More than 550 sub-postmasters have won a case against the Post Office over an IT fiasco that saw some facing jail and bankruptcy.
The postmasters said defects in the Horizon IT system was to blame for discrepancies that meant some were wrongly accused of theft and false accounting.
The dispute has spanned a decade but on Friday, after a five-week trial, the High Court ruled in the postmasters’ favour.
There seemed to be a “culture of secrecy and excessive confidentiality generally within the Post Office, but particularly focussed on Horizon”, said the court.
Horizon was introduced between 1999 and 2000 but the six lead claimants, who represented the larger group, said it was riddled with problems.
They accused the Post Office of not training them properly on the system, failing to investigate the cause of alleged shortfalls and misleading them about the system’s reliability.
The Post Office denies the claims and says the system worked perfectly well.
Some of those affected by the IT problem have told Sky News how they fell into depression and felt as if “I had a gun to my head” after being accused of stealing money.
Balvinder Gill ran a post office in Oxford in 2003 before he was ordered to repay a massive shortfall which he says led to bankruptcy and depression.
“Every single week I had the same problems of not being able to understand the errors that were occurring,” he said.
“The figures on the system never matched the physical stock and cash. After six months, auditors arrived at my office and told me I couldn’t enter the counter.
“They said, by their calculations, I was approximately £60,000 down. I couldn’t stand up. I was devastated.”
The Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) said the postmasters had recorded an “emphatic” win in the case – the first of at least three trials.
Alan Bates, one of the lead claimants, called it a “major step forward to achieving justice and getting to the truth of the matter”.
He said: “Whatever happens from now on, this is the victory we’ve been fighting for – postmasters have won and Post Office will never again be able to behave as they have in the past with impunity.”
Potential compensation will be decided at the subsequent trials.
This story was originally published on Sky News Technology