Japanese technology company Fujitsu has a “moral obligation” to compensate the victims of Britain’s Post Office scandal, the boss of its European arm said Tuesday.
Between 1999 and 2015, scores of people who ran branches of the government-owned Post Office were falsely accused of theft and fraud after glitches in Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system incorrectly showed that money — often many thousands of pounds — had gone missing from branch accounts.
Out of those so-called sub-postmasters, 700 were convicted of criminal offenses. A number spent time in prison. And some were left so distressed they took their own lives, according to their family members.
“We did have bugs and errors in the system and we did help the Post Office in their prosecutions of the sub-postmasters,” Peter Patterson, Fujitsu’s director for Europe, said Tuesday. “For that we are truly sorry.”
So far, more than 2,700 current or former sub-postmasters have received financial compensation through a government scheme, though many say what they received isn’t enough. And many say Fujitsu — a firm worth close to $29 billion and which is still a major supplier to the UK government — should also be on the hook to compensate victims.
“I think there is a moral obligation for the company to contribute,” Patterson told UK lawmakers during a public hearing. “We have a part to play and to contribute to… the redress fund for the sub-postmasters.”
A public inquiry was launched in 2020 to determine which individuals and organizations are responsible for the scandal. Patterson said that, once it concludes, he fully expects to “sit down with government” to work out how much Fujitsu would need to pay in compensation. “I can’t put a number on that yet,” he said.
The government has described the convictions as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history.
The saga has been the subject of UK media reports for years and has resulted in multiple follow-on legal cases, but only since a TV drama earlier this month focused on the tragic impact on sub-postmasters’ lives have public awareness and outrage skyrocketed.
The public outcry has prompted a swift response from government: Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that parliament would quickly pass landmark legislation to quash the convictions of hundreds of sub-postmasters.
To date, only 93 of the 700 convicted sub-postmasters have had their convictions overturned.
Former sub-postmasters have told CNN that false convictions for theft and false accounting caused them enormous emotional and physical harm, destroyed their livelihoods, strained their family relationships and plunged them into severe and ongoing financial distress.
Both Fujitsu and the Post Office had previously acknowledged their roles in the scandal and apologized to victims, but many questions remain about who knew what, when, and British police are investigating individuals who worked for both companies.
Nick Read, CEO of the Post Office, who also addressed lawmakers Tuesday, said he was “committed” to abandoning Horizon. The corporation still uses the IT system, but in a newer iteration than the one involved in the scandal.
“It’s outdated, it’s clunky, it’s old — but it’s 25 years old — but it does what it’s meant to do,” he said. “We will be getting off Horizon and that is our intent,” Read said.