Sometimes, TV drama sets the tone for public debate. None more so than tale of sub postmasters.
What is appalling is the lack of oversight by ministers. Ministers can never be entirely over the detail of a complex computer system, but they must be sensitive to warning signs. In 1997, 10 sub postmasters had been prosecuted for wrongdoing. In 2001, that had jumped to nearly 80. That no minister asked why there was an unusual spike in prosecutions is extraordinary. By 2010 over 700 sub postmasters had been prosecuted – around 10%. It is not just extraordinary that the then minister Ed Davey MP refused to see the lead campaigner for victims, but stunning he never asked why one in ten of all sub postmasters were, apparently, criminals. Statistics alert us to problems, so why did Vince Cable’s department and ministers do nothing? Of course, the Liberal Democrats were rewarded for their time in government in 2015 by voters getting rid of 49 of their 57 MPs.
This scandal has been known about for a long time - a statutory enquiry was launched by my colleague Paul Scully. Many, not prosecuted, but asked to repay losses, have been compensated. A handful of convictions overturned. The government is due imminently to announce a difficult piece of legislation that will allow a mass overturning of convictions, whilst not interfering with the independence of the judiciary and courts.
We also need to understand the dynamics within the Post Office. How did this corporate scandal happen? What happened to corporate governance? Is there criminal activity – cover-ups, false accusations - within the Post Office?
Post Office chief Paula Vennels has asked to hand back her CBE and that is a good start. But she received more than £2 million in bonuses. It is time that the public sector had the same bonus arrangements as financial services institutions, where bonuses are not paid for up to 7 years after they are awarded, liable to clawed back in the event of wrongdoing.
We also need to look at the legal system, that has so clearly been abused by the post office, and is abused by many using vexatious claims to wear down others.
At the heart of this is thousands of hard working members of our local communities, put through untold trauma and loss by the heavy hand of a cruel, selfish institution. I cannot begin to imagine what they have been through, but I know we owe our local sub postmasters far more than just financial compensation and restoration of justice.