Toby Jones: I got to play a ‘hero’ in drama about Post Office Horizon scandal

British actor Toby Jones has said he got to “play a hero” in the ITV drama series about the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Jones, 57, played Alan Bates, a former subpostmaster who has been leading the campaign for justice for the hundreds of subpostmasters and subpostmistresses who were wrongly accused of theft, fraud and false accounting due to a defective IT system, and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015.

Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, which aired at the beginning of the year, pushed what has been called the largest miscarriage of justice in British legal history up the news agenda for weeks.

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Alan Bates addresses the media after former Post Office boss Paula Vennells gave evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry in May (Yui Mok/PA)

Reflecting on the series, Jones told Hay Festival: “I get to play a hero. Really, someone who I think of as a hero. Someone in the culture who just doesn’t seem to be subject to the same forces that we all are.

“He can’t be bought. He’s asked to open Glastonbury. ‘No, thank you’. He’s asked to do these things, he doesn’t want to do any of that. He says, ‘I’ve got work to do’, which is to get that stuff done.

“He’s a hero and he doesn’t want any honours until he’s finished the job. And these are values that, I’m not going to say I grew up with, but I sort of remember being lectured about. About duty and about following things through.

“These are very, very unfashionable things that maybe stand in stark contrast with what we’ve been living with in government for some time.”

Jones could not put his finger on what exactly has made the show so successful but said “there’s a feeling of disempowerment” in the country at the moment.

“I think that there’s something in the country at the moment. There’s a feeling of disempowerment”, he said.

Broadcasting Press Guild Awards – London
Toby Jones attends the 50th annual Broadcasting Press Guild awards (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“There’s a feeling of outrage, justly, and the story is told very clearly, and it’s by no means obvious. Computer software malfunction is not an obvious thing to make a drama about.”

Jones also spoke about what it was like to attend a screening of the drama attended by some of the subpostmasters and subpostmistresses.

He said: “It became clear after about 10 minutes that people were sobbing in the screening, so you had press, you had subpostmasters sobbing, you had cast members looking around and you had me in the background.

“And that’s our contribution, is that afterwards the subpostmasters said ‘That was evidence of what it was like’.”

He added: “They have this extraordinary dignity, considering 20 years of living in a Hitchcockian nightmare.

“They have this incredible humble modest humility.”

In May, former Post Office boss Paula Vennells broke her almost decade-long silence on the Horizon scandal as she was quizzed over the course of three days at an inquiry.