Fujitsu made several major admissions and statements this week related to its role in the UK Post Office scandal, in which hundreds of postmasters were wrongly prosecuted based on evidence from the Horizon computer system supplied by Fujitsu.
Fujitsu Admits Early Involvement in Scandal
Fujitsu admitted it was involved “from the very start” of the problems with the Post Office’s Horizon system, leading to hundreds of postmasters being wrongly accused of accounting shortfalls (Sky News). The company acknowledged that it provided evidence used to prosecute postmasters and that its employees gave witness statements for the prosecutions.
Fujitsu provided forensic analysis that allegedly showed money was missing, which was used as evidence in court cases. However, those shortfalls were actually caused by flaws in the Horizon system.
Fujitsu Accepts Moral Obligation on Compensation
In a major development, Fujitsu said this week that the company has a “moral obligation” to compensate and help provide redress payments to the hundreds of postmasters whose lives were ruined after they were wrongly prosecuted (CNN).
This represents the first time Fujitsu has accepted it should contribute to financial settlements for victims of the scandal. It comes after years of campaigning for Fujitsu to take responsibility.
Fujitsu’s CEO for EMEIA, Michael Keegan, told Members of Parliament:
“We do recognise we have a moral obligation to these people and we are seriously considering making a contribution.”
“I am truly sorry for what has happened here. On behalf of Fujitsu, I want to apologise publicly for our role in this.”
Victims Demand Swift Action from Fujitsu
Campaign groups and politicians welcomed Fujitsu’s admissions but said the company now needs to back up its words with meaningful financial contributions.
Liam Byrne MP, who led questioning of Fujitsu bosses in Parliament, said (video):
“The time for words has long since passed. Now is the time for action.”
He demanded Fujitsu pay compensation within weeks, not months or years:
“Fujitsu should have a moral obligation to make an offer of compensation to those whose lives it helped ruin within 28 days.”
Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA) campaign group, said (Telegraph):
“It should not be incumbent on us to squeeze recompense from those organizations. The Government has to take responsibility.”
There is frustration that despite multiple inquiries concluding the Horizon system was to blame, compensation payments have been extremely slow to materialize.
Concerns Over Lack of Transparency
Fujitsu continues to face criticism over a lack of transparency regarding what went wrong with Horizon and its unwillingness to disclose key evidence.
Nick Wallis, an investigative journalist who has covered the scandal in depth, pointed out on Twitter that Fujitsu is still citing confidentiality around contracts as a reason not to reveal information:
Fujitsu is still hiding behind commercial confidentiality to avoid answering detailed questions about the specific coding errors in Horizon that caused money to simply disappear from Postmasters’ accounts.
— Nick Wallis (@nickwallis) January 16, 2024
There are also concerns over deleted and destroyed data related to Horizon. Fujitsu admitted data would “typically” only be stored for 3 months (Sky News).
Given the long history of this scandal, lack of transparency remains a serious issue. Groups like the JFSA continue to demand full disclosure of evidence.
UK Government Under Pressure Too
While Fujitsu is facing renewed scrutiny, campaigners stress the UK government also bears huge responsibility in the scandal and for securing compensation payouts.
Fujitsu was acting on behalf of the Post Office and government. Politicians ultimately failed in their oversight. As MP Kevan Jones said (BBC video):
“The government have to take final responsibility because the Post Office is an agent of the government.”
There are now cross-party calls for the government to speed up compensation payments which currently stand below £300 million, far short of the over £1 billion sought by victims (Killeen Daily Herald).
Until full financial redress occurs, the scandal will continue despite Fujitsu’s admissions this week. For many victims who lost their livelihoods and homes, only just compensation can start to remedy the immense hardship they endured over a flawed computer system.
What Next in the Saga?
Fujitsu now needs to formally agree to a figure and payment timeline for compensation contributions alongside government support. Given the company’s pledges this week, there will be high expectations of swift and decisive action.
If substantial payments are not forthcoming in the near future, Fujitsu is likely to face renewed public pressure and potentially even lawsuits led by victim campaign groups like the JFSA.
More broadly, Fujitsu faces renewed scrutiny of its wider business practices and UK government contracts – including around transparency, ethics and IT system robustness checks (Register).
For a scandal first uncovered over 20 years ago, the ramifications continue to heap pressure on those involved. Fujitsu’s admissions this week are welcome but will count for little if real accountability is not demonstrated. For the hundreds who endured financial ruin and shattered lives over the Horizon scandal, the time has come for justice to be served.
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