Jailed Scots postmistress cleared of embezzlement after Horizon scandal

A Scots postmistress who was sentenced to a year in prison for embezzling £20,000 from her Isle of Gigha branch has had her conviction quashed after 12 years. Aleid Kloosterhuis, 64, was one of the hundreds of victims of the Horizon IT scandal, which saw faulty accounting software falsely accuse post office workers of stealing money.

A miscarriage of justice

Kloosterhuis, who moved to Scotland from the Netherlands in 1998, pleaded guilty to embezzlement at Campbeltown Sheriff Court in 2012, based on evidence from the Horizon system. She was the only one of the six Scots postmasters and mistresses who were convicted during the scandal to be jailed. She served three months in custody and three months on a tag.

However, her conviction was overturned on Wednesday at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, after the Crown Office said it would not oppose her appeal. The appeal judges found that Kloosterhuis had suffered a miscarriage of justice, as the Post Office investigator who handled her case had provided misleading information to the prosecutors.

The court heard that Kloosterhuis had made “admissions” to the investigator about taking money from the branch, but the amount she confessed to was significantly less than the sum the Horizon system said was missing. The investigator also told the prosecutors that Kloosterhuis had admitted to taking the full £20,000, which was not true.

A nightmare ordeal

Kloosterhuis, who now lives in Campbeltown, said she was delighted that her name had been cleared after a “nightmare” ordeal. She said she had suffered from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her conviction and imprisonment. She also said she had lost her home, her business and her reputation on the island.

Jailed Scots postmistress

She thanked her family, friends and solicitor for their support and said she wanted to put the past behind her. She also expressed her sympathy for the other post office workers who had been wrongly accused and convicted.

“I feel sorry for all the people who have gone through this. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not justice,” she said.

A widespread scandal

The Horizon scandal has been described as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history. More than 700 post office branch managers across the UK were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 after the Horizon system, designed by Fujitsu, made it look like money was missing when it was not.

Many of them pleaded guilty to avoid jail, but some were still sentenced to prison, community service or suspended sentences. Some also faced bankruptcy, divorce and suicide attempts as a result of the false allegations.

In 2019, a group of 550 postmasters and mistresses won a landmark civil case against the Post Office, which agreed to pay £58m in damages. In 2020, 39 of them had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal in London, and more appeals are expected to follow.

A UK-wide public inquiry into the scandal is ongoing and is due to report its findings next year. The UK and Scottish governments are also working on legislation to exonerate those wrongly convicted.

A call for accountability

The Post Office has apologised for the scandal and said it is doing all it can to right the wrongs of the past. It has also set up a compensation scheme for the affected post office workers, but many of them have criticised it as inadequate and unfair.

Some of the victims and their lawyers have also called for a criminal investigation into the former Post Office executives and managers who were responsible for the scandal. They have accused them of knowing about the flaws in the Horizon system or turning a blind eye to them, and of pursuing prosecutions despite the lack of evidence.

They have also questioned the role of the Crown Office in Scotland and the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, which relied on the Horizon evidence to charge and convict the post office workers.

The current Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, has admitted that the Crown Office was “repeatedly misled” by the Post Office in regard to the Horizon cases. She has also apologised to the victims and said the Crown Office is reviewing its procedures to prevent such cases from happening again.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts