As a retired accountant who has spent much of his career developing and implementing systems, I read Andrew Tickell’s article in the Sunday National last weekend (The Testimonials of scammed postal employees highlight reckless greed, May 15) with interest and growing rage. Not, I hasten to add, to its excellent reporting, but to the flagrant criminal behavior of the Post Office and the developer of its now notorious software, Horizon.
Mr. Tickell did not identify the vendor of the software, but it is largely in the public domain: Fujitsu.
At its core, Horizon is a standard point-of-sale double-entry bookkeeping system, so every debit recorded must have an equal and opposite credit entry. It is therefore self-balancing. The defects must therefore have arisen in the system reports produced by Horizon from the base ledger data.
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The fact that the flaws were not discovered prior to implementation tells me that neither Fujitsu nor Swiss Post have adequately tested the application. This is a primary failure at a level of project management by both parties with horrific consequences for the postmasters and their staff and – given that lives were lost, people were put in bankrupt and imprisoned – criminal prosecution should follow.
Rigorous routine testing by Fujitsu and the post office would have identified the presence of bugs in the system, but the facts are that the system went live without them being identified and eradicated.
This leads to the conclusion that Fujitsu either released a product without fully understanding its flaws, or understood them but continued to release it anyway. Similarly, the Post either installed and operated the system without knowing it was flawed, or knew it had flaws, but continued to implement and operate despite this.
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Either way, both parties are grossly negligent. However, it was the relentless and ruthless pursuit of the Postmasters and their staff by the Post Office that became the major scandal. Over time, the system created more and more deficits and yet neither the post office nor Fujitsu ever made a serious effort to understand why. The extent of the Post Office’s persecution of victims has kept Fujitsu out of the spotlight, but under normal circumstances the customer would sue a software vendor who installed a faulty system.
It didn’t happen here in part because the Post Office’s behavior was seen as the major issue requiring immediate action, but the Met is known to investigate Fujitsu’s role in the matter, so other criminal charges are possible.
Another thing is obvious: there are hundreds of cases where the system produces deficits (false negatives), but not one case of false positives. If the faults are the result of an intermittent bug, we should expect it to produce false positives as well. Their absence leads me to an even scarier thought that made my old “listener’s nose” quiver: was the system designed to produce deficits?
HAMISH Morrison’s report on specialist teams with powers of arrest in welfare fraud reeks of Thatcher snoopers and Nazi Germany (Welfare staff given new powers to arrest asylum seekers, 20 May). How many Tories implicated in cash for honors, PPE fraud, tax evasion and offshore accounts have been arrested? This is something dangerous, with the conservatives tearing down human rights and many more to come. Or is this a case where the empire strikes back?