Fujitsu’s top executive made the stunning admission this week that the Japanese technology firm was aware of bugs in the Horizon computer system it provided to the UK Post Office from the very start of its implementation over 20 years ago.
The Post Office Horizon IT Scandal
The Post Office Horizon scandal centers around the Post Office’s use of the Horizon computer system for branch accounting, which was developed and maintained by Fujitsu. Starting around 2000 when the system was first rolled out, postmasters around the UK began reporting unexplained shortfalls in their branch accounts, which the Post Office blamed on the individual postmasters. Many were wrongly prosecuted for false accounting and theft as a result.
It eventually emerged that the Horizon system had numerous software bugs that could cause such accounting discrepancies. Over 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted between 2000 and 2014 based on Horizon data, with many losing their jobs, homes, and even being sent to prison as a result of convictions relying on the system’s accounting records.
Fujitsu European Head Admits Early Knowledge of Bugs
At an ongoing public inquiry into the scandal this week, Fujitsu’s European head Paul Patterson made the shocking admission that Fujitsu was aware of bugs in the Horizon system from the very beginning of its rollout in 1999-2000. He stated:
“We knew there were bugs from the beginning…there were hundreds of them but I was not aware that any of those had led to potential impact on branch accounts”
This admission confirms what many victims of the scandal had long suspected – that even while Fujitsu was categorically denying issues with Horizon when subpostmasters flagged accounting problems, internally there was knowledge of system faults.
Timeline of Mounting Evidence Against Horizon’s Reliability
While Fujitsu and the Post Office initially refused to accept any issues with Horizon or its accounting records, over the years mounting evidence began to emerge revealing faults in the system:
1999-2000 – Horizon online system rolled out in Post Office branches for accounting functions. Fujitsu now admits bugs were known from the outset.
2000-2014 – Hundreds of subpostmasters prosecuted for false accounting based on Horizon data. Fujitsu and Post Office deny issues with system accuracy.
2009 – Computer Weekly begins reporting on cases of subpostmasters disputing alleged shortfalls.
2013 – Serious problems emerge after an upgrade causes widespread system crashes. Misbalances affect thousands of branches.
2015 – Fujistsu makes thousands of corrections to branch accounts after reconciliation problems.
2017 – A High Court case exposes Horizon bugs that could cause accounting errors. Fujitsu evidence is deemed unreliable.
2019 – A High Court judgement rules Horizon defects had the “potential to cause apparent or alleged discrepancies in branch accounts”. The system was not “remotely robust”.
2023 – Government-ordered public inquiry into the scandal begins hearing witness statements.
January 2024 – Fujitsu European head admits Horizon bugs were known all along.
This timeline shows that over nearly 20 years, evidence continued to build that contravened Fujitsu’s claims about Horizon being robust and bug-free. The eventual revelations have thrown Fujitsu’s credibility into question.
Impacts on the Victims
The impacts of the Horizon scandal on the hundreds of subpostmasters who were wrongly blamed and prosecuted for accounting shortfalls have been devastating and life-changing.
Many were sent to prison, with several giving emotional testimonies this month about being imprisoned alongside murderers and not even being allowed to attend their own family members’ funerals.
|– Lost life savings fighting prosecutions
– Fines and legal costs
– Forced to repay “missing” funds
– Lost jobs, homes, assets seized
|– Public humiliation
– Stress of prolonged unfair prosecutions
– Suffered breakdowns
– Suicide attempts
– Deteriorating physical health
|– Criminal records affected ability to get jobs
– Many bankrupted
– Stigma in hometowns
– Families and children suffered bullying & discrimination
|– Bankruptcy restrictions orders
– Electronic tagging
– Up to 18 months in prison alongside murderers
– Not allowed to attend family funerals
– Travel restrictions
|– Relationships collapsed due to financial & emotional stress
Many still bear both emotional and physical scars from their ordeals over a faulty computer system. Calls are mounting for Fujitsu and the Post Office to properly compensate the victims following these recent revelations.
Compensation Demands After Fujitsu’s Admission
There is increasing political and public pressure mounting on Fujitsu to financially compensate the hundreds impacted by the Horizon scandal, following the company’s admission it knew about system problems from the outset.
Fujitsu’s CEO in Europe, Paul Patterson, has admitted the firm has a “moral obligation” to compensate victims of the scandal. Damning evidence heard by the public inquiry makes clear that Fujitsu was fundamentally responsible for developing and maintaining Horizon, and concealed its faults from the beginning rather than addressing them.
Politicians from across parties are demanding that Fujitsu must now step up with substantial compensation payouts to impacted subpostmasters to account for the harm resulting from its failures around Horizon. There is also scrutiny into why the UK government continued to award Fujitsu over £1 billion in public sector contracts in recent years, despite the company being linked to the growing scandal.
Public sector bodies and local councils are now facing calls to provide urgent details around any ongoing or future contracts they hold with Fujitsu, before deciding whether to suspend or alter them in light of the Horizon evidence currently being uncovered.
The economic secretary to the Treasury has also written to Fujitsu reiterating demands for fair compensation toward making victims whole. Fujitsu has much to account for, as its silence and denial over Horizon defects over many years allowed an unprecedented miscarriage of justice to occur on a mass scale.
What Comes Next in Resolving the Scandal?
This public inquiry into the Post Office Horizon saga still likely has months left to run before reaching its final conclusions. But could the recent admissions by Fujitsu executives represent a turning point toward resolving this long injustice?
Compensation Settlements – With Fujitsu’s public acceptance of its failings, compensation talks can now begin in earnest. Subpostmasters have already had to wait far too long – settlements must happen swiftly.
Further Prosecutions Overturned – If flaws impacted Horizon’s reliability from the outset, that brings into question prosecutions stretching back years. Over 60 convictions have been overturned, but more may follow.
Transparency Around Contracts – Ongoing scrutiny will surround Fujitsu’s multimillion pound government contracts and whether penalties are warranted regarding them.
Technical Investigation – Expect closer expert examination of Horizon’s code and full details around the presence of software bugs. Where exactly were errors possible and what damage could they cause?
Personnel Changes – There will be considerations around accountability. Should those involved in denying or concealing Horizon’s issues for so long at senior levels of Fujitsu or Post Office face internal or external consequences?
Ultimately this story is far from over. Even with these latest revelations, achieving true justice remains a complex process given the vast human and technical complexities woven throughout decades of the Horizon sage. But finally confirming accurate facts is a step toward getting to the truth and beginning to repair the extensive damage that has been done.
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