National News

The Post Office Scandal

Hope Gallagher

DISCLAIMER: This is an ongoing story. This article was finished on 16th January 2024. Any events that have occurred since then are not covered.

ITV’s most recent drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, has been dominating recent news coverage as the network’s latest production has captivated the public. The story follows the events of The Post Office scandal, in which the company accused former sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses of being responsible for financial discrepancies caused by its computer system.

The scandal has been noted to be the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. The drama has been viewed by over 9 million people.

They were not believed when they spoke the truth

The drama shows how Fujistsu’s Horizon IT system resulted in two decades of hardship for hundreds of sub-postmasters across Britain as their livelihoods and reputations were destroyed. Their savings were lost, and they were not believed when they spoke the truth. The whole ordeal was so traumatic for many it resulted in depression, prison time, moving country, and even suicide.

In light of this show gripping the nation, the criticism of the government as well as the Post Office has been overwhelming. The show caused such outcry that a petition signed by over 1 million people called for the Post Officer’s then chief executive, Paula Vennells, to hand back her CBE. This mounting public pressure led to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, inputting that he would strongly support the Honours Forfeiture Committee if they were to look into this. On 9th January, Vennells announced she would be handing back her CBE ‘with immediate effectafter the fallout continued to damage her reputation.

The public outrcry […] has provoked the government to react

Sunak said that the government will do everything they can to make the scandal right, to bring justice to those families who were harmed by wrongful convictions. Though this is not a new story, last in the news in 2021 when the most recent case was brought before the courts, the series has brought it back into conversation. Although there have been MPs campaigning for justice for many years, the public outcry caused by the limited series has provoked the government to react, after years of legal and financial struggles for all the families involved.

Many MPs are fighting for their constituents affected by this scandal in the House of Commons, with questions being asked at Prime Ministers Questions and legislation being developed in Parliament. The PM also confirmed that all victims of the scandal caused by IT software Horizon will soon have their convictions quashed, after legislation is being fast-tracked to ensure appropriate and serious action is taken to help these people who lost so much due to the scandal.

The series was able to portray emotional impacts of these judgements and failings by a major company on ordinary people in a way that moved people to feel passionately about this case. It impacted people in a way that journalism and prior news coverage could not.

It was four hours of drama that was able to do something journalism could not

The Guardian notes that there has been many years of journalistic coverage over this event, as well as two decades worth of campaigning by those who were accused as well as their families, yet it was four hours of drama that was able to do something journalism could not, and managed to get people attached to these people and their stories.

The government had already paid almost £150 million in compensation to 2,500 victims, but since the documentaries airing in early January, more have come forward, suggesting there may have been even more people impacted by this scandal than originally thought. There has also been an ongoing public inquiry into this scandal for two years.

The Post Office’s right to private prosecutions is being examined

Important conversations about the power of the Post Office have also been ignited as a result of the drama. The Post Office’s right to private prosecutions is being examined by ministers in the wake of the scandals; this also includes measures to see ‘untrustworthy bodies’ barred from pursuing such claims. The powers they have are under question, particularly as a part of Labour’s reform package which is said to have been drawn up this past weekend

This story is developing every day, with more information coming out now that the story has been given a bigger platform than ever. 

Hope Gallagher

Featured image courtesy of Brett Garwood via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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