JournoFest 2024 saw Computer Weekly chief reporter Karl Flinders, who helped to break the Post Office scandal, meet former sub-post master Balvinder Gill in person for the first time.

JournoFest brings together News Associates and The School of Journalism trainees for a day-long festival of high-profile speakers and special guests from the media industry.

Here, trainee Harry Hetherington shares what he learnt from the Q&A…

When auditors seized his Post Office branch accusing him of stealing £108,000, Balvinder Gill didn’t just lose his business – it had a devastating effect on his credibility in his community, his mental health, and relationship with his family.

Gill told JournoFest he is doing better nowadays, especially following the broadcast of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office and the reaction to it. He explained that people on the street view him as a kind of hero, which he is still getting used to.

Computer Weekly’s Karl Flinders has written close to 400 stories on the scandal since 2010. The same publication broke the story in 2009 after being contacted separately by two sub-postmasters, Alan Bates and Lee Castleton.

Bates, Flinders said, effectively “scared me into continuing” writing about the story over the years through his sheer persistence.

“I would never want to be his adversary,” Flinders said.

“The man will never give up.”

Flinders spoke about his experience dealing with the Post Office as a journalist. In 2015, after their strong reaction to his coverage of a report casting doubt on Horizon’s reliability, Flinders knew he was onto something huge and from then on intensified efforts to getting the full story.

He told JournoFest attendees that 99% of the leads a journalist pursues may be dead-ends, but it is the 1% that aren’t, like this one, that are worth fighting to uncover.

Both were asked why they think it took Mr Bates vs The Post Office to catapult the story into the public and political consciousness. Flinders said there was a misconception that the story was simply about technology. Gill agreed, suggesting that a story about computers and the Post Office appeared boring at first glance and was often shunted to the back pages over the years by bigger events.

Flinders said the effect of Mr Bates vs The Post Office and the subsequent reporting has been unbelievable, but pointed out there is little new information now that wasn’t previously uncovered, in some cases many years before.

He did agree, though, that fiction had an important role to play in elevating important issues and that the drama could be a gateway to access the journalistic work underpinning it.

Gill said he is still in the process of agreeing compensation, but he is feeling optimistic and will hold out for what his family are owed.

He said the biggest thing he has learnt from his experience is that pain can ultimately bring people together, whether among his own family or among the hundreds of sub-post masters jointly fighting for justice.

You can read all the highlights and top tips from JournoFest 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 here.