Who is Alan Bates? Post Office is 'atrocious dead duck', inquiry hears

Campaigner Alan Bates has described the Post Office as an “atrocious” organisation that should be sold off to Amazon.

He branded his former employer as a “dead duck”. The former subpostmaster added that the institution is now “beyond saving”.

Asked about the Post Office’s culture, Mr Bates told the public inquiry: “It’s an atrocious organisation. They need disbanding. It needs removing. It needs building up again from the ground floor. The whole of the postal service nowadays – it’s a dead duck. It’s beyond saving.

“It needs to be sold to someone like Amazon. It needs a real big injection of money and I only think that can happen coming in from the outside. Otherwise it’s going to be a bugbear for the government for the years to come.”

Mr Bates was giving evidence on the first day of the fifth phase of the public inquiry, which is examining the Post Office response to the Horizon scandal and the response of others to the crisis, including those in government.

ITV's drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office brought the Post Office scandal to the attention of audiences across the country earlier this year, with former subpostmaster Alan Bates in particular gaining a lot of attention for his role in exposing the miscarriage of justice.

Bates was integral in bringing the scandal to light. Committed to exposing the truth since the early 2000s, he became a hero for his relentless campaigning for justice.

The Post Office had wrongfully accused over 700 subpostmasters of fraud after it wrongly claimed huge amounts of money had gone missing from post office branches across the country.

The Post Office decided to prosecute and sack those it believed were involved, and by doing so broke up families and ruined reputations and livelihoods. Several people died by suicide after being wrongly linked to financial shortfalls at post offices.

The scandal over the treatment of innocent subpostmasters is now seen as the biggest miscarriage of justice in recent British history. The Post Office's electronic accounting system, Horizon, introduced in 1999, suffered from major glitches that led to the discrepancies.

Mr Bates's life was turned upside down by the scandal and he quickly embarked on exposing the truth. So here's everything you need to know about Alan Bates and his role in the Post Office scandal.

Alan Bates refused to back down when he was wrongly blamed for shortfalls in his post office accounts that were caused by Horizon and lost his £60,000 investment in his post office as a result (ITV)
Alan Bates refused to back down when he was wrongly blamed for shortfalls in his post office accounts that were caused by Horizon and lost his £60,000 investment in his post office as a result (ITV)

Who is Alan Bates?

Alan Bates, now 69, and his partner, Suzanne Sercombe, were excited to start a new chapter when they invested in a post office shop in Llandudno in 1998.

The Horizon computing system was introduced to their post office operations shortly after.

Bates reportedly first noticed something wasn't right when £6,000 went missing from his books. He was able to rectify the discrepancy but was already convinced that the computing system wasn't up to scratch.

“Once I’d seen that I thought, this system is not robust like they were claiming it was,” he said.

As a result of another financial discrepancy amounting to £1,200, which was unexplained at the time, the Post Office reportedly told Bates he had a responsibility to pay the shortfall.

After he refused, Bates's contract was terminated, leading to the couple losing the £60,000 investment they’d made on their shop.

Bates was one of hundreds of subpostmasters who had been wrongly accused of mishandling money at post office branches.

Adamant that his bookkeeping was correct, Bates quickly set about doing something to raise awareness of the truth: that the Post Office computer system was to blame.

“Why didn’t the Post Office prosecute me? Because it knew there were faults with my system. It did not want to take me to court. I never tried to take it to court as I had received quite a broad range of legal advice about doing so. I was told that it could keep me in court and keep appealing any findings until I ran out of money,” he told Computer Weekly.

It would mark the start of a more than two decade-long effort to get justice for those wrongfully accused.

ITV's Post Office drama has catapulted the scandal to the top of the Westminster agenda (ITV Studios)
ITV's Post Office drama has catapulted the scandal to the top of the Westminster agenda (ITV Studios)

Alan Bates's campaigning

Not long after his contract was terminated, Alan set about trying to contact journalists to raise awareness of what was happening.

By 2009, enough evidence had been gathered for the story to be published. The same year, Bates founded the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) alongside other subpostmasters to act on the widespread concerns. The number of members in the JFSA continued to grow, as did the number of group meetings, highlighting the scope of what had happened across the country.

By this point, several reports and investigations had been launched into the Post Office ordeal and, in 2015, the JFSA began civil litigation proceedings against the Post Office.

In 2019 – after years of campaigning – the group gained a high court victory when a judge ruled that the Post Office's system was full of “bugs, errors and defects”, resulting in the organisation agreeing to settle with the 555 claimants.

So far, 93 wrongful convictions of former postmasters have been overturned, and the fallout of the Post Office scandal is continuing. However, efforts to bring justice for all those involved is far from over.

To this day, no Post Office executive has faced a criminal investigation for their role in the scandal.

Alan Bates's legacy

Mr Bates maintained that it wasn't actually his plan to lead the campaign against the Post Office, saying: "When it all began, I didn’t intend to take a leading role, but it naturally happened over time and when things needed to be done, I just got on with them."

He's now retired but continues campaigning for the hundreds of people affected by the Post Office scandal.

Alan Bates's dedication to getting to the truth is explored in the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office. Not only has the show and Mr Bates's role gained huge attention, it has prompted public demands for something to be done.

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells returned her CBE over the Horizon scandal and the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said the Government was looking into ways to clear the names of those wrongfully convicted.

In 2023, Mr Bates received special recognition at the Pride of Britain Awards and he was recently gifted a "well-earned" holiday by Virgin's Richard Branson.