Mr Bates vs the Post Office: New Year's Day drama on ITV explores Horizon scandal including Bridlington story

The Post Office scandal threw hundereds of subpostmasers’ lives into turmoil. Their story is told in a new TV drama from New Year’s Day.

For years, innocent people were thrown into turmoil by the Post Office’s Horizon scandal – and their fight for justice continues. On New Year’s Day, television audiences can learn just how serious it got for those at the centre of the accusations.

Over four episodes, Mr Bates vs the Post Office explores what ITV describes as “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history,” when hundreds of innocent subpostmasters and postmistresses were wrongly accused of theft, fraud, and false accounting due to a defective IT system.

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While Toby Jones takes the main role as campaigner Alan Bates the likes of Monica Dolan, Julie Hesmondhalgh and more top names also star.

Toby Jones (centre) and co-stars in Mr Bates Vs the Post .Toby Jones (centre) and co-stars in Mr Bates Vs the Post .
Toby Jones (centre) and co-stars in Mr Bates Vs the Post .

Yorkshire man Lee Castleton was one of those whose lives were plunged into turmoil by the scandal.

He and his wife Lisa bought Marine Drive Post Office in Bridlington in 2003 but soon started to suffer enexplained losses.

Refusing to repay the money – he had suspected the Horizon system was to blame – he was eventually taken to the High Court by the Post Office, having to represent himself. When he lost his case, the Post Office pursued him for legal costs of £321,000, leaving him bankrupt .

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He is portrayed in the drama by Will Mellor, known for roles in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and EastEnders.

Will Mellor as Lee Castleton, who ran a post office in Bridlington. Picture: ITV.Will Mellor as Lee Castleton, who ran a post office in Bridlington. Picture: ITV.
Will Mellor as Lee Castleton, who ran a post office in Bridlington. Picture: ITV.

Mellor says: “Lee Castleton is what you’d class as an everyday guy. He's got his wife and two children and he runs the local Post Office. He’s just an average person, like most of these people are. And then he suddenly sees some discrepancies showing up on his system as well as some shortfalls. It's a few thousand pounds and so he obviously thinks there's something wrong with the system, because his calculations are right.

“It all starts to go wrong from there: the Post Office deny that there's any fault at their end and though Lee says that he hasn’t taken the money they say he’s going to have to pay it back. And it just spirals from there. Lee believes all he has to do is tell the truth and it will be fine, his name will be cleared. He believes in British justice.

"Meanwhile this whole thing gets out in to the public domain, and people are spitting at his children, swearing at him in the street, because he’s been ‘stealing from old people,’ in his role as a subpostmaster.”

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The Horizon scandal saw more than 700 Post Office branch managers handed criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing.

Starting in the late 1990s, the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting software, but faults in the software led to shortfalls in branches’ accounts.

The Post Office demanded subpostmasters cover the shortfalls and, in many cases, wrongfully prosecuted them between 1999 and 2015 for false accounting or theft – some were even jailed.

In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that the system contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were in fact caused by it.

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An independent inquiry is ongoing and, as of September, the Government said 86 convictions have been overturned and £21 million has been paid in compensation.

The Overturned Convictions process, Horizon Shortfall Scheme and Group Litigation Order have in total paid more than £120 million to 2,600 individuals affected by the Horizon scandal, the Government added.

However, some of those impacted were fighting back as early as 2009, when a group of workers joined forces to form the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance, led by Mr Bates from north Wales.

In October, he won a Pride of Britain award for his 20-year campaign to gain justice.

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For him, the televsion drama is an important portrayal of what they went through.

Mr Bates said: “Over the years a lot of words have been written about how lives have been wrecked by an out of control government organisation, however they have never come close to expressing the true horrors that have been inflicted on people.

"I think this drama is the first time anything has come close to getting across the suffering many of the victims have had to cope with.”

Mr Bates vs the Post Office airs on ITV1 from 9pm on New Year’s Day and runs for four nights until Thursday, January 4.