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Woman who died after Post Office conviction may have suffered miscarriage of justice

A woman who was convicted of embezzling money from the Post Office and later died may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has now referred the case of Caren Lorimer to the High Court of Justiciary for determination.

The SCCRC said the case was brought to their attention by a woman called Joanne Hughes, who applied in 2022 seeking a review of the conviction on the late Ms Lorimer's behalf.

It comes as hundreds of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses across the UK may have been wrongly convicted of embezzling money from the Post Office as a result of its faulty Horizon IT system.

In 2009, Ms Lorimer pleaded guilty at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court to one charge of embezzlement.

She was handed a community payback order with 300 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £15,000 compensation.

On Tuesday, the SCCRC said it had referred Ms Lorimer's conviction to the High Court of Justiciary as it concluded she pleaded guilty in "circumstances that were, or could be said to be, clearly prejudicial to her".

Prosecutions were handled by the Crown Office in Scotland, not the Post Office.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC appeared before MSPs earlier this month and claimed the Crown Office was "repeatedly misled" by the Post Office in regards to Horizon cases.

In 2013, guidance was issued to prosecutors urging them to ensure cases were not overly reliant on Horizon evidence.

The commission concluded that Horizon evidence was "essential" in the case against Ms Lorimer in regards to an alleged accounting shortfall and the "prosecution was oppressive because the process was an affront to justice".

The SCCRC has submitted its reasonings to applicant Ms Hughes, the High Court, the lord advocate and the Crown Office.

Read more:
What is the Post Office scandal?
Distressed sub-postmasters say Horizon system 'still causing mystery shortfalls'

The commission said it is still accepting applications from those affected by the Horizon computer system.

Michael Walker, chief executive of SCCRC said: "The SCCRC is the body which reviews potential miscarriages of justice in Scotland.

"Subpostmasters are still coming forward to tell us that they have suffered a miscarriage of justice. We encourage anyone who hasn't yet done so to get in touch.

"If the person affected has died, we will accept applications from next of kin.

"Our service is free and easy to use. You don't need a solicitor.

"If you believe that you or a close family member might have suffered a miscarriage of justice as a result of Horizon, our staff would be pleased to talk you through the application process."

Last week, former subpostmaster Rab Thomson had his conviction overturned.

The 64-year-old father of two, from Clackmannanshire, had attempted to take his own life after being wrongly criminalised in 2006 over an apparent shortfall of almost £6,000.

He told Sky News he was feeling "emotionally drained" but was over the moon it was over.

Celebrating in a pub, Mr Thomson said: "It's not sunk in yet, but it will one day. It's a lot of weight off my shoulders.

"All I wanted was my conviction to be overturned and I would walk my head high, and today, that's what's happened."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed legislation will be introduced to exonerate all those wrongly convicted in England and Wales, and he has vowed to get "justice and compensation" for victims.

The Scottish government is working on its own legislation to do the same.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: "COPFS is committed to the fair and effective prosecution of crime.

"The lord advocate has expressed her confidence in and support for the established appeals processes.

"The Crown will contribute appropriately to the work of SCCRC and the appeal court."