Fujitsu boss says his 'gut feel' is staff knew of Horizon problems, as he apologises for scandal

Across the day, evidence was given concurrently at both the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry and the Commons’ Business and Trade Committee, ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports

The European boss of Fujitsu has told MPs that his "gut feel" is staff in the company knew of errors in the Horizon system.

Paul Patterson, the Europe director, apologised to sub-postmasters as he appeared at the Commons’ Business and Trade Committee on Tuesday.

He said: “We were involved from the very start. We did have bugs and errors in the system. And we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of sub-postmasters. For that we are truly sorry."

When probed over whether his staff in the organisation knew about problems with Horizon before 2010, Mr Patterson said his "gut feel would be yes."

He claims that any information over potential glitches was shared with the Post Office, but said Fujitsu now had a "moral obligation" to contribute to the compensation of sub-postmasters.

A government spokesperson declined to "put numbers on it" when asked how much Fujitsu would be expected to contribute.

The High Court had already ruled in 2019 that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

How are the inquiries unfolding?

Evidence is being given concurrently at both the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry - which will probe the role of Fujitsu in the scandal - and the committee - which will examine what more can be done to deliver compensation to victims, on Tuesday.

One Fujitsu employee appearing at the inquiry said data from the Horizon system is still used in court proceedings.

Rajbinder Sangha, former member of Fujitsu's Fraud and Litigation Support Office, gave evidence at the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry

Rajbinder Sangha raised concerns about a draft witness statement template handed to her shortly after joining in 2010, which said the software was operating properly “at all material times”.

She told the probe the template, which was potentially used to assist Post Office prosecutions, was concerning because “obviously bugs were in the system”.

Sam Stein KC, who represents a number of sub-postmasters, asked Ms Sangha: “To your knowledge, is the Horizon system still being used to provide data that is used in court proceedings?”

The witness replied: “Yes, I think it is.”

Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office, giving evidence to the Business and Trade Committee Credit: PA

At the committee, Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office, said he is willing to provide “any form of redress” that he can offer personally to wronged postmasters.

“What I’ve said to victims – and I’ve been very explicit about this over the last couple of years – is that if there is an opportunity for any form of redress, is there some form of justice, some form of apology I can do on a personal level. I’m very very willing to do it," he told the committee.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

“I think we’ve heard … today the trauma that individuals have experienced can, in certain instances, be at least reduced or slightly reduced when they have an opportunity to speak to the head of the organisation that, ultimately, may well have been responsible for what they have been through.”

When asked how many postmasters had taken up the offer of meetings with senior executives, he said “45 have so far."

The Horizon scandal saw more than 700 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses handed criminal convictions after Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon software made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Why are the inquiries happening now?

The long-running battle for justice accelerated dramatically after the public outcry provoked by the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office.

More than 10.3 million people have watched the final episode of the series making it one of the highest-rated TV dramas of the decade.

It has also become ITV’s best-performing drama since Broadchurch in 2017.

The government is scrambling to exonerate the victims and pay out compensation to those affected.

Both the bosses of Fujitsu and the Post Office expressed support for the government’s move to quash sub-postmasters’ convictions.

Asked whether the technology giant accepts that everyone should have their names cleared, Mr Patterson said: “It’s very clear from the inquiry the answer would be yes.”

Mr Read said his organsiation shared that view, adding: “We’re very clear that we want to ensure that redress is done as quickly as possible. And the mass exoneration that the minister has put forward, we welcome that.”

Leading Post Office campaigners Alan Bates and Jo Hamilton appeared at the committee on Tuesday

At the committee, leading Post Office campaigners Alan Bates and Jo Hamilton have criticised the red tape and bureaucracy involved in the compensation schemes.

Mr Bates, who is part of the Group Litigation Order Scheme, said it was “bogged down” in red tape.

Appearing before the committee, he also agreed with the description by chairman Liam Byrne that officials processing compensation schemes were “not busting a gut”.

On his own claim, he said: “I think it was 53 days before they asked three very simple questions. It’s madness, the whole thing is madness.

"And there’s no transparency behind it, which is even more frustrating. We do not know what’s happening to these cases once they disappear in there.”

Ms Hamilton, who was wrongfully convicted in the scandal, said: “It’s almost like you’re being retried … it just goes on and on and on.”

What happens next?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week announced that the wrongly prosecuted in England and Wales could have their names cleared by the end of the year under fast-tracked legislation after growing pressure to take more serious action.

Those whose convictions are quashed are eligible for a £600,000 compensation payment, while Mr Sunak offered £75,000 to sub-postmasters involved in group legal action against the Post Office.

The prime minister has faced calls to go further and bar Fujitsu from securing Government contracts and pursue the firm for compensation payments.

The Horizon software started to be rolled out in Post Office branches across the UK in 1999 and over the subsequent years a series of sub-postmasters were prosecuted over missing funds.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...