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Fujitsu gets stay of execution as MPs support exoneration of wrongfully convicted subpostmasters

Fujitsu will have to wait until the end of the Post Office Horizon scandal public inquiry to hear how MPs will punish it

MPs have agreed to speed up the process of overturning the wrongful convictions of hundreds of victims of the Post Office Horizon miscarriages of justice, and Fujitsu will have to wait for its punishment for its part in the scandal.

During an emergency debate in the House of Commons, Kevin Hollinrake, under-secretary of state at the Department of Business and Trade, spoke of how the recent ITV drama and documentary about the Post Office scandal has “brought an understanding” of the scandal to a “much wider audience”.

This has “reinforced our zeal for seeing justice done as quickly as possible”, he told MPs.

More than 700 subpostmasters were convicted of crimes such has theft and false accounting by the Post Office between 2000 and 2015. These prosecutions were based on evidence from the Horizon retail and accounting system they use in branches. The system was error prone from its introduction in 2000 and caused unexplained shortfalls, but the Post Office covered this up and continued to rely on its data in court.

It was proved in a High Court action, brought by 555 subpostmasters in 2018, that the Horizon software supplied by Fujitsu was faulty, immediately putting the convictions in doubt. So far, 93 of 736 convictions have been quashed.

Hollinrake said the government has “devised some options for resolving the outstanding criminal convictions at much greater pace”.

The government will also attempt to accelerate compensation payments owed to subpostmasters and their families who lost their livelihoods, reputations, and even lives in some cases.

But Fujitsu, which has avoided being penalised for its role so far, will have to wait until Wyn Williams has finished his statutory public inquiry, in 2025, before MPs get their heads together to see how the Japanese supplier will pay for its role in the scandal.

A financial penalty could be the chosen route for the government, which is a heavy user of IT services from the IT giant. Hollinrake said: “Anybody [including Fujitsu] who is shown to be responsible for this scandal should be held accountable, including by making payments into the taxpayer’s fund.”

Jonathan Reynolds Labour MP and shadow minister, said: “If it is found that Fujitsu knew the extent of what was occurring, there will have to be consequences that match the scale of the injustice.”

But the UK government continues to hand out huge contracts to Fujitsu, including a recent £36m extension to its contract with the Post Office. In 2022, it was awarded IT services contracts by the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). It will be paid £250m by HMRC to replace an in-house service, while the FCDO has contracted it to provide networking and communications services in a deal worth £184m, and the Home Office is paying Fujitsu £48m to support the technology underpinning the Police National Database.

In 2009, Computer Weekly told the stories of seven subpostmasters affected by the losses, which led to many more who had suffered losses coming forward (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

Watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary, Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

Timeline: Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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