Neil Hudgell guides subpostmasters through legal ordeal

An ITV drama titled ‘Mr Bates v The Post Office‘ has been released this new year. The story of the Post Office Horizon Scandal unfolds, shedding light on the persecution of subpostmasters and postmistresses over the past two decades. The storyline reveals the Post Office’s pursuit of these individuals, holding them responsible for financial discrepancies from the unreliable Horizon computerised accounting system.

Neil Hudgell, executive chairman at Hudgell Solicitors, has been actively overturning convictions related to the scandal.

Reflecting on the legal battle, he expresses hope that the television drama will encourage more individuals to come forward and clear their names.

Hudgell joined the cause in 2019, following a High Court victory by the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA). This established that flaws in the Horizon system led to accounting discrepancies. Since then, legal proceedings have not only overturned convictions but also sought compensation for the victims. The Post Office has committed to paying a minimum of £600,000 to those declared innocent.

Hudgell remains frustrated that over 600 individuals are yet to seek justice. He attributes this to lack of awareness, individuals leaving the jurisdiction, or the elderly being out of touch socially. Fear and skepticism also play a role, fuelled by the trauma inflicted by the Post Office.

Hudgell emphasises the established process for appeal and compensation. He reassures potential claimants that legal aid or the Post Office covers the costs. He highlights the supportive network of former subpostmasters who have successfully navigated the legal process,.

Jo Hamilton, aged 66, found herself among the 700 sub-postmasters who faced prosecution between 2000 and 2014.

Hudgell Solicitors assisted Mrs. Hamilton, one of the 73 individuals, as her legal ordeal began in 2006 when she was accused of a £36,000 shortfall in her accounts. Falsely informed that she was the sole individual having issues with the accounting system, she, like many others, was pressured to rectify the shortfalls in her accounts repeatedly.

Mrs. Hamilton had to remortgage her home and borrow from friends to meet the alleged missing amount. The persistent demands and accusations ultimately led her to plead guilty to a charge of false accounting. To avoid prison time, she made this decision. This meant less severe consequences than the initial theft charge she had denied in the first court hearing.

She stated; “The Post Office destroyed lives. Even now, with evidence being heard at the public inquiry, I sit and think ‘how on earth could someone do that to people and then go home and sleep at night’.

Asked about his unwavering passion for the case, Hudgell describes subpostmasters as a “special group of people.” He sees their representation as a mission to right the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. The ultimate goal is not just financial compensation but justice, clearing names, and restoring peace of mind for those wrongly labelled as criminals.

In Hudgell’s words, “There can be no greater use of our skills and time than helping former subpostmasters affected by this scandal. Hopefully this will now open the door to helping many more. Those people who have not come forward are to this day unjustifiably living with tarnished characters and living a life they should not be living”

 

Image: Neil Hudgell from Hudgell Solicitors and Jo Hamilton.
Emma Cockings
Emma is the junior editor for Yorkshire Legal News.