Mr Bates vs The Post Office tells the shocking story of how everyday people were falsely accused and charged with various crimes (Picture: ITV/REX/Shutterstock)
Audiences have been outraged this week discovering the tragic true-life stories behind Mr Bates vs The Post Office.
The four-part drama stars Toby Jones as former sub postmaster Alan Bates, who has spent over 20 years fighting for justice for the 3,500 employees falsely accused of financial losses by the Post Office.
Although Alan was never taken to court, having refused to accept responsibility for missing money that turned out to be miscalculated by the Horizon computer system that had been rolled out in 1999, hundreds of others faced prosecution.
With their contracts stipulating the business owners were responsible for having to pay any shortfalls, many were left remortgaging their homes or even ended up bankrupt as they tried to recover the apparent losses.
Over the years, whilst fighting to clear their names during what has been labelled the UK’s ‘biggest miscarriage of justice’, four of these people also took their own lives.
One of them was father-of-two Martin Griffiths, who died by suicide after being falsely suspected of stealing £60,000 from his Post Office branch in Ellesmere Port.
Martin Griffiths from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, took his own life in 2013
Last year his widow Gina told the BBC’s Panorama that the company ‘hounded and persecuted’ him, despite mounting evidence there were issues with the computer system.
In September 2013, aged 59, Martin had stepped out in front of a bus.
‘Martin hit rock bottom. He said goodbye on the Monday morning, I was going to work an hour later. It came on the radio that there had been an accident on the road we travelled on, the A41. I just knew it was Martin,’ she said.
She placed blame for her husband’s death squarely on the Post Office.
The couple are portrayed by Colin Tierney and Clare Calbraith in the series.
Fiona McGowan died in 2009
Gina’s sentiments have also been echoed by the widow of Fiona McGowan, who was 47 when she died in 2009.
She died in her sleep after an accidental overdose of anti-depressants and alcohol, leaving two sons, aged 12 and 14.
McGowan and her partner Phil Cowan had been charged with false accounting for £30,000 that went ‘missing’ from their Edinburgh branch.
Unknown to her, the Post Office charges had already been dropped before her death – but she was never told.
Phil, who now lives in Thailand, told The Sunday Post in 2021 that his partner ‘may well be still alive today if she had not been facing court for false accusations of theft and died before clearing her name’.
Following the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the convictions of 39 sub-postmasters, Phil welcomed the news, but added: ‘For Fiona, all of this comes much too late. For her, there can be no justice.’
In July 2020, police discovered the body of Devon postmaster Peter Huxham, who had died alone at home in a suspected suicide after serving an eight-month prison sentence over a £16,000 shortfall.
His 22-year marriage had disintegrated due to the allegations, and he’d been struggling with alcoholism and mental health issues.
Recording an open conclusion, assistant coroner Stephen Covell stated it was ‘unfortunately rather an unsatisfactory state of affairs that I cannot give any helpful conclusions as to the precise circumstances of Peter’s death’.
‘He lived alone and died some weeks previously, and as a result his body was badly decomposed, and it was not possible to give a cause of death. There were no suspicious circumstances,’ he added.
The widow of Julian Wilson, who died from cancer in 2016, also said the accusations of criminal activity ‘massively’ contributed to his early death aged 67.
Karen’s husband, who ran a post office in Astwood Bank was suspended in September 2008 when an audit found that there was more than £27,000 missing from the accounts.
Karen Wilson holds a photograph of her late husband Julian Wilson (Picture: PA)
He was charged with false accounting and theft.
Karen said he was forced to take a plea deal to avoid prison and was sentenced to community service and was also given a confiscation order for the missing money.
After the conviction, Wilson was unable to find work, the couple’s assets were frozen, and Karen ended up pawning her belongings including her engagement ring to get by.
The second episode of the drama series also included a shocking self-harm scene, in which Saman Kaur (Krupa Pattani) attempted to take her own life.
After being accused of stealing by her employer, Midlands-based sub-postmistress Sam faced a three-year-long legal battle, during which time she became depressed.
In the show, Sam undergoes electric shock therapy as part of her treatment.
Krupa Pattani as Sam in the drama series (Picture: ITV/Shutterstock)
She was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing.
In 2019 a High Court judge found that software errors and defects did exist and it was possible for these to cause apparent discrepancies or shortfalls in branch accounts or transactions.
The following year the Post Office paid out a £57.75m settlement, however by the time legal fees had been paid, the 550 claimants were only left with about £20,000 each.
In 2021 a Post Office spokesman said it had ‘taken determined action to address past events and we are working to reform the Post Office, to forge an open and transparent relationship with the thousands of current postmasters providing customers with vital services in the UK’s communities’.
‘We sincerely apologise to those affected,’ it added.
Between 2000 and 2014, 700 Post Office employees were found guilty of crimes, with 236 sent to prison.
More than 700 employees were found guilty of crimes after being pursued by the Post Office (Picture: PA)
To date, 93 of these convictions have already been overturned.
A Public Inquiry is also currently underway.
Of the 555 allies who fought alongside Alan in the High Court, 18 have died without seeing justice or full compensation.
No current of former Post Office manager has faced a criminal charge.
Mr Bates vs The Post Office concludes tonight at 9pm on ITV1. It will be followed by Mr Bates vs the Post Office: The Real Story at 10.45pm, also on ITV1.
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