Over the Christmas break, one TV Show managed to capture the attention of the UK public, resulting in a real political impact for the victims of what has been described as the greatest miscarriage of justice in UK history.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, it’s The Post Office Scandal, which was the wrongful prosecution of more than 900 Sub-postmasters after a faulty software system (Horizon) made it appear as though money was missing from Post Office books.
The show in question, Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office, garnered over 9.5 million viewers and has resulted in real action: Paula Vennells returning her CBE, the police agreeing to criminally investigate Post Office executives, and Rishi Sunak working on legislation to overturn the false convictions of hundreds of sub-post masters. Yippee, right? Thank God for TV in 2024 that allows us all to sign petitions and get real change implemented!
Except, it’s not very yippee that it got to this point with more than 20 years of suffering for the sub-post masters affected before we managed to take notice of it as a nation.
The British public clearly feels a real and genuine care for the pain and suffering that was inflicted on the Sub-postmasters. And even more than that, international news outlets such as The New York Times have covered the story, highlighting its standing further afield. Despite this great outpouring of support and outrage, it leaves me, and I’m sure plenty of others, wondering why it had to get this far.
In recent years, the Post Office Scandal is not the only Scandal we have faced as a nation. In 2015, the Contaminated blood scandal came to light, having started years before the Post Office even rolled out Horizon in the 90s. In the 70s and 80s thousands of people with blood conditions were given blood infected with HIV and Hepatitis leading to more than 3,000 deaths. As seen with the Post Office Scandal, many of the victims still await compensation exceeding the interim payments of £100,000 which were only given to victims and bereaved partners, with no compensation yet decided for the children or parents of those who died.
And, there’s also the Windrush Scandal, which came to light in 2018 and involved thousands of British citizens being falsesly classified as illegal immigrants. Despite many victims of this scandal still not receiving their full compensation in September the government announced plans to disband the team dedicated to helping the victims of the Windrush scandal.
The brilliant thing about the ITV drama Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office is that it demonstrated how the public does care when they have an awareness surrounding miscarriages of justice. The terrible thing is that it took a TV programme to help victims get the support needed from the people in charge.
In fact, what all of these scandals have in common is that they demonstrate a huge failure on the part of the government to get problems fixed. When the Windrush Scandal and the Post Office Scandal came to light we had a conservative government in power. And it was a conservative government that launched the inquiry into the Contaminated blood scandal and has subsequently continually delayed it, with results not expected until May this year, preventing further payouts to the victims.
This isn’t to say that every Conservative member of parliament is out to prevent victims from receiving their justice (in fact, plenty of them have been vocal with fighting for justice across all of these Scandals). Rather, I want to highlight the deep-rooted problems within a government where the people in power continually fail to display the tenacity or empathy required to help the people of their country.
It leaves you questioning why it always seems to be this government failing to make amends? Maybe they’re too concerned with arguing amongst themselves about how to ship migrants off to Rwanda or desperately trying to claw back their chances for the upcoming election. It seems as though the only way the victims of these scandals will get their justice is through more TV dramas. ITV are probably holed up in some writers room right now, planning their next big hit.
Anyways, to answer the eponymous question, the problem with the UK lies not with the public response to Scandals, but with the government handling of them. Or rather, the lack of handling of them.
Image: Jamie Street on Unsplash