Secret email about the Post Office Scandal. Shh!

Bates withdraws JFSA from Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry

Bates splits with own lawyers

Good morning. Alan Bates, founder and leader of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, has decided to withdraw his co-operation from the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.

I’ve written about it here.

The news is not necessarily a surprise given his previous statements on the subject. What is interesting is that he is being clearly contradicted by his own lawyers. Bates says in Sir Wyn’s new list of issues for the inquiry the subject of redress gets two paragraphs and “neither of them have any relevance at all to the victims group”.

The victims group Bates is referring to is the 555 civil litigants in Bates v Post Office. Or more specifically, those among them who do not have convictions to quash and therefore no obvious path to further redress.

Bates asks his members to join him in withdrawing from the inquiry to “show solidarity over the failure of the Inquiry to be concerned in the slightest of the victims’ greatest priority and most desperate need.”

The JFSA’s lawyers, Howe and Co, take a different view. They flatly contradict Bates’ assertion on redress for the 555, saying:

“the Chair has listened to our submissions and your concerns and he has amended the list of issues to confirm, explicitly, that the Inquiry will look into the adequacy of ‘financial redress’.” [their emphasis]

Howe and Co urge those 150 Subpostmasters who were encouraged by Bates to sign up with them to stick around, saying: “It is our view that withdrawal from the Inquiry risks undermining subpostmasters’ ability to achieve fair reparations, and may leave them with no voice in this important public inquiry.

“We also consider that withdrawal from the Inquiry of individual core participants would deprive those individuals of having access to important documents which are relevant to their cases and it would substantially reduce the pressure of Post Office Limited and BEIS to make good on their appalling treatment of subpostmasters. In short, the only parties who would benefit from Core Participants withdrawing from the Inquiry would be Post Office Limited, BEIS and Fujitsu.”

Abandonment issues

All of this is going to leave many Subpostmasters feeling conflicted. Alan Bates is a cult hero among many of them. He has a cult following and at times he seems to behave like a cult leader. His distate for hierarchies and delegation means that, effectively, he is the JFSA’s decision-maker. It’s not clear how much, if any, consultation was carried out with individual members before Bates took the decision to withdraw on their behalf.

Many, though, are happy with Bates’ leadership – they trust him to make the right decisions, and without him, the Postmasters would have nothing, and this scandal would not have been blown open in the way it has.

What is perhaps less appealing is Bates’ attempt to stigmatise those who may make the perfectly rational decision to remain involved with the inquiry. In urging his followers to join him, Bates asks:

“do you really want to be named as a Core Participant in the Inquiry that abandoned the rest of the victim group?”

The implication being if you chose to remain you would no longer be a friend of Bates and his immediate coterie, and might face the prospect of being kicked out of the JFSA.

Although this, in essence, means being taken off a mailing list, the JFSA is an extremely important body to many people. It was the first organisation to achieve anything for them. During 2009 to 2019, the JFSA was the only official voice speaking purely for Subpostmasters who had suffered as a result of the Horizon system, and it provided them with psychological strength, support and identity.

To face the prospect of being kicked out, ignored or stigmatised by its leadership for choosing to stick with the inquiry is a big decision for a Subpostmasters to take, but it is one Bates now appears to be asking them to do.

I might be wrong. It may be that Bates will allow those Subpostmasters who decide to continue being represented by Howe and Co at the inquiry to remain members of the JFSA. But right now, the demand for solidarity and the threat of removing people from the JFSA is just about all Bates has got. Unless he finds another way of surprising us all again.

I have written a book about the Post Office Horizon scandal, which is available for £25 as a hardback and £8.99 (or £30 for both) from Bath Publishing. Please click here to buy it. Alternatively, please do forward this email to a friend. Everyone who buys a copy of the book through Bath Publishing will automatically be invited to join the “secret” email list. This is what some people have said about The Great Post Office Scandal:

Dame Joan Bakewell: “Nick’s narrative has the power of a great thriller.”

Ian Hislop: “An extraordinary journalistic exposé of a huge miscarriage of justice.”

Mishal Husain: “The definitive account of the scandal.”

Rev Richard Coles: “A tale brilliantly told. I urge you to read it.”

If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to get it delivered directly to your inbox when it is published, please consider making a donation to fund the journalism behind it. Anyone who donates any selected amount will be added to the secret email mailing list. This newsletter will keep you informed about developements at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry and the wider scandal. Thanks.