The ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office has left the UK reeling at the thought that so many people, with such compelling evidence could have been ignored, railroaded into admissions of guilt, incarcerated and fundamentally had their worlds turned upside down by an organisation that was simply covering up its errors. Instead of owning the Horizon software issues, the PO, acting like Goliath, chose to keep its head down, ignore the evidence and blame the hundreds of “Davids” to “protect its reputation”. A “David” working in isolation is no real threat as they can be silenced, or indeed ignored, however when all the “Davids” become aware of each other the trajectory of the cover-up can take a surprising turn.
So many posts on social media have been amazed at the lengths the PO would go to cover up its error. Not me though – I’ve now been involved in 2 David and Goliath battles and have sadly seen it all before. For one I was more of an observer, as evidence trickled in that a certain company had some major safeguarding issues, yet the more people spoke up about it, the more the organisation went to extraordinary lengths to silence the critics. Solicitor’s letters started tumbling in as good people, speaking up about really important things were silenced one by one. Threats were made, jobs were lost and most importantly of all, evidence was destroyed or lost. Like with Mr Bates, eventually, other stories started to come in from past employees who had also attempted to whistleblow about safeguarding concerns, yet they too had been thwarted by an organisation that would do anything to protect its reputation. The organisation still exists and its reputation is intact. With friends in high places and countless court orders, the facts are still to emerge. The whistleblowers all went on to bigger and I would say better things – but it taught me a valuable lesson about how far certain organisations would go to protect a reputation. . . even if it put others at serious risk. It also taught me that the media is intrinsically part of the “system”, and that powerful people will control what does and I guess more importantly, what doesn’t get published.
Then of course there’s my own personal, ongoing battle with Trinity College of Music and how they treated The MTA when we appealed our pre-validation assessment report, a report that was so dire it directly contributed to the closure of the college as confirmed in the liquidators interim report this week. I’m not going to go through all the details again in this post, but rather I’d like to focus on the tactics that the organisation used to try and silence me.
When we first appealed the report (which if you’re reading on catch-up, basically was a report that bore no relationship at all to the course that they were assessing) we were told to suck it up as we’d just been unlucky. It was only when we mentioned legal action did they agree to open an appeal. Again if you’re reading on catch up we could categorically prove at that time that much of the report had been fabricated. However following the “Mr Bate’s rule of not allowing relevant parties to communicate”, we were not permitted to have any contact at all with the chosen “expert” that they had chosen to review our case. This meant that the people that we suspected at that time to have been instrumental in the “error” were the only people permitted to communicate with the person reviewing the case. Interesting right?
The independent “expert”, now armed with new “evidence” provided by the very people that we had been accusing of falsifying the report, unsurprisingly found in their favour, yet in doing so peaked our interest even further due to the timing of the “new evidence”.
With every correspondence we received, with every press release that they issued, their gaslighting was extraordinary. The narrative that they were so keen to get out there was one of a distraught Principal searching for somebody to blame for the demise of her college. They were above reproach after all they were “regulated” by OfQual so of course there was no “real story” here. Except that at no time was I “distraught”, I wasn’t looking for scapegoats, I was simply fighting for an industry that I truly believed in. The MTA was beyond saving, thanks in part to their lies, so I wasn’t fighting for “us”, I was fighting because every other college, every other child that took one of their exams were at risk of their office politics. As for OfQual regulating them – they knew that to be a lie as OfQual do not regulate at the point of application. Our only other recourse was the Charity Commission, a Commission that did ask some questions, only to be answered by the very people that we believed (now know) to have been directly involved in the error.
As I blogged my way through the discrepancies and our ongoing frustration, slowly the threats came. First, a few warning shots from Trinity’s Company Secretary, Fiona Butcher, emails “understanding” my frustrations, but requesting (quite strongly) that I stop venting them in public, after all, they might be damaging to Trinity’s reputation. Seemingly it was OK for them to falsify a report which would lead to us having to close, but we weren’t permitted to publicly question all the discrepancies that we were discovering. Then more formal threats of legal action as social media momentum grew around the fact that we had been forced to close, and Trinity was one of the causes for our demise. My favorite time was the one blogged about here when they once again threatened to sue me, but this time suggested that I could dodge that bullet if I either took down my posts or published the letter that they’d sent me. A letter which painted the narrative of an “aggrieved” Principal, confronted with the harsh reality of their course just hadn’t been up to scratch and so had launched a social media campaign to “shoot the messenger” so to speak. Like with all things Trinity, the post was so riddled with lies and inaccuracies I published and blogged about it.
It wasn’t just Fiona who threatened to sue me, when I reached out to Mark Damazer, the Chair of Trinity (and incidentally the Chair of the Booker Prize) to try and explain to him that there was quite a big issue within his organisation and he should investigate, there was no curiosity at all – he was straight in with the most bizarre letter of all, riddled with errors, but as sure as night follows day. . . the threat of legal action if I continued to speak out about it.
I guess what Trinity (or indeed I) hadn’t bargained for were whistleblowers coming forward who could fill in the blanks for me. Blanks that Trinity still denies, but blanks that have now been confirmed by several independent whistleblowers. The smoking gun if you like had been placed on the table.
To this day Trinity has stuck to their story. They operate a bit like the Post Office, by keeping all the relevant parties out of the same room so that they can control the “facts” that their staff hear. They’ve implied to their staff that they’ve been “threatened” by our disclosures, even emailing them to warn them against speaking to us, and advising them to let them know if we make contact, yet conversely, it is our disclosures that uphold the reputation of the man that led their department for nearly two decades. A man that they sold down the river when office politics got a bit messy. It’s a clever trick though – the “we’re going to protect you by ensuring that you never find out the truth from them”. Plus, for good measure, an implicit “they’re coming after all of us, so we’ll protect you”, whereas in reality, we were going after a couple of people within the organisation that we had evidence that suggested a cover-up. Seemingly this is a known tactic when “David” doesn’t just roll over and keep quiet.
The Trinity whistleblowers have spoken to me (I kid you not) through Proton, an email server that exists solely to keep people’s identity secret, by unsigned snail mail, and. . . via a burner phone. Regardless of whose truth you believe, the fact that whistleblowers are so scared of an organisation those are the lengths that they feel like they have to go through is extraordinary. As with all things. . . the facts that you know are always just the tip of a very big iceberg.
So will we get our “TV Drama” opportunity to tell our story? I suspect not – although the subject matter would lend itself well to be the most “entertaining” documentary as we revisit the inspector’s day with us via song and dance. Will the truth come out? I guess that’s still the unknown bit of the saga
There are so many people with a “Mr Bates” story. Not every David rolls over, some of us feel that strongly about injustice that we’re like a dog with a bone. I applaud Mr Bates for sticking to his truth – it’s a long old road, but one that’s important to stay on. Trinity was partly responsible for closing a college, for a lot of people (including myself) losing a lot of money. Importantly it stole a “home” from a cohort of students both past and future that could have thrived there. It also opted to sacrifice the reputation of one of its own staff in a bid to save its reputation. That alone is worth the continuous fight for accountability, especially when that person is no longer with us.