"You helped send me to prison for a crime I didn't commit, and now I'm coming for you."
In-house lawyers at the Post Office and those on its external panels who advised on its wrongful prosecution of dozens of sub-postmasters are in for a sweaty few months after the Solicitors Regulation Authority won access to all documents related to the unsavoury episode.
The Post Office publicly insisted for years that accounting discrepancies in its branches were due to pilfering by sub-postmasters. In fact the errors were caused by its crumby IT system, Horizon, which was privately known to be chock-full of glitches.
Nonetheless, the Post Office demanded that sub-postmasters make up the shortfalls in their accounts, which often amounted to tens of thousands of pounds, and terminated their contracts or arranged for private prosecutions when they were unable to do so. Many of the innocent sub-postmasters' lives were ruined by bankruptcy, accusations of criminality and jail terms as a result.
Now regarded as the largest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, the cover-up was exposed by crusading sub-postmasters who refused to accept the Post Office's story, resulting in a civil claim brought by 555 sub-postmasters. Represented by Freeths, the sub-postmasters and their legal team eviscerated the Fujitsu and Post Office witnesses and obtained a £58m settlement.
72 convictions have been quashed so far, including 39 at once last April when the judge ruled that the original verdicts were an "affront to the public conscience".
In a submission to Sir Wyn Williams' inquiry into the scandal, academics led by legal ethics specialist Professor Richard Moorhead said the work of the Post Office's lawyers had played a central role. "Harms directly arose from the way legal work was managed and conducted: people were threatened, sued, fired, and prosecuted via legal work. Denials, non-disclosure, and delay were enabled, at least in part, by legal work", they said.
The SRA decided to investigate the "role of all lawyers in this matter" last April, but this week it emerged in its board minutes that it has been granted access to all the documents relating to the scandal, after successfully applying to become a 'core participant' in Sir Williams' inquiry.
Calling the affair a "lawyering scandal" as much as an IT one, Moorhead told the Law Gazette it appeared that work around the prosecutions was handled "incompetently or unethically", adding that the Post Office may have instructed lawyers at as many as six firms to advise on private prosecutions of sub-postmasters.
Paula Vennells, the Post Office CEO during the scandal who repeatedly claimed that "no fault in the system has been identified" despite evidence to the contrary, remains at large. In fact she was awarded a CBE for her services to the Post Office and charity, and now appears to spend her time removing unflattering edits from her Wikipedia entry (not included here in case she decides to spaff another £100m of taxpayer cash up the wall suing RollOnFriday).