Horizon scandal: Sussex sub-postmistress cleared after years of suffering

  • By Tanya Gupta & PA News
  • BBC News, South East

Image caption,

Three appeal judges ruled here was no doubt Mrs Crane’s conviction was unsafe

A former sub-postmistress who was convicted of fraud and ordered to repay more than £18,000 has had her conviction quashed at London’s Court of Appeal.

Kathleen Crane, who had a Post Office branch in Eastbourne, East Sussex, was convicted based on evidence from the faulty Horizon IT system.

She was also given a 12-month community order when she was convicted in 2010.

The 68-year-old mother-of-two wept as her conviction was quashed.

Flora Page, representing her in court, said Mrs Crane had “suffered in silence” since her conviction, and said a fraud that she had not committed had brought its own humiliation.

“She works in a care home and she will no longer have to contend, we hope, with the fact that this conviction comes up every year when they do their enhanced checks,” Ms Page said.

“It will close a very long and painful chapter in Mrs Crane’s blameless life.”

At the hearing on Thursday, three appeal judges ruled there was no doubt Mrs Crane’s conviction was unsafe, adding she was “kept in ignorance” over defects in the Horizon system.

Giving their judgment, Lord Justice Holroyde said: “We have no doubt that her prosecution was an abuse of process. Nor do we have any doubt that her conviction is unsafe.”

Image caption,

Mrs Crane, seen here on the left, wept as her conviction was quashed

Mrs Crane was one of hundreds of sub-postmasters who were convicted after the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system produced figures which suggested money was missing from their branches.

Mrs Crane lodged an appeal on 10 January, which the Post Office did not resist.

Her case is one of many expected to reach the Court of Appeal as a result of the Post Office’s case review, with the company contacting Mrs Crane last June to say it believed there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Image caption,

Kathleen Crane wore her late husband’s scarf to the hearing

Mrs Crane’s husband, Robert, became sub-postmaster of the Old Town Post Office in 2000, but she took over due to his ill-health.

In 2010, Mrs Crane was accused of defrauding the company of £18,721.52 after an audit found a shortfall.

During the investigation she said she had been aware of inexplicable shortfalls since 2008 and had asked for them to be investigated, but no action had been taken.

She pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation after legal advice made her feel the Horizon system was infallible. She was ordered to pay £1,550 in costs and complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

Appeal judges heard the couple were “at a loss” to explain the shortfall.

‘Kept in ignorance’

Simon Baker KC, representing the Post Office, said while the company was duty-bound to investigate the case based on evidence available at the time, the case “amounts to an abuse of process”.

Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Picken and Mrs Justice Farbey, said: “No leap of imagination is needed to understand the anxiety and fear which Mrs Crane and her late husband, who is since sadly deceased, and their two daughters must have experienced.”

He said: “This is indeed a Horizon case in which the reliability of the Horizon data was essential for the prosecution.

“No relevant investigation was carried out and no disclosure was made of the known concerns about Horizon.

“She (Mrs Crane) pleaded guilty because she and those representing her had been kept in ignorance.”

Mr Crane died in 2016 and Mrs Crane wore his scarf to the hearing.

Following the ruling, a Post Office spokesman said: “We are deeply sorry for past wrongs and are doing all we can to put these right, including extensive work to support overturning wrongful convictions.

“As part of this work we contacted Mrs Crane and other individuals who were unjustly convicted, on the evidence that we hold, to encourage them to mount an appeal and we are pleased that Mrs Crane’s conviction has been overturned.

“Additionally, in 2020 we contacted all current and former postmasters about the launch of the Horizon Shortfall Scheme to encourage more victims to come forward,” he said.

“We continue to work with the government to support efforts to speed up the exoneration of people with wrongful convictions and ensure compensation is paid.”

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