Home Business Post Office hero Alan Bates had seemingly been preparing for this day from the start

Post Office hero Alan Bates had seemingly been preparing for this day from the start

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Having waited almost two decades for the opportunity, the real-life campaigner from the Post Office scandal set out the case against the business that ruined the lives of so many.
Business correspondent
Tuesday 9 April 2024 20:16, UK
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In Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, the ITV drama that introduced the scandalous treatment of sub-postmasters to a mass audience, Toby Jones portrayed its eponymous hero as stubborn, acerbic and indefatigable.
Appearing at the public inquiry that would not be happening without him, the real-life Alan Bates was all these and more.
Having waited almost two decades for the opportunity, he set out the case against the Post Office with the moral authority of a man who has spent three times as long campaigning for justice as he did as a sub-postmaster in Llandudno, Wales.
That, he said, „was down to the Post Office, not me”, winning the first of several laughs from a room occupied by banks of lawyers, the current Post Office chief executive Nick Read, and dozens of sub-postmasters who also suffered at its hand.
As Mr Bates pointed out, many suffered far more than him, facing criminal convictions, imprisonment, bankruptcy and the demolition of their reputations.
He was sacked for a shortfall of a relatively paltry £1,100, which he refused to repay on the grounds that it was not his fault but that of the blighted Horizon computer system.
Rather than take him on, the Post Office terminated his contract, in part, the inquiry heard, because he had become „unmanageable” – and that might have been the end of it.
„At one stage I did offer, if you’re not happy with the way we are offering your services, to let them pay me what we invested and give it [the branch] back,” he said.
„I would have been quite happy for them to do that and I probably wouldn’t be here if that had happened.”
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How the Post Office executives, ministers and officials he exposed, some of whom may face criminal charges, must wish they had taken him up on the offer.
Instead, the injustice and the flaws he had seen in the Horizon system rankled, and Mr Bates famously sought out others he knew must be experiencing the same – a group he described as „like stray lambs”.
„The Post Office terminated my contract purely, in my belief, because I kept raising problems and concerns over its Horizon system due to a number of faults,” he said.
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„Once I started my individual little campaign we found others along the way and eventually we all joined up, and so the JFSA [Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance] was born.
„Once you got to meet people and realised it was not just yourself, and realised the harm and injustice that had been visited on them, it’s something you had to deal with, you couldn’t put down, and you had the support of the rest of the group in there as well.”
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Spurred on by the emerging cover-up as much as the original sin, his campaign gathered pace. What was remarkable was how right he was from the start, and how meticulous he was in gathering the evidence to prove it.
Hearing the letters he sent in the early 2000s to his regional line manager, to the Post Office chairman, to his MP and anyone else who might help, was to see the workings of a man who might have been preparing for this day from the very start.
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Remarkably, even after two decades, the Post Office’s tendency to obfuscate and delay has the power to shock him, and the rest of us.
Presented with a letter in which Post Office officials discussed verbally tipping off their insurers that Horizon was flawed „to ensure there is no paper trail”, he could only shake his head.
His work led eventually to the High Court, and a ruling that Horizon was indeed flawed, and the current push to speed up compensation via a blanket exoneration of sub-postmasters by act of Parliament.
That has not quelled any of Mr Bates’s ire for those responsible. Former Post Office minister Sir Ed Davey was offensive, the Post Office investigators „thugs in suits”, and even now he believes his own compensation is being delayed and reduced out of „vindictiveness”.
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When he finished he would have been met by applause – had the inquiry chair Sir Wyn Williams not intervened, trying to ensure fair treatment of witnesses who might be less popular with the gallery.
Their turn will come over the next three months as Post Office executives, officials and politicians answer for the actions so vividly exposed by Mr Bates.
And whatever happens, the real-life star of this shameful scandal has not lost his sense of humour. As he left I asked him what he will do when, and if, this is over.
„I think I’ll buy a little Post Office and put my feet up,” he said.
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