Majority of Voters Want Criminal Prosecutions Over the Post Office ‘Horizon’ IT Scandal

January 31, 2024
R&WS Research Team
GB Politics | Law | Lifestyle and Society | Rishi Sunak | UK Government

Share this research:

Our Most Recent Research

Over four nights at the start of January, TV audiences across Britain were gripped by ITV drama Mr. Bates vs The Post Office

This popular series covered one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history: the prosecution of more than 900 sub-postmasters and postmistresses between 1999 and 2015 for fraud, false accounting, and other crimes after faulty software (the ‘Horizon’ IT system) wrongly made it look like money was missing.

This scandal, which was first reported in Computer Weekly and Private Eye, has now achieved national prominence and captured the public’s imagination.

Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll, conducted in partnership with The Mirror, finds that 74% of Britons have heard or read a ‘significant’ (50%) or ‘fair’ (24%) amount about the scandal, while only 12% have heard ‘nothing at all’ about it. In addition, 44% also report that the scandal has mattered a ‘significant’ (20%) or ‘fair’ (24%) to them personally.

Intriguingly, more Britons say they have heard about Mr. Bates vs The Post Office than have actually watched it, suggesting that the media coverage that has followed the airing of the show has had a greater impact than the show itself. 

While 40% say they have either watched all (27%) or parts (13%) of the drama, 43% say they have not watched it but have heard about it. Just 17% have neither watched it nor heard anything about it.

41% of Britons say they were ‘very’ (16%) or ‘fairly’ (25%) familiar with the scandal before the show aired, while a further 32% were ‘somewhat’ familiar with it. More than a quarter (27%) of the public say they were ‘not at all’ familiar with the scandal before the programme appeared.

In the wake of the show’s airing, the Government has unveiled a bill in parliament that would overturn the wrongful convictions of Post Office subpostmasters and mistresses caught in the Horizon IT scandal and would also seek to provide financial compensation to the victims.

Such a bill has overwhelming public support. 78% support such legislation, against only 2% who say they would oppose it.

Generally, the public has approved of the Government’s response. 33% approve of the Government’s response to the scandal since the programme aired, against 24% who disapprove.

However, at the same time, 51% do not think the Government’s response to the scandal following the programme has been adequate, while just 23% think it has.

As many as 68% further think that, had Mr. Bates vs The Post Office not been aired this month, the Government’s response would not have been adequate.

But public anger at the scandal is aimed not primarily at the Government, but rather at The Post Office itself and the Japanese manufacturer of the ‘Horizon’ IT system, Fujitsu.

Majorities of voters think The Post Office (55%) and Fujitsu (51%) are ‘significantly’ to blame for the miscarriage of justice in the scandal, against 24% who think the UK Government is ‘significantly’ to blame.

A plurality of 37% also hold The Post Office the most to blame for the miscarriage of justice in the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, while 16% think Fujitsu is the most to blame.

Reflecting the fact that most voters primarily blame The Post Office and Fujitsu for the scandal, rather than the UK Government, only between 23% and 27% of voters are willing to ‘significantly’ or ‘fairly’ blame any of the last six Prime Ministers (excluding Liz Truss) for the miscarriage of justice that arose from the scandal.

Similarly, when asked which Prime Minister bears the most blame for the miscarriage of justice that occurred over the Horizon IT system, 36% say they don’t know, while 14% of respondents say ‘none of them.’ Tony Blair (15%) is the most common choice from the list of prompted Prime Ministers.

On questions relating to what should happen going forward, voters are more certain and decisive in their view.

76% agree that Fujitsu, the company which designed and operated the Horizon system, should contribute to compensation for sub-postmasters and mistresses caught up in the scandal (something the company has, in recent days, accepted it will do).

Despite the scandal, the Horizon IT system is still used by The Post Office today. 

60% of Britons would now support The Post Office’s contract with Fujitsu to use the Horizon IT system being cancelled. Only 9% of voters would oppose the contract with Fujitsu being cancelled.

The CEO of The Post Office during the scandal, Paula Vennells, recently returned her CBE in recognition of her own role in the scandal. However, Vennells has not returned any of the £2.2million in bonus payments she earned while in charge of The Post Office.

74% would support Paula Vennells being forced to return the £2.2 million in bonuses she earned during her time at The Post Office.

In fact, 63% of British voters would support criminal prosecutions being brought against those who pursued sub-postmasters through the courts during the scandal, while only 8% would oppose such action.   

Finally, 60% would support Alan Bates, the lead campaigner for the sub-postmasters and mistresses caught up in the scandal and the lead character in the eponymous show, being given a Knighthood for his campaigns on behalf of victims of the scandal.

While the public’s desire for justice is clear, it is now for the Government and the Courts to see what restitution can be brought to make up for one of the greatest scandals in British legal history.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

Share this research:

Our Most Recent Research