I am sure like me; you have watched each of the ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’ episodes on ITV with the final episode airing tomorrow. As a former postmaster myself, and someone who has used Horizon from the very beginning and still using it today, I found it harrowing watching and learning about the human story that impacted so many colleagues, whether postmasters, their assistant employees or even employees of Post Office Ltd (PO), who have all been caught up in this scandal. I have said before that it is only by sheer luck, neither I nor my family have been caught up in this.
This case involves Government, the Civil Service, Captains of industry and the British Justice system which either by "cock up or cook up" failed ordinary people. These groups combined make up the leadership of the United Kingdom and shows that there is something fundamentally wrong at its very heart. The sad thing is that the same cultural attitude that led to such a miscarriage of justice still exists today.
I have never met Alan Bates but I have had the privilege of meeting Jo Hamilton, all too briefly, at the ongoing Horizon Inquiry and I can state she is a lovely and genuine person. I cannot be more delighted that the truth is finally being heard but saddened that it has taken 20 years of overcoming hurdles put in place by the leadership of this country and hundreds of millions of pounds of legal fees for that truth to finally come out.
To be clear, the NFSP had no involvement in the production of the programme nor advanced screening so have watched along with our colleagues and the general public as we collectively shed our tears at what these victims endured.
Whilst the reaction from the general public to what the victims have experienced is understandable, the outpouring of feeling towards Post Office for their role in this scandal across social media may be detrimental to our businesses today, by association.
From experience, the general public are very empathetic towards us as postmasters, but they may not realise that by boycotting Post Office Ltd, they harm our businesses. This is why the NFSP is reminding customers that 98% of post offices are owned and operated by small businesses such as yours and why we are encouraging you to speak with your local press to highlight this.
It is why we are providing you with social media posts urging the general public to continue to support us via the #loveyourlocalpostoffice campaign. We have written to MP's as well, reminding them that Government as the owner and PO as the operator, still act in ways which are detrimental to the postmaster who is the investor in the business and that there has to be a different way in which PO is governed. If you wish to be involved and help spread the word, that we need the general public’s help more now than ever, please contact email@example.com
It is concerning that the board of Post Office Ltd set a strategy in 2018 that via the Common Issues and Horizon Issues court cases, they would defend the indefensible and ensure that the victims remained guilty. After their strategy was so ceremonially defeated in March 2019, not one member of that board took the honourable decision to resign nor were any asked to leave by the shareholder.
Questions have to be asked as to the involvement and role of the shareholder in the decisions by the board of Post Office Ltd, especially in the Recusal Application. Further, there are employees of Post Office Ltd, who were part of unminuted meetings, where potential bugs, defects and errors that could have impacted branch accounts, were discussed, who are still postmaster facing today. The question has to be asked as to why that is the case?
Despite the overwhelming success via the courts, many of the victims are still to receive the compensation they are due or have their convictions overturned.
It is close to five years since the Common Issues judgment, and yet they wait. The stark reality is that for too many, they have died before their names could be cleared. The hope of the victims is that the ongoing Horizon Inquiry will provide them with the answers so long denied them.
This is why the NFSP is as heavily involved in the Inquiry as we can and has provided thousands of documents to the Inquiry, has seen former officials give evidence and whilst we cannot discuss specific elements of evidence we have submitted due to the requirement by the Inquiry to sign a confidentiality agreement, the NFSP will continue to provide evidence in the forthcoming phases as required so that we can do all we can to help unearth as much of the truth as possible.
Now more than ever is the time to focus our energies towards both Government and Post Office Ltd to ensure that the culture within Post Office Ltd does actually change and be united for the good of all postmasters.
Social media can be the tool where people wish to muddy the waters with misinformation detrimental to the network and the NFSP but it can also be the place to spread a positive message towards our network of innocent postmasters so let us as postmasters work together for the benefit of all and ensure that the general public are very much aware that as small business people we want to remain at the heart of their communities, serving them and supporting them as we always do.