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Met Police assessing evidence of potential perjury in Post Office IT trials

Force examines information about evidence given in court by Fujitsu staff on the Horizon IT system before deciding whether to investigate further

Police are assessing evidence of potential perjury offences committed by Fujitsu staff in criminal trials in which subpostmasters were wrongly prosecuted for accounting errors caused by a computer system.

In January, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) referred the concerns of a High Court judge about the accuracy of evidence given by Fujitsu staff in criminal trials, to the Metropolitan Police.

Some subpostmasters were prosecuted for theft or false accounting, with some serving prison sentences as a result.

The Met Police is currently assessing information before deciding whether to investigate further.

In December 2019, at the end of a multimillion-pound High Court group litigation brought by 550 subpostmasters against the Post Office, High Court judge Peter Fraser announced the referral of his concerns to the DPP. The group litigation saw subpostmasters take on the Post Office and its claim that the Horizon IT system was robust and could not be the cause of unexplained accounting shortfalls.

Post Office branches use the Horizon retail and accounting IT system supplied by Fujitsu. Since its introduction in 2000, subpostmasters have suffered problems including unexplained shortfalls. They have always said the computer system was the cause of these discrepancies.

The court case proved them right as the subpostmasters won the group litigation against the Post Office. The two parties settled out of court, with the Post Office agreeing to pay £57.75m in damages.

Computer Weekly first reported the problems with Horizon in 2009, when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters. Soon after this, more subpostmasters came forward (see timeline below).

Before handing down his judgment at the second trial, Fraser said he was referring information to the DPP because he had concerns over the accuracy of evidence given in court by Fujitsu in previous trials of subpostmasters.

“Based on the knowledge that I have gained both from conducting the trial and writing the Horizon issues judgment, I have very grave concerns regarding the veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system,” said the judge.

“These previous proceedings include the High Court in at least one civil case brought by the Post Office against a subpostmaster and the Crown Court in a greater number of criminal cases, also brought by the Post Office against subpostmasters and subpostmistresses.”

Fraser said some staff giving evidence were protecting Fujitsu rather than giving accurate information and he questioned whether Fujitsu had been accurate in reporting to its customer, the Post Office.

The Post Office always denied that problems with Horizon caused unexplained accounting shortfalls, despite evidence to the contrary. In his judgment, Fraser said the Post Office had exhibited “a simple institutional obstinacy or refusal to consider any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary”. 

He added: “That approach by the Post Office was continued, even though now there is also considerable expert evidence to the contrary as well, and much of it agreed expert evidence on the existence of numerous bugs.

“This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred, at least so far as the witnesses called before me in the Horizon issues trial are concerned. It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat.”

Last month, the Criminal Cases Review Commission referred 39 appeals from subpostmasters against their criminal convictions to the Court of Appeal. Fujitsu evidence about the Horizon system was often used in these trials.

Timeline of the Post Office Horizon case since Computer Weekly first reported on it in 2009

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