5 minutes with Helen Lacey and David Chaplin, the owners of Bath Publishing

Bath Publishing, run by Helen Lacey and her husband David Chaplin, specialises in self-help law books, professional books and current affairs non-fiction. In 2021 they published Journalist Nick Wallis’s book, The Great Post Office Scandal, telling the story of a terrible miscarriage of justice. Here they tell us their story…

Tell us about your connections to Bath
We moved to Bath from London in 1988. We love the buzz of the city, and how the tourists keep our bars and restaurants going – we enjoy speaking to them and recommending places such as Sion Hill and Bath Skyline that aren’t on the main tourist drag. We love the walk from our house in Newbridge into town through the park – we run along the canal/river and walk everywhere. The proximity to the countryside is a massive bonus – we can be on top of Kelston Hill within 30 minutes and there’s The Old Crown pub in the village itself. Some of our favourite places to eat and drink are Walcot House, The Olive Tree at the Queensberry (for a blow-out), The Salamander, The Griffin, Beckford Canteen, The Locksbrook Inn (very convenient as it’s just down the road), and The Victoria Pub and Kitchen. It’s really handy to have Chelsea Road nearby – Giuseppe at the Chelsea Road Deli was a life-saver during the pandemic and the café is still a great place for a coffee.

When did you set up Bath Publishing?
We started the business in 2004, initially launching a website for family lawyers to keep up to date with news, legislation and case law. We sold that in 2009, and in 2011 published our first book, The Family Court without a Lawyer, which is aimed at the lay person who is going through a divorce or who needs help getting contact with their children. Now on its fourth edition, it has helped tens of thousands of readers. Since then, we have published similar books for people going through an employment claim, clinical negligence, court of protection claims and insolvency, as well as becoming specialists in planning law. We have also published our first novel and of course THE book on The Post Office Scandal.

Do you both have professional experience of law?
No but David was the marketing director at the legal publisher Jordans in Bristol for several years before he set up Bath Publishing. I was a maths teacher for 15 years, then a software trainer, finally joining David to work at Bath Publishing full time in 2012. So David is very experienced in this field – I’ve just learnt the trade over the years!

Do you feel the legal system is too inaccessible for ordinary people to manage?
Yes – and it’s also true that there is no longer legal aid for most areas of law, so that makes it even harder for people to get justice. Ordinary people are having to deal with sometimes life-changing events without proper recourse to legal help, and this is something that should change.

I also feel that as a society we are far too litigious – other methods of dispute resolution are available and we do include them in our books, but many people are still wedded to the idea that their ‘day in court’ will bring them closure and a fair outcome. This is rarely the case, so our books encourage people to try to put their differences aside, spare their emotional angst, save money and hopefully resolve the problem in a relatively amicable way. Of course, lawyers and court do have their uses and sometimes they are unavoidable, but most cases can and should be resolved without going to court.

How has the business evolved over the years?
Being independent has meant that we can go in any direction, which is terribly exciting. We basically publish what we are interested in. Some publishing projects happen by accident – we publish eight books on planning law which came about when we were contacted by an author, a solicitor from Bristol, who liked the idea of working with an indie publisher and the list just grew from there. Word spreads and several other lawyers have since contacted us as they like what we do.

You published The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis in 2021. Why did you decide to do this?
During the boring lockdown in spring 2021, we were helping to run a webinar and Nick Wallis was on the panel. He phoned us up the next day and asked if we would be interested in publishing his book. We had heard about the story, having read a piece in Private Eye and immediately knew it was a big, BIG story. Unbelievably, Nick told us that none of the publishers his agent had approached were interested. So we grabbed it with both hands and the next few months were a frenzy of getting the book written, edited and legally checked. Over this time, the second wave of convictions were being overturned at the Court of Appeal, the first few having been quashed the previous year at the Crown Court, so we guessed that the story was about to get much bigger.

What was Nick Wallis like to work with?
Nick is one of the most principled and meticulous people I know. Everything is researched in a thoroughly professional manner, he is extremely well liked by the subpostmasters, which helped him to persuade them to share their heart-breaking stories and the sheer amount of information he has gathered since 2010 when he first became aware of the scandal has been nothing short of astonishing. He is also great fun to work with and we have been privileged to join him on many tours around the country where he has talked to incredulous audiences about the scandal. He is incredibly passionate about this story and cares deeply for the victims of this terrible injustice.

Why did you donate 5% of your income from the paperback to helping subpostmasters?
Because the subpostmasters still needed help. Many subpostmasters have shared their dreadful ordeals and we thought it only fair they benefit in some way. In 2021, no subpostmaster had had any form of financial redress and many were living on the breadline having been bankrupted, unable to work because of their criminal convictions and having lost their homes and businesses. This is still the case more than three years later and the charity is helping people to pay their rent, get treatment for depression and anxiety, and giving hardship grants to help people stay afloat. Back in 2021, we thought the charity would have been dissolved by now because we believed that all subpostmasters would have received financial redress – that is very far from reality, unfortunately.

Image shows: Nick Wallis with Seema and Davinder Misra at the launch party of The Great Post Office Scandal at the Law Society in November 2021. Seema is the subpostmistress who was sent to prison while she was pregnant.

Why did it take an ITV drama (Mr Bates vs The Post Office?) to highlight the miscarriage of justice?
That’s a really difficult question. The book had been out for two years before the ITV drama and was selling well but, as Nick wrote after the first piece about the scandal appeared in Private Eye back in 2011 and he was “ready for the story to explode”, it didn’t. The story is so complex, involving the ‘little people’, massive corporations, the government and lawyers, plus the cover-ups, deceit and downright criminality involved, so I can understand that it’s taken time to really get going. What I’m most disappointed about is that the government seem to have only just woken up to this scandal when they have known about it for over 20 years. There has been so much foot dragging on all sides and it is shameful that it took the drama to prompt them into, for example, introducing legislation to exonerate all the subpostmasters who have unsafe convictions.

How many copies of the book have you sold since it was first published?
Sales have gone through the roof! We have sold tens of thousands in all formats including the audiobook, narrated by Nick himself. We are expecting another wave of interest when the Statutory Inquiry resumes in April when the main players in this scandal, including ex-CBE Paula Vennells, will be cross-examined under oath.

Tell us about Bath Publishing’s first novel.
The author Louise Tickle (who introduced us to Nick) is an award-winning journalist who specialises in reporting on domestic abuse, family courts and child protection. She approached us to ask for advice on publishing her novel, Between the Lies. She knew that we didn’t publish novels but once David had read it, he said “This is brilliant and would make a great drama”. So we did it. It was published in hardback in October 2023 and we are bringing out the paperback in May. It has also been optioned for a drama series which is very exciting. Between the Lies is the first in a trilogy, so we are planning for book two to come out next year.

Tell us about running in the Bath Half Marathon this year.
I took up running about eight years ago and ran my first Bath Half in 2019 in 2 hours 5 minutes. David saw how much I enjoyed it and started to run with me. We regularly run along the canal/river when it isn’t underwater, but otherwise run into town, along Linear Park or around Victoria Park. This will be my fifth Bath Half and we are raising money for the Horizon Scandal Fund.

What is your connection with the Bath City Football Club?
David is a big football fan and has supported Ipswich Town since he was a child growing up there. When he can’t get to Ipswich, he supports Bath City, partly for the football but mostly for the friendships. Every year, Bath Publishing enters the shirt sponsorship draw. One day…

The Great Post Office Scandal, £13.99: bathpublishing.com
Nick Wallis is talking about The Great Post Office Scandal at the Bath Festival on Sunday 26 May at 1.30pm at The Guildhall. bathfestivals.org.uk