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Mr Bates vs The Post Office: the astonishing true story behind ITV's Post Office scandal drama

Toby Jones stars in the drama

Toby Jones as Alan Bates in Mr Bates vs The Post Office
Nicky Morris
TV and film writer
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ITV's new drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, tells the shocking true story of hundreds of innocent subpostmasters working in the UK who were wrongly accused and later charged of theft, fraud, and false accounting thanks to a malfunctioning IT system. 

The four-part series, which will air over consecutive nights from New Year's Day, focuses on Alan Bates (Toby Jones), a subpostmaster from Wales who was accused of fraud by the Post Office. He became an activist and made it his mission to get justice in a legal battle that took ten years and cost millions of pounds. 

Alan was just one of many subpostmasters caught up in the scandal. Keep reading to learn the astonishing true story behind the new show…

WATCH: Toby Jones stars in ITV's Mr Bates vs The Post Office

The Post Office scandal was one of Britain's biggest miscarriages of justice and saw many of the wronged sub-postmasters and postmistresses prosecuted and some imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit. 

It all began in 1999 when the Post Office introduced a new electronic accounting system called Horizon. Glitches in the accounting software caused discrepancies worth thousands of pounds, with the system wrongly detecting financial shortfalls in Post Office branches. 

Toby Jones as Alan Bates and Julie Hesmondhalgh as Suzanne© ITV STUDIOS
Toby Jones stars as Alan Bates alongside Julie Hesmondhalgh as Suzanne

Over 700 branch masters were blamed as huge amounts of money went missing from the accounts.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. The consequences were huge for these innocent workers, with some jailed while others were financially ruined and shunned by their communities. Some even passed away before they saw justice or compensation, with four having taken their own lives. 

Will Mellor as Lee and Amy Nuttall as Lisa in Mr Bates vs The Post Office© ITV STUDIOS
Will Mellor as Lee and Amy Nuttall as Lisa

Eventually, campaigners took the Post Office to court on behalf of 555 claimants and in 2019, a High Court judgement exposed the scandal, ruling that postmasters were prosecuted on the basis of data from the defective Horizon IT system. 

With that, the Post Office agreed to pay £58 million in compensation to settle the dispute with over 500 sub-postmasters and postmistresses. However, an estimated £46 million was immediately sunk in legal fees, leaving only £20,000 for each victim. 

Four years later, in September 2023, the Government announced that Post Office workers who have had wrongful convictions overturned are to be offered £600,000 each in compensation. 

Shaun Dooley as Rudkin in Mr Bates vs The Post Office
Shaun Dooley plays Michael Rudkin

But so far, only 93 convictions have been overturned, leaving many still waiting to have their names cleared and to receive compensation. 

According to the Post Office, 54 cases have resulted in either an upheld conviction, people being refused the chance to appeal or the person appealing withdrawing altogether.

A public inquiry into the Horizon scandal is still ongoing and is set to conclude in 2024. 

The ITV drama features the stories of real people who were wrongly accused of fraud. This includes Alan Bates, Jo Hamilton (Monica Dolan), Lee Castleton (Will Mellor), Gina Griffiths (Clare Calbraith), Michael Rudkin (Shaun Dooley), and Pam Stubbs (Lesley Nicol). 

Monica Dolan as Jo in Mr Bates vs The Post Office

Monica Dolan as Jo

Like many dramas based on true events, the series is bound to spark conversation surrounding the scandal. But will it have any impact on the ongoing battle for justice? Toby Jones hopes so. 

"I hope that this drama and the documentary that goes with it will also mobilise the general population again and make people feel like this has got to be sorted," the actor said on The Graham Norton Radio Show Podcast. "Maybe even turning into an election issue."

Mr Bates Vs The Post Office airs on ITV1 on Monday 1 January to Thursday 4 January at 9pm.

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