A former Fujitsu worker has been questioned under caution for the third time as police investigate potential perjury in trials of subpostmasters wrongfully convicted of financial crimes.
The former employee was used as an expert IT witness during trials to uphold the Post Offices claim that computer errors could not cause unexplained accounting shortfalls, for which the subpostmasters were blamed.
Hundreds of subpostmasters were convicted of crimes after unexplained shortfalls appeared in their accounts. A Computer Weekly investigation in 2009 revealed that subpostmasters, who run and own Post Office branches, were being blamed for unexplained financial losses, which they claimed were caused by errors in the Horizon IT system, supplied by Fujitsu.
The Post Office denied this, and many subpostmasters were subsequently prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with prison sentences, community service, criminal records and heavy fines among the injustices they suffered as a result (see below for timeline of Computer Weekly coverage since it broke the story in 2009).
A total of 737 were convicted, but after years of campaigning and a High Court litigation, it was proved that the shortfalls did not actually exist, but were due to errors in the computer system from Fujitsu used in Post Office branches. A total of 73 former subpostmasters and Post Office branch staff have so far had their convictions overturned.
These were triggered after the High Court group litigation, which began in 2018, saw 555 former subpostmasters sue the Post Office. They won the case and proved that computer errors were causing unexplained accounting shortfalls,
When handing down his judgment, High Court judge Peter Fraser referred his concerns over the evidence given by Fujitsu witnesses during previous subpostmaster trials to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
In November 2020, the Metropolitan Police began its investigation into two former Fujitsu staff, both used as expert witnesses in subpostmaster trials.
One of them, a man in his 60s, was interviewed yesterday for the third time. The Metropolitan Police said: “A man in his 60s was interviewed under caution again on Tuesday, 26 April 2022. No arrests have been made and enquiries continue.” A women in her 60s has been interviewed twice by the Metropolitan Police in relation to the investigation.
Almost immediately after the Post Office introduced the Horizon system from Fujitsu in 2000, to replace manual accounting processes, subpostmasters suffered unexplained accounting shortfalls.
But the Post Office was not interested in investigating concerns that the system could be to blame. It told every subpostmaster who raised concerns that they were the only one experiencing problems.
The Post Office denied that problems existed right up until the High Court judgment in 2019, when Judge Fraser described Post Office’s denials of errors as “the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the Earth is flat”.
Ian Ross, director at Tartan Forensic, a former police officer and listed expert for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, said: “It beggars belief how long this is taking. The police have evidence from the highest source of reliability, a High Court judge. It isn’t complex. Court criminality should transform to accountability and not be dragged out politically.”
Paul Marshall, a barrister who offered his services free of charge to three former subpostmasters, said he is increasingly of the belief that the Post Office perverted the course of justice. “If you look at what the Post Office did from 2010, it is very difficult to interpret what they did as anything other than an act to pervert the course of justice,” he said.