The screenwriter of the hit ITV drama about the Post Office scandal has said she feels the sub-postmasters’ story has resonated with so many viewers as it “stands for all the ways in which everybody feels unheard”.
The four-part series, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, dramatises the case which saw more than 700 Post Office branch managers wrongfully convicted due to faulty digital accounting software making it appear as though money was missing from their shops.
It has generated attention among the public and Parliament, with the Prime Minister recently saying he shares the “feeling of outrage” on the issue and wants to speed up the compensation process for victims.
The show’s screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes told the PA news agency: “When I first started a few years ago, I remember that my main thing was (thinking) ‘I cannot believe this is happening in my country, mother of Parliament’s where we get to vote and we care about fair play and decency…’
“Well, three years later, after everything that’s happened, not so surprising really.
“And I think that’s why people have taken to it so passionately, that they feel an identification, that what these sub-postmasters went through stands for all the ways in which everybody feels unheard.
“That their votes don’t count, that nobody’s listening, and nobody pays any attention and that’s what’s happened to these people in really violent and big terms but we all feel it.
“And that’s the only way I can understand how enormous the outrage is because everybody feels it.”
She said working through the cases and turning them into a drama was a “big challenge” but that she was spurred on by the desire to share “what’s been happening on our watch, what’s been happening while we were sleeping, what institutions have been getting away with.”
Within the series, it follows Alan Bates, portrayed by actor Toby Jones, who challenged the faulty accounting system Horizon and led the campaign group Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance to its High Court victory in 2019.
In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.
A total of 93 subpostmasters have had their convictions overturned to date but hundreds more have not yet come forward.
Around £138 million has been paid out to around 2,700 subpostmasters across three compensation schemes, the Post Office recently said.
Hundreds of others are still waiting for compensation.
The Post Office is wholly owned by the Government and a public inquiry into Horizon is ongoing.
Reflecting on what actions she wants the Government to take, Hughes said: “I would say try and get this one sorted out, don’t let them hang on any longer because they’re dying, they’re all older people and every couple of weeks we hear that somebody’s died, so get on with it.
“But also, further than that, could we all have a think about whether there are other examples of this? Other British institutions who are failing and oppressing the people who vote for them and pay for them?”
She added: “If we all just watch out for if this is happening anywhere else… Say what you like, ask the right questions.
“Don’t take it lying down. That’s the great Alan Bates lesson, don’t take it lying down. Get out there and ask the question.”
The writer also said she was keen for it to be told through a British broadcaster as she felt it was a “very British story” and did not want a streaming giant to “Hollywoodise it” or “move it away from the truth”.
Mr. Bates vs The Post Office is available to watch on ITVX.
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