Six former sub-postmasters wrongly accused of theft and fraud because of an IT error have become the first to have their convictions quashed.
The Post Office had earlier said it would not oppose attempts to overturn the convictions of 44 sub-postmasters.
The convictions, which were based on evidence provided by a faulty IT system, were “unsafe”, the Post Office admitted.
Hundreds of sub-postmasters were incorrectly accused of wrongdoing after the Horizon IT system was added to Post Office branches across the country between 2000 and 2002.
It incorrectly showed cash shortfalls, which resulted in many of the postmasters involved being sacked or even put in prison.
Among those having their names cleared is former Oxfordshire sub-postmaster Vipinchandra Patel.
Mr Patel, 67, was handed an 18-week prison sentence after pleading guilty to fraud in June 2011, after being accused of stealing £75,000.
He says he went from being a “pillar of the community to a pariah”, adding that the conviction was “impacting on every aspect of life”.
Now, he says he can “finally start enjoying and living life again”.
Chris Trousdale, 38, from Whitby in North Yorkshire, said he had been through a “long and torturous 16-year journey”.
Mr Trousdale was sentenced to a Community Punishment Order in March 2004, at the age of just 22, after being prosecuted by the Post Office and advised to plead guilty to false accounting or face jail.
He said: “Today feels like the heavy lead box we have been trapped in has had the lid ripped off. We can take our first breath and look forward to being able to start to heal and rebuild.”
Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, represents three of the six who have had their convictions quashed.
He also represents another 30 former sub-postmasters whose appeals will not be contested by the Post Office at a Court of Appeal hearing in the New Year, his firm said.
Mr Hudgell said his company had received a “significant number” of new clients who have come forward to start the process of challenging their convictions.
He said it was a “historic day”, adding: “These people have always been innocent, but they have each had a criminal record against their name which they have had to live with for many years, bringing many difficulties to their lives.
“Lives were destroyed by this huge injustice. We’ve met many innocent, decent and upstanding people who were broken and who thought they would never see this day.”
In December last year, the Post Office agreed to pay nearly £58m to settle a civil claim brought by 550 sub-postmasters, which kickstarted the criminal appeals process.
Forty-seven convictions brought under Horizon evidence were referred to the Court of Appeal by the English Criminal Cases Review Commission.
In May, the Post Office launched a scheme to provide redress to current and former postmasters who were not part of the litigation settlement but who believe they were adversely affected by earlier versions of the Horizon computer system.