Founder says “the powers that be have decided the real and desperate needs of the victims are of no importance.”
Alan Bates, the leader and founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters’ Alliance has decided not to co-operate with Sir Wyn Williams’ statutory inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT disaster.
Yesterday, Sir Wyn published the List Of Issues the inquiry will pursue. Alan Bates says the list contains “just two paragraphs purporting to deal with financial redress. Neither of them have any relevance at all to the victims group – probably, because in their eyes, we have had full and final settlement and we can be ignored from now on.”
As a result he has withdrawn the JFSA’s Core Participant status, and is urging his followers to do the same.
Financial redress for the 555 Subpostmasters who settled with the Post Office during the Bates v Post Office litigation is of “paramount importance” to Bates. The litigant group were given £57.75m by the Post Office as a settlement, but £46m was taken in success and legal fees.
Bates’ first move after the settlement was to issue the government with an invoice for the outstanding amount. It was refused. In December last year he issued a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman demanding more than £300m from the government to properly cover the outstanding claims of the litigant group, and he made it plain all along he was not going to allow the JFSA to take part in Sir Wyn’s Inquiry unless the issue of redress was a priority.
Bates decided the list of issues did not say enough about redress and has concluded that for the 555 civil litigants “there now isn’t the slightest benefit to you or the victims group by staying engaged in the Inquiry as a Core Participant.”
“I now write to all of you who have registered as Core Participants to ask you to withdraw your applications and show solidarity over the failure of the Inquiry to be concerned in the slightest of the victims’ greatest priority and most desperate need. Many of the group have already told me they will be doing so, and it is important that we demonstrate through actions, that as a group, we are solid in our demands and stance; after all, we only want what we are rightfully owed.”
He adds, in a manner which will raise eyebrows:
“Do you really want to be named as a Core Participant in the Inquiry that abandoned the rest of the victim group?”
One civil litigant, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me tonight: “I don’t feel this is the right decision to make. This could potentially halt the hearing altogether, stopping all of the uncovered information coming to light. Everyone will of course make their own decision, I hope. But it’s definitely not mine.”
Bates’ desire to carry JFSA members with with him and potentially stigmatise those who don’t agree with him may unravel. Howe and Co, the legal firm who have been working with Alan Bates and who signed up a number of JFSA members as Core Participants to the inquiry, also sent out a circular to its clients today. It says:
“As you will see from the Chair’s statement and the final list of issues which was published this week, 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]”
“Alan Bates has informed us today that he has decided that the JFSA (as an organisation) will no longer be a core participant in Sir Wyn’s public inquiry. We respect Mr Bates and his decision. However, it is our view and the view of Sam Stein QC and Christopher Jacobs that it would not be in the interests of subpostmasters to withdraw from the Post Office Inquiry.”
Howe and Co tell their clients:
“We and senior counsel are sure the continuing involvement of subpostmasters in this Inquiry will not only hold Post Office and government to account, but will also lead to early and tangible action to address the outstanding issues of legal and legal funding costs for the group litigation and urgent compensation for subpostmasters and their families.
“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.
“As you will see from the developments over the past two weeks, we have already made substantial progress. We are sure that further substantial progress will be made in the coming weeks, and that such progress can only be helped by your ongoing and full participation in this historic inquiry.”
But Lee Castleton, who attended the first open hearing of the inquiry on 8 November told me:
“I will never take part in an inquiry that will not do anything for my family. Honestly, I don’t care why it happened until I can be free of the problems that still haunt me to this day. Sir Wynn can talk about the ins and outs of the process which was twisted and turned in order to damage good people in terrible ways…I look at 75 year old Noel [Thomas, whose conviction was quashed on 23 April this year] and think why is it we need to know what happened… before helping a dear and good family man to live out his final years in comfort and joy?”
This all leaves JFSA members in something of a pickle. There is no doubt Alan Bates is a hero. His achievements at the High Court in putting together the legal team, the case and succeeding is one of the most extraordinary stories ever told, and he achieved it against all the odds. Without him, it is entirely possible no one’s convictions would have been quashed and the world would not know about this story. People, understandably, trust his judgment.
But as another anonymous civil litigant said to me of the JFSA circular tonight: “the tone of the message concerns me more than the content.”
More soon, no doubt.