Badenoch seeks talks with Fujitsu on Horizon compensation

The Business Secretary has written to the company which developed the faulty IT system for the Post Office.

Sophie Wingate
Wednesday 17 January 2024 15:40 GMT
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has requested a meeting with Fujitsu over the Post Office Horizon scandal (Aaron Chown/PA)
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has requested a meeting with Fujitsu over the Post Office Horizon scandal (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has written to Fujitsu to demand talks on compensation for subpostmasters wronged in the Horizon scandal.

It came after an executive at the technology giant which developed the faulty system for the Post Office told MPs it had a “moral obligation” to contribute to any redress.

Ms Badenoch has requested a meeting with the company as soon as possible to discuss a compensation package.

In a letter to global chief executive Takahito Tokita, the Cabinet minister wrote she was “committed to ensuring that postmasters affected get the justice they deserve”, Sky News reported.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters on Wednesday: “The Department for Business and Trade has formally started the process of requesting discussions about how we explore that.”

But the official suggested the Government would not move to hold Fujitsu “to account” until the Horizon IT inquiry has “established all the facts”.

He said: “The inquiry does need to establish the facts, but we’re keen to be as prepared as possible to act at the appropriate point.”

The spokesman added: “It’s important that we don’t do anything that would jeopardise our approach and we will set up these discussions so that we can move as quickly as possible, but it’s right that we establish culpability fully.”

The role played in the scandal by the Japanese firm came under the spotlight in a Commons Business and Trade Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson apologised to subpostmasters who had been wrongly convicted as a result of problems within the Horizon software.

He conceded there were “bugs and errors in the system” and said Fujitsu had a “moral obligation” to contribute towards compensation.

Days after an ITV drama on the scandal prompted outcry, Rishi Sunak announced that the wrongly prosecuted in England and Wales could have their names cleared by the end of the year under fast-tracked legislation after growing pressure to take more serious action.

Those whose convictions are quashed are eligible for a £600,000 compensation payment, while Mr Sunak offered £75,000 to subpostmasters involved in group legal action against the Post Office.

The scale of the eventual bill is unclear, but ministers have set aside up to £1 billion for compensation.

Mr Patterson was challenged by SNP MP Marion Fellows to pay a £10 million “initial contribution” to a compensation fund by the end of this month as a “show of good faith”.

Alan Bates and other former subpostmasters leading the campaign for justice have hit out at delays in compensation.

Mr Bates, who was at the centre of the ITV drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office, told MPs financial redress for those affected was “absolutely bogged down in red tape” and that people were “dying” waiting for payments.

The Horizon scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses handed criminal convictions after Fujitsu’s flawed Horizon software made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

The public inquiry into the crisis on Wednesday heard that Fujitsu staff feared being “hauled over the coals” after realising the Post Office was using “manipulated” audit data to criminally investigate subpostmasters.

The statutory inquiry, chaired by retired judge Sir Wyn Williams, began in 2021 and hearings are expected to conclude this year.

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