This article originally appeared in our Elevenses newsletter.
Politicians have been desperately scrambling over themselves to condemn the horrible suffering endured by subpostmasters documented in the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel is calling for the “cruel” and “callous” bosses to be punished while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who was postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012, has gone on the offensive, accusing the Post Office of lying on an “industrial scale” to him and other ministers. Kevin Hollinrake, meanwhile, who currently occupies Davey’s former position, is considering a Bill to quash subpostmasters’ convictions and Rishi Sunak, after initially stuttering on the matter, now says he would “strongly support” the Honours Forfeiture Committee if it decided to look at stripping Paula Vennells of her CBE.
Quite a step change, then, compared to the total indifference that characterised the government’s response to the Horizon scandal before ITV decided to air a documentary on the matter. To this day, many subpostmasters have received compensation that doesn’t even match the money they had to fork out in the first place due to faults with a computer system they were required to use, which is hardly compensation at all. Fujitsu, meanwhile, has just posted pre-tax profits of £22 million in 2022 on revenues of £1.3 billion, partly thanks to an updated version of the Horizon computer system that the Post Office still uses. So if any justice is eventually served, it will be no thanks to the politicians.
Nor will the law have played a role in remedying what is being described as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in our country’s history. As we pointed out in this op-ed, even though our democracy rests on the assumption that citizens have rights which can be enforced in the courts, the Post Office scandal has proved that is not the case. In reality, the costs now involved render any access to the courts impossible for anyone other than the ultra-wealthy, which is largely thanks to the system being hijacked by groups of largely white, male, middle-class lawyers who make more money than they or their parents ever thought possible by giving tedious legal advice for fees in excess of £1,000 per hour. In the past 25 years, it is believed that £135 million has been paid out to some of the victims of the Horizon scandal, but more than £150 million has gone to the lawyers, which is pretty criminal in itself.
Finding things to be outraged with throughout this entire saga has not been hard, but the real scandal is that it took an ITV drama to enact any meaningful change. It is the same reason Pen Farthing was able to convince the government to allocate seats to dogs rather than people on evacuation flights out of Afghanistan. We live in a system where outrage appears to be the only currency that cuts through. Which is a concerningly anarchic thought.
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