Friday, March 15, 2019

He did it.

Alan Bates outside court today
The above picture is a screenshot of Alan Bates from the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance giving his first broadcast interview for nearly 10 years and his first press conference ever.

Alan is the lead claimant on Bates and others v Post Office. He has worked doggedly for more than a decade to hold the Post Office accountable for what they did to him and his fellow claimants. Today's ruling was a significant staging post in that process.

The reaction in court, once the judge had handed down his ruling and left, was visceral. Patrick Green QC wore a broad grin. As the hacks who were present crowded round him, he hailed this as "incredible vindication" of the claimant Subpostmasters.

It was a strange moment. A room which had borne witness to hours of tedious formal proceedings was briefly suffused with emotion. The claimants stood, unsure of who to go to and how to react. They smiled and shook hands with their legal team. A couple of people broke down. There were hugs and tears on both sides. Years of campaigning and months of hard graft by cold hard legal minds had resulted in a judgment which delivered a result beyond their expectations.

The hacks in the room looked on. It was touching to witness, but we had a job to do, which was to get everyone outside so we could start filming our interviews.

I spoke to Jo Hamilton (former Subpostmaster), James Hartley (head of litigation at Freeths) and Alan Bates on camera outside the Rolls Building. I was watching them closely. The overwhelming sense was not that of joy, but release. I don't think, by that stage, even they realised the import of what had happened.

To be clear, this judgment vindicates almost everything campaigning Subpostmasters have said to me about the behaviour, attitude and actions of the Post Office for years.

If someone comes to you with a story and an honestly held belief, you do the checks, and if that story stands up, you run it. There are good reasons for doing so.

If a court listens to your story, and your honestly held belief withstands remorseless cross-examination and meticulous parsing of documentary evidence, and a judge decides it is true, we're talking about something else altogether. It is a bigger deal than getting on Panorama. Your story happened. It is a fact.

I've read the judgment twice, once on paper and once electronically, and I am going to spend much of the weekend read it carefully and closely. Having got this far, I understand the emotion I witnessed in that courtroom. This is huge.

The Post Office will do what it can to diminish the findings, but it now has to deal with the conclusions of a High Court judge. And whilst it has paid the usual lip service to taking what he says seriously, it has said also it is considering an appeal. Of course. It is your money the Post Office is spending, and it has a reputation to defend.

Common Issues trial: the judge's comments part 1
Parts 2, 3 and 4 to follow...!

Full judgment.