Friday, 26 August 2016

Julian Wilson

Julian Wilson 1949 - 2016
I only met Julian a couple of times. I spoke to him quite a bit on the phone and got to know something of his life over the course of the last five years. 

He was, I suppose, what we journalists call a contact. But his gentle manner, generous spirit and calm good humour made me think of him as more than that.

Julian Wilson was a Subpostmaster and one of the founding members of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. He and his wife Karen had their lives turned upside down by problems with the Horizon computer system in their Post Office. 

Julian was prosecuted by the Post Office for false accounting, pleaded guilty and went to his grave a near-bankrupt convicted criminal. Julian was one of the many former Subpostmasters accepted onto the mediation scheme launched in 2013, only to be told, more than a year later, that as a convicted criminal, the Post Office would not mediate with him.

When he died, Julian’s conviction was one of the twenty being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. He was also one of the dozens of former Subpostmasters currently suing the Post Office at the High Court for the damage done to their reputations and lives.

Julian found out he had terminal cancer towards the end of last year. This summer he deteriorated rapidly.

I never made a film specifically about Julian. I just used to call him for a chat, to get an alternative perspective on what was happening with the Horizon story and get his opinion of how things were going.

“Hello Nick…” he’d say every time I called up. “What can I do for you?”

That was Julian in a nutshell. It was all about what he could do for me. He never once asked me to do anything for him. Not once. He would always take the call and always help where he could. Then he would ask after my kids and my work and always end the conversation by saying “Call me anytime, Nick. Any time you like.”

When I was told Julian had cancer I didn’t immediately pick up the phone. I got round to it in April. He was fresh out of surgery and preparing for another bout of chemotherapy. I’d heard things were touch and go, but his voice sounded strong and he was cheery as ever.

“Don’t worry.” he told me “I’m on the mend. I'm feeling better. Things are going to be alright.”

We spoke about his determination to see his name cleared and the latest on the various legal obstacles he and the JFSA were facing. There was never a trace of bitterness about Julian. He accepted things with great patience even though he was still in danger of losing his house because of the Post Office’s pursuit of him.

Given that activists have been campaigning against the Post Office for more than a decade, I felt Julian’s situation could be used to highlight how long everything was taking and that, for some, time may be running out.  Julian agreed it made sense. He had no qualms about appearing on camera, even though he might not be looking his best. 

I remember interviewing Julian in December 2014 alongside his wife Karen in a village hall in Fenny Compton, where the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance met for the first time back in 2009. Karen stood there with tears streaming down her face as Julian explained in his measured, Hampshire burr how problems with the computer system at their Post Office in Astwood Bank had caused their lives to fall apart.

Julian and Karen's story will be told another day. For now I just want to say goodbye to a lovely man whose company and time I enjoyed very much. It is a crying shame he had to dedicate the latter years of his life to fighting penury and trying to clear his name.

He was a kind-hearted and genuine human being.

I feel like I’ve lost a friend.