Post Office had no interest in subpostmaster welfare when taking legal action, says Fujitsu memo

Fujitsu memo reveals Post Office didn’t care how legal action would affect its subpostmasters as it placed the reputation of its computer system before their welfare

The Post Office’s primary consideration was to “defend the integrity of its [IT] system” when taking subpostmasters to court over unexplained accounting shortfalls, and not the subpostmasters’ welfare, according to a Fujitsu memo written in the aftermath of a court case which “destroyed” a family.

In an internal memo which followed giving evidence against a subpostmaster in 2006, Fujitsu IT expert Anne Chambers outlined her concerns about Fujitsu staff performing the role of expert witnesses in cases against subpostmasters.

She wrote that the Post Office was not concerned about getting to the bottom of reported problems with the Horizon computer system because it wanted to protect its reputation.

The memo was written after Chambers had given evidence in a 2006 civil case against former subpostmaster Lee Castleton, who ran a branch in Bridlington, North Yorkshire.

During her questioning in the latest hearing in the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, Chambers said: “I think by this point I had realised that the outcome for the subpostmasters was not the primary concern of the Post Office. It was fairly clear that they were keen on defending the integrity of its system rather than trying to get to the bottom of issues – whether computer problems or business problems – affecting particular branches.”

Chambers and former colleague Gareth Jenkins are both currently being investigated by the Metropolitan Police for potential perjury in relation to their roles as witnesses in court when subpostmasters were being prosecuted for alleged financial crimes.

Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the Fujitsu-supplied Horizon system in 2009 when it 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). Over 700 subpostmasters were blamed and prosecuted for unexplained accounting shortfalls, with many more financially ruined.

One of the effected subpostmasters was Castleton. When his branch showed a loss of £26,000 that he could not explain, the Post Office demanded that Castleton make up the shortfall. Castleton always said the losses in his accounts were caused by computer errors, but he had no way of proving this at the time. 

He was so concerned about the debt that he refused to pay it back, and decided to go to court to contest the Post Office’s insistence that he should pay. The Post Office threw everything at the legal challenge brought by Castleton, and the court ruled that the debt was real, not illusory, as Castleton argued. The judge in his case awarded the Post Office damages of approximately £26,000, the amount of the unexplained loss, and costs of £321,000, which bankrupted Castleton and turned his and his family’s life into a nightmare.

Post Office witnesses, including Chambers, said there was no evidence of any problem with the system and that they were unable to identify any basis upon which the Horizon system could have caused Castleton’s losses.

Also in her 2007 memo, Chambers wrote that Fujitsu had made a “major legal blunder" by failing to disclose evidence during the Post Office's legal battle with Castleton.

“Fujitsu made a major legal blunder by not disclosing all the relevant evidence that was in existence. I found myself in the invidious position of being aware that some information existed, but not sure whether [it] had been disclosed or not, since I had not been party to any of the requests for disclosure,” she wrote in the memo. “It became evident in court [it] had not been disclosed.”

Chamber’s memo was sent to her manager, but nothing was done to address her concerns. She agreed with inquiry barrister Jason Beer’s view that her managers basically said: “Well done, we are just filing this.”

Earlier in the hearing, Chambers confirmed that known Horizon errors were not disclosed to the court.

The Post Office kept details of known computer errors hidden from subpostmasters and their legal teams during legal battles when the Horizon computer system was being blamed for unexplained shortfalls.

“I was told quite early in the process that known error logs were not disclosed,” Chambers said. She did not know and could not remember who told her that. Beer asked her if it was “because they revealed errors?”, and she replied that she did not know, but was told “that is how it was”.

At the time, she said she thought this was wrong because “in her layman terms, she thought you have to disclose everything”.

She was later asked by barrister Flora Page, representing former subpostmasters affected by the Horizon scandal, why she didn’t question why known errors were not disclosed. She said: “I should have, but I was in a very unfamiliar position.”

The Post Office had gone to great lengths to keep secret the existence of a record of Horizon errors, known as the Known Errors Log. It had denied its existence for years, in an attempt to defend its stance that the system contained no errors, and it was not until In January 2019, on the eve of the second trial in a High Court case where subpostmasters sued the Post Office, that Computer Weekly exposed the existence of the Horizon “Known Errors Log”. It contained thousands of errors in the Post Office Horizon IT system and supporting services.

From Horizon’s introduction in 2000, the Post Office’s first line of defence when subpostmasters blamed the Horizon computer system for unexplained accounting shortfalls was that they were the only ones experiencing problems.

Speaking after the latest hearing, Castleton said he is no longer shocked by what he hears in the public inquiry: “This just proves what we said every time. Every person that has been a victim has said the same thing.”

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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