‘What happened was evil’: Meet the lawyer who defended Post Office accused

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

‘What happened was evil’: Meet the lawyer who defended Post Office accused

Paul Harris, a lawyer representing subpostmasters whose fraud convictions were quashed after a shocking miscarriage of justice, speaks about the ordeal victims went through

Alex Galbinski is a Jewish News journalist

Last month, 39 subpostmasters were cleared by the Court of Appeal after having been prosecuted by the Post Office for fraud, theft and false accounting.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice, had referred the cases of 42 former postmasters to the appeal court last year following a landmark case at the High Court in 2019.

In 1999, the Post Office introduced Horizon, an accounting system developed by Fujitsu, to record transactions and stocktaking. But, almost immediately, subpostmasters and other staff complained about problems with shortfalls in their branches. Rather than looking into their concerns, between 2000 and 2014 the Post Office prosecuted 736 subpostmasters. 

Some challenged the Horizon evidence but were convicted and jailed. As the evidence was presumed by the court to be reliable, others pleaded guilty (some were advised to do so to avoid prison). Having been threatened with dismissal, many used their own money or borrowed heavily to plug the shortfalls, which ran into thousands of pounds. Some went bankrupt. Marriages broke down. People suffered ill health; some died with their convictions extant. At least one subpostmaster killed himself. 

It didn’t just destroy the individuals, it destroyed their families as well, so the human cost was absolutely massive.

Four of the 39 subpostmasters were represented by Paul Harris, a senior partner at London firm Edward Fail, Bradshaw & Waterson, who had worked on the case for just under a year. While Harris feels justice has been served, he says it will be completed when all are properly compensated for their losses and for the damage done to their lives, adding; “But at least their names have now been cleared.”

The case has been called the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, an assessment with which Harris agrees. 

Criminal defence lawyer Paul Harris

“As a criminal defence solicitor, I’ve represented people over the years who regularly get into trouble. But these are all decent, innocent, hardworking people whose lives have been ruined by the Post Office for its desire to protect its own reputation,” he says. 

“The subpostmasters all worked at the centre of their community where everybody knew their name. Their reputations were entirely destroyed, and it was totally unnecessary.”

One of Harris’ clients wishes to remain anonymous, but he can speak about the other three: the toll on them, he says, was
“absolutely immense”.

Peter Holmes had been a retired police officer who, Harris says, “sadly didn’t live to see his name cleared”; the appeal was brought by his wife, Marion.

“He was a really good man and he had to deal with the embarrassment of the press referring to him as a ‘crooked cop’ or similar. It destroyed him,” explains Harris.

Rubbina Shaheen received a 12-month jail term; she lost her business, and she and her husband lost their home. “They ended up living in a van before a member of their religious community helped them out. And she has suffered huge health problems ever since.” 

Scott Darlington, from Macclesfield, struggled to find a job, had “massive money worries” and depression and struggled to provide for
his child.

Harris explains: “It didn’t just destroy the individuals, it destroyed their families as well, so the human cost was absolutely massive.” 

He says the Post Office pursued prosecutions for years, spending huge sums on legal fees, despite subpostmasters’ many calls to its helpline about the software, which he says the corporation “knew was flawed pretty much from the get-go”. 

“The judgment was very damning by the Court of Appeal. It’s nothing short of evil what happened to these people. Their lives were taken away from them.”

He adds: “The more you read about it, the more you are absolutely shocked at the extent to which it went to conceal problems. This is a state-owned, government corporation, so you would not expect this level of dishonesty. It wanted to protect its reputation and save money.” 

The strategy backfired. The Post Office has spent £32 million trying to deny fault in Horizon and paid out settlements of £58 million to 555 subpostmasters following the High Court battle. 

After the verdict, Paula Vennells, an ordained priest and Post Office chief executive from 2012 to 2019, resigned from her church duties as well as from her non-executive roles at retailers Dunelm and Morrisons. Harris believes a public inquiry should now be held. 

“There needs to be a proper public statutory inquiry that can look into who knew what and when… And there should be a criminal investigation running side by side.” 

Harris, 53, who is married with three children, was until recently co-chair of New North London Synagogue. He has represented Girls Aloud star Cheryl Tweedy, former Pakistani cricket captain Salman Butt and is working on one of the Hillsborough cases. But he says he has not seen anything like this case in 30 years as a criminal defence lawywer. 

“The judgment was very damning by the Court of Appeal. It’s nothing short of evil what happened to these people. Their lives were taken away from them.”

With the Post Office asking remaining workers to come forward if they want to challenge their convictions, it looks as if Harris will continue to make a difference. 

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: