Friday 26 June 2020

Fujitsu tries to dodge the blame bus

Fujitsu designed, operated and rolled out the Horizon IT system, which has ruined so many Subpostmasters' livelihoods and lives. Yet it has never had much to say about it, preferring instead to let its client, the Post Office, take all the heat. 

Since 16 Dec 2019, that position has been untenable. The judge in the Bates v Post Office litigation finished proceedings by announcing he had such "grave concerns" about the "veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system" he was handing a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

All Fujitsu have said about this up till now is: “Fujitsu takes the judgement in the second trial of the Post Office Group Litigation very seriously. While Fujitsu was not a party to the litigation, we are conducting a thorough process to review the court’s statements in detail."

This was never going to hold, and thanks to a series of questions sent on 2 June by the chair of the BEIS Select Committee, Fujitsu have been forced to give their take on the Horizon scandal. 

Fujitsu's reply to the committee chair has been published here. It is written by someone called Rob Putland, Fujitsu's "Senior Vice President". Let's take a closer look. 

(What follows are edited highlights of the most interesting questions and answers. For the full set of questions and complete answers - go to the original letter.)

Q: The Judge in Bates v Post Office Ltd said that in giving evidence Fujitsu gave “a very one-sided picture which was to omit any reference to important contemporaneous documents that criticise or demonstrate any deficiencies with Horizon”. How do you respond to this criticism?
A: Fujitsu was not a party to the Bates v Post Office Ltd litigation. All decisions relating to the prosecution of sub-postmasters and the conduct of the Bates litigation were made by the Post Office. Whilst Fujitsu employees gave evidence, it was the Post Office who determined all aspects of its case including the choice of witnesses, the nature of their evidence and the associated documents. Nonetheless, we take Mr Justice Fraser’s criticisms extremely seriously and we have now stopped the provision of any new witness evidence to the Post Office.
Notes: This seems to be suggesting that somehow those evil ******** at the Post Office managed to manipulate sweet, innocent Fujitsu staff into the sort of folk who might wish to defend the Horizon system to the detriment of truth and justice. The solution, you will note, is neither to work with the Post Office to do things properly in future, or to ask their own staff to think about telling the truth in court, but to refuse to let their poor bambinis get involved in any more proceedings. Blaming the Post Office in this instance does not wash. More from Sir Peter Fraser's judgment:
"I consider that Mr Parker [a Fujitsu employee], and the [Fujitsu] team who assisted him, sought to portray the Horizon system – Legacy Horizon and Horizon Online – in a light as favourable as possible to Fujitsu, regardless of its own internal evidence to the contrary, and regardless of the facts."
Q: The Judge established that there were errors and bugs within Horizon and that remote access to Horizon terminals was possible and transactions could be changed without a sub-postmaster knowing. He said that some of this only came to light because of the Group Litigation. Do you accept that local Horizon terminals could be accessed and altered centrally?
A: Yes, local Horizon terminals could be accessed and altered centrally.
Q: Why did it take a highly expensive court case to establish these facts?
A: This is a matter for the Post Office; they determined the litigation strategy and their conduct towards the sub-postmasters.
Notes: Sorry, lads. You can't pin it all on the Post Office. You were responsible for the way your employees presented evidence in court, and you had ten years to pick up the phone and tell people like me and/or Panorama that the Post Office's assertions about remote access were incorrect. This is what the Honourable Mr Justice Fraser said about your organisation's attitude towards Horizon errors, and providing information to the court in the Horizon Issues trial:
"Fujitsu do not... appear to me to have properly and fully investigated these myriad problems, nor did Fujitsu categorise such incidents correctly. They also seem to have moved away, in their investigations, from concluding that there were any issues with the software wherever it was possible for them to do so, regardless of evidence to the contrary, an approach that has been carried into the Fujitsu evidence for the Horizon Issues trial."
Q: What role did Fujitsu play in investigations and prosecutions of sub-postmasters and postal workers who found shortfalls in their Horizon accounts?
A: Fujitsu played no role in the decisions to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise seek to recover shortfalls from sub- postmasters or postal workers. The Post Office devised and implemented the strategy for the recovery of shortfalls, including conducting all investigations and prosecutions of its sub-postmasters and postal workers.
Notes: The Post Office was (and is) Fujitsu's client. The decision to use Horizon data to prosecute Subpostmasters is all on the Post Office. Fujitsu was providing data (and possibly court witnesses aiming to protect Fujitsu's corporate position) where requested. The quality of the data provided, the processes for handing it over and the efficacy of the Horizon network, vital to the reputations of both the Post Office and Fujitsu, is another matter. The next few questions and answers are illuminating on those points. It's where Fujitsu starts to get very slippery.

Q: How reliable is Horizon now and what steps are Fujitsu taking to ensure full disclosure of errors and bugs?
A: Horizon operates to the service standards contractually required by the Post Office. However, in our view, no complex IT system will ever be completely free of errors and bugs.
Q: How many bugs, errors and discrepancies have been logged for each year since they began to be recorded?
A: The incident management system captures incidents logged, and includes matters raised by a sub-postmaster as well as incidents raised by Fujitsu monitoring. The system has recorded thousands of incidents since the inception of Horizon, as would be expected of a system of this complexity and size. However, in respect of material incidents, Mr Justice Fraser highlights 29 bugs, errors and defects, some of which had the potential to impact a sub-postmaster local branch account.
Notes: This does not answer the question. The answer first states there have been thousands of bugs (or "incidents") since the inception of Horizon, and then (using the word "However" to suggest we are coming to the important bit), tells us when it comes to "material incidents", the recent court case found just 29 bugs which had the potential to impact branch accounts.

The Select Committee chair's question does not ask how many bugs the recent court case found. It asks how many Fujitsu have logged. During Bates v Post Office, the vast majority of Horizon error logs were simply not disclosed to the court or to either of the independent IT experts who were assigned to examine the Horizon system. Those IT experts worked with their teams through the logs they had been given to ascertain what they could. With the limited information, resources and time-span they had available, the IT experts were able to find 29 bugs which had the potential to impact branch accounts.

Fujitsu know, or could find out, the real number of bugs/errors/defects which caused material incidents over Horizon's twenty year history and present them to the inquiry, but they choose not to, and instead erect a smokescreen. That, to me, is very serious and potentially misleading.

Q: Can you provide a breakdown by error type and its implications for the integrity of a local Horizon terminal and for the system as a whole?
A: In the Appendices to his judgment in Bates v Post Office Ltd, Mr Justice Fraser provides significant detail on the history of Horizon and a summary of bugs, errors and defects since the inception of Horizon in 1999 including those that had the potential to impact a sub-postmaster local branch account.
Notes: They're at it again. The question has nothing to do with the court case. The court case was a snapshot of the system used to establish general facts. There's no point in getting on a high horse about the Post Office's presentation of evidence to the High Court when you're basically up to the same tricks with the select committee inquiry.

Q: What lessons have you learnt from Horizon and how can you reassure my Committee that the type of issues detailed in Bates v Post Office Ltd will not happen again?
A: The provision of witness evidence to support prosecutions under the direction of the Post Office should not have been allowed to happen. We have implemented the changes below, and will implement such further measures as may be appropriate following any related judicial processes or inquiries:
- Fujitsu has not provided any new witness evidence since the judgement.
- Fujitsu will not provide any witness evidence in the future to support Post Office led prosecutions of sub-postmasters.􏰀
- We will provide information if requested by the Police or an appropriate judicial authority but only after such request has been fully considered, and with the approval of a UK board director.
Notes: It's good that they're not going to let themselves be led by the nose into prosecution cases against Subpostmasters without properly thinking about it at board level, but this also smacks of a company which is going to become very unwilling to hand over information about anything to anyone. Given the judge found Fujitsu staff were continually overlooking significant Horizon errors,  either to suggest they weren't their responsibility, or were caused by individuals external to the company, or to paint a misleading picture in court, it does not bode well for anyone trying to get the truth out of the organisation in the future.

Q: Have any Fujitsu staff been disciplined or dismissed as a result of the issues associated with Horizon and/or regarding the evidence they gave in Bates v Post Office Ltd?
A: In many cases key employees and decision-makers are no longer working at Fujitsu. If it emerges that any current employee intentionally misled the court or otherwise failed to meet the standards expected from Fujitsu, then they will be dismissed.
Notes: There might be something of a bloodbath coming, then. Given the only thing Fujitsu have been saying for the last six months is that they are: "conducting a thorough process to review the court’s statements in detail" they will have spotted the following comments from the Honourable Mr Justice Fraser in his judgment re:

Andy Dunks, IT Security Analyst, Fujitsu
"Mr Dunks expressly sought to mislead me by stating that there was no “Fujitsu party line” when it came to the contents of drafting witness statements about audit records for legal proceedings. There plainly is; it was used in the Fujitsu statements in 2010 and it was used by him in his statement for the Horizon Issues trial... 
"I found Mr Dunks very unsatisfactory as a witness. He was both plainly aware of the Fujitsu “party line”, or corporate position, regarding the words asserting accuracy of audit data, and he was very anxious to keep to it, whilst initially denying that there was one. He sought to mislead me."
Stephen Parker, Head of Post Office Application Support, Fujitsu
"Mr Parker chose specifically to give the impression in his 1st witness statement that Fujitsu did not have the power (the word Mr Parker expressly chose) to inject transactions into the counter at branches, even though he knew that it did. This paints him in a very poor light as a credible witness... 
"I do not consider that Mr Parker was interested in accuracy in any of his evidential exercises, and I do not consider that he was objective in the way he presented his evidence, although he sought to give the impression that he was....
"Although Mr Parker agreed, as it was put to him more than once, that accuracy is important, I do not consider his evidence in his witness statements to have been remotely accurate, even though he stoutly maintained that it was. He continued to maintain this in his re-examination, even though by then he can have been in no doubt that he had departed from Fujitsu’s own definition – which he had said he had forgot about. I found him a very unsatisfactory witness, who presented in his witness statements a misleading and one-sided sanitised version of actual problems and events that Fujitsu had experienced."
William Membury, Fujitsu Central Quality Partner
"Mr Membury’s statement... omitted some highly material matters.... I consider that Mr Membury’s evidence is of limited, if any, assistance in resolving the Horizon Issues. It does however continue the very one-sided picture presented by all the Fujitsu witness statements, which was to omit any reference to important contemporaneous documents that criticise or demonstrate any deficiencies with Horizon." [my italics]
Whilst trying to mislead a judge on oath in court is a very, very serious matter, it would be an absolute tragedy if the only people to lose their jobs in the Horizon scandal were a few company lifers at Fujitsu (and I'm not saying this glibly - it would be a tragedy for them and their families, too).

From the answers given to the chair of the select committee, Fujitsu is doing its utmost to blame the Post Office for everything that has gone wrong, and possibly throw a few of its own employees under the bus, whilst maintaining a borderline indefensible position on what did happen.

It certainly doesn't seem to be doing much corporate soul-searching over its potential culpability, which could bode very badly for the future.

A fisking of Paula Vennells' letter to the select committee inquiry. Ms Vennells is the former CEO of the Post Office.
A fisking of current CEO Nick Read's letter to the select committee inquiry.


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