The subpostmaster who drove the campaign for justice for victims of the Post Office IT scandal has accused the government of using “weaselly” numbers to divert attention from its “abysmal failure” in delivering financial redress to victims.
Alan Bates, who heads up a subpostmaster campaign group, said rather than quoting “weaselly” figures on how much has been paid, MPs in the House of Commons should have been calling for immediate payment to subpostmasters.
In a circular to members of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), Bates wrote: “That’s what we all need to be saying time after time to the media and our MPs at every opportunity and until it has happened. We must not let them spin the message away from the failure of the government to other issues again.”
In 2018, the JFSA, which Bates and other victims set up in 2009, took the Post Office to court in a group litigation order (GLO). After a multimillion-pound battle, they proved the Post Office Horizon computer system was responsible for the account shortfalls, not the subpostmasters. This triggered the overturning of wrongful convictions and led to a statutory public inquiry.
Following a Parliamentary debate yesterday (8 January 2024), Bates wrote: “The real message that should have been echoed up and down the chamber last night – GET THE MONEY OUT TO THE GLO VICTIMS NOW!”
Bates, who last year turned down an OBE, said overturning convictions is important, as is holding the real guilty to account, including stripping away the CBE from former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells, “but the priority we have to keep everyone focused on is getting the money we are rightfully owed”.
Alan Bates, JFSA
“There are weaselly statistics that were quoted last night [in Parliament] – it said 64% of claimants have received their full financial settlement, but that figure was by lumping all the schemes together.” He said the government’s figures ensured the Historic Shortfall Scheme of around 2,400 people, the majority of whom have settled, skewed the average to make it sound more impressive.
“The 555 people in the GLO group (JFSA) who did all the heavy lifting and incurred the expense of exposing the Post Office are continually being sent to the back of the queue and are only at a 5% settlement figure,” he said.
Bates is one of the group of seven former subpostmasters interviewed by Computer Weekly as part of its investigation in 2009 which exposed problems with the Horizon system. Subpostmasters had been experiencing unexplained shortfalls, which the Post Office held them responsible for. Hundreds were prosecuted for crimes of dishonesty, with many sent to prison and many more sacked and made bankrupt. Lives were destroyed and there are suicides linked to the scandal.
A recent ITV drama and documentary, which told the story, has hugely raised public awareness of the scandal, which has in turn forced the government to promise speedier resolutions to the backlog of wrongful convictions yet to be overturned and the financial redress the victims deserve.
A statutory public inquiry into the scandal is ongoing, led by former judge Wyn Williams.
• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal •