Mr Shingadia vs The Post Office: Wrongly convicted Upper Bucklebury sub-postmaster reacts to Horizon scandal
A wrongly convicted Upper Bucklebury sub-postmaster has opened up about his ordeal.
Between 1999 and 2015, Post Office — once Britain’s most trusted brand — sacked and prosecuted more than 700 sub-postmasters nationwide for fraud and false accounting.
Many lost their homes, livelihoods and even their lives.
Among the victims was Hasmukh Shingadia, who received an eight-month suspended sentence for false accounting in 2010 when more than £16,000 vanished from the branch he had run since 1998 – all due to shortfalls produced by faulty accounting software.
Mr Shingadia, now 63, had his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal in July 2021.
But he says his ten-year legal battle has caused lasting financial and emotional strain on him and his family.
Mr Shingadia began noticing financial errors after Horizon software was installed at his branch in 2001.
He turned to the Post Office helpline, which he says was very unhelpful.
The overall shortfall exceeded £16,000 and Mr Shingadia was suspended after an unannounced audit in 2010.
Recalling the moment he realised he could go to prison, he said: “Straightaway, your world collapses.
“After everything I’d done, suddenly I was going to go to jail. I thought ‘what’s going to happen to my wife, my two daughters and the shop’.”
He began training his then 11-year-old daughter to help his wife run their business.
A Newbury solicitor advised Mr Shingadia to plead guilty to avoid a custodial sentence.
“I wasn’t a free man, but I was coming home,” he said.
“If I was locked up for eight months, maybe I would have come home to nothing.
“Maybe I would have lost them. It was a big relief for me.”
He was ordered to complete 200 hours’ community service at Sue Ryder in Thatcham.
He pleaded for the post office to stay open for his locals, but Post Office declined, and he was forced to survive on a limited income.
He and his family chose to remain in their beloved village, but their experience was not easy.
“People shunned us and made comments,” he added.
“My daughter was abused at school and called the ‘daughter of a P*** thief’.
“She would come home crying. People were resentful we’d lost the post office and for what they thought I’d done.”
As a result of the media coverage surrounding his conviction, Mr Shingadia was contacted by a London sub-postmaster.
She introduced him to the Justice for Sub-Postmasters Alliance campaign group and its founder, Alan Bates – played by actor Toby Jones in the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office.
It was only then he realised the national scale of the cover-up, he explained.
“I didn’t know there were other sub-postmasters involved in the Horizon scandal.
“The Post Office made you feel like you were the only one.
“Luckily for us, I’d kept all my paperwork from day one.”
Mr Shingadia knew many of the real-life characters depicted in the series.
“I watched the drama with my wife and daughter,” he said.
“At a certain point, I had to leave the room, because it was just too much.
“What they went through, we went through ourselves. I had suicidal thoughts.
“My shortfall wasn’t a lot, but to be put into that position, not only myself, but also my wife and two daughters, it hurts you more.”
The Alliance won a landmark legal victory when 555 sub-postmasters led by Mr Bates filed a group litigation against the Post Office, with the judge ruling Horizon contained bugs, errors and defects.
The case paved the way for appeals – though just 93 have seen their convictions overturned so far.
Mr Shingadia was compensated for the £16,700 shortfall, plus the £2,000 court costs and Post Office legal fees he was ordered to pay – which he did by eating into his family savings and borrowing money from his wife’s sister.
“The biggest things for me was getting my convictions overturned,” he said.
“Even when I went to court on the day, I had a gut feeling something was going to go wrong.
“I burst into tears. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was amazing.”
But he still wants to see Post Office bosses questioned for their role in the scandal.
Reacting to ex-Post Office CEO, Paula Vennells, returning her CBE last Tuesday in response to mounting public pressure, he said: “Just handing back the CBE is not enough really.
“There are questions to be answered, because it was on her watch.
“We want to know why she held back at the time and why she didn’t come clean with all the information regarding Horizon.
“She and her team need to be held to account for their mistakes.”
He added: “It’s really sad it has taken so long. All we’ve wanted to do is make this our home.
“All the plans we made for the future, for retirement, just went out the window.”
And when asked if he would still run the post office if he could, Mr Shingadia said: “I wouldn’t have it back now; things have changed completely.
“But we enjoyed our time at the post office.”
He says he has never been told what happened to the missing funds.
An independent public inquiry investigating the failings of Horizon was established in September 2020.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the Government will be bringing in new legislation to “swiftly exonerate and compensate victims” in what he described as “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”.
Elizabeth Conaghan, an associate professor at the University of Reading School of Law, is producing a play about the scandal and real-life Berkshire sub-postmistress, Pam Stubbs.
She believes the victims deserve urgent financial address, but has reservations about the PM’s announcement.
“The issue of introducing legislation to enact a blanket 'pardoning' of all convictions raises huge constitutional issues about the role of Parliament and the role of the courts.
“Normally, these powers are separate, and there are good reasons for keeping them separate,” she said.
“Many lawyers, although sympathetic to the victims of the scandal, are wary about the implications of such a move.”