The UK boss of Fujitsu said he does not know why evidence of software bugs were not provided to subpostmasters when they were being prosecuted based on evidence from the Horizon IT system, despite claims that accounting shortfalls were caused by computer errors.
Paul Patterson, Fujitsu’s European CEO, was being questioned in the Post Office scandal public inquiry – the first time a senior executive from the company that developed and operates Horizon has appeared in the witness box under oath.
During the hearing it was revealed that Fujitsu was aware of bugs, errors and defects in its Horizon system, which existed between 1999 and 2018. Patterson said the Post Office was made aware of all these. Known errors included the Callendar Square and Dalmellington bugs revealed by Computer Weekly in articles published in 2009 and 2015, respectively.
But the Post Office continuously denied errors existed and failed to proved details of Horizon problems to subpostmasters being prosecuted based on Horizon data, following unexplained shortfalls in their branches. During Computer Weekly’s investigation – which started in 2008 – into allegations of problems with Horizon, the Post Office consistently said there were no errors.
In the article that first exposed the scandal, published by Computer Weekly in 2009, the Post Office said: “Horizon is an extremely robust system which operates over our entire Post Office network and successfully records millions of transactions each day. There is no evidence that points to any fault with the technology. We would always look into and investigate any issues raised by subpostmasters.”
That line was maintained by the Post Office until it was forced to admit there were errors after a High Court judgement in 2019 proved its stance to be “the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat,” according to the judge in the case.
Patterson said the withholding of evidence was “shameful” behaviour by the Post Office. “[This is] shameful and appalling. All of the evidence should have been put in front of subpostmasters,” he said.
But Fujitsu kept quiet about the errors too, and whenever asked by Computer Weekly over the years since its expose, Fujitsu refused to comment. About 900 former subpostmasters and branch staff were prosecuted using Horizon data as evidence, with over 100 sent to prison. Following public outrage over the scandal, the government has announced emergency legislation to enable it to quash all these convictions. A total of 95 have already been overturned.
Earlier this week, Fujitsu promised to contribute to the financial redress of subpostmasters who were victims of the scandal and said that it would pause bids for UK public sector contracts while the statutory public inquiry is ongoing. Speaking to a committee of MPs in Parliament, Patterson apologised for the supplier’s role in the scandal and said it would contribute to the huge costs associated with it, including compensation for thousands of victims. He told MPs: “We were involved from the start; we did have bugs and errors in the system, and we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of subpostmasters. For that, we are truly sorry.”
When asked whether Fujitsu would help to pay the bill for the scandal, expected to cost up to £1bn, he said Fujitsu was “morally obligated” to contribute to the costs, but said the extent would be determined by the outcome of the public inquiry.
The Japanese-owned supplier has a huge UK public sector business with customers including HM Revenue & Customs, the Home Office and the police. According to figures from public procurement analyst Tussell, Fujitsu has won nearly 200 contracts from the UK public sector with a combined value of £6.78bn – the Post Office Horizon contract remains its biggest, valued at nearly £2.4bn including a £36m extension to keep the IT system going until 2025.
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).