Maxim_Kazmin - Fotolia

Fujitsu expert witness in subpostmaster trial ‘manoeuvred’ into role, public inquiry told

A former Fujitsu technology expert who defended the Horizon system’s robustness in court was unhappy after being ‘manoeuvred’ into acting as an expert witness, public inquiry hears

A former Fujitsu worker who was used as an expert witness in court to defend the robustness of the Post Office IT system was "very unhappy" about being “manoeuvred” into the role,  public inquiry has been told.

In what has become known as the Post Office Horizon scandal, more than 700 former subpostmasters were prosecuted for financial crimes including theft and false accounting, based on flawed evidence from the Post Office’s Horizon retail and accounting system from Fujitsu. Some former subpostmasters were sent to prison, many made bankrupt, and the lives of families were ruined. Subpostmaster claims that the Horizon system was error prone, causing unexplained accounting shortfalls, were proved true in the High Court in 2019.

The statutory public inquiry into the scandal was told that Anne Chambers, a former Fujitsu worker and an expert in the Horizon system, was “manoeuvred” into giving expert evidence to defend Horizon in court.

John Simpkin, Horizon system software support centre team leader at Fujitsu, and former colleague of Chambers who “worked very closely” with her, told the public inquiry that Chambers was “unhappy to be asked” to give evidence on behalf of the Post Office as an expert witness.

“There were conversations about whether people in our team were the right people to use as witnesses,” said Simpkin. “We were technical experts in one area and not expert witnesses, and we were very unhappy about that process. We did not think it was right.

“I believe that [Chambers] was manoeuvred into it, and I don’t think she really wanted to do it.”

Simpkin said he could not remember which executives might have “manoeuvred” Chambers into it.

He added: “[After giving evidence] I know she was not very happy and never wanted to do it again. She fed back to our manager that she did not find it at all nice and I believe the manager pushed back that so it wouldn’t happen again.”

Chambers, currently under investigation by the Metropolitan Police for potential perjury, appeared as an expert witness at the High Court during the case of Lee Castleton, a postmaster from Bridlington, East Yorkshire. Castleton was declared bankrupt after he refused to pay the Post Office £27,000 – money it said he owed because the accounts at his branch showed unexplained deficits over a 12-week period in 2004.

Castleton always said the losses in his accounts were caused by computer errors, but he had no way of proving this. He never believed he was the only one having trouble balancing the Horizon system.

Chambers testified that there was no evidence of any problem with the system and that she was unable to identify any basis upon which the Horizon system could have caused the losses.

The Post Office spent about £300,000 on legal costs to defeat Castleton in court to recover the shortfall. He was made bankrupt.

Castleton was first interviewed by Computer Weekly in 2009, as part of an investigation into the problems with the Fujitsu-supplied Horizon system which made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters whose lives were ruined when they were blamed for accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

The Metropolitan Police investigation also includes former Fujitsu executive Gareth Jenkins, who gave evidence in the trials of former subpostmasters, including Seema Misra, who had her criminal conviction overturned last year.

More than 80 subpostmasters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have had criminal convictions, that were based on Horizon evidence, overturned. This week, six appeals from convicted former subpostmasters in Scotland, which has a different legal system, have been referred by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to the High Court of Justiciary.

Barrister Paul Marshall, who represented three subpostmasters who successfully overturned wrongful convictions, said Anne Chambers was an important witness for the Post Office in the early days. “In 2007 in his judgment against Lee Castleton, Judge Richard Havery said ‘I found Mrs Chambers  to be a clear, knowledgeable and reliable witness, and I accept her evidence.' Her evidence recorded by the judge was that, '[she] examined the questions raised and concluded that there was no evidence whatsoever of any problem with the system.’”   

“The problem as is now known, is that at the time that evidence was given Fujitsu knew it to be untrue, the Post Office knew it to be untrue. As is now emerging in copious detail in the Horizon inquiry , Fujitsu and the Post Office were well aware of major integrity problems with data from the outset.”

 “Havery’s judgment is a textbook case of a judge having the wool pulled over his eyes.  It should be used for judicial training.  Almost everything in Havery’s judgment is wrong, both in law and in fact but it set the scene until it was revealed to be seriously wrong in 2019..”

Read all Computer Weekly’s articles about the scandal since 2009

Read more on IT for retail and logistics

SearchCIO
SearchSecurity
SearchNetworking
SearchDataCenter
SearchDataManagement
Close