Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Horizon trial day 18: Dr Robert

Take a drink from his special cup: Dr Robert.
Sometimes you come away from the days you have spent in court in awe at the rhetorical skills, calm authority and intellectual endeavour being brought to bear on this litigation. Other times you wonder what madness brought us to this situation.

Today was the first of Dr Robert Worden's cross-examination. Dr Worden is the Post Office's independent IT expert. He has written a report considering Horizon's bugs, errors and defects.

You can read his report here, his second report here, and the several joint statements he has agreed with the claimants' IT expert Jason Coyne here, or you can read the transcript of his first day of testimony here.

What you can't do is actually get a sense of whether Horizon's bugs, errors and defects caused discrepancies for which Subpostmasters (claimant or otherwise) have been held liable.

Nailing jelly to the ceiling

Both experts have (in their own way) concluded such a task would be impossible.

The expert answer to whether Horizon is responsible for causing discrepancies in branch accounts appears to be "possibly" or "possibly not".

The reason neither of them know is partly because they do not have enough information on which to make a definitive judgement and partly because if they did have enough information the job would be too big to ever finish.

The standard cross-examination procedure of going through an expert's cv, asking them to assess their own general brilliance, picking up on some obvious mistakes and then relentlessly grinding away at their assumptions, methodology, prejudice, professional integrity, choice of shirt, favourite pub and bench press record is well-established. Today, Patrick Green QC for the claimants made a decent fist of it.

I suggested in a previous blog post that Horizon is so huge we are essentially trying the equivalent of deep space. Dr Worden appears to think Horizon is a fathomless ocean, and sent on the court's behalf to prize away its briny secrets, he surfaced today with the following insight:

"it is very hard to explain this, but there are levels of depth and complexity in the way Horizon actually works which the experts have not been able to plumb.... To my mind there was a kind of swamp of difficult questions there and I was not going to... I felt, rightly or wrongly, going to make progress in that area."

If that's his conclusion, we might as well all give up and go home.

Remote access chestnuts on an open fire

On the subject of remote access, Mr Green was busy building a case which suggested at the very least Dr Worden had more than a bit of unconscious bias when it came to accepting Post Office or Fujitsu witness evidence, whilst at least on one occasion (wrongly) rejecting a JFSA witnesses evidence out of hand.

The Post Office, don't forget, flatly denied that remote access was possible for years. Then it said it had only happened in strictly controlled circumstances, then it apparently rowed back on that during this trial. Then today there was this exchange:

Patrick Green: "Dr Worden, you knew that a central issue, not only a central issue legally but a very high-profile issue in the case, was the extent to which Post Office had remote access to the counters, didn't you? You knew that?"
Dr Worden: "Yes, and what I'm talking about, what I was talking about was the extent to which this could happen without the knowledge of the Subpostmaster.
PG: "And that's the..."
DW: "And we agreed in the joint statement that more or less Fujitsu or Post Office could do anything."

So that's hopefully the issue of remote access put to bed: "Fujitsu or Post Office could do anything."

Horizon in the Post Office's own words

At one point Mr Green ran some internal Post Office documents by Dr Worden. Here are some direct quotes from them, down the years.

2009:

"Horizon - Current State.... 13 year old design and technology to satisfy a different business.... slow and expensive to use... a system that is wrapped up in 'barbed wire' - making changes difficult and costly"

2016:

"Horizon was created before the internet had any real effect on Retail or Banking.... It was built as a 'closed' system & designed based on paper processes, is clumsy & operator unfriendly."

2017:

"IT not fit for purpose... Fujitsu: a 6 year fixed contract signed with Post Office which continues to invest in legacy and obsolescence where Fujitsu's own strategy globally is to move to cloud.... The Horizon (HNG-X) platform is at the end of its life and needs replacing.... Previous attempts to move away from HNG-X platform, specifically with IBM, have been unsuccessful. Fujitsu see the contract as a cash cow, so need to persuade them that working with Post Office Ltd to migrate to cloud technology is to their benefit against a 'too good' contract."

So much for a robust system.

Other things we discovered today

Today's transcript really is worth reading. If you don't have time here are the remaining highlights:

- a Fujitsu PEAK (error log) noting that one of the fixes engineers put in to stop a bug hadn't worked and would be causing problems in branches. Unfortunately Fujitsu had already told the Post Office the bug had been fixed, so to head off any awkwardness, and against all protocol, they were proposing to dive in before a certain deadline without the Post Office's permission or any individual Subpostmasters' knowledge and fiddle around with their branch accounts to sort it all out before anyone noticed.

- the Post Office legal team banning their own independent expert from talking to Fujitsu's engineers. Dr Worden managed to get in a call with Gareth Jenkins (Fujitsu's man who knows where ALL the bodies are buried, frustratingly not called to give evidence for this trial) but after that instance in 2018 he was told that in order to be "whiter than white" all future communication had to go through Post Office lawyers. He never spoke to anyone at Fujitsu again.

- the Post Office warning Dr Worden off looking at Horizon's back end working processes. He says he was told it was "out of scope" which he "found some difficulty with... because in a sense things like robustness of Horizon actually depends on all sorts of
 things." True dat.

- Dr Worden calling Jason Coyne during lunch today when, as a witness on oath he was not meant to talk to anyone about the trial, least of all his counterpart on the opposing side. Quite why Dr Worden would risk a conviction for contempt became clear when it turns out he'd bum-dialled Mr Coyne. Nonetheless, straight after lunch the judge had to be shown Mr Coyne's mobile phone as evidence a) this actually happened and b) to show it was a missed call - Mr Coyne didn't take it but ut must have surprised him when Dr Worden's name came up on the screen!

- Mr Green's extended Penny Black metaphor about Dr Worden's probability-based approach to his  task which elicited the golden response: "probability theory is what one uses in the absence of specific knowledge like you have just put to me, and that specific knowledge changes the whole ball game."

- and an auditor report from 2001 noting a clear bug in Alan Bates' Horizon branch terminal. Yes that Mr Bates, off the Bates v Post Office litigation. Had the Post Office sorted this and other matters to Mr Bates' satisfaction 18 years ago it might have saved the £18,300,000+ they've so far spent trying to make this case go away. Oh well.

We reconvene for day 2 of Dr Worden's cross-examination on Thursday 13 June 2019 at 10.30am in Court 26 of the High Court's Rolls Building.

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