This Sunday, the UK government is scheduled to test a new emergency alert system. Fujitsu, who is still under inquiry for the British Post Office Horizon Scandal, was awarded a contract to help develop the system.
Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom who has been campaigning for 13 years to ensure the sub-postmasters receive justice asked in the House of Lords why Fujitsu had been granted the contract and other peers questioned the morality of awarding Fujitsu the contract while the Post Office inquiry was pending.
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In 1996, International Computers Limited (ICL), part of Fujitsu, began working on a computer accounting system called Horizon for the government-owned British Post Office. In 1999, the problems began with Horizon’s introduction which wrongly detected the existence of financial discrepancies at multiple post office branches and resulted in criminal convictions or bankruptcies for hundreds of branch managers.
The Post Office prosecuted 736 people using evidence from the Horizon system over a 15-year period from 2000. Many were sent to prison and many more were wrongfully convicted for crimes they did not commit. It is a scandal which – often referred to as the widest miscarriage of justice in UK history – saw lives ruined as sub-postmasters were blamed and punished for unexplained accounting shortfalls caused by errors in the Post Office’s computer system.
- British Post Office Scandal, Wikipedia
- Post Office scandal – “cock-up or cook-up”? Computer Weekly, 7 December 2022
Despite this, last year, Fujitsu was paid £1.6m of taxpayers’ money to help develop the emergency alert system. “That is £1.6 million too much … It is completely wrong – I would say immoral – for any department of government to pay money to a company whose actions, carelessness and downright stupidity in some respects have led to the deaths of British subjects, to the incarceration of others and to the misery of many. Were it not for my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot, the situation would be far worse,” Lord Cormack said.
Lord Cormack was participating in a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday where the topic was raised by Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom. Considering the controversy, Lord Arbuthnot questioned the suitability of Fujitsu’s involvement in the emergency alert system and asked why Fujitsu had not been removed from the government’s list of suppliers:
“Why was Fujitsu granted the contract? Fujitsu’s Horizon system caused the sub-postmasters of this country to be shamefully accused of things that they had not done. Some went to prison, some took their own lives and all those accused were humiliated in the eyes of their own communities. Fujitsu, which knew perfectly well what it was doing, has said not a single word of apology. This is already costing the Government hundreds of millions, potentially more. Why has Fujitsu not been taken off the government procurement list?”Emergency Alert System: Fujitsu, House of Lords, 19 April 2023
Lord Clement-Jones pressed the point:
“Fujitsu’s track record is quite appalling … It was described as giving unsatisfactory and inaccurate evidence in the case brought by the sub-postmasters. The NHS terminated two contracts with it back in 2008-09, then Fujitsu sued the NHS for £700 million and did not settle for 10 years. On exactly what basis do the Government judge Fujitsu to be fit and proper to hold this contract?”Emergency Alert System: Fujitsu, House of Lords, 19 April 2023
“I agree that the impact of the Horizon scandal on postmasters and their families is utterly horrendous; we used to work together on this when I was on the Back Benches,” Baroness Neville-Rolfe responded to Lord Arbuthnot. Adding in her response to Lord Clement-Jones that Fujitsu had been fully co-operating with the postmasters inquiry and that there is no link between the “small amount of work” Fujitsu had done for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) and the Cabinet Office and the work done for the Post Office.
In her response, Baroness Neville-Rolfe made no mention of her own involvement in the horrendous tragedy. In 2015/2016, Neville-Rolfe was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for BIS and DCMS and Minister for Intellectual Property. As such, one of her responsibilities included postal affairs and Post Offices. Eleanor Shaikh – an activist supporting Post Office Victims – accused Baroness Neville-Rolfe of abandoning her quest for truth and so missing the opportunity to resolve the Post Office Horizon Scandal in 2016:
Had Neville-Rolfe delved more rigorously into the scandal in 2015 when as BIS Minister she tasked the Post Office Chair with investigating Horizon Issues, it could have been stopped in its tracks.
In 2020 she confessed to the House of Lords: “as the Minister responsible at the time, I was uneasy because it involved claims of dishonesty by apparently honest citizens.” If truth be told, four years earlier, she had simply abandoned her quest for the truth.Eleanor Shaikh on Twitter
To explain further Shaikh then tweeted correspondence she exchanged with Neville-Rolfe in September 2022 in which Shaikh attempted to clarify whether Neville-Rolfe, while Minister of State for BIS, had received a copy of the Swift Review.
The Swift Review was discovered by Shaikh through a response to a Freedom of Information request. It’s a joint report from Jonathan Swift QC, former First Treasury Counsel and now High Court judge, and Christopher Knight. It was commissioned by the then incoming Chair of Post Office, Tim Parker.
The University of Exeter has established a research team and embarked on a ‘Post Office Project’. As part of the project, the team has reviewed the Swift Review and found a number of problems including: “The way the review work was reported to Parliament appears to be, at least arguably, misleading” and that this requires investigation. The University published their findings in a 30-page report in October 2022 which you can read HERE.
Responding to Shaikh, Neville-Rolfe said she did not “recollect” receiving the Swift Review and did not feel it would be right for her to comment further.
As Baroness Chakrabarti asked Baroness Neville-Rolfe during the debate in the House of Lords: “… there are basic decency and morality concerns. How do people in this country feel about contracts being given to this company [Fujitsu] in the interim, while this inquiry is pending?”
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