A consultant on ITV’s hit drama about the Post Office scandal says “the net may be closing” on those responsible for the wrongful prosecution of subpostmasters after the Metropolitan Police confirmed an investigation is under way.
The police confirmed on Friday that they are investigating the Post Office over potential fraud offences after the wrongful prosecutions and its handling of the Horizon IT scandal.
Former subpostmasters and subpostmistresses were held liable by the Post Office for financial discrepancies thrown up by the computerised accounting system.
The Post Office decision led to more than 700 prosecutions, criminal convictions and, in some cases, prison sentences.
Asked by Sky News if he thought the investigation would lead to criminal prosecutions, Nick Wallis, a consultant on ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, pointed to the lack of charges handed down to those responsible for other national scandals over infected blood, Hillsborough and Windrush.
“So based on our society’s track record of being able to prosecute individuals or corporations, I’m not holding out much hope,” he said.
But he added: “You do get the sense that with this development, with the Met Police coming out saying they’re looking at not just perjury but conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and fraud, the net may well be closing.”
This week’s airing of ITV’s mini-series about Alan Bates, the lead claimant, has thrust the scandal back into the public eye and 50 more potential victims are believed to have come forward since it came out.
Image: Actor Toby Jones stars as Alan Bates in Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Pic: ITV/Shutterstock Mr Wallis, who is also the author of The Great Post Office Scandal, said the reaction to the drama has been “phenomenal”.
“I was speaking to the executive producer last night and apologising for being caught off guard at the response to the drama,” he said.
“She said: ‘We all were.’
“We had no idea that the drama would touch so many people… It hit a nerve with the general public.
“It’s shone a light on this story – something I’ve been working on for more than a decade.
“As a result, more and more victims of this scandal – who perhaps weren’t reached by the journalism that’s been done on it in the past, who perhaps hid themselves away from their communities – now, at last, the word is starting to filter through to them that they will be believed if they come forward and they may well have a case for significant compensation.”
The government announced a new fixed sum payment last year for victims of the scandal, but critics have claimed the payments are not high enough and are taking too long to be distributed.
Mr Wallis said the compensation should have been dealt with by an independent body and that its handling has become “yet another facet” of the scandal.
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Image: Alan Bates (centre) speaking outside the High Court in London in 2019 ‘You can’t put a value’ on scandal’s damage
Christopher Head, a campaigner for victims, became a postmaster at the age of 18 in 2006 and was under criminal investigation himself for six months in 2015 due to the IT scandal.
The Post Office believed he had stolen tens of thousands of pounds due to the IT accounting errors.
He was forced to go through civil proceedings before the case against him was eventually dropped.
Mr Head told Sky News the compensation offered by the Post Office to victims is “not even close” to adequate.
“The amounts of money people have lost… their business, their home, they couldn’t get a job because they had a criminal conviction,” he said.
“Then you put it alongside the stigma and the reputational damage and the distress and those kinds of things.
“You can’t really put a value on it, but the sums I’ve seen being awarded in those schemes do not come in line with what I would call actual legal principle.”
Mr Head said he considers himself lucky compared to those who ended up being criminally prosecuted and jailed.
“You still suffered at the hands of it, but you could never ever put yourselves in the shoes of the people who have been to prison, the people who have taken their own lives and the destruction that’s had on their families,” he said.
“People talk about compensation… and that is an important part of it so people can rebuild their lives, but also they need to see accountability so that they can put this to bed once and for all and move forward.”
Mr Head said he believes there were people at the Post Office who “knew what was going on” and “could have put a stop to it”.
Talking about the Met Police’s investigation, he said: “I think it’s been a long time coming, really.
“We’ve seen a lot of evidence ourselves over the years. I think a few MPs have pointed it out.
“For it to be made official… people are hopeful that somebody somewhere will be held accountable for what’s gone on.”