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Mr Bates vs The Post Office: Not the only one

‘We’re here because the Post Office told every single one of us sat here today, told us over and over, “You’re the only one.” And that was wrong. That was a lie, actually. Because… Well, look at us. Here we all are. And from this moment forwards, none of us will be the only one ever again.’

It’s hard to believe that ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office isn’t just a true story, but one still being played out. The horrendous injustice suffered by hundreds of sub-postmasters caught up in this scandal, including the one local to me, has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, with enormous human cost.

Horizon, the computer system rolled out to each post office, incorrectly showed huge account shortfalls. These were then blamed on sub-postmasters, who were told that nobody else had had any issues, that they were the only one. Except they weren’t – and the Post Office knew this. How frightening to believe that, facing a sudden debt of thousands of pounds and the possibility of bankruptcy or prison, you were utterly alone.

Alan Bates emerges from this story as a heroic figure. An unassuming but tenacious man, he led the fight against the Post Office for over 20 years, a David against a seemingly all-powerful corporate Goliath. Unwilling to stand by and watch others endure injustice, he stood up for, and stood by, those who had no fight left in themselves.

To show them they were not alone.

The outcry against the Post Office is welcome. We all – individually and collectively – cry out for justice. We want to live in a society where justice is done.

As Christians, this should be close to our hearts. The Lord is a God of justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne (Psalm 89:14). And Christ stands by those who suffer. He doesn’t look on from a distance, but as one who, at the cross, has experienced it himself.

It’s through his people, reflecting his character and his priorities, that he reveals this.

We may never have to battle like Alan Bates and the sub-postmasters. But, each of us will, in some way, be called to be a mouthpiece for truth and justice in our workplaces, homes, or community. In doing so, we show what God is like. And we show those facing unfairness and injustice that they’re not alone. We are there with them. God is there with them.

Jules Gadsby
Church Engagement Specialist, LICC

Comments

  1. Thanks for your helpful thoughts Jules. This has been a vile miscarriage of justice but praise God that through Alan Bate’s there will be a level of justice for the victims. It brings to mind Graham Tomlin taking the miscarriage of justice of the Grenfell victims to the highest human authority in the land. It’s encouraging to consider we can all be David’s to the Goliath’s of this world.

    By Lesley Tate  -  19 Jan 2024
  2. Thank you for this well written observation. What a gift you have

    By Jacqui  -  19 Jan 2024
  3. The question from Mr Bates verses the Post Office for the church could be said, how do we love and support those responsible for injustice to others who are amongst us? How do we encourage them to do the right thing? An encounter with Jesus turned Zaccheus’ life around. Matthew gave up his old life and followed Him. Let us support one another to do the right thing, to choose righteousness, to come to Christ as we are but not stay as we are.

    By Roger Fellows  -  19 Jan 2024
  4. Hi, thank you for this article. It would be so good to be able to show in a practical way that we acknowledge in some small way their suffering. How about buying them a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or more by contributing to a fund.
    Unfortunately I do not have the ability to set it up but would love to contribute. Anyone willing to do so?

    By Winifred  -  19 Jan 2024
  5. Thank you for this interesting post Jules.

    Sadly those crying out for justice are actually often alone. We aren’t there with them. They are voices crying out in a wildnerness and are often vilified and demonised by those in power. Too often they are branded as trouble makers and ‘the guilty’ trying to con us into believing they are innocent. When these things happen those in power close ranks (the Hillsborough disaster is another example of this) and feed us lies and deceits. Now that the truth is starting to come to light, organisational leaders, politicians and press are all running for cover.

    In an age when those in power have come to embrace a culture of being economical with the truth our biggest challenge is to discern where injustices lie, to cut through the toxic narratives fed to us by much of the media and listen more closely to those seeking to be heard – particularly if they aren’t people of position or power. Thankfully we still have people who have taken the time to listen and create a powerful drama that has lifted the lid on an injustice. But it’s hard to speak out against the prevailing narrative articulated by those in power. We can’t expect this will make us popular, but it’s something we need to get better at if we are really to be a mouthpiece for truth and justice.

    Much appreciated.

    By Mark Withers  -  19 Jan 2024
  6. Please do read Bishop Graham Tomlin’s piece in Seen & Unseen for a slightly deeper dive – Paula Vennells, as a vicar in the Church of England, as well as post office CEO, casts as long shadow of shame on the leadership of the CofE who were only too keen to put her forward for role of Bishop of London with clearly little discernment or research into her true character displayed in leadership. Reputation mattered over doing the right thing. She remained silent for too long and I am still baffled how long it has taken the church to comment on this lead story for 2024.

    By Alexander Watson  -  19 Jan 2024
  7. What does it say about us as a society that it takes a TV drama for outrage to be felt and action to be taken?

    By Amanda Barraclough  -  20 Jan 2024
  8. The sad truth is that this is far from the only very serious injustice that has happened in the financial services arena in recent years.

    The prophet Isaiah foretold of such things in 28v14-15 when he wrote:

    Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
    who rule this people in Jerusalem.
    15 You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
    with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
    When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
    it cannot touch us,
    for we have made a lie our refuge
    and falsehood our hiding place.”

    The reliance on lies and falsehood will not be a hiding place. Moses and the Levites told the people of Israel (Deut 27 v19) “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” and similar passage about the vital nature of justice can be found throughout the bible.

    I also have good reason to believe that a very significant number of people, (and far more than are being recorded in the Horizon scandal), primarily men who ran small businesses, committed suicide when their businesses were effectively bankrupted by one of the major banks.

    By Richard Emery  -  22 Jan 2024
  9. Jules – Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I do wonder whether our outcry would be more appropriately targeted on the decisions and actions that led to the injustices that were endured rather than on a Corporate Entity (“against the Post Office”). Injustices occur as a result of members of humanity doing or not doing (whether deliberately or in error) things that affect each other.
    Reflecting on this catalogue of events as they have unfolded has also led me to consider the impact of our outcry on those individuals who were involved in the decisions and actions taken. They may have been intentional, they may have been as a result of direction, they may even at some stages have been the result of a mistake. Regardless of the reason, God is there with all of those involved. And we should seek to stand with all parties (individuals) in looking for justice to be applied to this or any situation.

    By Tim Sunley  -  22 Jan 2024
  10. A great piece which raises many interesting and perceptive observations especially as far as it relates to standing up for and pursuing justice however we can. I loved the series despite the feelings of outrage it provoked. I agree with those who are angry that it took a TV drama to bring this longstanding miscarriage of justice more widely to the public’s attention. However, as a writer, it says something to me about the power of the creative arts to speak in ways that will engage and hold people. Well crafted stories – in this case, a true story but stories generally – demand a response and can speak to the heart in ways that facts sometimes fail to do. I think it shows that there are many ways to do our part to ‘change the culture’ in our particular area or job. We can use the gifts God has given us to demonstrate kingdom love, stand up for justice and champion the cause of those who feel powerless to do so for themselves.

    By Deborah Jenkins  -  24 Jan 2024
  11. Here is a gospel opportunity. The judges condemned those taken to court as guilty but Alan Bates mediated on behalf of all those so condemned by the Post Office. This is just like Jesus mediates on behalf of those who actually justly guilty.

    By Fane Conant  -  9 Feb 2024

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