Saturday, September 30

False Accounts: Exposing the Post Office Cover Up – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Last year I listened to a podcast that made my blood boil. It centred on innocent Sub Post Masters being accused of theft by The Post Office due to errors in the new computing system. Some had been sent to jail, some had committed suicide, and all of them had faced unbelievable stress. I couldn’t believe such a travesty of justice could have happened – and was still ongoing, in the UK.

False Accounts, a satirical play, by Lance Steen Anthony Nielsen takes a closer look at the events leading up and the aftermath of this scandal. It is not an easy watch, but then it is not meant to be. What happened to these people – and the lack of adequate resolution for their suffering is an outrage.

Nielsen does an excellent job in explaining a very complicated situation in a digestible format. We are introduced to characters (who’re amalgamations of several people to reflect the experiences and to ensure no legal issues) and their stories. We witness the hopes and dreams of these everyday people taking the opportunity of running their own small business. We understand the operation and role of the Sub Post Master.

Then we witness the devastating introduction of ‘Horizon’, a Fujitsu developed software package with a range of bugs which indecipherably creates accounting shortfalls, shortfalls that the Sub Post Masters are then liable to pay for from their own pockets. The amounts start small – a few hundred pounds, but then rack up inexplicably to tens of thousands plunging people into huge amounts of debt.

Shame, stress and utter disbelief follow – along with many calls to the Horizon helpline. But The Post Office do a good job of covering up any software issues. The system is robust they claim over and over again. They gloss over the fact many Sub Post Masters were experiencing the same inexplicable errors. Horizon, The Post Office declare, cannot be wrong, it is the Sub Post Masters at fault.

The fundamental flaw in the system was that nobody wanted to see that there was a fundamental flaw in the system. It was cheaper to convict – using data from Horizon – and ruin people’s lives than check what was happening with the software. It is the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history – and it is still unresolved.

But while this play centres (rightly) on this terrible travesty, its themes echo pertinently when one thinks of the Boris Covid parties. Corporate and political cover-ups have become rife, but fortunately with the power of social media we have become more adept at calling them out.

False Accounts is a harrowing true-life story. It is intense, it is heavy, but it is also something everybody should know about. I applaud everyone in this production for bringing this further into the public realm. More people should know about this scandal, because unless us little people rise up, the powers that be will continue to get away with murder.

Playing until 25th June,

Reviewer: Samantha Collett

Reviewed: 21st June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.