Fujitsu could pay compensation for Post Office scandal, minister suggests

post office illustration
post office illustration

Ministers are considering chasing Fujitsu for millions of pounds in compensation for the victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Around £138 million has already been paid to victims and hundreds of others are still waiting, with the bill covered by the taxpayer.

More than 700 Post Office branch managers were convicted after Horizon, the faulty accounting software created by Fujitsu, made it look like money was missing from their shops.

However, Post Office bosses are still using the Japanese technology firm, with Fujitsu handed a £37 million contract just two months ago to keep data centres powering Horizon running for two more years.

On Monday, Kevin Hollinrake, the government minister who oversees the Post Office, vowed to quicken the pace at which sub-postmasters can overturn convictions and get compensation.

Mr Hollinrake said in the House of Commons: “The time for quibbling is over. It is a case now of action, action on this day, and delivering that by overturning convictions.”

He added that the Government would consider urging Fujitsu to help cover compensation if a public inquiry into the scandal concluded that the firm carried some blame for what happened.

Ministers are leaning towards a mass exoneration of all those convicted in the scandal that would speed up the process of convictions being overturned, The Telegraph understands, but are seeking advice from senior judges first before announcements on next steps.

Just 93 sub-postmasters have had their convictions quashed and many of them are still awaiting full compensation.

Meanwhile, Downing Street said on Monday that Rishi Sunak would “strongly support” a review into whether Paula Vennells, the former chief executive of the Post Office, should be stripped of her CBE.

At a press briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked whether Fujitsu should pay for some of the compensation owed.

The spokesman replied: “I think the culpability of Fujitsu or otherwise is something that’s being examined as part of the independent inquiry process.

“So I’m unable to fully opine at this point. But obviously it should not be the taxpayer alone which picks up the tab for Horizon compensation.”

The remark comes amid mounting calls for Fujitsu to contribute in some form to the compensation expected.

Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow business secretary, told MPs: “If it is found that Fujitsu knew the extent of what was occurring there will have to be consequences that match the scale of the injustice.”

Lord Arbuthnot, who sits on the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, also calls for Fujitsu to pay up in an article for The Telegraph.

The Tory peer writes: “And who is to pay for all of this? Sadly the taxpayer will bear some of the cost, because we took (in profits from the Post Office suspense accounts) some of the ill-gotten gains. But Fujitsu, which has kept a very low profile throughout, should also contribute generously.”

Large amounts of public money is still being handed to Fujitsu with the company awarded public sector contracts worth £3 billion since 2013.

Alan Bates, founder of the Justice for Sub-Postmasters Alliance, told Computer Weekly magazine at the time: “It has been like squeezing blood out of a stone getting compensation for those that have suffered in the scandal, which was caused by the Post Office and Fujitsu, but the government seems happy to continue to throw money at Fujitsu.”

A Fujitsu spokesman said: “The current Post Office Horizon IT statutory inquiry is examining complex events stretching back over 20 years to understand who knew what, when, and what they did with that knowledge.

“The inquiry has reinforced the devastating impact on postmasters’ lives and that of their families, and Fujitsu has apologised for its role in their suffering.”

More than 100 new potential victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal have now come forward after an ITV drama about the issue, The Telegraph can reveal.

Neil Hudgell, a lawyer acting for former sub-postmasters, said his firm had heard from “in excess of an additional 100 people” since Mr Bates vs The Post Office aired on ITV last week.

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