Alison Hall

Year conviction was overturned:

Alison Hall was one of a group of former sub-postmasters and post-mistresses who were convicted of offences including theft, false accounting, and fraud, based on information from a computer system called Horizon which suggested that money had gone missing from post-office branch accounts. The basis of each of the prosecutions in these cases was that money missing from the branch account had been a result of theft by the sub-postmaster or mistress, or had been covered up by fraud or false accounting by the sub-postmaster or mistress. 

Ms Hall pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in the Crown Court at Leeds on 30th June 2011 in relation to a £14,842.37 shortfall. A theft charge was left to sit on the file and was not pursued.

She has reported calling the post office helpline to report a problem when “transaction correction” messages appeared on her computer, but has said that the post office wasn’t interested in hearing about it. She has said she used to dread putting the computer on each morning due to new erroneous shortfalls being flagged. She resorted to using her own money to balance up an ever-spiralling apparent shortfall. She also flagged the unreliability of Horizon when she was interviewed about the shortfall, but her guilty plea included a condition that she was not to make explicit criticism of the Horizon system.

She received a community sentence order with 120 hours of unpaid work. A confiscation order of £14,842.37 was made and she was ordered to pay £1,000 towards the prosecution costs.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal accepted findings that bugs, errors, and defects in Horizon could, and did, cause discrepancies and shortfalls in branch accounts. The court concluded that if the Horizon data was not reliable then there was no basis for the prosecution, and the convictions were quashed. The court noted that failures of investigation and disclosure in the cases prevented the appellants from challenging, or challenging effectively, the reliability of the Horizon data. Allison was one of four appellants who formed “Group A” in the Hamilton judgment, acquitting 39 sub-postmasters and mistresses. Addressing Alison’s case specifically, the Court of Appeal noted that in making her plea offer conditional on her abstaining from criticising Horizon, the post office’s conduct as a private prosecutor inevitably brought the criminal justice system into disrepute and implicated the Crown Courts.

Regarding her experience, Ms Hall has stated that: “It has been a nightmare, especially when I had to go back to court, because none of my family have ever been in court. I was a nervous wreck – I still feel I’m a nervous wreck.” Following her acquittal she said “It’s only in the fast year I’ve been able to talk about it. It brings back such horrible memories, getting accused of something you haven’t done.”

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