Ex-Fujitsu boss ‘shocked’ by Post Office’s actions

Ex-Fujitsu boss 'shocked' by Post Office's actions
Roger GilbertGetty Images

Former Fujitsu boss Roger Gilbert has told the BBC the prosecution of sub-postmasters was only raised with him once during his tenure from 2009 to 2012.

The Horizon team assured him the Post Office was managing the prosecutions “competently and honestly”, he said.

He said he was “shocked” by the Post Office’s actions and expressed sympathy with victims of the scandal and their families.

Fujitsu declined to comment.

The former Fujitsu UK boss shared his first detailed media comments on the Horizon scandal with the BBC. He chose to respond only by email to questions as said it allowed for considered answers.

He started his email by saying: “I am shocked by the Post Office’s actions in prosecuting so many innocent people. It is right that there is a public inquiry to investigate what happened and I am looking forward to their report which I am confident will provide much more insight than my very limited visibility of Horizon operations could provide.”

Mr Gilbert, 76, was chief executive of Fujitsu’s UK and Ireland business from April 2009 to March or April 2011, when he handed over to his successor Duncan Tait. He served as chairman for another year, before retiring in 2012.

This was a crucial period in the development of the Horizon scandal – the Post Office was securing the convictions of around 50 cases a year at that stage, accusing sub-postmasters of taking money that only appeared to be missing because of faults in the Horizon computer system designed by Fujitsu.

2009 was the year Computer Weekly published the results of a year-long investigation into the scandal, detailing the cases of former sub-postmasters Alan Bates, Lee Castleton, Jo Hamilton and others. It was a landmark report that played a major role in bringing the story out into the open.

“During my tenure, Computer Weekly was not a publication that I subscribed to and I was unaware of their campaign,” Mr Gilbert says. “However, I did see an article in another journal that referenced a dispute between the Post Office and a number of sub-postmasters.”

He says this was most likely a report in another trade journal, Accountancy Age, from August 2010, headlined “Post Office faces legal action over accounts IT”.

It describes how Alan Bates and the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance were preparing a legal action against the Post Office, which would ultimately lead to a win in the High Court in 2019.

Their story was told in the ITV drama earlier this year, which brought the sub-postmasters’ plight to renewed prominence.

Mr Gilbert says: “I discussed [the article] with members of the Horizon project team and came away with the belief that prosecutions brought by the Post Office were being managed competently and honestly. At the time I was not alone in this belief, and I note that the national mainstream media including the BBC did not report on the Post Office and Horizon until, I think, late 2014.”

The Today programme on Radio 4 interviewed Mark Davies of the Post Office in December that year, though the BBC had covered the story before. The Welsh-language programme Taro Naw covered it in 2009, and Inside Out ran a documentary in 2011.

Mr Gilbert says that the issue of the prosecution of sub-postmasters was not raised with him again during the rest of his time at Fujitsu.

The Horizon contract was one of many that Fujitsu had, in a business which at the time had a turnover of £2.3bn and around 12,000 employees.

“Horizon was probably about 5% of the total business,” Mr Gilbert says.

The current UK boss Paul Patterson told Parliament in January that Horizon had “bugs, errors and defects” from the “very start”, and Mr Gilbert also knew Horizon had glitches.

“I was aware that, in common with other complex computer programs, Horizon had bugs and I understood details of these bugs were shared with the Post Office so that the Post Office could take account of them. Speed of bug fixes was monitored closely by the Post Office,” Mr Gilbert says.

Mr Gilbert is not among the former Fujitsu bosses who have been asked to give evidence at the statutory Horizon Inquiry,

“This note covers events and perceptions 14 years ago,” he told the BBC. “But as we learn more about the Horizon scandal, I have become shocked by the Post Office’s treatment of its sub-postmasters. My sympathies are with the victims and their families.”

On the subject of Fujitsu employees giving evidence in court, where two former Fujitsu employees are currently under investigation for alleged perjury, Mr Gilbert said: “I think the Horizon scandal has taught us that if a business is ever likely to be supporting prosecutions in court, there is a need for the Board to review their implementation of corporate risk management.

“This is not just to manage the corporate risks in reputation, and financial terms, but also to minimise the chances of the business becoming involved in an unsafe prosecution. I’m not just referring to Fujitsu here, but any business that is likely to face such risks.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

By David Ryckman