The Horizon scandal is over but the fight continues - an inquiry into the Post Office is essential
There are not enough words to fully express the depth of scandal and outrage that should accompany the conclusion of the High Court case that finally and completely found that the Post Office Horizon IT system was to blame for accounting errors that destroyed the lives of hundreds of innocent people.
The judge, Justice Fraser, used just 177,211 words in his final ruling, every one devastating to the Post Office, which now stands revealed as an aggressive, arrogant corporate bully with few parallels. Despite Computer Weekly having been on the receiving end of a few of the organisation’s threats throughout our 10-year campaign, it gives me no pleasure to be able to write those words.
Innocent people were fined, sacked, made bankrupt or even imprisoned as a result of a decision made somewhere in the Post Office hierarchy to double-down again and again on its ridiculous assertion that Horizon was infallible.
Even in the statement from chairman Tim Parker after the final court ruling, the Post Office still went out of its way to point out that the judge found “our current Horizon system is robust relative to comparable systems” despite the criticism of its previous versions.
The suggestion that Horizon was flawed – much as every major, complex IT system contains flaws – was seen as an “existential” threat by the Post Office, fearing that control over its entire branch network would be undermined if postmasters believed they could not trust the system that ran their businesses.
Self-protection by an organisation owned by the public, took greater precedence than the wellbeing of, and duty of care towards, those members of the public who had chosen to become part of the Post Office family.
You don’t need to be an IT expert to know that it was always nigh-on impossible to substantiate the claim of bug-free perfection that lay behind the Post Office’s denials – described as “the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat” by Judge Fraser. And yet, that’s what the Post Office insisted, again and again, for nearly 20 years, with no care or consideration for the people whose lives were damaged.
The judge has also now pointed a finger at Fujitsu, the supplier and developer of Horizon, raising questions over the evidence provided by Fujitsu staff that are sufficient to justify involving the director of public prosecutions.
But for all its culpability, Fujitsu should not be made the scapegoat. Someone, somewhere in the Post Office decided on this course of action, and many others supported and implemented it.
Computer Weekly agrees with the calls for a full judicial inquiry to reveal the whole, unadulterated truth of how the Horizon scandal unfolded. The executives who made those decisions should be exposed, and face whatever the appropriate consequences should be.
Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I felt it was unlikely to have been a coincidence that the £58m settlement between the Post Office and the subpostmasters was announced the day before the General Election, guaranteeing it would receive minimal coverage from national press and broadcasters the following day.
Successive governments have turned a blind eye to the Post Office’s vilification of its own subpostmasters, and the multimillion-pound costs run up in its pointless defence – this is a publicly owned organisation, let’s not forget. We now have a new government that remains distracted by other political priorities.
But we would join the campaigners and their longstanding supporter, Conservative peer James Arbuthnot, in calling for an official response from the new Boris Johnson administration, and the announcement of a formal, judge-led inquiry into a 20-year scandal created entirely by the Post Office’s own mistakes, arrogance and executive decisions.