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Once ridiculed Post Office scandal campaigner Alan Bates receives knighthood

Campaigner for justice, once labelled a ‘nutter’ and a ‘thief’, knighted for his work to expose the Post Office scandal

Alan Bates, who was described as a “nutter” and a “thief” by members of the federation representing subpostmasters when he campaigned about problems with the Post Office’s Horizon IT system, has been honoured for that very cause.

Bates was previously forced to sleep in a tent at a National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) event because he couldn’t afford to stay anywhere when he was protesting after losing his livelihood. Now, he’s receiving a knighthood.

The Post Office Horizon scandal is headline news across the world, but it has not always been so. Nearly a quarter a century of campaigning by Bates exposed a scandal that led to the financial ruin, wrongful imprisonment, and even suicides in the UK’s subpostmaster community. None of this may ever have been known beyond a small group of subpostmasters and their supporters had it not been for Bates.

His knighthood comes 18 months after he rejected an offer of an OBE. At the time, he told Computer Weekly it would be inappropriate to accept the offer because former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells held her CBE, bringing the “whole honours system into disrepute”. The fall-out of ITV’s dramatisation of the Post Office scandal has, among much more, seen Vennells stripped of her CBE.

Bates and partner Suzanne Sercombe, who have both campaigned for almost a quarter of a century, become Sir Alan and Lady Suzanne – you can read more about their story here.

Bates told Computer Weekly that he hopes the knighthood will add another string to his bow to help the ongoing campaign for financial redress for the subpostmasters that fell victim to the Horizon scandal.

“Anything to keep up the pressure on them – it all helps,” he said. “We have to get the money for the group, that’s all that is really left now, and everything else is in progress. There is far more to come, but this is down to others now to carry on. I just want to make sure the JFSA group get their money.”

The nation now knows the details of their fight for justice, which is widely admired. But winning support was not always easy, with Bates even ridiculed by the people who should have put his concerns over Horizon at the top of their priority list.

In 2004, Bates attended a meeting of the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP) where he handed out fliers in the conference hall. Those attending the conference were told to ignore Bates’ protest, according to former subpostmaster Mark Baker, who was an NFSP representative at the time.

“The NFSP ushers were frantically removing the leaflets Alan had placed on the delegates’ seats . It was one of those ushers who said, ‘Ignore him, he’s a nutter who can’t get over losing his Post Office branch’.”

Bates had lost his branch and life savings by then and was forced to take a tent to enable him to protest at the Torquay event. “He had to camp because he couldn’t afford to stay anywhere,” Sercombe said, adding that Bates was also labelled “a thief” at the event.

Things have changed dramatically since then. Although there had already been a High Court group litigation, which Bates and his subpostmaster campaign group won, and around 100 wrongful subpostmaster convictions overturned, a TV dramatisation released two years into a statutory public inquiry meant one of the biggest scandals in history was finally recognised as such, as was Bates’ central role in bringing justice.

Bates formed the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) in September 2009, a few months after Computer Weekly revealed the widespread problems being experienced with the Horizon system across the country.

Perhaps the greatest achievement in a long list for Bates was successfully suing the Post Office alongside more than 500 other subpostmasters and former subpostmasters, who formed the JFSA.

It was the judgment in GLO in 2019 that proved the JFSA were right that errors in the Horizon system used in branches, was responsible for the unexplained account shortfall they were blamed for. From that moment on, it was clear that people had been wrongfully prosecuted for financial crimes, thus beginning the process of overturning wrongful convictions, which led into the ongoing statutory public inquiry into the scandal.

Despite everything, Bates has continued to push for justice and fair financial redress for subpostmasters affected by the scandal.

The Post Office scandal was first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to accounting software. It is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal, since 2009).

Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal.

Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story.

Timeline: Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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