The ITV drama, Mr Bates v the Post Office, conveys a good sense of the appalling nature and enormous scale of the Post Office scandal. For logical reasons, many important aspects and people were omitted from the narrative, including the key role played by Computer Weekly in exposing the scandal.
However, the most important omission from the ITV drama, in my view, is the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims have not been identified, vindicated or compensated yet.
All of us celebrated on 21 April 2021 when Jo Hamilton and 38 other subpostmasters and managers had their wrongful convictions quashed. Strikingly, and almost uniquely, The Criminal Court of Appeal found that their prosecutions by Post Office Ltd (POL) had been an “affront to the conscience of the Court”.
It is estimated, and accepted by POL, that over 700 postmasters and others have been wrongfully prosecuted and convicted, in what all agree is the greatest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. Sir Wynn Williams’ Statutory Inquiry has heard evidence from many subpostmasters who accepted cautions under duress or where there was no lawful basis to issue a criminal caution, and from many others who paid monies demanded of them by POL in order to avoid threatened prosecution. Monies that came from their own pockets or which had to be cobbled together by SPMs going cap in hand to friends and family to beg for money to keep the Post Office from their door.
Despite widespread publicity, Sir Wynn Williams’ public Inquiry and the four part national TV dramatisation, the fact remains that only 93 postmasters have had their convictions quashed. The other potentially 600 – 700 wrongfully convicted victims have either not been contacted by the Post Office or have not come forward.
Up to 80% of the victims continue to suffer in miserable silence, their reputations in tatters and their lives in ruins. How can this be?
An Advisory Board has been established under trusted figures, including peer James Arbuthnot as well as professors Chris Hodges and Richard Moorhead, to oversee compensation for victims of the scandal. The Board is deeply troubled by the very small number of victims that are coming forward. They have also found (astonishingly) that a significant number of victims contacted by the Post Office or the Criminal Cases Review Commission and invited to appeal their convictions have not only refused to do so, but have made it clear that they never wish to be contacted by the Post Office again.
Think about this for a moment. This means that significant numbers of victims are refusing to have their good names cleared and thereafter being entitled to, perhaps, a minimum of £600,000 in compensation. What is stopping them?
I spent five years on the national child abuse public inquiry, representing women and men who were sexually abused as children in the care of the State. Just like victims of child abuse, I strongly suspect that issues of trauma, fear, feelings of shame and a complete loss of trust in authority are some of the powerful inhibitors preventing victims of the Post Office scandal from coming forward to seek the vindication and compensation they deserve.
We know that former postmasters and managers continue to live in fear of the Post Office, because they have said so repeatedly. We also know that this is a scandal that touches every community in the UK. The failure to have the compensation schemes administered by an independent body as opposed to by the Post Office and the government is keeping victims in the shadows, unwilling to have to again face their tormentors.
Justice delayed is Justice denied. We cannot move past this greatest national scandal and crystal clear injustice until every victim is identified, vindicated and compensated.
Also read: Post Office Horizon scandal explained: Everything you need to know
David Enright is a partner at Howe + Co solicitors. The firm co-represent 75% of the subpostmaster victims before the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. Howe + Co have obtained millions of pounds of compensation for SPMs across all compensation schemes.