The British government is to launch a review into the Fujitsu Horizon IT system used by the Post Office in its years of persecution against sub-postmasters held responsible for fictitious accounting shortfalls.
The review was announced by junior business minister Paul Scully, who published its draft terms of reference in a written ministerial statement before Parliament.
"Government wants to be fully assured that through the review there is a public summary of the failings that occurred at Post Office Ltd, drawing on the judgments from the Horizon case and by listening to those that have been most affected; that lessons have genuinely been learned; and that concrete changes have taken place at Post Office Ltd to ensure that this situation will never be repeated," said Scully.
Horizon is an IT system used by the Post Office's branch managers, known as sub-postmasters. Among other things it tallies up the day's takings. Due to inherent flaws in Horizon that were known to both Fujitsu and the Post Office, Horizon would sometimes fail to total up the takings correctly and generate huge shortfalls. Post Office managers used Horizon's false accounting as a weapon to attack sub-postmasters, charging many with criminal offences.
Many were convicted in court; some were jailed; some even committed suicide. Late last year the state-owned company settled the High Court case brought against it by its victims for nearly £58m.
Darren Jones, the Labour MP and chairman of the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said in a statement responding to Scully: "The Minister's announcement of the Independent Review into the Post Office Horizon scandal is welcome. However, without a judge-led inquiry it is not clear this review will have the necessary powers to demand evidence and require witnesses to give evidence."
He added: “To get to the bottom of this scandal, the Government should look at ensuring this review is put on a statutory basis with subpoena powers to summon witnesses and compel them to give evidence under oath."
The draft terms of reference mean the government-led review will look into:
- What went wrong with Horizon and what "lessons must be learned for the future";
- Figure out whether the Post Office has indeed learned its lessons, especially after being criticised by High Court judge Mr Justice Fraser;
- Assess whether the Post Office has actually made its victims whole again financially, as it previously promised to do;
- Figure out if the Post Office is now listening to sub-postmasters who report problems with Horizon, which is still in day-to-day use; and
- "Examine the governance and whistleblowing controls now in place at Post Office Ltd and whether they are sufficient to ensure that the failings that led to the Horizon case issues do not happen again."
Last week Jones wrote to Fujitsu demanding answers after a planned Parliamentary evidence session was cancelled thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. ®