Horizon scandal: Postmaster's life 'destroyed' by wrongful conviction

Published
Image caption,
Harjinder Butoy is one of 39 former postmasters who have had their convictions quashed

A former postmaster who spent 18 months in jail after being wrongly convicted of theft due to a faulty computer system says those responsible should also be locked up.

Harjinder Butoy, from Chesterfield, was accused of stealing £206,000 from the accounts of the post office he ran in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

He was jailed for more than three years after a jury found him guilty in 2008.

Now his conviction has been overturned at the Court of Appeal.

He joins 38 other postmasters in having their convictions quashed and removed from their records after it emerged there were serious flaws with the Horizon IT system used at branches.

'Never gave up'

The 44-year-old said he was pleased but wanted those responsible for the miscarriage of justice to face punishment.

"Our lives have been destroyed by this, as have those of many others, and it is a disgrace," he said.

"Now people at the Post Office need to be held accountable and sent to jail like I was.

"I've never once, since the day the auditors walked into our post office back in 2007, given up trying to prove my innocence.

"I've repeatedly said that I've been innocent for 14 years and I have finally been able to prove it today.

"It feels like justice for standing my ground and never giving in, as I was told by so many people just to admit to stealing the money. I was never going to do that."

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Mr Butoy was overcome with emotion at the verdict

He said the way the case had unfolded had felt like a "bad dream".

"I'd only ever had a few discrepancies in the Post Office accounts, a few small amounts either up or down at the end of the week.

"Then all of a sudden about four or five auditors walked in the door one day and a couple of hours later they said more than £200,000 was missing.

"My post office was closed immediately and all of a sudden I was facing the local CID. It was crazy," he said. "Our lives were forever changed that day."

Image caption,
The Horizon system was designed to record the transactions carried out in a post office branch

After being handed a sentence of three years and three months, Mr Butoy was forced to say goodbye to his wife and three young children.

"It was a hugely difficult time," he said.

"My wife and kids had to move in with my parents, the Post Office was shut, we lost the shop and our home and I was declared bankrupt.

"Our standing in the community, which we had worked so hard to establish and be well-liked and trusted, was destroyed.

"There were some people who believed us, but many heard about me being taken off in a police car and the post office being closed down and just assumed we were guilty and had stolen the money."

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, he said those responsible for the scandal "need to be punished, seriously punished".

He added: "They're just bullies, that's all they are... somebody needs to really, really sort this out and charge them for this. It can't be pushed under the carpet now."

What is the Horizon computer scandal?

The Horizon system, developed by Fujitsu, was first rolled out in 1999 to some post offices to be used for a variety of tasks including accounting and stocktaking.

But from an early stage it appeared to have significant bugs that could cause the system to misreport, sometimes involving substantial sums of money.

Horizon-based evidence was used by the Post Office to successfully prosecute 736 people.

But campaigners fought a long series of legal battles for compensation in the civil courts - and now 39 have had their convictions wiped out by the Court of Appeal.

Post Office chief executive Nick Read said he was working to "put right these wrongs" and pledged "compensation that reflects what has happened".

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