UK’s shocking scandal makes riveting viewing

The miniseries Mr Bates vs The Post Office has made waves in the UK.

The miniseries Mr Bates vs The Post Office has made waves in the UK. Photo: ITV via Seven

The incredible true story of how more than 900 post office franchisees were wrongfully prosecuted has come to Australian screens.

The four-part ITV drama series, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, made waves when it was released earlier this year in the UK and drove unprecedented social change.

The series covers the Horizon scandal, which rocked the UK Post Office and saw many people lose their livelihoods, with some jailed, thanks to an IT error.

The series features an all-star cast, with BAFTA winner Toby Jones as Alan Bates, and it was written by acclaimed screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes.

What a scandal

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters (brand managers) in the UK were prosecuted or convicted for false accounting, theft and fraud.

  • Around 700 people were prosecuted after the post office took cases to court.
  • Another 283 cases were brought by other bodies, according to the BBC.

Some were sent to jail, some went bankrupt, at least four people committed suicide and others died before they had the chance to clear their names.

Those who were prosecuted or convicted didn’t actually do the things they were accused of.

Instead, glitches in Horizon, a software system the UK’s Post Office was using, made it look as though money was missing from accounts.

Who is Alan Bates?

Alan Bates was a sub-postmaster from Llandudno in north Wales who experienced problems with the Horizon software, and he spearheaded a campaign to bring the issues to light.

  • In 2000, Bates noticed some £1,000 ($1928) was unaccounted for and reported the issue with the post office.
  • In 2002, the post office said they would write off the amount and no further action would be taken.
  • Over the years, Bates continued to have issues with his deficits and refused to sign weekly accounts for the post office he managed, out of fear he would be liable for any losses and refused to use his own money to cover the losses.
  • In 2003, he was forced to stop running his post office and he detailed the issues he faced when he wrote to Computer Weekly in 2004.

“We have lost our investment and livelihood by daring to raise questions over a computer system we had thrust upon us,” he said.

  • Bates was one of many sub-postmasters Computer Weekly originally profiled in 2009 and in that same year, Bates founded the Justice For Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA).

JFSA alleges concerns were brushed off by the UK Post Office.

Alan Bates, former Sub-postmaster, Founder, Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance

Alan Bates was one of the many sub-postmasters who were victims of the software flaws.

What happened?

Despite the coverage from Computer Weekly and JFSA advocating for postal workers, many waited years for justice.

  • It wasn’t until 2012 that the post office appointed an investigative firm to look into the claims that the software was faulty.
  • An interim report acknowledged defects in the software system, stating it was “not fit for purpose” and noted there were thousands of communications failures every year.
  • In 2017, 555 sub-postmasters took action against the post office.
  • In 2019, the post office agreed to pay the sub-postmasters £58 million ($111,853,582), however, victims said legal fees outweighed the compensation.
  • In 2020, the Metropolitan Police started investigating the post office, an independent inquiry was established the same year.

Several sub-postmasters have since had their convictions overturned, but not all have accepted settlements. In 2023, it was reported the post office had cut the compensation by half.

Impact of Mr Bates vs the Post Office

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the scandal was “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history” on January 10.
  • Some 100 new potential victims have come forward since the series premiered.

The series will air across two nights. The first was February 14, the second will be February 21 at 8.30pm on Channel 7 and on 7Plus.

Topics: Britain, TV
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