- Written by Michael Rees in London and Hope Rhodes in Davos
- BBC News
The head of Fujitsu Europe has admitted that the company has a “moral obligation” to contribute to the compensation of sub-postmasters who were wrongly prosecuted as a result of faulty IT programmes.
Paul Patterson said Fujitsu provided evidence to the Post Office that was used to prosecute the innocent managers.
He added that the Post Office was aware of “bugs and bugs” in its Horizon accounting software early on.
Fujitsu's global CEO, Takahito Tokita, also apologized.
In his first public comment on the scandal to the BBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tokita said: “This is a big issue, and Fujitsu takes it very seriously.”
When asked if he would apologise, he added: “Yes, of course. Fujitsu has apologized for the impact on the lives of postmasters and their families.”
Between 1999 and 2015, more than 900 branch managers and postmistresses were prosecuted for theft and false accounting after money appeared to go missing from their branches, but the prosecutions were based on evidence from flawed Horizon software.
Some subpostmasters went wrongfully to prison, and many were financially ruined. Some have since died.
It has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history, but so far only 93 convictions have been overturned, and thousands of people are still awaiting compensation settlements more than 20 years later.
Mr. Tokita declined to confirm whether the company would return any of the money it earned from the faulty Horizon system.
His comments came after others appeared before MPs on the Business and Trade Select Committee on Tuesday:
- Fujitsu's Mr. Patterson said his “gut feeling” was that employees at the company knew about problems with Horizon before 2010.
- Nick Read, the Post Office's chief executive, said he could not give an exact date when the Post Office became aware that the IT system could be accessed remotely.
- Both Mr. Patterson and Mr. Reid have frustrated MPs who have criticized the lack of answers and knowledge of the events
- Joe Hamilton, one of the victims of the scandal, said trying to get compensation from the Post Office was like being “treated like a criminal again”.
- Former MP Lord Arbuthnot said it was vital that the victims, some of whom were “living on subsistence”, got the money as quickly as possible.
- Attorney Neil Hugill said only three of his group of 77 wrongly convicted postmasters received full and final compensation.
Patterson apologized for Fujitsu's role in what he described as a “horrific miscarriage of justice” and admitted that the company was “involved from the beginning.”
“We had bugs and errors in the system and we helped the post office with their subpostmaster trials,” he said.
Asked why Fujitsu didn't do anything about the Horizon glitches when the company became aware of them at an early stage, Mr. Patterson said: “I don't know. I really don't know.”
Nick Reid, chief executive of the Post Office, appeared alongside Patterson before the committee.
He was criticized for not providing information to the committee about key events in the timeline, such as when the Post Office first learned that remote access to subpostmasters' Horizon systems was possible.
While the prosecutions were being conducted, Fujitsu told the Post Office that no one, except the subpostmasters themselves, could access or change Horizon records – meaning that blame for errors could fall solely on the subpostmasters, but that turned out to be a mistake . incorrect.
“You sure had time in four years [since joining the Post Office] Labor MP Liam Byrne, chair of the committee, said: “To get to the heart of this issue, which is: When did the Post Office know that remote access to stations was possible?”
“I can't give you an exact date on that,” Mr. Reed replied.
Earlier, Neil Hugill, a lawyer representing 400 people directly affected by the scandal and 77 subpostmasters wrongly convicted by the Post Office, said only three people had received full and final compensation.
He said layers of bureaucracy, along with some requests from the post office, caused problems for victims obtaining financial compensation.
“In cases of convictions that are routinely overturned, it takes three to four months to get a response to routine correspondence,” he said.
He said that in some cases, requests were made for documents that were kept in Post Office branches and to which customers had been denied access for about 15 to 20 years.
“We need to give subpostmasters the benefit of the doubt on basic matters,” Mr Hugill said.
Alan Bates, a former postmaster who campaigned on the ITV drama Mr Bates v the Post Office and which brought the issue back into the spotlight, said compensation had “stumbled” and the pace of processing claims was “insane”. .
He said his compensation process had been hampered by the delay.
“I think it took 53 days before they asked three very simple questions,” he said. He added: “There is no transparency behind this, which is even more frustrating.”
Reid, who joined the Post Office in 2019, admitted there was a “culture of denial” behind the organisation's procrastination in paying compensation.
“I think the most important cultural challenge I face in my organization is making sure that everyone in the organization fully sees and understands what is going on.”
Post Office Minister Kevin Hollinrake told the committee he wanted to reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved, but acknowledged there were “a lot of moving parts” in the various compensation schemes.
“I think all of us involved in this process should try to speed up every part of the process,” he said.
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