Brit MP demands answers from Fujitsu about Horizon IT system after Post Office staff jailed over accounting errors

Biz committee chairman asks whether firm accepts software had issues

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A senior Brit MP has written to Fujitsu demanding answers from the company over its role in the Horizon IT system scandal that has rocked the nation's Post Office.

Darren Jones, Labour MP and chairman of Parliament's Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, wrote to Fujitsu and the Post Office on Wednesday to raise the issue of the strife sub-postmasters have been put through at the hands of the software.

In the early 2000s, the Post Office commissioned the new IT system, with the technical responsibility for it resting with Fujitsu. Horizon, an accounting system deployed in post offices across the UK, contained fatal flaws that generated false records; the system would wrongly record huge deficits in sub-postmasters' takings that did not exist.

Under the well-known principle of "computer says no," the Post Office and Fujitsu ignored problems with the system and lashed out at sub-postmasters who complained when the Post Office ordered them to make up these fictitious shortfalls out of their own pockets. Some were lucky; Fujitsu and Post Office technicians remotely accessed accounts to correct the balances, unknown to the sub-postmasters.

Others who refused to accept the Fujitsu and Post Office version of events were privately prosecuted by the Post Office, using evidence provided by Fujitsu, and jailed. In 2015 a Post Office spokesman flatly denied the problems to The Register, claiming "there have been exhaustive investigations which have not found any evidence of systemic problems with the Horizon system."

Jones wrote in a letter published (PDF) on the Parliamentary website: "The Committee's evidence session on 24 March on the Post Office and Horizon was postponed due to the COVID-19 lockdown. However, the Committee is keen to hear from the witnesses who were scheduled to appear and I would therefore be grateful if you could answer the following questions."

Among other things, Jones asked whether Fujitsu accepted "that there were some major issues with Horizon" and asked how the firm dealt with them. Referring to a settled High Court lawsuit, he also wrote: "The Judge established that there were errors and bugs within Horizon and that remote access to Horizon terminals was possible and transactions could be changed without a sub-postmaster knowing… Why did it take a highly expensive court case to establish these facts?"

Fujitsu said in a statement to The Register: "Fujitsu takes the judgement in the second trial of the Post Office Group Litigation very seriously. While Fujitsu was not a party to the litigation, we are conducting a thorough process to review the court's statements in detail. As a long-term partner to UK public and private sector organisations, Fujitsu is dedicated to supporting our customers, our employees and the people they serve in the UK."

The Criminal Cases Review Commission is slowly referring convicted sub-postmasters' cases to the Court of Appeal, 47 having been sent to senior judges for review so far. In a recent statement the body said: "All of the CCRC referrals so far are being made on the basis of an abuse of process argument concerning issues with the Post Office's Horizon computer system which may have had an impact on the safety of the convictions."

The episode has also triggered a wider review into corporate private prosecutions brought by companies who are "victim, investigator and prosecutor."

While such a review will certainly not change anything – it would disrupt BBC TV Licensing and train companies, to name but two, if private prosecution powers were taken off them – it will cause further discomfort to Post Office managers. ®

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