After the success of a Welsh-language book recounting one personal story within the British Post Office scandal, an English-language version is now being prepared. The family involved is making use of a very modern concept to finance the project over the summer.
The Stamp of Innocence will tell the tale of Ynys Môn sub-postmaster Noel Thomas and his wrongful nine-month imprisonment as a result of the scandal. The Welsh-language version, Llythyr Noel, has been on the market for a few months, and placed number one on the table of Welsh books for learners in both April and May.
The British Post Office scandal
In case you’re not familiar with the Post Office scandal, it resulted in hundreds of post office branch managers being given criminal convictions, when faulty accounting software was to blame. From 2000 to 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, as erroneous data from a Fujitsu computer system called Horizon made it look like money was taken from their accounts.
It’s been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in recent UK legal history. Some of the managers concerned went to prison after being convicted of false accounting and theft. Many more were ruined financially and experienced social shunning and shaming. Some of those imprisoned were pregnant women. The impacts included family breakdown, mental and physical illnesses, and premature deaths. At least four people are known to have taken their own lives.
A great many convictions have been overturned, some being considered by the courts as “malicious prosecutions”. The Post Office has paid tens of millions of pounds in damages to those harmed by the scandal. But no individuals at either Fujitsu or the Post Office have been held accountable. In fact, former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells was awarded a CBE. Last month documents came to light showing that investigators were requested to group suspects based on race.
The impacts on lives and families in Wales have been devastating. The story of Noel Thomas is only one such.
To sustain the momentum of Llythyr Noel’s success and release an English-language version as soon as possible for a wider audience, the family turned to a crowdfunding appeal. This is to finance the completion and preparation of the book for publication.
“We hope that people, locally on Ynys Môn and in Wales in general, can help with this project,” said Sian Thomas, Noel Thomas’s daughter. She features prominently in both language versions. “We’ve had such a great response to Llythyr Noel, and so many asking for an English-language version. Hopefully we can tap into this goodwill to get the story out to a wider public.”
I have ghostwritten the books, and also live on Ynys Môn. The crowdfunder approach was chosen because of the tight timetable for getting The Stamp of Innocence to the market. Crowdfunders are now such a popular means of raising money for causes the general public believes are worth supporting.
Momentum is a big factor, especially as the Post Office saga still gets attention due to an ongoing Public Inquiry. There are more revelations coming out daily, which need to be reported as part of the new book. We are also aiming to get it ready so it can coincide roughly with the end of the latest stage of the Inquiry at the end of the summer.
I’m very pleased with the public response to Llythyr Noel. Its publishers Gwasg y Bwthyn are preparing a second run for the National Eisteddfod in Pwllheli and the Christmas market. We’re also in the process of organising a book-signing session with Noel and Sian at the Eisteddfod in Pwllheli a’r Cylch. We anticipate there will be a lot of interest in this amongst Eisteddfod-goers.
The Stamp of Innocence
One very pleasing aspect of publication is that so many ordinary Welsh speakers – who seldom read any Welsh – bought the book and enjoyed it greatly. I made a conscious effort with Llythyr Noel to use a spoken Welsh (Cymraeg Llafar) approach as much as possible. This was to replicate the speaking style of the two important voices in the book, Noel And Sian.
It’s a challenge to adapt the material to a wider English-speaking audience. Perhaps the local material so popular in Llythyr Noel won’t have the same resonance. Nevertheless, it’s a great story just the same: about the triumph of the human spirit enduring despite all the pressures placed upon it by a beast of a system for so many years. I very much hope that The Stamp of Innocence will appeal to this wider audience when it hits the market later this year.
Noel Thomas is now 76 years old. He was wrongly convicted of theft, fraud, and false accounting in the Post Office scandal due to the defective Horizon system. Noel lost over £250,000 after his 2005 arrest. He’d worked for the post office for 42 years. His lifesavings were gone, and he’d have lost his house if he hadn’t sold it.
While the crowdfunder appeal has already exceeded his wildest dreams, further donations will give Noel and his family some sense of restoration. Though there are some things lost which can never be regained. If you would like to contribute to the appeal, you can do so here.