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Former Fujitsu IT chief evidence postponed after late Post Office disclosure

Post Office has disrupted Horizon inquiry schedule through late disclosure of ‘significant’ evidence as key IT witness evidence is postponed

An evidence hearing for a key witness in the Post Office Horizon scandal inquiry has been postponed, after “significant” evidence included in thousands of documents was disclosed just hours before he was set to be questioned by inquiry lawyers for the first time.

Gareth Jenkins, former chief architect at Fujitsu, was due to give evidence at the statutory public inquiry over the next two days (Thursday 6 and Friday 7 July), as part of phase three of the inquiry, which ended in May. His evidence was postponed and rescheduled for this week.

The statutory public inquiry was set up to ascertain how and why subpostmasters were wrongly blamed and punished for accounting discrepancies in their branches.

After the introduction of software from Fujitsu in 2000 to automate mainly manual practices in Post Office branches, subpostmasters began to see unexplained shortfalls in their accounts. They were subsequently blamed for these shortfalls, which didn’t actually exist, and made to repay them. More than 700 were prosecuted for financial crimes, with many serving prison sentences. Thousands more suffered life-changing hardship as a result of failed businesses and repaying unexplained shortfalls.

Jenkins is a key witness in the inquiry, who gave evidence defending the robustness of the Horizon computer system in trials of subpostmasters being prosecuted for financial crimes. He is currently under police investigation for possibly committing perjury during the trials of subpostmasters prosecuted based on evidence from the Horizon computer system, which later proved to contain errors that caused unexplained accounting shortfalls.

Inquiry barrister Jason Beer KC revealed that 4767 documents including some “significant” to Jenkins’ evidence were only received from the Post Office at 10:32pm last night (5 July), allowing no time for lawyers to analyse them. Jenkins will now give evidence for phases 3 and 4 of the inquiry, probably over four days, after the summer break.

Former subpostmaster Lee Castleton, who is a victim of the scandal and a core inquiry participant, said: “For me it is more delay. The Post Office is playing a game. Each time, they failed to comply with disclosure rules.”

Poor attitude

Following the postponement of Jenkins’ evidence, Jo Hamilton, who was wrongly convicted of false accounting after unexplained losses appeared in the Post Office branch in Hampshire, said: “Nothing ever changes with the Post Office’s attitude, and I don’t think it ever will.”

Alan Bates, the former subpostmaster who founded a campaign group to fight for justice and took the Post Office to court in a Group Litigation Order (GLO) which proved computer errors caused unexplained losses, has had years of experience of what he described as “the Post Office’s incapability of disclosing information, whether it be intentional or unintentional”.

“This is typical of the Post Office,” he said. “It failed to do it at the GLO, and someone needs to take control of it.”

In 2009, a Computer Weekly investigation first revealed that subpostmasters were being blamed for unexplained accounting shortfalls, which they believed to be caused by software errors (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

It has become a national scandal involving the government, the Post Office and IT supplier Fujitsu. Three phases of a statutory public inquiry into the scandal have been completed.

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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