Phase 5 & 6 curtain-raiser: Alan the Man

Alan Bates.

Founder of the justice for Subpostmaster alliance Alan Bates today gave evidence to the public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. 

The Inquiry has resumed withafter a five week break, and is now entering a four month period of hearings, combining phases five and six of the planned seven phases. Phases 5 & 6 will take in the 2013 Complaint Review and Mediation Scheme, conduct of the group litigation, governance, stakeholder engagement, oversight and whistleblowing, amongst many other matters.

Disclosure failings again

The proceedings were prefaced by a short introduction from the Inquiry’s lead barrister Jason Beer KC who told the chair, Sir Wyn Williams, that the Post Office, despite warnings which now carry criminal sanction, was still failing in its obligations with regard to disclosure of information.

In fact it transpires that The Post Office had recently dumped 67,000 documents on the Inquiry, which may be of relevance to this phase of the enquiry.

Beer told the Inquiry that the Post Office was under written instructions to provide all documents “created by, sent to, received by, recorded in a conversation or meeting, or otherwise made reference to 19 specific individuals within The Post Office” including, but not limited to “Paula Vennells, Alice Perkins, Alwen Lyons, Angela Boon Beard*, Tim Parker and Susan Crichton”.

It transpired today that a number of documents created by or sent to the personal assistants of many of the senior executives were part of this latest chance of disclosure and therefore considered relevant. 

Jason Beer KC

The Post Office also sent a series of letters to the inquiry indicating that five separate disclosure reviews were still ongoing, which may yet bring to light documents relevant to witnesses giving evidence this month.

Beer told Sir Wyn: “The issues that the post offices disclosure to this enquiry have presented has been much more than minor ad hoc or additional disclosure” and were “very concerning.”

“These developments are,” he added “to use a parliamentary word, unwelcome.”

Sir Wyn was undeterred: “We’re going to carry on”, he announced, noting “there may be occasions in which witnesses are giving evidence, and documents haven’t caught up with witnesses, so to speak, and that is a highly undesirable state of affairs.”

That could be “cured” he said “albeit with some cost to the witness, by recalling them if necessary… the alternative to have a substantial break and… that is not desirable”.

And so, on to the star of the show…

Watching Alan

The inquiry hearing room listening to Alan Bates give evidence, with Jo Hamilton sitting front and centre

One of the most telling revelations about Alan Bates’ first (and likely only) session before the inquiry was the extent and speed with which he had grasped the problems with Horizon and the manner he went about giving the Post Office management clear and specific pointers as to where those problems might lie.

The documentary evidence brought up by Jason Beer over the course of the hearing told the story very clearly. 

Given his experience using electronic point of sale (EPOS) and accounting systems before he became a postmaster, Alan Bates welcomed the arrival Horizon in 2000, but after a few weeks of use he became grimly aware of the errors and shortcomings with the system. He detailed them in writing to post office management. He was also alive to the dangers of taking any action which could be seen to accept responsibility for accounting variances which he disputed, and he saw the power imbalances written into the postmaster contract.

Despite his repeated requests for help, there did not seem to have been a single attempt to engage with him on the specifics he was raising. 

The Post Office management for their part either ignored Alan’s request for help or miss equated his responsibilities under the postmaster contract.

Beer asked: “Was there any effort by the Post Office to engage with the points that you were making in this letter?” 

Bates replied: “None at all… [they] never addressed them”

Bates in a rare moment of levity

In the letters that were posted on the screen during Alan’s questioning today, we got a picture of a man who was polite, diligent, intelligent and hoping to work with the Post Office to determine the source of his discrepancies, fix the obvious errors within the Horizon system which were throwing up these discrepancies and resolve them to all parties’ satisfaction. 

The Post Office, through its responses (and lack of them), exhibited a total disinterest in his situation, other than when it came to demanding money or threatening him with disciplinary action. 

Even when it became apparent the Post Office was not going to listen, Bates proposed a fair resolution to the situation: 

“I said ‘if you’re unhappy with the way that I’m providing your service then pay us back our initial investment and take the Post Office away’. I would’ve been quite happy for them to do that, and I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

Alan and his partner Suzanne’s investment in their branchwas around £100,000. The Post Office’s refusal to consider his offer to part company on equitable terms, has cost it and the government (and the taxpayer) hundreds of millions of pounds.

“They didn’t like me standing up to them”

Beer asked Bates what he understood to be the reason for the termination of his contract

He replied: “Basically, I think it was because a) they didn’t like me standing up to them… b) they were finding it awkward and c) I don’t think they could answer these questions, and I was going to carry on.”

After being told his contract was going to be terminated, Alan Bates went to the top, writing to Allan Leighton, Chairman of the Royal Mail plc, which in 2003 was the Post Office’s parent company. In his letter Bates complained about the Post Office’s “Stalinistic” management approach, “in order to bludgeon its will onto the poor Subpostmasters”.

Bates determination to see justice done shines through:

“Unlike the Post Office,” he writes, “I do not have endless funds to fight this injustice through the courts, but I do realise it is imperative for as many people as possible to have an opportunity to see in detail the management style applied by Royal Mail Group to the very public face of the local Post Office.”

Bates tells Leighton he is setting up a website called, and he will be soon putting a hoarding outside his branch, with the name of the website on it. 

The Post Office’s response was to conduct what Bates called a “tick box exercise”, stating that his contract had been terminated perfectly properly. And so our doughty campaigner’s path was set, gunning for justice for the next two decades, working between 30 and 40 hours a week. As he told the Inquiry:

“I didn’t set out to spend 20 years doing this. I hadn’t expected to be doing this so much by myself but it got more and more complex and it was harder and harder to share out and work as a bigger group to take things forward. So I finish up leading in a way.”

Jo Swinson

Bates said “One of the things we did do is bring people together. And a lot of people… they’re suffering so badly, but once you manage to bring them together to meet others in a similar situation, it has enormous effects on their lives.”

Bates’ diligence has a huge value to the public inquiry. He didn’t stop writing letters after he was sacked. After the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance was formed he made a point of writing to every single postal affairs minister, to request meetings and detail exactly what was going wrong with the Post Office prosecutions and their defence of the Horizon network.

Jo Swinson, who was postal affairs minister when Second Sight (the Post Office’s independent investigators) were sacked in 2015, was sent a letter by Alan Bates before Second Sight’s termination. In the letter, Bates details the appalling behaviour of the Post Office and tells the minister what needs to be done to deal with the situation. Swinson gives evidence later on in the Inquiry. It will be interesting to see what she has to say for herself.

Derisory compensation offer

We know that despite all the work Alan Bates has done in bringing this enormous miscarriage of justice to light, his first offer of compensation from the government came in at around sixth of what he claimed for. 

Today he told the inquiry that the government was refusing to put a value on the 20 years he spent campaigning. As he put it: “Government doesn’t think anything I’ve done is worth anything.”

Bates saved his final comments for the Post Office:

“They’re an atrocious organisation. They need disbanding. It needs… building up again from the ground floor… it’s a dead duck, it’s beyond saving… it needs a real big injection of money… otherwise it’s going to be a bugbear for governments for years to come.”

* Angela van den Bogerd as rendered by my speech-to-text software (I’ve brokn my arm). This got picked up shortly after I published this blog post on twitter, so I decided to leave it uncorrected.

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28 responses to “Phase 5 & 6 curtain-raiser: Alan the Man”

  1. Sell PO and RM to Amazon?

    Sorry Alan Bates, but real and effective businesses would not touch UK basket-case organisations with an elongate pole for pushing barges.

  2. james john Cavanagh avatar
    james john Cavanagh

    Watching todays input of the post office CEO,s and manager’s the only thing i could say is Liar, Liar, pants on fire

  3. Has it dawned on these disgusting and corrupt crooks, some but not all of whom have been already hauled before the Inquiry, or are slated to be during Phases 5 & 6, that the SAFEST PLACE for them is PRISON, serving terms of life imprisonment, having forfeited all their worldly goods pursuant to the Proceeds of Crime Act?

    How many of these lowlifes are, alternatively, going to dip into the hypothetical POL (more like “POO”) latent slush fund, in order to set up brand-new identities in South America? Their predecessors from the forties made such resettlement plans years before their Waterloo.

    Or draw on the fund in order to procure the most dishonest and expensive medical expert evidence that they were not responsible for their own actions, cannot face trial, M’Naghten rules, etc?

    Or to take quick clinical one-way trips to the Alps and Dignitas?

    Are the Police – institutionally useless and incompetent (except at stupidity, laziness, lying, selective blindness, corruption, coverup and investigating themselves only so as to find themselves free from blame) as they are – ensuring these do not occur? Or is that unfit-for-any-purpose blue-line gang been nobbled already?

    Justice must not be cheated. It must be done. It must be seen to be done.

  4. Thank you for all your hard work.

  5. I would love some clarification on the following:

    “The Post Office management for their part either ignored Alan’s request for help or miss equated his responsibilities under the postmaster contract.”

    I am hoping this is UK vs US English issue but the meaning of “miss equate” is lost on me. Guesses: “not in his purview of responsibility / job function” or “reiterated his responsibilities”

    Thank you

    1. Hi Sarah, the inquiry stenographers do a brilliant job in transcribing the proceeding in real time so that these transcripts can be published quickly. Sometimes the odd word is not clear and even such an accomplished orator as Mr Beer can occasionally fumble for words.
      The reference to the SPM contract arises because POL interpreted any “losses” as the responsibility of the SPM to make good. As you may have seen Alan Bates pointed out it actually required negligence or mistake caused by the SPM or his employee for it to be their responsibility. That is why in his case POL opted for a ‘no fault’ three month notice of termination.

    2. Richard Hopkins avatar
      Richard Hopkins

      Without wanting to put words in Nick’s mouth, there might be a subtle misspell here due to his use of speech to text. It might be he intended to use “mis-equate”, and that would make sense for the followring reason:

      The Subpostmaster Contract in use at the time Alan (and most other affected subpostmasters) signed it made the SPMR “responsible for all losses caused through his own negligence, carelessness or error, and also for losses of all kinds caused by his Assistants.”

      Alan’s response that if the “losses” were caused by errors in the Horizon system, he was *not* responsible for them because he had been neither negligent or careless, nor had he made any errors, and nor could/would POCL provide him with the data that would allow him to track and isolate them.

      It has subsequently become abundantly clear that the Post Office was breaching the terms of its own contract and was chasing subpostmasters for negative discrepancies irrespective of their cause – even when the “losses” were alleged to have been illusory and generated entirely via errors in the Horizon system.

      If your interesterd has been piqued by this, would suggest visiting the Horizon Inquiry website and findiing the evidence session of John Breeden, a Post Office contracts manager. His questioning is very significant in respect of the way POCL/POL decided that the contract meant what they wanted it to, and enforced on that basis, irrespective of its actual wording.

  6. Martyn Pettifer avatar
    Martyn Pettifer

    A knighthood? Better still we should send Alan Bates to the House of Lords (if only he would accept the ermine accolade!).

    His selfless, assiduous, independent and forensic skills could be really effective in the Upper House. He would be a breath of fresh air, cutting through the dead wood of party political time servers (Lord Arbuthnot excepted).

    1. I doubt Alan Bates would accept an “honour” from politicians, who, with the exception of Lord Abuthnot, have treated him so badly over 20 years.
      I cannot think how this great man can be rewarded for his untiring efforts against such tremendous odds.
      Would he be willing to be appointed to a post which oversaw the demolition of Post Office Ltd and the creation, from the ground up, of a replacement company? With a salary higher than paid to any of the criminals who did the dirty on hime and all sub-postmasters.

  7. The most important and useful thing that a body no less important than the government should do is to,seize back control of the Post Office ASAP, pay Mr Bates the compensation he’s requested, and pay all others the money they ‘re entitled to without further delay. That will require a lot more gvt funding of course, but I require this as part of some sort of justice

    1. I really doubt after the performance of Ed Davey or Joe Swinson that this is a solution. Clearly MP’s are happy to take the money and run which is why this problem was allowed to continue for so long.
      Alan Bates clearly attempted to make the gov take control but the ministers in charge FAILED and FAILED again to do so.

  8. Nick, wishing you a speedy recovery. And I am sure that, for all of us who have a sense of the huge contribution that you have made in seeking justice for the Subpostmasters, the idea of wanting a refund from you is furthest from our minds.

    Heal well.

  9. There are two glaring questions for me.

    1) Where did the missing money go?

    2) Why no forensic analysts of the Horizon code to find out where and how the errors occurred?

  10. Alan Bates is a truly remarkable person (and so are you too, Mr. Nick Wallis; I have a copy of your book’s Nov. 2022 edition). I watched him with awe yesterday at his PO Inquiry sitting. It was clear that the inestimable Mr. Jason Beer was taken with him as well.

    One can think of other typos in place of the above “Boon Beard”, but this is a family show and I cannot give the obvious example.

    Two brief comments, one re Vennells, the other re Parker.

    Re Vennells. Your book mentions that Volume 18.1 of Faith in Business Quarterly (FiBQ) contains a eulogy to her by a Reverend Higginson, that it was taken down, but could be found at the (remarkable) Wayback Machine. I found it there, and wrote several times to FiBQ’s editors Higginson, Haslam, Harrop and Lovatt, requesting they restore the deleted eulogy (crediting you for its restoration), but none of these Christian gentleman have responded. I suppose they feel ashamed of this Vennells.

    Now, this Parker chap. When Vennells was a awarded a CBE the Post Office posted their congratulations at this address (since taken down; whose decision was it?):

    Once again the Wayback Machine comes to the rescue, as the deleted panegyric – in which poor Parker easily makes a fool of himself – is viewable here:

    Keep up your heroic work!

  11. Watched this yesterday and was very impressed with Alan Bates.

    According to the Post Office they sacked him for being ‘unmanageable’ yet
    didn’t bother giving any reason in his termination letter – presumably it was
    just a coincidence that he was pointing out that Horizon was riddled with errors
    at the time ?

    I don’t suppose that this claim will have been covered by his line manager in his
    performance reviews and there will be documentary evidence to support the claim ?

    Alternatively the Post Office, once again, could just be trying to blacken Alan’s name.

    Maybe the Post Office’s latest drop of 67,000 documents that thay’ve just ‘found’
    contains the information.

    The sooner we get the Post Office bigwigs in jail the better.

  12. Alan Bates is the epitome of indefatigable. He says the government give no value to his campaign work, I fear the Machiavellian workings of POL are at work again regarding his deserved redress.
    Lots of exec.s at POL past and present will have watched his evidence and they should hang their heads in shame; when a gift of settlement is offered by a steely, intelligent, capable and fair minded man, do not transpose him into a horse, you vacuous buffoons.

  13. Nick,I do wish you a very speedy recovery. get that operation done as soon as possible.
    I thought Alan Bates was magnificent today,there were times when he could be accused of leading KC Jason Beard(typo) which is a little surreal. Plus the cricket reference were very appropriate, at the start of the cricket season.
    I am not a great believer in the honours system but a knighthood would not be enough. We are currently looking for a temporary stand in King,as ours is not well.
    There is only one possible candidate
    King Alan the First.
    Cheers Paul McGuire

  14. Charlie Newsome avatar
    Charlie Newsome

    Keep up the excellent work Nick!

  15. Of course it’s far too late now but what a coup for the Post Office if they had appointed Alan to the Board in the early 2000s. All of this would never have happened. As for Postal Affairs Ministers, I have no idea what they did all day.

  16. john osullivan avatar
    john osullivan

    “Angela Boon Beard!”=the pen of Nick Wallis( or his speech-to-text software )strikes again.

  17. Apart from proper financial redress that fully compensates him not only for his direct financial loss but also for his 20+ years of determined work, mostly fighting against the odds, nothing less than a knighthood will be appropriate for him. Arise Sir Alan.

    1. deepinder cheema avatar
      deepinder cheema

      Knighthoods and gongs would be useless for this man of the people. The House of Lords would be a far sight better than notorious has been idiot David Cameron. At least there Lord Bates could do some damage.

    2. David – I couldn’t agree with you more. Hopefully there will be a petition on the Government website at some point which will allow the British public to show their support for this.

    3. I was thinking the same.

    4. Andrew Watson avatar

      Nothing less than a Life Peerage will do. We need diligent, motivated, fair-minded people like Alan Bates vetting legislation from the red benches.

    5. It would be a noble gesture and well-intended, but I suspect Mr Bates would probably refuse it as it would mean rubbing shoulders with people getting a gong just for doing their job.

  18. para 5:
    “all in Lions, Angela Boon Beard”

    I think I know who the second of these, but no idea of the first

    your broken wrist seems to have given you a great opportunity to make up names for the post office characters, rather like Private Eye, under the guise of typos.

    Seriously, I wish you a speedy recovery


    1. See 21st May Witness Timetable ?

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