IT system, which produced the false impression of substantial financial deficits.

Madden told the Business Post that the Court of Appeal in England had already overturned dozens of convictions, while hundreds of civil actions had resulted in more than £58 million in damages so far.

He said that he had one application to the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland and is preparing another, on behalf of two separate clients, to overturn their wrongful convictions on money laundering, and has had approaches from several more.

“We think there are dozens more at least,” Madden said. “We’re hoping that this might kick start a process for the sub-postmasters who haven’t come forward – who are not even aware they might be able to get their convictions overturned.”

The Business Post contacted the Post Office in Britain and a spokeswoman said that it did not know how many individuals were affected in Northern Ireland.

She said that this was in part because the Post Office, which has the power of prosecution in England, was not the prosecutor in Northern Ireland.

The spokeswoman said that the Post Office had “proactively contact the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland (PPSNI) and shared with them the limited data that the Post Office held on prosecutions which appeared to have been prosecuted by the PPSNI and which may have resulted in convictions”.

“This data was shared with the PPSNI in June 2020, updated in November 2020 (and again more recently). The PPSNI acknowledged the data provided by Post Office,” she said.

Though it is not clear just how many sub-postmasters in the North have been affected, there have already been a number of high profile cases.

One former sub-postmistress, Deirdre Connolly from Co Tyrone, was wrongly accused of stealing thousands of pounds from her own post office. She was forced to repay £16,000.

In interviews with the BBC and the Financial Times Connolly said that the affair drove her to bankruptcy and seriously affected her health and her family.

Another former sub-postmistress, Fiona Elliott, told the BBC in an interview that she had put thousands of pounds from her shop into the Clady branch, which she ran from 2000 to 2005.

Both Connolly and Elliott were part of a civil suit against Post Office Ltd in England, which resulted in a major settlement in 2019.

To date, 72 convictions related to the flawed IT system have been overturned by the courts.

The Post Office has been making interim payments of up to £100,000 in advance of final compensation.

Business Post