Horizon scandal: Court of Appeal quashes convictions of two more sub-postmasters 

The Court of Appeal has quashed the convictions of two further sub-post masters: Sheila Coultas and Victor Ingham. Kate O’Raghallaigh represented both appellants. She is instructed by Neil Hudgell and Abby Taylor of Hudgell Solicitors.

Victor Ingham had become a sub-postmaster in 1980, and Sheila Coultas in 1995. Both were later prosecuted for offences of theft and false accounting in relation to alleged ‘shortfalls’ in the accounts of their respective post office branches.

In both cases, the appellants told Post Office investigators that they did not understand why the shortfalls had occurred, and that they had experienced problems with the Horizon system. In both cases, the unexplained shortfalls in the branch accounts continued after they had been prosecuted. In the case of Ms. Coultas, this did not stop her prosecution and in the case of Mr. Ingham, the fact that losses later occurred at his branch was not disclosed to him after he went to prison.

At a hearing on Thursday, Post Office Limited did not oppose either appeal. The Court of Appeal accepted that Ms Coultas and Mr Ingham’s prosecutions and convictions were an abuse of the Court’s process as the evidence against them arose from software, Horizon, which was replete with bugs, errors or defects, and which produced unsubstantiated shortfalls. Despite becoming aware of these serious issues going to the reliability of Horizon, Post Office Limited failed to make all reasonable lines of enquiry, and failed to make adequate disclosure. The Court accepted that the disclosure failures in relation to both cases were “stark”.

For press coverage of the case, click here

The decision in Post Office Limited v. Coultas and Ingham marks the latest chapter in the Horizon IT scandal which resulted in the seminal judgment of the Court of Appeal in Hamilton & Others [2021] EWCA Crim 577 on 23 April 2021, in which the Court held that the private prosecutions of 39 sub-postmasters had been “an affront to justice”. The British Government has since set up a statutory inquiry into the scandal, chaired by Sir Wyn Williams.

In Hamilton & Others, Tim Moloney KC and Kate O’Raghallaigh were appointed lead advocates by the Court of Appeal and represented 29 of the 39 appellants for whom the Court found that the investigative and disclosure failings of Post Office Limited were “so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the “Horizon cases” an affront to the conscience of the court”.

The judgment of the Court in Hamilton has set a historic precedent for sub-postmasters whose convictions were based on the integrity of the Horizon IT system. Tim and Kate remain instructed for dozens of applicants before the Court of Appeal and the Criminal Cases Review Commission.