LONDON (AP) — Fujitsu, the company whose faulty computer accounting system resulted in the wrongful conviction of hundreds of Post Office branch managers across the U.K., apologized to the victims on Tuesday for its role in the country's biggest ever miscarriage of justice and said it was long aware that the software had bugs.
Paul Patterson, Europe director of Japan's Fujitsu Ltd., told a committee of lawmakers that the company has an obligation to help compensate the branch managers who, over decades, suffered from the failures of the accounting system, which was introduced in 1999, and were convicted of theft or fraud.
"I think there is a moral obligation for the company to contribute," Patterson said. "To the sub-postmasters and their families, Fujitsu would like to apologize for our part in this appalling miscarriage of justice."
Patterson said he had spoken with his bosses in Japan and that Fujitsu knew "from the very start" that the system, known as Horizon, had "bugs and errors," and that it had helped the Post Office in its prosecutions of branch managers after unexplained losses were found in their accounts.
"For that we are truly sorry," he said.
The Post Office's chief executive, Nick Read, said it has earmarked around a billion pounds ($1.3 billion) for compensation and confirmed it would not pursue any further prosecutions. He also said it is actively looking to replace the much-changed Horizon system in its branches.
An official inquiry into the scandal is expected to apportion blame. In addition, Parliament's Business and Trade Committee is trying to determine how to speed up compensation for the victims.
After the Post Office introduced the Horizon information technology system to automate sales accounting, local managers began finding unexplained losses that bosses said they were responsible to cover.
The Post Office maintained that Horizon was reliable and accused branch managers of dishonesty. Between 2000 and 2014, more than 900 postal employees were wrongly convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting, with some going to prison and others forced into bankruptcy.
The number of victims is not fully known, and it emerged Tuesday that hundreds more may have been affected by the faulty computer system.
A group of postal workers took legal action against the Post Office in 2016. Three years later, the High Court in London ruled that Horizon contained a number of "bugs, errors and defects" and that the Post Office "knew there were serious issues about the reliability" of the system.
Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said legislation to reverse the convictions will be presented to lawmakers soon. It comes in the wake of a television docudrama that aired earlier this month and fueled public outrage.
The ITV show, "Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office," told the story of branch manager Alan Bates, played by Toby Jones, who spent around two decades after he was dismissed trying to expose the scandal and exonerate his peers.
Bates, himself, told the inquiry that the compensation, which he described as "financial redress," was "bogged down" and that the pace of processing claims was "madness."
"I mean, there is no reason at all why full financial redress shouldn't have been delivered by now," he said. "It's gone on for far too long. People are suffering, they're dying."
Wrongfully convicted former branch manager Jo Hamilton, one of the protagonists in the TV drama, said the compensation procedure was "almost like you're being retried" and explained that she had been "gaslit" by the Post Office into thinking that it was her own fault that the numbers in the Horizon system did not add up.
Lawyer Neil Hudgell said the scandal may have affected "tens of thousands" of people if the families of victims were taken into account.
"There's another class of people that cannot be compensated," he said. "That's the spouses, the children, the parents."
He said some wives had miscarried from the stress of the situation and children had suffered behavioral disorders that meant they left school sooner than planned.
"So, the scandal is in the thousands, but it could be in the tens of thousands," he said.