A NORTH Wales sub-postmaster was one of those falsely convicted and imprisoned as part of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history

Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which concluded last Thursday evening (January 4) on ITV, has highlighted the shocking true story of in which hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters and postmistresses were wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting due to a defective IT system.

Noel Thomas, from Gaerwen on Ynys Môn. He was wrongly accused of stealing money and falsely imprisoned in spite of his innocence.

Noel Thomas, from Gaerwen on Ynys Môn. He was wrongly accused of stealing money and falsely imprisoned in spite of his innocence.

It focuses on former Llandudno sub-postmaster Alan Bates, portrayed by Toby Jones with scenes filmed at the actual shop Mr Bates managed, but also tells the story of how the lives of others were devastated by the scandal.

More than 700 sub-postmasters were handed criminal convictions for allegations such as theft and false accounting – with many sent to prison or bankrupted.

One of them is Noel Thomas, portrayed in the drama by actor Ifan Huw Dafydd.


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He spoke to us about his ordeal in 2022.

the new ITV series Mr Bates vs The Post Office starring Toby Jones. (Image: ITV)

the new ITV series Mr Bates vs The Post Office starring Toby Jones. (Image: ITV)

Mr Thomas spent 13 weeks under lock and key in Kirkham Prison in Lancashire for a crime he did not commit. He describes his time there as “difficult” especially when his family would visit and on their return home.

“You see them leaving and you have to stay behind,” he said.

With Noel in prison, life for his family at home on Ynys Mon was also difficult.

"If there's a story out there and someone has done something wrong then you're going to get people against, and people on your side, aren’t you?"

The press then reported that he and hundreds of other sub-postmasters had been wrongly accused. But this was not the case at the time of his imprisonment.

"Well, it was news wasn’t it. I was a councillor and I was going to be treated like a thief. I had been sent to prison as a thief in a way, even though it said it was bogus accounting.”

Julie Hesmondhalgh and Toby Jones carry out their scenes on Llandudno Pier (Image: Dee Sturgess)

Julie Hesmondhalgh and Toby Jones carry out their scenes on Llandudno Pier (Image: Dee Sturgess)

As a former member of Anglesey Council, many councillors sympathised with Noel and supported him, even writing to him in prison. But he and his family were also abandoned by many.

He said: "The Church was divided in a way. Some were supportive and others turned their backs. I have a vicar who is here now and who has always supported me. My religion has supported me.”

There is reason to believe that the Post Office knew before Noel was imprisoned that there were serious flaws with Horizon's computer system.

Noel remembers back to the time before his imprisonment, when he lost his business and home. It was not only difficult for him, but also for his wife.

"The Post Office took the keys to the shop and the Post Office. My wife lost that side of the business - selling cards, goodies and things like that. She sold the stock cheaply to get rid of them.”

Gaerwen Post Office had been empty for up to 10 weeks when Noel received a phone call to say that staff from Horizon and the Post Office were collecting the computers.

"I then called my solicitor and said: please talk to these and say we need an investigation. And here's the Horizon guy saying: 'sorry mate we can’t do anything – they haven’t been in use for 10 weeks and they’ve gone to sleep and we can’t recover the information’.'

Noel says quite plainly, "That's a lie! And then that pattern comes (obviously) throughout the country - there's some misty manners when it comes to trying to get information.”

Noel spent nearly 13 weeks at HMP Kirkham.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office has sparked a huge emotional reaction among viewers.

In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

A total of 93 sub-postmasters have had their convictions overturned to date but hundreds more have not yet come forward.

Noel said: “They knew before I was accused that there was a problem! They knew in the first few years that there were problems. But they just carried on for years.

“Over 700 people have had to close their doors, and having to pay them money for doing nothing wrong. Where has that money gone?”

Noel confirms that the Post Office - when questioned - insisted he was the only sub-postmaster who had problems with money getting lost within the Horizon system.

"Yes, yes - they only said me! But in 2009 there was an article in the Computer Weekly about this Horizon problem."

In the same period Noel received a letter from the former head of probation in northern Hampshire and interest from an S4C current affairs programme.

"A sub-postmistress in the village, Jo Hamilton – we are great friends with Jo - she had the same problem. Then Taro 9 came here to do a program and (the journalists) Anna-Marie (Robinson) and Bryn Jones found other postmasters.

“One of them, Alan Bates, lived in Rhos-on-Sea in the county of Conwy and kept Craig y Don Post Office on the outskirts of Llandudno.

"They said he had taken money but Alan didn't pay them and he lost his post office of course. His background was in computers...”

Noel was invited to a meeting in Warwickshire in England, and it was the first time he had met around 30 other sub-postmasters who had also been wronged.

"This goes back to 2010-2011 and it was over a cuppa that we chose Alan as chairman. Over the years we met in different places and more and more came to us.”

There were so many attending, that the group had to be split into two - one for the north of the United Kingdom and the other for victims in the south.

It was then time for them to start the legal battle for justice.