Skip to main content

'Mr Bates vs the Post Office' Recap: Episode 2

Daniel Hautzinger
Sam and Jas sit amongst other people and look upset
Sam's troubles with the post office and its Horizon computer system lead not just to a long court case but also severe depression. Credit: ITV Studios and Masterpiece

Mr Bates vs the Post Office airs on WTTW Sundays at 8:00 pm and is available to stream. Recap the previous and following episodes.
Keep up with your favorite dramas and mysteries by signing up for our newsletter, Dramalogue.

This episode contains a depiction of self-harm.

The toll of charges of false accounting or theft while running a post office, thanks to a faulty computer system and no fault on the accused’s part, are more than financial or even reputational – they can also be psychological. Sam Kaur has pleaded guilty despite her husband Jas Singh’s objection – the plea would allow her to get her post office back so she could help support her family. The couple shares their story at the meeting of subpostmasters organized by Alan Bates in Fenny Compton, and are surprised and heartened to hear that other people have had the same problems with the computer system Horizon, and the same repercussions and responses.

Sam decides to switch her plea to not guilty. But her case drags out over years – and new charges are filed against her, while the money she supposedly owes the post office doubles. The stress and delays have an effect on Sam, so much so that her lawyer suggests she see a doctor. Jas shrugs it off.

But Sam doesn’t even want to leave the house, as she tells fellow ex-subpostmaster Jo Hamilton over the phone – Jo has befriended Sam and her family. Every knock at the door scares Sam, and she’s afraid that everyone in her community judges her after seeing reports of her guilty plea.

Jas comes home one day to find Sam sitting on the ground, bleeding, with a knife in her hand. He calls an ambulance and Sam is institutionalized. Her depression is so severe that the doctors eventually decide to try electroconvulsive therapy. Jas blames himself because he pushed Sam to switch her plea, as he tells Jo.

At least the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, as Alan names his group, is making progress. Jo contacts her local Member of Parliament, James Arbuthnot, who visits her and says he has heard of two other cases of issues with Horizon in his constituency alone. He will ask other MPs if they have heard anything and approach the Post Office. He also appears on the local news with Jo to discuss her case.

But the Post Office’s head, Paula Vennells, dismisses the cases internally as the result of a few minor bugs. Nevertheless, she and the head of network services Angela van den Bogerd meet with James and other MPs and offer to fund and cooperate with an independent review. A member of the Post Office’s executive team asks an old colleague, Bob Rutherford, to conduct the review.

Bob is a forensic accountant, as is Kay Linnell, a neighbor of Jo’s whom Jo asks to accompany Alan when he meets with Bob. Kay will work with the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance pro bono, and explains to Alan that Bob will be able to gather evidence that Alan and his group could never get, to be used in court later. They just have to be willing to trust that Bob will be truly independent.

Bob begins by looking into twelve reported cases of issues with Horizon – and resulting prosecutions or punishments – given to him by the Post Office. He interviews Jo, who wonders what actually happened to the money she was supposed to have lost. He talks to Lee Castleton and tears up when Lee explains that he thought he could simply tell the truth in court and the British justice system would be on his side – but it wasn’t.

Bob’s anger over that miscarriage of justice leads him to march to Post Office headquarters and berate his former colleague for the seemingly malicious prosecution of Lee and other subpostmasters over relatively small sums of money in the eyes of the Post Office, but huge sums to the subpostmasters. She admits she doesn’t understand it – her predecessors carried it out.

Sam at least has better luck than Lee in court – although it takes some three years for her to be found not guilty. The case finally ends when it is revealed that the computer system Sam blames on the accounting errors can’t be examined – because it was sent to be repaired by the Post Office and its memory was wiped. That suggests that it was faulty after all. But it’s cold comfort for Sam, who knows less people will pay attention to her exoneration than to her initial guilty plea.

As Sam and Lee’s cases show, it is difficult to prove injustice even if it seems apparent. Alan connects Bob with Michael Rudkin, who used to work for the postal workers union. Michael attended one of Alan’s meetings despite antagonism on the part of the subpostmasters, who never got any help from the union with their Horizon issues. But Michael is on their side: his wife, who ran his post office while he was away on union work, was audited and found to be missing over two hundred thousand pounds. She is now a convicted criminal.

The timing of her audit, and the massive deficit, suggests retaliation. It happened just after Michael visited the manufacturer of Horizon, Fujitsu, to learn how to address a minor issue subpostmasters had been having with the system. A worker there accidentally revealed to him that Fujitsu could alter accounts at post offices across the country remotely, even though Horizon and the Post Office assured the subpostmasters that the systems were secure and no one but them had access. Although Michael now believes he was retaliated against for learning of such a lie, he at first blamed his wife and threatened to divorce her.

But when Bob tries to investigate Michael’s claim, he finds that Fujitsu’s visitor logs don’t show him having visited all those years ago, and the Post Office denies that he ever did.

Alan and Kay are thus frustrated when they see Bob’s draft report and only three cases are mentioned, Michael’s not among them – but Bob says he needs hard evidence. He could only find it for those three cases and two software bugs, but Alan wants the report to reveal systemic failure, not a few one-offs.

Alan has at least managed to get Bob’s investigation to encompass more than the twelve cases originally given him by the Post Office. MP Arbuthnot organized a meeting between Alan and the Post Office head Paula, and Alan ambushed her with tales of many more subpostmasters’ lives that had been ruined. She agreed to accept his offer to forward her more names than those the Post Office had acknowledged.

After much searching, Michael unearths a confirmation email for his visit to Fujitsu – and seven Post Office executives are named on it. Angela van den Bogerd acknowledges the visit but tells Bob that Michael simply saw a test environment. There is no remote access of Horizon systems.

Nevertheless, Michael can now be included in the report, even if remote access can’t, since there is no hard evidence of it. Paula tells the Post Office board that the report is not as “factual” as she would have liked, and that it has some “loose language.” But MPs praise the Post Office’s response to the issues in the report when they are revealed. Still, Paula finds the report damaging and decides to begin to address it personally. She calls Alan and asks to meet him to find a way forward.

There are still more leads to follow, however, as Bob tells Jo. During his investigation, he found a report on Jo’s case. It said there was no evidence of theft, even though Jo was charged with theft and pleaded guilty to false accounting in order to have the theft charge dropped. The Post Office had no right to charge Jo with theft or even to take her to court, Bob tells her.