• Associated Press

Fujitsu Apologizes to Hundreds Affected by U.K. Post Office Scandal

AP
A post office logo on a shop front on a street in London, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.

LONDON (AP) — Fujitsu, the company whose faulty computer accounting system resulted in the wrongful conviction of hundreds of Post Office branch managers across the U.K., apologized to the victims on Tuesday for its role in the one of the country’s biggest miscarriages of justice and said it was long aware that the software had bugs.

Paul Patterson, Europe director of Japan’s Fujitsu Ltd., told a committee of lawmakers that the company will provide funds to compensate branch managers, some of whom were imprisoned for theft or fraud for the failures of the accounting software that was first introduced in 1999.

“I think there is a moral obligation for the company to contribute,” said Patterson, who has been in post since 2019. “To the sub-postmasters and their families, Fujitsu would like to apologize for our part in this appalling miscarriage of justice.”

Patterson said he had spoken with his bosses in Japan and that Fujitsu knew “from the very start” that the system, known as Horizon, had “bugs and errors,” and that, despite that, had helped the Post Office in its prosecutions of branch managers after unexplained losses were found in their accounts.

“For that we are truly sorry,” he said.

House of Commons via AP
In this image taken from video made available by House of Commons, Paul Patterson, director of Fujitsu Services Ltd, gives evidence to the Business and Trade Committee at the Houses of Parliament, London, Tuesday Jan. 16, 2024.

Though Patterson’s admission was welcomed by lawmakers, he and Post Office Chief Executive Nick Read, who has also been in his post since 2019, were criticized for failing to be more precise about the chronology of the scandal.

Read said the Post Office has drastically changed over the past few years and has earmarked around a billion pounds ($1.3 billion) for compensation. He also confirmed it would not pursue any further prosecutions and that it is actively looking to replace the much-altered Horizon system in its branches.

An official inquiry into the scandal is expected to get to the bottom of the scandal and apportion blame. In addition, Parliament’s Business and Trade Committee is trying to determine how to speed up compensation for the victims.

After the Post Office introduced the Horizon information technology system 25 years ago to automate sales accounting, local managers began finding unexplained losses that bosses said they were responsible to cover.

The Post Office maintained that Horizon was reliable and accused branch managers of dishonesty. Between 2000 and 2014, more than 900 postal employees were wrongly convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting, with some imprisoned and others forced into bankruptcy.

The number of victims is not fully known, and it emerged Tuesday that hundreds more may have been financially affected by the faulty computer system.

A group of postal workers took legal action against the Post Office in 2016. Three years later, the High Court in London ruled that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and that the Post Office “knew there were serious issues about the reliability” of the system.

Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said legislation to reverse the convictions, hopefully this year, will be presented to lawmakers soon.

The planned legislation comes in the wake of a television docudrama that aired earlier this month and which fueled public outrage.

The ITV show, “Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office,” told the story of former branch manager Alan Bates, played by Toby Jones, who spent around two decades after leaving his job trying to expose the scandal and exonerate his peers.

Bates himself told the inquiry that the compensation, which he described as “financial redress,” was “bogged down” and that the pace of processing claims was “madness.”

“It’s gone on for far too long,” he said. “People are suffering; they’re dying.”

Wrongfully convicted former branch manager Jo Hamilton, one of the protagonists in the TV drama, said she had been “gaslit” by the Post Office into thinking that it was her own fault and that the compensation procedure was “almost like you’re being retried.”

Lawyer Neil Hudgell said the scandal may have affected “tens of thousands” of people if the families of victims were taken into account. He noted that some wives had miscarried from the stress of the situation and children suffered behavioral disorders that meant they left school sooner than planned.

“There’s another class of people that cannot be compensated,” he said. “So, the scandal is in the thousands, but it could be in the tens of thousands.”