True Story is First-Rate Drama

by Seamus Scanlon

If you have never heard of the Post Office scandal in the UK where 900 innocent UK Post Office employees were pursued and  prosecuted (from 1999 to 2015) for theft and other crimes the new mini-series “Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office” in PBS Masterpiece is for you.

The original ITV series screened in January in the UK, ignited the mainstream media, the general public and politicians into action. It led to a petition with a million signatures within a few weeks calling for the Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE for “bringing the honors system into disrepute.”

The drama, starring Toby Jones as Alan Bates, shows how the Post Office management ignored common sense and used underhand methods to prosecute hundreds of their own (often long standing) employees because of discrepancies between branch post office accounts and the error prone and not fit-for-purpose accounting system, Horizon, used by the Post Office. Many of the innocent were given jail terms, suffered financial and health ruin including suicide.

Thirty employees in Northern Ireland were also affected and faced financial and personal ruin like their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales. Their accounts are harrowing and documented by the Post Office Horizon Public Enquiry which is ongoing until September 2024.

It is hard to watch this series or read the book “The Great Post Office Scandal” by Nick Wallis without dismay for all the nefarious maneuvers employed by the Post Office, their investigators and lawyers, to hound innocent and blameless men and women that had taken pride in working in their communities.

As well as the four episodes, there is an hour-long documentary about the scandal available on PBS as well – the series began on April 7 with all episodes available by April 28.

The impact of the “Mr. Bates vs The Post Office” series demonstrates how drama can tell a story so effectively. Alan Bates is the hero of the series and of the long running scandal. From the very beginning he insisted that the IT system was faulty but to no avail. In 2019 he and his team won a significant court case victory against the PO and he is still a guiding light in trying to win adequate compensation for all those whose lives were ruined. 

Seamus Scanlon is the Librarian, The City College of New York’s Division of Interdisciplinary Studies, at The Center for Worker Education

True Story is First-Rate Drama
Author: Seamus Scanlon | CCNY CWE's Librarian 
Date: April 17, 2024
Published By: The Irish Echo
Link to Original Article:


Subscribe to podcast via RSS

<< Back to blog