The U.K. drama that changed British legal history comes to Masterpiece on PBS


Unconscionably, even though it is clear to viewers that this error is caused by the IT Horizon system running her Post Office account, the helpline caller doesn’t help her solve the problem.
In total, Hamilton was falsely accused by the Post Office of stealing £36,000.
Yet her story is only one example of the injustice thousands of self-employed subpostmasters, who helped run Post Office services across communities all across the country, faced.
In 2019, a High Court case ruled that a group of Post Office subpostmasters were wrongfully convicted, and ruled that the Horizon system, which was software provided by Fujitsu, had bugs and errors.
But “Mr Bates,” which aired on ITV in the U.K. at the start of January, resulted in the issue dominating the British news agenda for days after its original transmission.
As it was a drama, the emotional toll on the victims was something that “Mr Bates” could explore.
“It pointed it at their faces when they were going through the very worst times of their lives.” In the U.K., “Mr Bates” was also well-timed.
As a result, “Mr Bates” feels like an incomplete story, but in a way that galvanizes the viewer to the issue at hand.


In “Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office,” which causes you to think, “It cannot be real,” only to have to remind yourself that what you are witnessing is a true narrative.

A small business owner who oversees the operations and finances of their Post Office, Subpostmaster Jo Hamilton (Monica Dolan), discovers in her computer an accounting financial disparity of approximately £2,000 ($2,523). Feeling alarmed, she calls a work helpline because she can’t understand how the system arrived at this figure. She complies with the helpline’s instructions, believing that the amount will decrease to zero, but she is shocked to see the apparent disparity instantly double to £4,100.

The helpline caller unjustly fails to assist her in resolving the issue, despite it being evident to viewers that the IT Horizon system handling her Post Office account is the cause of this error. She is then informed by the helpline that she must pay the remaining amount herself as she is responsible for covering any shortfall due to her self-employment contract.

Hamilton was falsely charged with stealing £36,000 in total by the Post Office.

“I thought ‘this cannot be true’ when I heard that for the first time,” says screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes, who spoke with Hamilton and used her account for the four-part series “Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office,” which will premiere on PBS’ Masterpiece on April 7. However, thousands of independent subpostmasters who assisted in managing Post Office services in communities across the nation endured injustices similar to the one described in her story. While the show tells the stories of eight people whose lives were turned upside down, viewers are also informed in the last moments of the show’s last episode that the Post Office falsely accused at least 3,500 subpostmasters of financial losses that never materialized over a 15-year period. Over 200 people received prison sentences and about 700 people faced legal charges. In addition, four subpostmasters committed suicide.

In Britain, where we take great pride in decency and fair play, I still find it hard to believe that something like this could occur, Hughes says Variety. A particularly cruel aspect of the story is that the subpostmasters, even in small villages, are often at the center of their community, helping older people receive their pensions. This is in addition to the immense difficulties they faced in trying to clear their names.

An ITV “Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office” drama has been widely welcomed and commended for inspiring an additional 1,000 people to come forward and seek redress, according to a Post Office spokesperson, who was contacted for comment on the show and its revelations. “.

The British media has been covering the Post Office scandal for more than ten years. In 2019, a High Court case found that the Horizon system, which used software from Fujitsu, had flaws and that a number of Post Office subpostmasters had been wrongfully convicted. However, “Mr. Bates,” which was broadcast on ITV in the U. K. caused the topic to dominate British news agendas for days following its initial broadcast at the beginning of January. In addition to promising compensation, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a new law that would clear everyone found guilty.

King Charles took away Paula Vennells’ CBE award for “bringing the honors system into disrepute.” Paula Vennells is a character in the drama and a former CEO of the Post Office. And Toby Jones’s portrayal of Alan Bates, a former subpostmaster who led a campaign for justice and serves as the main character in the series, shot to fame.

According to author and journalist Nick Wallis, who has written about the scandal for more than ten years and served as a consultant for the show, “there is absolutely no doubt that drama has changed lives.”. They produced something that so enraged the public that it became one of their political priorities, forcing the government to act. The public outrage caused by the drama has been largely responsible for the spiraling events of the past three months, in my opinion. “.

Wallis goes on, “The people who created that drama can rest in peace knowing that they impacted history.”. In one act of legislation, over 900 people were all cleared, a fact that will be taught in history textbooks in a millennium. It is that significant. “.

With 14 million viewers to date, or nearly 20 percent of the United Kingdom’s television audience, “Mr. Bates” has proven to be a popular series among the general public, remaining the most watched program of 2024, according to broadcaster ITV. K. number of people. Internal ratings expectations were not that high prior to the show, even though it was given a primetime billing. “We believed that our creation was quite minimal,” Hughes states. “Look, now let’s not get our hopes up,” our executive producer and boss Patrick Spence wrote us an email the day before broadcast. “.

“It will find an audience,” he said in that classic TV way of saying that no one would watch it. He was shocked by the ratings when he answered the call the following day. He assumed he had misheard. “.

Aside from being an emotionally charged and frequently enrage-inspiring film, “Mr. Bates” is notable for the way it concisely explains a complicated ten-year tale with a factual foundation not too unlike from that of a documentary. As a former news journalist and documentary filmmaker, Hughes maintained regular and intimate communication with the victims to accurately portray the legal complexities and the difficult process of clearing the victims’ names, all the while keeping the series understandable to viewers who were not previously aware of the scandal. According to Hughes, “it was actually quite a journalistic exercise.”. “I firmly believe that if you claim it’s a true story, it most definitely should be. You are entering into a contract of that kind with the audience. “.

However, one drawback of journalism and documentary filmmaking is that it can be difficult for the audience to understand the victim’s true experience at the scene. The emotional toll on the victims was something “Mr. Bates” could investigate because it was a drama. Wallis claims that the fact that it allowed cameras into homes, courtrooms, and post offices is what made it so popular. At the lowest points of their lives, it aimed it directly at their faces. “.

Within the U. KK. Additionally, “Mr. Bates” was opportune. A later broadcast, Hughes argued, might reveal details not covered in the drama or could lead to an attempted criminal prosecution that would ruin the show if a Post Office manager was charged (as of right now, no Post Office manager has been charged with a crime). The drama was originally scheduled to air in May of this year.

As a result, “Mr. Bates” has the feeling of an unfinished story, but in a way that draws the audience in and highlights the problem. Only a little over 90 wrongful convictions had been overturned at the time, and there were worries about the bureaucracy surrounding victim compensation. A recent report revealed that only 20% of the budget allocated for compensation had been disbursed, highlighting some of the issues that the series brought to light. 26 subpostmasters have passed away without receiving justice, according to a Times of London article.

Wallis asserts, “I believe the scandal is in its third phase.”. The actual prosecution of innocent individuals constitutes the first stage. The cover-up is the second phase, and the compensation fiasco is the third. The pitiful amount of money that so many subpostmasters have received is unbelievable. “.

“The total compensation that was provided to subpostmasters, and that certain subpostmasters are accepting as a last resort, is simply insufficient to compensate them for the circumstances they have faced,” he says. “It is scandalous how the many complex compensation schemes are being used to spread this adversarial approach to compensation. And after four years, there are at last indications that the government is beginning to take this seriously. “.

A Post Office representative commented on the compensation plans, saying, “We are closely collaborating with the U.S. government and are deeply conscious of the impact of the scandal on people’s lives. G. The government will act quickly to provide full and equitable financial redress. Approximately 2,800 Postmasters have received offers totaling more than £179 million, most of which have been accepted and paid for. Every plan includes evaluations conducted by impartial specialists and covers the fair legal fees of claimants who, quite rightly, have the option to reject their offers. “.

Despite being a British tale, “Mr. Bates” has an unexpectedly universal feel to it. According to Hughes, “these things are happening everywhere.”. People in large companies and government agencies are victimized by heartless bureaucracies and bunker mentalities that ultimately hurt the little guys.

We weren’t doing this little story, as it now appears to be evident. It was kind of a big one that we were doing. “.

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