Plus: Bonusgate fiasco report due
I went to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds earlier today and sat on a stage with Wendy Buffrey and Ron Warmington, both survivors of the Post Office scandal in very different ways. We spoke to an audience of engaged, and by the end of it, outraged citizens.
When I first started doing live events and book festivals, this story was not considered a draw. A few motivated individuals were basically doing me a favour. Today was a sell out, as was Hastings a couple of weeks back. I hesitate to say that word is spreading, but it appears to be.
I remain deeply honoured that both Wendy and Ron were kind and willing enough to give up their day to share their personal experiences.
As always, I learned something new from listening to both Wendy and Ron’s perspectives. To see the audience gasp in shock and dismay as Wendy calmly told her story was a salutory experience.
I am, of course, deeply grateful to every single guest speaker who has agreed to share a stage with me over the last 18 months. Nicki Arch, Tim Brentnall, Seema Misra, Tom Hedges, Pam Stubbs, Sami Sabet, Ian Warren and many many more. Heroes all.
I would also like to put on the record my thanks to the session sponsor Geoffrey White, Chipping Campden resident and former international lawyer, his son, Crafty Counsel founder Ben White and the Chipping Campden Literature Festival for hosting us. It was a productive day.
Everywhere I have gone in England, there is a former Subpostmaster living nearby whose life has been blighted and who is willing to get up on stage and share their experiences with a bunch of strangers.
It is the rarest of privileges to be present in the room and watch them connect with an audience as they finally get it.
As if we need reminding, this is not an abstract scandal, happening in the worlds of law, corporate governance, business and politics. It was, and is, very real, it happened to so many people, and there is something very special about bearing witness to these stories being told.
It was, also (not gonna lie), nice to sell some books, though I have to say the audience were not remotely interested in The New One. I am learning to live with that. When I was a reporter on The One Show and made Criminals Court on Camera for Channel 5, the people who knew my name were either ne’er-do-wells or nice ladies in their sixties. I once had a man begging outside a Co-Op shout at me “I know who you are! I used to watch you in prison!”
I don’t think he was a One Show viewer.
Yes but what’s actually happening in Post Office scandal land?
Two bits of news this week. The first is a circular sent to Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance members by its founder Alan Bates. Bates suggests that GLO compensation scheme claimants are unlikely to get any money until 2025 due to the Post Office’s inability to disclose/find documents in good time. Karl Flinders from Computer Weekly has written it all up here.
Alan is well aware the legal cut-off date for any payments of compensation to GLO scheme applicants is August 2024. I suspect he knows he has an audience beyond the immediate recipients of his circular.
Alan has urged JFSA members to once more go to their MPs and the media to tell their stories. I am in the business of collecting those stories, so please let me know if you want to highlight your case.
Mr Bates v the Post Office
Despite being somewhat media-shy himself, Alan Bates is not that far away from becoming a nationally-known figure. Not many people get a four-part TV series made about them, and I’m delighted at the reaction to the announcement that Toby Jones will be playing Alan in the forthcoming ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which is shooting as we speak.
I am a consultant on the drama, and I’m never sure how much I am allowed to say about it. I will tell you that everyone on the production I have met is determined to do this story justice and bring it to as wide an audience as possible. I have got to know the executive producers – Natasha Bondy and Patrick Spence – quite well over the last three years. They are dedicated, relentlessly brilliant professionals who only care about making this work, and doing right by the people whose stories they are telling.
Spread the word
Ron, Wendy and I were chatting to a waitress at the venue we were speaking in earlier today. She asked what the talk was about. When we told her, she had no idea it had ever happened. Never heard of the Post Office scandal at all. When Wendy began to speak, she was gripped.
This TV series could have the same effect on millions of people on a nightly basis. I hope it will become Alan’s crowning glory. There are many heroes in this story, but he stands head and shoulders above them all. It might be I’m biased because I work in the media, but I think the television drama will be the moment the scandal’s devastating history is brought to life. It could trigger the same reaction we got from that waitress this morning on a national scale. It depends on when it is scheduled (early 2024 at the moment) and how much promotion ITV put into it (lots, I hope).
Going for A Burton
Right, I’m off. Look out for the Post Office’s report into how it inserted a falsehood into its annual accounts. That’s being submitted (and hopefully published) on Friday 26 May. It’s being written by the incoming Chair of the Post Office Remuneration Committee, Amanda Burton.
Burton will either defend the idea it was acceptable to hand senior executives bonuses for co-operating with the inquiry, or criticise it. Either take is a sticky one for the Post Office. Burton might also choose to sidestep the issue altogether and just report on how the Post Office came to decide the chair of the public inquiry into the Post Office scandal had somehow signed the bonus metric off as being achieved when he knew nothing about it. That, oddly, would be the cop out.
My money’s on the cop out.