Post Office inquiry – live: Alan Bates says company spent 23 years lying ‘to silence me’ on Horizon scandal

Hero campaigner Alan Bates has accused the Post Office of spending 23 years trying to “discredit and silence” him while giving evidence to the inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal.

Mr Bates founded the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, and led a group of 555 subpostmasters who took the Post Office to the High Court over the scandal – which saw the company’s employees prosecuted over glitches in the IT system making it wrongly appear that money was missing from their branches’ accounts.

As the inquiry turns its focus to governance, redress and how the Post Office and others responded, Mr Bates – whose story recently became subject of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office – testified on Tuesday for the first time.

In written evidence, Mr Bates said the Post Office had spent the entirety of the 23 years he has been campaigning “denying, lying, defending, and attempting to discredit and silence me”.

Former chief executive Paula Vennells, who led the Post Office at the height of the scandal, will face the inquiry in late May, amid fresh questions over whether she misled parliament.

Key Points

  • Alan Bates says it was ‘pretty obvious’ Post Office ‘were after me’ when they fired him

  • Campaigner says Post Office spent 23 years lying ‘to silence me’ on Horizon scandal

  • Paula Vennells refuses to comment on whether she misled parliament

Bates has not returned to work to ‘expose the truth’ of Post Office scandal

13:00 , Holly Evans

Alan Bates said he has not returned to work since being dismissed as a subpostmaster due to his campaign for justice, adding: “I didn’t set out to spend 20 years doing this.”

The former subpostmaster told the inquiry: “The key issue has always been to expose the truth right from the outset because the other things, they followed on – once you know the truth about issues, the rest will hopefully follow on afterwards.

“I didn’t set out to spend 20 years doing this.

“I hadn’t expected to be doing this so much by myself but it got more and more complex and it was harder and harder to share out work as a bigger group to take things forward.

When asked why he had continued his campaign for justice, he responded: “Because the further down the road you went with it the more you realised you couldn’t let it go.”

Former subpostmaster and lead campaigner Alan Bates explains why he continued his campaign for justice (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Former subpostmaster and lead campaigner Alan Bates explains why he continued his campaign for justice (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

‘They didn’t like me standing up to them,’ says Bates

12:52 , Holly Evans

Alan Bates said the Post Office terminated his contract as a subpostmaster because “they didn’t like me standing up to them”.

The Post Office IT Inquiry heard that Mr Bates received a letter terminating his employment in 2003 in which no reason for his dismissal was given.

Mr Bates, when asked what he understood to be the reason for the termination, said: “Basically, I think it was because a) they didn’t like me standing up to them in the first instance; b) they were finding it awkward; and c) I don’t think they could answer these questions and they had a feeling I was going to carry on in a similar vein going forward.”

Subpostmaster was ‘escorted out’ of federation meeting for talking about Horizon issues, says Bates

12:48 , Holly Evans

Mr Bates said he attended one meeting, where a subpostmaster told him: “I’ve just had my post office taken off me and I’d had problems with Horizon and all the rest. The Federation, the exact people who were there, escorted him out of the back of the place.”

Federations, such as the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSB), are meant to respresent and help subpostmasters.

He added that the federation nearly always took the side of the Post Office and that he had never heard of any sub-postmasters receiving assistance on IT issues.

Alan Bates has been giving evidence at Aldwych House (Horizon Inquiry)
Alan Bates has been giving evidence at Aldwych House (Horizon Inquiry)

Post Office ‘regrets’ documents were not disclosed to inquiry sooner

12:37 , Holly Evans

The Post Office has said it “regrets” that documents were not disclosed to the Horizon IT Inquiry “as early as all parties would have liked”.

A Post Office spokeswoman said: “We are fully committed to supporting the inquiry to establish the truth and we have disclosed almost half-a-million documents to date, reflecting both the unprecedented scale of the issues in the scandal and our commitment to transparency.

“This follows searches of over 176 million documents, 230 physical locations and third-party sites, and across multiple systems.

“During the past six weeks, since the inquiry announced its current hearings timetable, we have disclosed the vast majority of documents required for those witnesses but regret a very small proportion of documents were not disclosed as early as all parties would have liked.

“The inquiry is examining issues that spanned more than two decades, including a lengthy period when Post Office was part of Royal Mail Group.

“Disclosure is therefore highly complex and we continue to do all we can to deliver continuous improvements and incorporate past learnings into the disclosure process to avoid the risk of delays to the inquiry’s timetable.”

Bates calls Post Office reasoning for sacking is ‘nonsense’

12:29 , Holly Evans

A letter from Richard Barker, then general manager of the communications network at the Post Office, explained to Bates’ MP that his sacking was the “only sensible” option.

He wrote that nothing had been found to support his claims over the faulty Horizon claim and that he was “unsuitable” for the position of sub-postmaster, and had continued to “flaunt” instructions.

In his evidence, Bates countered this but stating he had previously received letters praising his performance and to say “well done” for all his hard work.

“It’s nonsense,” he said. “This was just them flexing their muscles and deciding they were right and I was wrong.”

Alan Bates ‘struggled with accounting’, internal Post Office document claims

12:07 , Andy Gregory

An internal Post Office document, titled “Horizon Integrity”, described Alan Bates as having “become unmanageable”.

The apparent review of possible cases of Horizon faults claimed the former subpostmaster “clearly struggled with the accounting and despite copious support did not follow instructions”.

Detailing several other possible known cases, it then states: “Details of the cases do bear looking at.”

Mr Bates denied that he struggled with accounting, laughed when asked if he received copious support, and on the matter of instructions, said: “Basically try and bankrupt myself? No I didn’t, not to that extent.”

 (Post Office inquiry)
(Post Office inquiry)

Post Office told MP it had ‘lost confidence’ in Alan Bates, document shows

12:02 , Andy Gregory

While Alan Bates said he “never” received a reason for the Post Office terminating his contract, he has been shown a letter by the company to an MP in 2003 claiming that it had “lost confidence in his willingness to conduct the job in the manner expected”.

The claim came in correspondence – seen by the inquiry – to MP Betty Williams, who had written to the Post Office to relay her constituent’s concern about the temporary closure of the branch run by Mr Bates.

Asked if that had ever been explained to him, Mr Bates told the inquiry: “No.”

Alan Bates believes Post Office wanted ‘to make a lesson’ of his case

11:57 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has said he believed the Post Office were trying to “make a lesson” of his case when terminating his contract in 2003.

“I felt they were going to make a lesson of my case – because a number of other people knew what was going on at that time, and I think it was something the Post Office liked to try and give lessons of how they were in charge,” he told the inquiry.

Alan Bates says it was ‘pretty obvious’ Post Office ‘were after me'

11:54 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has said he was “never” given an explanation for his dismissal by the Post Office.

Asked by the inquiry’s lead counsel how it felt to receive a letter from the Post Office in August 2003 telling him they were terminating his contract that November, he said: “I was annoyed with them, to put it mildly, but I think it was partly expected in a way.

“Because it was pretty obvious they were after me, one way or another, and the build-up of correspondence over the period was certainly pointing in that direction.

“But I always found it quite interesting that I pulled them up on the point about trying to terminate me and my contract under Clause 12 of the contract ... but they didn’t do it that way. They decided to go just under this ‘any reason they wanted in three months’ notice without giving a reason’”.

The inquiry’s lead counsel clarified: “So it’s a ‘without fault, without reason’ termination, just on three month’s written notice”, adding: “You’d had the £1,100 written off, you’ve had the Post Office acknowledging it was because of a genuine dispute over whether Horizon was to blame for it, you’d been rolling over other surpluses since then with Post Office knowledge – and then this arrives.”

Mr Bates replied: “It was a bit strange in a way, because we were a very busy Post Office, in fact it was a time when a lot of Post Offices were losing trade but our sales figures were very high in the region, we developed a lot of new business in there. But it was their decision to do it [fire me] and so be it.”

He added: “I did offer at one point when ... we were heading in this direction ... if you’re unhappy with the way I’m providing your service then pay us back our initial investment and take the Post Office away, I would have been quite happy for them to do that, and I probably wouldn’t be here today on that basis.”

 (Horizon Inquiry)
(Horizon Inquiry)

Alan Bates fired after refusing to pay for unexplained shortfalls, correspondence shows

11:45 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has been shown correspondence between himself and the Post Office in which he was suddenly ordered to pay for unexplained shortfalls – and refused.

Citing his contract, Mr Bates told the Post Office he was under no obligation to pay for sums which he could not be sure he in fact owed the company, the documents show.

Months later, he received a response informing him that his contract would be terminated.

Post Office did not reply to December 2000 letter about Horizon concerns, says Alan Bates

11:40 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has told the Post Office IT Inquiry he never got a response to a letter he sent to the Post Office in December 2000 in which he raised concerns about the Horizon IT system.

In another letter to the Post Office seen by the inquiry, dated January 7 2002, Mr Bates wrote: “When I signed my contract with Post Office Counters, I did not sign to accept the liabilities arising from the shortcomings of a less than adequate Horizon system.”

Bates shown internal Post Office document with range of options for dealing with Horizon shortfall complaints

11:22 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has been shown an internal Post Office document – not disclosed to him at the time – which shows a number of options available in responding to his request for a shortfall to be written off.

The document contains three options – either to grant the subpostmaster’s receipt in full, to make them pay for the sum, or two grant a partial receipt.

 (Post Office inquiry)
(Post Office inquiry)

“Were you aware at that time that the Post Office seemingly used a standard form with ‘delete as appropriate’ boxes on it?” Mr Bates was asked by the inquiry’s lead counsel.

“No I didn’t, but now you mention it I do recall a conversation that the retail network manager at the time had with this department at my office, so I only heard one side of the conversation, and it was about arranging for this write-off voucher,” Mr Bates said.

“And I seem to recall, and it’s stuck in [my] memory, and he said, ‘oh, it’s another one of those Horizon losses’. It’s just one of those little things that sticks in the back of your mind that was said at the time.”

Alan Bates revisits decades-old letters appealing to Post Office for help with Horizon

11:14 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has been shown letters he sent to the Post Office about accounting shortfalls and faults with the Horizon system during his time as a subpostmaster, appealing to his employer for help and detailing the problems with the IT system.

The second letter, sent in January 2002, says he “has no doubt at all” that one erroneous sum of £1,041.86 was “due to errors in the Horizon system”.

Subpostmasters suffered ‘very one-sided’ relationship with Post Office, says Alan Bates

11:04 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates said the partnership between subpostmasters and the Post Office was “very one-sided”.

He told the inquiry: “I had been led to believe that subpostmasters were working in partnership with the Post Office, and if the Post Office wanted me to measure up to the standards they required, I expected them to do the same for me.

“However, over time, it soon became evident that the ‘partnership’ was very one-sided, and it really was a question of ‘you will do as you are told and if you don’t like it, you can’t complain and there is no redress on this, and you just get on and keep your mouth closed’ – that’s how it works.”

Alan Bates says Post Office has spent 23 years ‘trying to discredit and silence me'

11:02 , Andy Gregory

In his witness statement to the inquiry, Alan Bates said the Post Office had spent the entirety of the 23 years he has been campaigning “denying, lying, defending, and attempting to discredit and silence me”.

He said: “Prior to and since my termination from the branch, I have spent the last 23 years campaigning to expose the truth, and justice, not just for myself, but for the entire group of wrongly treated/wrongly convicted subpostmasters.

“I have dedicated this period of my life to this cause which, sadly, has been necessary since Post Office Limited has spent this entire period denying, lying, defending, and attempting to discredit and silence me and the group of SPMs that the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) represents.”

Alan Bates saw shortfall of £6,000 ‘weeks after’ Horizon went live

11:01 , Andy Gregory

The first substantial unexplained variance experienced by Alan Bates exceeded £6,000 and “was only a couple of weeks after” the Horizon system first went live, the former subpostmaster has said.

Post Office accused of ‘highly disruptive’ disclosure failings

10:52 , Andy Gregory

Prior to Alan Bates starting his testimony, the inquiry’s lead counsel detailed the Post Office’s “sub-optimal” and “highly disruptive” disclosure failings.

Jason Beer KC told the inquiry that since the conclusion of the previous phase in February, the Post Office had disclosed 73,720 documents which could relate to the next phases.

Mr Beer said: “We’re committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the hearings can go ahead as planned and, subject to your views, that’s what we intend to do - to continue with the hearings.

“The alternative – further delay, to allow the Post Office to get its disclosure house in order – is not one which is acceptable.”

Alan Bates credits ‘stubbornness’ with dedication to campaign

10:43 , Andy Gregory

Asked about his determination in campaigning on behalf of fellow subpostmasters, Alan Bates said: “I think it’s also stubbornness.

“But as you got to meet people and realised it wasn’t just yourself and saw the harm and injustice that had been descended upon them, it was something you felt you had to deal with, you couldn’t put down, and you had the support from the rest of the group there as well.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Alan Bates was initially ‘quite positive’ about Horizon technology

10:39 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has said that he was initially “quite positive” about the introduction of the Horizon IT programme.

The former subpostmaster said: “When Horizon came in I was quite positive about it because I knew what technology and these sorts of systems could do.

“But I found it a bit frustrating once the system was installed and we were operating it, I found there were many shortcomings in the system.”

10:36 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates has now been sworn in.

Watch live: Alan Bates gives evidence at Horizon inquiry

10:15 , Andy Gregory

You can watch the proceedings live below:

Today’s hearing gets under way

10:13 , Andy Gregory

Proceedings have begun at Aldwych House, with the public inquiry’s counsel Jason Beer QC holding the floor currently.

‘We need to know the truth,’ says subpostmistress

10:12 , Andy Gregory

A subpostmistress said “we need to know the truth”, ahead of appearances by senior Post Office officials at the next stage of the Horizon IT Inquiry.

Jacqueline Franklin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she wanted to see, “honesty, truth and to let people know what’s happened instead of covering everything up and white-washing what’s been going on”.

“These people at the top have just hidden the truth from postmasters. It took a TV programme to bring this to the fore. It shouldn’t have happened, it should have been out there and the truth should be out there. We need to know the truth.”

Ms Franklin, who took over a Warwickshire post office from her mother, who died in 2019, added: “We spent evenings looking for money which had gone missing.

“We were always told that we had to make good the cash, so cash had to be made good out of your own pockets.”

Alan Bates says Post Office inquiry is 24 years in the making

10:11 , Andy Gregory

Alan Bates is due to give evidence imminently for the first time.

Last week, the campaigner told the Daily Telegraph he was “not intimidated” by the prospect of the public inquiry, described it as being “24 years in the making”.

“I have been doing this too long and there are few surprises, I am there to help the inquiry and try and assist them,” he told the paper.

“The allegations and claims I made on behalf of myself and others have been proved to be right and it’s just been an uphill battle trying to force them into the light against a corporate bully which is the Post Office.”


Listen: Post Office counsel discusses plan to obstruct MP investigation in secret recordings

09:49 , Andy Gregory

A Post Office counsel discusses plans to obstruct an MP investigation into the Horizon IT scandal in this secret recording, reports Lucy Leeson.

The recording, obtained by Channel 4 News, shows a conversation between Post Office company secretary Alwen Lyons and Post Office chief lawyer Susan Crichton and is taken on 22 May 2013.

It suggests they knew there was an issue with the company’s Fujitsu IT system two years before the last subpostmasters were jailed in 2015. Ms Crichton states: “It’s the need to somehow have a plan to close down this process. I mean, even to the extent of stopping MPs sending cases in now.”

Who else is set to appear before inquiry?

09:38 , George Lithgow, PA

Other prominent witnesses soon to give evidence include Lord Arbuthnot, member of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board and former MP for North East Hampshire, who campaigned for years on behalf of subpostmasters.

Former chief executive Paula Vennells, who led the Post Office at the height of the scandal, will face the inquiry in late May.

Angela van den Bogerd, former Post Office head of partnerships, Adam Crozier, who was chief executive of Royal Mail from February 2003 to 2010, and Dame Moya Greene, who replaced him and left in 2018, will also all give evidence.

Conservative ministers who will be questioned over their role as the scandal developed include Greg Clark, business secretary from 2016-2019, Kelly Tolhurst, postal services minister from July 2018 to February 2020, Margot James, who held the role between July 2016 and January 2018, and Cabinet Office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who was postal affairs minister in 2015.

Liberal Democrat politicians Sir Vince Cable, the former business secretary, party leader Sir Ed Davey, who was postal affairs minister from May 2010 to February 2012, and Jo Swinson, postal affairs minister from September 2012 to May 2015, will all appear as witnesses.

Labour shadow cabinet member Pat McFadden, who was postal affairs minister from June 2007 to June 2009, will also be questioned.

Former Post Office chief Paula Vennells refuses to comment on whether she misled parliament

09:35 , Andy Gregory

Paula Vennells has been seen in public for the first time after allegations that she may have been told about a “covert operations team” that could remotely access the Horizon system and adjust branches’ accounts two years before she appeared in parliament, reports Holly Patrick.

Channel 4 News obtained a 2013 recording in which the Post Office’s chief lawyer Susan Crichton confirmed twice that Ms Vennells was aware of the allegations, two years before prosecutions were halted against subpostmasters.

The former Post Office boss denied to parliament in correspondence that remote access was possible.

In footage published on Sunday, Ms Vennells did not reply to a question from a Channel 4 reporter on the allegations. The Post Office was approached for comment.

Alan Bates to give evidence to Post Office Horizon IT inquiry

09:29 , Andy Gregory

Prominent campaigner Alan Bates will give evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, as the investigation enters a significant phase.

The inquiry is now entering phases five and six, which will look at governance, redress and how the Post Office and others responded.

You can read more details here:

Alan Bates to give evidence to Post Office Horizon IT inquiry

09:25 , Andy Gregory

Good morning, and thanks for joining us on our Post Office inquiry live blog, where we’ll be bringing you live updates on campaigner Alan Bates’s testimony.