Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office is the kind of story that will give you nightmares for days, simply because it is a true story and it can happen to you in the blink of an eye. The four-part limited series is based on the real-life post office scandal in Britain and the sub-postmasters decades-long fight for justice, which still proves elusive no matter how much support or validation they get from the world over. Though the series ends on a positive note, it cannot be denied that justice was simply not delivered. One may agree that the truth coming out in the open is of great value, but it is worth questioning who the value is for. The Post Office may or may not be held accountable, but they will never cease to hold the power they currently do. In fact, if such a disaster were to strike again, the Post Office or even any other branch of the government would similarly go scot-free. But most importantly, what is the compensation that the victims have received?
Let us suppose that they regain the money they lost and gain some compensation (which they still haven’t), but it still wouldn’t compare to the life they lost through decades of living under the shadow of a lie. But perhaps the most infuriating aspect of it all is that so much of it was easily preventable. If only someone had taken notice of the problem in the beginning and addressed it right away, so many people would not have had to suffer. Take the case of Jo, for example. The investigator had made it clear that she wasn’t guilty. What was the point of taking her to court, then? What did the system gain from exerting its power over her and so many more like her? Wouldn’t it have been simpler to notice the pattern and stop it right away? It would have been a lot less expensive for so many people, the government included. But they turned their mistakes into a ‘power trip,’ and now Dante’s seven hells are reserved for them. It is a given that the series has fictionalized a few events, but it has kept close to the actual narrative for the most part. There are way too many details to address, but we will be talking about the fight between justice and petty power in the recap and ending of Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office.
How was Horizon affecting the sub-postmasters?
It all started when the sub-postmasters started noticing irregularities in the transactions that they fed into the system, Horizon. All of them were forced to quit their jobs and pay the money that was deemed to be lost. Even when investigations proved that they were not at fault, it was simply disregarded in favor of a clause in their contracts that they must pay any money lost, which they were in charge of.
Alan Bates was one of the first postmasters who insisted on a trial, and he demanded that the Post Office prove that he had stolen the money. He was adamant that it was the system’s fault, and finally, the Post Office had no choice but to silently terminate him. But Alan Bates was not done fighting. Over the years, he brought together many more like him who had suffered at the hands of the Post Office’s pride and inability to own up to its mistakes. Some of them were Jo, Lee, and Pam, whose stories we got a better look at. There were many more who had not come forward due to fear of what the Post Office would do to destroy their lives further. Alan Bates’ fight with the Post Office primarily involved him going head-to-head with Angela and Paula, the two women who were in complete control of the affairs of the institution. They promised their cooperation for an independent investigation, but over the years, they did everything in their power to hinder it. They would either not supply the required papers, pay off people, lie through their teeth, or simply go back on their promises. But Alan Bates turned out to be more stubborn than they were being wily. Eventually, they agreed to mediation, but after eighteen months of it, they reached nowhere. Their lawyer, Bob, was also taken off the case due to undue pressure. Alan kept hitting dead end after dead end, but he pursued the case doggedly.
How are the personal lives of the plaintiffs affected?
Jo has lived a life scraping for money due to her unjust trial and dismissal. Lee’s kids were bullied at school because of the idea that he was a thief. Jaz’s wife went through a deep depression and dealt with suicidal thoughts. Her case was dismissed, but the newspapers did not cover the good news as they did the bad. One man even committed suicide because of the sheer injustice of the post office. The institution simply paid money to his grieving wife to keep her silent, which she was in no position to turn down, considering their circumstances. Around this time, Suzanne (Alan’s wife) has to go through critical surgery. Though everything goes well, Alan wonders whether he should give up the fight, but she reminds him that it would mean a waste of her life along with his. At this point, they had already been fighting for twelve years.
Do the victims get justice against the Post Office?
James Hartley, a solicitor who mainly dealt with contract law, told Alan Bates that the contracts that they had all signed could be declared invalid. Also, if they could apply as a union of 500 people, they would have a shot at justice. Alan was a stubborn man, and at the end of the day, he managed to get 500 people; in fact, he brought together more than that. When they finally went to court, it was with very limited expectations. They all knew that their criminal rulings would not be quashed, and they may never see proper compensation or even a fraction of what they had to pay. But they all pursued it anyway.
Once the case went to court, the Post Office found itself on thin ice. Unlike the mediation proceedings or any of the multiple negotiations, they could not deny evidence or lie in court. As the witnesses were brought to the stand, the prosecution found itself at a disadvantage because it had made the mistake of thinking of them as country simpletons who could be bullied. But their tactics were not working on these people, who had been fighting for more than two decades at this point. A whistleblower, Richard, even declared that the company had remote access to these accounts and that they constantly made changes to them, something that the sub-postmasters could never tell. When Angela was called to the stand, she ended up admitting indirectly that she was protecting the Post Office’s reputation, even though it meant harming so many people.
When the Post Office finds itself losing, they declare the judge unfit to hold trial as he was ‘biased’ towards the victims. This is initially seen as a setback, but the lawyers tell Alan that this is a sign of their victory, which they just need to tolerate for a while longer. Eventually, the verdict is in the victims’ favor, and the Post Office is ordered to pay the compensation. Yet this is not justice enough because, after paying the people who funded the defense, the victims are left with close to nothing. Many of them give up and are angry, but Alan and the others remind them that this is an expected outcome from the beginning. On the strength of this verdict, many of the criminal charges against the victims are dropped, and the case starts gaining nationwide attention. Paula’s tenure as the CEO of the Post Office is over, and while she apologizes, she denies any responsibility in the entire matter. The bosses have yet to pay.
Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office‘s ending revealed that Alan Bates is still fighting the ongoing war. Many people are yet to receive their compensation, and others are to be held accountable. Additionally, Alan says that the government is responsible for compensating them for the legal fees of the entire proceeding. The man will continue fighting till his last day, and we hope that he is successful because of his remarkable perseverance.
Despite the positive ending, this is not a story of hope. People shouldn’t have to fight all their lives for the right to exist with dignity, especially against an institution that is supposed to protect them from such evils. We leave Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office behind with a heavy heart, and it is going to be a while before we can trust a government process again.