Fujitsu is sorry that its software helped send innocent people to prison

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Fujitsu executive Paul Patterson sits at a table and speaks into a microphone while testifying at a Parliament hearing.
Enlarge / Paul Patterson, co-CEO of Fujitsu’s European division, giving evidence to the Business and Trade Committee at the Houses of Parliament, London on January 16, 2024.

Getty Images | House of Commons – PA Images

Fujitsu yesterday apologized for its role in the British Post Office scandal, acknowledging that its buggy accounting software contributed to the wrongful prosecutions of hundreds of postal employees.

“Fujitsu would like to apologize for our part in this appalling miscarriage of justice,” Paul Patterson, co-CEO of Fujitsu’s European division, said in a hearing held by the UK Parliament’s Business and Trade Committee. “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 the sub-postmasters. For that we are truly sorry.”

The committee hearing focused on possible compensation for victims of what has been called “the worst miscarriage of justice in British history.” Patterson said that Fujitsu has “a moral obligation” to contribute to the compensation for victims.

A BBC report explains that between 1999 and 2015, “more than 900 sub-postmasters and postmistresses were prosecuted for theft and false accounting after money appeared to be missing from their branches, but the prosecutions were based on evidence from faulty Horizon software. Some sub-postmasters wrongfully went to prison, many were financially ruined. Some have since died.”

So far, “only 93 convictions have been overturned and thousands of people are still waiting for compensation settlements,” the BBC wrote. The wrongful prosecutions have been linked to several suicides.

Fujitsu exec is “personally appalled”

Horizon software is made by Fujitsu subsidiary International Computers Limited (ICL). In 1996, ICL won a contract to design, build, and operate computer systems to be installed in the UK’s 19,000 post offices. The project was plagued by delays but started rolling out to post offices in 1999. Fujitsu bought an 80 percent stake in ICL in 1990 and became the sole owner in 1998.

As Patterson told Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday, Fujitsu provided data to the Post Office to support the wrongful prosecutions. “I am personally appalled by the evidence that I have seen,” he said.

Patterson reportedly joined Fujitsu in 2010 and was promoted to his current position in 2019. He was quoted as saying that he doesn’t know why Fujitsu didn’t fix the errors when they were discovered.

“Asked why Fujitsu didn’t do anything about glitches in the Horizon system when the company knew about them at an early stage, Mr. Patterson said: ‘I don’t know. I really don’t know,'” according to the BBC.

Fujitsu did not live up to the company’s values, he said. “I believe we are an ethical company. The company today is quite different to the company in the early 2000s, and clearly we need to demonstrate that both to our customers, to government, and to the wider society here in the UK,” Patterson said. Fujitsu stock lost over $1 billion in value after Patterson’s testimony.

Post Office hasn’t tracked down money

The Parliament hearing also featured testimony from Post Office Chief Executive Nick Read, who was hired in 2019. According to Sky News, Read “said the company has still ‘not got to the bottom of’ what happened to the cash paid by sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses in a bid to cover the false financial black holes created by the faulty Horizon software.”

“However, he admitted it is a possibility the money taken from branch managers could have been part of ‘hefty numeration packages for executives,'” the report said.

“It’s possible, absolutely it’s possible,” Read told the committee.

Jo Hamilton, one of the victims who had her conviction overturned, reportedly said that trying to get compensation from the Post Office felt “like being treated like a criminal all over again.”

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