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MPs demand Fujitsu be ‘nailed down’ on financial promise to Post Office scandal victims

Select committee hears that government is talking to Fujitsu about its contribution towards the costs of the Horizon scandal but it is not yet negotiating

MPs demand more guarantees over Fujitsu’s contribution to the costs UK taxpayers face as a result of the fall out of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

A business and trade select committee hearing focused on the financial redress for victims of the scandal MPs sought more information on promises made by Fujitsu to contribute.

In January, Paul Patterson, European head at Fujitsu, which supplied the software that triggered the scandal, said Fujitsu is “morally obligated” to contribute to the costs and MPs now want more concrete guarantees.

Questioning Carl Cresswell, director of business resilience at the department for business and trade, Andy McDonald MP demanded the government go back to Fujitsu and get some “hard edges” to the promise. He asked what is being done to “nail [Fujitsu] down” on its contribution.

“You won’t talk about money, but what about the principles? We would have expected more progress on that issue even if it’s just ballpark percentage,” he said.

Cresswell told the committee: “The question about who contributes to the costs overall, taxpayer or someone else, is still very much a very live one.”

He agreed that the idea of Fujitsu contributing to the overall costs, rather than falling solely on the taxpayer “is a very sensible one”, adding: “Fujitsu seems open to that.”

But he admitted that no figures have been discussed. “The principle is being established. We are in contact with Fujitsu, but we are not currently negotiating to set a figure,” he told MPs.

He said now is not the best time to agree to a figure as the Horizon scandal public inquiry is ongoing and revealing information all the time. “If we were to agree a sum of money now and then the public inquiry were to find something material that could effect that negotiation, I think it would be wrong of us to reach a pre-emptive agreement on behalf of taxpayers when the situation might change because of the inquiry.”

McDonald told Cresswell: “You have to get something from them that is meaningful, because at the moment, an apology is nice to hear but ultimately without a pay out to the taxpayer it is meaningless, so please could you go away from this committee and get some hard edges on that?”

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, from Fujitsu.

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.

When questioned in the Horizon scandal public inquiry Fujitsu’s Patterson said he does not know why evidence of software bugs were not provided to subpostmasters when they were being prosecuted based on evidence from the Horizon IT system, despite claims that accounting shortfalls were caused by computer errors.

He admitted that the IT company missed an opportunity to take action and prevent subpostmasters from being wrongly convicted for financial crimes after its software showed unexplained shortfalls in branch accounts.

Patterson also promised Fujitsu will meet with victims of the Post Office scandal and their representatives to discuss what the IT giant can do for them beyond financial redress. This, he said, could include support for entrepreneurial or educational “endeavours”.

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.

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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