A former sub-postmistress whose story is told in the new ITV drama about the Post Office Horizon scandal says she hopes the series and subsequent documentary will encourage others to ‘find the courage’ to come forward and clear their names.
Jo Hamilton, 66, was one of more than 700 sub-postmasters prosecuted between 2000 and 2014, based on information from the Post Office’s faulty Horizon accounting system, which had been installed in branches across England and Wales.
One of 73 people Hudgell Solicitors has since helped to clear their names, Mrs Hamilton was prosecuted for a shortfall in accounts of £36,000 in 2006, having being misled and told she was the only person facing issues with the accounting system.
Like many others, she was repeatedly told to ‘put right’ shortfalls in accounts, leading to her remortgaging her home, and borrowing from friends to cover the amount which was alleged to have gone missing.
She was eventually persuaded to plead guilty to a charge of false accounting – less serious than the initial charge of theft which she’d denied at an initial court hearing –to avoid going to jail.
Watch: ‘Two Decades – The Fight For Justice’
Our documentary film tells the story of the Post Office scandal through the eyes of the victims fighting to overturn their wrongful convictions.
The story of the scandal is detailed in a four part ITV Drama, ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’, which airs on four consecutive nights from New Years’ Day, followed by a documentary.
If you’ve suffered as a result of the Post Office scandal and want to speak to us, contact our Horizon team today:
Mrs Hamilton, who ran a Post Office in the village of South Warnborough, Hampshire, says it will leave people ‘shocked’ by the ‘appalling destruction of lives’ by the Post Office.
I think this drama will bring the story of what happened to hundreds of subpostmasters to a whole new audience, and they will be shocked and appalled by what they see.
The Post Office destroyed lives. Even now, with evidence being heard at the Public Inquiry, I sit and think ‘how on earth could someone do that to people and then go home and sleep at night’.
I think many people will have heard of the Post Office scandal and perhaps think only a few were affected.
What this drama shows is how it destroyed so many lives, and the battle we faced to take on the Post Office, and ultimately prove our innocence and win.
Post Office scandal drama details 10-year campaign for justice
The drama follows the subpostmasters’ story as the Post Office holds hundreds of its own sub postmasters and postmistresses liable for financial discrepancies thrown up by its hugely expensive but unreliable computerized accounting system, Horizon.
Despite warnings that the system was flawed, the Post Office relentlessly pursued the sub postmasters and postmistresses.
The drama tells how in 2009, a group of subpostmasters from across the UK decided enough was enough and formed the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA), led by former subpostmaster Alan Bates – a man who this year received a Pride of Britain Award for his campaigning.
It eventually led to a High Court case in which a judge ruled that ‘bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system caused discrepancies in postmasters’ branch accounts’ and that the system was ‘not robust’, and there was a “material risk” of it being the cause of the shortfalls.
That court ruling ultimately paved the way for subpostmasters to successfully appeal against their convictions to have them quashed, and begin compensation claims for malicious prosecution, loss of reputation, liberty, property and financial loss.
Post Office paying minimum of £600,000 compensation – but hundreds still to come forward
To date, Hudgell Solicitors has helped 73 people to have their convictions overturned either in the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal.
There have been breakthroughs also in the fight for full and fair compensation, with court hearings helping establish agreements over how damages for malicious prosecutions will be calculated, and in September 2023, the Post Office announced it would pay a minimum of £600,000 to all former subpostmasters who have their conviction quashed, where the Horizons system was deemed ‘intrinsic’ to the prosecution.
Yet, despite this progress, hundreds have yet to come forward to clear their names.
“I hope the drama and documentary demonstrates that now, after years of fighting and legal battles, we are coming out the other side and finally getting what we deserve. Those involved are also under scrutiny at the Public Inquiry,” added Mrs Hamilton.
“I think it’s a story of hope and one that you can win, against all the odds, if you never give up,” she said.
I really do hope that gives others the courage to finally come forward. The drama is going to have a massive audience, and I hope that those who went through what we did, and are yet to clear their names, see that a pathway has been set for them.
I can understand people who were once so badly let down by the justice system feeling they can’t face it again, but so much legal work has now been done for them.
Horizon has been proven to be a faulty system, there’s a set process to overturn convictions, and our legal team have done a fantastic job in pursuing and securing compensation.
Mrs Hamilton, who is played by BAFTA award winning actress Monica Dolan, says she has been hugely impressed by how the drama has told the story, and the impact it had on those affected.
“It’s so powerful. Monica has done a tremendous job playing me and it’s really strange to see yourself being portrayed on television. The story is Alan’s and the subpostmasters, and they have stayed true to that.
There’s a bit which shows me outside court just days after my mother died of cancer, and me telling Alan that I had made a promise to my mum not to give up. That made me cry as it was so real.
It also shows Alan at his wife’s bedside in hospital as she had cancer, with files and paperwork at his side. It shows how lives were being destroyed, but as I said, I feel the overall story is one of hope, and how you can win against the odds if you never give up.
Solicitor Neil Hudgell ready to help more subpostmasters clear their names
Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, has helped 73 former subpostmasters clear their names by having convictions quashed in the courts, with many now also having agreed compensation settlements with the Post Office.
He continues to represent many still seeking settlements, and hopes the drama and documentary will lead to more coming forward. He says his team is ready and willing to help.
“One of the frustrations over the past few years has been the huge numbers of people who we know were prosecuted but have not come forward for help,” he said.
“I think there is a fear of the legal system, and also perhaps lawyers themselves, but from the first day we got involved our motivation has been to do the right thing, as this is a group of hard-working, honest people whose lives were destroyed for commercial financial gain.
Just recently we were contacted by a former subpostmistress who had been convicted and contacted twice by the Post Office to say she would be able to clear her name. She has only just come forward now as she feared the process, and thought it would cost her money.
That’s not the case of all. We’ve an established process in place which means we are in the best place to help, much better than three years ago when we were beginning the process of challenging convictions.
We’re clearing names and restoring reputations of people who deserve the justice system to be batting on their side, and there is no greater use of our skills than that. Hopefully this will now open the door to helping many more.”
Mrs Hamilton added:” I can’t thank the legal team at Hudgell Solicitors more for their support. I’d encourage anyone else effected to contact them, as you can expect them to put their arms around you and do the best for you and your family.”
‘Post Office Horizon Scandal’ Podcast Series
In our exclusive Podcast Series, Neil Hudgell discusses the case, the fight for justice, why Hudgells is proud to represent and help those affected and why Neil believes so many others are yet to come forward. Listen here.
If you’ve suffered as a result of the post office scandal and want to speak to us, contact our Horizon team today by email or request a callback.