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Fujitsu boss admits to missed opportunities to prevent miscarriages of justice

Fujitsu’s UK boss admitted that the IT company missed an opportunity to take action and prevent subpostmasters from being convicted for financial crimes after its software showed unexplained shortfalls in branch accounts.

During the latest Post Office Horizon scandal hearing, Fujitsu’s UK head, Paul Patterson, was shown a document produced by Fujitsu IT expert Anne Chambers after she gave evidence in court in a civil dispute with subpostmaster Lee Castleton in 2006. The document, she named Afterthoughts, was created by Chambers to alert Fujitsu  to the problems she had experienced during the trial.

The Post Office spent over £320,000 on a civil court action to retrieve £26,000 in unexplained shortfalls at Castleton’s Post Office branch in Bridlington, North Yorkshire. During a High Court trial in 2006, where Castleton represented himself, the Post Office failed to disclose evidence that would have supported his claims that the shortfalls were caused by Horizon errors, not him or his staff. The case was used as an example by the Post Office to deter others from challenging it over Horizon system errors.

In the document, Chambers, then a member of Fujitsu’s software support centre (SSC), explained her reluctance to go to court after being given assurances by a solicitor for the Post Office that this would not be the case and that her evidence was just a formality.

Patterson said he was surprised a solicitor acting for the Post Office had direct access to a member of Fujitsu staff.

She also expressed concerns that the evidence against Castleton had not been properly reviewed since an initial review two years earlier, and should in future be double-checked by Fujitsu staff.

Patterson said he had no knowledge of whether Chambers’ suggestion was taken forward, adding: “I think her suggestions are very, very important. These are serious matters which isn’t just ticking a box.”

• Also watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary: The real story.

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal.

Chambers also reported that, once in court, she was treated as an expert witness and asked a wide range of questions, when “nominally” she was a witness of fact. She reported: “Fortunately, I do have extensive knowledge of the system and was able to fulfil the wider role – but what would have happened if the initial call had been handled by a less experienced SSC person?”

She added: “If there is a similar case in the future, where the system is being blamed, would it not be sensible to have a technical review of all the evidence at the first indication that a case may be going to court? Someone within that review would be well placed to give evidence in court.”

Patterson said this was a “very sensible recommendation”.

Chambers also highlighted a “legal blunder” made by Fujitsu for not disclosing all relevant evidence. “I found myself in the invidious position of being aware that some information existed, but not sure whether it had been disclosed or not, since I had not been party to any of the requests for disclosure. It became evident in court that it had not been provided,” she wrote in her report.

She also raised concerns that calls made to the helpdesk were not being passed on to a higher level of support because of costs associated with doing so.

The public inquiry has already heard evidence that the response to Chambers’ Afterthoughts report was, according to inquiry barrister Jason Beer KC, essentially a “pat on the head” for Chambers and a “thank you very much before they carried on business as usual”.

Patterson admitted that this was a “series of missed opportunities”.

Chambers is currently under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for potential perjury during the trials of subpostmasters.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system (see timeline of all articles below).

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