Fujitsu will 'possibly' be 'on the hook' for compensation for victims of Post Office Horizon scandal, minister says

9 January 2024, 08:40 | Updated: 9 January 2024, 10:46

Mel Stride discusses with Nick Ferrari the aims of the public inquiry into the Horizon scandal

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Fujitsu will "quite possibly" have to pay compensation if the inquiry concludes the company has blundered, Mel Stride has said.

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Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said "it won't necessarily just be the taxpayer" who is "on the hook for this money".

After Nick asked if the £58bn company Fujitsu, the firm behind the faulty Horizon accounting software, should be paying compensation, the Secretary of State said it would depend on the public inquiry result.

"We've got this public inquiry underway. One of the things it's going to look at... is where does culpability lie? Who is responsible, who knew what when, who did things they shouldn't have done and so on?

"And to the extent that that culpability rests upon the shoulders of others than Government, then I think you can expect ministers to come to the appropriate conclusions. And perhaps it won't be just the taxpayer that is on the hook for those costs."

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Mel Stride stopped short of saying Fujitsu should be barred from winning government contracts while the Post Office inquiry is ongoing.

But, he said the inquiry would look into current government contracts, including one recently signed with Defra for flood warnings.

"It's right we have a thorough assessment... we need to answer those questions once the inquiry concludes," Mr Stride said.

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The conversation comes after ministers started to draw up plans to hasten the clearing of the names of hundreds subpostmasters who were wrongfully convicted in the Horizon scandal.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told MPs on Monday that ways to overturn the convictions were being investigated, including possible legislation.

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Mr Hollinrake hinted at a solution as soon as this week after the Government scrambled to take action after the miscarriage of justice was brought into the spotlight by an ITV drama.

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells was coming under increasing pressure over her CBE after Rishi Sunak signalled he would support a committee looking into the honour.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said he would "strongly support" the Honours Forfeiture Committee if it decided to look at stripping the gong.

Mr Hollinrake vowed to "leave no stone unturned" amid pressure to quash the convictions and speed up the awarding of compensation to those affected by the Horizon IT system error.

He updated the Commons after holding a "very positive meeting" with Justice Secretary Alex Chalk as they discussed how to help the convicted branch managers clear their names.

With more than 700 subpostmasters having received criminal convictions for allegations such as theft and false accounting, Mr Hollinrake acknowledged the "slow pace" of them being cleared.

"We have devised some options for resolving the outstanding criminal convictions with much more pace," the minister said.

"While the scale of the problem is immense, the Government is unwavering in its resolve to tackle it, to compensate those affected and to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice."