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Fujitsu used prosecutions of sub-postmasters as a ‘cash cow’

Paul Patterson, director of Fujitsu's Europe arm
Paul Patterson, director of Fujitsu's Europe arm, told the inquiry he was 'very surprised' the company could charge for providing witnesses in court - Jamie Lorriman

Fujitsu used prosecutions as a “cash cow”, the Horizon IT scandal inquiry heard, with the company earning up to £20,000 a case for providing evidence to prosecute sub-postmasters.

Addressing Paul Patterson, the director of the Japanese firm’s Europe arm, barrister Flora Page, who represents Lee Castleton and several other sub-postmasters, asked: “The inquiry has heard evidence that providing ARQ data to the Post Office brought in £850,000 per annum, which is obviously small beer in the grand scheme of things but nevertheless, would you agree a reasonable handy bit of extra income?”

Ms Page then cited additional “charges for witnesses” who appear in court and cited one case where Fujitsu had charged £20,000 for a witness to attend court.

Responding, Mr Patterson said: “I was professionally very surprised that that service even existed. We’re meant to be an IT company, not a prosecution support service, and for that to be designed in from the very earliest stages, I was very, very surprised at it. In terms of the work associated with doing it, I have no view and I am amazed that it was even in the contract.”

Fujitsu didn’t check dodgy data before court

Transaction data was not reviewed before it was used in civil and legal matters, the inquiry heard.

Mr Patterson was presented with a document produced by Anne Chambers, a former software support centre worker, in 2007 after she was asked to present evidence in the case of Mr Castleton, who was wrongly blamed for a £26,000 shortfall in accounts at his branch in Bridlington, Yorkshire in 2004.

Among her concerns, Mrs Chambers suggested that a “technical review of the Horizon evidence” before any case went to court was not implemented.

Jason Beer KC, counsel for the inquiry, said: “She’s making a suggestion that in prosecution or in civil cases, one doesn’t just, before just taking action against the sub-postmaster, rely on what was done back in the day; there’s a recheck done. Was that ever implemented?”

Mr Patterson said: “From my knowledge, no it wasn’t and I think her suggestions are very, very important.

“There were serious matters which [aren’t] just ticking a box and is, I think, the point she is making here.”

The inquiry heard that Mrs Chambers received a “pat on the head” from her manager for compiling the document before they “carried on with business as usual”.

Mr Beer continued: “If that evidence is accurate, and nothing was done in relation to each of these ... issues, would you agree that this is a series of missed opportunities?”

The Fujitsu director replied: “I would agree this was a series of missed opportunities.”

Fujitsu staff didn’t mention bugs in court statements

Mr Patterson described the practice of editing witness statements and omitting the presence of bugs as “shameful”.

Mr Beer said: “I think that Fujitsu employees provided witness statements to the Post Office for the purposes of the prosecution of sub-postmasters and, speaking in general terms, these bugs, errors and defects did not find their way into those witness statements. Do you know why?”

The Fujitsu director said he did not, adding: “On a personal level, I’m surprised that that detail was not included in the witness statements given by Fujitsu staff to the Post Office - and I’ve seen some evidence of editing of witness statements by others.”

Referring to previous evidence, Mr Beer said: “There was a proposal, I think you’re referring to, to include at least a reference to some of the bugs or some data integrity problems. And they were edited out in correctness. And no doubt you would regard that as shameful.”

Mr Patterson replied: “Yes, that’s one word I would use.”

Wrong to call Excel spreadsheet ‘gold standard’

Fujitsu audit data used in prosecutions should not have been described as “gold standard” and was more like an “Excel spreadsheet which tells you not very much”, Mr Patterson admitted.

In his witness statement, Mr Patterson said transaction data (ARQ) accessible to sub-postmasters during criminal proceedings was not “sufficient…to understand whether Horizon was operating correctly at the relevant branch”.

Earlier this week, Fujitsu staff were questioned over “manipulated” data used in prosecutions.

However, during High Court proceedings in 2017 launched by Alan Bates and 555 sub-postmasters, a Post Office expert described Fujitsu’s audit data as a “secure gold standard for branch accounts”.

Mr Beer said: “I think you would agree that the provision of the ARQ data in the form that it was provided and the extent that it was provided was not really the gold standard at all.”

Mr Patterson replied: “No, it wasn’t.

“I’ve seen one of the examples in [sub-postmaster Lee Castleton’s] case and looking at that spreadsheet and I think, for me, it’s impossible to determine from there,” he added.

“That’s certainly not a gold standard or any standard. It’s a very simple Excel file which tells you not very much.”

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