Statement defending Horizon system ‘concerning’, Fujitsu employee tells inquiry

A Fujitsu employee has said a draft witness statement template which defended Horizon software is concerning because “obviously bugs were in the system”.

Shortly after joining the company in July 2010 Rajbinder Sangha, a former member of Fujitsu’s fraud and litigation support office, was sent the draft statement, potentially used to assist Post Office prosecutions, which said the Horizon system was operating properly “at all material times”.

A week later, Ms Sangha was copied into an email chain which contained exchanges about reported issues of “duplicate transactions” not being removed on Post Office electronic point of sale service (EPOSS) machines.

Before the witness joined Fujitsu, an incident recorded in 2008 on a “peak incident management system” – a system used to record and manage fault incidents – saw one software developer describe issues with EPOSS machines as “endemic”.

Gerald Barnes recorded a problem of “discrepancies” still showing on the system which was flagged in December 2007 by a helpline known as the National Business Support Centre (NBSC).

Post Office Horizon IT scandal
Chairman Sir Wyn Williams during phase four of the inquiry at Aldwych House, central London (Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry/PA)

Logging his initial response to the complaint, Mr Barnes said: “The fact that the EPOSS code is not resilient to errors is endemic.

“There seems little point fixing it in this one particular case because there will be many others to catch you out.”

After Ms Sangha joined the company, Fujitsu employees started reporting issues of “duplicate transactions” not being removed on EPOSS machines – which were operated by the Horizon system, the inquiry heard.

According to internal correspondence between Fujitsu staff, which was shown to the inquiry, the problem began after the original Horizon system was updated to become Horizon Online.

Responding to the issue flagged by his colleague, Mr Barnes said in a peak incident management system shown to the probe: “Duplicate transactions are listed in the spreadsheets produced and presented to court for prosecution cases.

“These can give the defence team grounds to question the evidence.”

Mr Barnes added: “If we do not fix this problem, our spreadsheets presented in court are liable to be brought into doubt if duplicate transactions are spotted.”

The issue was flagged as a “very significant problem” by security analyst Penny Thomas, prompting a response from Fujitsu executive Graham Welsh, which read: “In essence, we have a problem with the ARQ (Audit Request Queries) extraction tool.

“Under Horizon this would inhibit the duplicate transactions held from the audit server and thus supply evidence for court etc without duplicated records.

“However the (Horizon online) tool does not and thus duplicates records that cannot be differentiated are supplied as evidence.

“This could allow for legal challenges to the integrity of the system.”

Around a week before the issue was flagged, Ms Sangha, who is now release management co-ordinator at Fujitsu, was sent the draft witness statement which read: “To the best of my knowledge and belief at all material times the system was operating properly, or if not, any respect in which it was not operating properly, or was out of operation was not such as to affect the information held within it.”

Counsel to the inquiry Julian Blake asked the witness: “Did it not cause you any concerns about the reliability of the statement?”

Ms Sangha replied: “At the time, no, because I was not involved in producing a witness statement for going to court proceedings.”

Mr Blake continued: “Does it cause you any concern now?”

The witness replied: “Yes, it does.”

Asked why it caused her concerns now, Ms Sangha said: “Because obviously we had bugs in the system.”

The statutory inquiry, which began in 2021 and is chaired by retired judge Sir Wyn Williams, has previously looked at the human impact of the scandal, the Horizon system rollout and the operating of the system, and is now probing the action taken against subpostmasters.

The inquiry was established to ensure there is a “public summary of the failings which occurred with the Horizon IT system at the Post Office” and subsequently led to the wrongful convictions of subpostmasters.