Written evidence submitted by D T Hedges (POH0003)

 

I am one of the claimants in BATES V POST OFFICE and I also have my case lodged with CCRC.

 

I would like to submit evidence under three of the areas you have asked for.

 

1) What Steps are The Government taking to help sub-postmasters overturn convictions.

 

I lodged my case with the CCRC about three years ago on advice from Alan Bates and our lawyers Freeths. I have had roughly monthly updates from the CCRC advising me of what is happening, but nowhere have I had, or seen any information as to what the Government is doing. So as far as I am concerned the answer is, nothing. In fact, had I not seen this in the briefing notes, I would not have even thought about it. Now having seen it, I have been doing some investigations myself and came across this article:-

 

https://ukcampaign4change.com/2020/03/19/horizon-it-scandal-has-goliath-won/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=post_office_debate_in_parliament_this_afternoon_panorama_news&utm_term=2020-03-19

 

I quote these paragraphs from Tony Collins article:-

 

“There is no time pressure on the state to overturn wrongful convictions.  The simplest solution would be to set aside convictions en masse on the basis that all the prosecutions arose out of untrustworthy shortfalls shown on a computer system that was not as robust as prosecutors claimed.

But the state could, in theory, handle each wrongful conviction referred to appeal separately, review thousands of pages of documents in each case, and eventually overturn convictions when some of the falsely accused are no longer alive to see justice.

This may indeed be the state’s preferred route although there have already been years of delays in reviewing the cases.

Whether the Post Office would prefer a group or individual review of convictions at appeal hearings is unclear. What is obvious, though, is that the longer it takes to quash convictions, the more it delays any civil claims for damages and compensation arising out of wrongful prosecutions.”

 

My plea would be for the convictions to be set aside en masse.

 

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2) The role of the NFSP in the scandal.

 

I believe and I am not alone in that belief, that the NFSP is but a poodle of Post Office Ltd. It was documented in the Bates v PO trial that the NFSP was thrown out of the TUC because it received the vast majority of its funding directly from PO Ltd and not from its members and that its leaders felt duty bound to follow the company line, as they were their paymasters.

 

 

3) How transparent is PO in using Public Money?

 

My simple answer to this is, not very.

 

Again I refer to the trial of Bates v PO and in awarding costs against the PO. The judge awarded the substantial costs running into tens of millions of pounds and asked for them to be paid into court within the usual seven days. The PO lawyers countered and asked for 28 days as their client would have to ask its shareholder for the money. As you know they only have one shareholder and that is HMG and it was public money that they had to ask for. The judge gave them 14 days.

 

I have also heard rumours that money HMG had given PO for Network Improvements, was diverted to pay legal fees to fight the case brought against it by Bates and co. It is almost certain that the £58 million paid in settlement came directly from the public purse, as the PO has never made any substantial profits since it was spun out of Royal Mail just before privatisation. It is my opinion that the Royal Mail could not have been privatised while it still owned PO, so it had to go.

 

 

 

 

I would like to close with my impact statement:-

 

 

                                          POST OFFICE HORIZON SCANDAL

 

              VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT BY D T (TOM) HEDGES FEBRUARY 2020

 

Have you ever been accused of a crime you did not commit, taken to court on made up evidence, been advised that if you try and fight the charge, you will go to jail, so you plead guilty because you are terrified?

 

Well that is what happened to me at the hands of the Post Office under the control of its board of directors. Sure we took the legal entity Post Office Ltd to court, and obtained partial redress, but companies are run by people and it is their actions and decisions that caused this horrendous tragedy to engulf at least the 557 people in the group action and more cases are coming to light all the time.

 

I suffer from a disability that requires the use of a medical device to ensure I do not die. I had to almost fight to take this equipment into the dock when I was sentenced, as it would not have been possible to get this life saving equipment to me, if I had been “sent down”. This hugely heightened my stress and fear during my court appearance.

 

The whole experience has effected me and my family in a hugely detrimental way. Even after the few thousand we are to receive as our share of the settlement, we are hundreds of thousands out of pocket. We were forced to sell our PO,  Retail Business and comfortable home at a distress price, about half of its value before that fateful day. We just about avoided bankruptcy and were forced to live on benefits ever since. I could not obtain a job with a criminal record. I did obtain two reasonably paid job offers, but but both were withdrawn, when my criminal conviction was revealed. This stigma sticks and hurts. If I wanted to visit the USA, I cannot, as they will not allow convicted criminals to enter, even for a holiday. Several people both individuals and whole families shunned us in the village, some even crossing the road to avoid us. These people had always been well disposed to us and was one of the reasons why we moved out of the village into a nearby town, that provided anonymity. That did and still does, hurt.

 

The mental toll from that fateful audit day onwards was crippling, as the full might of a huge company was unleashed on me and only the support of a wonderful wife, loving family, close friends and my faith, saw me through. I can well understand why others contemplated and even went through with, taking their own lives, if they had no support.

My wife and I have been forced to live in rented accommodation, with the high rents and  uncertainty that this brings, renting from a private landlord. The waiting list for council or housing association property is over five years in our area.

 

As I am now 66 and in receipt of both my state and private pension. I had been looking forward to a reasonably comfortable retirement. We had planned to sell up when I was 64/5 and release the equity in our business and home and be able to buy a small property outright and put some money in the bank for rainy days. This has all been taken from me and our rent per month is more than my private pension, so we are living on what’s left of our state pensions.

 

However I count myself lucky compared to others who suffered in our group, but we all have one thing in common, this experience has scarred us for life and no one is being held to account for this.

People make and carry out policies within companies, but the law dictates that the legal entity is the company. We have settled with the company and it admitted its failings, but its directors and ex directors caused this situation in the first place and are free to do it all again.

 

                                                                      “Is that right and just?”

 

March 2020