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Former subpostmasters celebrate after finally clearing their names

PA High Court staff
·7-min read

Some of the former subpostmasters who were spared jail lost their livelihoods, homes and their good reputations after being wrongly convicted of offences despite being innocent.

Tom Hedges, who was convicted of theft and false accounting and given a seven-month suspended sentence in 2011, opened a bottle of prosecco outside the Royal Courts of Justice after his conviction was quashed.

He said: “It’s a wonderful afternoon. When I told my mother, who’s 93, I was coming to court she said ‘get yourself down to Aldi and get some prosecco’.

“She said: ‘Just remember your name is Hedges not Rothschild, so get prosecco, not Bollinger!’”

Post Office court case
Former post office worker Tom Hedges (centre) pops a bottle champagne in celebration outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal (Yui Mok/PA)

Della Robinson, 53, had her conviction quashed after she was sentenced to 140 hours of community service for false accounting in 2013.

Standing outside the Royal Courts of Justice, she told the PA news agency: “I feel we’ve achieved something, it’s been a victory. We’ve not won anything to be honest, because we’ll never get back what we lost, but it’s just an achievement for everybody, it’s so overwhelming.

“We’ve proved that we’re innocent today, it’s not a matter of winning, it’s a matter of proving that we’ve done nothing wrong.”

She continued: “We lost the post office, we lost the building, for no fault of ours, it was just them trying to recoup their losses. We lost everything, but it never changed us as who we are.”

Ms Robinson said the mood was “ecstatic” in the courtroom as the judgment was delivered.

She added: “We need a judicial inquiry and that is what we need to get forward now, to prosecute or whatever the people who have done this to us, because we still don’t know, who was behind it in the Post Office that has actually done this to people, it’s so cruel that you can’t even believe somebody could do that.”

Jo Hamilton, 63, from South Warnborough in Hampshire, was handed a community sentence at Winchester Crown Court and had to pay the £36,644 shortfall the system had incorrectly found.

She said on Friday: “I’m a free woman, I waited years and I still actually am pinching myself to think we’ve done it, I was never ever going to give up, I was determined to do it but it’s been such a battle.

“They’ve pushed everything in our path and we’ve just climbed over it and kept going, so justice for everybody.”

She added: “Some people aren’t here to see this day, they died convicted like my parents, they’re not here to see me vindicated.”

Post Office court case
Jo Hamilton outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Luciana Guerra/PA)

Ms Hamilton continued: “You’re talking about dishonesty and there’s not a dishonest bone in my body. The shame of it is hideous, you feel like you can’t tell anyone.”

She said: “I was one of the lucky ones, the community rallied behind me and they all came to court on the day, which was just the most surreal thing you’ve seen in your life… 74 people turned up in court and the judge was just bowled over so he didn’t send me to prison.

“It’s still not very nice to go into the probation office with all the naughty boys.”

Ms Hamilton added that she would hopefully be filing a letter of claim for compensation, adding: “I still haven’t had my money back and we’re still out of pocket by a long way.”

Julian Wilson who ran a post office in Astwood Bank, Worcestershire, died before his name was cleared.

His widow Karen Wilson, 66, said: “He had cancer. He died in 2016. He was only 67. His health deteriorated after he was suspended in 2008. I think the stress contributed. He may have still got cancer but I think it contributed.”

She added: “I promised him I would kept on fighting. And today those judges said he was right. I’m not brave but this was such a massive wrong. For 13 years I have lived and breathed it. We almost lost everything.”

Mr Wilson’s daughter, Emma Jones, 47, of Alton, Hampshire, added: “This is a bittersweet day for us. Very unjust, very unfair.”

Post Office court case
Karen Wilson, widow of postmaster Julian Wilson who died in 2016 (Yui Mok/PA)

Alison Hall, 52, who ran a post office in Liversedge, West Yorkshire, told PA: “It’s been horrendous, Absolutely awful. My health has had so many issues I can’t talk about it, I’ve just bottled it up for 11 years.”

Her partner Richard Walker said: “People think there’s no smoke without fire, we’re born and bred in our community so for word to get out, people don’t always see the nice side.

“Our post office still operates and we live on the premises so you can imagine how difficult that is, every day we’re reminded of what happened. It’s been gruelling.”

Supporting calls for a public inquiry into the scandal, Ms Hall added: “I would like a personal apology from the Post Office but I know I’m not going to get one. It all needs to come out.”

Speaking after her conviction was quashed, she said she felt “Relief, massive relief now, it’s the end of it all after 11 years of hell, now we’re here now, the day has come. It was so nice listening to it especially when your name got called out and when he said that word, quashed, that was the word we could hear.”

Asked what she would do after the ruling, she said: “We’re going to go find a pub and have a glass of champagne.”

Wendy Buffrey, 61, of Cheltenham, ran a Post Office branch in the Gloucestershire village of Up Hatherley.

She admitted two counts of fraud and was handed a community sentence with 150 hours of unpaid work at Gloucester Crown Court in October 2010.

She also had to pay the £26,250 shortfall and £1,500 towards the cost of her prosecution.

Post Office court case
Former post office worker Wendy Buffrey (left), from Cheltenham, celebrates outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having her conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal (Yui Mok/PA)

Speaking after she was cleared on Friday, Ms Buffrey said: “I’m very good, ecstatic is the word.

“I’m now no longer a criminal, I’m a victim of the Post Office.

“I think the Post Office hierarchy needs to realise that the Post Office is not a trusted brand.

“It is the subpostmasters who run those community offices that are the trusted people within the Post Office. They look after their communities.”

Ms Buffrey said it had taken “far too long” to get justice, adding: “If they had investigated this properly in the first instance I would still be running a Post Office, because I enjoyed my job – I really loved it.”

She described how she had noticed shortfalls in her accounts and used her own money to top them up, thinking it would eventually be recognised there had been a computer error and she would be repaid.

Instead she said she was coerced by two auditors and a Post Office official into signing the accounts even though she knew the figures were not right.

She said she has developed fibromyalgia as a result of the stress and sleepless nights she has suffered over the years, which means she in constant pain.

She added: “Compensation is a big thing, I will very happily accept compensation, but this was what mattered to me, getting my name cleared.”

Ms Buffrey said the focus now will be on fighting to help others get their names cleared, adding: “We are not finished, not by a long way.

“I would like to see somebody take responsibility for what they have done to us because they ought to.

“They have put us into prison, into court, for doing nothing.”