A former Belfast Post Officer manager’s conviction for historic fraud-related offences has been overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Alan McLaughlin, now 63, worked at Brookfield Post Office on Tennent Street for just two years, between 1999 and 2001.
He is one of over 700 Post Office staff who received wrongful criminal convictions over alleged missing money in years between 2000 and 2014.
It has since emerged the accounting errors were down to a flawed IT system called Horizon.
The software’s glitches led to Mr McLaughlin’s erroneous conviction on 15 counts of fraud-related offences in 2005.
Although many convictions in GB have been overturned in recent years, this is the first similar challenge to succeed in NI.
Mr McLaughlin told UTV it has felt like he has had a cloud hanging over him since, but 17 years on, he has been vindicated.
At the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday, he looked on as the Lady Chief Justice wiped his slate clean.
“The conviction does leave us with a significant sense of unease and should be quashed,” said Dame Siobhan Keegan.
“The Horizon evidence was an essential component of the prosecution case in the court below, and a clear disclosure obligation went unfulfilled, unbeknownst to prosecutors with carriage of the case.
“That failure was material, there was a breach of the appellant’s Article 6 right to a fair trial. With no request for a retrial, she said it was “entirely proper in the very unfortunate circumstances which pertain in this case.”
Mr McLaughlin told UTV that it was a positive outcome, but he will never get those painful years back.
“It’s 21 years of living under a cloud basically,” he said. “No matter what you do, no matter how well things go or whatever, it’s still in the background – it’s always there.
“I always hoped that one day we’d get back to the case. I kept all my documentation, and today has been that day.”
Mr McLaughlin said he is lucky that he is a strong character by nature but what happened has invariably impacted his life.
“I tend to be quite stoic, quite analytical about things so for me I just looked at the issues that I was presented with then and just dealt with them one at a time,” he continued.
“I certainly know a lot more about IT systems and legal processes than I did back then. Everything is related in some way to it because whatever happened after then is defined by what happened in 2005.
“So everything after that has been a struggle with the consequences of that.
“Again there have been good moments as well as bad moments, but it has been impossible to escape from that reality.”
Solicitor Michael Madden added that more legal proceedings will follow
“He has an inquiry to be involved in – the public inquiry that is ongoing in England,” he said.
“He’ll also have compensation proceedings that he will go through to compensate him in damages for the life that has been taken from him, the loss of reputation.
“He’s glad to put this stage behind him, and look forward to the next stage.”
The Post Office has previously apologised for historic failings, and was contacted on Tuesday for fresh comment.
A Public Inquiry is ongoing.