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Fujitsu ‘morally obliged’ to contribute to subpostmaster financial redress amid ‘insane’ delays

Fujitsu has apologised for its role on the Post Office scandal and said it is ‘morally obliged’ to contribute to the financial redress of victims

Fujitsu is “morally obligated” to contribute to the costs related to the Post Office Horizon scandal faced by UK taxpayers, said Fujitsu’s UK boss Paul Patterson, during a Parliamentary select committee hearing.

He also admitted that the IT company helped Post Office wrongly prosecute subpostmasters.

The Business and Trade Committee had earlier heard from scandal victims about the slow progress receiving financial redress for the devastation caused to them by the Post Office.

The Post Office scandal saw the Post Office blame thousands of subpostmasters for accounting shortfalls that were actually caused by the Post Office’s retail and accounting system, known as Horizon.

The losses didn’t exist in the real world, just on the computer system, but subpostmasters were forced to pay money to the Post Office to cover the phantom losses. Furthermore, although the Post Office knew the system lacked integrity, subpostmasters were prosecuted for crimes of dishonesty based on its data.

For the first time, a senior Fujitsu executive faced questions about the Japanese IT supplier’s role in the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Patterson appeared alongside Post Office CEO Nick Read at the hearing, and both used the passage of time and the ongoing public inquiry into the scandal as excuses for not answering questions.

• Also watch: ITV’s Post Office scandal documentary: The real story.

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

The hearing began with legal representatives of former subpostmaster outlining how red tape was slowing down progress in paying victims of the scandals what they are owed, decades after their suffering and four years since they proved it was computer errors that caused accounting shortfalls and not them.

Committee chair, Labour MP Liam Byrne, described the time it was taken for financial redress as “insane”.

When asked whether Fujitsu would contribute to the scandal bill, expected to cost up to £1bn, Patterson said Fujitsu is “morally obligated” to contribute to the costs, but said the extent would be determined by the outcome of the Horizon scandal public inquiry, chaired by retired judge Wyn Williams.

Williams’ name was regularly spoken as the two executives avoided answering difficult questions.

Patterson did admit to Fujitsu’s part in the scandal, telling MPs and victims: “We were involved from the start; we did have bugs and errors in the system, and we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of subpostmasters. For that, we are truly sorry.”

Asked why nobody raised concerns within the Post Office, when the number of prosecutions rose dramatically after Horizon’s introduction, Post Office CEO Nick Read said he did not know why nobody raised concerns, but said that the “lack of curiosity about what was going on remains a mystery”.

Earlier in the hearing, former subpostmasters Alan Bates, who led the fight against the Post Office, and Jo Hamilton, a key figure in bringing the truth out about Horizon, spoke about the slow pace of the financial redress process, which is mired in red tape.

Hamilton said: “My mum and dad didn’t get to live to see my conviction overturned, but at the very minimum, there should be some common sense [to the financial redress schemes].” She called for red tape to be cut out.

Conservative peer, James Arbuthnot, who was previously Hamilton’s MP, said: “I hope [financial redress] will be completed in a matter of weeks – some might be months, but cannot be allowed to move to next year.”

Reflecting on where the campaigners have got to and the time it has taken, Bates said: “We always knew we were right about the Post Office, but it tried to control the narrative.”

The Post Office said that 31 new potential victims have come forward since the airing of the ITV drama Mr Bates versus The Post Office. Neil Hudgell, solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors, said the company has been approached by around 200 people who believe they have suffered as a result of Horizon problems.

Computer Weekly first exposed the scandal in 2009, with the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered as a result of the Horizon system (see timeline below.)

Timeline: Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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