Joy as sub-postmaster's conviction is quashed after technology accounting scandal

A Mid Wales man is among the latest batch of former sub-postmasters to have longstanding convictions quashed in the Post Office Horizon accounting scandal.

Anthony Gant, wife Kirsty and step-daughter Megan outside court today
Anthony Gant, wife Kirsty and step-daughter Megan outside court today

Anthony Gant, aged 51, of Newtown, Powis, was one of five people exonerated of wrongdoing on Thursday, but says he found it tough choosing to "open up old wounds" and begin the process of challenging a conviction which has unfairly stood against his name for the past 14 years.

Mr Gant, who ran the Nantoer Post Office, was one of hundreds prosecuted over a 15-year period from 2000 onwards as the Post Office used evidence of a faulty accounting system to convict them of crimes.

Southwark Crown Court formally acquitted five former postmasters in appeals uncontested by Post Office. The cases from 2001 to 2012 were referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and relate to convictions in Magistrates’ Courts in which Post Office acted as prosecutor.

Now, Mr Gant says the ‘overwhelming’ feeling of having his conviction for false accounting overturned is one he hopes every other victim can experience, with their reputations restored officially by law.

“It was hard for me to even begin this process of challenging my conviction as in many ways I had buried all the hurt and pain it caused for so long deep down in my memory. I almost didn’t want to look back and dig it all up again,” he said.

“However, the turning point for me was when I saw a documentary on television about all the failings in the Horizon system being exposed, and how it had happened to so many other people, just like me. I then read about solicitors promising to challenge the unsafe convictions and I thought I had to do something.”

The memories of his prosecution remain difficult for Mr Gant to discuss. He began to struggle with continuing unexplained shortfalls in his accounts over a two year period, shortfalls he did everything to make right himself.

“No matter what I did the accounts were always short. I thought I must be doing something wrong so I borrowed money from wherever I could to make up the shortfall, putting thousands of my own money in at one point,” he said.

“I couldn’t keep getting the money though and the accounts kept showing us to be thousands short. It was horrendous. It was so worrying and I was too frightened to tell anyone because it simply couldn’t be explained.”

When an audit was carried out at his branch in April 2007, a deficit of £14,550 was found and the Post Office - a prosecuting body in its own right - pushed for conviction.

“Like almost everybody else I was told there was no issue with the computer system and that I was the only one. I was told to plead guilty to false accounting to have a charge of theft dropped,” he said.

Mr Gant was handed a six months suspended sentence, 100 hours community service and was made to repay the outstanding shortfall when appearing at Shrewsbury and North Shropshire Magistrates Court.

“You can’t really explain the impact on your life,” he added.

“I had worked so hard to train to be a stockbroker, so that ended right there and then when I was a convicted criminal. I’d also coached children in rugby for many years and that ended too. Big parts of your life are taken from you.

“I can also remember being in the pub and someone saying ‘that’s the family who stole from the Post Office’. It’s so hurtful.

“All these bad memories stay with you, but I’d buried them somewhere at the back of my mind. I imagine others will have done the same. Now I would urge everybody who suffered like me to open up those old wounds and seek justice. It also ensures full transparency over what happened.

“I was lucky, I had good people support me, and I found new work. Others won’t have.

“I know some people probably can’t face the prospect of being let down again, and I know how they feel because there was a time when I thought we had no hope of clearing our names.

“However, the many people that have come together to fight for justice, and to bring it all to this point where we are today did give me hope. Today they have given me justice. Everyone deserves to feel like I do today.”

Mr Gant was one of five people represented in court today by Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, and Tim Moloney QC of Doughty Street Chambers.

The legal team has now helped 53 clients to have their names cleared this year, and has also been instructed to represent those wrongfully convicted of crimes in their roles of Core Participants at next year’s Public Inquiry.

Mr Hudgell says it has been significant week in the fight for justice, transparency and accountability.

The latest quashings of convictions come just two days after the Post Office agreed to broadly waive legal privilege at next year’s Public Inquiry. That followed a request made by Sir Wyn Williams, who will chair the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry next year. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), UK Government Investments (UKGI) and Fujitsu Services have also similarly agreed to waive legal privilege over documents for the inquiry.

Mr Hudgell said: "Having set out to support subpostmasters almost two years ago and to challenge every unsafe conviction, it is very pleasing for us as a law firm to have now surpassed 50 cases in which convictions have been overturned. We hope there are many, many more to come.

In a statement the Post Office said the five appeals were uncontested.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “Post Office is extremely sorry for historical failures and the impact on the lives of people affected.

“Whilst we cannot change the past, we have taken determined action to ensure there is appropriate redress.

“Ahead of final compensation, we are expediting offers of interim payments of up to £100,000 to people whose convictions have been overturned where the reliability of Horizon data was essential to the prosecution.

“We have also undertaken wholesale reforms to prevent such events ever happening again.”

The Post Office ceased private prosecutions of cases related to Horizon in 2015. Other former post office workers had their convictions overturned earlier this year.

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