They were not thieves, but they were dealt with like thieves. They were not alone, but it was evident that they were isolated. They were respected individuals in the community, and after four of them became part of the scandal, one committed suicide, while another’s mental balance deteriorated, and the rest went silent out of fear of disgrace.
This all happened in the United Kingdom with its 736 postmasters whose lives were not only deprived of the amassed fortune by the United Kingdom Post Office but also faced allegations of mismanagement of funds they didn’t even have.
From 1999 to mid-2015, the British Post Office accused around 3,500 postmasters of corruption, resulting in legal actions against 700 of them, and some were even sent to jail due to their inability to repay the allegedly mismanaged funds.
About TV Series “Mr, Bates Versus the Post Office“
After the scandal involving these postmasters, a four-episode mini-series titled ‘Mr, Bates Versus the Post Office’ was broadcast on the British TV channel ‘ITV‘ on January 1, 2024, bringing the scandal back into the headlines.
The series has brought this scandal to the attention of the world, revealing that the errors were not the fault of these postmasters but were caused by software purchased from a Japanese company by the British postal department.
When this scandal surrounding the British Post Office came to light, social media erupted, and users demanded the return of honors to Paula Vennells, the former head of the Post Office, through a public petition for the ‘Commander of the British Empire’ title.
After protests, not only did Paula Vennells return the honor, but British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also announced the pardoning of those affected by the scandal.
During a parliamentary session, he promised that his government would offer a compensation of £500,000 to each affected individual, and those who had already received some amount would be given £75,000.
What is the British Post Office scandal?
This story began in the 90s when the British government decided to link the Post Office Department to a central computer system, purchasing the ‘Horizon’ IT system from the Japanese company ‘Fujitsu.’ This system quickly replaced paper, pen, and account books.
However, when users of the ‘Horizon’ system drew attention to its obvious errors, they were silenced by saying that, apart from them, everyone else’s IT system was functioning correctly. This was the time when issues started to escalate.
What Were the Issues?
Before discussing that, it is essential to understand the significance of the Post Office department at that time in the UK.
In the 90s, the Post Office in the UK was considered the safest and most popular means of communication. Examples of this system were given worldwide, with only one percent of the work being done by the central Post Office, while 99 percent was done by private individuals called ‘Sub Postmasters.’
These Sub Postmasters operated a branch or franchise under the supervision of the central Post Office. The success of these individuals can be estimated from the fact that, in March 2022, there were over 9,500 branches across the UK under the supervision of Sub Postmasters, while the central Post Office had only 117 branches.
In the 90s, when the Internet was not widespread, the Post Office network was active because local Post Offices were used for all types of correspondence and financial transactions. Through the Post Office, money orders, pay orders, or demand drafts were sent from one city to another.
Users also availed the services of Sub Postmasters for letters and parcels, but the local Post Office was also used for postage payment, insurance, and even payment through credit cards.
Due to the system introduced in 1969, not only did the Post Office department save itself from losses, but the local Post Offices were also considered branches of the central Post Office. However, everything changed after the advent of technology in 1999.
After signing a contract with the Japanese company ‘Fujitsu’ in 1999, the introduction of ‘Horizon’ aimed to reduce paperwork. While it improved the efficiency of the Post Office, it permanently changed the lives of Sub Postmasters.
Most of these Sub Postmasters were elderly individuals. In the beginning, they tried to deal with the issues because they were also involved in other businesses alongside the Post Office.
However, when sub-postmasters turned to the central Post Office regarding financial irregularities in their accounts, instead of addressing their concerns, the central Post Office accused them of wrongdoing, shut down their franchises, and even suspended them.
In this whole matter, a person named Alan Bates did not lose courage and consistently fought against the Post Office administration. He decided to confront the UK Post Office and ‘Horizon’ to ensure justice for himself and many others.
At the beginning of the last month, the mini-series was aired, portraying the story of Alan Bates, which has now reached the corridors of the British government.
What Has the TV Series Done That Has Shaken the Authority?
In the TV series ‘Mr. Bates Versus the Post Office,’ actor Toby Jones played the central role of Sub Postmaster Alan Bates, who emerges as the voice of all Sub Postmasters. The series of four episodes illustrates how Alan Bates, alone against the Post Office administration, proves his and his colleagues’ innocence despite inappropriate conditions.
The special thing about this series is that it shows exactly what those affected went through. If the incidents that took place from 1999 to 2021 were not properly presented, perhaps this series would not have been successful, nor would it have reached the attention of the government.
Who is Responsible for the UK Post Office Scandal?
The responsible parties for the Post Office scandal will ultimately be determined by the law. However, as portrayed in the TV series, the Post Office administration and the IT system-developing company, Fujitsu, have come under scrutiny.
Next week, top executives from Fujitsu will present their position before British authorities. Since they designed the system, they bear responsibility for its shortcomings.
It is noteworthy that many Postmasters had filed complaints against ‘Horizon’ from the beginning, but instead of addressing their concerns, Post Office officials assured them that no one other than them was facing any issues.
As depicted in the TV series, the significance of the case reached a national level when the story of the affected individuals was brought to the public by the ‘Computer Weekly’ newspaper in 2009. This revelation convinced the victims that they were not alone in this scandal.
After the media coverage, the Post Office administration presented its stance for the first time, leading to the formation of the ‘Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance’ under the leadership of Alan Bates.
The efforts of this group led to legal proceedings in 2017, receiving widespread media coverage in the UK and exposing the truth behind the Post Office administration.
Several politicians from the affected individuals’ constituencies also stood firm, leading to the appearance of Paula Vennells, the head of the UK Post Office, in front of a government committee. However, under pressure, she proved inadequate in defending the IT system.
In 2019, the court ruled against framing seven hundred and thirty-six Subpostmasters and damaging the lives of around three thousand people due to the faulty IT system. However, until then, many affected individuals had lost hope and some even resorted to suicide, unable to prove their innocence.
It is noteworthy that only 93 victims have been declared innocent so far, and not a single officer from the United Kingdom Post Office has faced any penalty.
Until the publication of the series, the British government had compensated £12.47 million to the victims. There is a possibility that the remaining penalties will also be pardoned soon.