Tuesday 18 June 2024

Streaming on 7+ (with ads) - Rod Bishop recommends MR BATES VS THE POST OFFICE (James Strong, Gwyneth Hughes, UK 2024)

Toby Jones as Alan Bates


When it comes to Government fraud and extortion of its citizens, the British “Post Office Scandal” makes an interesting comparison with our snappier-named “Robodebt”.

Generally considered the greatest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, the Post Office oversaw the conviction of 900 subpostmasters for fraud, theft and false accounting between 1999 and 2015.The charges arose from financial shortfalls detected by Fujitsu’s Horizon computer software, a compulsory accounting system used by the British Post Office for their sub-postmasters.

226 went to prison. Many lost their jobs. Many had to make up “shortfalls” of more than £70,000 by selling their homes and emptying their life savings. Many suffered family breakdowns, mental health issues, severe depression and criminal convictions. Four suicided.

If you have a local shopping centre where you live in this country, the folk who run the newsagencies usually handle the postal requirements as well. These are the people who were caught up in this travesty in the UK.

In 2015, court cases brought by sub-postmasters established that Fujitsu could remotely access the Horizon computers and change accounting figures without their knowledge “even at night while the sub-postmasters slept”. For 16 years, the British Post Office had maintained Horizon was “robust” and remote access impossible. They had also spent those 16 years telling any subpostmaster who called to complain they were the only one to have raised the issue. The Post Office just lied as it extorted their money.

Currently there is no reliable figure for how much money the British Post office stole or how much compensation would eventually cost.  In March of this year, in the House of Commons, the Post Office Minister said:

The government has put $1 billion aside to deal with all this, despite the fact the Post Office has taken millions and millions from postmasters – innocent people. We have never had the figure of what was taken, although I have asked for it before”.

Whatever the amount, it was apparently accounted by the Post Office as a simple addition to its yearly profits.

When Mr Bates vs the Post Office was screened in the UK last January, this heinous scandal was revealed to many Brits who’d never heard of it. 

This four-part series opens with Alan Bates (Toby Jones) and Suzanne Sercombe (Julie Hesmondhalgh) who have lost their house and life savings to the Post Office and moved to Llandudno in North Wales. 

Bates is the epitome of a tenacious, true Brit bulldog who won’t be subjugated. Unlike bulldogs, however, he remains polite and courteous throughout his 20-year campaign for justice and restitution. Without the truth, he says, compensation and justice can’t be won.

He starts The Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance who meet, plan and strategize in a village hall. The alliance eventually attracts 555 members and scriptwriter Gwyneth Hughes also chooses to include other victims.

Monica Dolan as Jo Hamilton

There’s Jo Hamilton (Monica Dolan), whose true love is her bakery and who runs her post office to make up for her baking shortfalls. She owes £36,000 she hasn’t got. Or ever stole.

When we first meet Lee Castleton (Will Mellor) he is making his 91st phone call about the Horizon software only to be told – once again by the Post Office – it’s all his fault, Horizon is “robust”, no-one else has complained and pay up or face criminal prosecution. He owes £25,000 but takes the Post Office to court where he loses and is ordered to repay the money and £321,000 in costs. He is bankrupted.

Jasgun Singh (Amit Shah) has to call an ambulance for his partner Saman Kaur (Krupar Pattani) who has become almost mute from the ordeal and stabbed herself in the stomach. Suffering from severe depression she undergoes shock therapy in hospital.

The Guardian has aptly called Mr Bates vs The Post Office “like an episode of Black Mirror”. It’s also pure Kafka. At one point Jo askes Alan whether the two Post Office heavies CEO Paula Vennells (Lia Williams) and Business Improvement Director Angela Van Den Bogerd (Katherine Kelly) are “incompetent or just evil?” He replies: “It comes to the same thing in the end”.

The ensemble performances are outstanding and James Strong directs Gwyneth Hughes’s pungent and clear-eyed script with impressive aplomb.

Brit television doesn’t get much better than this.


7+ is also screening the documentary Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The True Story. 

Alan Bates was Knighted in last week's Kings Birthday Honours List as "Founder, Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. For services to Justice."

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