Fujitsu should repay the “fortune” spent on the Post Office scandal if it is found culpable, the justice secretary Alex Chalk has suggested, as pressure increases on the firm behind the faulty Horizon software.
If the inquiry, which resumes today (11), finds the “scale of the incompetence is as we might imagine”, ministers would want to “secure proper recompense on behalf of the taxpayer”, Chalk said, adding that the government would wait for the conclusions of the inquiry chaired by the retired judge Sir Wyn Williams before it decides what action to take against the company.
“But bluntly, if the scale of the incompetence is as we might imagine, then I simply would want to secure proper recompense on behalf of the taxpayer,” the cabinet minister told ITV’s Peston.
“It’s absolutely right that there should be justice across the piece, yes for the sub-postmasters, which we’re talking about today, but frankly also for the taxpayer. This has cost and will cost a fortune.”
Hundreds of Post Office branch managers were convicted of swindling money on the basis of evidence from the technology giant’s flawed Horizon accounting system. Fujitsu said it was sorry for its role in sub-postmasters’ suffering.
No-one from Fujitsu has been held to account for failures with Horizon, the software it supplied to the Post Office. The firm has not paid any compensation to victims and has continued to win government contracts for its IT services worth billions of pounds.
The public inquiry into the scandal is still waiting to hear from Gareth Jenkins, Fujitsu’s former chief IT architect, BBC reported. His court testimony was central to convictions of many sub-postmasters and used repeatedly by Post Office lawyers in court cases to say that the Fujitsu IT system was working correctly.
Lord Maude of Horsham, who served as Cabinet Office minister under David Cameron, said if Fujitsu had “any sense of honour”, it would swiftly make a significant payment towards the compensation of wrongly convicted post office operators.
This comes after Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday (10) that hundreds of post office operators in England and Wales could have their names cleared by the end of the year under blanket legislation to be introduced within weeks.
Sunak announced a £75,000 offer for post office operators involved in a group legal action against the company – with ministers setting aside up to £1bn for compensation.