Millions of fans turned in to see Mr Bates vs The Post Office, an ITV drama on the tragic Post Office Horizon scandal.
ITV fans flocked to social media to vent their rage, with many confessing they didn’t know the whole story before viewing the broadcast.
The program’s final farewell to the four subpostmasters who committed suicide after their reputations were shattered by false allegations caused an outpouring of sorrow online.
A malfunctioning Post Office IT system incorrectly implied that subpostmasters had stolen money from their local branches, destroying hundreds more lives.
Evann Griffiths, an X user, tweeted: “I had heard of the controversy but didn’t know the complete story/details. All I can say is, “Wow, what a corrupt organisation.”
Even Toby Jones, the BAFTA-winning actor who plays Alan Bates in the ITV series, acknowledged he ‘didn’t know anything about this narrative’ before taking the job.
Here’s the real tale behind ITV’s blockbuster show.
The true story behind Mr Bates vs The Post Office
In 1999, the British Post Office implemented the Horizon IT system, a new technology that allows employees to pay out pensions and benefits using a swipe card.
However, the mechanism was flawed. It wrongly reported financial deficiencies that did not exist, giving the impression that thousands of pounds were missing.
As a result, hundreds of subpostmasters were falsely accused of taking the’missing’ funds.
Between 2000 and 2014, more than 700 subpostmasters faced Horizon-related offences such as fraudulent accounting, fraud, and theft.
Some were imprisoned, and many were financially devastated. So far, just 93 people have had their identities cleared.
Following widespread criticism of the report, Rishi Sunak introduced new laws on January 10 to exonerate and compensate each falsely convicted sub-postmaster in the Horizon incident.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed the Commons: “This is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our country’s history.”
‘People who worked hard to serve their communities had their lives and their reputations destroyed through absolutely no fault of their own. The victims must get justice and compensation.’
Martin Griffiths, a father of two who was suspected of skimming £60,000, committed suicide in 2013.
Jo Hamilton, represented by Monica Dolan in the ITV drama, remortgaged her home to pay the money the Post Office claimed she owed when there was a £36,000 shortage at her branch.
Alan Bates was one of the subpostmasters falsely accused of stealing money. When the Post Office terminated his contract without providing a reason, he resolved to pursue justice.
Who is the real Mr Bates?
Alan Bates, originally from Liverpool, and his partner, Suzanne Sercombe, were seeking for a new start in the mid-1990s.
In 1998, the couple used their life savings to buy a Post Office branch in Craig-y-Don, North Wales.
Bates liked hiking and Sercombe wanted to devote more attention to her painting passion, so the relocation was ideal.
They operated the branch for five years. They expanded the Post Office facility and hired five part-time employees.
However, after the new Horizon IT system was implemented, accounting irregularities began to arise.
Bates had previously dealt with computers and felt he could handle the situation.
There was a £6,000 shortage. Following an inquiry, Bates discovered that the system had duplicated several transactions. However, this did not fully account for the shortage. An outstanding balance of £1,200 was gone.
Bates notified the Post Office, but did not receive a response. He also asked for access to the system to cross-reference the data.
Bates was laid off with three months’ notice in 2003 after refusing to take blame and pay the money the Post Office claimed he owed.
Frustrated, Bates created a website to contact other afflicted subpostmasters. Others gradually step up.
Bates was instrumental in establishing the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) in 2009. The group originally consisted of roughly 30 persons.
Almost a decade later, Bates and five others sued the Post Office in the High Court on behalf of over 500 subpostmasters. In 2019, a judge determined that the Horizon computer system was at fault.
The activists received £58 million in compensation from the Post Office after two court challenges. However, after deducting legal fees, they were left with £12 million – around £20,000 apiece.
Bates then advocated for a government compensation plan. The government has announced that it has paid £27 million to the civil case’s plaintiffs. However, just 11 have gotten full recompense.
What is Alan Bates doing now?
Bates has retired, but he continues to fight for justice for subpostmasters.
During Monday’s This Morning, Sir Richard Branson surprised Bates and his partner Suzanne with an offer of a vacation on Necker Island, his own Caribbean island.
He was recommended for an OBE in this year’s New Year Honours, but he declined. He stated that he could not accept the honour while Paula Vennells, the former CEO of the Post Office, held her CBE.
Who is Paula Vennells?
Paula Vennells joined the Post Office as network director in 2007 and became CEO in 2012.
She received a CBE for “services to the Post Office and to charity” before retiring in 2019.
Lia Williams, who previously appeared in His Dark Materials and the first season of The Crown, as Vennells in Mr Bates versus The Post Office.
Following the airing of Mr Bates vs The Post Office, over a million people signed a petition demanding for Vennells’ CBE to be revoked.
On Tuesday, Vennells returned her CBE and made a statement in which she regretted for the scandal’s “devastation”.
Who is Angela van den Bogerd?
Angela van den Bogerd worked for the Post Office for 33 years, holding a variety of positions.
She handled concerns regarding the Horizon IT system.
The judge chastised her demeanour and claimed that she “did not give frank evidence” when she testified in court.
Katherine Kelly, who previously appeared on Coronation Street, plays van den Bogerd in the ITV drama.
Van den Bogerd departed the Post Office in 2020 to become the Football Association of Wales’ head of people.
Who is Martin Griffiths?
Martin Griffiths and his wife owned Hope Farm Road Post Office in Great Sutton, Cheshire. He worked for the company for 20 years.
Griffiths was charged with theft in 2009 for more than £60,000.
Griffiths covered the expense with his own funds. Griffiths, 58, sadly committed suicide in 2013 after stepping in front of a bus.
Who is Ed Davey?
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats’ leader since 2019, has faced criticism for his part in dealing with the incident.
From 2010 to 2012, Davey served as Minister for Postal Affairs in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Davey met with Alan Bates while he was Minister of Postal Affairs.
He told LBC that he regretted not asking Post Office management more challenging questions.
According to Jo Hamilton, one of the victims of the Horizon Post Office affair, Davey should have “done his job”.
Some opponents have demanded that Davey return his knighthood, which he received in 2015 for ‘political and public service’.
A spokesperson for the Lib Dems rejected calls for Davey to hand back his knighthood, saying: ‘Ed was one of many ministers who was misled and lied to by the Post Office.’
Where was Mr Bates vs The Post Office filmed?
The filming of Mr Bates vs The Post Office took place at Llandudno, Conwy, and Tatfield, Surrey.
The show also included sequences recorded in Fenny Compton, Warwickshire, where the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance originally convened, and Bridlington, Yorkshire, where Lee Castleton worked as a subpostmaster.
How to watch Mr Bates vs The Post Office
On New Year’s Day, ITV aired the first installment of Mr Bates vs the Post Office: The Real Story.
Gwyneth Hughes, who has previously worked on TV productions like Vanity Fair and Three Families, wrote the four-part drama. ITV Studios and Little Gem jointly create the show.
It is available to watch on ITV Hub, ITV’s catch-up service.
Viewers who wanted to learn more also saw the BBC Panaroma documentary The Post Office Scandal, which premiered in 2022. The documentary is accessible on the BBC iPlayer.