The gravest injustice I have ever seen

The gravest injustice I have ever seen The stars of 'Mr Bates v. The Post Office' show their support for the victims of a grave injustice.

When organisations are caught out doing something wrong it often happens that they get defensive and opt for cover up and obfuscation. Whistleblowers can be treated as pariahs rather than being welcomed as liberating the organisation from corruption or malpractice.

This certainly seemed to be the case in Mr Bates v. the Post Office (UTV/ITV and Virgin Media One, Monday-Thursday) a drama series that ran for four nights last week. It told the story of what has become known as the Great Post Office Scandal – when the Post Office in England accused a large number of sub-postmasters and post-mistresses (over 700) of stealing funds, when in fact it was a fault in the new Horizon computer system, though the Post Office wouldn’t admit that.

Instead, they pursued these vulnerable people through the courts, even to the point of some being jailed. The Post Office insisted on restitution and so people lost life savings, jobs, houses, and even lives. At least one of those portrayed in this drama committed suicide under the pressure and disgrace they felt – in reality there were at least three more.

It was one the gravest cases of injustice I’ve come across and this drama conveyed the human stress and suffering so well, with the help of a brilliant ensemble cast, with faces that will be familiar to those who watch British TV drama on a regular basis. Particularly outstanding were Toby Jones (Mr Bates) and Julie Hesmondhalgh (Susanne).

It was moving, sad, scary and absorbing, more than most fictional thrillers. It was marked by a warm humanity – the characters cared for and supported each other, as, I felt, did the programme makers. It will certainly be on my list for top dramas of 2024 and it’s only early in January!

It is also a testament to the power of storytelling. Though the controversy has rumbled on for years, this drama has propelled it into prominence and it has dominated the UK news and current affairs since broadcast – eg. one of the sub-postmasters was interviewed on Laura Kuenssberg (BBC One, Sunday) and it was covered extensively on Times Radio Breakfast last Monday morning.

Political Editor Kate McCann gave a particularly good summary of the complexity of the legal processes involved, describing how the drama had built up a “head of steam”. It shouldn’t have taken a drama to inject such urgency.

The drama was followed by a documentary on the issue Mr Bates v The Post Office – The Real Story (UTV/ITV, Thursday). ITV does this kind of thing really well, showing how well they matched the actors to the real people they portrayed, and how re-enactments matched the news reports of the time.

One victim said that God had got her through the crisis, another was shown in a little oratory, with the scriptures opened. Religion had come into the original drama in a rather unexpected way – one of those in the Post Office hierarchy, not presented very sympathetically, was a part-time vicar!

Her homily scene seemed designed for irony. Of course, the key theme in all these programmes was justice and the hunger for it. What happened was described widely as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

If religion was thin on the ground in these programmes apart from the overarching, and not exclusively religious, theme of justice, I thought it was even more thin when Sunday Morning Live (BBC One) returned at the weekend.

The main discussion was about the role of the monarchy in England, with a monarchist versus republican line up. The anomaly of the monarch being also head of the Church of England wasn’t discussed, which was, I thought, a lost opportunity.

It seems like every show has to have a comedian these days, perhaps in the role of court jester, and that’s fair enough if they’re not all joking from the same hymn sheet, or just parroting approved or trendy narratives.

On this show comedian Dom Jolie showed distaste for conspiracy theories, especially of the far-out flat earth and Q-Anon variety. However, I remembered that old saying ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you’.

Logically, there are some actual conspiracies, it’s listed as a crime in law, and there are elements in the Post Office scandal that smack of it. I’d say there’s nothing conspirators love more than people believing there’s no conspiracy!


With the Ballinrobe protests in the news it was timely for The Tonight Show to cover those protests and the broader immigration issues surrounding them.  But there was more heat than light, especially when John McGurk of Gript Media and Neale Richmond TD went head-to-head. Louise Bayliss of Spark and Focus Ireland hardly got a word in – presenter Claire Brock could have chaired the debate more effectively.  

The debate was marked by personal attack, over-generalisation, over-simplification. No doubt some considered this good television. I don’t. Some of the heat was taken out of the debate by the Government’s change of mind – the hotel in question was now going to take immigrant/refugee families rather than single males exclusively. Minister Richmond’s contention that this change of mind had nothing to do with the protests was hardly credible – I don’t think Claire Brock bought it and John McGurk certainly didn’t.  

Funny enough I get the feeling that some of those taking umbrage at the suspicion cast over single young men are the same as those who bang on regularly about toxic masculinity. Most, even Minister Richmond, were of the opinion that better Government communication with local communities would help, though he also said that pressing need meant that they had to act fast to provide shelter.


RTÉ One Monday January 15, 9:35pm

Actor and comedian Ardal O’Hanlon examines the role of Catholic priests in Irish life, from earliest times to the present day, to see how they shaped Irish lives.

RTÉ One Tuesday January 16, 10:15pm

Broadcaster Dearbhail McDonald examines the role of nuns in Ireland to see how they have shaped Irish lives, including her own, for better or for worse.

EWTN Friday January 19, 2.30pm

Live and complete coverage of the most important pro-life event of the year: the annual March For Life in Washington DC.