A Fujitsu software developer who raised the issue of bugs in the Horizon IT system said the company did not properly fix the problem because it would have been too expensive and time-consuming, the inquiry into the Post Office scandal has heard.
Gerald Barnes, a software developer at Fujitsu since 1998, worked on numerous technical tasks relating to the shift from the Post Office’s use of paper-based accounting methods to the automated Horizon IT system.
As early as 1998, it was found that there were “significant deficiencies in the product, code and design” of software being used to move functions online.
“Error handling wasn’t as good as it could have been if designed properly from the start,” said Barnes, speaking at the inquiry on Wednesday (17).
“The failure was silent to the postmaster,” he said. “Although it was available [to Fujitsu] in the event log and to diagnosticians. The operator at the Post Office branch would not know anything had gone wrong.”
At first Fujitsu did not look to fix the issue due to its “rarity”, but it eventually did when it became “a higher priority with the [Post Office],” according to an internal Fujitsu email, when it appears to have emerged that the issue affected 195 branches.
In his witness statement to the inquiry, Barnes said that the glitch “highlights a problem that could easily be caused by another system at any time of day. In retrospect, error handling should have been tightened generally.”
Faults in Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system resulted in the Post Office wrongfully pursuing and prosecuting more than 900 post office operators for theft, fraud and false accounting in what has been called the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history.
This statement comes amid calls that Fujitsu should contribute towards compensating Post Office Horizon victims.
According to recent reports, the UK business minister Kemi Badenoch has written to Fujitsu to demand talks on how much it would pay towards compensating Post Office Horizon victims.
Sky News quoted the excerpts of the letter, “As you may know, my department is at the forefront of our government’s efforts to right the wrongs of the past. I am committed to ensuring that postmasters affected get the justice they deserve. This is why the UK government announced new legislation last week, to overturn wrongful convictions and a plan to ensure swifter access to compensation.”
“I understand that we are awaiting the conclusions of the [judge-led Sir Wyn] Williams inquiry, but ahead of that I would welcome a discussion with you on the type of response Fujitsu might make and the role you foresee Fujitsu playing towards securing justice for those affected.”