EINADW #6: The World Needs More Mr. Bates (Whistleblower extraordinaire)

British Postal Service Box in quiet street
The Story of  Allan Bates, the man who took on the British postal service in the greatest injustice the country has known.
If you are unfamiliar with this scandal, which continues to this day, it all began in 1999, over twenty-five years ago, in North Wales.


In 1999, the Post Office’s single shareholder, the UK government, began automating accounting processes at about 14,000 Post Office branches. Due to the introduction of a centralized computer system called Horizon, traditional paper-based accounting practices were replaced by an electronic process EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale), which was the biggest non-military IT project in Europe at the time.


Between 1999 and 2015, many hundreds of post office operators were accused and, in some cases, convicted of negligence or crimes relating to theft, false accounting, and fraud based on faulty information from the Horizon computer system, which erroneously suggested that money had gone missing from branch accounts.


The prosecution of some 700 post office operators has been described as the nation’s worst miscarriage of justice, a battle that has been highlighted in the celebrated ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office.



The 25 Year Battle

Mr. Allan Bates took up the challenge when he himself was accused of fraud and had his contract terminated in 2003.


Post Office officials, who have been described as ‘thugs in suits,’ targeted Mr. Bates to make an example of him and attempt to try to shut down the discontent among the rising number of sub-postmasters.   He had refused to give in and ‘write off’ the paper trail for losses arising from faults in the computer system.


Thanks to his stubbornness and a sense of injustice, Mr. Bates was determined to uncover the faults of the Post Office Horizon computer system, after learning that hundreds of other sub-postmasters had also been affected.


Hundreds of sub-postmasters were sent to prison and many more received punishments such as being forced to do community service and having to wear electronic tags. They lived with criminal records and were made bankrupt.  Many were forced to pay the Post Office to cover shortfalls.


As you can imagine, their lives and their families were severely impacted, with several suicides linked to the scandal and many cases of mental illness caused by stress.


The Post Office spent large sums of money ‘buying off’ Postmasters and sub-postmasters to keep the errors from becoming public.



Persistence paid off

Against all odds, Mr. Bates maintained unity among those affected and took up the challenge with the Post Office, initially by himself and at great personal cost.  His appeals to the government were blocked and silenced, but in a true display of personal fortune and doggedness, he continued.


Despite a long, drawn-out legal battle and a court ruling in 2019 that caused the Post Office to settle with 555 claimants, final compensation, and prosecution of the offenders in the Post Office hierarchy is still ongoing.


It is a fascinating story.  Mr. Bates received an offer of compensation of about £20,000 (US$25,000) that was about a sixth of what he had asked for, and much, much less than what he deserved.


She is now retired but still advocates for justice. For her efforts, he received a Pride of Britain Award.



So What?

Here is a man who, seemingly against all odds, took on the plight of hundreds of people to fight for their cause and justice.  Abused and labelled as a criminal who stole from pensioners, he fought on.  In 2023, he refused an OBE on the grounds that, in his opinion, it was “inappropriate” to accept the honour while victims still suffered.


In stark contrast, one of the main perpetrators of the Post Office scandal, the then CEO Paula Vennels, retained her CBE, which she was awarded in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list. She held on to it until January this year, when she bowed to pressure from a petition with more than 1 million signatures to hand it back.


The actions of Mr. Bates are almost of heroic standard.  It is interesting to compare whistleblowers in the US who receive large sums of compensation for the injustice they experience when exposing unethical acts in business.  The highest payout which occurred last year, was $279 million.


Me thinks, you got ripped off Mr. Bates!


So, this story, however insignificant, is a “hats off to you!”


Very few people would have persisted with such determination, seemingly against all odds. The world needs more, Mr. Bates!


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Till next time, thanks for reading,


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Picture of Calvin London

Calvin London

Calvin runs a boutique consulting company. He is an established author of over 50 publications but started this site to explore the lighter side of life and all the curious things it has to offer. He is developing a career as a freelance writer.