Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Kevin Rawlinson

Post office operators may prosecute to hold officials to account, says Alan Bates

Man in cap stands next to a woman as he speaks while a microphone is held in front of him.
Alan Bates speaks to the press on Tuesday outside the Post Office Horizon inquiry in London. Photograph: Vuk Valcic/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Postal workers falsely accused by the Post Office of theft and fraud may have to bring their own private prosecutions to get justice, a leading campaigner has said.

Alan Bates, the former post office operator whose role in seeking justice for hundreds like himself was portrayed in a television drama that helped put the Horizon IT scandal in the spotlight, said he would begin crowdfunding for a legal campaign.

Speaking as the public inquiry into one of the UK’s greatest miscarriages of justice nears its conclusion, Bates told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we find that the authorities – whoever it is – are not prepared to take this forward, I think it’s pretty certain that we’re going to have to look at private prosecutions.

“It was fine when the Post Office brought private prosecutions. So, if we’ve got to do it in return, so be it.”

Hundreds of post office operators were wrongly convicted based on data produced by the faulty Horizon IT system the Post Office imposed on them in the late 1990s. Many were accused of theft, fraud and false accounting after the Horizon software made it appear as if money was going missing from their branches.

The Post Office relentlessly pursued people between 1999 and 2015, routinely denying there were problems with Horizon, despite knowing from at least 2010 onwards that there were faults in the centralised accounting software.

On Saturday, Bates acknowledged there would be compensation for the victims, but demanded it be made clearer how those responsible would be held to account as a result of the inquiry process. “I’m hoping to bring clarity to the issue. We’ve heard from many, many lawyers along the way that there does seem to be quite a number of cases for people to answer,” he told Today.

“We just need clarity because I do know there’s going to be financial redress for the individuals in there. But they also want to see people held to account in all of this and there’s no clarity as yet that that this is going to happen – or that there are going to be recommendations in there. Because, as I understand it, the inquiry as it now stands is not going to make that type of recommendation.” He called for the inquiry to be amended to that end.

On Friday, the inquiry heard that a former Post Office boss sent an email to two staff members in 2009 telling them his instinct about the Horizon scandal was that “subbies with their hand in the till” were blaming the technology. Alan Cook, who was Paula Vennells’ predecessor as managing director, said he regretted the message.

In the email to Mary Fagan, a former corporate affairs director at Royal Mail, and a second employee, Cook described a “steadily building nervousness about the accuracy of the Horizon system” at a time when the press were “on it”.

He wrote: “My instincts tell that, in a recession, subbies with their hand in the till choose to blame the technology when they are found to be short of cash.” Cook said he did ask for the claims about Horizon’s inaccuracy to be examined, although he told the inquiry he did not recall receiving the findings before leaving in January 2010.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.