Sir Richard Branson has invited Alan Bates, a key campaigner for justice for victims of the Post Office scandal, for a “well-earned” holiday to his private Caribbean island.
After the Virgin founder read an interview in which Bates joked, “If Richard Branson is reading this, I’d love a holiday,” Branson reached out via the newspaper to offer the gift. His message to Bates in full was:
Dear Alan, I did get the chance to read your moving interview in The Times, and we’d love to offer you and Suzanne a well-earned holiday on Necker Island — I can’t think of anyone who deserves a break more. Hopefully see you there. Best, Richard.
Bates, 69, said that he and his partner, Suzanne Sercombe, 68, have had to forgo holidays for many years due to their tireless work on the campaign. “Just recently we were renewing Suzanne’s passport and we realised that she didn’t have a single stamp in it,” Bates said.
Shai Weiss, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, also read the interview and has offered Bates and Sercombe first-class return tickets to the British Virgin Islands to visit Necker Island. They have also been offered a seven-day cruise by Virgin Voyages.
Bates, who ran a post office, has been campaigning for 20 years as part of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. He is portrayed on screen by the actor Toby Jones in the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office.
Bates said the offer from Branson was “great” because “it’s somewhere I can get away from the phones and emails and lie around, and that suits us perfectly”. The couple do not yet have a date in mind.
Since the series debuted on January 1, Bates and the sub-postmasters’ decades-long fight for justice has received extra attention. “I think, for once, it’s actually grabbed the nation — and rightfully so. It deserves to. But it’s taken a long time to get to this point,” he told The Sunday Times.
Bates refused an OBE in this year’s honours list, saying it would be hypocritical while Paula Vennells, the former boss of the Post Office, still held her CBE, awarded for services to the Post Office. An online petition to strip Vennells of her CBE has now reached one million signatures.
In response to Branson’s offer Bates said he was amazed by the offer but he would make sure the holiday did not detract from the campaign.