Post Office Horizon scandal: Wrongly convicted Upper Bucklebury postmaster, Hasmukh Shingadia, demands justice for all those affected
A wrongly convicted postmaster has called for justice for all those caught up in the Horizon scandal.
Hasmukh ‘Hash’ Shingadia, 63, has run the post office branch at Peach's Stores in Upper Bucklebury since 1998.
But little did he know he would later become caught in a national scandal and receive a suspended prison sentence for fraud — joining more than 700 other sub-postmasters.
Mr Shingadia bought his branch for around £60,000 and spent thousands on renovations. His Fujitsu Horizon system was installed in 2001.
But after his faulty system produced financial errors amounting to £16,000, he was convicted of false accounting in 2011 and handed an eight-month suspended sentence at Oxford Crown Court, ordered to pay more than £2,000 in costs and complete 200 hours’ community service — barely three months after attending the royal wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate.
After a ten-year legal battle, Mr Shingadia’s conviction was overturned in July 2021 — with the Middleton family and other village residents attending a celebratory tea party for him at Bucklebury Memorial Hall.
Just this week, Mr Shingadia called on Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to exonerate all 736 sub-postmasters convicted from 2000 to 2015 and backed a probe into the conduct of post office chiefs.
And yesterday (Wednesday) Mr Sunak announced that the government will bring in a new law to "swiftly exonerate and compensate victims".
He called the Post Office-Horizon scandal “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history,” and added: “People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own.
“Today, I can announce we will introduce new primary legislation to make sure those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal are swiftly exonerated and compensated.
“We will make sure the truth comes to light, we right the wrongs of the past and victims get the justice they deserve.”
Some 236 branch managers served jail terms. Many lost their savings, livelihoods and even their homes.
Around 60 are believed to have died before their convictions could be quashed.
Mr Shingadia says he immediately began noticing glitches in the system, before error messages in 2009 and 2010 revealed shortfalls of several hundred pounds.
The errors were caused by faulty software duplicating transactions, despite assurances the blunders were not possible.
The total missing funds stacked up to £16,000, and Mr Shingadia put in his own earnings and borrowed from friends and family to make up the difference.
He said he repeatedly called the helpline but the Post Office offered little support and claimed the problem was isolated.
In March 2010, auditors from the Post Office suspended him after finding the shortfall.
That same year, he was diagnosed with cancer and lost his mother.
Lawyers at the public body pursued him criminally, and Mr Shingadia pleaded guilty on the advice of his solicitor, who warned fighting the case could see him jailed for years.
Recalling the ordeal, Mr Shingadia said: “It was horrible, not only for me, but my family as well.
“We all went through hell. I had suicidal thoughts. I’m still dealing with the fallout emotionally and mentally.”
At least four branch managers are understood to have taken their own lives.
Mr Shingadia later connected with former sub-postmaster and campaigner Alan Bates, portrayed by actor Toby Jones in the recent ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office — already seen by more than 14 million viewers — who advised him on how he could appeal.
Speaking about winning his appeal, Mr Shingadia continued: “I just burst into tears because it had taken so long.
“The fact we kept the documents meant it was much simpler to get my conviction corrected.”
“Those jailed will never get that time back. Even those who didn’t go to jail lost years with the stress.”
He added that while not everyone in the village supported him, the Middletons — who he has known for more than 25 years — continued to back him.
He said: “They continued to come into my shop and spend money here.
“Even after Kate got engaged, she’d still pop in.
“They have always been such kind and welcoming people.
“After my conviction was overturned and it was in the media, Michael Middleton came in and asked what had happened.
“I know I couldn’t ask them for help directly because of the position they were in.
“But I am really grateful to the wider family for standing by me.”
He also slammed disgraced ex-Post Office boss, Paula Vennells, for holding onto her CBE until yesterday (Tuesday).
Ms Vennells, who served as chief executive between 2012 and 2019, submitted to a 1.2m strong petition demanding she return the honour.
Sharing his reaction to the news, Mr Shingadia said: “Mr Bates refused his OBE, but she hung on to her CBE, so yes, it’s good news, the right decision.”
MP for Newbury, Laura Farris, met with the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, on Monday to discuss the issue of achieving justice for the remaining sub-postmasters.
She said: “I have serious concerns about the conduct of the Post Office in the private prosecutions it conducted and the abuse of process that entailed.”
She added the Government has commissioned an independent inquiry by justice, Wyn Williams, which is due to publish its final report later this year.