2023 Winner

Alan Bates

Campaigned tirelessly for almost 20 years to expose the truth about the Post Office Scandal and get justice for subpostmasters whose lives it destroyed .

Alan, 68, became a subpostmaster when he and his partner took over a shop which included a post office counter in 1998. By the end of 2000, after the introduction of the Post Office’s new Horizon computer system, unexplained losses appeared in his accounts.

A man of meticulous record-keeping, Alan spotted errors early on when a shortage of £6,000 appeared on his books. “I managed to track that down after a huge amount of effort through a whole batch of duplicated transactions,” he recalls. “Once I’d seen that I thought, this system is not robust like they were claiming it was.”

Then in 2003, Alan’s contract was terminated. His careful record-keeping proved he was not at fault, but the Post Office said by then £1,200 was unaccounted for – a sum Alan said was never there in the first place and had simply appeared as a result of a glitch in the system.

While Alan and long-term partner Suzanne Sercombe kept their shop, the end of the contract with the Post Office meant losing their investment of around £60,000.

But others suffered even more. When shortfalls appeared at branches across the country, the Post Office insisted subpostmasters were at fault, demanding repayment from many – as well as calling in the police in a number of cases over allegations of crimes including theft and false accounting. Many former subpostmasters have since described how the saga ruined their lives, with reports of marriage breakdowns, stress-related ill health, addiction and premature death.

Alan’s determination to get to the truth began almost immediately after the Post Office ended his contract. Setting up a website to highlight his concerns, he also reached out to journalists to highlight the case and made contact with other subpostmasters.

By 2015, along with a group of others, Alan found a firm of solicitors prepared to take on the case and in 2018, as one of six lead claimants, he took the Post Office to the High Court in a Group Litigation Order (GLO). The following year, a judge ruled that the computer system contained “bugs, errors and defects”, and the Post Office agreed to settle with all 555 claimants who joined the GLO.

The Post Office has identified 700 convictions in cases prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 in which Horizon computer evidence might have featured. More than 80 convictions had been overturned by July 2023.

A public inquiry into what happened has been established and a new scheme to compensate victims from the original GLO group, and who have not been convicted of a Horizon-related criminal offence, was opened earlier this year.

Alan says: “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.

“From the very beginning I was absolutely prepared to stand my ground because I knew they were wrong in what they were saying, and I knew that I was right. I knew the system was not robust like they said it was. From the beginning my motivation was to expose the truth.”

Now retired, Alan says he will continue to offer a voice to people impacted by the scandal.

“At 68, I would love to be able to take my foot off the pedal,” he says. “But I will stay involved until everyone from the original group who is entitled to compensation receives the full financial redress they’re eligible for. Once everyone’s received their money, I’ll feel I’ve done my bit.”